Egg on whose face?
Jim Moody argues that the left’s current ‘anti-fascist’ pose has nothing in common with Marxist politics
Now that the British National Party has won two seats in the European parliament on a low turnout, supposed revolutionaries have seemingly become even more distracted from their prime task: the urgent necessity of building a principled working class alternative to the establishment parties and the system they defend. Ironically it is the very absence of such an alternative that leaves the way clear for extreme right populists to win working class votes.
Soon after the BNP results were announced, the focus changed for most of the left. Certainly the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain had banged on about the BNP before the Euro poll, but it had also propagandised around other planks in its No2EU lash-up with RMT supremo Bob Crow. Not so afterwards: CPB general secretary Robert Griffiths failed even to mention No2EU in his statement following the results, but instead focussed on the “election of two BNP fascists” and the need for trade union bureaucrats to step up pressure on the Labour government (June 8).
With an election programme fashioned by the most red-brown element of the CPB, No2EU took up the left end of a nationalist spectrum whose most prominent extreme rightwing component is the BNP. It takes the dictum of fighting fire with fire to its logical conclusion, at least in the minds of CPB leaders such as Griffiths.
It was Griffiths who at the London rally before the election reiterated his group’s line that No2EU fished for votes from the very same foul pool as the UK Independence Party and the BNP: left nationalism’s undermining of right nationalism was the CPB contribution to the ‘anti-fascist struggle’. The man made no bones about how, for him at least, No2EU was about heading off those who might otherwise vote BNP on the territory of nationalism. The role of the working class in Britain, let alone internationally, did not come into it.
Within hours of the results, ‘bash the fash’ was all the rage across the left. In actual fact, of course, the ‘anti-fascist’ pose has nothing in common with Marxist politics, since the comrades in these left groups merely appear as outraged liberals rather than working class partisans mobilising against the main enemy.
It would be very different if the BNP was the main enemy right now, of course, but it is not. We face much more of a present danger from the main parties: the bourgeois workers’ Labour Party in government, the more-vicious-than-Thatcher Conservatives, and those wolves in sheep’s clothing, the Liberal Democrats. All are intent in forcing through cuts, closures and other attacks on our class in response to the economic crisis. But instead of rallying our forces into a party capable of leading the resistance, most comrades on the left are rushing off at a tangent.
Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, stressed an aspect of No2EU that had not really featured in SPEW’s coverage before: “One of the main motivations for No2EU was a desire to provide a left alternative to the far-right racist BNP” (The Socialist June 10). That certainly was not the emphasis placed on SPEW’s involvement by another SPEW leader, Dave Nellist, only days before the Euro poll at No2EU’s London rally.
When Martin Smith, the Socialist Workers Party national secretary, was interviewed by Jon Snow on C4 News on June 9 as a representative of Unite Against Fascism, he stubbornly refused to consider the possibility of debating with the BNP: “The biggest problem for us is giving them the air of legitimacy ... we believe there should be no platform for the British National Party. We believe that every political party in this country should have the right to speak, but the BNP are different.”
Smith pleaded for the BNP to be seen as pariahs by respectable parties and the media: “How can you engage with people who want to deny other people’s freedom of speech? ... Their right to speech means the denial of everyone else’s freedom of speech. They’re not like other political parties.” Smith continued the same theme later that evening in another interview, claiming: “You can’t have a dialogue with these people because they aren’t parliamentarians” (Newsnight July 9).
Intriguingly, the SWP’s Smith seemed to forget that the SWP is not parliamentarian either, and neither is the organisation he was supposed to be representing at the interview, Unite Against Fascism. Maybe he used ‘parliamentarian’ as code to the less wary viewer for ‘respectable’. But were being parliamentarian the only way to be taken seriously politically, then the SWP would not qualify; Smith rules it out himself. Calling these abstentionist politics childish would be an insult to children.
Of course, seeing that the BNP operates outside the official anti-racist box, the SWP and other left groups have tried to trade on its consequent lack of bourgeois respectability. And if the BNP is so beyond the pale in this way, the SWP argues that it must be refused any publicity. Unfortunately, that is yesterday’s failed strategy. Today the BNP has two MEPs; accordingly, this requires a rethink of strategy and tactics. One useful tactic would be to take on the BNP’s arguments and defeat them in debate. There is no way round the fact that nearly a million voters put a cross next to the BNP box and to try to halt the spread of their ideas by throwing eggs at Nick Griffin is so inept as to be almost beyond belief.
Pathetically, UAF refuses to provide panel speakers for TV and radio programmes on if this meant sharing a platform with a BNPer. Denying the BNP the ‘oxygen of publicity’ is not an option at this time, comrades. In fact, all such a boneheaded approach produces is the actual no-platforming of those claiming to be most opposed to the BNP and all it stands for: an absurd position.
That will only have purchase if we as revolutionaries want to appear ‘respectable’ in bourgeois terms. And that is what the SWP proposes in fact. When demonstrators against the BNP at the June 7 count in Manchester heckled a Ukip representative, the local SWP organiser intervened to prevent it, saying that this was not the time to tackle Ukip. What this means, then, is that the SWP’s popular frontist opposition to the BNP can encompass not only Lib Dems and Tories, but Ukip as well.
Were the left able to come together in a united, working class party based on Marxism - a Communist Party - it would very rapidly find it had no trouble in surpassing the level of support achieved by the BNP.
At a time when millions are disgusted and outraged by the financial corruption of parliamentarians and the BNP is able to appeal for support precisely because of such corruption, to oppose the BNP on the grounds that it is less respectable than those parliamentarians is to invite derision from workers.
If the revolutionary left were serious about socialist revolution, it would accept that the only way to combat the rise of the far right is to focus on the system that nurtures it through unification in a single Marxist party.