Fascists, fighting squads and no platform

The article below was written for the last edition of Communist Student. Unfortunately we didn’t have the space to include it and a number of other articles in the print edition. It is written by a member of Permanent Revolution and author of the blog Infantile and Disorderly. I expect that it will prompt some debate…

Fascists, Fighting Squads and No Platform- How the student left should tackle fascism

The term ‘fascism’ was first coined by Mussolini in Italy 1922. But what exactly does it mean? Like many of the -isms thrown around the murky world of the British Left, not all who use it are clear as to its precise meaning. Fascism is this: the creation of a mass populist movement, designed to be the “shock troops” of the most reactionary sections of the ruling class against the organised workers’ movement, mobilising these forces through an illusory “socialism” that bears no resemblance to the real thing. [1] In times of crisis, the ruling class will resort to fascism- in fact it is the last weapon in their armoury, in this, the imperialist epoch. That the fascists are not in a position to take power in the UK today is not testament to the strength of the present antifascist movement, but rather a result of the success of neoliberalism.

One question I have been asked is whether or not the British National Party (BNP) can be considered fascist? The answer is yes. An absolute and unequivocal yes. Many people who vote for the BNP are themselves not fascist, many are part of the disenfranchised working class in fact, but the fascist nature of their cadre is indisputable. Quite simply put, just because the BNP hides behind a respectable façade, just because they have – temporarily – assumed the face of a democratic party, just because they claim to not be fascist, does not mean we should believe them. BNP leader Nick Griffin says it all: “Why do nationalists (meaning fascists) alone insist on spelling out in words of one syllable where they are coming from and where they want to go. Is it really honesty or is it just plain stupidity? This is a life and death struggle for white survival not a fancy dress party. A little less banner waving and a little more guile wouldn’t go amiss.” [2]

So what exactly is the relationship between the BNP- between Nick Griffin’s clean-shaven “suits not boots” acolytes and the violent thugs that we are so used to thinking of when we hear the word ‘fascist’? Well, fascist-motivated attacks are certainly not a thing of distant memory- only this year in Huddersfield a prominent student anti-fascist was subjected to a horrifically violent attack (she was pushed to the floor, kicked in the ribs and slashed with a knife) after campaigning to No Platform the BNP on her campus. During the attack she was called a “Dirty red”, “Lesbo”, and “Britain-hater”. This should serve as a warning to those who believe in the electoral respectability of the British National Party; since these thugs could have attacked any anti-fascist activist, you or me, we absolutely must stand together. Those who say that the BNP have abandoned violence, are, I’m afraid, living in fantasy land.

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) majority position holds that the creation of independent fighting squads is an integral characteristic of fascism. This is where many socialists, including those holding their own minority position, would disagree. When fascism comes to power, in Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy for instance, the fighting squads in question are assimilated into the state mechanism; so, following the CPGB’s reasoning to its logical conclusion, these forces cease to be fascist. Very strange indeed. To their credit, however, the CPGB permits open discussion in the party, and gives space to their minority position in their newspaper, the Weekly Worker. This notwithstanding, at their summer school they held a debate on the topic entitled “Fascism and fighting ghosts”- it seems to me that labelling the vast majority of the left, those who appreciate that the BNP is a fascist organisation as fighters of ghosts is a rather disingenuous move, not likely to foster the intended open and honest climate for debate.

A debate that frequently arises on the left is what approach to take towards Redwatch, Noncewatch, Stormfront and similar fascist-motivated websites. Many of us are on Redwatch- I am and I imagine most of the people reading this are too. Redwatch is a website containing images and personal details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of so-called “reds”- communists and socialists, peace campaigners, human rights activists, anti-fascists and anarchists, even children. The people featured on Redwatch’s pages can be subjected to harassment and, in some cases, violence. The latter happened in the case of well-known Merseyside anti-fascist Alec McFadden who was stabbed on his own doorstep. But what we absolutely must not do, is appeal to superficial knee-jerk censorship, by calling for a government ban of these websites (and in the process the sort of new legislation that could so easily be used against the workers’ movement). This approach was taken by a member of Workers Power’s youth group, Revolution, at last year’s National Union of Students (NUS) conference. Revolution later said they regretted the decision.

