Anti-BNP class-collaboration

The left’s spluttering response to Nick Griffin’s invitation to appear on Question time reveals a floundering political strategy, argues James Turley

On October 22, yet one more edition of the BBC’s long-running politics show Question time will, barring some act of god, be broadcast. On that date, joining toadyish and cynical members of the three main parties will be, for the first time, Nick Griffin of the British National Party.

This follows a long period of coquetry on the part of the BBC. The corporation apparently decided in February that, should the BNP achieve an electoral breakthrough in June’s European elections, topical coverage would have to start treating it ‘seriously’, in line with BBC ‘impartiality’ guidelines. Thus, in early September, the possibility of a BNP appearance on Question time was first floated, and after much eyelash-fluttering back and forth, the invitation was formally issued last week.1

In reality, the June elections did not represent any explosion of support for the BNP – particularly considering the immediate context of the MPs’ expenses crisis. Yet this time, its burgeoning support was distributed more kindly for it, gaining the BNP two MEPs – and underlining that, despite the protestations of official politics, over the past decade or so the BNP has transcended the cults and groupuscules of the far right to become a force in British politics.

While an invite to Question time is unlikely to help the BNP reach its core target audience directly – at the moment, atomised proletarians and lumpen elements – it does represent a coup for Nick Griffin, whose strategy since assuming leadership 10 years ago has been to remould the BNP into a vehicle for respectable, electoral politics, based around a programme of quasi-racialised populism.

Griffin’s perspective has been presented by many as a ‘quest for legitimacy’, but this is not strictly true – rather it is a quest for ingratiation into the political establishment, in order to build over a long period of time a stronger base for extreme-right politics – what Gramsci would have called a ‘war of position’. The BNP’s painstaking work at the grassroots (at a time when mainstream bourgeois politics is utterly decimated at the local level) has created ‘legitimacy’ on the doorstep already. The BBC, and others involved in the affair, are merely recognising what is a fait accompli.

And it is not just the BBC. The Labour Party has now dropped its policy of not sharing a platform with the BNP, and will send Jack Straw to the Question time debate. This seems to have more to do with the foxhole Gordon Brown has found himself in. Sending along Straw amounts to broadcasting a message to alienated Labour voters who have turned to Griffin – ‘I understand your concerns, so turn out for Labour’. Of course, whether he actually does understand what alienates such people is debatable – that all he has to offer these layers is the insubstantial reactionary bluster of the likes of immigration minister Phil Woolas is plain.

Other Labourites are not happy, of course – Peter Hain, oleaginous stalwart of official anti-fascism, decried the decision to allow an “avowedly racist and fascist” organisation equal footing (even for a poxy hour of television programming) with the mainstream parties. (It seems to have escaped the honourable member for Neath that, even under stiff-arm-saluting former leader John Tyndall, the BNP did not identify itself as fascist – let alone under the Le Pen-worshipping Griffin.) Hain offered his support for any legal challenges against the BBC.2


Hain is not alone – to pay heed to the typically millenarian response of the ‘anti-fascist’ left, you would think that an act of god really was in the offing on October 22 – perhaps the onset of the Book of Revelation, or at least a plague of locusts. Unite Against Fascism, as usual, gets the wooden spoon for abject political cretinism. “Shame on the BBC,” squeals a press release, for inviting Griffin onto the programme – “a man with a criminal conviction for denying Hitler’s holocaust.”

UAF chair Weyman Bennett, a member of the Socialist Workers Party central committee, is on hand to lay down the line: “The BNP is not a normal, democratic party. It is a Nazi party whose political agenda is to destroy democracy and wipe out ethnic minorities in Britain. By granting Griffin a prime-time platform the BBC is in practice helping to legitimise the BNP and its politics of race hatred.”3 Of course, the Labour Party and the Tories do not exactly have a sterling record on democracy (nor, for that matter, does the SWP) – but such things are of little relevance to the delusional crusaders that staff UAF.

