Shadowing Blair

SWP and bourgeois anti-racism

It is a truism that bullies are really cowards. You could say the same sort of thing about some left groups. Like the lion from The wizard of Oz, plenty of militant tough-talk and bravado. Yet when it comes to real politics and actual practice we see utter timidity.

So it is with the Socialist Workers Party. We have had a shameful display of its cowardice recently when it pulled out of the Socialist Alliance electoral bloc in London.  But, as we all know, this desertion of the electoral field was a manifestation of the SWP’s current existentialist crisis. Who are we? Why are we here? What is the point?

It could so easily be very different, of course. For all its vastly exaggerated membership, the SWP is by far the largest organisation on the left. If the SWP possessed even a modicum of self-belief it could exercise near total organisational hegemony over the left, and make a significant impact on wider society. But its anti-Blair yapping is fiercer than its bite. The SWP is desperate to be all things to all people.

Take, for example, Socialist Worker’s approach to the debate over so-called ‘institutionalised racism’, and in particular its coverage of the London nail bombs. After the Soho explosion we plainly saw the genuine revulsion felt by all sections of society. David Copeland’s one-man campaign represented a murderous challenge to the inclusive project of New Labour and official society in general. Hence the neo-Churchillian and eminently successful effort by New Labour politicians to rally the masses around the national flag of anti-racism - and a patriotic defence of the ‘British’ values of multi-cultural diversity and tolerance.

Naturally, this posed a problem for the SWP - as it does for all the rest of the dogmatic left. Every good leftwinger has known since they were knee-high to a grasshopper that capitalism and the bourgeois state is inherently racist. It is the height of naivety to think anything else. After all, even Sir William Macpherson had to admit to this in his report on the Stephen Lawrence murder. No further thought needed. So how does the SWP explain the anti-racist verities of the ruling class?

The SWP is compelled to argue that the establishment does not really mean it when it denounces racism - it must all be an elaborate ruse. The only leftwing solution is to raise the emotive anti-racist stakes and to assume the moral high ground. In terms of practical propaganda this means that poor old Socialist Worker has to try to be even more outraged than the bourgeoisie about the nail bombs and “the Nazis”.

The fruits of this futile and ultimately backward task are most apparent in the post-Soho edition of Socialist Worker. Tailor-made for consumption on the (mainly SWP-led) protests following the bomb, the paper promotes itself as the implacable enemy of “the Nazis” and the hater of all things evil. Politics is reduced to a simple Manichean struggle between “the socialists” and “the Nazis”.

Underneath the demo-friendly headline, “Horrific price of Nazi hate”, the anonymous author of the back-page article breathlessly states:

“Metropolitan police chief Sir Paul Condon and a string of politicians lined up last week to claim they are determined to tackle the Nazis. But why, then, do the authorities continue to insist that postal workers deliver Nazi election leaflets? Why do they continue to insist the Nazis have a right to election broadcasts like every other political party? Above all, why do the police continue to protect Nazi demonstrations? Why have hundreds been arrested for trying to stop the Nazis from marching and putting out their disgusting propaganda in recent years? The Nazis deserve only one thing - to be driven from every workplace and community across the country” (May 6).

The ineluctable inference from this passage is that the bourgeois state should crack down on “the Nazis”. Perhaps ban the British National Party. A message that many who took part in the protests would want to hear. The implication is further reinforced by an examination of pages 14 and 15. Many looking at the contents of these two very excited pages would come away with the distinct impression that the SWP would not oppose the state’s (anti-democratic) banning of the BNP - or at least the abolition of its right to have a free TV broadcast. Perhaps readers would also think that the SWP would want Britain to model itself on Germany and adopt anti-free speech laws.

Readers would at the same time pick up the idea that official society in general is soft on “the Nazis”, if not in actual collusion with them. Thus we are told that “the media has gone along with the idea that there are ‘respectable Nazi’ organisations like the Nazi BNP who wanted nothing to do with the bombing. Twice last week Radio Four allowed BNP leader John Tyndall to state that the bombs had nothing to do with his organisation.” The article sententiously adds: “Violence and hatred are part of the history of all the Nazi parties in Britain.”

I do not know which Radio Four presenters Socialist Worker writers listen to, but the BBC of the real world heaps nothing but condemnation and odium onto the heads of the BNP. The organisation is held up to ridicule on the very few occasions it is allowed time on the bourgeoisie’s precious media. In other words, Socialist Worker is cynically painting a false picture.