The first step to fighting fascism in Student Unions is an active defense of No Platform. No Platform can be summed up quite simply: refusing to grant fascists the space to air their views, “a platform” in other words, to speak in our Students’ Unions. There are a number of common (and easily refuted arguments) leveled against No Platform. The first argument is simply that by refusing to debate with fascists we appear cowardly- this, however, is patently untrue. If No Platform is done correctly it is not a cowardly display; it is a show of strength and unity. Moreover, as has clearly been demonstrated before, the BNP does not deal in the language of rationality and plain common sense; one need only look at behind-the-scenes documentaries such as Young, Nazi and Proud or Nazi Boy, to hear vitriolic racist and anti-Semitic views aired. At this summer’s Red, White and Blue festival in Derbyshire local residents reported seeing BNP members performing “Hitler salutes”- hardly the actions of people who are going to be won round with a nice bit of calm intellectual discussion.

The second argument used against No Platform goes like this: “You can’t say you’re in favour of freedom of speech and then advocate No Platform…” In response let me say this- No Platform is not a freedom of speech issue. Fascists, and racists for that matter, continue to possess freedom of speech, something which they exercise on a daily basis, when they spread their hate in meetings, on the internet, on TV (Nick Griffin appeared on Panoroma the week before this was written), in newspapers and in the streets. Not permitting the BNP to speak in our unions is common sense. Wanting to keep your home free from discrimination, violence and intimidation against ethnic minorities, LGBT people, Jews and Muslims, women and the disabled, you wouldn’t invite Holocaust-denying fascists through the door? So why would you invite them into your Students’ Unions?

Waiting for the BNP to grow larger is not an option we have; neither is waiting for them to gain the confidence to mobilise publicly in ever-greater numbers. With plans to march publicly in Stoke and Leeds in the near future, the days of fascists on the streets of Britain are certainly not numbered. That the BNP hold stalls in different towns around the country is something that the left should be ashamed of. All of which brings me to my last point- the importance of militant direct action. Physical confrontations with the fascists (yes, violence!) and the sort of mass blockades reminiscent of Cable Street will be part of any revival in the workers’ movement. In that sense, it is crucial – absolutely imperative in fact – that we build an antifascist movement that is fierce, united and deeply rooted in the politics of the proletariat; we need this in order to give the working class the necessary space in which to reorganise. Unfortunately, this is a movement which we currently lack. The Socialist Workers’ Party front group, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) simply doesn’t cut it. Any campaign that routinely subordinates the interests of the working class to the interests of the organisation (the textbook definition of sectarianism, in other words) can never be strong enough to provide a serious challenge to fascism. Weak, vote-for-anyone-but-the-BNP tactics will never lead to a serious political alternative for the working class. After all, David Cameron has signed up to UAF? Does that mean he’s on our side? Absolutely not.

[1] “Fascism” here

[2] Debate between PR and the CPGB here


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  • Well, what can I say. You would say that wouldn’t you. I thought since the collapse of the utopia called USSR all communists had joined the Labour Party.
    Well it seems to be that way to me.

  • Funny definition of “communists” you must have Ray!

    By the way, if you want to engage in a debate of some sort on this website, it would help if you made a point.

  • “This notwithstanding, at their summer school they held a debate on the topic entitled “Fascism and fighting ghosts”- it seems to me that labelling the vast majority of the left, those who appreciate that the BNP is a fascist organisation as fighters of ghosts is a rather disingenuous move, not likely to foster the intended open and honest climate for debate.”

    The title of the debate I think was intended to provoke lively discussion, rather than sum up the CPGB position. The actual content of the debate didn’t reflect such a one sided view at all, with many comrades speaking against such a dismissal of the fascist threat, whether that is represented by the BNP or otherwise.

  • As the comrade putting forward a minority position within the CPGB I thought the title was very poor. But it certainly didn’t stop us having an open and honest debate – though the majority again failed to answer many of our points, again.

    Hopefully the video of the opening presentations will go up on the website soon.

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