The mass Gaza demo that brought down Braverman. Photo: Roger Thomas
The mass Gaza demo that brought down Braverman. Photo: Roger Thomas

Sam, teacher and Socialist Party member

Conservative communities secretary Michael Gove made a statement in parliament on 14 March, outlining the government’s new definition of extremism. Gove’s announcement was preceded by a report, commissioned by the government, which included socialism and anti-fascism as potential signs of ‘radicalisation’.

This move comes off the back of a mass anti-war movement, calling for a ceasefire in the Israel’s Gaza offensive over the past five months. The capitalist establishment also faced a humiliating by-election defeat to George Galloway in Rochdale, who ran on an anti-war and anti-austerity platform, and was subsequently denounced by Rishi Sunak outside Number 10.

The government’s new definition stipulates that extremism is an attempt to undermine liberal parliamentary democracy, people’s human rights, or creating conditions for the advocacy of them.

The announcement sparked criticism even within the Conservative Party, as the former Home Office minister Robert Jenrick commented: “Those people who are simply expressing contrarian views… might find this definition used against them”.

But outcry from Tory backbenchers and the Labour Party about civil liberties rings hollow. After all, it was Labour that introduced draconian anti-terror legislation, including the highly controversial Prevent programme.

Prevent was designed as a referral scheme for education and youth workers (among others) to inform on people to the authorities if they were suspected of harbouring extremist views. Muslim communities criticised the scheme as it put them under siege from an increasingly racist and powerful surveillance state.

David Cameron’s Tory government then made referrals mandatory under threat of prosecution, and moulded the scheme to its anti-multiculturalism diatribe. The scheme began focusing more on non-violent political and religious values, not just ones related to acts of terror.

Most recently, the government report published by William Shawcross recommended Prevent take a greater focus on Islamic extremism instead of the far-right. It also sought to include socialism, communism, climate activism and anti-fascism as indications of extremism.

Undoubtedly, the government’s broadening of the definition of extremism is motivated by racism, to stoke divisions as they try to shore up their small socially conservative membership base. However, the crisis of British capitalism, the subsequent strike wave and impact of protests against the war on Gaza are also drivers of this recent attack on freedom of expression.

Last year, the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act, requiring trade unions in certain sections of the economy to maintain a predetermined level of service during a strike, was another attempt by the Tories to crush the surge in working-class militancy.

Whether it is attacks on trans rights, the right to strike or the anti-war movement’s right to demonstrate; an attack on one is an attack on all. Unions, including education unions, should defend any workers penalised using the Prevent strategy. The greatest force for social change mankind has ever seen is that of the organised working class. We encourage all workers to join a trade union and help build a fighting socialist leadership, capable of taking action to win gains for the working class now and for a socialist future without war, oppression and exploitation.