Fascism debate continues
Comrades at the CPGB aggregate meeting got to grips with important aspects of the question, reports Mary Godwin
Over the recent period the CPGB has been debating the nature of fascism and how communists should combat far-right groups such as the British National Party. In Weekly Worker February 21 Jim Grant and David Isaacson replied to the original Provisional Central Committee motion (Weekly Worker February 7), which was debated at the February aggregate (see Weekly Worker February 14). This discussion was continued at an aggregate of CPGB members held in London on March 16.
Comrade John Bridge presented a new motion (see below), designed to facilitate debate and also, he said, a response to the left “getting it spectacularly wrong” - in both its dogmatic insistence on a combination of no-platforming and physical force as the only possible tactic to be employed against the BNP, on the one hand, and by appealing to workers to vote for any party except the BNP, on the other.
Arguing against those on the left who transform the no-platform tactic into a principle, comrade Bridge repeated the point he stressed at the February aggregate - no-platforming is one tactic among many. He rejected the criticism by comrades Grant and Isaacson that the original motion was not concrete enough in suggesting tactics. The point is that tactics have to be flexible.
Comrade Bridge gave the example of the Communist Party of Germany in the early 1920s. It shared a platform with fascists in order to denounce them and their lies, organised street fighting formations against them and also stood against them in elections. All legitimate tactics.
The Socialist Workers Party demands that there should be “no free speech for the BNP”. We regard free speech as an essential for establishing the truth. Marxism flourishes in conditions of free speech. The working class needs free speech and has defended it historically. We do not support demands for state action against political enemies and foes. No matter how revolting they are or no matter how dangerous.
However, comrade Bridge made plain that in his view that the BNP can no longer be considered a fascist group. Fascist organisations establish counterrevolutionary fighting squads independent of the state, directed primarily against the working class. It is a terroristic variant of Bonapartism, which acts objectively in the interests of the ruling class.
He added that a Britain fascism would almost certainly not in the form of the BNP, but as a specifically British force, eg, the Countryside Alliance or a rightwing christian, organisation. He said fascism becomes a genuine danger only when the working class poses a real threat to the existing order.
The SWP has been dangerously flippant in calling various organisations across Europe ‘fascist’. Comrade Bridge insisted on the importance of using words accurately and precisely, in order to avoid a repeat of the panicky confusion of 1930s communist parties, which ended up flipping from the leftist condemnation of social democrats as “social fascists” into the rightist error of popular frontism.
Unlike the SWP - which up until recently, of course, was promoting a popular front of its own in Respect - communists do not make distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate bourgeois political parties. If voters are disaffected with mainstream political parties we do not follow the SWP in urging them to buy back into the illusion of choosing the butcher. We seek to build a Marxist party which can organise the working class to solve its own problems, as an alternative to bourgeois politics.
Comrade Bridge’s introduction was followed by a comprehensive debate around the BNP, the nature of fascism and how to respond to it. Comrade Peter Manson thought the definition of fascism should also include the fact that it suppresses divisions within the ruling class. Comrade Isaacson said that, although he and comrade Grant agree it would be absurd for the left to restrict itself to one tactic, the motion should at least refer to the sort of tactics that can be used. Comrade Jim Dymond pointed out that many on the left do not distinguish between fascism and racism. Mussolini, and Pinochet were fascist but not racist, while apartheid South Africa was racist but not fascist. It is the racism of the BNP which those who seek to no-platform it object to, he said.
Comrade Bob Davies proposed deleting the final sentence of paragraph 13 about those who vote for the extreme right not being our “natural constituency”. In reply comrade Bridge said, the far right gains support from other classes as well as backward elements in the working class. But our natural constituency is the most conscious sections of the organised working class. Comrade Nick Rogers thought comrade Bridge was too complacent in assuming the BNP only appeals to lumpen elements. The threat from the BNP lies not in the fact that it wants to smash the working class, but in the fact that it steals our ground by seeming to pose an alternative. It has appealed with partial success to the white working class, playing on their resentment of perceived injustice in resource allocation from the state. UKIP has a different electoral base, in the white rural middle class, he said.
Comrade Rogers was also among a number of comrades who disagreed with comrade Bridge’s conclusion that the BNP is no longer fascist. He said the leadership of the BNP still regarded it as fascist, even if they have made the tactical move from physical violence to standing in elections. Comrade Jim Moody said the BNP is fascist as it has organised and will organise street fighting squads, and comrade Jim Grant agreed that the BNP relies on the violence of white youth gangs to achieve its objective. Comrade Davies added that the BNP has links to violent groups such as Combat 18.
Comrade Bridge replied that only a small minority of the thousands of BNP members carry out physical violence against the working class. It is not the policy of their leadership. Comrade Ben Lewis said that comparing Nick Griffin’s writings for his members and for the electorate, it is clear that there is a real difference between the true ideas and the public front. The inner core of the BNP are still Hitlerites, while the public face is closer to what the establishment peddles - ‘Britishness’ and a demand for British jobs for British people. Peter Manson said that, when any organisation tries to pose as something it is not, it inevitably starts to turn into what it is pretending to be. It cannot remain unchanged. Comrade Isaacson did not agree, saying that the BNP has flexibility to emphasise different tactics at different times.
