Global elections: Hard right reaches for power

Reform UK

First published at Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

Left-wing mirth at the Tories’ farcical election launch should be tempered by the two main takeaways likely from this election – the vote for far-right Reform UK and the determination of the Starmer Labour leadership to crush the last remnants of the Corbynite left in parliament. The attempted exclusion of Diane Abbot and Chingford and Wood Green candidates –– are just the tip of the iceberg. More exclusions of left-wingers are likely at the next National Executive meeting. Starmer clearly doesn’t care about the damage done to Labour among minority communities or progressive voters; he wants to show Daily Mail readers that he can be trusted to get tough with the Left and with critics of Israel. Green MP Caroline Lucas was spot on when she told Novara Media1 that the Diane Abbot affair raises concerns not just about authoritarianism within the Labour Party, but about how a Labour government would govern.

The incoming government will have at its disposal the report by Lord Walney2 (John Woodcock) proposing an array of new police powers against virtually any form of public protest. The report goes way beyond the Police and Criminal Justice Act passed in 2022, which itself contained unprecedented police powers. One particularly insidious Woodcock proposal would require protest groups to pay for policing their events, which might, in the case of big national demonstrations, run to hundreds of thousands of pounds. The UK general election comes in the same year as those in the United States, India and South Africa, as well as the European elections in June. The outcomes of most of these are likely to make uncomfortable reading for people who defend democratic rights. These elections have to be put together with right-wing victories in 1922-3 in the Netherlands3, Italy and Argentina4, ushering in hard right governments or coalition governments in which the. far-right plays a decisive role.

The rise of far-right Reform UK and Conservative troubles

All the polling data5 so far shows the UK Conservatives suffering a pincer movement in ‘red wall’ constituencies from Labour and Reform UK, which is likely to lose them many seats. You can tell the Tories are in trouble when Steve Baker, fixer for the parliamentary hard right, denounces the Sunak conscription plan and goes on holiday to Greece rather than campaign in his Wycombe constituency. More stinging for Sunak perhaps was the comment of former minister (Lord) Zac Goldsmith, wishing Sunak well in his new post-election residence in California – a reference to the luxury townhouse on a California beach, gifted to Sunak by his multi-billionaire father-in-law. Another straw in the wind is the decision by Michael Gove to stand down from parliament. Gove could have lost his seat in the election, but his statement that younger people need to take over was disingenuous. Gove is only in his late 50s and has strong links with hard-right factions outside the Conservative Party through think tanks like Policy Exchange. He is not about to go out of politics.

By far the most important 2024 election, of course, is that in the United States where a Donald Trump victory in November looks increasingly likely (even despite his conviction for falsifying business accounts to cover up his hush-money payments to adult movie star Stormy Daniels). Trump has declared that he will ‘crush’ pro-Palestinian demonstrations when he is president. ‘We need to push back this movement 20 or 30 years’, he declared. A re-elected Trump with a possible majority in Congress and a right-wing majority in the Supreme Court will give him a free hand to attack civil liberties on a wide range of issues, from women’s reproductive rights to pro-Palestine demonstrations. If he is elected a full-scale witch hunt against the Palestinian solidarity movement could see any significant statement of support for Palestinians made illegal.

Right-wing victories and global democratic threats

Right-wing victories in the coming elections in the United States, Mexico6 and India, and a right-wing government in the UK, whoever wins, threatens democratic rights and could lead to a right-wing onslaught, using the tried and trusted methods of anti-immigrant racism, ethnic division and witch hunts against gender and racial minorities, women’s rights and the Left. In the United States, anti-immigrant racism is likely to be infected with the tropes of the evangelical Christian right, on questions as diverse as abortion, trans rights and creationism. The hate figures for much of this are progressive teachers, the very people alleged to be using cultural Marxism’ to teach school kids progressive and scientific views on evolution, women’s rights and gender identity – as well as the roots of anti-Black racism in slavery.

The question of Palestine is not going away and the movement will continue. Supporters of Israel, including of course Donald Trump and the Tory right in Britain, are trying to de-legitimise the pro-Palestinian solidarity movement, and make its demonstrations and meetings illegal. A frightening view of what this might mean has been the way that American student encampments have been viciously attacked by paramilitary police forces from Columbia University in New York to UCLA in Los Angeles to the University of Texas in Austin. Pro-Palestine demonstrations are already effectively unlawful in Germany, and the right wants to create a similar situation in Britain and France.

Last month’s far-right rally in Madrid, hosted by the Spanish neo-fascist party Vox, demonstrated a new level of international collaboration by the hard right. It was attended in person by Marine Le Pen of the French Rassemblement National, and through Zoom by Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. There is a real danger that the semi-fascist far right could become the largest single bloc in the European parliament after the June Euro-elections. With Meloni and Orban, and now far-right leader Geert Wilders, the most powerful figure in a right-wing coalition in the Netherlands, the strategy of modern fascism – conquer the state from within – is more and more clearly demonstrated. This is what the late Neil Faulkner called ‘creeping fascism’.7 Viktor Orban coined the term ‘illiberal democracy’ to describe his government in Hungary, as opposed to the liberal democracy defended by softies in Western Europe. But liberal democracy is already in the process of becoming illiberal democracy.

