UKIP: an exercise in misdirection

Those of the disillusioned British electorate who bothered to vote at all on 22 May registered a huge protest vote against the three established parties of British capital. Unfortunately, they allowed their ‘protest’ to be directed in the interests of the very big business that has caused their anger in the first place.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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The nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has been dominating headlines for many weeks in the run-up to and aftermath of the 22 May elections. In polls for local councils in England and for the European Parliament, UKIP saw its previously negligible clutch of council seats soar to 163, whilst the party topped the poll for the essentially toothless European Parliament, securing 24 MEPs – an increase of 11, on 27.5 percent of the poll.

As a result, all three of the big capitalist parties – LibDem, Labour and Conservative – are seeing swathes of what they consider to be their natural support base drifting towards UKIP, with a potential impact on next year’s much more important general election.

No doubt this is genuinely upsetting for the career politicians who hustle away in the front ranks of those three parties. What is less convincing, however, is the narrative that says that the election result is somehow shocking to Britain’s imperialist rulers. UKIP is, after all, very much a monster of the bourgeois political establishment’s own making.

Where did UKIP come from?

UKIP did not appear out of nowhere. And its success is certainly not attributable to any particular brilliance on the part of Nigel Farage or originality in his party’s manifesto. Indeed, most UKIP voters don’t have the first clue what’s written in that weighty document.

UKIP, essentially just another big-business-friendly party of British imperialism, differs from the others only in being new (and therefore not having exposed itself in power yet) and in being openly racist (and therefore less obviously hypocritical than all the parties that implement racist policies while pretending not to be racist).

The three main parties (if such they can still be called) and the corporate media have always striven to divide workers in Britain along the fault-lines of racism, xenophobia, religion, sexism, nationalism, and so on. We are now deep into the worst-ever crisis of over-production and still sinking – government claims of recovery notwithstanding. This means that the need for our rulers to divide workers in as many ways as possible is growing stronger as the crisis gets deeper.

Times are getting very hard for many working-class and even petty-bourgeois people – and they are going to get harder still. The ‘medicine’ of austerity is increasingly blighting the lives of the many, despite the continual assurances by establishment politicians and the servile media that we have ‘turned the corner’ and that ‘the worst is over’.

From our schooldays onwards, workers are taught that we in Britain live in a wonderful democracy where all are free and equal. However (or so the bourgeois fairy tale goes), there are sinister forces at work in the wider world. There are foreigners who either want what we have and are ‘flooding’ here to take it from us, or else these foreigners are madmen who live under such despotic regimes that they want to destroy our wonderful caring, sharing utopia.

The reality of living through the present capitalist crisis is doing much to undermine the confidence that we workers have in our rulers and their motivations, but the cynicism thus created has not yet brought enough of us to question the basic myths that have been pushed at us all our lives through capitalist media and schoolbooks.

Yes, many British workers have learned to hate and distrust all establishment politicians – but most of us still buy into the idea that somehow the system itself would work if only the people in Westminster were the ‘right sort’. Most of us know that the media lies – but too many of us still feel that ‘foreigners’ are either ‘taking our jobs’ or living on ‘our benefits’ and in ‘our houses’. Yes, we know that the wars that Britain launches around the world are not in our interest – but large numbers of us still harbour the illusion that Britain’s mercenary forces are inherently ‘the good guys’, on the side of right; heroes who are simply too civilised to commit crimes such as torture, rape, murder and genocide.

Despite knowing that British corporate media and politicians lie, many of us still have not yet woken up to the fact that the picture they have painted for us is a complete fabrication, and that this propaganda is what keeps us from recognising our real enemies and organising to get rid of them. So we allow ourselves to trust in the basic ‘honesty’ of British ‘journalism’ and to believe that the world outside of Britain really is full of despots and madmen – as proven by any half-hour perusal of the Sun, the Guardian or News at Ten, or any episode of Have I Got News For You or Mock the Week.

It is this combination of a growing distrust of established bourgeois politicians with a continued acceptance of the main planks of bourgeois propaganda that leads some workers to vote for ‘new’ and apparently ‘alternative’ parties such as UKIP.

Immigration, immigration, immigration

The three main parties all tell us that there is ‘too much immigration’ into this country and that they will be ‘tough’ on it if we vote them into power. And of course, once elected, they do indeed announce new racist measures to make life that little bit harder for ‘legal’ immigrants and totally miserable for the unfortunate ‘illegals’, but these measures are not actually aimed at stopping immigration – only at keeping alive the pretence that such is a desirable and realistic aim.

In truth, immigration can no more be stopped under the capitalist system than can the rising sun. Workers always have and always will move to where they can make a living, just as capital moves to where it can make the greatest profit.

