A symptom of capitalist decay, not the main enemy

Eddie Ford sees the SWP and those that follow its example on a disastrous and self-defeating course

Following the English Defence League’s October 10 ‘no more mosques’ demonstration in Manchester - and Unite Against Fascism’s shambolic counter-demonstration - we have had the usual flurry of excitable and often downright irrational responses from the left.

Regrettably, when it comes to analysing and dealing with the far right, the large majority of leftwing groups in the UK seem almost totally unable to keep a cool head. Rather, we see a pitiful retreat into self-deluding, but, of course, eminently self-serving, fantasies about “the Nazis” who are seemingly only a few goose steps away from assuming state power.

Sounds utterly ridiculous? Why, of course it is, but welcome to the strange world of the British left - where reality so often seems an optional extra. Thus you would be led to believe from the doom-laden apocalyptic reactions of the ‘anti-fascist left’ to the news that the “Nazi” British National Party will shortly be appearing on the BBC’s ‘flagship’ Question time programme that just one look at Nick Griffin’s face will be enough to spark off a 2009 equivalent of Kristallnacht - what sheep-like viewers. Then again, some sections of the left (ie, the Socialist Workers Party) seem to think that Hitler’s Mein Kampf is so impregnated with diabolical evil that it should only be made available to “duly accredited students” - who, presumably, will be less likely to be corrupted than your average dullard worker or non-student. Indeed, at various times figures associated with the left - such as Ken Livingstone - have heavily suggested that membership of the BNP should be made illegal.

Now we have the left’s typically stupid and dogmatically stubborn attitude towards the EDL. This takes the form of shrilly insisting, regardless of the evidence or facts, that the EDL is the BNP’s ‘street fighting section’, and therefore must be “Nazi”, in which case there are essentially only two ways (as seemingly laid down in the very small print of the Ten Commandments) for the left to react. That is, to myopically call for a state clampdown on EDL activity - as did Livingstone, of course, in his capacity as chair of UAF, when he stated that the EDL demonstration “should be condemned and banned on the grounds of blatant religious discrimination and a threat to public order”. Or, if tragically failing to get such a banning order from the “institutionally racist” British state - remember that one? - to switch into an equally mindless ‘fash-bashing’ mode: which normally involves nothing much more sophisticated than jumping up and down (sometimes literally) in front of EDLers shouting, ‘Nazi! Nazi! Nazi!’

So the latest issue of Socialist Worker, with ludicrous exaggeration, tells us that anti-racists gathered to “face down one of the biggest Nazi protests” ever seen in central Manchester “since Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts in the 1930s”. In the same pages senior SWP apparatchik, comrade Martin Smith, then proceeds to rhetorically ask the question, “How do we stop these Nazis?” - going on to argue: “Once again UAF protesters ensured that the EDL was chased out of town” and “exposed for what it really is”: yes, the “violent wing of the Nazi British National Party”.1 The same sentiment had been expressed a few weeks earlier in Socialist Worker, in a short piece entitled ‘Fascism’s street fighting wing’ - where we are informed, albeit just a tad more cagily, that the EDL “has been touted as the street fighting wing of the BNP”, and “several of the EDL’s leading organisers are listed as BNP members”.2

In the same vein, it goes without saying, the SWP-run UAF issued a statement on the day of the EDL Manchester march which declared that the group is “linked to the fascist BNP” and its “aim is to divide us by making scapegoats of one community, just as the Nazis did to the Jews in the 1930s”. Hence, the statement continues, though the EDL today “threaten the mosque”, tomorrow it could be the “synagogue, temple or church”; though they now “threaten Muslims”, soon it “could be Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, blacks, gays, travellers or eastern Europeans” on the receiving end of the EDL’s unwanted attention.

Naturally, the signatories to the UAF statement included the great, the good and the very faithful - such as Ruth Kelly, Labour MP and Opus Dei member; reverend father Kevin Crinks of the Leigh parish of St Mary the Virgin; Reverend Richard Church of the United Reformed Church; Show Racism the Red Card; Muslim Council of Britain; Muslim-Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester, Refugee Asylum Participatory Action Research, and so on. Nobody likes fascism, it appears.

Of course, the SWP and the various popular fronts it promotes are not the only ones promulgating the line that the EDL is the proto-paramilitary wing of the BNP - not at all. Indeed, if anything, the comrades from Permanent Revolution - the ‘sensible’ ones kicked out of Workers Power - are even more vociferous advocates of left dogmatism with regards to the EDL, and the question of fascism in general.

Therefore we read on the PR website that the EDL are the BNP’s “boot boys on the streets” and, furthermore, that they have “exploded the myth that fascism has gone respectable” - as just two months after the BNP won two MEP seats, a “ramshackle gang of racists have taken fascism back to the streets”. So, according to the PR comrades, the EDL is “organised by old-time Nazis in or around the BNP and National Front”, and thus on October 10 Manchester was “full of fascist old-timers, safely out of the way, overseeing the direction of the day” - but the core supporters, or foot soldiers, of the EDL are “overwhelmingly male, young, working class” and “pissed off”, and “have tapped into racism to express their hate of the world and everything in it” (the latter point contains some truth, of course).

