Sunday, August 09, 2009

Give Up Anti Fascism

I really wish that I wrote this, instead it was written by a friend of mine and will be appearing in the new edition of Red Pepper:

Give Up Anti-Fascism

The election of two BNP MEPs in the European elections has propelled the party onto the national stage and initiated a debate about why they’re achieving historically unprecedented results (or in some cases, even whether they are doing so), what is driving their recent performances and crucially, how they may be stopped and what the lefts role is in this - in a nutshell what our relation to anti-fascism is and should be in today’s conditions. There is one question that is not being asked though - is anti-fascism the answer to the BNP?

Some brief facts and figures to situate the debate first. The BNP now has 60 local councillors and around the same number of Parish councillors. By comparison previous fascist groups had managed 3 councillors in total in the previous 80 years - this is without counting the seats won and lost by the BNP. It has one member on the London Assembly, and it has two MEPs. It’s vote in Local, General and European elections has risen from a non-existent level to averaging around 15% in the first, winning deposits in the second (there are three constituencies where the aggregate ward votes at the 2008 local elections puts them in first place) and polling a million votes in the last. They had 10 000 members at the end of 2007 - a figure that will have risen since then, providing them with an expanding national activist base. They are, by national standards not a huge party, they are ‘a large small party’ - at best the 6th biggest in the country. They are not an immediate threat, they have zero chance of gaining any serious power - their real danger lies elsewhere - as will be outlined later. If their absolute vote is giving pause for concern it is its trajectory that is truly worrying, indeed, one anti-fascist group in 2007 estimated that it’s vote in local elections had risen 97-fold since 2000. [1] This trend has continued in the elections since then - the European elections seeing a circa 20% rise in their national vote from 800 000 to 950 000 - them and the Greens being the only serious national parties to actually increase their votes, and this in a falling turnout. The tiny meaningless fall in the two areas in which they returned MEPs (2000 and 6000 votes) is more than compensated for by the successful elections themselves and the large rises in their other target areas.

Failed approaches

Contemporary anti-fascism is represented by two main groups with broadly similar approaches. Firstly, Hope not Hate, an umbrella group for unions and individuals within the broad area of the labour movement but open to all. This group was formed by the Searchlight Network. Secondly, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) an SWP front group designed to continue in the same vein as the now mothballed Anti-Nazi League (though not shy of relying on the ANL’s reputation). Both groups concentrate their activities on two main activities/approaches; 1) exposing the criminal records and political beliefs of leading BNP members and local candidates and activists and 2) calling on people not to ‘vote Nazi’ - to vote anyone but BNP (with slight differences in how this is interpreted by each group) in an attempt to raise turnout and block the BNP electorally this way - this approach formed the basis of both groups failed intervention into the London Mayoral and European elections.

What is wrong with these two approaches? The most obvious objection to an anti-BNP strategy centred around these tactics is that they don’t work today and they haven’t worked for some time. This isn’t to say that they haven’t worked in the past, just that they cannot form the central core of an anti-BNP strategy in today’s conditions.

Exposing the BNP’s various criminal and political records has had no discernible impact. In a country in which over 40% of all males have a criminal conviction [2] pointing out to voters in the sort of areas the BNP targets that a candidate has a conviction for assault or theft is likely to have zero impact. If this were not the case then we would today be seeing declining BNP votes and councillors not being returned post-exposure. But we’re not, we’re seeing a steadily rising vote and increasing re-elections.

This tactic has been pursued over the last 10 years on a scale never seen before - every section of the mass media has got in on the game, every candidate has been hammering home their oppositions convictions. If it was ever to make an impact it would have done so in these almost ideal conditions, instead the far right vote continues to rise. We have to conclude that this approach is ineffective.

Exposing past political views - for instance, Griffins flirting with Holocaust denial in the 90s - has suffered the same fate. Griffin simply points out that he no longer believes what he once did, that he was wrong to do so. Issue effectively neutralised, but at this point the interviewer is likely to press on regardless allowing griffin to turn the tables and ask the interviewer if they want to talk about politics. The same thing happens on a larger scale electorally. As above, if this approach of bringing up death camps or Nazi Germany was going to have any impact it would have done so in the especially favourable conditions of current fevered mass media scrutiny of the BNP by now. This approach did find success in the 3 or 4 decades post WW2 when a real folk memory of the sacrifices made by millions was kept alive - today, in different conditions, it cannot, has not and will not make any inroads.

