With a toxic realignment of the far-right seemingly taking place across the planet, how should socialists respond to push back against the racists?
We face a grim situation on a global scale. As Socialist Review went to press the second round of voting in the Brazilian election was about to take place and the far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, looked likely to be elected president.
This is a man who celebrates police killings and has said of left wingers, “These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland. It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history” — this in a country which was run by a right wing military dictatorship for over 20 years.
He boasted that his sons would not marry black women and has referred to black people as “animals”. His misogyny has prompted millions of women to join a campaign called #EleNao! (Not him!)
Bolsonaro is yet another prominent figure who gives confidence to the far-right and fascists on the ground that now is a time to go on the offensive — but he is also one who, like Trump, has provoked opponents into action.
And this is the story across many parts of the world at the moment — polarisation and a battle for ideas and for the streets.
In Germany, as we reported last month, a huge anti-fascist and anti-racist groundswell has confronted the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and forces to the right of it which have marched and rampaged against refugees in towns and cities.
March through Berlin
The AfD achieved a strong result in Bavarian elections in October, gaining representatives in the region for the first time, but the same weekend saw some 250,000 anti-racists march through Berlin.
On 21 October 10,000 turned out in Dresden to oppose the fourth anniversary celebration of Pegida, the far-right street movement which fed into the growth of the AfD. The anti-racists far outnumbered Pegida, whose up to 4,000 supporters were addressed by Britain’s own Tommy Robinson.
Robinson has been at the centre of the regrowth of far-right street movements in Britain over the past year. His Islamophobic rants against “Muslim jihadi paedophiles” and his recent prosecution for contempt of court have made him a cause celebre for fascist and far-right forces.
At his court appearance on 23 October up to 1,000 supporters held a rally outside, with stewards wearing black shirts as a uniform, consciously harking back to Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. The “free Tommy” campaign has brought together a rag tag of right wingers, from members of Ukip to Generation Identity — an “alt-right” grouping that particularly focuses on younger activists.
Robinson has been able to build on the back of the toxic Islamophobia generated by successive governments through “anti-terror” legislation and constantly drip-fed by comments such as Boris Johnson’s about burka-wearing women or Sajid Javid’s dangerous tweet about “Asian paedophiles” following the conviction of a group of men for child sexual exploitation in Huddersfield.
But it is also clear that there is widespread unease at the racism in our society — and people are beginning to take action against it. The Windrush scandal showed up the consequences of creating a “hostile environment” for migrants and reminded generations of people that old racisms can always be revived.
There was outrage when reports emerged of how a racist Ryanair passenger was allowed to harangue Delsie Gayle, an elderly and disabled black woman — herself a member of the Windrush generation — and the staff’s belated response was to move her, rather than ejecting him.
Anti-racist campaigner Zita Holbourne launched a petition calling on Ryanair to apologise to and compensate Gayle and within a couple of days it had over a quarter of a million signatures.
At the heart of the anti-racist movement for the past few years has been Stand Up to Racism, which formed around the refugee crisis in 2015 and has been consistently building locally and nationally ever since.
SUTR’s annual conference on 20 October was a huge success, with around 1,400 delegates registering. MPs including Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and David Lammy joined activists from Greece, Germany, Hungary, Sweden and beyond, and campaigners from across Britain, to discuss the questions facing anti-racists today.
And this is no simple task — workshops showed how different views and tactics must be debated out with care.
It was also significant that the conference was taking place as hundreds of thousands were marching in London against Brexit — including many who would have been motivated partly by revulsion at the racism of Tory Brexiteers.
This underlines how crucial it is that the anti-racist movement fights to defend the rights of EU residents in Britain as well as for refugees to be welcomed. We cannot be divided along the lines of whether one voted Leave or Remain — this would be extremely damaging for the movement.
The Unity Demonstration on 17 November is a vital next step. It was called following a summer of far-right mobilisations by the Football Lads Alliance and its offshoot the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, as well as a number of marches by the dregs of Tommy Robinson’s English Defence League and the wider forces coalescing around the “free Tommy” campaign.
Fighting for justice
The Unity Demonstration is supported by SUTR, Unite Against Fascism, the Trade Union Congress and Love Music Hate Racism. It can bring together all those horrified by the growth of the far-right, all those who want to campaign over Windrush, those who are fighting for justice against police violence and institutional racism, refugee and migrant groups, trade unionists, EU workers and more.
But it must also be a stepping stone — a means of building a wider and deeper anti-racist activist base in Britain, as part of a global movement.
If on 17 November we think local, then on 16 March 2019 — the UN anti-racism day of action — we must think global. On that day scores of anti-racist protests will take place across dozens of countries, a list being added to all the time.
In a world in which the far-right is growing, we must have a global response. But that starts at home, talking to our neighbours, our work colleagues, fellow students and trade unionists, about how we can strengthen the anti-racist majority in Britain.