by Nick Wright
A famous anti-fascist image showed Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels dressing Hitler in a Karl Marx beard.
The Nazis built a mass base with populist policies that mimicked the left – combined with demagogic attacks on big business, the banks and the liberal Weimar parties. But at the critical moment, Germany’s big bourgeoisie bought Hitler into office and the attacks on the bosses ceased.
The artist, the German communist photomonteur John Heartfield, used the front cover of the Workers Illustrated Weekly (Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung) to expose the hypocrisy behind Nazi populist rhetoric.
Today we have Britain’s fledgeling führer Tommy Robinson aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon vying to make himself the figurehead for voters who sense the Brexit vote is being betrayed.
Britain’s fascist fringe is in perpetual search for an issue that connects them to a mass audience. This time it looks like they might have found one.
In the Thirties, it tried agitation over unemployment combined with anti-semitism. This ran up against a powerful unemployed workers movement and hit the buffers when the massed ranks of the Metropolitan Police proved insufficient to force a way through East End streets defended by a local population – aroused by the Communist Party – and including both Irish and Jewish workers.
A decade later, with Europe in ruins following the defeat of Nazi Germany, Sir Oswald Mosley – the failed führer of the British gentry – celebrated his release from wartime internment by proselytising for Europe a Nation.
He wanted Europe to form an integrated corporate state with pooled colonial possessions.
It soon switched its focus to straightforward racism and immigration. Mosley’s Union Movement never gained serious traction and met some spectacular reverses on the streets by the same combination of forces that stymied him in 1938.
Today, the line up is different. There really are powerful forces lining up to subvert the Brexit vote. Millions of working-class voters sense this and the fascist fringe sees an opportunity.
Along with the Corbyn-critical chorus of right-wing Labour MPs, there is a cross-party coalition that is searching for a parliamentary mechanism to reverse the popular decision to leave the EU.
Theresa May always was a Remainer and one of the reasons she has remained Tory leader and prime minister is that she, unlike all the figures vying for her job, has the best chance of delivering a deal that satisfies the City of London.
This is why – although the agreement she struck with the EU bigwigs looks very much like continued membership of the EU – there is no clear way out of the political deadlock. If she puts her Draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU to the Commons on 11 December she will likely fail.
Whether or not Labour’s confidence motion succeeds the government is in a continuing crisis that reflects the real divisions in our ruling class and thus has no clear resolution.
The essential truth is that the main section of the ruling class wants as intimate relationship with the EU as possible. The failure to grasp this is what characterises ‘left wing’ supporters of a second vote and has led them into an unsavoury alliance with big business, the bankers, the military security establishment, top civil servants and the liberal media.
At Westminster Labour’s bid to deliver a knockout blow to the government is disrupted by EU fanatics from all parties who see the parliamentary crisis as an opportunity to intensify their campaign for a second referendum and reverse the Brexit vote.
This is essentially divisive, and if successful would chime with the sense that a Brexit betrayal is underway and thus spark a revival of UKIP votes and fascist fortunes. For the government, it is a godsend as it undermines the demand for a General Election.
Today’s fascists have learnt some lessons from their long list of failures. Prancing about in Nazi-themed regalia is nowadays more aTory party trick. Instead, a rebranded fascism has taken to the streets in a series of demonstrations that gained traction with slogans that pick up on the obsessions of the tabloid media and follow the coded words of top politicians.
We have seen a clutch of marches, three biggish ones in London and smaller gatherings in other towns organised by a social media-fuelled Democratic Football Lads Alliance.
The populist pivot on which these outfits turn are the issues of terrorism and sexual grooming. And centred on Tommy Robinson’s carefully constructed encounters with the legal system and his repeated retreats to Her Majesty’s prisons an improbable narrative has developed which presents this fantasist, thug and convicted fraudster as a free speech’ victim.
The demonstrations inevitably attract, along with the innocent worried over terrorism or sexual grooming, the usual collection of Hitler-saluting Nazi nuts and far-right factions. There is some serious money behind these events with a network of international connections that include the notorious anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders from the Netherlands and the shadowy and intellectually pretentious activists from Generation Identity.
Setting the tone for much of this activity is the scruffy figure of Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for Trump and now networking with Nigel Farage, Marine le Pen, Alice Weidel of Alternativ fur Deutschland and the serially antisemitic Hungarian premier Viktor Orban.
Bannon’s new foundation aims to offer polling, political research, media advice and data targeting to right-wing groups. This is an untidy, sprawling, disparate collection of forces that feed upon a wide range of grievances. Fascist ideas fit into a political discourse that has its roots in slavery, colonial exploitation, racism and antisemitism, 20th century imperial wars and capitalist crisis. Searching for coherence among this medley of misfits and misanthropes is a mistake but today they sense that they have hit upon an issue that gives them an opening to millions of people.
The lessons of history are clear. It is vital that fascism in its many guises does not find a common language with the mass of the people.
A very broad coalition of anti-fascist and anti-racist forces have come together to challenge Tommy Robinson’s bid. The united counter demonstration will assemble 11am at the BBC, Portland Place, and march to Whitehall.
So the proposal from Another Europe is Possible to stage a rival demonstration to the 9 December rally against Tommy Robinson under the slogan No to Tommy Robinson, No to Brexit is a grotesque political mistake. It hands the fascist fringe ownership of an issue which animates millions of working voters and allows them to pose as defenders of democracy. It is a priceless gift to the fascists, a spectacular own goal by people who have lost touch with the millions of working-class voters whose support is vital if Labour is to win a General Election.