Socialist Party documents

Perspectives for Britain 2017

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Right populism

15. Many on the left discount the disarray of the capitalist class, or, even if they recognise it, insist that the only gainers from it can be right wing populism, racism and nationalism. This despair is not based in reality. Unsurprisingly, given both of the official referendum campaigns whipping up of racism and nationalism, there has been a certain increase in racism which must be urgently combatted by the workers' movement. However, this was not the central characteristic of the working class vote for Brexit. Only 33% of leave voters defined 'leave' as meaning less immigration. At the same time there is a strong anti-racist mood among many young people.

16. As yet there has not been an increase in support for the right-wing populists of UKIP, who are still lower in the opinion polls than they were before the referendum. A big majority of those who voted no in the referendum have never voted for UKIP. Nor has UKIP proved able to mobilise support on the streets. Farage briefly threatened a mass demonstration against the High Court's decision regarding Article 50, but then called it off. Of course, this could change. It is possible that, if for example UKIP's new leader Paul Nuttall successfully appeals to disillusioned Labour voters, that UKIP's electoral support could grow. It is also possible that right wing populism - whether or not under the banner of UKIP - can succeed in mobilising mass protests against what would be seen as the capitalist establishment's 'betrayal' of the Brexit vote. However, none of this is pre-ordained. Only the failure of the workers' movement to harness the enormous accumulated anger of the working class and radicalised middle class would open the road to this scenario.

17. Even if in the future Britain was to face a similar situation to some other European countries, with right-wing populist forces, whether UKIP, a split from the Tory Party or a new formation - coming to power, most likely as part of a coalition - it would act as a whip of counter-revolution to radicalise and mobilise large sections of the working class and young people. An indication of this is seen in the response of young people to the election of Trump. Although there are parallels to the economic situation in the 20s & 30s Trump cannot accurately be described as a fascist. The social forces on which fascism was based in that period no longer exist. The relationship of class forces today is still decisively in favour of the working class, even though its organisations have been weakened.

18. The central task of the workers' movement is to launch a serious struggle for a workers' Brexit which is socialist and internationalist around a programme to defend and improve the lives of the majority - including a 10 an hour minimum wage, mass council house building, nationalisation of key industries and so on. At the same time it is obviously essential that the workers' movement fights trenchantly against racism and defends the rights of migrants and refugees. This must include supporting the right of all EU citizens currently in Britain who wish to remain being able to do so with full rights. It is only possible to build real workers' unity as part of a struggle in defence of working class interests. Moralistic calls for anti-racism such as those made by the Labour right, which are combined with accepting the driving down of wages and conditions of the working class, will inevitably be counterproductive.

19. There is almost a resignation by many on the left that it is not possible to convince workers of a socialist and internationalist position on immigration. This is not the case. Nor does opposing racism - as the Labour right and unfortunately some on the left argue - mean supporting the European single market. The single market is based on the 'four freedoms' of the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour. It is an agreement between the different capitalist classes of Europe in order to create the largest possible market in order to maximise their ability to exploit the working classes of Europe. The tools which aid their ability to use 'free movement' to increase exploitation include measures like the Posted Workers' Directive. A socialist world would be a world without borders, with genuinely free movement, unlike what passes for it in Fortress Europe where thousands of refugees are left to drown in the Mediterranean. Since its inception, however, the workers' movement has not supported capitalist 'free movement', including of labour, which undermines and drives down workers' conditions and consequently aggravates racism and nationalism, but rather has fought to maximise workers' control of conditions at work, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy. It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of 'border control' not supported by the capitalists. It is a correct approach, therefore, to argue as Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has done, that employers should have to be covered by a proper trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining before they can recruit labour abroad. This is arguing for an increase in the democratic workers' control over hiring, and a decrease in the control of big business.

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