Saturday, June 27, 2009

why has marxism had only limited influence in Britain?

Account for the limited influence of Marxism in Britain

Before examining the extent of the influence of Marxism in the British Labour movement it is worth defining what is meant by Marxism. There are many possible definitions, but for the purposes of this essay only two will be employed; firstly, at its simplest level Marxism is an attempt to provide a materialist explanation of history, showing how human society has developed alongside the development of productive forces, and how the struggle between the classes act as the motor of history, and as a deconstruction and critique of the industrial capitalism which Marx considered as the latest, and last, form of class society. British Marxist organisations were from the first, educators and disseminators of this form of Marxism.

The second definition of Marxism is as a panoptic political movement, which aimed to embrace its members in a movement that would provide for them every aspect of their lives while the party itself would subsume and eventually replace the state itself. The template for this form of Marxism was the mighty German SPD.

The pre war Marxist sects and parties of Britain always remained numerically small but their membership was in constant flux; the rapid turnover of members meant that there were always a far greater proportion of Marxist educated workers at large in the British Labour movement than can be gleaned through exclusive attention to the subs lists of individual branches.

It is thus an understandable mistake to see the difference in size between organised Marxism in Britain, whether in its pre Bolshevik, or later communist incarnations, and the mass Social Democratic and Communist Parties of the continent as an indication that Marxism has had only limited influence inside the British Labour Movement. Size, as they say, doesn’t (always) matter. The British Marxists were an integral part of the British labour movement which even if it didn’t always agree with them or even found them uncomfortable bedfellows recognised them as a part of the larger whole.

The nature of the Marxism that was taught within British Marxist groups should also be examined; the pejorative “crude” is almost universally applied when considering the Marxism of the Social Democratic Federation and its splits and successors, but this is an unfair one justified only by the Leninist conviction that their extension of Marxism as an overarching world view, makes it more sophisticated. In reality the pretention that Marxism can provide the answers to every question of Human existence transforms it into a quasi- religion, with its own priesthood and readymade sets of anathema, witch hunts and heretics.

Hyndman’s role, as founder of the SDF, is a major part of the argument for the crudity of early British Marxism, while it is true that he often allowed his old Tory prejudices to colour his interpretation of socialism Hyndman was not ‘the’ SDF and was often challenged and overturned from within the federation. Debates within the SDF often came to conclusions that pre-empted the debates within the wider socialist International, but were often ignored and others would be become associated with the concepts; notably, the bitter arguments that took place after the outbreak of the Boer war, in which Hyndman’s attempts to oppose the war within a overall pro- imperial standpoint led him to assess it nakedly anti Semitic terms whilst his opponents developed an internationalist approach which directly associated the Boers with the interests of the working class, and pre-empted later development of the theory of imperialism undertaken by the Second International and even Lenin’s evocation of ‘revolutionary defeatism’[1].

The vitality of pre war socialism is often overlooked; Ken Weller describes how in one borough of North London no fewer than a dozen different groups and organisations were operating, with their own public meetings, literature and educational classes[2].

The British Labour movement predates all others in the world, it was born in the ‘blood and filth’ of Industrial capitalism’s own birth and its formative years, well described by Thompson[3], were tumultuous and violent as Capital attempted to impose ‘the tyranny of measured time’ and the factory system on the new proletariat. The new working class built its organisation without benefit of the advice of Marxist Intellectual and ‘professional revolutionary’.

Marx and, especially Engels took a rather dim view of the proletariat of their adopted country. After the waning of the Chartist movement both Marx and Engels became increasingly critical of the ‘conservative’ nature of the British Trades unionists. The unions gained strength in the conditions of the long boom in British industry and were able to win for their highly skilled membership real material advantages, which ran counter to Marx’s insistence that Capitalist development would inevitably result in the immiserization of the proletariat. These unionists found that in the conditions of economic growth there was real advantage in supporting free trade economics and freedom in collective bargaining, but found it necessary to seek international solidarity in order to defend their members’ conditions[4]. Even as the same trades’ unionists were creating the International Working men’s Association which would provide Marx with a political platform from which to propagate his views, Engels was condemning them as labour aristocrats[5]. After Marx had destroyed the International to prevent it falling into the hands of his Bakuninite opponents, their interest in the British working class dried up altogether, to the extent of not even bothering to have their writings published in English.

