The Labour Party has received massive backlash from members and activists following comments made by leader Sir Keir Starmer and the Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Lisa Nandy.
Nandy was accused of promoting a “Britain First” narrative after comments made on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. The Labour MP said, “We stand up for Britain, we stand up for British people, we stand up for British interests, and we will always put that first”.
The comments were echoed by Starmer at yesterday’s keynote speech.
Introduced by the once Israeli lobby funded Ruth Smeeth, who is no longer a Labour MP, Starmer insisted he wanted to see “security for our nation, our families and for all of our communities.” The Labour leader emphasising his “security” credentials by raising the spectre of his time at the CPS as he highlighted his record of “prosecuting terrorists.”
Starmer was less keen, of course, to highlight the “insufficient evidence” that apparently existed to prosecute an MI5 officer for any criminal offence arising from the interview of Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan on 17 May 2002. This failure to prosecute came despite the Court of Appeal ruling that Mohamed had been subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities”. Nor did he highlight that in 2009 he refused to prosecute the police officers responsible for the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. Or that in 2010 he did the same in the case of Ian Tomlinson.
In 2013, he fell again into line with the government of the day, announcing new guidelines for the prosecution of “benefit cheats” as the Tory-Lib Dem coalition began it’s decade long assault on the poorest in society. In the same year, the CPS applied pressure to Swedish authorities to ensure they maintained the false prosecution of Julian Assange, keeping him confined to the Ecuadorian embassy.
A funny kind of patriotism that leads the assaults on the free press, poor and human rights.
Patriotism has become a debased word in socialist circles. This is undoubtedly true in the West where a history of empire and ongoing system of international imperialism has led the expression to be irrevocably linked to nationalism, the armed forces and British or American exceptionalism.
But it is not the only patriotism.
It is not uncommon to see figures such as Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro surrounded by the flags of Venezuela or Cuba, their patriotism not in question. They skillfully wielded national pride, but through an entirely different prism to the West. The patriotism of Cuba and Venezuela is a people’s patriotism, one that focuses on the achievements of the nation as a collective of people. There is a celebration of national collectivism, from agriculture to the arts. So too even military victories are presented as peoples’ victories, the brave successes of how a small nation can together defeat an empire through solidarity.
It is a patriotism that comes easy to those having suffered at the hands of imperialism. Meanwhile, the former oppressors of the old empires find the far more dangerous form of patriotism all too easy. A patriotism that speaks of military might and unquestioning loyalty. A patriotism where the “freedom” of libertarian individuality is presented as the ultimate form of liberty. It is patriotism without social responsibility to the people — the marketing arm of imperialism.
Jeremy Corbyn understood this, often speaking of his pride in British institutions such as the NHS, one of the great legacies of the Labour Party. He has talked about the proud history of British workers, not least the miners. It not unpatriotic to want only the best for the people of your country, while at the same time ensuring that those abroad see your country as one of tolerance, respect and acceptance.
However, this is not the patriotism of which Sir Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy speak when to paraphrase Nandy they speak of “Britain First”. They talk, instead, of wrapping the Labour Party in the Union Jack, of insisting that Britain is always right and respecting the British armed forces despite their history of abuses in Northern Ireland, Iraq and around the globe.
This is the patriotism of Paul Golding and Nick Griffin, not Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.
This New Labour does not have the political vision to attempt to redefine what it means to be British in 2020, nor the political bravery to challenge the far-right narrative on British exceptionalism. Controlled by the interests of capital, they haven’t the will to create a people’s patriotism and instead their moral cowardice serves to strengthen existing narratives on “Britishness” from the hard right rather than disarming it.
When you cut through the chaff, Labour believes that they lost the “traditional working class” because they weren’t seen as pro-white enough. We can dress it in as many different contexts as we like, but that is now the prevailing ethos that comes from Labour’s Victoria Street HQ. Not only does this profoundly offensive belief split the working class into “white” and “other” but it suggests that in-part the working class is inherently racist and that the struggle to defeat racism is lost.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
However, this belief in “white working-class racism” shows the lack of political insight that genuinely exists within Labour, thanks primarily due to the cancerous influx of liberal identity politics.
One of the most controversial concepts within Marxism is the concept of the lumpenprole.
