Lesser evilism and beating the BNP

The British National Party is standing a record number of candidates in the forthcoming local elections in England. According to the Anti-Nazi League, the BNP are contesting 217 electoral wards; they themselves claim variously 219 and 221. Whatever the exact number, both the BNP and their opponents clearly view this as a significant bid by the party. The BNP's web-site proudly proclaims the "biggest push for council seats in the history of the party"�. It confidently asserts that 2003 is the year when they will "break through."� Predictably this has led to the customary indignant outbursts, emanating from both the political mainstream and, of course, from some of our comrades on the revolutionary left. The SWP has moved with customary speed, swiftly swapping their Stop the War placards for those of the Anti-Nazi League. Local elections - which determine control over the almost powerless borough councils - are heavily influenced by how the electorate regard parties in terms of big national and international issues. Recent political events - most notably the invasion of Iraq and the continuing presence of British troops as an army of occupation - will doubtless affect the fortunes of parties in the local elections. The war has polarised opinion and politicised many; and these elections are the first chance the public has to pass judgement in the ballot box. The Labour Party, Tories and Liberal-Democrats demonstrated how out of touch they are with the people of Britain. The way opposition to the war was brazenly ignored highlighted the lack of democracy inherent in the British constitutional monarchy system. It is likely then that discontentment with established politics will manifest itself in a low turnout and increased support for extreme parties. Set against this backdrop, and combined with their opposition to the war on Iraq, the BNP have the potential to do well and gain seats. How should the left respond to this prospect? As communists we are opposed to just about everything that the BNP stands for; they are irredeemably obnoxious and reactionary. Their creed is hatred and intolerance. A knee-jerk desire to confront and oppose them with the boot and the fist is understandable. However, we are not creatures of mere instinct. Communists have a coherent vision of our ultimate aim, and we must make swift tactical changes in order to further the struggle. To make correct tactical decisions we must understand the nature of what we oppose. Nick Griffin, BNP leader, has unambiguously declared his intention: "We're here to win votes and power"�. With this in mind, the BNP have attempted to camouflage their true character in a shameless attempt to gain votes. Griffin admits to overt populism. He writes that he wants people to feel "either pleasure or amazement"� that they agree with "pretty much everything"� the BNP says. That the BNP is "just another party"�. That everything about the BNP is "normal"�. Having eased the potential new recruit in gently, they may then be introduced to "the principles of modern ethnic nationalism and the long-term aims of the BNP"� (The BNP: anti-asylum protest, racist sect or power-winning movement?). Consequently, the BNP's election manifesto contains deliberately ambiguous policies such as 'asylum clampdown' and 'equal treatment' in amongst all-purpose populist slogans against taxation, corruption and bureaucracy. With an eye on potential green voters they are also standing on the policy of "no waste disposal charges."� As an aside, the BNP is very complimentary about the Green Party, praising the emphasis that it puts on the environment - an issue that is "sadly lower down the popular, political agenda than [it] deserves"�! Fascism and Nazism have always had more than their fair share of rightwing nature lovers who like to view the majority of human beings as something akin to vermin. The BNP, in common with many other reactionary movements, is regressive and parochial. Their vision is based upon a mythical golden age; they want a land of rolling pastures, of ruddy-faced farmers and friendly local greengrocers. They hearken to a time when Britain was 'great' and every face was that of a stolid Anglo-Saxon. Those who point out that Britain has always been a mixing-pot of cultures are denounced as "neo-Marxist academic and media prostitutes"� (which sounds quite appealing!), or thralls to the "dogmatic liberal elite"�. BNP ideology is confused, irrational and based on fabrications. But the BNP's racism and extreme chauvinism has to be taken seriously because it gives them a populist edge. The Daily Mail and the Tory front bench have made great play in exploiting resentment against migrants and especially asylum seekers. The BNP, for its part, wants an "all-white Britain."� It wants to close Britain's borders to incomers. The idea that Britain is overpopulated is widespread almost to the point of being common sense. However the BNP also wants to remove anyone who is a "non-white European,"� regardless of their country of birth. Those who refuse to leave will be regarded as "permanent guests,"� rather than full British citizens, a chilling euphemism. The BNP reserve their worst bile for those who choose to live with or to have children with a person whose skin colour is different from their own. Nick Griffin claims that 'miscegenation' is an act of genocide. He even claims there are "moral and sentimental grounds"� for refusing to eat Chinese and Indian takeaways and not supporting sports teams with non-white players. The left's traditional response to the BNP is best illustrated by the approach taken by the SWP and its Anti-Nazi League front. Symptomatic of a 'broader the better' approach, the ANL campaigns against the BNP in purely negative terms. They exhort electors with the timeless slogan: 'Don't vote Nazi'. As if the majority had ever done such a thing. Or that those tempted to vote for the BNP had not been driven to desperation by the failures and betrayals of the mainstream parties. Seen in that light, the ANL is a campaign designed to bring back electors to their traditional fold. Without a positive programme the ANL therefore becomes part of the problem. Not the answer. The SWP-ANL rallying cry of 'Don't vote Nazi' is sheer 'lesser-evilism.' Seeing their priority as denying support to the BNP they are willing to serve not only the Labour Party, a bourgeois workers' party, but the Liberal Democrats and Tories. The underlying message is, 'vote for any other party, just don't vote BNP.' Presented with the choice between Labour and Conservative policies on immigration or the BNP, the ANL advocates support for the lesser evil. It has even played with calling upon the state to ban the BNP - a hostage to fortune if ever there was. As communists we do not advocate the politics of the lesser evil. We champion independent working class politics. The Socialist Alliance quite clearly represents a step forward for the SWP and the left as a whole. But it will get nowhere simply as an electoral front. Unless the Socialist Alliance develops a fully rounded programme - a revolutionary not a reformist programme - and becomes an effective and rooted political party of the working class, it will find itself outvoted and outmanoeuvred by the BNP time and time again. The BNP is a disease triggered by the decay of the post-World War II social democratic project. Tackling the disease can only be done effectively by going to the cause. If the state banned the BNP, that would not eliminate racism, chauvinism and sectionalist prejudice. Nor can social democracy be revived. What is required is the fight for communism. Jeremy Butler