POTUS' tweets are a symptom not a cause: our side has to start presenting credible alternatives, argues Lindsey German
There are indications in the row over Donald Trump’s tweets which suggest this wasn’t an idle mistake – or if it was, it has fitted into part of a wider strategy. Trump retweeted videos which he took from the right-wing ideologue Ann Coulter and which had originally come from Jayda Fransen of Britain First. Obnoxious in themselves, they have helped to give publicity to this outfit which is part of the far right and fascist fringe. The murderer of Jo Cox MP shouted ‘Britain First’ as he shot her and had been pictured on a Britain First protest.
Trump may or may not have known about this connection when he tweeted originally. But he certainly did by the time he decided to attack Theresa May in further tweets. Which means that he is quite prepared to use whatever source available to promote his odious views. He is also prepared to ignore the brutal murder of an elected politician. This suggests that he sees himself not just subscribing to but promoting the far right ideas which have gained purchase in a number of countries and which are centred on high levels of racism towards Muslims and towards migrants in general.
The sheer level of hostility to Muslims – who are now subject, in various countries, to bans on travel, clothing, debate in schools and colleges, and much else, is reaching record temperatures. Attacks on Muslims from high profile politicians – and who is more high profile than the US president? – don’t just remain in the domain of political debate but have negative consequences throughout society. The hate speech of the shock jocks, bloggers and politicians translates into attacks on mosques, the enforced removal of hijabs, and a denial of the right to discuss freely issues such as war or Palestine.
While Muslims are at the sharp end of these attacks, they raise the level of racism generally, with a brutalisation of society which treats migrants and their descendants as somehow less worthy of reward, citizenship, or the basic rights accepted for the majority.
It is true that this attitude is most marked among the far right, but it permeates wide swathes of society. Racism within politics, the media and institutions such as the law or the education system is endemic. But in this case, Trump’s tweets were too much even for most politicians and journalists.
Theresa May was forced to speak out against him twice and there is renewed pressure over the proposed state visit – something which looks like more and more of a bad idea from the point of view of the British ruling class. Even the scaled-down visit in the new year, to open the fortress in Battersea which is the new US embassy, is problematic.
However, one of the lessons of modern politics is that today’s foul rants from the fringes of far-right politics can become the mainstream establishment common sense tomorrow. We are seeing this in Germany and Austria for example. The 'respectable' politicians are all too willing to whip up fears if it wins them votes. The misery and insecurity felt by millions in the last decade since the financial crash has also opened up a new era of scapegoating, prejudice and racism.
It is this which creates, in turn, a seedbed where far-right ideas can gain a purchase with much wider layers of people. One important way of dealing with this is to refuse to allow fascist ideas to get this wider purchase and to expose them for what they are from the very beginning. We must refuse to allow them to become normalised. Those like Trump who are prepared to use such ideas for their own ends have also to be called to account. The fascist core at the heart of many far-right political movements also needs to be isolated and defeated before they can develop a serious base. This is why confronting and demonstrating against the far right and fascists is important, as German socialists and anti-fascists did against the AfD in Hanover last weekend.
There does, however, have to be a link between this and wider politics of resistance and change. Anti-racist politics are espoused by many people who have a moral revulsion at racism and fascism, quite rightly. But anti-racist politics which remain at the level of moralism cannot succeed. In order to defeat racism, we also need to provide alternatives to the misery and despair of capitalism which allows such ideas to take hold. If we are to reject the divide and rule that is at heart of capitalist competition, it means providing practical and theoretical solutions to the problems created by capitalism.
That’s a big task but it’s one that the left can’t ignore. Otherwise, we will fail exactly the people we are meant to be representing.
Stuck at the bottom: the truth about social mobility
It is no doubt a blow to the government to lose its Social Mobility Tsar and his whole team. It is clear that the government is actually incapable of bringing about change in this area. This is about the inability of British society to move forward in a way that benefits the majority of society. There are huge divisions, as Alan Milburn has said, in the workforce over wages and conditions, in education, and in housing. Of 65 areas highlighted as having the most problems of social mobility, only 5 voted to remain in the EU. While ministers bicker over the terms of Brexit and the amount to be paid in the leave settlement, the issue of what is happening to those whose jobs are lousy or non-existent, who have nowhere decent to live, and who are in a two-tier education system, is largely ignored. We should see this not as the failure of one commission, but as the long-term legacy of Thatcherism and Blairism. And changing that is not going to be done by right-thinking commissions, but by movements from below which can challenge the priorities of capital.
Crisis, what crisis?
I thought we might have heard the end of Roy Hattersley, but like his old mate Neil Kinnock he never lets his own failure get in the way of advising others. But even so, his claim that Labour is facing its greatest crisis in its history must surely strike most people as a bit rich. His complaint is that the left are winning motions, nominations and arguments within the Labour Party and he is particularly exercised about the events in Haringey, where the left has demanded accountability from its council nominees for next year’s elections. A number of councillors have not sought nomination rather than face deselection. The background to this is opposition to the HDV, which is a massive scheme where land and property is handed over by the council to property developers without any constraints or accountability.
This is wilfully undemocratic and is part of the process whereby huge swathes of working class London - both its housing and social amenities - are being sold off to private developers who build luxury housing which often remains empty. The councillors should not have the right to do this and should certainly expect to be challenged if they insist on continuing.
Far from this challenge being secretive and subversive, as Hattersley claims, it is open and democratic. There is a very good campaign within the community and this is matched with a desire by Labour members to select council candidates who will act in the interests of working class people. Where’s the crisis in that?
Best practice is ending wars, not helping them
I went to a Stop the War film showing of John Pilger’s The Coming War with China which I would highly recommend. It demonstrates the role of the US in establishing military bases across the Pacific aimed at encircling China and it highlights the militarism at the heart of Obama’s ‘pivot to the Pacific’. The cinema was absolutely packed to hear Pilger answer questions on the film and politics today. It is hard to overestimate the ruthlessness of those who justify this militarism and war. Our government is cynically backing Trump’s policies in the Pacific and in the Middle East.
I also attended a small demo in opposition to the bombing and war in Yemen. This war is the epitome of barbarism: the blockade is leading to famine and starvation, there is a major cholera epidemic, and millions suffer the daily misery of bombing which is killing civilians on a major scale. The British government supplies arms and military personnel who are in the bombing control rooms. The BBC’s Frank Gardiner told us this is to ensure ‘best practice’ and minimise the threat to civilians. Best practice surely would mean an arms embargo, insisting Saudi ended the blockade and the bombing, and refusing to deal with them until they agree.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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