Sunday Brunch: The Decline and Rise of Rightwing Extremism in the UK and the US

Last week, I posted a tidbit about the English Defence League holding a demonstrationg in downtown Birmingham.  This ended in a street fight.  This past Friday, on the 8th anniversary of the attacks in New York, they attempted to hold a demonstration in front a mosque alongside Stop the Islamification of Europe, in Harrow.  That ended in a street fight.  Today, they are holding a counterdemonstrationg in Picadilly Circus in central london because a hardline Islamist group is holding a demonstration there.  I actually don't think this will end in a street fight, though I could be wrong.

Over the summer, in various cities across the United States, small groups of rightwing extremists came to shout down debate on the healthcare bill.  Their broader point, however, as far as I can tell, was to deny the right of Barack Obama to exist at worst and at minimum to deny his right to be President.  This is evident from previous attempts to argue that he was not born in the United States despite all contrary evidence ('The Birther Movement'), their attempts to take up the idioms of the American secession from Britain by dumping tea, and most recently by bringing guns to discussions about healthcare policy, tearing up posters of Rosa Parks, and calling an Israeli a Hitler-supporter.  And these are just the ones I've read about or seen video of on Youtube or The Daily Show or elsewhere.

That is the short term context of what I'm discussing here.  However, the longer term context is both relevant and indicated in my title - the decline of rightwing extremism.  In the U.S., it has increasingly lost its instiuttional supporters and enablers, the legitimacy of anti-muslim wars or anti-black people or anti-poor people or anti-gay legislation and policy is increasingly being challenged, and polarization as a whole is being challenged by people who were willing to stay quiet before or who didn't have a space to talk.  Nonetheless, they still enjoy institutional support through arms like Fox News - which is far more powerful than anything that exists in Britain.  It is, however, less powerful than the entire United States government, many state governments, and an elite consensus on the need to f"£k people over in the name of some other object which was never quite clearly specified other than that it was 'inevitable' and there was 'no alternative.'

In Britain, the context is different, and I don't know enough of it to be able to comment effectively.  What i will say is that there has been nearly 25 years of neglect of class issues engaged in by both political parties in Britain.  As a result, as with the U.S., the share in income of the top whatever percent have risen, although less dramatically, while the bottom and middle have remained stagnant.  In this context, all of a sudden, the British media and policymakers discovered that white working class people were suffering - and they decided to pin this on multiculturalism rather than on class issues.  In doing so, they commit basic errors that are easily contradicted by data - for example, arguing that white working class people are discriminated against on the basis of race rather than class.  Government data itself shows that the working class people make up a smaller share of white people than the working class populations of ethnic minority groups do - sometimes a far smaller share - as in when you compare to pakistani and black caribbean groups in the UK.  However, because white people are an overwhelmingly large percentage of the population in Britain, most of the working class is white.  In other words, it becomes relatively easy, if you're so inclined, to pretend this is a race issue and speak in terms of race when in fact what is happening is that race dynamics and class dynamics BOTH exist (in addition to gender, sexuality, disability status, age, and everything else).

The good news is that the financial crisis has broken at least the media hegemony on how great the previous system was, in the sense that they have stopped pretending it is sustainable and in some rare cases actually started looking at how atrocious it was even within the countries whose elites and corporations most benefited from it.  However, the upside and the downside to this is that social control is breaking down.  This is really really good in the sense that that idiotic and destructive narrative can now be taken apart and discussed.  This is really really bad in the sense that it leads to the kinds of situations described above - the social bases of rightwing extremism still exist and in some cases are growing, because they have been let loose.  They are crazy, and they are angry, and their institigators and enablers in the U.S. are not disavowing them even though they are bringing guns to Presidential addresses and in the UK they are not taking specific actions to address the failings that have led to this situation occurring (notably by acknowleding failures to address class politics and overly rigid notions of 'community' that are sometimes more an attempt not to offend than a mark of respect).

So what do we do in the U.S. and the U.K.?  I am going to give a positive strategy and some points for consideration. 

The positive strategy has to be, to the extent possible, to encourage people on all sides to embrace social pluralism.  This is partly to reduce polarization that is getting to dangerous points - but also to enable real discussions to happen and the value of questioning the 'expert' to become more embedded before the consolidation of a new ideologically hegemony (noted in the Paul Krugman tidbit).  This includes respect for the legitimate points of extremists while reframing those points in a way that will allow them to be understood outside their narrow ideological framework (e.g. acknowledging for Hindu fundamentalists that populations of Hindus are discriminated against in Bangladesh and Pakistan, but then concieving of this alongside other religious discrimination, linking it to Indian forms of discrimination against religious minorities, and ultimately drawing attention to the fact that communalism as a dynamic is a problem, not 'attacks on Hindus'.).  For example, bringing white working class people INTO the rubric of equalities work is extremely important - and converts it from a liberal movement to a social democratic one (at minimum).  That would be an enormous opportunity and gain if it can be done. 

