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Joe Glenton on Britain’s populist insurgency

Lewis Bassett23 May 2013

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UKIP pamphlet. London, May 2009.

The English climate is lamentable at the best of times. No. Not the weather. The political climate.  But today we seem to be dealing with something more profound than the perfunctory shenanigans of  Great Britain’s political aristocracy.

I’m talking the current haze of prejudice into which we have been sunk, as the country’s Tory leadership tries and fails to distract us from its own shortcomings – a haze of jingoism (see the second part of this article,) poor-bashing,  gay-bashing  and the scourge of ‘acceptable’ Islamophobia. Not to mention the rise of a tweed-clad strain of rightwing extremism, in the form of the UK Independence Party (UKIP.)

The leader of this party, the perma-smug Nigel Farage, was even chased out  of a pub by Scottish separatist nationalists recently, in a scene which seems to have played out like a Cable Street in microcosm. His riposte, when the UKIP leader eventually returned to his alarmingly regular slot on the screens of the BBC, was to proclaim the pro-independence activists as ‘fascists’ of all things.

Cameron’s flailing Conservatives, and Farage’s populists, are also cooing at each other to see who will move towards whom – while elsewhere in Europe we have seen the rising trend of either technocracy, as in Italy, or an emboldened fascism, in Greece, as well as in Hungary. Britain’s electoral left, if Labour can be considered a progressive party, looks highly likely to win the next election, and yet more and more like a staggering donkey. Labor promises almost exactly the same cuts to public services as the Tories, albeit delivered with a smile. It’s distressingly predictable.

In the background, Cameron’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, who are a center-right, lesser-evil sort of party, have capitulated utterly to the Conservatives’ program of public sector spending cuts; a collapse from which they may never recover, given that by reneging on their election-era promises to freeze university tuition fees, the Lib Dems have alienated the most politically conscious section of young voters in the country.

As if this wasn’t grim enough, across all parties, it’s different versions of the same. There is a long-running three-strand consensus on neoliberal fantasy economics and grinding austerity within our borders. In terms of foreign policy, war remains popular, even if the lessons of the last decade, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have forced a shift in methods from direct intervention towards remote killing and increased use of Special Forces, as a kind of globalized Gestapo.

Tory satire flyer. Whitehall, January 2013.

Capitalism, of course, has done what capitalism periodically does, and eaten itself, self-cannibalisation being written into the DNA of our economic system. The question is whether it will eat us, metaphorically speaking, as well. Considering the economy’s continued slide, since 2008, all signs say yes. It’s a capitalist crisis Marx would have loved. Even the financial papers are fond of confirming his insights these days.

We should be mindful that this is not the first such juncture. A hundred years ago, a similar set of choices was faced by Europe and the rest of the world: a choice between the barbarism of war, empire and social meltdown, and the potential for a new order. Two world wars (some would say three) and a century’s worth of chaos ensued.

What the current situation tells us is that, although history never repeats itself, market- driven societies  repeatedly produce the same unequal results, and that history, much to the chagrin of those theorists who had argued that it is last week’s news, has not ended. Indeed it must be fought for again. The tectonic plates of class society have not, after all, fused together in some kind of liberal utopia of everlasting growth and progress, but in fact are on the move once again.

Crises on the scale we are seeing have any number of impacts. For one thing they polarize. Historically, political elites understand full well that the Right is more likely to leave its privileges intact then any bottom up movement. Which may account for the dangerous overtures by Conservatives and excessive television exposure given to UKIP.

To shamelessly pillage the ideas of my preferred (and highly quotable) Marxist historian Neil Faulkner, whose wide-ranging work I urge you to visit, – think Hobsbawm, but taller and minus the Stalinism – we face a profound, systemic crisis on a level not seen since the 1930s and much like our forebears, who found themselves caught up in the greatest bloodbath in human history. There is a choice to be made here. Will it be more Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Stalingrad? More Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo? Or can we force history onto a better course?

Needless to say, it will be self-activity that saves us, rather than looking to the Left (or the Right) aristocracy for leadership. This is a point of decision. Do we fight, or do we capitulate. Personally, it is an easy question to answer. The real question is how we fight, not in the sense a token ‘resistance’ which for too long has been in and of itself the aim of a decrepit Left, but rather with the intention of victory.

Photographs courtesy of  florriebassingborn  and  Byzantine K.

This post originally appeared at Souciant