KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When in early June of this year three or four members of the far-right, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic National Citizens’ Alliance (NCA) were chased out of Victoria Park in Halifax, it felt like a victory. A handful of xenophobic bigots were clearly told that they and their message were not welcome in this city. With little planning or notice, a number of left-wing organizations were able to mobilize their members and supporters to stage a small but highly effective counter-demonstration.
However sweet that day’s victory felt, we should consider it a wake up call. Despite their pathetically small numbers, the fact that groups like the NCA feel emboldened enough to even attempt a public rally is a sign of the continuing mainstreaming of far-right ideology. We should expect that more, and likely better organized, groups on the far-right will attempt to expand their membership and influence in Nova Scotia. Already we are seeing alt-right talking points creeping into mainstream electoral politics through John Lohr’s Progressive Conservative leadership campaign and Halifax Councillor Matt Whittman’s semi-coherent Twitter posts.
Racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and any other form of bigotry and oppression must never be allowed to gain even the tiniest foothold. The moment anti-humanitarian ideologies are allowed to spread, the consequences for those they seek to target are, violent and tragic.
Countering the far-right will require physical confrontation at some point. We should have no illusions about that. And while we should have no moral trepidation about punching a Nazi, we should also understand that keeping the far-right down will require more than our fists. It will require preventing the conditions that allow it to grow in the first place.
If groups like the NCA is good at anything, it’s appealing to people’s fears and insecurities, and offering them simple, clear targets for those fears. In naming their targets, the right will never ask you to punch up and direct your anger at the people with real political and economic power. For all the rhetoric about “elites”, the right’s favourite targets are nearly always the politically weak and oppressed. Immigrants, racialized peoples, LGBTQ people, Indigenous communities; none of these groups are even remotely “elites” in our society. Yet the right wants people, particularly white men, to believe that they are the source of their problems.
This is why the far-right will always serve the interest of capitalism, even when they occasionally feign vaguely anti-capitalist sentiments. As much as the right loves to accuse the left of not understanding economics, the right really doesn’t have any solid economic analysis of its own. The right can only assert that capitalism is good (or at least inevitable), all the while lacking in any meaningful material analysis of how capitalism actually works. That’s why the only answer they have for the crisis of economic insecurity is a hodgepodge of nationalist talking points and xenophobic scapegoats.
The right has no real answer, and so the left must provide one.
That answer can’t be found in any attempt to placate bigotry and hate. We should never attempt to appease racists, homophobes, misogynists, transphobes, or other assorted bigots. Nor should we attempt to erase differences or avoid uncomfortable conversations within our own movements.
Instead, we must continue the work of building coalitions of solidarity around issue-based campaigns that speak directly to the material conditions imposed on oppressed peoples by capitalism. In other words, the left needs to talk to people about issues that matter and use those conversations to build support and power. The Fight for $15 across North America, and the fight for Medicare for All in the United States can provide inspiration, but we need to make sure that we’re not just photocopying successful campaigns from elsewhere and pasting them awkwardly onto a Nova Scotian context.
In Nova Scotia there is the dismal state of our health care system to contend with. There is the growing gap between rich and poor and the strain it’s putting on the rest of the working class. A centuries-long legacy of systemic racism is only know just being acknowledged by some mainstream white politicians. The simple fact that our government will bend over backwards to give corporations free reign to exploit our environment in the name of job numbers that rarely come as advertised.
All of these issues have the seeds to grow a province-wide campaign to unite environmentalists, Indigenous communities, African Nova Scotians, and working-class people of all backgrounds and identities. Not only would such a campaign fight to build a more just and egalitarian Nova Scotia, it would deprive the far-right of the oxygen it needs to grow.
It would be beyond naïve to suggest that this work will be easy. But it can be done and it absolutely must be done We ignore both the threat of the right, and the rewards of unity against that threat at our own peril.
See also: Danny Cavanagh – Stand up against hate
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