Appealing to the status quo

These, though, are merely tactical problems, bred by past success and turned into conservative substitutes for real active intervention - but precisely as such, they can be developed into more substantive forms of exposure. (More on that later) Far more damaging on a strategical level is the second approach, calling on the electorate to ‘vote anyone but BNP’. This is a de facto status quo position that effectively calls on people to support the social conditions that have given rise to their radical discontent and to support the very same parties that have introduced and are pledged to maintain these conditions. In the bluntest terms, people will simply not vote for the parties they now blame for their situation and no amount of cajoling or mentions of the holocaust will change that. The collapse in the labour vote over last 5 years makes this patently clear (figures here). This position helps ensure that the conditions which are producing the BNP are going to remain in place and we’re back at square one. And it allows the BNP to make all the running as the anti-establishment party during a once in a lifetime time opportunity for anti-establishment parties to make a real breakthrough.

The way to undercut this is to work towards dealing with the root causes of the BNP support - the political abandonment of much of the working class in pursuit of a tiny C1/C2 swing electorate and their interests (interests that are rarely the same as those of traditional labour voting areas), the deliberate setting of parts of the same community at each others throats in the fight for resources under the name of multi-culturalism, the closing down of schools, hospitals, wages being driven down, debt, sub-standard housing, rising rent, under funded services - all the conditions of our social life being attacked and commercialised by a class that’s shown itself incapable in the most basic terms of being able to run the system for the benefit of all. This what needs to be challenged as a priority, not peoples reactions to those planned and deliberate failures know as neoliberalism

And this is where pro-status quo anti-fascism is falling down and demonstrating both a misunderstanding of where we are today and a real lack of political courage. A call to ‘Vote Anyone But BNP’ or Vote to Stop the BNP’ is, in most areas where it is raised, a disguised call to vote Labour - that is why the unions are funding the millions of leaflets delivered by Hope Not Hate. (We can dismiss the suggestion that this slogan is also a call to vote Green, the BNP and Greens are not competing for the same vote. Nor will we dwell on those areas where the slogan translates into ‘Vote Tory’ or ‘Lib-Dem’ beyond asking you to imagine how an implied call to ‘Vote Thatcher to Stop The National Front!’ would have been met?) An anti-fascism tied to support for the parties that have imposed the conditions people are protesting at is already a failing anti-fascism that is sacrificing all credibility by joining hands with the very establishment that people are fed up of and working to get rid of. In conditions where large sections of the electorate have abandoned all the mainstream parties, (combined party membership of mainstream parties has dropped from over 3 million in the late 60s to barely half a million today and is still falling, whilst the drop in labour party votes is not met with substantial rises from the lib-dems and Tories, whilst popular participation in non-formally political organisations is skyrocketing [3]) for anti-fascists not be supporting or initiating local projects that confront rather than support the labour party is to politically abandon these communities to the BNP in the same way as the Labour party already have - albeit they’re now belatedly waking up to the dangers. Being involved in those activities aside from election times does not square the circle either, the same contradictions are there writ just as large. Open participatory public confrontation with these conditions, not collaboration or lesser-evilism, is the key to re-energising the political life of working class communities on a path that logically and dynamically leads to squeezing the BNP out. Sharply put, it’s time to shit or get off the pot.

No platform?

This brings us onto ‘No Platform’ - since Griffin’s egging the day after being elected it’s become evident that beyond the confines of those already politically opposed to the BNP this has very little popular support, and in a country where the myth of democracy has a great hold over public political imagination it’s potentially dangerous in a number of ways. Firstly it, via the functioning of that democratic myth, associates the left with authoritarianism, violence and telling people what they can and cannot hear/read - exactly the sort of high handed arrogance that many people are rejecting the mainstream parties for. Secondly, it acts as cover and support for top-down or state led manoeuvres such as the closure of the BNP’s bank accounts by Barclays, which led to a Palestinian Solidarity Committee’s accounts being closed as well, or the plans by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate the parties constitution and membership rules. How easy to turn these initiatives against us? Already there are calls for a Berufsverbot for public sector workers, this plays directly into the hands of the establishment. Of course, a community led and supported refusal to allow the BNP to operate in their area is a very different matter, but we’re currently seeing the first two forms of ‘No Platform’ substituted for this effective one.

