Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll have resigned from the English Defence League in collusion with the Quilliam Foundation
. They cite concerns about 'far right extremism', about which even laughter seems redundant. It is rumoured
that up to twelve other leaders are walking off with them. This is leaving some seriously bewildered EDL supporters
scrabbling for explanations. Whatever their confused answers, the hopes of some brain-sore members that Robinson's exit will clear the way for a more determined leadership seem utterly vain. This is the beginning of the end for the EDL.
But the truth is, I don't have an easy explanation either. Of course, the obvious leftist answer is 'the movement did it'. Of course: let's give credit to the antifascist movement for its efforts to contain the EDL, limit it, harry it, obstruct its development. Let's not exaggerate its successes though. The EDL has been as much limited by its own schisms and inadequacies, as much by factors such as the growing predominance of recession/austerity politics which it was unable to successfully articulate, as by anything else. At any rate, none of this can explain the specificity of this sudden lurch. Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll, both ex-BNPers, being coaxed out of the EDL by Quilliam? Quilliam, the decidedly 'spooky', state-sponsored 'counter-extremist' lobby? Quilliam, endorsing Robinson's new crusade against both 'Islamism' and 'neo-Nazi extremism'? Yeah, the movement did that.
What I will say is this. There's something about this that calls to mind those old stories on the wrestling, where the 'heel' would suddenly turn 'babyface' on a spurious pretext. Within the course of a single night's event, the transition would be effected in its entirety. It has that much plausibility. It looks like, not the inevitable implosion of a group which had reached its limits - and I do think the EDL was hitting against its conjunctural limits - but rather a strategic shift on the far right. My strongest inclination, bearing in mind that I haven't a fucking clue what's really behind this, is to expect some new populist-right venture to emerge out of this.
And the interesting thing is the people who are waiting to accept a 'reformed' Tommy Robinson. Listening to politicians like Rushanara Ali MP talk about, "well, let's see if he really fights against extremism and contributes to cohesion" and so on, one cannot help but wonder what he would have to do to permanently disqualify himself from such an honoured role. Perhaps if he murdered a small child who turned out to be the offspring of a British soldier who had just 'freed' Helmand from native control.
In the meantime, we will have to start orienting toward the new situation. The far right is splintering and re-dividing. It doesn't look
like its regroupment will lead to a stronger fascist current in the UK. And yet, the basic configurations of racism and social resentment that allowed the EDL to mobilise in the first place, and which are driving support for UKIP, are still there, growing even. And I suspect the more that austerity is successfully implemented, the worse this will get. Unless we start the work of specifically preparing a broad, anti-racist offensive