The publication of England for all annoyed Marx for not acknowledging him by name, and instilled a lifelong animosity for Hyndman in Engels, who extended this enmity to the SDF, encouraging the Socialist League’s split[6], and exulting at the mistaken prospect that the split would destroy the federation[7] and in the last years of his life providing support to the foundation of the ILP. Kendall argues that Engels’ hostility to the SDF, in isolating Engels from the British socialist movement, prevented Marxism from taking proper root in the labour movement[8]. This is rather overplaying the influence of one individual, even if that individual is Engels, but Kendall is undoubtedly correct in arguing that by precipitately splitting from the federation the Socialist League left Hyndman and his supporters in complete control, and that the democratic and federal composition of the SDF, meant that a split was unnecessary and set an example which became common for oppositions, and ensured that Hyndman’s control continued till the Great War[9].

Notwithstanding Hyndman, British Marxism developed in a peculiarly working class fashion, a part of, and extension of, the self improvement and autodidactic impulse which has been such a feature of British working class life. Within Socialist education classes Marxism was taught not as a totality but as a part of gaining a wider understanding of the society in which they lived and was studied alongside sciences, literature and history. In 1909 Marxist education became more organised and expanded with the formation of the Central Labour College and the Plebs’ League. Formed following a dispute between the working class students and the traditionalist tutors of Ruskin College the League brought together tutors and students from across the Labour movement, teaching an explicitly Marxist and socialist curriculum.[10] The Plebs’ League produced educational material of an extremely high quality, some of which are still of value today.[11]

It is interesting to note the similarity between these circles of autodidactic workers in Britain and the early Russian workers study circles that were so disliked by Lenin for their habit of knowing more about Marxism than the young revolutionary intellectuals who sought to use them as “cannon fodder”[12].

It is clear that there was an enormous gulf between this Marxism; “ultra democratic, opposed to leadership in principle (and) opposed to professionalism of the Labour movement almost as an article of faith.”[13] And the all encompassing European movements: While the British labour movement, in both industrial and political forms had been largely the creation of workers themselves, who were suspicious in the extreme of those few Intellectuals and other members of the middle classes who supported the cause of the workers, across Europe the later industrialisation meant that the intellectuals were, more often than not, the instigators of the socialist parties and the unions were the creation of the parties. The European intelligencia; educated and trained for the role of managing a Industrialised Capitalist society but excluded from any say in the running of that state, they adopted Marxism as an ideology for a highly state centred and bureaucratised Socialism, in which the Educated and managerial Classes would take their rightful place as rulers[14]. The German SPD formed the most fully formed of these parties, creating a parallel society of clubs, unions, papers entertainment and education for its members, and a parallel bureaucracy to run that parallel society, while at the top of the party Marxist intellectuals adorned the party like a crown, with Kautsky, the “Pope of Marxism”, as their chief jewel. Kautsky and the other Intellectuals produced Marxist literature which promised much for the coming socialist Nirvana, whilst simultaneously preaching passivity and the inevitability of socialism. Among Kautsky’s many international disciples Lenin was the most devoted and committed in applying Kautsky’s Marxism[15].

In Britain the democratic reforms of the nineteenth century and the needs of Imperial administration provided for the emerging educated and managerial class opportunities for both representation within the established political system and employment and advancement across the globe. There was no major involvement by the educated managerial class in the British Labour and socialist movement until the 1950s as the needs of the Welfarist state led to the rapid growth of highly educated people who were expected to fit into increasingly limited and frustratingly mundane roles.

The Russian Revolution galvanised and united the bulk of British Marxism into the new communist party around support for Lenin’s very different version of Marxism, however the CPGB unlike it’s continental sister parties was not born of a bitter, and all too often, blood soaked, split, but instead from the unification of most of the old ‘revolutionary’ parties, an aspiration which had long existed within the British left. British communism’s relationship with the wider British left also did not change markedly; Local activists were still the same, whether as members of the BSP or CPGB, and the Party remained essentially within the wider labour fold; Harry Wickes in his autobiography described the early years of the communist party in Battersea where the close cooperation between Communist and Labour was extemporised by the election of Indian communist ‘Sak’ Saklatvala as the Labour MP in 1922[16]. The efforts of the Communist International to ‘Bolshevise’ the party, whether organisationally, educationally and, finally, through the hothouse education of a new cadre of leaders in the Lenin school in Moscow, and the parallel efforts of the Labour leadership to proscribe the Communists and the Minority Movement inside the Labour Party that supported them, largely failed to breach the continuity of relationships between Communists and Labour.

