Welcoming the ‘Scottish’ Defence League to Glasgow
9th June 2016
This weeks fake social media culture war on the Scottish left (yes there is one every week) is about this photo:
For context, there was a protest at the weekend because the Scottish Defence League (a pathetic group of racists who aim to attack Muslims, but in Scotland are too shite to do much – in England it’s a different story) were coming to Glasgow. I couldn’t be there because I live in another country. But from all accounts it was very successful – the tactic of peacefully occupying space to deny it to racists and fascists worked, there were far more anti-fascists than SDL, and they were humiliated again. Well done to all involved.
Now this sign. Following the protest, it did the rounds on social media widely during the weekend. By yesterday, it had managed to attract some ire. And I think some of that is deserved, the message has some problems. I don’t agree with stigmatising people without formal qualifications, and some of the smartest people I ever knew had none. Being excluded by our class bound education system doesn’t mean you are stupid, and this could drive away some people we are trying to convince with the protest. Education is itself a form of privilege. And people shouldn’t be stigmatised because of their health. Fair points absolutely, that should bethought about, and a debate that should be had.
What I didn’t agree with though, was the projection of everything people hate on to an individual they don’t know. I saw a lot of visceral reactions to this image from friends, who went on to make a lot of assumptions about the guy in the image. ‘This is a result of intersectionality/culture wars/a left that has lost its way and forgotten about class!!!1!!11’ ‘Can the middle class left fuck off now please’ and even one friend who actually said this guy was *worse* than the fascists!
All these people were decrying this guy for his display of educational privilege. Writing air kissing noises, making allusions to humus and quinoa (those hated foods of the bourgeoisie). . .
Except I couldn’t but help feel it was all a bit hypocritical, performative and ironic. You see, I have the guy in this photo on Facebook. I don’t know him irl we connected on here because of a shared interest in the Yes movement. And I just knew from what he posts and writes that he is not the PhD wielding social justice warrior that people had instantly labelled him as. So I messaged him and chatted about how he felt about being labelled as “the middle class left”. The guy isn’t a member of the formalised left as such. So there is no group to “blame” for his “wrong politics”. He also isn’t middle class. He lives in a council flat, having grown up in Shettleston (I won’t say where he lives now in case fascists are listening, but it’s somewhere that’s just as working class.)
His highest level of qualifications are two Highers, in Art and Spanish. Yet the vast majority of people I saw criticising him for educational privilege were people who at the very least have degrees. One person who slagged him for it is actually a working academic at Glasgow Uni!!
People used this image to denounce their own pet hobby horses about “the left”. Without realising that what you are doing is just another demonstration of the weakness and impotence of the left. We are disorganised. Our arguments carry fuck all weight in society. Just look at how irrelevant the left are to the EU referendum, arguing amongst ourselves.
In the meantime though, there is actually struggle taking place. You don’t necessarily have to see yourself as inherently left-wing, or have a class based view of the world to not think drunken idiots should have free rein to attack people in your city centre. That’s what the guy in this photo did – he went and physically put his body in the way of other people being harmed. That has to count for something, in terms of bravery at least, in my book.
One critic (my friend the working academic) said:
“If we’ve crashed to the point where anti fascism is based on crude anti working class stereotypes we can forget building an effective movement. . .It’s typical of the left’s absorption into the culture wars, and away from struggles to confront structural and systemic oppression.”
Well yes, class politics has crashed, have you missed the last few decades? If we want people who *take direct action against fascists*, who come themselves from working class backgrounds, to put forward arguments we are comfortable with, we have to get out there and do the hard work of winning people to those arguments. Random denunciations of strangers on Facebook don’t do that. I’m assuming that many of those who made these criticisms weren’t there alongside this guy putting their bodies on the line, because if you were presumably you would have expressed these criticisms to him in person??
Of course, this could become an endlessly recursive circle of shaming each other. I appreciate the many many valid reasons why people couldn’t be on this particular demo. But what bugs me is that comment about forgetting building a movement. Surely there are more productive ways to raise this point, from within shared movements, than trying to anonymously mass shame the guy. I appreciate the point isn’t just about activists, it’s about how anyone seeing that image would react. And I appreciate that a lot of people have had a visceral emotional reaction to a sign they felt attacked people. But to jump from that to all kind of assumptions about the class status of someone who doesn’t meet your expectations is itself its own form of prejudice.
At the end of the day, many of the people that have annoyed me here are some of the loudest voices on how the left has lost its way because the sensitive intersectionalists need protected from the horrible words and images that hurt their feelings, and that’s all that’s wrong with the world. That was the exact point that was being made about this sign. Except can’t you see the ironic hypocrisy of that? You have been outraged by an image, aqnd so are engaging in your own form of identity politics about it? Class politics isn’t shaming each other on FB, it’s about actually building power and control out in the real world.
It’s a form of identity politics that is just about proving your worthiness, denouncing others and maintaining purity of thought as any ‘extremist’ form of feminism many of the same folk would be quick to denounce. It all stems from impotence, from lack of power to actually effect change – but we can make damn sure we took that arsehole down a peg or two on Facebook at least.
I just despair of the fact that we are allowing Facebook’s Artificially Intelligent Algorithms to run our lives and emotions like this. Facebook loves this chat. They love flame wars that keep people refreshing the page again and again in a rage. They make sure you see anything that will rile you up, because that is good business sense. They knew what you were all writing about this guy would wind me up – that’s why they made sure that my feed was topped with 20 odd posts saying the same thing yesterday. And here I am joining in. What an endless pile of uselessness. Meanwhile, while we are busy denouncing each other for not doing anti-racism right, Britain is more racist, explicitly in formal politics and debate as well as everyday discourse, than I can remember it being in my lifetime. If people have coherent plans for what to do about that, I’m all ears.