England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

The far right: Sign of a sick system

Editorial from the March issue of Socialist Alternative, our monthly paper, providing a socialist analysis, strategy and tactics to win socialist change. Get in touch with us at info@socialistalternative.net for your copy.

While it is almost a given that the Tories will be trounced in the next general election, we should not take this as a sign that their politics, particularly those of their farthest-right wing, have been defeated. In fact, going into opposition versus a Starmer-led Labour government more friendly to big business and British capitalist interests than workers, young people and the oppressed, this can actually be more fertile ground for a further entrenching and growth of the right. The US serves as a dangerous example of this. After four years of Democrat Joe Biden’s administration, an even more virulent Donald Trump has re-emerged as a frontrunner for the upcoming US presidential elections.

Under a Labour government, we should expect the ‘mainstream’ Tories to lean even further into the culture wars policies pushed by the right over the past period. They are already pivoting even more towards these ideas. Whether it’s a re-emphasis on the ‘small boats’ issue, anti-trans attacks including Rishi Sunak’s disgusting comments in parliament around trans rights, or Suella Braverman’s call for a ban on protests in solidarity with Gaza, the Tories are again stepping up their right-wing rhetoric.

The Tories realise the appeal these ideas have to a certain section of the population, which they will use to try and shore up a base for themselves. Their record in government propagating these ideas has created an environment that not only lets this poison fester, but has also given confidence to other reactionary forces to express such ideas more openly and forcefully.

This can be seen in the sudden surge of support for Reform UK in the polls, and who won 13% of the vote in the recent Wellingborough byelection, or the return of Tommy Robinson around the ‘antiantisemitism’ marches in response to the Palestine solidarity mobilisations. Groups like Reform UK represent the support that exists for many of the ‘culture wars’ ideas, but that the Tories, after a decade in power, are too tied to the crumbling political establishment and seen as having failed to enact this agenda while in power.

Support for these reactionary ideas may seem counterintuitive in a situation where workers and young people have been moving, en masse, into struggle for our own interests. That includes the strike wave in 2022-23 and now the historic solidarity movement against the slaughter in Gaza.

However, because of the crisis of capitalism, the failure of left-wing forces and the leadership of the workers movement to really challenge the status quo of capitalism, reactionary ideas and forces have also grown, cloaking themselves in false ‘antiestablishment’ clothing. And though not all reactionary ideas originate directly from conscious plans of the ruling classes, the capitalist establishment are willing to adopt them to push back against movements and protect their own rule – dragging even the traditional parties in a more general rightward direction.

Wider trends

None of this is confined to the UK. Recent election results in the Netherlands and Argentina, which brought significant steps forward for far-right figures Geert Wilders and Javier Milei, shows how a similar process has opened up globally. The upcoming US presidential elections and the Indian legislative elections could see gains for, or victory by, reactionary political parties and figures, which will have a significant impact worldwide. In the wake of years of extremely important mass struggles around the world, the ruling classes and forces of reaction are pushing back against workers, youth and the oppressed.

The propagation of anti-feminist ideas in particular has been significant. In the decade following the explosion of the #MeToo movement and mass struggles around issues like gender-based violence and abortion rights around the globe, anti-feminist attitudes have increased, particularly among young men. A right-wing offensive has been waged, as shown in the development of the ‘Manosphere’ of figures like infamous misogynist Andrew Tate (currently facing charges of human trafficking), who spews a steady stream of vile sexist drivel aimed at impacting vulnerable and alienated young men in particular.

Unfortunately, it is having an effect. Recent polling conducted by Ipsos found a quite substantial divide between genders in attitudes towards feminist ideas. Only 36% of men aged 16-29 think feminism has done more good than harm to society, versus 46% of young women. Perhaps more notably, 16% of men that age say feminism has done more harm than good compared to 9% of young women. One in four 16-29 year old men say it is harder to be a man than a woman today. These rates are generally higher than those among men of older generations.

This is not unique. Right-wing figures like former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and the far-right Sweden Democrats, who surged in popularity in the last Swedish elections, have drawn a noteworthy level of support from youth, particularly young men, on a similar basis.

Fight the right-wing backlash!

But while this is a reality, it is not unstoppable. Despite what may be put forward by reactionary pundits and politicians, none of this is a product of what is ‘natural’ in terms of biology or a return to ‘traditional values’. It is in fact, as has been said above, the very anaemia of capitalism and its representatives in this new era of disorder to provide stability and a decent life that has meant they have turned even more to more classic ‘divide-andrule’ tactics to maintain their power, against the united movements of workers, youth and the oppressed that have opened up over the past years.

They have no long-term solutions – capitalism is itself a system in crisis. The relative stability of the late 20th century was an historical exception that in fact proves the rule of systemic exploitation and oppression. The harkening back of the right to a time ‘when things were better’ is a fiction. The past they are speaking of is one in which the hard-won victories of the multi-racial, multi-gendered working class did not exist. Where the bosses and their mouthpieces exercised an even more iron-fisted control over society. It is the very opposite of ‘anti-establishment’.

But the existing leadership of the trade unions, social justice movements and other campaigns have not stepped up to the plate in the way that is necessary to challenge both Labour’s slide to the right and the Tories’ and right wing’s reactionary agenda as a whole. This means that the main task for workers and young people under a Starmer government will be preparing to fight both Labour and the Tories socially, economically and politically.

Movements like the Gaza solidarity protests and the support for Jeremy Corbyn to stand independently show the space and appeal that still exists for a genuine left alternative to the major parties, but it must be built from the ground up, rooted in the genuine struggles of the working class, and politically challenge the main parties. Only this can genuinely challenge and push back the right-wing offensive and open up the way for a more fundamental, revolutionary socialist transformation of society.


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