It is instructive how the SWP tries to find the BNP guilty (by association) of placing the London nail bombs. It wants to implant the subliminal notion that the BNP are in reality responsible - even if this is so obviously not the case. Message: the BNP is allowed to appear on Radio Four and the post office distributes its election material. Ergo the BBC and the post office - not to mention the bourgeois state as a whole - must be ‘institutionally racist’. Result: left dogma has being salvaged and its shibboleths protected. At the very least - for the left - official society has to be castigated for having no anti-racist backbone.

As we read in Socialist Worker, Tony Blair is pushing through the “racist” Asylum Bill - therefore he cannot be an anti-Nazi. The police? Forget it. We are presented with a quote in the post-Soho Socialist Worker from a 1978 edition of the Police Review: “The National Front preach ‘Britain for the British’. All of their meetings are well run and orderly. NF supporters have been described as the type of person who lives on a decent council estate, or in his own small home which he has saved hard to buy, who sees coloured people taking over the area in which he lives.” Presumably this matter-of-fact summary from 20 years ago is meant to act as conclusive proof that the police were and are ‘institutionally racist’, if not pro-NF/BNP.

This leads on to the most pressing and urgent political question. Does the SWP think that the “racist” and pro-NF/BNP police force - and the bourgeois state - should accrue more powers in order to suppress “the Nazis”? That could be problematic, to put it mildly. Racists persecuting racists?

In fact Socialist Worker does not like the idea of the bourgeois state assuming more draconian powers. After all, the SWP is formally committed to revolution and socialism. So it is against any anti-BNP ban ... sort of. The truth is that the SWP does not want to alienate liberal and reformist opinion. It loves to imagine that Socialist Worker articulates such thoughts and takes them on to Cliffite conclusions. Stuck in an awkward situation, the SWP pulls a fast one and gives another angle ... on page eight of the same issue.

Comrade Hassan Mahamdallie rejects Ken Livingstone’s recent call in The Independent to ban the BNP, writing: “Those who hesitate at the idea of giving police wider powers are right ... If the police had increased powers today they would target groups such as the Nation of Islam and still allow Nazis to get away.” Comrade Mahamdallie concludes: “We should not give [the police] ammunition by giving them more powers.”

Not such a palatable view, but perfectly correct. Therefore it runs the danger of invoking hostility. Even debate, god forbid.

However, consistency is not the SWP’s game. In the following issue of Socialist Worker (May 15)comrade Mahamdallie has retreated from this principled position into anti-democratism. The comrade celebrates “the anti-racist mood that has swept the country in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry” - failing to add that this “anti-racist mood” has been initiated and encouraged by the New Labourites and their followers in the media.

Comrade Mahamdallie goes on to state: “In truth the politicians, local and national, missed a brilliant opportunity when they allowed the anti-Nazi mood to slip by unorganised. For instead of taking advantage of the inspiring solidarity they acted to limit the response.” Evidence? The fact that “postal workers are to be forced to shove 15 million Nazi Euro election leaflets through letter boxes next month”, and that “the Nazis are to be allowed to pollute our screens with a free TV broadcast”. And the fact that the editor of The Guardian “gave letter space to BNP ‘publicity officer’ Michael Newland last week”, where he “was allowed to state unchallenged that the BNP condemned the bombs”.

It is alarming to think that the SWP does not believe that The Guardian should give “letter space” to fringe groups - such as the SWP? It is also fascinating to discover that our TV screens are not already ‘polluted’ by the election broadcasts of New Labour, the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party, etc, nor by mass consumer advertising.

Naturally, it may seem like a smart move to tail spontaneous liberal anti-racist/fascist sentiment. But the truth is that today the bourgeois class regard the fascist and neo-Nazi fringe as an utterly alien and unpatriotic excrescence: an unpleasant fly in its anti-racist ointment. Having no Marxist programme, the SWP clumsily attempts to act as official anti-racism’s left conscience - the conscience of the bourgeoisie.

The SWP, and the left as a whole, needs to wake up from its intellectual slumber - and soon. It must stop shadowing the bourgeoisie over ‘institutionalised racism’ and “the Nazis”. Our class needs proletarian, not bourgeois anti-racism.

Eddie Ford