Britain was the first country to introduce modern capitalism. This has shaped the entire society. British companies are highly competitive, often playing fast and loose and sometimes outside of the law. British politics is defined by its binary competition between left and right. Parliament’s house of commons is constructed that way, two sides opposing each other. This opposition sometimes includes real differences, but often there is no other opposition than that they are different factions wrestling for power and control.
Looking at the most politically charged general election for decades in December 2019, it immediately becomes transparent, how hard Labour and Tories have condemned each other, how the entire society understood that this was a fundamental decision between two opposites, how the media have taken sides and threw away all considerations for truth and lawful behaviour. Yet, when we look at the political promises from Labour and Tories, it is astonishing to see, that both sides didn’t have many differences. Corbyn and Johnson are not very far away from each other politically. In most political areas, both would agree with each other. Both want to maintain capitalism, want to protect the British borders and the British people from immigrants, want to maintain nuclear deterrence and the armed forces, don’t trust the EU. Both have a national outlook in almost all areas of politics. The rest of the world, it seems for them, as for most of the British media and the British people, vaguely exists but only as a matter of debate if and when to send armed forces. None of them have any interest in the history of the British Empire, which ruled, oppressed and murdered in at least a quarter of the world for centuries. They don’t care how much damage Britain does today all over the world, with some exceptions. For the left in the Labour party, it would only then be a topic of interest, if it is linked to USA or Israel. The left in Labour usually condemns wars fought by and for USA and Israel. But this does not mean, they have the same condemnation for wars fought by and for Britain. Looking at most of the wars that Britain fought since WWII, then only very few attracted condemnation from the left. The war against Iraq was certainly one, as that war was led by USA. The war against Libya on the other hand, attracted almost no condemnation or criticism from the left in Britain, as this war was led by Britain and France. So left and right, Labour and Tories, Corbyn and Johnson do agree to most of the wars that Britain is fighting.
The radical left is part of the left vs right binary. They think Labour are their lame but well meaning friends, whereas Tories and Liberals are their enemies. But even within the radical left they replicate the same mechanisms as in wider society. The same factionalism exists that is everywhere else in Britain. Different factions within the radical left, often within the same groups, fight each other for power, influence, dominance in practice, hegemony in ideological matters. They use the same smear campaigns as the yellow press, mixing up lies and truth, twisting and massaging the message in order to defeat the enemy faction. They use any means in their arsenal to destroy enemy factions. Even if the differences between the factions are often negligible, expect for the one topic, who has power and control within the group or area.
They understand everything only from this perspective of faction vs faction. That is the same in the Labour party and in the radical left.
For most radical leftists, it is out of the question that anti-Semitism could be more than a smear by the right wing press. They understand anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, transphobia only as topics that can be used to attack enemy factions. Abusive behaviour and sexual violence is understood by many in the same way. If someone speaks about abuse or sexual violence within the radical left then they see that person as an enemy who is trying to smear them. The radical left has in many cases created an impenetrable wall around them, which prevents them from actually engaging with topics like anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, transphobia. This will cause in many cases people who care about these topics, either not to join radical left organisations in the first place or if they do, they are bullied out again soon afterwards.
Even the radical left understands, that something is wrong. They can’t see, that it is their own factionalism and inability to deal with any topic outside of factionalism, that is wrong and that is causing a huge strain on their ability to engage with people interested in radical left ideas. As they can’t see their own error, they are trying to compensate by obsessing with the “working class”. Everything the radical left does must be justified with the “working class”, or else they would consider it a liberal idea and as liberals are their enemy, they would fight that idea. Often, people with middle class background use the argument of “working class” against people of working class background. “Working class” as an argument is a tool used to establish hegemony within sections of the radical left. But even this abuse of working class for their power plays, would still allow for some reasonable arguments, therefore many factions in the radical left have gone further. They have endorsed what they perceive as working class culture and use that as a weapon against other factions. The working class culture they are endorsing is nothing more than a caricature of the lad culture, devoid of any political content except for positive attitudes towards some level of anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, transphobia.
While the white British working class has shifted in the last decades from supporting a socially conservative Labour party to supporting a socially conservative Tory party, real issues are in attitudes towards minorities, including foreigners, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, sexual and gender based minorities, and attitudes towards women. Instead of addressing these issues and confronting e.g. anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and transphobia head on, the radical left in many cases is circumventing this by their endorsement of the lad culture. If they show themselves as lads, then they can still feel connected to the white British working class. Part of this is also a tendency towards nationalism within the radical left. They claim it is left nationalism, defending this as permissible in the same way as Irish nationalism. But they ignore, that Irish nationalism was based on a fight for liberation from imperialist oppression, while British nationalism is the imperial oppressor. This false idea of a left British nationalism is in reality the radical left giving up the core concepts of what a radical left is, in order to maintain support from those they view as the true working class, that is white and British. The reality is different, of course. The working class is neither white nor British. The communists of a distant past knew, that “working men have no country”. Today’s radical left in Britain would probably like to rewrite this as “the British working men have Britain” adding their left nationalism or maybe progressive patriotism, while keeping the focus on men only.
Trying to focus instead on the fight against austerity does not cut it either. Too close are the arguments, that either the foreigners are the reason for austerity or that there is some conspiracy of (Jewish?) bankers behind it. And even if racism and anti-Semitism can be avoided in these arguments, then it is still hard to explain why minorities should always support the best interests of the white British working class, while the white British working class themselves are fine with more austerity, as long as minorities are hit hardest.
The ones who are excluded from all of that, are the ones the radical left would need to take serious if they wanted to confront the system. But they don’t. This is more than just a small error in judgement. This failure of the radical left ensures that large numbers of people have no voice, are marginalised and are encouraged not to fight back. And it is proof, that most of the radical left in Britain are part of the system. They claim they are fighting against the system but in reality they have no inclination to radically confront this.
It is time that the fight back will be organised by people themselves. Doing that outside of the radical left, might be the only option.
friends in britain, 13/01/2020