On a related note Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) are an attempt to continue the cultural fight of the ANL by holding music festivals and similar type events - again, questions need to be asked. The problem being that today they simply attract those who are already against the BNP. In the past they were real arenas of conflict, battle grounds for the hearts of young people, and they were battlegrounds because the fascists, at that point, clung to their ‘control the streets’ strategy, to staging highly provocative marches that were attracting sections of young people. Today that context no longer exists and the far-right has no hold whatsoever over the young - they lost that battle years ago. Energy and resources channelled in LMHR would be better off directed at helping deal with the problems working class communities face as part and parcel of squeezing the BNP.

Missing the real danger

What the current anti-fascist approaches have in common is in missing the real danger here. It doesn’t lie in the BNP taking power, in the possibility of concentration camps or any of the other scare stories we’ve been hearing recently. It lies in them colonising the anti-mainstream parties vote and loyalty, thereby blocking the development of an independent working class politics capable of defending our conditions and of challenging neo-liberalism. Their approach is the one that is being normalised nationally at the minute with the consequent racialisation of social issues and a massive shift to the far right as the default starting position for politics. Each step they take forwards knocks the 'left' backwards. This situation represents an immense defeat for the left one that could take us decades to recover from and leaving us as outsiders (even more so than today) in working class communities - the very places that we all recognise as being key to real social change, unless the job of defending the needs of working class communities is seriously taken on and a counter-productive out-dated anti-fascism is discarded. And this needs to be done now whilst the BNP is till soft in many areas - although being rapidly hardened by the economic climate, a situation which is not going to go away for years yet.

So, can we tie these brief criticism together some positive suggestions?

1) The formation of ‘community unions’ not connected to labour, possibly funded by trade unions but with organisational independence assured, that work directly on helping to meet the needs of those politically abandoned working class communities where conditions are deteriorating by the day. Based around the self-identified needs and plans of those communities - which can only pit them head to head against the BNP and the rest of the political mainstream. The types of small victories than can be won on this terrain should be viewed not only as being worthwhile in themselves but also as contributing to the re-emergence of community confidence in its political self assertion, the necessary first steps towards rebuilding a meaningful change. The are already existing groups engaged in this practical activity such as LCAP, Haringey Solidarity, the IWCA and so on.

The need for these to be open membership union type organisations rather than party membership type groups is a simple practical one. People will join unions at work as they recognise collective needs that exist over and above the heads of political disagreements, and the same is true of community needs. And once there is widespread identification (even passive) of the needs of the area/workplace with the existence of the union it becomes very hard to shift, that identification becomes a power in itself. Parties are too narrow to play this role under today’s conditions - they exist on a different level - there’s no reason why they cannot play a role within these broader open groups though.

2) Developing the ‘expose them’ model into one that instead of revealing ineffective details instead concentrates on why their polices will not deal with the social problems driving people into their arms - if we cannot make this clear to those already intensely concerned with these issues then our propaganda is failing and is at best talking to those who would never vote BNP anyway. This will require a direct challenge to Searchlight/UAF and other mainstream anti-fascists as they continue to empty their publications of all but the most inane type of content we’ve criticised above. This, of course, needs to be linked to the activity of the ‘community union’ type groups mentioned above.

3) Searchlight need to abandon their default pro-labour position and use their existing networks and resources to get behind local campaigns, actively challenging the conditions that are breeding support for the far right. This is unlikely to happen.

4) Stop the marches/labelling/shouting etc Marching into an area that you do not know and have no continuing interest in, shouting what’s right for that area is alienating and counter-productive. People do not like being told what’s best for them and will kick back against or simply ignore this sort of activity.

All of this can be performed without capitulating to racism of any kind whatsoever and without writing off vast swathes of the population. It has to be.


1) The BNP and the 2007 Elections - Unite Against Fascism
2) Social Policy Research #93, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
3) Power Inquiry, Power, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, 2006.

1 comment:

lala said...

this is excellent
thanks alot (both to author & blogger) shame this reality has not been confronted long ago, i hope sincerely that this piece can go some way to galvanising something