Rochdale 1 Sunak 0: decoding Rishi’s meltdown

Ruling class in a panic over Gaza and gearing up for political policing as Rishi Sunak lashes out against ‘extremism’ and ‘threats to democracy’.

Proletarian writers

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The spectre of a rising anti-imperialist movement is haunting Britain’s rulers. Plans to increase the politicisation of the police and courts may not have the intended effect, however, but only more clearly reveal to British workers the true nature of the dictatorial iron fist of capital that has been hiding beneath the velvet glove of bourgeois parliamentary democracy.

Proletarian writers

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The popular explosion of grief and anger against the genocide underway in Gaza is sending shock waves through British society. Many people who yesterday had the haziest notion of what is going on in the middle east are starting to challenge the received BBC wisdom.

Complete strangers stop you in the street, point at your Free Palestine badge and demand to be told what it means, or just give you a beaming thumbs up. The courageous struggle of the Palestinians to reclaim their homeland is sparking an unprecedented wave of popular support in Britain.

In just a few months, more militant solidarity with Palestine has been displayed on British streets than had previously been achieved over the course of many years of declining to buy oranges from Marks and Spencer, sending imploring letters to MPs and passing pious resolutions in the trade unions.

Resistance shifts the needle once again

As had been the case with the original anti-apartheid movement, the one targeting apartheid South Africa, whilst the anti-apartheid movement may have helped shift British public opinion, what finally sank the apartheid state was not the moral triumph of ethical shopping choices in Britain but the revolutionary mobilisation in the townships and the armed struggle led by uMkhonto we Sizwe, the liberation army founded by Nelson Mandela after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960.

A comparable step-change in the anti-zionist movement in occupied Palestine is sending ripples out across the world now. In Britain, there have been mass demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine in London, as well as in many other cities.

The zionists should not be surprised if, after being used as human punchbags ever since the fascist ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the 1948 Nakba, and having been largely abandoned to their fate by neighbouring Arab governments, the Palestinian masses should have learned never again to put their faith in promises made by imperialists (as was the case with the Oslo Accords of 1993, which in practice just accelerated the settlements in the West Bank), instead seeking and finding friends in the anti-imperialist movement with whom they could coordinate their fight, simultaneously raising the technical level to a qualitatively new plane.

It is this great leap forward, in confidence, in self-reliance, in military technique, in coordination and in ideology, which so badly shakes the zionists and their imperialist backers. All the lies they told about decapitated babies and the rest, fictions which soon stood revealed as the authentic product of a diseased imperialist psyche, reflected the hysterical panic which has seized the colonial masters when confronted with the qualitatively new stage in the progress of the national resistance struggle.

Panic and disarray in the imperialist camp

Suella Braverman, in her brief stint as home secretary from 6 September to 19 October 2022, revealed the degree of fear and loathing felt by British imperialism as it saw Israel, the central plank of its domination in the middle east (as second fiddle to the USA), being openly questioned and challenged on the streets of Britain.

Braverman’s hysterical rant, denouncing the entirely democratic exercise of free speech as “hate marches” and abusing the police for supposedly being too soft on demonstrators, probably accounts for her summary dismissal, cooler heads perhaps counselling that escalating repression of the protests in this way would only raise the stakes and deepen and widen the protests – which in fact is exactly what has happened anyway.

Braverman has gone, but her restless spirit now appears to be haunting Rishi Sunak, judging by the paranoid speech he made outside Number Ten the day after the astounding success of the Workers party in the Rochdale by-election.

The record-breaking poll, which delivered more votes to George Galloway than to Labour and Tory combined, could hardly have come at a worse time for Sunak. The economy is now officially in ‘recession’ (slump), the Tory party is divided, and the prime minister is thrashing around in search of a policy that will revive his electoral fortunes.

His speech, whilst making a virtue out of incoherence, was clear enough in its direction of travel: towards a police state.

Preparing the ground for widespread political policing

Sunak’s long and rambling diatribe was full of unsupported and nonspecific hints, slurs and non sequiturs, too slippery to be challenged and stuffed with unattributed anecdote and oblique smears. Sunak, clearly spooked by the 24/7 coverage of the Gaza genocide on social media, sought to drown out the popular rage evoked by these terrible images in a veritable flood of crocodile tears.

He confided to his audience that “Since October seventh there have been those trying to take advantage of the very human angst that we all feel about the terrible suffering that war brings to the innocent, to women and children to advance a divisive, hateful ideological agenda.”

And what might be this ideological agenda? Sunak was coy on this score, encouraging his viewers to make their own inferences. He asserted that “Islamist extremists and the far right feed off and embolden each other”, that they are “two sides of the same coin”.

But what does he intend by the phrase ‘islamist extremists’? Was he referring to the mujahedin thugs whom Britain helped train up to burn down kindergartens and clinics in socialist Afghanistan? The same stable of rent-a-jihadi lackeys that Britain continued to fund and train against Iraq, Libya and Syria?

Or could it be that what Sunak really means by ‘islamist extremists’ is any muslim who dares to speak out against imperialist wars, and dares to go on demonstrations in support of Gaza?

Sunak waxed lyrical about what for him constitutes a good immigrant. “Immigrants who have come here have integrated and contributed. They have helped write the latest chapter in our island story. They have done this without being required to give up their identity. You can be a practising hindu and a proud Briton as I am.

“Or a devout muslim and a patriotic citizen as so many are. Or a committed jewish person and the heart of your local community and all underpinned by the tolerance of our established, christian church.”

But if you want to spend your Saturday morning exercising your democratic right to protest against the complicity of the British government in the genocide being committed by Israel, then you are on a warning. “But we must draw a line. Yes, you can march and protest with passion. You can demand the protection of civilian life. But no, you cannot call for violent jihad.”

Yet the United Nations has on multiple occasions affirmed the right of Palestinians to wage armed struggle against the occupation of their homeland by Israel. Whether this is expressed in secular language or in religious terms is immaterial: the content is the same.

Sunak continued: “And I want to speak directly to those who choose to continue to protest: Don’t let the extremists hijack your marches. You have a chance in the coming weeks to show that you can protest decently, peacefully and with empathy for your fellow citizens. Let us prove these extremists wrong and show them that even when we disagree we will never be disunited from our common values of decency and respect.”

So if anyone on the march deviates from this code of behaviour, the implication must be that it is up to the ‘decent’ protesters to expel them or hand them over to the police!

Warming to his theme, Sunak promised to “redouble our support for the Prevent programme to stop young minds being poisoned by extremism. We will demand that universities stop extremist activity on campus.

“We will also act to prevent people entering this country whose aim is to undermine its values. The Home Secretary has instructed that if those here on visas choose to spew hate on protests or seek to intimidate people, we will remove their right to be here.”

And on the question of the role of the police in all this, Sunak assured us that he has met “with senior police officers and made clear it is the public’s expectation that they will not merely manage these protests, but police them. And I say this to the police: We will back you when you take action.”

These blatant threats to ban marches, or neuter them, along with the attacks on independent journalism, are signs that the ruling class is being driven to retreat by degrees from the bourgeois democratic high ground on which it best thrives.

The job of communists at this time is firstly, to organise resistance to the growing suppression of free speech, and secondly, to seize the opportunity to expose the true nature of bourgeois dictatorship and so strengthen the class-consciousness of workers.