Written by Conor Mullins
“Let racist ignorance be ended / For respect makes the empires fall
Freedom is merely privilege extended / Unless enjoyed by one and all”
– “The Internationale”, Billy Bragg version[i]
Content advisory: This article discusses misogyny and transphobia. There is also a single mention of genocide. Please exercise caution when reading if you feel discussion of these topics may affect you adversely.
Like any leftie-liberal Union Flag-hating cultural Marxist coconut water-drinking Queen-despising middle-class teenager, I hate UKIP. Not exactly a big announcement to make. In fact, hating UKIP has become something of a cliché since 2014’s European Parliament elections, especially now that UKIP has a strong foothold in the European Parliament where they deliberately and maliciously do absolutely fuck-all while walking home with a £6,500 a month salary. Naturally, I’ve been attracted to groups aiming to kick out groups like UKIP and Britain First who hope to usher in a new age of Thatcherism, secessionism, and worse – violent, arguably genocidal fascism.
But all this is just my polemic against UKIP. You’ve heard all that before, I’m sure. UKIP is the group everyone loves to hate, so there’s no point in me writing a few hundred words about why UKIP is shit, because you can just Google “i hate ukip” for that. No. This article is not about that. This article is about a more insidious problem. Something disturbing, lurking not within the ranks of the likes of UKIP or the British National Party – but within the British Left.
A few months ago I left an apparently left-wing anti-UKIP Facebook group in disgust and outraged. This might sound quite out-of-character for a leftie like myself, but let me explain my reasons. At the time, Britain First’s deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, was standing in the Rochester and Strood by-election. This was all very not-well and bad, and on the anti-UKIP Facebook group, everyone was up in arms about it, calling Britain First members this and that. Various image macros (or “memes”) were put up depicting the racists being, well, stereotypical thuggish thick-skulled racists.
Herein lay the problem. It took one post to get my suspicions up. It was an image in essence calling Jayda Fransen fat and ugly. I believe the image specifically attacked Fransen’s facial features, her nose I think played quite a prominent part. No attacks on her policies. No labelling her a fascist. No labelling her a bigot. No – just an attack on her for being what the group member who posted it deemed fat, and therefore ugly. I found this concerning. Traditionally, the left is meant to be dedicated to treating all people as human beings, even if those human beings are, in the case of Jayda Fransen, total shitheads. The left is meant to be dedicated to social justice, and to the liberation of the oppressed. Thus, I found the post rather dehumanising and misogynistic. So I called it out. I left a comment saying something like (I’ll be paraphrasing as I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went), “Can we not do this sort of thing? Let’s attack people’s politics, not their looks.” Note that I didn’t show any fascist sympathies in this simple request. The response I got was, quite frankly, shocking. And it’s becoming something of an alarming pattern.
Firstly, the so-called “lefties” in the group didn’t immediately correct themselves and apologise – they set about justifying it. “Yeah, well, it’s okay to call men fat and ugly. So why not women?” asked one. I sighed. Explanations of male privilege and patriarchal power structures followed. More rudeness and ridicule towards me, as if I were somehow a fascist sympathiser. More explanation of privilege and power structure. More explanation of basic feminist ideas. And then, the kicker: “Well, I don’t really believe in that ‘privilege’ stuff. It’s a good theory but ultimately it doesn’t really hold water.” I was dumbfounded. These people were left-wing? Shortly afterwards I left the group with a bad taste in my mouth. I was utterly blown away – and this is a pattern that is getting disturbingly more common among the Left in Britain.
Often I will click on a post about Britain First on social media and someone with a #VoteGreen2015 avatar or a little red Labour rose in their avatar will be raving about how Britain First are racist thugs – true – how they’re all council-housed benefits scroungers who probably don’t work for their pay and holy shit could you be any more classist, mate, you’re sounding a little bit Tory. These are the sort of “lefties” who say they’d be socialists but “socialism only seems to work on paper”. The sort of “lefties” who are left just so they can yell at posh people and not so they can help out poor people. The sort of “lefties” who use the insult “pleb” without considering the historical context of calling someone a “pleb”.