Open up a copy of last week’s Socialist Worker,4 and things – astonishingly – get worse. Michael Rosen, SWP member, poet and sometime broadcaster, pens an extended argument for ‘disinviting’ the BNP. Ben Lewis referred to it briefly last week,5 but it deserves to be quoted at greater length. The BBC is “a public space” and is “indirectly publicly owned”. Therefore, “the BBC has a responsibility to represent everyone. It has no responsibility to represent those who attack sections of the population and demand that they leave the country.”

Anyone with a basic grasp of logic will already be left floundering at that extraordinary couplet, but the comrade trundles on regardless. Griffin, despite his nice-and-respectable PR makeover, can only achieve his aims through “terror, internment, deportation and murder” (just as true of Phil Woolas or Frank Field, of course). We – the proud, if indirect, owners of the BBC – are by no means obliged to allow such political programmes, “open or hidden”, the oxygen of publicity.

Rosen draws two analogies, both telling: “The BBC doesn’t have to broadcast what anti-social people say and do. It doesn’t have to give a platform to people who advocate burglary as a way of life … when it does [feature such a person] it will always be surrounded by commentary and context that make clear that this is anti-social and that it is a ‘problem’ that this person is saying such a thing.”

Secondly, though it “may seem too trivial” a comparison, the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand scandal is cited in a flurry of scare-quotes: it “broke ‘compliance’ and ‘trust’. The BBC’s contract with the public was deemed to be broken because it ‘offended’ ‘us’, and ‘we’ couldn’t ‘trust’ it any more.” Surely inviting a Nazi thug onto television is far more offensive than jabbering on about a sexual tryst on a voicemail?

His final argument is the most telling of all – the BBC should defend itself against “a political party that wants to use the BBC in order to smash the very political system that is putting that party on air”. This, let us remember, appeared in a newspaper whose ‘Where we stand’ column argues that “the present system cannot be patched up – it has to be completely transformed. The structures of the parliament, army, police and judiciary cannot be taken over and used by the working people.”6

To recap, then, the BBC is ‘ours’ because we pay for it (but not the BNP’s – perhaps, along with all their other criminal activities, they aren’t renewing their TV licences?). The BNP’s programme is “anti-social”, equivalent to burglary. Therefore we should demand that the BBC’s bureaucratically cooked up ‘trust agenda’ be wielded against these thugs. There is no difference acknowledged between thought (the BNP’s politics) and action (racist thuggery); there is no difference acknowledged even between the anti-immigrant nativist rhetoric of the BNP and blood-and-soil Nazism.

The only distinction Rosen appears to admit is between the ‘bad guys’ in the BNP, in the name of whose defeat literally anything can be advocated, and the ‘good guys’ – the BBC and, by implication, everyone whose presence on Question time is not decried: the Tories (who have a long history of overt racism and low-level thuggery), the Labour Party (whose reactionary stances on immigration are in our faces every day), the Liberal Democrats (who have intermittently played the race card themselves, notably in the background to the BNP’s first council election victory in Millwall).


It is perfectly plain that Rosen’s article – in line with virtually every pronouncement on fascism to emanate from his leaders on the SWP CC – is miserable, moralistic guff. Its unseemly cringing before the bourgeois state and its pet ideological apparatuses is systematically incompatible with anything resembling a revolutionary perspective. If the BBC is ‘indirectly’ ours, what about the police? We fund their activities far more ‘directly’ through tax takings. Perhaps they do not need to be got rid of after all … It is also obvious that the perspective is deeply anti-democratic – the masses, apparently, are so dense that even to be exposed for an hour to the ‘wrong’ views will turn them into Nazi boot boys.

Yet it should be noted that the basic error here is one of class analysis – that is, the UAF perspective flows perfectly naturally from the axiom that anti-fascist activity is a persistent and overriding duty of the workers’ movement. This necessarily implies that the struggle against fascism is parcelled off from the struggle against bourgeois rule – reified, in the jargon of Hegelian Marxism. Therefore, the view develops that there is a consistent division in the bourgeoisie between a (more) democratic section and a fascistic, authoritarian section, and that the latter is always a bigger threat to the workers’ movement. It is almost to the SWP-UAF’s credit that they follow this logic as far as it will go – to naked class-collaboration and defence of the bureaucratic state apparatus against the fascist pathogen.

