CS debate on the BNP
One of the most controversial debates in the run-up to the founding conference of Communist Students was on the question of fascism and the British National Party, and what the response of revolutionaries should be. The conference adopted a resolution highlighting the necessity of basing any anti-fascist fight on the “mobilisation of the working class movement” rather than calling upon the state to ban fascist organisations.
We nevertheless recognised that there are differences within our organisation on this particular question and have therefore opened it up for discussion and debate. Here we present two contrasting views
No platform for fascists
BNP leaders Nick Griffin and Mark Collett were recently cleared of inciting racial hatred at Leeds Crown Court. The results of the court case confirms the idiocy of relying on the state to deal with the BNP. It’s given them publicity money just can’t buy.
But what is the BNP and how should socialists fight it?
The BNP isn’t just a rightwing, racist cult. They’re a fascist organisation and this means they want to destroy their opponents. In the past BNP supporters have fire-bombed Asian homes, beaten up lesbians and gay men, attacked socialists, Irish republicans and anti-fascist campaigners. If they came to power, these attacks would become institutionalised. This the lesson of Hitler and the Nazis.
Some people believe in defending ‘free speech’ for the BNP. But the BNP is modelled on Hitler’s Nazi Party: they’ll only use it to deny the free speech of everyone else. They believe in expelling non-whites from Britain. How can this be achieved? Only by extreme violence. The BNP denies the right of lesbians and gays to enjoy loving relationships. They believe a women’s place is ‘in the home’. They want to solve the ‘problem’ of Jews and of people with disabilities. We know how the Nazis did this when they were in power. The BNP would be no different, given a chance. We must deny them the right to spread their hatred and lies.
So how to fight the fascists?
The strategy of Unite Against Fascism boils down to appealing to the state to deal with the BNP or, as the UAF convenor puts it, “turn BNP into HMP”. Not only is such a strategy extremely dangerous, as any new legislation brought in by the state will in all likelihood be used against the left, but by refusing to build a militant anti-fascist movement they demoralise their own supporters.
Instead, we need militant anti-fascist mobilisations based on the organised labour movement to physically confront the BNP when they seek to demonstrate or hold public meetings. Two years ago, when Jean-Marie Le Pen visited Manchester to promote the BNP election campaign, he was prevented from getting his message across by a mass mobilisation which was reported across Europe. That action was condemned by the UAF speaker on the day, but it showed what’s possible. It showed we can build a mass movement willing to take the direct action needed to deny the fascists a platform.
We also need to fight the BNP at the ballot box. Any electoral success emboldens the BNP and leads both to increased racist attacks and to attacks on leftwing and anti-fascist activists, as in the recent attack on UAF supporters in Morley.
We should support working class candidates, including Labour Party candidates, against the BNP, as part of building up a workers’ united front against fascism. Such a united front of trade unions, Labour Party and all workers’ organisations cannot include bosses’ parties. The UAF line of ‘Vote for anyone but the BNP’ undermines the necessary direct mass working class action needed.
The BNP are not an ordinary party: they’re a violent fascist organisation, so the ordinary methods of political debate are not sufficient. Only the strategy of mass mobilisation, based on the organised labour movement, can defeat the BNP.
Principle or tactic?
Comrade Jim Padmore’s approach to the BNP is, in my opinion, deeply flawed.
To his credit, he doesn’t call upon the British state to ban the BNP, as do organisations like Unite Against Fascism. This would merely give the state the ability to decide which ideas are acceptable and which are not – with potentially disastrous consequences for the workers’ movement. The UAF in that sense is behaving like turkeys voting for Christmas – wanting the state to adopt powers that could be used against them, and would undoubtedly be used against the working class movement when our rulers deem it necessary.
Jim is, however, no different from the rest of the left in his insistence that there is one tactic, and one tactic alone, which must be used against far-right organisations like the BNP. This is because, he says, fascists “want to destroy their opponents” and “deny the free speech of everyone else”. This leads him, through an enormous leap of logic, to suppose that the only option for militant opponents of the fascists is to deny them any platform whatsoever.
In actual fact it is legitimate to ask whether the BNP can truly be described as fascist in 2007. The BNP is clearly not, as comrade Padmore claims, “modelled on Hitler’s Nazi Party.” If anything, the opposite is true, with the BNP’s idiotic leader, Nick Griffin, emphasising that his mob should actually be looking to swap the “boots for the suits” – distancing the BNP from its violent past and removing all references to Hitler and Nazism.
The term ‘fascism’ is not something that should be thrown around willy-nilly. It has specific historical content and broadly represents the victory of counterrevolution in a revolutionary period. We clearly do not live in either a revolutionary period or the “1930s in slow motion” (but accelerating), as the Socialist Workers Party would have it. There are no fighting squads or militias and there is no dissolution of the existing social relations to the point where the right is mobilising the disillusioned in order to prevent the working class taking power and seeking to establish its dystopian white dictatorship.
The leaders of the BNP and its antecedents once openly proclaimed such an aim. However, today its policies on such questions as immigration and ‘law and order’ are not so far removed from those of the mainstream – look at them carefully and you are bound to conclude it is often just a matter of degree.
The BNP still has fascists and Hitler-glorifiers among its leading members, and its aims are completely reactionary and anti-human. But fascism represents something qualitatively different from what the BNP is actually putting forward in practice – a populist appeal to the dispossessed and disillusioned of a Britain that is dominated by finance capital and characterised by pseudo-democracy. With its half-truths the BNP seeks to deflect the genuine sentiment for change and a radical restructuring of society and channel them into chauvinism and racism.
However, whether it is still correct to define the BNP as fascist is not the main question. The main question is whether it is correct, despite the well-meaning militancy of many who advocate ‘no platform’ in every circumstance, to turn a particular tactic into a political principle in order to counter the threat of the far right. For all its drum-beating, Jim’s approach is more indicative of political weakness than political strength.
The mass mobilisation of the working class to prevent reactionaries gaining an audience can certainly bring results. For example, in 1936 the Communist Party, with all its defects, was able to mobilise working people in the East End to stop Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists, After the Battle of Cable Street the BUF was marginalised as a political force and never quite recovered.
But today there is no Communist Party – of any description. Which makes it all the more crucial for us to win the battle of ideas. That will often mean allowing reactionary arguments to come out in the open, where they can be soundly defeated. If there is a debate in the media or at a public event at which a BNP representative is one of the speakers, it may prove tactically stupid to boycott or attempt to disrupt it. Such a tactic always risks allowing the BNP to portray itself as the ‘true democrats’ and the left as would-be dictators.
Meanwhile partisans of the working class may miss an opportunity to rubbish the incoherence and idiocy of the BNP’s politics. What are we afraid of? Are the arguments of the BNP so powerful that, as soon as the majority of workers or students hear them, they will be won over to its ideas? And are our own Marxist ideas of democracy and socialism so impotent that the majority will always reject them?
If a popular elected officer of your student union suddenly announced they had joined the BNP, what would you do? Organise a boycott of the union premises? Try to stop the officer getting into the building? Or would you demand an emergency general meeting, where everyone – including the new BNP recruit – could have their say, and propose a motion of no confidence and fresh elections?
Communists must be intransigent in defence of their principles, but infinitely flexible in their choice of tactics.
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