Parliamentary chaos and the looming No Deal Brexit have emboldened the far right. Whether it means marches, street violence or more directed and extremist acts, the next few months will almost certainly see an uptick in far-right activity.
Although relatively small numbers of far right activists have counterprotested the #stopthecoup demonstrations so far, these small groups have shown an increased willingness to get into confrontations with the left. The DFLA recently assembled around 200 people and only the police stopped them from reaching the march.
While their current small numbers might make us complacent, we also need to keep in mind that the far right has the ability to turn out thousands of supporters given the right conditions. Last year as many as 15,000 marched in support of Tommy Robinson, and the UKIP/Tommy Robinson contingent on the Brexit demonstration earlier in 2019 drew around 4,000. These numbers were made possible both by the specific political conditions and by the construction of broader and complex coalitions of the right, but there is no reason to assume that a similar coalition couldn’t come together again. Indeed, the danger of the present moment is that interests across the right are aligning.
Whatever the outcome of the current political conjuncture, almost all of them will likely result in increased far-right activity. The cancellation or delay of Brexit (the most likely possible outcome) would inevitably incite more far-right ‘Brexit Betrayal’ marches of the kind we saw in December 2018 and April 2019. Beyond simply placing a large number of people on the streets, these demonstrations would also give a platform to the racist Generation Identity (now rebranded as the Identitarian Foundation) and the like to agitate and propagandise to a receptive audience. A heightened sense of injustice or betrayal of Brexit might also draw the centre right and far right closer together – an unappealing prospect for the left.
An election resulting in a Tory majority would result in a hard right administration doubling down on anti-migrant racism and Islamophobia, and a synchronous rise in racist violence more generally. According to Tell Mama, an organization that monitors Islamophobia, in the immediate aftermath of Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column comparing Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers hate crimes increased by 375 percent. We can expect Johnson’s regime, if it survives a general election, to continue its authoritarian turn, and double down on both rhetoric and policies that will incite and directly enact more racist violence.
A Corbyn-led coalition government that renegotiates the deal, or puts Brexit to a second vote, would draw the sharpest far-right reaction of all. Aghast at the actuality of a left-wing government, and driven by a notion of democracy that fixates on the outcome of the referendum at the expense of everything else, many on the far right will no doubt feel emboldened to take more extreme action.
What is the role of antifascists now? To deprive the far right of its legitimacy. In this moment, their ability to organise relies on their fantasy that they are spokespeople of ‘the people’, whose supposed will justifies and directs their desire for violence. We must make clear that when we organise against them that they are far less representative than we are, and we must be able to defend our projects, spaces and actions from attacks. It is also incumbent on the wider left to mobilise against and challenge the far right. It is ultimately only a mass movement of a diverse working class that can quell fascist and far right activity.