For a Progressive Extremism!
10 February 2021
With a new special envoy headed to investigate the far left and right, Rowan Fortune examines the spectre of Progressive Extremism and the meaning behind this curious conflation.
There’s a spectre haunting the Tory Party, the spectre of Progressive Extremism. Indeed, they are so frightened of this ghostly menace, they have appointed ex-Labour MP John Woodcock, Baron Walney to investigate its sinister influence over social movements – such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Extinction Rebellion (XR) – alongside also investigating fascists and assorted reactionaries on the far right.
What does this vaguery imply? Baron Walney offers few clues, but at the A*C.R we are prepared to give flesh to the baron’s poltergeist. We are prepared to don the badge of Progressive Extremism ourselves, as Marx and Engels gave substance to the establishment’s nightmares of their day by accepting that fearsome label, Communist.
We take on this title because, yes, we fully intend to be a threat to their class rule! Yes, we seek to inspire working people to participate actively in the conflict that is now mercilessly waged against their lives! We intend to join the exploited and oppressed against whom attacks are all too often met by a too moderate resistance!
We are for the self-defence of Black communities against racist cops; we are for the self-defence of all humanity against the destruction of nature; therefore, we are for – in Baron Walney’s rhetoric – a Progressive Extremism. If the continued survival of the oppressed and the planet is deemed extreme, as Baron Walney implies, then so is our position.
We demand the extreme when redressing the social murder of the Grenfell Tower fire and the mass slaughter of our elderly and disabled siblings during the Coronavirus pandemic; we demand it in ending a callous disregard for the wellbeing of essential workers and in recognising the shared humanity of migrants and refugees. And that ought to frighten the Tories, whose far-right project depends on inhumanity.
Baron Walney’s past makes him an interesting choice for this investigation. He ostensibly left the Labour Party because it had been overtaken by the ‘hard left’, making his current special envoy role – and choice to devote attention to the left – look like a personal vendetta. Worse, he left in the context of a still unaddressed accusation of sexual harassment, before Boris Johnson’s far-right government ennobled him for services rendered in the 2019 general election.
What is the accusation Baron Walney is making against the hard left, which presumably (and absurdly) covers all of the revolutionary left, but also doubtless Bennites and other parliamentary traditions?
By juxtaposing this medley of progressive views with the far-right, irrespective of what else he claims, Baron Walney is engaging in that old trick of hinting at some shared quality between socialists and fascists. This conflation is not only factually wrong but historically obscene, which Jack Graham in his essay ‘Killing in the Name Of’ makes clear:
Politics has content as well as form. It is not, as fascism always tries to make it, a game of aesthetics. No matter how superficially similar fascist and antifascists may be – and I contend that, with a very little good-faith scrutiny, they are not actually very similar at all – there is a world of difference, so much difference on every level that equivalence of any kind is a gross falsehood, a catastrophic failure of understanding. It is the content of political action which gives it meaning, not the form. And the content always ultimately derives from the class content, which ultimately derives from the class basis. The class content and basis of fascism, whatever the rhetoric, is bourgeois, based on the defence of capital either directly or via the defence of those divisions and oppressions which are both generated by and bolster the rule of capital.
Besides perusing a vendetta against the left, why have the Tories chosen now to make this conflation? We at the A*C.R await eagerly to see if the rigorously independent-minded Baron Walney looks to any extent at the links between the far right and the current Tory Party. After all, the Capitol Hill riots in part inspired this investigation, where the deep ties between the US Republican Party and fascist groupings erupted in a spectacle of reaction.
We will not hold our breath. Far likelier, the aim here is not to examine the mainstreaming of fascist ideas, but to depoliticise progressive movements such as BLM and XR by vilifying the left. Rosa Luxemburg, one of history’s great Progressive Extremists, once wrote that ‘only by demanding from bourgeois society all that it is capable of granting have we succeeded here and there in obtaining a small part.’
That is the real concern of the Tories. They remember – sometimes better than even the left – the days of resistance to the Poll Tax when an organised and militant socialist movement was able to bring down one of their most revered Prime Ministers. Moreover, they know that so long as Black humanity is attacked and the world ravaged by capitalism, many will be forced to seek radical change.
Since the Tories have no will to end racism or the destruction of the planet, they mean instead to make sure that those movements seeking redress never ask all that bourgeois society is capable of granting them, lest it brings down another Tory government and thereby teach those rallying to BLM or XR their true, revolutionary power.
Rowan Fortune is a member of the A*C.R, a student of utopia and a regular contributor both here and elsewhere. Rowan has authored Writing Nowhere: A Beginner’s Guide to Utopia and is a co-author of System Crash: An Activist Guide to the Coming Democratic Revolution.