On aspect of the Communist International attempts to break the CPGB’s peculiar relationship with the larger movement was in its approach to Marxist Education. Wicks described the nature and breadth of the Plebs’ classes in the early 1920’s;

“Bill Ryder a foundation member of the communist party introduced us to Marx’s Capital...

Frank Horrabin on Economic geography made use of maps to bring alive how continents were divided in the search for markets and raw materials. ...

Raymond Postgate attracted a wide audience with his series of 12 lectures on revolution from 1789 to 1905. His class was held at the lavender hill labour club and coincided with the attack by Morrison and Macdonald on the presence of communists in the labour party. Its central issue- parliamentary road or revolutionary road? - was then live...

Those classes were widely attended and enjoyed by young and old- apprentices, skilled workers, Cooperative Guildswomen. From there emerged a group of people who became the backbone of the left wing of the Labour party. Historical materialism, Industrial unionism and elements of Daniel Deleon constituted the Marxism in that period of Plebs’ education in the 1920s...”

This eclecticism could not be allowed to stand for the recently Bolshevised CPGB and from 1922 onwards attempts were made to take over the movement and impose a curriculum with the intention of; “correcting defective (non communist) understandings of Marxism and turning the plebs league and labour colleges into adjuncts of party activity”[17]

This failed takeover led to a exodus of some of the CPGBs most able and talented educators, Raymond Postgate, Frank Horrabin, Mark Starr and Morgan Philips- Price all left the party and a great deal of damage was done to its standing.

The final breach between organised Marxism and the Labour movement was the Third Period; This was a new revolutionary offensive decreed from Moscow, in which the only force that was holding back the revolutionary impulses of the workers was the reformist parties and unions, who it was claimed, had become as firm supporters of reaction as the fascists, and should be therefore denounced as social fascists, shattered the relationship between the Marxists and the wider labour movement, that organic continuity was lost and never again regained. When the communists again looked for unity, in the cause of the popular front, it was as an outside organisation, appealing or condemning in turn the leadership of the Labour Party and trades unions, moreover, the assumption that the Communists and the wider movement had the same interests, and the same loyalties could never again be made.

As an integral part of the Labour movement, Britain’s Marxists gained a wide audience, however this was a very different form of Marxism than that pursued by the mass socialist parties of the continent. The introduction of such politics after 1917 caused the steady collapse of the influence of British Marxism.



Barrot, Jean The renegade Kautsky and his disciple Lenin Paris 1977 translated by Wildcat 1987 on accessed 25/02/09

Cliff, Tony Lenin Volume 1: Building The Party, 1893-1905 London 1975

Crick, Martin The History of the Social Democratic Federation Keele 1994

Jones, G.S. Some Notes on Karl Marx and the English Labour Movement History Workshop Journal 1984

Kendall, W the revolutionary movement in Britain: 1900-1921 London 1969

Miles, A workers education: The Communist Party and the Plebs league in the 1920s History workshop Journal 1984 18 (1)

Post, Charlie The Labor (sic) aristocracy myth International Viewpoint 381 September 2006 accessed at on 25/02/09

Shatz, Marshall S. Jan Waclaw Machajski A Radical Critic of the Russian Intelligensia And Socialism Pittsburgh 1989

Stekloff, G.M. history of the First International London 1928 Ch. 3 accessed at on 25/02/09

Thompson, E.P. Making of the English working class London 1968

Weller, Ken Don’t be a Soldier, radical Anti war movement in North London 1914-1918 London 1985

Wicks, Harry Keeping my head; memoirs of a British Bolshevik London 1992

[1] Crick, Martin The History of the Social Democratic Federation Keele 1994 pp. 158-163

[2] Weller, Ken Don’t be a Soldier, radical Anti war movement in North London 1914-1918 London 1985

[3] Thompson, E.P. Making of the English working class London 1968

[4] Stekloff, G.M. history of the First International London 1928 Ch. 3 accessed at on 25/02/09

[5] Post, Charlie The Labor (sic) aristocracy myth International Viewpoint 381 September 2006 accessed at on 25/02/09