The major perspective against this within anti-fascism is the militant no-platform strategy – confronting fascists in the streets, attacking their demonstrations. They are not so far down the road to class collaboration as UAF, but their distance from the latter is basically moral – while Weyman Bennett jumped into the arms of Searchlight and sundry Labour grandees, militant anti-fascists walked the line. They remain wedded to the idea that anti-fascism is an autonomous and permanent fixture of political activity, and so are crippled in much the same way.

Trotsky is cited by both (although not by the anarchist elements of the latter or the outright Stalinists of the former) as a predecessor – in practice or in ‘spirit’. Yet this dramatically misunderstands Trotsky’s writings on fascism, which are among his best directly political texts – the argument for a united front against fascism is based on the immediate situation of 1930s Europe, with Mussolini in power and Hitler on the cusp, and many millions of black and brown shirts on the streets, breaking up strikes and demonstrations. In this situation, argues Trotsky, the very existence of the workers’ movement needs to be defended. Even so, he derides the idea that the fascists are ‘worse’ than the reactionary government, offering an illustration for the “feeble-minded”:

“When one of my enemies sets before me small daily portions of poison and the second, on the other hand, is about to shoot straight at me, then I will first knock the revolver out of the hand of my second enemy, for this gives me an opportunity to get rid of my first enemy. But that does not at all mean that the poison is a ‘lesser evil’ in comparison with the revolver.”7

Any Marxist approach to a given political problem has to start from the elements of Marxist strategy – that the working class needs to take power, and that it can only do that by expropriating the political power of the bourgeoisie, which is located in the state. No, comrade Rosen, the BBC is not ours, any more than the worker owns the means of production because it is their unpaid labour that has ‘indirectly’ bought it.

In certain situations, fascist groupings are a direct and physical threat to our capacity to challenge state power, and must be confronted directly. If our working class organisations, meetings and demonstrations are being directly threatened in a given locality, then socialists, trade-unionists and others should take whatever steps are necessary to defend them. But this is not true of the situation in British politics at large. We are not witnessing the rise of a ‘British Hitler’. The capitalist state’s need for national borders to regulate the movement of labour and working conditions through immigration controls ensures that there will always be esoteric far-right groups of a racist character. The BNP’s relatively sudden rise is merely a symptom of the present situation – the decline both of ‘official’ bourgeois politics and of the left, vacating space for the far right.

If the left wants seriously to defeat Nick Griffin and his dismal crew, it needs to take seriously the task of building a political alternative – not to the BNP or ‘fascism’, but to capitalism. We should not demand the BBC ditch Nick Griffin on October 22 – but that the establishment make room for the Marxist left on its platforms.


  2. The Observer September 27.
  4. September 26.
  5. ‘English Defence League stunts and the real lessons of the 1930s’ Weekly Worker Sept 24.


  • Many people voted BNP, the BNP have a right to a platform, if you oppose this then you are Stalinist.
    Multiculturalism and the free-movement of goods and people is capitalist, capitalism has savaged the developing world so badly that it’s people are forced to abandon homelands and family to come to Britain for what they perceive to be an easier life, capitalism is fine with this because migrants then provide cheap labour undercutting domestic workers.

    You support this system through your warped internationalist views, in doing so you betray the white working class(your proletariat), and defeat the whole notion of there being a ‘left-wing’

  • I must disagree.

    The capitalist state requires borders and the splitting up of the working class in order to weaken it and turn it away from recognition of its *universal* interests as a class.

    The point would be that effective international class organisation – as opposed to the working class being split along the lines of race, nation, sex, etc serves to strengthen the bosses and their agenda to use the current economic crisis as a way of carrying out a potentially epochal defeat of the working class movement as a whole.