Marx writes that below the working class lays another order of society, a disorganised rabble who have no class consciousness or desire to bring about social change or revolution. An underclass. This mass includes petty criminals and both the lazy and the work-shy. This group, while exploited, have no interest or awareness of this and will at the first turn throw in their lot with the bourgeoisie when called, often through base appeals to nationalism. Both Lenin and Trotsky agreed with Marx that the lumpenproletariat had absolutely no potential or value to socialism.
It is not a pleasant concept nor a positive vision of society. Yet it remains an inescapable sad truth.
“The lumpenproletariat is passive decaying matter of the lowest layers of the old society, is here and there thrust into the [progressive] movement by a proletarian revolution; [however,] in accordance with its whole way of life, it is more likely to sell out to reactionary intrigues.”
The Communist Manifesto
These members of the lumpenproletariat or underclass are regularly seen attending Britain First rallies, proclaiming their belief in “Muslamic ray guns” and ensuring that a killer pathogen spreads around the country in the name of freedom. This is not the working class.
The working class retain their sense of class solidarity and recognise that the struggle against exploitation has never been one that is about race or nationalism. They recognise that solidarity crosses all lines of identity and that the only real division in society is between the oppressed and the oppressor. The 99% and the 1%. Those that surrender this class conscience in favour of backing the bourgeoisie leave the working class entirely, devolving into membership of the lumpenproletariat.
Such has been liberal discomfort with this concept, the likes of Owen Jones in his book “Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class” have sought to conflate the underclass with the working class. This serves only the interests of social elites as they reinforce stereotypes that the working class is a feckless, work-shy and racist mass with no division. This was completely counter to Marx, who sought to defeat this portrayal by making the initial distinction.
And here is the crux of the issue.
While Jones conflates the underclass and working-class and passes off the antisocial and racist tendencies of the lumpenproletariat as Tory propaganda, Labour does so differently. Labour believes that the views and actions of the lumpenproletariat are also those of the working class, unable to recognise the genuine difference between the two. They look upon the lower subsection of society and see only one mass. They don’t see the environmental activists, the BAME communities, Palestine solidarity activists, austerity activists or the wide range of individual workers with diverse opinions, they see only one collective who betrayed solidarity to vote Tory in 2019. As Boris Johnson played to traditionally patriotic and overtly racist sentiment to court this underclass vote, just as Thatcher courted the National Front and William Hague courted the BNP, so now Labour believe this is the path to victory.
This misidentification is exposed by the thousands of the genuine working class who are now leaving Labour under Starmer.
That Marx, writing 150 years ago, could so clearly identify the issue now facing the modern Labour Party shows the timelessness of his writings. From the National Front to the French Revolution’s gardes mobiles and the Nazi SA, Marx has been proven correct time and again that those that Labour now target serve only as a tool to defeat working-class power.
Easily manipulated by a base and tribal instinct, this tool serves as the backbone of all extremist elements around the globe. Trotsky recognised that fascism was fuelled by the “declassed and demoralised” lumpenproletariat to “whom finance capital itself has brought desperation and frenzy.” The Egyptian sociologist and author Saad Eddin Ibrahim meanwhile identifies the lumpenproletariat with al-Qaeda and ISIS, stating that the Islamists’ populist appeal positively resonates among [the underclass].”
While Labour will try and push the move into nationalism as a return toward appealing to the “traditional working class”, do not be fooled. This is an attempt to co-opt the rising power of far-right extremism into what is no longer a party of the left. Far from realigning Labour to the centre as many had feared, Sir Keir Starmer instead seems determined to push Labour into the hard right.
The Conservative Party too will be faced with a choice. With Boris Johnson’s days seemingly numbered, they will likely push themselves even further to the right to counter Starmer, electing Michael Gove and creating another vacuum for the working class on the left. However, the nightmare scenario for Labour would be that the Tories instead elect Rishi Sunak. Fresh-faced and presentable, the optics of Labour declaring “Britain First” while the Tories are led by Britain’s first BAME leader would be devastating. With BAME voters leaving Labour in droves, strategists who see communities as blocks of voters to be won and lost will undoubtedly see an opportunity to eradicate Labour’s base amongst those communities.
Labour attempting to court the far-right is a monumentally wrong decision, both morally and politically. While it will undoubtedly lead to the backing of the likes of The Sun and Rupert Murdoch, the likes of Britain First and those late of UKIP will never vote Labour. The majority of them never did. The move will further alienate the working class, with BAME communities particularly disenfranchised by both major parties. Once again, it is those that are already the most maligned, ostracised and held back in society who will suffer the whims of the establishment classes.