There are, however, important points to think through in actually getting this done.  This includes carefully thinking through the implications of tactics used to oppose extremists who take to the street - e.g. do they need to be shouted down?  do they need to be fought?  do they need to be ignored?  do they need to be disarmed?  do they need to be delegitimised by increasing pressure on their institutional supporters (e.g. the attempt to eliminate advertising funding for glenn beck)?  This is enormously important because you don't want to contribute to further polarisation which will lead to exactly the opposite of what is needed in the cultural sphere for the left, especially in the U.S. - real free room for real discussion. 

Finally, and relatedly, there is the alarming possibility of actions so severe that are instigated by rightwing extremists that they lead to a dynamic that takes over.  Many of the actions in Sri Lanka by Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists from 1948 to 1983 can be lumped in this category, but it can work on a lesser scale too - such as the demonstrations of the English Defence League which result in video of young Asian/Muslim men attacking the police.  In Brtain, some demonstrations have been banned.  In the U.S., i would suggest respectfully that perhaps not allowing guns in to public meetings would be a useful measure for all involved, on general common sense levels if nothing else.  This, like the rest of what is discussed, is very context specific, but the point is that there has to be a line which is determined by us at which point we are willing to get the state and other structures of power involved.  I regret this, because they are fundamentally the problem as I outlined above, but they also set in motion forces which get beyond their control but help reinstitute their power.  It seems like preventing increasing social violence on counterproductive lines must involve, at minimum, local policing, and at maximum calls for accountability from those who are goading on the violence, whoever they are, and on whatever 'side'.

Food for thought.

What is to be done? Some ideas and a way of thinking about it for consideration.

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In the present economic

In the present economic condition, it would be in the interest of the ruling population to invoke race, ethnicity and gender as the root of the problem to avoid any discussion of class and the dynamics of class. Arent we entering another stage (or manifestation) of an ongoing class war?

In Britain, they've been

In Britain, they've been doing this for a while now.  In the U.S., I think it in earnest started only with the Democratic primary in January 2008 with Obama's win in the primary, but in hindsight I can see the building of it (and my own place in it).  It's truly, truly, ugly how many ways that ruling elties / political structures can construct to hold down and divide people.

Given this construction to

Given this construction to divide people, I am not sure that polarisation is necessarily offensive or bad. In the US, for instance, the onus of "reconciliation" seems to be on the Democrats, the centre and the centre left. In a completely different context, but perhaps illustrating the nature of class war, here is an excerpt from Saroj Giri's piece in MRZine on the Lalgarh resistance published in July 2009. The question under consideration is whether Lalgarh residents fighting against the state are Maoists or not.

In this light, as in the case of Malati, it is not really the armed Maoist who is most dangerous in Lalgarh; it is the ‘ordinary civilian’, the PCAPA supporter who is indistinguishable form the Maoist supporter. Is Malati a Maoist? If she refuses health care offered during her most vulnerable moment, then what is the state supposed to do to win back her support? If ‘ordinary civilians’ do not want to get out of the ‘conflict situation’, and want to take sides, maybe not in any dramatic manner but at least by wanting to err on the side of the ‘violent Maoists’, then the task of separating the Maoists from the civilians becomes tough — and in fact politically reactionary.

I guess the point that I am trying to make is that if a  class war is being fought, then conflict is unavoidable. And for those of us passing our rotis on the left hand side, trying to minimise polarisation ( conflict is a manifestation of polar views, is it not?) might dilute the myriad ways that people fight these wars on an individual, everday or a collective, more organised basis.

I hope I've managed to be coherent early in the morning.



Yes - coherent - but you're

Yes - coherent - but you're opening up a very long discussion about strategy :)  My short answer is that even situations of class war and conflict - particularly in transition - can allow for a variety of different kinds of strategies.  For example, during partition, the level of polarisation and violence was so great taht it turned a lot of leftists and everyone else off of conflict altogether.  As such, I don't think one can singlemindedly embrace conflict in a situation of class war.

That's separate from the humanist argument against violence as a tool for social progress which is also somewhat weighty given what we're talking about.

I was not necessarily

I was not necessarily suggesting physical violence - wars are fought on various turfs (the cultural and ideological turf included). And if a war is indeed being waged, then it would be useful to know which side of the battlefield one wishes to be on. But you point about strategies being more complex than what my initial assertion might have suggested is well taken.

I think we are agreed :)

I think we are agreed :)

Why has the quantity of spam

Why has the quantity of spam posted on P.T.R. all of the sudden increased (e.g., # 7 by "Bethany")?

Don't know - working on it :D

Don't know - working on it :D

The world is unequal, so

The world is unequal, so there is a war in many places.

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