It has been almost two years since the success of the british nationalists in the Brexit vote. Where have they gone? Nationalism, although still a simmering threat throughout the First World, seems to have been defeated, at least temporarily, in britain, not by organized anti-fascism and a strong working class movement, but by their own victory in the polls. How? The prospect that success can be so devastating to a movement that they have not recovered in almost two years is bewildering. One would expect that with great success would come great reward, and that a new stage had been reached by the nationalist right wherein their dreams would shape reality. Yet, that hasn’t happened. UKIP has flagged, and no large nationalist parties have yet taken its place. Neo-fascist street gangs still exist, indeed, yet they are hardly poised, as UKIP postured, to take state power in the foreseeable future.
Their mistake was not winning, but having choked political creativity and strategic mindsets with overly pragmatic, tactical ones. Indeed we as much as they need tactics as well as strategy, pragmatism as well as principles, but to rely on only one or the other is folly, and a hard-learned lesson for those who see it through. The nationalist movement in britain was destroyed by their own success, without any real imagination or preparation for victory, they saw history foist upon them conditions they had not planned for. Interestingly enough, looking back one could question whether or not Nigel Farage, once the ugly figurehead of british nationalism, even wanted to win. He, after all, was so quick to give his concessionary speech, assuming prematurely that they had lost. Perhaps he even wanted to lose. We cannot say for certain, but in retrospect many have come to regret their victory.
What they had succeeded in was having focused all the right-wing and nationalist energies in britain toward the singular goal of leaving the european union. They trimmed away all other objectives, as this was the most realizable goal, around which the broadest possible alliance of rightists and nationalists could be achieved. It was a good strategy, or at least it could have been, if it had not stifled all internal political creativity and reduced balanced programs to a single-issue movement. All politics were to be oriented around this rather unimaginative post. There were many reasons that they wanted to leave the european union, from economic concerns to border security—although the latter was certainly more influential—but there were few long-term solutions; no creative alternative societies were imagined, and no institutions for its advancement were prepared.
After all, who was it who took power in Cameron’s stead? Was it Nigel Farage or another fiery nationalist leader, prepared to implement a prearranged and succinct political program? No, it was Theresa May, someone who had not even been historically sold on Brexit. In fact, none of the politicians in the lineup really were. Even the Trump-like goblin, Boris Johnson, had spent time advocating Turkey’s admission into the e.u. just years before, only becoming a Brexiteer after it had gained traction. The overall political lineup for the post-Brexit government included mostly opportunists who had little to no connection to its organic roots. None of them had any idea how to manage a post-Brexit world, and so they predictably ran it straight into the ground.
This was advantageous for those on the left, in its wake we have seen a declining economic situation and an unstable currency, both predicted by its opposition. The conservative party, who have been charged with stewarding the country toward “independence” from europe, have failed so miserably that many have begun to inquire about a “way out” of the nightmare, back into the relative safety and comfort of europe. None exists, however. All sales are final, according to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the european commission. The principal error of the nationalists was in neglecting the strategic transformation that took place with the initiation of article 50. Material conditions had changed, yet they did not. Without a hegemonic outlook, they were condemned to an unsatisfactory success, with their maximum program having been completed.
In the united $tates we are faced with a similar situation. The whole of the “left” coalition has been hastily built around the project of anti-fascism, or simply anti-trumpism, with the democrats at the helm. The totality of their demands has been oriented around a simple call for impeachment, and among the most advanced, the removal of both Trump and Pence, although the mechanism for this is entirely unclear. There is no “revolutionary” program more reformist than this one, which does not even propose an alternative leadership to replace the one being tossed out. The left is effectively being instrumentalized to remove Trump and maybe Pence without any real thought put into what to do after that is achieved. It is difficult to say if the democrats even know what they want to get out of this.
Even for the democratic party, who remain the only real electoral alternative to the republican party, and only a hair’s width away from a majority in either house, every victory draws wind from their sails. Rather than being energized by their successes, they are taxed enormously for them, and each one seems to come at a slimmer margin than the last. Such was the case in Alabama, where hardly anyone knew a thing about Doug Jones, but knew everything about Roy Moore. The democratic strategy seems to rely on uninspiring fear mongering, rather than energetic programs. This is to be expected among the moribund neoliberal parties, however, and there is nothing we, as communists, can or should do to improve their prospects.
They’ve chosen a hill to die on, but we don’t have to. Yet, if we continue to insist on unprincipled blanket unity on the flimsy basis of removing Trump from office, or even defeating the alt-right, then their collapse will be ours too. We need to create an inspiring, energetic and creative movement against not only far-right populism, but capitalism-imperialism overall. One that is not shackled to the fate of the so-called resistance. This means developing programs and immediate activities which prepare us for the possibility of victory on this front. If after the removal of Trump we have developed no institutions or programs to focus residual energy against the moribund neoliberals, then we will suffer the same fate as our enemies did after Brexit. We will have forfeited long-term hegemonic gains for a short-lived victory, benefiting actors that are, by and large, not us.
If we can assert ourselves as a counter-hegemonic movement, and one with a real revolutionary program and political center, then we stand to benefit perhaps even more than the democrats after the defeat of Trump or the alt-right. Their directionlessness and overall lack of energy will cause their deflation, while the revolutionary center offers a genuine alternative to the lack of leadership offered by the democratic party. This requires organization and preparedness, which can only come through the experience and power of institutions, and the centralization of revolutionary efforts. To pursue any other path is liquidationist, and effectively surrenders our hegemony to the flailing neoliberals and emergent far-right. We would, in effect, be setting the stage for our enemies to ascend, in the same way Brexit had effectively sabotaged the right.
We cannot become a victim of our own success, or that of the democrats. An ironic possible plus is the fact that the left has very few successes generally. Although the broad task of removing Trump and combating the alt-right offers the prospect of many useful temporary alliances, it must always be our institutions which we devote the most resources to, and our own programs which we invest the most energy into developing. While the struggle against Trumpian populism and the alt-right may be, for the moment, the most powerful and broad struggle, we must remember the fundamental contradiction is between capital and labor, and that in the era of imperialism, this manifests itself in the struggle between the imperialists and the Third World.