The British election and the normalisation of the extreme left
Something has happened in this miserable general election campaign that few but the most pessimistic believed could ever occur in this country.
A party riddled with antisemitism and led by a man who has never ceased to ally with anti-Semites, including the most violent and murderous version, is set to receive around a third of the vote in a general election.
It is still within the realms of feasibility that the leader in question, Jeremy Corbyn, will walk into number 10 Downing Street on Friday morning.
Whether that happens or not, a third of this country has either decided to either agree with the anti-Semites, deny the reality of the extremism, close their eyes to the racism because of ‘other priorities’ or kid themselves that voting for a non-extremist Labour candidate isn’t actually helping Corbyn.
Choices are being made.
It is often said that ‘traditional Labour voters’ struggle to vote for the Conservatives or other parties because they hear the voice of long-passed relatives in their head. But do they ever stop to ask whether those voices from the grave would support a man who backs terrorists who want to hunt down Jews across the world? Many of those late fathers and grandfathers put their lives on the line fighting against a genocidal antisemitic regime, would they really be comfortable with their relatives voting for a party with Labour’s attitude to Jews? But that question is rarely being asked — and that too is a choice.
The EU referendum created a deep divide and while the vast majority of Leave voters will not support Labour, many Remainers see a Labour vote or a Corbyn coalition as a way of still blocking Brexit. But do they ever ask themselves how EU governments would respond to Britain electing a man like Corbyn?
Even if we leave the EU, we will, in some form, end up with a trading arrangement with them and crucially continue to cooperate on defence and security issues through European and NATO structures. Will EU partners want to share sensitive information with an anti-NATO Corbyn government? Would the EU rather have a cordial relationship with a post-Brexit Britain or see the country stay begrudgingly in the union, against the wishes of around half it’s citizens, with a Marxist government that will cause an economic crisis in one of their biggest markets? But that question too is not being asked. Another bad choice.
Antisemitism is not the only manifestation of Labour’s extremism, of course but nor is it accidental, some cancer that has infected an otherwise healthy body. In fact, it forms part of a far-left world-view that has taken control of a party, it is the most obvious sign of the collapse of the ‘cordon sanitaire’ that kept Stalinists, Trotskyists, Maoists and others with totalitarian views, out of power and influence in the party.
The takeover of Labour has effectively meant there is no Labour Party in this country, certainly not in the sense of a democratic socialist or social democratic party with values consistent with anti-racism and broader liberal principles.
But the fact that the hard left has been able to capture the name and brand of the Labour Party and its structures, has meant it has been able to use its emotional pull to voters, to disguise the fact that is now essentially a communist party. It has also meant that in society at large, far-left extremism, has been normalised.
Labour’s attacks on their opponents have therefore changed from being measured policy criticisms or reasonable moral arguments into utter demonisation of the ‘evil heartless rich’ and the ‘disgusting Tories’. But the Corbynite exploitation of envy and the levels of vitriol have not alienated those supporters who have internally normalised the far-left narrative, indeed many of them have welcomed such a toxic form of politics.
It is now dangerous to be a politically active Jew in Britain but also dangerous to be a politically active Conservative. This has not been a normal Labour election but a hate campaign against their opponents where phrases such as “Tory scum” once restricted to the pages of Socialist Worker, are now widely used on social media. One does not need to be a Conservative to appreciate the dangers of this kind of politics in a democracy. The fact that moderates in the Labour Party are treated exactly the same — through phrases such as ‘Red Tory’ and ‘Blairite scum’ should prove the point.
Nor is it alarmist to wonder about the link between such demonisation and the historic precedents of Marxist politics. In every country where communists have come to power, their opponents have faced such denunciations and then faced real repression — and worse.
Which brings us to a broader problem. The normalisation of the far-left has only been possible because of the lack of understanding and knowledge in this country about the history of the far-left throughout the past century and a half. Young people in schools and Universities have long been taught about the horrors of Nazism and fascism, the holocaust and mass murder that Hitler, Mussolini and others brought to Europe and the world but the same has not happened with the teaching of communist history.
There is little awareness of the scale of the bloody nightmare that communism produced in Russia and Eastern Europe, China, Cambodia, Cuba and everywhere where the hammer and sickle flag was raised. It is only 30 years since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and yet open Stalinists like Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray, the latter a former staffer with the Soviet Novosti news agency, hold senior influential positions in a potential party of government in the United Kingdom — and this is barely a topic of conversation.
Such a situation is thankfully impossible to imagine on the right of politics in this country. It is absurd to even think of open supporters of Nazism holding senior positions in the Conservative Party, let alone people who actually worked in paid jobs for a fascist government. The cordon sanitaire sometimes cracks on the right, for example allowing racists from the Monday Club into the Tory ranks 40 years ago, but it has never collapsed.
This state of affairs becomes a nightmare if Corbyn emerges with power on Friday but even if, as the polls suggest, a Boris Johnson government is formed with a small majority in parliament, British politics as a whole and liberal, social-democratic politics in particular, faces a real challenge after this election.
In the short-term, there may well be practical action needed to defend and show solidarity with those that the far-left will scapegoat after an electoral defeat, particularly the Jewish community, who already fear the impact of the screeching slogans that ‘the Zionists stopped Jeremy”. If you think I am exaggerating the risk– ask a Jewish friend.
Beyond that, in the longer term, there is the broader question of how to tackle and reverse the normalisation of the hateful politics of the extreme left. That will require years of work, in education, in the sphere of culture, in the media and of course in politics itself, where a positive, democratic, inclusive politics needs to be developed and strengthened to push communism back to the margins of British politics.
This goes way beyond debates over the ‘future of the left’, this is now about the future and survival of democratic politics, about all of our lives and the kind of country our children will grow up in.
Defeating Corbynism at the ballot box on Friday is the necessary, minimum first step, regardless of whatever one thinks about the alternative. But those who care about this country and all of its people, those who do have knowledge and understanding of the far-left threat need to wake-up now and start to take responsibility.
The time for sitting on the sidelines has long gone.