Saturday, 25 June 2011

A response to the EDL on class

On the English Defence League's website, "Jim EDL" discusses The EDL and the working class. He argues that "the political left has embarked upon a deliberate campaign to demonise the [EDL] and its working-class supporters." As with most far-right arguments, it contains truths that need to be addressed as well as ideas that need to be countered.

The article's main fault is that, in trying to take on "the left," it is attacking a vague and ill-defined term and so fails to hit any targets. There are mentions of the Labour Party, the trade unions, "socialists," and Indymedia UK, but there is no real sense that the author is doing anything other than moving from one standard demon of the right to another. As such, the conclusion that "there is only one organisation that represents real working-class interests in Britain, and that it the EDL," is pulled largely from thin air with no grounding whatsoever.

But class, too, is something the far-right only ever pick up on in the vaguest sense. They use the terms "working class" and "middle class," perhaps even "elites," but then talk of national interests as though they are class interests. The contrast between the conditions of different classes is followed by a call for class collaboration and decrying of capitalism with urging people to support the ruling class institutions that uphold it.

The author is right when he says that "many on the left simply demonise groups like the EDL out of hand and will not even listen to their concerns." The prime example is Unite Against Fascism, which keeps politicians, liberals, and mainstream organisations on board by keeping class politics out of its analysis. Hence the call to "defend multiculturalism," after David Cameron's speech on the subject, despite it being a political policy which encourages segregation and keeps the working class competing amongst themselves for resources under the umbrella of capitalism.

Jim EDL recognises this when he says that "perhaps the real intention was to keep the working class down by keeping them poor and vulnerable to the whims of international capitalism." But from this he concludes that "the chattering classes" want "to see England and its culture destroyed," making the class issue a national one. But this isn't the case at all.

Likewise, he is wrong to dismiss "solidarity amongst workers" as "middle class concerns." I have no love at all for the Labour Party, nor any doubt that its time in government had more than a hand in the problems we face today. But those problems are problems of class, not nation, and the fact that Labour are trying to exploit them for votes doesn't change that. Many of us have no illusions whatsoever that the party was ever "thinking about the interests of the working class." But that doesn't change what those interests are.

We're facing the sharpest attacks in a generation. Do the further wearing away and privatisation of the NHS, sending another 11% of children into poverty, the cost of living spiralling as pay doesn't keep up with inflation, or pushing the disabled further into hardship really class as "middle class concerns?" No, they are the concerns of a working class under attack and there is an urgent need to fight back.

The author fails to recognise this, arguing against mass migration on the basis that "the influence, freedom and standard of living for working people increased when the population of England plummeted" after the Black Death. The only problem with this is that the link he posts tells us the real reason that conditions improved - the Peasants' Revolt. As we saw with the creation of the welfare state in a time when the working class was extremely powerful, and the steady rolling back of all our gains when the unions were defeated, the conditions we face depend upon the balance of class power. It is the "solidarity amongst workers" that Jim EDL waves away which have won us every last concession the ruling class has been forced to grant.

The author's conclusion, on the other hand, is that because "the economic interests of the elite are now being facilitated by socialist and capitalist alike," only the EDL "represents real working-class interests," which all of a sudden have nothing to do with this economic exploitation by the ruling class. After decrying the left for facilitating it, the EDL simply accepts it as the norm.

There are innumerable legitimate criticisms that can be made of "the left" - whether that means the trade unions, "socialist" parties, or Labour. If you read through my blog, you'll come across many of them. Likewise, the issue of political Islam and its impact isn't simply an invention of fascists. Again, I've written about the issues around it (and the inadequacies of the left's response) many times. But it doesn't follow from this that we need to ignore class issues and fly the flag instead. What the working class needs is the confidence to take control of our own struggles, rooted in opposition to capitalism and the politicians and bosses who make up its ruling class.

The English Defence League don't want that. They want us to "have respect for our country’s institutions such as the monarchy, the armed forces, and the legal system." But so do the ruling class, and neither group has our best interests at heart.