Jones, G.S. Some Notes on Karl Marx and the English Labour Movement History Workshop Journal 1984 18 p. 128

[6] Crick, M 1994 p. 39

[7] Kendall, W the revolutionary movement in Britain: 1900-1921 London 1969 pp.6-7

[8] Kendall, W 1969 p.5

[9] Kendall, W 1969 p.7 and p.21

[10] Kendall, w 1969 p.69

[11] See specially Starr, Mark A worker looks at history London 1917

[12] Cliff, Tony Lenin Volume 1: Building The Party, 1893-1905 Ch.2 on accessed 25/02/09

[13] Kendall, W 1969 p.300

[14] Bakunin was probably the earliest critic of Marxism to identify its tendency to become an ideology for a state bureaucracy, for the first fully formed critique see the work of the Polish revolutionary Jan Machajski in Marshall S. Shatz

Jan Waclaw Machajski A Radical Critic of the Russian Intelligensia And Socialism Pittsburgh 1989 accessed at on the 26/02/09

[15] Barrot, Jean The renegade Kautsky and his disciple Lenin Paris 1977 translated by Wildcat 1987 on accessed 25/02/09

[16] Wicks, Harry Keeping my head; memoirs of a British Bolshevik London 1992 Ch.1- 3

[17] Miles, A workers education: The Communist Party and the Plebs league in the 1920s History workshop Journal 1984 18 (1) p. 107.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Labour got what it deserved – and so did the BNP

The Independant working Class Association gives its view on the recent elections:

The Labour party is dying, and fascism is on the rise. Where does the working class go from here?

‘May you live in interesting times’ is an old Chinese saying. You might be forgiven for assuming it is a blessing but in actual fact it is intended as a curse. Of course, how you might regard the inherent implications of some major political or social upheaval most probably depends on what end of the political or social spectrum you inhabit.

In any event, for good or ill, ‘interesting times’ we are certainly in.

In 1994, at the beginning of the Blair era, Labour MP Roy Hattersley suggested that ‘the working class would continue to vote for Labour whatever the party does’. A number of years after New Labour had taken power in 1997, when the cracks between the governing party and the working class electorate were already beginning to emerge, mostly in the form of a collapsing turnout at elections, it was all airily waved away by current Justice Minister Jack Straw. He described the gathering disengagement as ‘the politics of contentment.’

The quotes are a useful reminder that New Labour’s problems did not begin with the ascension to power of Gordon Brown, or the credit crunch, or MP’s expenses. The real damage was done far earlier, goes far deeper and may indeed be irreversible.

In last weeks Euro elections the SNP won the popular vote in Scotland for the first time ever, while the Tories trumped Labour in Wales. With the South-East in almost complete meltdown – Labour taking a mere 8 per cent of votes cast – there must now be some serious question marks against Labour ever again being a party with a true national reach.

In short, New and indeed Old Labour have got what they deserved and so, predictably, have the BNP. Tony Lecomber’s forecast in 1997 that ‘The people who have been abandoned by Labour and have never been represented by the Tories will, in their desperation, turn to us’ has been handsomely vindicated. The BNP’s steady climb from obscurity also began in 1994 when they abandoned their battle to control the streets.

Approximately a decade ago the modernised BNP, under the control of a new leader Nick Griffin, gave cause for concern when they took 26% of the vote in a council by-election in Bexley in Kent. An alarmed Guardian covered the story on page two but despite the evidence, then and since, their true potential has consistently been underestimated and decried, particularly by ‘professional’ anti-fascists and the orthodox Left.

In the run up to the local elections one poll commissioned by The Observer put their support level at just one per cent. If accurate it meant the BNP would do five times less well than in 2004. So don’t be fooled when they tell you that the recent success was purely down to the expenses row — if that benefitted anyone it was UKIP, who were down and out prior to the election. This has been a long time coming. Wishful thinking fools no one, least of all the BNP....

