The footage of shambling owners of banned dogs clashing with Europhile freaks, at first seems surreal. The confrontation is so ludicrous that it seems to defy possibility. These two groups represent opposite ends of the diverse culture wars that plague the social sphere– desperate strands of the vast array of tribes banding together, on a common absence of direction and purpose.
The transformation of political discourse in the Western world has been leading to this very moment. The closure of effective avenues for expressing discontent and their replacement with protest as performance, naturally leads to an environment where bizarre expressions of discontent become the norm.
For XL bully protestors, the recent ban represents another sustained attack on their personal liberties. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of going through the Telegram channels of anti-vax groups like the White Rose, will notice that they tend to do two things. They by and large oppose the XL bully ban and hold a strong distrust of authority. A look at posters, signs or stickers for both groups reveals similar design and slogans. Phrases like “the media is the virus,” “resist the new world order” and, colourfully, “your obedience is prolonging this nightmare,” are all used by both groups. A lot of these groups belong to or have ties to the “Freemen on the Land” movement who believe that old statutes in English common law determine their exemption from paying council tax, wearing a seatbelt in a car, or paying for utility bills.
So beyond what they say, what politically motivates these people to go out and act– putting themselves at risk for what they believe? All these groups are fighting against what they view as control from an oppressive state. Do communists agree with them? Of course not. However, they have taken action while others consign themselves to apathy. It is true that working-class people in this country and internationally are oppressed– lacking agency in their everyday lives, feeling controlled. Working-class people worldwide experience this due to capitalist greed, a lack of power to affect changes to the places they live and work, and the establishment’s need to constantly find ways to address crisis. This lack of agency and control manifests itself in several basic ways. A worker is unable to feed themself, unable to feel that they are secure in their own housing and unable to see a future for themself. People oppressed in this manner are right to feel they are being controlled.
In 2016 the Oxford English dictionary declared “post-truth” the word of the year. In addition to this, writers on the left cited the rise in “post-truth politics,” often linked to the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit. Kellyanne Conway was ridiculed for telling reporters there are “alternative facts.” For communists, Conway might be wrong on everything, however, the “alternative fact” that writers on the left scoff at, is the fact that these movements engage with and involve working class people in a deeper and more meaningful sense than we do. Compared to the anti-politics and apathy projected by establishment entities, the so-called “populist” conspiratorial groups and disruptive mass movements like the long 2016 offer working people more; in intent and effect.
XL Bully defenders, Trump voters, COVID-19 deniers, UKIP voters, Freemen of the Land and even David Icke fans all have something in common. All of them hold a sense of mistrust towards the system they live under, that objectively makes their lives worse. This sense lies deep within their personal struggle and although often misguided, there is still positive identification that they are being mistreated and there are changes occurring in their lives beyond their control, that they respond to by taking action for agency and power.
So, how do communists navigate around this situation? We surely recognise genuine dissatisfaction with the ruling order and seek to channel it into righteous anger of our own. The working class are angry, and many are eager to confront power in any way possible. A vanguard organisation needs a van to guard, and therefore bears responsibility for making meaningful confrontation possible. The longer the working class remains unorganised, the longer we suffer in a world devoid of direction and purpose, the more “post-truth” politics we will see, as people blunder through life in ever more atomised identity fractions. Understanding that movements we might not necessarily agree with still represent exploitable gulfs in the status quo, is a prerequisite for building a framework for working-class unity.
In recent years, groups like the Northern Independence Party have attempted to exploit even the most superficial forms of identity. A group of activists that existed online, they resembled the left at its most futile– abjectly failing to make purchase from tenuous leaps of logic amidst a sea of actual regional discontent. The tragic isolation of the volunteer-activist class. However, insignificant and lacking in merit, the NIP remains notable as part of a broader trend, of left-wing activists prioritising invented identity tribes, over the actual mass demands of the class as it exists.
A recent play entitled I, Joan interprets Joan of Arc as a non-binary person. Fundamentally sexist, in asserting that a historical figure famous for defying the expectations of gender could not have been a woman, the play’s assertion is also simply untrue. The liberal-identitarian parts of the left, that make professional careers out of influencing large companies and media, are deeply entrenched in the very “post-truth” world they manufacture outrage about.
Visiting a local bookshop, I noticed a new book on how to use witchcraft for activism. Easily dismissed as a joke, the book appeared sincere and touched upon serious issues like racism and poverty. The left appears to deal in a currency of trivial unseriousness and active denial of the truth. The same leftists that point and laugh at COVID-19 deniers are the same people attempting to rewrite history. There seems to be a lot of fuss about doing absolutely everything other than making clear demands that reflect the needs of working people.
Bedrooms of young men have become a recent socio-political battleground. Daily skirmishes are fought on social media between disaffected and frustrated young men and the rational world. Influencers like Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate play on a widespread feeling of insufficiency among men and invoke a standard of masculinity rooted in pre-modernity. The manosphere influencers have found the perfect synthesis between the regressive misogyny of Abrahamic religious values and the porn-brained decadence of capitalism. Peterson answers the question of male victimhood with a bizarre approach to personal responsibility, driven by the individual and often deepening the isolated disaffection of its adherents. Tate fetishises the commodity to the extreme, with the objects of his personal wealth a prime feature of his videos– yet builds influence on a doctrine of tradition and a return to old values. At a basic level, they both seek to address the symptoms of capitalism’s decline with the very values at its core.
In a political landscape dominated by the transparent falsities of grifters, identitarians and the endless paths they pave, an opportunity emerges for serious political actors. Armed with clear and concise demands, we do not need to create convoluted and alarmist theories or tribal identities to point widespread anger and disaffection at a target. However, the more working-class people are lied to and led down roads that lead to the same place, apathy deepens and the disconnect between the class and its power widens. This positions the effective communist as a defender of truth, in all its modernity. Marx, a modernist that sought to drive society forward in word and deed, makes clear that the concept of truth is not one that we can just confine to the pages of books but a practical reality and domain of struggle.
Knowing that there is deep absence of hope amongst working-class people, presents the opportunity for communists to provide it. Instead of sneering at the lack of sophistication in the few answers people find in a world that provides little, we can guide them to the simple truth that they surely feel every day. The latent power in our very participation in the daily grind, the places we live and the work we do. The feeling of powerlessness that does not add up with the weight of individual responsibility bestowed upon us. The reality is that a resurgence in the collective power once wielded by the workplace, community, and family, could disrupt a declining economic and social order, and make for a better future.
Ben Ughetti is a member of the Young Communist League’s South Yorkshire Branch