Brother in Arms?
Brothers in Arms?
Ray Riley is a former miner and current member of the LRC. He asks why some of his former pit-mates have succumbed to the siren voices of the Brexit Party and the far right.
How is it, that the intro to our journey in 1984/85, resounding to a deafening cacophony of ‘The Miners United Will Never Be Defeated’, plummeted to the now, almost metamorphic posting of videos and comments in support of Stephen Yaxley Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), announcing moreover and with aplomb, that they, (former pit-men) shall be supporting either UKIP or Nigel Farage’s new vanity venture (Brexit Party) in advance of the European elections? An explanation is required.
The alarming comorbidity in all of this Brexit farrago is that the divisive rhetoric, from Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, Farage et al, which would have appeared extreme during the last decade, is now mainstream. It is difficult to now distinguish between this oratory and what Nick Griffin, the then leader of the British National Party, was saying back in 1999. And whilst 'Brexit' didn’t create racism and the creeping homophobia that has reinserted itself in to our political discourse, it has most certainly amplified and cultivated it. It has given licence to say and do abhorrent things. The genealogy around Brexit is now toxic.
There are a number of reasons why people voted to leave the European Union. Some of these reasons are plausible, particularly in relation to the undemocratic conduct of unelected EU institutions; its hostility both to the state aiding of industries and nationalisation and its institutional role in flattening the Greek economy and de facto dissolution of its democracy. However, as I initially alluded to, it is much nearer the truth to argue that Brexit was and remains predicated on racism. I am not saying all who voted leave are racists but would insist that all racists voted leave. The racism is particularly expressed in the form of nostalgia and xenophobia, wrapped in the ‘Union jack’; paint-brushing from history the brutal and murderous history of the British state. How often do we now hear that, if not for the UK during the second world war, Europe would largely be a German speaking continent? Yet, our own chauvinistic history conceals the atrocities carried out in the King and Queen’s name, the 100th anniversary of the Amritsar Massacre in India being a graphic point of reference.
Brimming with rage and foreboding resentment, plus a fractious desire to wreak vengeance on the established order, my former friends descend in to the mire of falsehoods and resentment, incidentally against the very politics, as encapsulated in Scargill’s diatribes, that they once fervently subscribed to. Moreover, with former friends refusing to indulge in the tangled-web of media spinning spewing forth from the television broadcasters and the hostile print media. I recall former miners giving Arthur a standing ovation and cheering to the rafters with disdain at these forces whom Arthur caricatured as being the ‘scribes of capitalism’. It is therefore sad that the current discourse is generally masquerading as ‘democracy’, yet in truth Brexit as always been predicated on prejudice with the irony in all of this being that Tommy Robinson would probably have had striking miners shot, yet he continues to be lauded as some messianic victim sent to liberate Anglo-Saxon democracy, under siege from foreign cultures, when in reality he is no more than a convicted, hateful and misogynistic felon whose own, egotistical and narcissistic sense of value is staggering.
I feel ashamed in seeing shared posts on social media that originated from the likes of British Nationals and Patriots, Corbyn Watch, BNP and, more alarmingly, the alt-right from the White supremacy movements in the USA. Instead of demanding greater equality for all, a massive investment in our schools and hospitals and infrastructure, as well as arguing for an economic plan that not only breaks with economic orthodoxy, but which transcends in to skilled and highly paid employment with job security and decent pensions, in effect the end of austerity, my former friends resort to the simple though now somewhat cliched mantra of anti-migrant and the occasional anti-Corbyn and Diane Abbott bashing. ‘If only we could stop or dramatically reduce immigration then our sons and daughters would be first on the housing list, our lass would get that hip operation done quicker or that our grand kids will get the secure and well-paid jobs, ‘I’ wouldn’t have to wait a fortnight to see my GP and that our country ad nauseum will be great again. The sacrificial lamb in such a vituperative context is people who may greet each other with As-salāmu ʿalaykum or dzień dobry. The corollary of this, if ever we have a far-right government, would be the forced repatriation of immigrants and refugees (the logical conclusion of far-right politics). Yet, despite the absurdity of this position, without the alchemy of this bigotry and the explosion of pseudo-cathartic far-right ideology, the politics of fear will be starved of its oxygen and ultimately exposed as the great lie that it is.
But my former friends didn’t become apologists and cheerleaders for the likes of Trump overnight. It involved a process of something quite more insidious and that is ‘alienation’, which, crudely put, involves the transformation of people’s own labour; the condition of which estranges a person from their humanity. Consequently, and using the language of Marx, the worker invariably loses the ability to determine their life – in effect they become alienated. Capitalism reduces the labour of the worker to a mere commercial commodity that can be traded in a competitive market a relationship which pits worker against worker – thus alienating them from their mutual economic and political interests. Concomitant with this is the loss of one’s identity. Losing it can be a lengthy process and can be traced back, in this context, to some 35 years ago when Thatcher laid waste to coal-field communities. This loss, and I have heard friends describe the closure of their pits akin to being thrown on the scrap-heap, as feeling like a bereavement, resulting from enforced changes in the workplace(s), loss of role and loss of commonality with their work-mates. Ultimately, this huge upheaval left a gap, an abyss, an empty space, a void and, an open wound that can never heal. When we lose such an identity, sense of worth, sense of value, sense of purpose it has been shown that former friends have sought solace in assuming a false distinctiveness, by identifying with false narratives, as unpalatable as that may be. In effect, some former miners were left exposed, leaderless and vulnerable to the consequences of neo-liberalism and a now near decade of bone crunching austerity. This chasm was occupied by the simple but popular rhetoric of right-wing politics and failed Blairite social democracy.
Foreshadowing this sequence of events is the spectre of globalisation. Despite its obvious, free trade and deregulation of labour proponents the understanding of globalisation has assumed, incorrectly, that increased connection to global processes creates opportunities and empowerment for individuals and communities. But, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has summarised, ‘forms of global connections, particularly where they increase competition and security in local labour markets, are associated with disempowerment and marginalisation along with parallel levels of inequality and falling incomes.
Seeing UKIP, the Brexit Party, Boris Johnson and Tommy Robinson et al as the vehicles in which to extract revenge against the establishment that has failed them in the context of the industrial defeats of the 1980s and the embracing of neo-liberalism left many defeated, angry and vulnerable, ripe conditions for the populist parties and the under-pinning of far-right ideology. Witnessing the sad spectacle of former friends and comrades, who, once upon a time, really did believe in class solidarity, rushing towards the police lines whilst on the picket, chanting ‘here we go, here we go, here we go…’ have, in truth, become a parody of their former selves. But to simply dismiss this change as an aberration of unconscious ignorance, we do need to recognise that their identity was stripped by Thatcher’s onslaught in 1984/85; ironically these same forces that many ex-miners now lend their allegiance to.
Yes, my friends, you were let down and yes, you were betrayed by institutions you thought were there to defend working class interests and yes, you were presented with decades of crippling austerity. These truly are febrile times which we are living through but your journey of travel, hanging on to the coat-tails of populism is not the answer. We were all lied to, but you will not find alternatives or a natural home by siding with these 'Populist Forces'. You will never hear from these the answers required as to how they will end austerity or how they will cease making workers and their families pay for the greed of the bankers, the failure of capitalism and the complicity in all of this by their governments. On the contrary a death by a thousand cuts to our public services is their true mantra, supported by these privileged ideologues: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Privatisation and deregulation are their true refrain and therefore we should have nothing to do with them and the manifestations of bigotry and intolerance in its most extreme form that follow in their wake. The answer, as Marx so splendidly put it:
‘Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains’