By Dave Stockton
Nigel Farage has made a remarkable comeback, thanks to the widespread indignation and contempt at the sheer chaos and the infighting in parliament. Launching the Brexit Party, he raised over £750,000 in a few days. Yet it has no “members” – just a claimed 100,000 online registered supporters.
Former Tory donor Jeremy Hosking gave £200,000 and Arron Banks has also chipped in. Indeed a clutch of hedge funds millionaires, the most parasitic section of international capital, seems to be the basis of this “nationalist” party.
In the Sunday Telegraph Farage said he is “running a company, not a political party”. He claimed, “I’ve watched the growth of the 5 Star Movement [in Italy], from its inception, with absolute fascination: the genius of setting up this new way of doing politics, an online platform.”
He has used it to advance his highly antagonistic brand of right wing, racist populism.
Farage ignores the fact that the difficulty in implementing Brexit is the real challenge presented by disengaging Britain from the EU where it has been growing for 45 years. He even ignores the fact that at least half the people do not want any form of Brexit, with a big majority against the No Deal crash Farage now advocates. Instead he presents the issue as one of the elite (politicians and journalists) versus the rest, dubbed “the people.”
On this basis he identifies his opponents as traitors to the nation and to its will, as expressed once and for all in the referendum of 23 June 2016. The day after this he gushed, “Dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom”, and called it a victory for “real people”. That three years later it has not happened can, he says, only be down to conscious and immoral betrayal.
“We have been betrayed! Not just by the Conservatives, Labour have done the same thing, too,” he told Andrew Marr, on the BBC, His subsequent triumph in the European elections humiliated both major parties and contributed to the downfall of a Prime Minister: could a self-promoting egotist ask for anything more? Well yes.
Farage turned the Leave Campaign into a full-throated roar of rage, targeted at “free movement”. He was responsible for the poster showing a column of Syrian refugees, captioned “Breaking Point – We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders”.
The poster was widely condemned as racist, even by fellow Leave campaigners. Marr asked him if he still stood by it, given it had nothing to do with European workers seeking work here. Unabashed Farage not only not only claimed it was true, but expanded his boast: “It was the truth, and if you think about that poster it’s transformed European politics.”
Last year Nigel Farage wrote the foreword to Enoch Was Right: ‘Rivers of Blood’ 50 Years On, a book by Raheem Kassam, former editor of British editor of the alt-right Breitbart News and organiser of the Free Tommy Robinson campaign. In it he said: “50 years on from the most dramatic post-war speech in Britain, this updated view is a VERY important part of the continuing debate. Enoch never goes away.”
So what did “Enoch” say? He claimed the native, i.e. white British “found themselves made strangers in their own country. They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition.”
Powell concluded: “The immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate… As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”
Farage justifies his racism with the claim to represent the “real people”: “The problem is this: the country very clearly wants us to stand up and be who we are. Our political class do not believe in Britain. They simply don’t think we’re good enough to run our own affairs.”
He jeered at Marr’s claims that the Brexit Party had no policies beyond leaving the EU as “ridiculous” and or “ludicrous”. The Brexit Party has no manifesto, he said, because “manifesto to me has a word association with lie”.
These themes have been identified as populism. Populism is a term that has hit it big over the last few years, especially since the “shock” victory of Donald Trump and fellow right wingers Matteo Salvini of Italy, Hungary’s premier Victor Orban and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde has provided a useful definition in his article The Populist Zeitgeist (2004):
“I define populism as an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volo nté générale (general will) of the people. As a result populism is “moralistic rather than programmatic” and is not a fully formed political ideology like socialism or liberalism – it is instead a ‘thin’ ideology, made up of just a few core beliefs.”
As a result it can be easily combined with opposed “thicker” ideologies, such as communism, ecologism, nationalism.
Certainly we can see this in Farage’s moralistic denunciations of opponents, his claim to embody the people’s will, and his scorn for detailed policy. Parties fail to implement their manifestos for all sorts of reasons but he puts this down to “lies” or a “conspiracy”.
Populism on its own is not so much an ideology, therefore, as a political method which centres on fostering profound distrust of parties and representative institutions, of programmes and elected leaders. Instead it prefers a method where an all-powerful and wise leader emerges who embodies or represents not only the supporters, but the entire people. This involves excluding an “other” from the “real” people.
When right wing populism emerges, the other is always a national, racial or political minority – as well as the “corrupt elite”. Today, because of nearly two decades of wars “against terrorism”, waged by Western imperialism in the Middle East, Muslims are its natural target, in ‘defence’ of Judeo-Christian civilisation.
How to combat populism
The terrible confusion of Brexit – the impotence of parliament and the “old parties”, including the failure of Labour under Corbyn to put itself at the head of a movement of resistance to Brexit, rather than passively waiting for May and the Tories to discredit themselves – has played into Farage’s hands. Faced with such an enemy, waiting for a general election could be fatal.
We now face a very dangerous conjuncture, where Farage’s movement can consolidate and grow, picking up lots of Tories and some Labour supporters too. Simply concentrating on its racism will be insufficient. Farage had the good sense to break with UKIP and the fascist Tommy Robinson. The British ruling class at the moment neither requires, nor will it tolerate street marching forces picking fights with the Muslim community.
The antifascist campaigns organised by Lexiters, like Socialist Worker and the Morning Star, will have big problems handling Farage and his party, because they can only claim he has “ hijacked Brexit”, whereas in fact he is a legitimate expression of it.
The truth is right wing populism can only be beaten by a force which bases itself on the working class movement, and which identifies the entire capitalist class not just “the elite” as the enemy.