Last week we saw a lot of news coverage of the EDL. Whether it was Paxman’s rather weak interview with their “leader” (who’d have known owning a tanning salon could turn you orange AND crazy) or the march in Luton, the profile of the organization seems to be rising. As does their membership.
Now I’m not about to call them racists, or Nazis, or fascists, or any other nasty names. (Although I did just call them crazy, sorry) That really doesn’t help, and it probably isn’t true. From what I have learned the membership seems to be made up of a lot of working class people who have nowhere else to turn. Judging from the chants (and tattoos) the membership seems to be based upon, and to have grown out of, more militant arms of football hooliganism. Now whether this is cause or effect, or just coincidence, we will probably never know. However the bigger questions we need to ask are:
Why have they come about? And, why are they growing?
There is a very patronizing answer to the first question but it is also near to the truth. Marx himself wrote: What of "The dangerous class [lumpenproletariat] that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, [it] may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue." Well this is it. Capitalism has failed a very large section of society. Social democracy, especially the New Labour variety, has never addressed these problems fully. Therefor some very easy answers come in to play.
Hospitals aren’t funded properly – that’s because the immigrants are placing a strain on the system.
Schools are overcrowded - that’s because the immigrants are placing a strain on the system.
There’s no council housing - that’s because the immigrants are placing a strain on the system.
The welfare bill is too big - that’s because the immigrants are placing a strain on the system.
Crime is rising - that’s because the immigrants are placing a strain on the system.
Fundamental problems of capitalism are very easily brushed aside by blaming a minority who are easily victimized and portrayed as foreign, anti-British and “not belonging here”. And the left needs to stop blaming the far right for holding these views. The people who join far right groups are at the acute end of these pressures. All the time the elite, whether liberal or conservative or labour, fail to address the very real problems, and more importantly fail to blame capitalism itself. Society needs to ask itself why it has let things get so bad that a space is opened up for these groups to grow.
And why are these groups growing. Firstly for the same reasons they started – easy answers. But more importantly it becomes cultural. A social, drinking, football culture binds members of the EDL together, so joining becomes second nature. The answers are dressed up in national pride and identity. The slogans are easy. Also there is no other alternative out there, because lets face it – many people on the far left are either scared to address the problems, or far to patronizing to bother.
So what can we learn?
Well if we want to learn how to combat it, we certainly mustn’t simply go far right bashing. We need to address the issues that cause people to seek the easy answers. And how is best to do that? Well the far right are showing the way. Like the far right, the left needs to be part of working class culture. We need the easy slogans, we need the social element to our campaign. We need to fight for socialist ideas at work, in the pub, in sports grounds, everywhere we can. If we try and paint ourselves as “working class intellectuals” or “artists” or “CND-tree-loving-vegetarians” we will fail. Not that there is anything wrong with any of these things. But we need to show that British working class solidarity, whatever race, colour, or religion, is the way to solve the problems by replacing the capitalist system itself.