Moreover, the capitalists and their political servants have no intention of stopping immigration, even if it were possible for them to do so. They know from their own research that ‘legal’ immigrants, taken as a whole, generate far more wealth than they take, while ‘illegal’ immigrants are worth their weight in gold to the national economy (ie, to imperialist profit margins), since they are virtual slaves of their employers, with no employment rights and no entitlements to the social wage (doctors, schools, benefits, housing, etc).

These downtrodden unfortunates live exactly the kind of lives that capitalists would prefer for all workers – no benefits, no rights, and if they get ‘uppity’ and try to stand up for themselves, they can simply be handed over to the authorities and shipped back to ‘where they came from’.

Unfortunately for the working-class movement, comparatively few workers have so far understood that the whole ‘debate’ amongst politicians about who has or hasn’t been ‘toughest’ in trying to ‘hold back the tide’ of immigration is simply a giant diversion, designed to keep workers in the dark about the real cause of their problems.

Crisis is built into the system of capitalist production, but, rather than let us understand that and draw our own conclusions about the continued usefulness of such a flawed set-up, our rulers do everything in their power to redirect our anger at the poverty that their crisis is forcing upon the masses of workers. So, just as the Nazis in 1930s crisis-ridden Germany pointed the finger at ‘jews’ as being the cause of German workers’ suffering, in Britain today our politicians tell us that ‘immigration’ and not capitalism is the enemy we need to fight.

The truth is that the only way to stop immigrants having a downward pull on our wages and conditions is to demand an end to all immigration laws and equal rights for every worker in Britain, and to recruit immigrant workers en masse into the British working-class movement. Together, we will be in a far stronger position to fight back against the attempts of our rulers to make us pay for their crisis through cuts to our pay, conditions, services, housing and pensions.

Ultimately, every person who works is a potential source of wealth to the nation. We have no reason to fear the arrival of immigrants on our shores. It is only the system of exploitation that forces workers to compete with one another for a short supply of jobs – and that would continue to be the case in any capitalist society, even if every immigrant was ‘sent home’ tomorrow.

Moreover, many of these superexploited foreign-born workers have experienced the sharp end of imperialism back in their home countries. They have often come here to escape the incredibly harsh conditions that Britain and other imperialist powers impose on other parts of the world in order to facilitate the looting of natural resources and the superexploitation of workers. This experience of the savage, fascistic face of imperialism, which is often hidden from workers in the relatively privileged centres of empire, makes such migrants a rich source of potential militance for our movement, if only we are prepared to recruit and learn from them.

Will UKIP take us out of Europe?

Much is made of the ‘euroscepticism’ of UKIP, and it is true that this does indeed play well with workers who mistrust the stated intentions of the politicians in Brussels. In other imperialist countries, too, there are right-wing populist parties and groups that, like UKIP, are anti-EU, and openly pander to xenophobia and racism.

They are all finding it increasingly easy to operate in the space that has been created for them by bourgeois politicos and media claiming endlessly that the cause of the problems working people face is not capitalism, but rather immigrants, foreigners, women wanting equal rights at/to work, not enough powers for the police, and so on.

The main complaints of these right-wing parties against Europe is that the legislators there have powers to override national decision-making, that European immigration is destroying our economy, and that the parliament is full of ‘lefties’ intent on implementing crazy health-and-safety measures and stopping us from using our good old-fashioned common sense to get on with our lives. Their assertions could not be further from the truth, however.

In fact, the EU is a grouping of European imperialist powers that have pulled poorer European capitalist countries into a subservient ‘alliance’ that allows their people to be used as cannon fodder or cheap labour for the purpose of shoring up the power of the leading imperialist powers. For the weaker countries, it is certainly true that joining the EU means an effective loss of national sovereignty and coming under the diktat of the stronger powers, but Britain does not come into that category.

The truth is that, far from being controlled by Brussels, Britain is one of the powers that seeks to control others through Brussels. Although, of course, our own politicians are very fond of the trick of blaming ‘Europe’ for all sorts of unpopular legislation that they themselves have chosen to create. The real debate between our rulers over Europe is about whether, now that British imperialism has lost the world hegemony it once enjoyed, their interests as imperialists would be better served as a strong force within the EU or as a junior partner with a supposed ‘special relationship’ to the US.

The warlike and oppressive imperialist EU club does indeed need to be opposed, but that opposition needs to come in a principled form that educates workers about the class content of the EU’s real programme – not in the form of yet more divisive propaganda against everything ‘foreign’. Such a principled opposition is never going to be delivered by UKIP – a right-wing, anti-immigration party whose opposition to the European club essentially stems from its dreams of bygone days when British imperialism was the strongest in the world and had no need for such alliances.