read the rest here

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

filling the Vacuum

Filling the vacuum

the election of two BNP MEPs ( and the other successes of the far right, or example the English Demorats winniung the mayorality in Doncaster) has sent shockwaves through the left. Solutions to the threat presented by the far right seem to revolve around rehashing of the failed policies of the past; either the disasterous 'vote anyone but the BNP'-which makes the left the defenders of the status quo and reinforces the BNP as opponents to the professional political westminster Cabal, or the cobbling together of new trotskyite fronts that treat the threat of fascism as nothing but an opportunity for recruitment and the extension of the franchise. The following was written in the mid-1990s when AFA recognised that the change in the tactics of the BNP meant that their previous emphasis on street confrontation was no longer sufficient. The stalwarts of AFA and red action were too few to be able in implement the strategy fully, but the resultant organisation, the IWCA, has had notable success ( especially in Oxford's blackbird leys) and its example has been picked up by community action groups in various parts of the country. It seriously needs to be adopted now if we are to have any chance of dealing with the growing threat from the BNP

In November 1990, at a public meeting in east London, AFA declared that the "working class is the natural constituency of socialism, not fascism. Racism and socialism are incompatible. One only exists at the expense of the other. The success of the Far-Right is due to the fact that the Left are not seen as a credible option. AFA are committed to creating the space in which one (a credible alternative} can develop."

Three years later, addressing a meeting in south-east London, an AFA spokesperson returned to the theme: "While the initial aim must be to root out the organised racists/fascists ­the motive force behind the attacks - and throw down a challenge to those that provide them with facilities, the long-term solution must be to create communities of resistance. By creating some space, perhaps in time a real working class alternative to the lying bullshit that now passes for politics in this country can emerge. The entire Left has failed the working class, black and white alike, though many prefer to believe that the working class has failed the Left. We are here today, not only because they (the Left) are bad socialists but more specifically because they are bad anti­fascists".

In 1994 in a widely distributed expose of the Anti-Nazi League [Don't Believe the Hype], AFA was even more specific. “The BNP can be stopped and on many occasions up and down the country AFA has physically stopped them. However we are not blind to the fact that the fight is political, and accept that the resurgence of support for the Far-Right is a symptom of a deeper malaise. We do not see it as our job to campaign for Labour. It is not AFA's role to argue that change is not needed. The function of anti-fascism is not to see the electoral threat from the Far-Right beaten back so that Labour and the middle-class Left can, as happened between 1982-92, turn their backs on both the social causes and their own collaboration in the political betrayal that gave rise to the NF and the BNP in the first place.”

The ambition of militant anti-fascism is not simply to see the Far-Right defeated and removed from working class areas: the ultimate solution is to see them replaced there. The BNP's attack on Labour is from the Right and is racist, ultra-conservative and anti-working class, Our primary role is to guarantee that a successful challenge to Labour comes only from the Left. Furthermore, and' purely from an anti-fascist point of view, as the best insurance against any nazi renaissance, it would be the duty of militants to offer protection and encouragement to any genuine [anti-­Labour] working class revolt.

When AFA was relaunched in London in September 1989 it was accepted that while AFA was still organised around the single issue of anti-fascism, "AFA propaganda must contain a class message" in order "to negate the efforts by the fascists to present AFA as a bunch of middle-class outsiders,, part and parcel of the Establishment, working in the long-term interests of the status quo".

Much has changed since 1989, not least the fact that AFA is now a national organisation with over forty branches organised in four main regions each with the physical ability to forcefully implement AFA's founding statement on the streets. In addition other organisations such as the ANL, ARA and YRE have jumped on - and off - the bandwagon. The early nineties also saw the return to electoral prominence of the Far-Right not just in Britain but throughout Europe. The success of AFA on the streets also led to the birth of the wannabe paramilitary grouping C18.

In another tribute to AFA's militant strategy the BNP declared in April 1994 that there would be " no more marches, meetings, punch-ups " A year on, this declaration must now be regarded as a serious change of strategy, something other than a temporary electoral ploy or an effort to court respectability. There appear to be at least two crucial reasons for the change of strategy. One, undoubtedly, is that since their resur­gence to national prominence, AFA have fought the BNP to a standstill. In 1991 Scotland was regarded by the BNP leadership as its highest growth area and the area with possibly the greatest potential. Today the BNP no longer visibly exists. Literally beaten into the ground by anti-fascist militants.

In the North West the BNP organisation and morale has all but been destroyed. A similar pattern is emerging in the Midlands. In the South East the fascists have been constantly harassed. Apart from the east and possibly south east they are practically invisible in London.

In many of these areas the politics of the BNP undoubtedly have a resonance, but they are unable to take advantage of the latent support due to the logistical problems caused by the constant possibility of attack and their own profile as 'a party of strength'. One way to resolve the problem would be to recruit, but they cannot have open recruitment for fear of infiltration. In addition the fear of physical violence means that they are unable to bring their more articulate middle class supporters onto the streets for fear of losing them entirely.

The situation in Europe would also have played an influence. Here the fascists, particularly in Austria and Italy, have recognised that with the demise of the support for the communist parties there is no need for a visibly menacing counter threat. If there is no physical danger, fascists do not need to hide behind a sinister private army. The battle for control of the streets need not be fought if control is not being contested. If the end can be achieved without the traditional means there is no need for the rough stuff. In Britain, with the absence of any tangible political threat to their adopted working class constituency the argument for a physical force movement to contest the streets becomes not only void but instead represents a serious impediment to their own political ambitions - only!

Since their meteoric climb in 1990 in not one area of the country, despite significant sympathy on the ground, have they for more than one day at a time been able to control the streets; Bermondsey, Bloody Sunday and the Isle of Dogs being the exceptions. More often than not in regard to the large set pieces they have been humiliated. And even when they have won, the victory has gained them nothing except a confirmation of what already sustains them; that Labour and the Left are increasingly alien to working class people. So in a sense for them simply to continue with the strategy of "marches, meetings, punch ups" only provides an enemy that has already lost the fundamental arguments -Labour/ANL/Trotskyism, etc. (or in the case of AFA which has failed to put an argument) - with a legitimate political excuse/focus, ie: anti-BNP. The BNP policy of open swaggering aggression also affords an organisation like AFA a legitimate opportunity to answer in kind, and in doing so physically destroy the BNP's political prospects by crippling its infra-structure. With AFA having no polltical prospects of its own they are on a hiding to nothing.

It takes two to tango, so what of AFA's reason for being if the BNP decide that they don't want to play anymore? Certainly in London, AFA has only been able to seriously damage the Far-Right once recently. If this is a permanent change of plan there is a serious danger that AFA, without the physical challenge for which it was designed, will itself begin to lose direction and begin to atrophy.

The flip side of the coin is that C18, who have no electoral ambitions either, don't do anything but 'play'. The ideal solution for both the State and the Far-Right would be for AFA to get locked into a clandestine gang war with C18, thereby allowing the State to select candidates of their own choosing for periods of lengthy incarceration. That done, the now entirely legal BNP could go about their lawful business like their European counter­parts, articulating 'genuine racial concerns' unhindered.

Furthermore, if the BNP operation is made entirely legal and if AFA physically opposes them, then our operation is de facto illegal. The BNP then might reasonably expect, in return for their collaboration with the forces of law and order, that the tactic of summary arrest be employed against AFA on a consistent basis. Circumstances are changing and AFA needs to adapt.

Fascism is the vanguard of reaction. It is at once the manifestation, the contributory cause and principle beneficiary of society's decomposition. Unlike the rest of the anti-racist Left, AFA's emphasis has always been on the political danger represented by fascism, while others such as Searchlight and the ANL have laid the emphasis on their violent and criminal tendencies. In addition they refuse or are unwilling to recognise that anti-fascism is by definition a rearguard action and that fascism is the consequence, rather than the cause, of the Left's failure. Inevitably the strategies adopted to combat fascism carry with them the germs of the strategies that caused fascism, invariably leading to compound failure. So while it cannot be denied that the ANL's media campaign focused public attention on the problem, it also proved to be a distraction in regard to the solution.

One of AFA's strengths in its formative years was its limited platform; the 'single issue'. This concentration weeded out or repelled the sectarians, the 'tough talkers' and the dilettantes. However, during the Isle of Dogs campaign, the 'single issue' exposed AFA's limitations. AFA had to nothing to say on the principle business.

AFA has long recognised that once the Far-Right is allowed to mobilise, is allowed to set the agenda, and has passed a certain point, they begin to control their own destinies - and their opponent's. Once that point is reached it would be useless and possibly counter-productive to rely upon a purely anti-fascist stance, primarily because people look to politics for solutions. It might be clear what you stand against, though their understanding of what you stand for will effectively determine their overall response.