Comrade Jim Grant said participating in staged debates with the extreme right on campuses achieves nothing. More can be achieved by refusing to debate. The way to combat reactionary ideas is not in such narrow forums, but through leaflets in broader society. He conceded that his and comrade Isaacson’s article should have said we are in favour of free speech in the workers’ movement, but if you say it is correct to beat up fascists in certain circumstances, then obviously their free speech cannot be an absolute principle. Comrade Lewis said there is no contradiction between upholding the principle of free speech and using physical force to defend the working class from attack.
Comrade Bridge said that what concerns him is the fact that the SWP seems to believe that freedom of speech does not matter - whether for its own rank and file, the CPGB or the BNP. He is also concerned about the way the SWP attempts to get the state to bring in oppressive measures which history shows will actually be used against the left.
He emphasised that at present the state is the main threat, not tiny fringe groups like the BNP. We should not sow illusions in the state or the mainstream parties which front it. Comrade Manson pointed out that imagining the BNP is the greatest danger to the working class can lead to popular frontism. This is not to say there is no difference between the BNP and other bourgeois parties.
Comrade Mike Macnair said the far right, both authoritarian and violent, has always been with us and will remain with us until the working class takes power. The dogma of the left now can be summed up as the necessity of crushing fascism in the egg and the need to contain such groups.
How did this dogma arise? It goes back to the days of the popular front, he said. Recreating this popular front was one of the dominant themes of ‘official communism’. The aspiration to recreate this kind of popular front in the form of mass campaigns against trivial organisations has constituted a diversion.
The debate around the nature of the BNP is in itself a diversion, he continued. The real question is, is there a real fascist threat from a section of the bourgeoisie? If there were, we would have to be clear that we would be prepared to go as far as civil war in order to defeat it. But this is not the case.
Comrade Mark Fischer, chairing the aggregate, urged comrades to submit amendments to the motion in writing and suggested that at the April aggregate a vote be taken on proposed amendments and the motion. This was accepted by the meeting.
The aggregate also heard reports on the progress of the Weekly Worker fundraising drive and preparations for Communist University 2008, which this year will be held from August 9 to August 16.
Motion proposed by John Bridge
1. Besides garbled populist propaganda denigrating foreigners, corrupt establishment politicians, migrants, communists, greedy capitalists, religious, ethnic and other minorities, etc, fascism launches physical force, primarily against the organised working class.
2. Fascist groups, movements and parties form counterrevolutionary fighting squads separate from the state - this is the essential and defining characteristic of fascism, a characteristic that distinguishes it from other forms of counterrevolution. Put another way, fascism is a terroristic variant of Bonapartism.
3. Fascism objectively acts in the interests of the capitalist class. Fascist organisations are often manipulated, financed and directed by sections of the state and the monopoly bourgeoisie.
4. Fascism grows into mass proportions when capitalist society is mired deep in crisis but the working class lacks the necessary organisation, determination or leadership with which to deliver the final revolutionary blow.
5. Fascism clears its own path. But once in power fascist parties and fighting formations inevitably undergo a process of bureaucratisation. The upper layers merge with the ruling class. The lower elements are simply merged into the state machine or, that failing, are mercilessly crushed.
6. Under present circumstances in Britain there is no immediate danger of a mass fascist movement, let alone a fascist movement coming to power. There is no revolutionary situation.
7. It is essential to distinguish between individual fascists and fascist organisations. Eg, the BNP leadership contains many with a clear and unmistakable fascist background and continued ideological outlook. People who openly or privately admire or/and seek to emulate Nazi Germany, Mussolini Italy or Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts. But today the BNP cannot be classified as a fascist organisation. It is a reactionary, ultra-nationalist, right-populist party. There are no fighting formations.
8. The theory of killing fascism ‘in the egg’ is completely illusory. When it comes to the far right, it is a diversion and has led either to the leftist futility of squaddism or the quagmire of popular frontism.
9. Destroying the extreme right using force and attempting to silence it through terror has patently failed. Ditto popular fronts which join the left organisationally and politically with the bourgeois establishment. Note the sizable votes for Ukip and BNP.
10. Unlike social democrats and anarchists, communists do not view any tactic as a matter of principle. Eg, parliamentarianism or anti-parliamentarianism. Indeed when it comes to tactics the only principle we recognise is that nothing is automatically ruled out and nothing automatically ruled in.
11. Tactics employed to counter organisations such as the BNP, National Front, Ukip, etc, have to be concrete. Therefore they have to be flexible and constantly changing.
12. We consider the tactic of no-platforming opponents perfectly legitimate. Ditto force and violence. Against fascist fighting formations it is absolutely correct to defend ourselves using whatever means are necessary.
13. By the same measure, peaceful tactics of debate and persuasion are also legitimate under other circumstances. We do not seek a ‘civilised’ relationship with the extreme right (or with the mainstream bourgeois parties, for that matter). But communists are determined to take away from the extreme right what popular base it might possess. That primarily means a battle for hearts and minds. Not that we consider those who vote BNP, NF or Ukip as our ‘natural’ constituency.
14. At all times we recognise that it is the capitalist state and the capitalist class which is our main enemy. It is the failures, the malfunctioning of declining capitalism which gives both ammunition and sustenance to the extreme right.
15. Communists are champions of democracy and free speech. We are against state bans on political parties, including outright fascist parties. State restrictions on what can and what cannot be said in political debate must also be vigorously opposed. Any such bans or restrictions would inevitably first and foremost effect the advanced part of the working class. Free speech and the widest democracy provide the best conditions for Marxism to grow and flourish, and for the formation of the working class into a future ruling class.