A bourgeois-approved ‘alternative’

The established capitalist parties, in an attempt to keep their own ‘place in the sun’, sometimes seek to join in the attack on parties like UKIP and the BNP, claiming to be opposed to their racism and misogyny. But, since the backward and divisive ideas that the rightists so openly espouse are in full alignment with the lies that they themselves have helped to drip-feed into the working class from an early age, it is hardly surprising that plenty of workers don’t see their unpleasant utterances as a reason not to vote for UKIP in Britain, the Freedom Party in Holland or the Front Nationale in France – just the opposite, in fact.

Given the huge amounts of airtime and column inches dedicated to Farage and co across Britain’s media that has made it impossible for anyone living in this country to avoid hearing about the party, the ruling class can have been neither surprised nor upset by UKIP’s little victories

Never mind that some of the coverage appears to be censorious. The big press barons and BBC directors know as well as any PR guru the truth of the old adage, ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity.’ All those ‘debates’ and ‘shock-horror’ stories had one aim – to give British workers the impression that Farage and UKIP represented a viable (or threatening) ‘alternative’ to the three main parties; all of which have exposed themselves thoroughly in recent years and earned the disgust and mistrust of the vast majority of British workers.

It is another classic case of misdirection, the main aim of which is to keep us from looking outside the capitalist system for solutions to our problems.

And, of course, we now face the inevitable, Guardian-approved sight of the so-called ‘left’ social democrats whipping themselves up into a frenzy of ‘anti-fascist’ hysteria, and doing everything in their power to mobilise workers who haven’t fallen for UKIP’s openly-racist rhetoric into falling back behind Labour as the ‘least-worst’ option in 2015.

Unite against fascism?

‘Vote Labour to keep out the Tories/BNP/UKIP!’ (delete as applicable), they will tell us, yet again. But what does this slogan really amount to?

There is not a single capitalist party in Britain that is not also an imperialist party. That means they are all parties of war, of privatisation, of austerity and of racism. They will all play the race card and compete to be toughest on immigration in order to keep the workers divided and save the skin of the system that pays their wages. Does it really matter whether the spivs in Westminster are holding the Sun or the Guardian in their hands while they stir up anti-immigrant hysteria at home and commit war crimes abroad on behalf of the British ruling class?

The fascist bogeyman that is conjured up by these false friends of the working class ends up making us forget the real danger posed by those who are actually in power, and diverts the energy of advanced workers away from building a really effective working-class movement into utterly self-defeating electoral canvassing for the Labour party in the name of ‘uniting against fascism’.

As we have always said, however, the racism of the Labour party (and other ‘respectable’ bourgeois parties) ends up recruiting for the far right when its followers realise that whatever anti-immigrant steps the ‘respectable’ bourgeois parties actually take when they are in government does absolutely nothing to improve the situation of the working-class masses. Since they have been told that it is immigrants who are the cause of the problems, they cannot but conclude that the anti-immigrant measures that have been taken are insufficient, which drives them into the arms of those promising even more draconian and racist measures.

Nevertheless, fascism and racism are not the same thing. Britain’s ‘respectable’ parties (Labour, Tory and LibDem) promote anti-immigrant racism without so far having become fascist. What is true, however, is that the capitalist class keeps alive the flame of racism as a tool to use should the fascist repression of the working class become necessary.

Fascism is the response of a crisis-ridden capitalist class to a strong and militant working-class movement whose rise is threatening the capitalists’ ability to hold onto power. Fascists use a mixture of racist scapegoating, demagogy (to persuade some) and brute force (to coerce the rest) in order to keep the ruling class on top when its ‘democratic’ veneer is no longer strong enough to keep the social peace and revolution is looming.

That is clearly not the case in Britain today. The ruling class has no need of out-and-out fascism just yet (notwithstanding the increasing pile of repressive legislation mounting in the statute book to which both Tory and Labour administrations have gleefully contributed). For the moment, the working-class movement is still in disarray following decades of Khrushchevite revisionism and the demoralisation that set in following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist republics of eastern Europe. Crisis, war and bitter experience are teaching workers valuable lessons every day, and the left-wing movement is finally starting to regroup, but we still some way off being a serious threat to those in power.

By the time the ruling class does need to unleash fascist repression, there’s no reason to suppose that Labour couldn’t be any less of a candidate for the job than UKIP. Or, more likely, by that time, some other organisation will have been brought into being in an effort to fool at least some of us into believing it really does represent some kind of ‘new alternative’.