The Reform UK strategy for winning mass support is the same as its far-right European allies. It was on full display at the May 27 Dover meeting with Reform’s real leader Nigel Farage,8 which was on one topic only – immigration. Challenged on that by Channel 4’s Paul McNamara, who pointed out that the NHS and the economy are consistently the most important topics for the public, and not immigration, Farage replied, of course, that immigration was the source of economic depression and NHS waiting lists. Low-paid foreign workers crashed the economy and new immigrants overran the NHS.

Then Farage said that pro-Palestinian demonstrations were fuelled by young Asian immigrants who ‘do not share British values’. Asked if he meant Muslims, he bluntly replied ‘yes’. Farage deepened Reform’s political narrative, declaring that immigration – legal and illegal – was a national security emergency, and Reform UK’s leader Richard Tyce has said that this means driving the small boats back into French waters. Some of this sounds uncomfortably like Labour’s plans for an anti-immigrant ‘command’, including MI5, to target the gangs who organise the Channel small boat crossings.

Because of the hugely undemocratic electoral system, Reform UK is unlikely to get more than two or three MPs at most in the July 4 election. But if the election produces a Labour or Labour-dominated coalition government it will be under siege from a hard right parliamentary Conservative party, led by either Suella Braverman or Kemi Badenoch, Reform UK and outside parliament probably a clutch of fascist groups led by Tommy Robinson, the same people who clashed with the police in Whitehall on April 23, St. George’s Day.9

The election in India is likely to return an even bigger majority for the Hindu nationalist BJP, who are likely to start implementing their ethnic cleansing of Muslims, millions of whom cannot produce documents showing they were born in India. People from every religious group will be forgiven for not having these documents – unless they are Muslims, specifically excluded by New immigration laws. Giant open-air holding camps have been established to house the many thousands now deemed illegal migrants, before attempts to push them across the borders into Pakistan, Bangladesh or Pakistani Kashmir – a nightmare scenario. In the past five years there have been important mobilisations of farmers against the neoliberalisation of agriculture, as well as mass protests against the epidemic of sexual violence nationwide. But these struggles and protest movements have not been crystallised into a viable anti-BJP election force. The only nationwide alternative is the corrupt and discredited Congress party. The poor and oppressed have no real national force to defend them.

It is now 30 years since the first free elections that brought Nelson Mandela and the ANC to power. The ANC government has been a disaster from the viewpoint of the non-white population. Although a significant black middle class has emerged, for most non-White people the same structures of inequality, mass violence, unemployment, crime, and the hopeless desperation of the townships persist. Again no mass alternative to the ANC from the left has emerged.  A major responsibility for this lies with the South African Communist Party, which has stuck doggedly to its alliance with the ANC despite all the evidence of corruption by successive ANC governments.

In Britain, it is a tragedy that Reform UK is likely to outdistance the Greens and, in some areas, the Liberal Democrats in this election. In other words, by far the most influential party to have emerged outside the ‘big three’ from the massive economic and political crisis of 2008–9 is a party of the extreme right. It is an indictment of the left inside and outside the Labour Party that nothing permanent has been established to intervene at a mass level, from either inside or outside the Labour Party.

The use of so-called culture wars to isolate and demonise progressive mass movements and the left has been most clearly demonstrated in the United States, in the response to the Black Lives Matter movement and now the pro-Palestinian movement based in the universities. Radical right administrations at the national or local level use ideological gaslighting and physical repression to attack their opponents. The ideological gaslighting through major TV and social media channels like Fox News portrayed the black lives matter movement as being in the hands of the so-called ‘antifa’ movement –  in fact a tiny group of ultra-left antifascist militants, and  further portrayed Black Lives Matter as part of a Marxist revolutionary movement aimed at destroying American capitalism. Gaslighting goes hand-in-hand with the idea that ‘cultural Marxism’ is present in the classroom and that American children are being subjected to left-wing lies about slavery in the US, lies about evolution, lies about lesbian, gay and transgender people. Scare tactics like these are the essential underpinning of a witch hunt.

A unified left-wing response and future challenges

The pro-Palestinian protest movement has been remarkably tenacious, both in the United States and Britain, but will ultimately face the dilemmas of all protest movements. Single-issue coalitions can continue only for a limited period as mass movements before they inevitably die away. So for example in the United States, in the past 15 years we have seen the Occupy! movement against the banks and the global rich; the mass demonstrations of women against Donald Trump when he took office in January 2020 , which mobilised millions; the Black Lives Matter movement and now the pro-Palestinian movement. There is no doubt that these movements have left a legacy that inspires hundreds of thousands of people over a prolonged period. But against a rabid hard right that has control of important mass media, as well as government and the judiciary, it is hard to fight back issue by issue. Only a mass left-wing political movement based on an alternative governmental programme can throw back the offensive of the hard right over a sustained period.

But the ‘mass movement versus the reactionary state’ scenario doesn’t say it all. In Britain in 2023, and in the United States over a longer time frame, working-class trade union struggle has undergone a remarkable new surge. Despite the difficulty of doing it, the linking of trade unionists with mass pro-Palestinian and anti-racist struggle is an essential strategic task, one taken up with determination at the recent Labor Notes conference.

Despite the defeat of Corbynism and the dispersal of the forces around Left Unity, it would be a big step backwards to retreat into trade unionism or single-issue politics. There is no way forward in the medium term other than to fight for a broad left-wing party based on militant socialist policies, in Britain and internationally.

There have been important negative experiences for broad left formations in the last period. Such parties can only be sustained if they have a backbone of class struggle activists who have the experience, commitment and political formation to defend themselves against repression or incorporation.