“Classist left-winger” is an oxymoron. You can’t be classist and left-wing. It’s not possible. And that’s why I am disturbed and profoundly upset to find that so many self-titled “left-wing” people are actually just centre-right liberals at best – outright classists and misogynists at worst. Over time, I’m getting more and more wary of people who call themselves “left-wing”. The hypocrisy I see among left-wingers is hideously, outrageously common. Some people call out UKIP for being racists in the same breath as calling Muslim women being “forced” to wear hijab an example of a “savage” culture.
Most distressingly, just a few days after joining the left-wing Green Party, I learned that one of the party’s key members – a certain Rupert Read, the Cambridge Green candidate and the Green Party’s transport spokesman – is also a transphobic. Apparently for poor Rupert, the term “cisgender” is just too much. He finds it “troubling”, so said he, in a tweet he made on January 20th, that cis people should be forced to call themselves “cis”. As opposed to “normal”, supposedly.
And, as a member of the Greens, a strong believer in the Greens, it feels like the world has crashed down around me. Because I can’t even trust my own party any more – my party that claims to have a strong dedication to green politics and to social justice – not to be racist, sexist, or transphobic. Read later half-apologised for his behaviour. But it wasn’t enough. My faith in the Green Party has taken a considerable bashing. While Read is in the process of trying to make amends, I can’t help but feel like it would be better if he’d just resigned on the spot. Alas – the Greens didn’t sack Read, he keeps his job, the transphobia seems to remain unaccounted for.
It’s not just the British Left either – SYRIZA, the Greek radical left coalition, won the Greek general election on the 25th of January. And immediately after winning they entered a coalition with a right-wing party who are the equivalent of our own UKIP, called the Independent Greeks. The Independent Greeks oppose multiculturalism, are nationalists, and support leaving the European Union. It seems the so called far-left are quite happy to sell out their comrades as the price for austerity and anti-capitalism. Flagrant, total bullshit, but hey, welcome to the brave new world. I fear the exact same will happen in Britain, because most left-wingers, it seems, are happy to sell out people for ideological wins.
This has got to stop. Sorry, but to call yourself left wing, or Green, or socialist, or communist, whatever you like, and not want to make the effort to actually read up on oppression and fight its various axes, is hypocritical and utterly, utterly despicable. These last few days I’ve been in a haze of self-doubt and distress because I don’t know who I can trust any more. I’m a white cisgender man, I’m heterosexual and middle-class. I know my privilege. I make efforts not to abuse it or talk over people. Where I can, I sit down and I read what other people, people less privileged than I, have to say. And I am sickened by the idea that there are other “left-wing” men (and in some cases women) like me that can’t grasp this basic concept of just shutting up and taking some time to sympathise with people who are oppressed in different ways than they are. There are other “left-wing” men and women who literally want to further oppression where it betters their cause, and that profoundly upsets me.
At this point it feels like the Left in Britain is just middle-class opportunists taking the chance to yell at the poshes, to yell at the council-housed poors, and to smugly fold their arms and tell bystanders that their ideals are the only correct ideals. This is what is known as “brocialism” among some, but that’s just too humorous a name for something so utterly toxic. Because right now, I’ve lost all faith in the left-wing in Britain. I’ve lost all faith in things ever changing, because people are too selfish to just educate themselves on the world around them and listen to the experiences of others. Isn’t the left about NOT being selfish? About wanting the best for everyone, even if we can’t all necessarily get on? About wanting systems of violence and oppression used by the higher powers in a society to be collapsed so that all people can live freely, equally and happily? Is that not our ideal?
Then why are we killing it? Why are we wilfully refusing to acknowledge privilege, forgiving transphobia and misogyny if it can further our causes? The left-wing in Britain is dying and we’re the ones killing it, through our own ignorance. I am genuinely terrified. My hands are shaking as I write this essay because I am utterly stumped as to where we go from here. I sometimes wonder if there is anything left fighting for at this point, because we’ve just ruined everything through our own greed and complacency. Ultimately, it seems, we are all complicit in this failure of the left. We cannot afford to take any more chances. Either we change it NOW or we fall over the edge into oblivion.
This is our last stand.
[i] Billy Bragg’s version of “The Internationale” is provided under the Creative Commons license CC BY-NC 3.0. This permits reproduction and adaptation of the lyrics so long as correct attribution is given, and a link to the license is provided.