The point is that being openly racist is not the same as being fascist – although open racism is certainly one general trait of fascist dictatorships. And being openly racist in words doesn’t prove that UKIP is more racist than the parties that have actually been proving their racist credentials in deeds for the last century and more. The fact that they are able to be so openly racist in their rhetoric speaks volumes for the atmosphere that has been created by Labour and Tory governments alike, particularly in the last 20 years of incessant war, anti-terror legislation and anti-immigrant hysteria.

And let us not forget that it was a Labour government that sent the police to protect the National Front in Southall in 1979 (murdering Blair Peach in the process). Or that a Labour government introduced virginity tests for South Asian brides in the late 1970s.

In their last 12 years of power alone, Labour built a string of concentration camps for (mainly black) asylum seekers, created an atmosphere of hysterical islamophobia in support of its criminal wars abroad, and perpetrated horrific atrocities and war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that’s beside their other ‘achievements’, such as presiding over privatisations, PFI and a massive widening in the gap between rich and poor, agreeing to £20bn cuts in the NHS and destroying civil liberties. Now tell us again why we are supposed to be so terrified of UKIP?

In actual fact, allowing ourselves to be corralled into ‘anti-fascist unity’ before fascist repression is unleashed actually leads us to strengthen the forces that are promoting racism, even if they do this more surreptitiously than does UKIP. Unwittingly, we would become accomplices to the promotion of racism, to deceiving the working class, to dividing the working class against itself and to facilitating the path of fascism when our ruling class feels the need to resort to it.

What is most worrying about the increased support for UKIP is not that it is a fascist organisation, since for the moment it is not, but that it demonstrates the extent that British people have been fooled by the propaganda that the problems that they face today are caused by immigration and membership of the EU (because it supposedly foists immigrants on the UK). It is possible for people to vote for any of the three main parties without having been taken in by such crude lies, but it is not possible for people to vote for UKIP without demonstrating that they have been.

So what should we be doing about what is undoubtedly a worrying situation? The answer is obvious: we should be countering the bourgeois lies more effectively, and exposing all those who promote them – especially the sly racism of Tory and Labour which is more difficult to spot and therefore more difficult to resist.

What we certainly should not be doing is turning ourselves into canvassing and voting fodder for any of those parties.

The task is not so daunting. Let’s put things in perspective. While 4.35 million British people did indeed vote for UKIP on 22 May – more than for any other party standing in the European election – that only represents some 9 percent of the total UK electorate. Thirty-one million voters (a whopping 65 percent of those eligible) didn’t bother to go to the polls at all.

What clearer sign could there be that British workers are sick of the corruption and venality of bourgeois politicians and don’t feel represented by any of them? No wonder the corporate media went all out to push voters towards the pro-big-business ‘alternative’. Imagine if all those disaffected voters started thinking independently and looking for meaningful alternatives to capitalism!

In the end, only the results of a general election will give a more reliable indication, but, while there clearly are some poor, mainly white, areas around the country where UKIP are building a small following, alongside their main base of disaffected Tories in the shires, much of what we’ve seen in this election has been a carefully stage-managed protest vote. There aren’t many people in Britain who really care much about who gets elected to Europe, so what does it matter whether we send UKIP or Labour there?

Just like any other imperialist party, UKIP offers no alternative. A victory for UKIP, like a victory for Labour or the Tories, is simply another victory for our rulers, who remain firmly in power after each election circus featuring its various endorsed brands of ‘representatives’ has packed up and left town.

Build the alternative

Meanwhile, the interests of the working class – the overwhelming majority – can only be served by building a party that stands for the overthrow of imperialism, and with it the outmoded system of war, racism, and the exploitation of the great majority by a parasitic minority.

A major part of that party’s task is to take on the bourgeoisie’s racist propaganda head-on and help workers – both black and white – to understand that we are being taken for fools every time we accept a lie that keeps us divided from our class brothers and sisters and away from the struggle against capitalism. While we fight amongst ourselves and get poorer and poorer, our profiteering rulers are laughing all the way to the bank.

[h1]Building such a party is acquiring increasing urgency as British imperialism drags us inexorably towards a devastating third world war, which is the only imperialist ‘cure’ for this latest and deepest-ever crisis of overproduction.[/h1]

But another world is possible, and it is quite within our capabilities to build it. That is why we in the CPGB-ML carry a portrait of the great builder of Soviet socialism, Comrade JV Stalin, on May Day, alongside his famous message to workers: “Either place yourself at the mercy of capital, eke out a wretched existence as of old and sink lower and lower, or adopt a new weapon – this is the alternative imperialism puts before the vast masses of the proletariat. Imperialism brings the working class to revolution.” (Foundations of Leninism, 1924)