Far-right extremism has been on the rise in the recent period, with a steadily increasing presence on the streets. Figures like Tommy Robinson (a.k.a. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), who were previously on the fringes of British politics with no large following, have been receiving a larger amount of media attention.
Yaxley-Lennon was jailed earlier this year after being found in contempt of court. He has attempted to portray himself as some sort of martyr and defender of free speech - a phrase that the far right often hide behind to justify their bile and hatred.
Whilst Yaxley-Lennon himself remains a relatively obscure and unimportant political figure in Britain, it is no secret that he is receiving funding and support from right-wingers overseas. Steve Bannon, the former Trump strategist, has declared his support for Yaxley-Lennon, and has himself expressed an intention to form a European right-wing “supergroup”.
Last month, on 12 April, at the most recent #YouthStrike4Climate demonstration in Parliament Square, Socialist Appeal comrades were confronted and harassed by Paul Golding, leader of Britain First, and his gang of thugs.
These reactionaries were there as part of a simultaneous protest taking place against the conviction of “Soldier F”, the British soldier recently charged with murder for the criminal events that took place on Bloody Sunday in 1972.
This demonstration drew in a large crowd, with thousands of jingoistic motorcyclists descending on Westminster from across the country to join the protest, draped in Union Jacks, and bolstered by a layer of disaffected war veterans and military types.
Golding and his supporters shouted and swore at our comrades, whilst trying to flip their table and destroy our material. All of this took place in plain view of the police, who looked on unconcerned. They only jumped into action in order to hold back a left-wing member of the public who came to the defence of our comrades.
Paul Golding himself, whilst ranting and raving about snowflakes and the greatness of his ‘hero’ Winston Churchill, objected to being called a fascist. This is despite the fact that he is a former member of the BNP and the National Front, and has been arrested and imprisoned multiple times for harassing and intimidating Muslims. Mr Golding has also been convicted of assault, harassing a woman, and sexually abusing a girl under the age of consent.
Scourge on our streets
Thankfully our comrades were unharmed on this occasion. But these attacks and attempts at intimidation are becoming increasingly frequent in this period.
Socialist Appeal supporters in Leeds, for example, faced similar harassment by far-right thugs earlier this year. Elsewhere, Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the RMT, and other trade unionists were assaulted by Tommy Robinson supporters in the wake of the #FreeTommy protests that took place last June, which drew an estimated crowd of 10,000. And last August, mask-wearing fascists attacked a socialist bookshop in London.
Steve Hedley describes the attack, 40 thugs targeted them outside the Westminster Arms pub. They knew who they were attacking. They attacked them because they are trade union activists, anti-fascists and left wingers. An Injury to One is an Injury to allpic.twitter.com/HWVNKtUn1d— Jorge Martin (@marxistJorge) July 14, 2018
The reactionaries have clearly been emboldened by recent political events, and are beginning to flex their muscles against the labour movement and ethnic minority communities in Britain.
For example, the size of the recent protests in defence of Soldier F and Tommy Robinson, although insignificant in comparison to labour movement demonstrations organised against the Tories and austerity, still represents an increase in numbers and confidence.
The real enemy
People like Yaxley-Lennon and groups like Britain First falsely claim to represent British workers. Their slogans and rhetoric play upon the genuine problems facing the working class, such as the lack of jobs and housing, and the dismantling of the NHS. The genuine anger felt in working class communities around these issues is then channelled by these demagogues into reactionary policies.
Yaxley-Lennon has even claimed that he will represent the “betrayed” working class of Britain if he is elected to the European Parliament. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.
Far-right groups like Britain First make no attempt to hide their reverence towards capitalism and imperialism, and their hatred towards the organisations of the working class. This much was evident from the pro-Churchill and anti-Corbyn ramblings of Paul Golding and co. when confronting our comrades recently.
Rather than representing the working class, figures like Golding and Yaxley-Lennon act to divide the working class, weakening our movement in the face of the face of the real enemy: the capitalist class of bosses and bankers.
The historical role of fascist movements, meanwhile, has been to smash the working class and its organisations, preserving power and control for the capitalist class.
If this pro-worker rhetoric from Britain First and Yaxley-Lennon finds an echo at all, it is due to the absence of a bold socialist alternative from the leaders of the labour movement.
Labour and the unions must point the finger at capitalism as the culprit behind austerity, war, and the collapse of living standards across the country. A clear class-based analysis can cut through the lie that immigrants and foreigners are responsible for all of these problems.
It should be emphasised that fascism is not currently a serious threat to the labour movement in Britain. Nevertheless, this reactionary layer in society is indeed growing, appearing on our streets more frequently than in the past. It must be confronted and smashed. We cannot allow the far right and fascists to intimidate labour movement activists, migrants, and ethnic minority communities.
The Labour Party and trade unions should spearhead a mass campaign against these far-right groups. This should involve mass mobilisations of rank-and file-workers, unionisation drives, strikes, and mass rallies.
Britain has a strong tradition of combating genuine fascism whenever it has reared its ugly head. Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts, for example, were driven off the streets of East London in 1936 by a united labour movement at the Battle of Cable Street.
It is this militant working class tradition that we should revive. If this is combined with a bold socialist programme, the far right will be easily smashed and sent packing.