    The proletariat is the whole of the people separated from the means of production, dependent on the wage fund and with nothing to sell but their labour power. Talk of the ‘white working class’ as the whole of the proletariat is not just wrong, but actually blurs clear class distinctions between the workers and the bosses.

    Given the current weakness of class organisation and the defeats of the working class in Britain since 1984, many workers might be tempted to turn against ‘foreigners’ as an explanation for job losses/pay cuts etc.

    But this is wrong – it is the system of capital and its state that is the enemy, not those with whom we actually have a common interest. Open the borders, fight for common pay, conditions and union rights for all workers.

    These are the sort of arguments the left must be putting forward, and not chasing the bourgeois ‘multi-cultural’ consensus.


  • Yea and the Lisbon treaty shows no signs of ensuring these migrant worker rights, if it did then they would be no cheaper than white workers, this exposes this internationalism as capitalist and must be stopped.

    The white working class is this countries primary proletariat, therefore this countries major concern. Increasing the supply of workers(migrants) into the economy increases the labour supply, lowering the position of workers, you are naive not to see the reality of this.

    Capitalism needs to be cowed and economics need to be planned to a greater extent, but a flawed economic system doesn’t mean the people want your imperialism, and to have their cultural pride smashed, this is one of the reasons why western modern communists, comprise of middle class students predominantly, detached from the common man, get few votes, and one of the reasons the likes of the BNP, who when they claim to represent the common man, gain ground.

    When you have a system like yours that is devoid of meritocracy, where hard-work and half arsed work yield the same result for the individual, this will cause you to succumb to laziness, like the Bolsheviks.. and then comes Stalin.

    Marx and Troksty miscommunication of Marx are not gospel. National pride and heritage are of importance, things like populations levels in the country and our ability to feed ourselves etc if global trade should falter should be considered in attitudes towards immigration.

    I don’t get why you see the solution to the worlds poor, is to put them in with the poor over here? Instead of us leading a less bourgoise, materialistic life, without ill-gotten developing-world consumables, granting those nations independence and freedom to prosper, opposing globalisation in it’s entirety?

  • Comrades,
    Despite promising a full mobilisation the Communist Students did not turn up for the Leeds anti EDL mobilisation on 31 October, only one of whom (not from Manchester) was present. This is surely caused by the political confusion wrought by Ben Lewis and James Turley on the question of No Platform. To take just one example in WW 779 Ben Lewis endorses the biggest mistake the Bolsheviks ever made, debating the fascists in 1923, typified by the infamous speech by Karl Radek Leo Schlageter: The Wanderer into the Void (June 1923) to the Executive Committee of the Communist International ( Trotsky was not present at that meeting, and Lenin was by now at deaths’ door, the meeting was politically dominated by Stalin, Zinoviev and Bukharin, already well advanced in opportunist degeneration, as Trotsky pointed out in his book, Lessons of October. We might accuse Trotsky of failing to carry out Lenin’s instructions to wage political war on Stalin at that point, but he waited in expectation of Lenin’s recovery and then, after his death, he was reluctant to fight to split the Bolsheviks by revealing the contents of Lenin’s Testament.

    Comrade Lewis says “As both Broué and Harman acknowledge in their accounts, these meetings (between Nazis and Communists) proved too much for the Nazis, who discontinued them after August 1923, believing them to be a cause of lost members and waning influence.” It really is impermissible to endorse the political confusion of both Broué and Harman on the reason for the decline in the influence of the fascists. By August 1923 there was a rapidly developing revolutionary situation in Germany and this is what caused the decline in the number of fascist sympathisers. And as we all know this revolutionary situation was lost because of the political confusion of the leaders of the KPD, Heinrich Brandler in particular (no relation to Chris Brandler, WW columnist?). Making alliances with fascists instead of preparing the working class for revolution is most definitely the wrong orientation; it was opportunist, libertarian rubbish. And Ben endorses Ruth Fischer in his piece, whom Lenin described, together with Arkadi Maslow as “the worst sort of opportunists”. Let us see what German communist leader Walter Held made of these events:

    “But the most hopeless floundering was in the ranks of the Communist Party. With its adventuristic soul it swam in the wake of the chauvinist Nazi propaganda; with its bureaucratic ‘ministerial’ soul it adapted itself to the sterile, negatively limited anti-fascism of the Social Democracy… Confusion reached its height when, in Moscow, Radek glorified the anti-semitic soldier, Schlageter. ‘Schlageter, the courageous soldier of the counter-revolution, deserves to be honoured by us soldiers of the revolution’, declared Radek in an improvised speech at the extended plenum of the ECCI on the day after Schlageter was shot by the French troops of occupation. The speaker turned to the ‘German Workers Party’ (as the Nazis were then called) with the question. ‘Against whom do you want to fight, Entente capitalism or the Russian people? With whom do you want to unite, the Russian workers and peasants in our common struggle to throw off the burden of finance capital or with Entente capital to enslave the German and Russian people?’ Through Radek’s words the Communists declared themselves ready to be in league with the Nazis: ‘We shall do everything so that men like Schlageter, who were ready to encounter death for a common cause, shall not be wanderers into nothingness, but travellers towards a better future for all of humanity’. At this conference only one delegate, the German Bohemian, Neurath, protested against this nationalist-communist mischief. Otherwise Radek’s speech aroused frantic applause. In Germany it was the basis of a series of fraternal actions between the Communists and the Nazis. Communist firms published pamphlets in which Communist and Nazi statements appeared alongside each other. This ideological disintegration made rapid progress.”

    You can find the rest of this very important article, Why the German revolution failed by Walter Held at

    Comradely Gerry Downing

  • Is not R.Milne a BNP member? He certainly sounds like one, so there would be no problem debating his views on the “white working class” would there be?

  • Gerry, members of CS attended the Manchester mobilisation and built for the demonstration in Leeds. It was largely personal circumstances, and the fact that comrades needed to catch up with their uni work that stopped people coming over. I was away on holiday so I did not attend.

    You are conflating debating with the facsists and working with the facsists into the same thing. No where has the CPGB said that we would work together or claim a common cause the the fascists. And you are right, there is no problem debating individuals like R.Milne on our website.

  • Is not there something really wrong with Ben’s account of what happened in 1923?:

    “Another leading SWP member, Chris Harman, even acknowledges this in his worthwhile book on the German revolution. He writes that in 1923, as part of the “ideological offensive against the Nazis amongst the Nazis’ own followers”, “leading communists such as Ruth Fischer debated against Nazi spokesmen in meetings of students – for example, where the Nazis were strong and the revolutionary left was very weak”.7

    Similarly Pierre Broué explains that “the communists systematically sought discussion and public debate with the Nazis, especially amongst students, who formed one of their bastions”.8 Further, there were also open exchanges in print between the communists Karl Radek and Paul Froehlich, on the one hand, and Count Ernst Reventlow and Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, on the other. The KPD was so serious about undermining the tenuous arguments put forward by the far right and the Nazis that it published a pamphlet which its members did their utmost to sell, including in particular to members of the Nazi party.

    In their debates with the far right KPD speakers were able to put across their ideas to great effect. On August 2 1923, KPD leader Hermann Remmele spoke at a Nazi meeting in Stuttgart, and on August 10 a Nazi speaker spoke at a KPD meeting. Remmele made it clear: “They told you that communism would take everything from you. But it is capitalism that has taken everything from you!” As both Broué and Harman acknowledge in their accounts, these meetings proved too much for the Nazis, who discontinued them after August 1923, believing them to be a cause of lost members and waning influence.”

  • No not a BNP member, but I am a member of the white working class.

  • Even ‘Cameronism'(haha) threatens your puppet-lefts working class support. Why would a BNP member bother with the likes of yourselves, i’m just highlighting the sense of alienation your imposing upon too many of us, by supporting such Stalinist organisations like the UAF.

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