So, it’s happened. That moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived: an ever-growing number of people are turning their backs on the business-as-usual politics offered by the mainstream parties and are pledging their support for an explicitly anti-establishment alternative. The bad news, of course, is that this alternative is the rabidly nationalist populism offered by UKIP, who currently look set to take more votes than any other party at the upcoming European elections. This has generated a huge amount of attention among the mainstream media and most of the left, but there seems to have been very little serious discussion of it among libertarians, especially when compared to the amount of energy that goes into countering much more marginal nationalist projects like the March for England.
To some extent, this reluctance to seriously engage with the rise of UKIP is entirely understandable, in that it reflects a very justified suspicion of electoral politics. Nationalist gatherings like the March for England or EDL protests take place within our “comfort zone” – which isn’t to say there’s anything comfortable about anti-fascist activity, but it is an arena where direct action methods obviously make sense. There’s a long tradition of militant opposition to fascist street marches, so the tactics and principles of militant anti-fascism are fairly well-defined by now. In contrast to fascist street groups, UKIP operate much more on the terrain of electoral politics, an arena that’s much harder for anarchist to engage with. If we can’t block them in the streets, and voting for the mainstream parties to stop them gaining seats is an unpalatable option, what else is left?
But while working out an anarchist strategy to counter UKIP is difficult, it’s also important. The idea of a “three-way fight”, as promoted by the blog of the same name, is useful here: “we believe that fascists and other far rightists aren’t simply tools of the ruling class. They can also form an autonomous political force that clashes with the established order in real ways… We believe the greatest threat from fascism in this period is its ability to exploit popular grievances and its potential to rally mass support away from any liberatory anti-capitalist vision.
Leftists need to confront both the established capitalist order and an insurgent or even revolutionary right, while recognizing that these opponents are also in conflict with each other.”
While UKIP definitely aren’t fascists, the basic thinking behind this analysis seems relevant. If UKIP are allowed to define what it means to be angry at the political elite – if they become the voice for all those who are angry about our daily grind funding the celebrity lifestyle of politicians and bureaucrats – then there’s no room for an alternative based on class solidarity to emerge. At the same time, we also need to firmly distance ourselves from the kind of liberal anti-UKIP campaigning that ultimately serves as a defence of the established political elite. The Third Estate and Suzanne Moore have both written good criticisms of the limits of most opposition to UKIP, and the Thurrock & Basildon Heckler has made a good start at putting across a class-based argument against UKIP.
Looking at the history of campaigns against the BNP gives us some examples of how to oppose a radical nationalist party without defending the political mainstream: the Hereford Antifa leaflet against the BNP is still worth a look as a classic piece of populist anti-fascism from a clearly defined working-class perspective, as is the old Anti-Fascist Action leaflet that branded the BNP as “the Ultra Conservatives”. Whether it’s explicitly linked to a positive alternative, as with the “blaming immigrants just lets your boss off the hook” defacement of a UKIP poster in Swansea, or just a purely negative message that UKIP can’t be trusted, we should be able to find ways to attack UKIP without endorsing the rest of the political class.
But what should the content of our anti-UKIP propaganda be? It’s clear that just highlighting the bigoted statements that various UKIP members have come out with isn’t enough. Instead of the standard “anti-extremist” message that ultimately seeks to undermine UKIP by showing how far they are from the political mainstream, I think the most useful thing to do is to try and undermine their anti-establishment appeal by highlighting how far they represent business as usual, and in particular how far they’re just a continuation of Thatcherite Toryism – a point that UKIP make no effort to deny. Of course, not everyone hates what Thatcher stood for, and many UKIP voters will be very happy to back a party that wants to continue her legacy, but then these people were never going to listen to anything anarchists have to say anyway. What’s important is that UKIP are seeking to make gains in Labour heartlands, as shown by their visits to places like Sheffield and Gateshead. Crucially, Nigel Farage says both that UKIP are “the true inheritors of Thatcher” and that “Two thirds of our voters would never vote Conservative anyway”, and that is a contradiction that is ripe for opening up. We may not be able to prevent disaffected tories from drifting further right, but we should be able to engage with angry working-class people looking for an alternative to the status quo and argue that class solidarity, not Thatcherite nationalism, is the answer. It won’t be easy – international solidarity is a tough sell to people who have little or no connection to the traditions of the old workers’ movement, and have no actual experience of the power of direct action – but it’s got to be better than sitting on the sidelines while nationalist conservatives sell themselves as the only alternative to the political establishment, or lining up with our Labour and Tory enemies in defence of the status quo.