Class politics, not multiculturalism
Over the weekend Bradford became the latest town to be caught in a spiral of tension and violence. Saturday night saw pitched battles between mainly British-Asian youths and the police. This was followed on both Sunday and Monday by sporadic attacks on British-Asian owned businesses. In terms of numbers involved there was little notable difference between Oldham and Bradford, though the pitch of the violence was clearly much more intense.
The bourgeois press and media has produced a broad consensus on the catalyst that led to the rioting of the weekend. The spark was a group of white men exiting a pub hurling racist abuse at demonstrators - gathered to support an Anti-Nazi League rally in opposition to a National Front attempted march. What followed is well documented: running battles between the police and youths resulting in numerous injuries. The ANL?s own reporting had a whiff of sensationalism about it, with the headline ?Nazis rampage though Bradford? (ANL website).
Though events in Bradford have been linked to Oldham, the response from some quarters has been notably different. Post-Oldham politicians lined up to condemn the BNP and lay almost the entire blame at its door. Condemnation of the rioters was muted. This has not been the case following Bradford - largely because of the scale of the disturbances. Also the fascist presence was small to non-existent during the riots - thus the immediate source of the provocation was largely absent.
Attempts have also been made in some quarters to blame the left. On the same day that Marsha Singh, the Labour MP for Bradford West, voiced support for the banning of ANL events on the front page of The Guardian - The Daily Telegraph ran a column by Si?n Simon - another Labour MP - arguing that the ?agents provocateurs? of the ?revolutionary Trotskyist left? were responsible for events in Bradford. Both - unconsciously - echo the central thrust of BNP propaganda, which blamed the ANL for ?inflaming racial tensions by firing up a crowd of Asian youths against whites? (BNP website).
Though this view was not widely echoed, it shows the potential for the state to turn on anti-fascists and the working class on the pretext of preventing further disturbances. The danger inherent in calling on the bourgeois state to prevent fascist organisations from marching or even ban them outright is clearly revealed by the likes of Singh and Simon. Such measures will quickly be turned against the left - as will the weapons needed to enforce them. Water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, etc used to quell ?race riots? will also be used against anti-capitalist demonstrators and trade unionists.
The main target of BNP polemic is, however, not the left, but the National Front. Quite clearly the BNP sees an opportunity to establish its hegemony over the far right and marginalise the NF. Following the BNP?s recent election results Nick Griffin, the BNP chairman, has been able to tighten his grip. Griffin is determined to redefine the BNP along the lines of the continental parties of the far right and adopt a populist, national chauvinist agenda, aiming to garner support from atomised and ideologically confused plebeians and lumpenised elements of the working class. Necessarily such a strategy means not only distancing the BNP from the NF, but also a heavy emphasis on electoral politics - as opposed to the jackboot Nazism of the latter. The desire of the BNP to marginalise the NF is shown by a press statement condemning the NF as ?morons? and ?adventurists?, who are ?part of the problem, not part of the solution? (July 6).
The BNP is relying on a reaction developing below against the state?s official anti-racism, a fact clearly illustrated by even a cursory glance at its website. Mirroring the language of liberal condemnation of ?institutional racism?, the BNP talks of ?institutionalised anti-white racism?. Yet, despite the clearly divisive nature of the state?s anti-racism - workers are told to categorise themselves as ?white?, ?black?, ?Asian?, etc, etc, and claim their ?fair share? of resources on the basis of ethnicity - the left is still advocating the virtues of bourgeois multiculturalism.
This was illustrated at the Socialist Workers Party?s ?Marxism 2001? session on ?Anti-fascism after Oldham?. SWP speakers claimed that the relative rise in support for the BNP resulted from ?New Labour and Tory rhetoric on asylum-seekers?. In fact this rhetoric is part and parcel of the same reactionary ideology of anti-racist national chauvinism. Hostility towards ?outsiders? is what coheres this new British multicultural identity.
The BNP seeks to take advantage of the divisiveness of official anti-racism and the prejudices it fosters among backward elements of the working class - hence an intrinsic part of the BNP?s vocabulary is the articulation of a distorted feeling of oppression. This is articulated as ?white survival?: for the moment talk of supremacy is carefully avoided.
Following on from Saturday?s anti-BNP and anti-police actions, on Sunday and Monday a small group of white youths attacked British-Asian businesses and also the police. This was in the eyes of the participants no doubt a legitimate reaction to previous events. It is, however, important to note that the active element - ie, those prepared to take to the streets - is very small; the BNP, in its search for legitimacy at the ballot box, seemed to distance itself from those whites who ?were so desperate to actually want confrontation?, calling them a ?tiny minority?.
The role of the ANL in Bradford and events in Oldham has rightly prompted debate among thinking partisans of the working class about the way forward. Firstly, there must be recognition that we stand unequivocally for the right of communities to defend themselves against both the far right and the police. We need a programme that recognises this as part of addressing broader issues. At ?Marxism? SWP speakers clearly outlined a division of labour between the ANL and the Socialist Alliance: the SA stands in elections to provide the ?broad socialist alternative?, while the ANL continues to trail the BNP and NF around the country.
However, a glance at the Socialist Alliance manifesto reveals a weakness in addressing not simply the right of communities to self-defence, but the means of achieving that. Calling as it does merely for the police to be made ?accountable?, the SA manifesto is handicapped by the SWP?s Janus-like insistence on voting as reformists when it comes to determining alliance policy. The problem with the police is not that they are not ?accountable?, but that they are part of the state machinery. Thus we are expected to rely on an institution which - as many British-Asian youth can testify - is simply against us. Rioters in Oldham and Bradford express their powerlessness. The tame half-heartedness of the Socialist Alliance manifesto with regard to the police is not something that will empower youth on the streets of Bradford or Oldham. The real issue is the monopoly of arms - and thus the means of force - in the hands of the capitalist state.
A throwaway remark at this year?s ?Marxism? illustrates exactly what dangers illusions in the police present. At the ?Anti-fascism after Oldham? session an ANL comrade - to cheers from the floor - stated that ?the main enemy is Nick Griffin?. Of course for revolutionaries and the working class this is not true: the main enemy is the bourgeois state and its incumbent government, not the leader of a tiny faction, however extreme, on the margins of society. The idea that Nick Griffin or the BNP is ?the main enemy? is something that the Labour government happily encourages - diverting attention from its programme of attacks on the working class. This illustrates how treating anti-fascist work as a ?single-issue campaign?, divorced from a working class programme, leads to a one-sided perspective.
We must not go down the route of viewing localist ?community work? as the solution to the marginalisation of the left. In his reply to my article of June 21, comrade Terry Mitchell, of Anti-Fascist Action, viewed my insistence on party and programme as ?worrying? (Letters, June 28). The whole point about the BNP is that, while they do ?community work?, they also provide a generalised perspective and a worldview, a cobbled together ideology. If the left cannot provide the vanguard of our class with a worldview and an ideology then it will forever come off second best.
The Bradford riots were a spontaneous reaction to a provocation, not the conscious rising of the oppressed. While we condemn provocations and defend the right to self-defence, we do not see the solution as being ultimately in spontaneous outbursts of violence. The solution is in collective, class-based action. We must begin with propaganda for defence corps to defend our communities against the fascists and police. From the word will come the deed.