As the activities of the ANL on the Isle of Dogs demonstrated (despite blanket canvassing the BNP vote actually rose by 30%), an anti-fascist message on its own would find little favour with working class people, even those repelled by the BNP, if they suspected that it was simply a spoiling tactic, carried out by allies of the local Labour establishment in an effort to maintain the status quo. AFA has never fought to maintain the status quo, but, even at their most effective, anti­fascist militants can never hope to achieve anything more than to maintain that vacuum. There is little doubt that the vacuum has been successfully maintained but now, in the absence of any other suitable candidates, it is incumbent on the anti-fascist militants to help fill the vacuum themselves.

The working class is increasingly alienated from Labour, the BNP's strategy is entirely reliant upon this alienation: 'they really hate Labour' etc. The total ineptitude and the tangible contempt that exists in some areas between Labour and its former constituency has locally and nationally begat the BNP. And fascism begat anti-fascism. In straight­forward language, it is the politics of the Labour Party that has created the BNP. So by acting as campaign managers for Labour, the ANL are are prostituting anti-fascism, and instead of being identified with a radical, pro-working class position, anti-fascism is seen to be defending the status quo, thereby practi­cally forcing people who want change to vote BNP, out of sheer desperation. They are literally driving people into the arms of the fascists. Up to now it is entirely due to the cutting edge of AFA that the passive support has remained just that. But it is unrealistic to expect that vacuum to be maintained indefinitely.

Nor as working class militant anti-fascists can we stand on the sidelines, wringing our hands hopelessly. We have to take a stand. And we have to take that stand against Labour. Not simply in a theoretical sense, but in an organisational sense. It is vital that the working class on the estates, seriously alienated from Labour, are provided with an alternative to the BNP. The election of a Labour government will be a massive shot in the arm for the Far-Right. It is also very possible that in the subsequent local elections the Isle of Dogs scenario could be repeated on a national scale, and all our\good work in the last decade would be undone at a stroke.

What is needed is a new organisation. In all probability the impetus of the Clause Four controversy will cause a realignment on the Left that will give it birth. It is not being suggested that AFA disband and becomes this organisation. It is as vital as ever,. that AFA maintains its own structures 'and agenda. Nor is it being suggested that AFA create this new organisation. This would hardly be possible in any case. What must be recognised is that it will happen with or without AFA. AFA contains the best working class militants in the country. It is absolutely vital that in order to shape the organisation in its own image, AFA is in from the very beginning. To shape it in AFA's own image would mean stipulating from the outset a) a democratic structure, built from the bottom up rather than from the top down; b) rather than appeal to a mythical 'labour movement' the strategy requires an orientation to, and an accommodation of, the working class proper; c) non-sectarian. This does not mean being forced to work with everybody; it means working alongside others towards a common goal, but making no apology for a refusal to collaborate on any project for which you have no enthusiasm, or with those with whom you fundamentally disagree.

In any case it must be obvious that to stand aloof would be an unmitigated disaster. That would allow the middle classes once again to set the agenda. AFA has been dealing with the consequences of their agenda for over a decade. It would be criminally negligent to allow our adversaries to fill the space we have created and maintained in that time. This is an opportunity to add a string to AFA's bow. It will be a complement to, rather than a deviation from, vigorous anti-fascist activity.

Even on a limited tactical basis the benefits of an independent working class organisation operating alongside AFA would be immediate and widespread. AFA could, for the first time, campaign for something instead of merely campaigning against something - and campaign legally.

AFA could be pro-active as well as reactive. There would be no breathing space for the likes of the BNP. And, for as much as an embryonic association might welcome AFA's physical presence, the situation demands that AFA avails itself of a wider political platform than was hitherto considered either necessary or available. For the first time since the thirties militant anti-fascism would be associated with solutions rather than simply violent actions and threats.' For the first time, too, involved with setting the agenda rather than clearing up the political mess left by someone else's.

Ultimately the challenge for AFA is not only to destroy the BNP in working class areas but to replace them there. So the political message, to have resonance, will have to be deeper and more comprehensive. A straight forward anti­fascist parable, a simple refutation of the 'radical' in nationalism will, on its own, prove unsatisfactory.

If AFA's efforts are to culminate in victory we must seek to replace them, but to replace them we must not only out­violence them, we must also out radicalise them.

(This article is a strategy document that was endorsed by London AFA in May 1995. It is currently being discussed by other AFA groups around the country, and has already been agreed by the Midlands Region and the Northern Network. Discussions are taking place with other organisations with regard to setting up an independent working class organisation.)