British Left goes missing in action amid rise of nationalism

Richard Sudan
Richard Sudan is a London-based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published in many prominent publications, including the Independent, the Guardian, Huffington Post and Washington Spectator. He has been a guest speaker at events for different organizations ranging from the University of East London to the People's Assembly covering various topics. His opinion is that the mainstream media has a duty to challenge power, rather than to serve power. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University.
British Left goes missing in action amid rise of nationalism
The steady rise in UK nationalism found a comfortable home this year during the Brexit campaign. Will the British political left rise to the occasion to counter this threat?

In the wake of economic recession, and the relentless scapegoating of immigrants instead of bankers, a certain nostalgia for the glory days of the British empire has returned to England. There's an irony here, because if Brexit does indeed break up the union, it won't be 'Great' Britain that has returned, just little England on its own.

Brexit mirrors events across the Atlantic pond with our American cousins, and in much the same way as Donald Trump has promised to "Make America Great Again," so too have Brexit champions in the UK promised to make Britain 'great' again.

Unfortunately for Britons, making Britain 'great' again by sacrificing immigration presents an ironic and frankly obvious paradox: Great Britain was and is made 'great' precisely because of immigration, not in spite of it, over many hundreds of years, and up to the present day. The political left has failed in making this distinction.

Britain's industrialization and modernization was fulled by the slave trade. The welfare state was founded using the excess wealth plundered from places like modern day Malaya.

This might be an uncomfortable truth for some working class communities, and an irrelevance to others; but perhaps if some understood the relationship between the British state, the working class, welfare state, and imperialism, they wouldn't blame immigrants for current problems. In fact, they might blame the ruling aristocracy and elite which, ironically, figures like Farage represent just as much as the neo-Liberals he chides.

For a small island with little natural resources, we depend and benefit from the humanitarian bombs dropped in places like Libya and Iraq for our cheap oil. Today, our services - from the NHS, to public transport and other local services - depend on immigration. They wouldn't function without it. We are a small island, and not exceptional by ourselves. Indeed, we depended on immigrants and 'foreigners' to fight for the empire in WW2 and also to help rebuild the country in the aftermath.

But a little global context is needed at this point before we discuss the UK further, as it is often tempting to view events in the UK in a political vacuum or bubble.

As the Western capitalist system withers and wilts and economies slump, war drums continue to beat. They have to. The so-called 'greatness' of the US is not predicated on any divinely ordained notion of European 'exceptionalism' or 'moral and democratic values', but rather war and the appropriation of resources together with a steady stream of foreign labor. War and immigration is the real root of 'greatness,' in other words, not values. This has always been the case.

The failure of capitalism, the failure of wealth to 'trickle down' to the masses, the weariness of war, terrorism, questions over security, and the revelations that we are constantly lied to by the ruling elite have all laid the foundation for both Trump and Brexit. Cynicism has taken root. Its the only conceivable way that right-wing demagogues like Farage and Trump would be able to successfully present themselves as champions of the 'little people.' Another big part of their appeal was their image as outsiders, challenging the elite even though they represent the same order, with maybe a few differentiating nuances.

All of the above goes some way in explaining Trump and Brexit. But there is another factor which in the UK doesn't get much airtime.

Whereas in America, for a while at least, there was a left-wing populist on offer in the form of Bernie Sanders to counter the right wing populist Trump, here in the UK we have had little in the way of opposition to Brexit. Indeed, general opposition from the left, or any mass movement which places as a matter of priority the most vulnerable members of society at a progressive center as opposed to the margins.

But this is needed now more than ever. Brexit was not democratic in my view. The people most affected, migrants, had no say, no vote, in something directly affecting them. Now they are being treated as a political football while the right fights over who will take the reigns of a pro-Brexit government. Where is the political opposition to this? There is none. Why should there be? Indeed, many hail the Brexit vote as "working class rebellion."

Let's be clear. The only reason we had a referendum in the first place was due to one word: immigration. All the silly jingoism about "taking the country back" and lukewarm talking points about 'sovereignty' were not necessarily false, but very shallow and misleading arguments.

Farewell democracy!

Let's face it. Much of the UK democratic process is undemocratic, just like the EU is. And that's the point. You won't see crowds of Brexit fans outside the House of Lords, or even Buckingham Palace, which are equally undemocratic. The EU referendum was simply a slick way to achieve a political end, while being framed as a victory for the working class. It's very sad that so many sections of the working class could ever believe that Nigel Farage is a modern day Robin Hood, our gallant hero, here to free England from the clutches of the evil oligarchs at the EU. Reality is more complex.

The only reason the national poll on immigration in Britain - and that's what it was - was successful was because of three words: Nigel-Farage-UKIP.

If we understand how and why this referendum came about, we see it for what it really is. To oppose Brexit is not to endorse neo-Liberal economics of the EU which we have seen punish countries like Greece for example. It is to reject the dogmatic reactionary nationalism which the Brexit campaign was founded on.

There was never any true left-wing case for Brexit. Labour, unfortunately, is not showing any steadfast commitment in protecting those who will be most adversely affected by Brexit. The day after the referendum Jeremy Corbyn called for article 50 to be evoked. He is the leader of the opposition and Labour.

A British MP, Jo Cox, was killed on our streets, while the assailant a nationalist extremist shouted his ideology 'Britain First' as he attacked her.

We've seen violence towards minorities steadily increase up to and since the referendum result. I myself have reported on it and have spoke to those communities.

For all intents and purposes, especially given last weeks by-election here in the UK, the evidence suggests, that Labour is heading to electoral oblivion at the next general election, which might be called in the next few months.

This is all the more reason for the Labour movement, and anyone who calls themselves a part of it, to undertake the task of mobilizing the working classes to prepare for what comes next. If Labour do indeed lose badly at the next election, a united labor movement will be the only bulwark between a right-wing Tory/UKIP government, which will lay waste to public services while shredding the Human Rights act in preparation for a new 'English Bill of Rights'.

Labour must stop peddling the UKIP line in order to swipe back lost Labour votes. This is not just about gaining power and political office. A truly progressive all inclusive working class movement is needed in order to prepare for the very rapidly declining conditions which we now face. Protecting people and united communities are now what will be needed whether or not Labour can champion this and/or take power. I also believe that if the Labour movement set about the task of taking the correct and moral position, eventually this will become electable. If it isn't then whatever the alternative would be would perhaps not be worth voting for.

So far, Labour and its advisers have made the mistake of peddling UKIP rhetoric and the mythology about immigration. The facts are available. Migrants do not stagnate wages or bring down living standards. These are the failures of state, not of other members of the working class with little political power and voice.

Jeremy Corbyn has in my view taken the wrong position on Brexit and immigration. But he is also a decent man with a solid and respected background in anti racist campaigning. He can't win a general election at present. Pandering to Brexit will only make things worse. From a left perspective we are now heading into a period of political free fall.

Brexit was and is a campaign built on hate and unfounded resentment towards immigration, no question about that. Of course, not everyone who voted 'leave' is racist. But all the racists were in the leave camp. Many people voted leave believing the lie that it was the beginning of a working class rebellion.

In the UK we desperately need a united labor movement which rejects the nativism, racism, and revisionist nationalism which underpinned the Brexit campaign and which opposes all the unfounded. This is, has been and should always be the responsibility of a united working class community.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.