However, the PR comrades conclude, there is still some glimmer of hope - “manipulated by Nazi Gauleiters behind the scenes” though the EDL might be, it has “yet to consolidate into a fascist street squad”. Therefore, socialists and anti-fascists “must fight to stop that happening” or “rue the day”.3

Now, obviously, we too in the CPGB find the EDL a vile, reactionary organisation - its primary stock in trade, for the moment anyway, being a particularly noxious brew of raw Islamophobic bigotry and semi-respectable, or relatively mainstream, patriotic-nationalist sentiment. Hence its attempted two-minute silence (disrupted by UAF) at the Manchester demonstration/rally for “all British troops” who have died abroad and its professed disgust - or “final straw” moment - at the treatment handed out to the “brave soldiers” of the Royal Anglian Regiment when they returned from duty in Basra to Luton, only to be “greeted by an absolutely disgusting display, as Muslim extremists called them ‘child killers’ and ‘butchers’ and mocked their dead comrades”. Saying enough is enough, no longer prepared to tolerate these “vile specimens” who “spew their hate against this country” - or so we read on their website - this outrage “led to the formation” of the EDL.

And, of course, the EDL is keen to stress how it is composed of “ordinary, non-racist citizens” who just have had it up to their neck of being “treated as second-class citizens to the jihadis in our own country”. In fact, we are informed, the EDL takes an “actively anti-racist and anti-fascist stance” and is also “non-political” - having “no position on rightwing vs leftwing” and is open to “people of all races and faiths”.4

Yes, mainly baloney - and, yes, inevitably, the EDL includes some fascists and BNP-leaning types. But communists have to clearly state what the EDL is and is not - not indulge in fantasies or ‘anti-fascist’ leftist make-believe. In reality, the EDL is not the BNP’s “boot boys”, but rather a motley and ugly assortment - or ‘alliance’, if you really want to stretch a point - of nationalist, far-right and lumpen elements, such as intoxicated football hooligans and semi-criminal riff-raff.

The EDL website carries both wild rants about UAF “communist traitors” and moderate proclamations of liberal and peaceful intent. Its report of the Manchester clash states: “Someone was trying to provoke violence, but it wasn’t us, and we gave Mr [Weyman] Bennett’s organisation the benefit of the doubt and assumed it wasn’t them either … The EDL is firmly committed to peaceful protest, and has no intention to engage in violence in any form. We wish the same could be said of the UAF members, who tried to break through police lines to attack us on Saturday.”5

Naturally, such a disparate and fissiparous set of forces - a sort of ‘anti-rainbow coalition’ - is pre-programmed to explosively split apart as soon as someone tries to impose any sort of ‘common line’ or organisational discipline upon it and its members/supporters. Indeed, you can almost bet money on the fact that the EDL’s sudden demise will be attended by chaotically violent scenes - probably a good-old fashioned far-right internecine ruck in some non-smoke-filled room in a seedy, dilapidated pub which serves you crap, watered-down beer and stale crisps.

In other words, the EDL - as things stand now - is heading in precisely the opposite direction to the BNP, which, of course, possesses a commonly accepted programme (or series of manifestos) and is totally unafraid to erect and impose organisational structures, norms and discipline. One of which, quite self-evidently, is opposition to any form of street fighting - to anything, in fact, which has even the vaguest hint of paramilitary activity. And why on earth would the BNP want to do anything else at this juncture, given the sadly undeniable fact that its ‘electoral turn’ has reaped some quite considerable success - and there being no rational reason to think that such political achievements cannot be built and improved upon? Nick Griffin and his co-thinkers may be many things, but recklessly stupid or suicidal they are most definitely not.

Hence the quick off the mark BNP condemnation of the EDL, publicly designating it as a “proscribed organisation”, and thus making it a potentially expellable offence to join or get involved with it. In the no doubt sincere and slightly exasperated words of the BNP’s national organiser, Eddy Butler, “time and time again the lying media has linked the BNP with the EDL’s activities”. But of course, went on Butler in his official media statement of September 3, the BNP “does not march in the streets, but rather campaigns in an ordinary democratic fashion in elections” - such as “door-to-door canvassing and leafleting”. The overriding reason for the “proscription” of the EDL, continued Butler, is that “through its activities” - like the Manchester demonstration, for instance - the EDL “brings nationalist and patriotic politics into disrepute”, and (importantly) “probable arrest for anyone who attends its events”.6

Indeed, the BNP has suggested that the EDL might even have been “instigated” and “encouraged” by the British state - a sting operation to blacken the ‘good name’ of the now respectable BNP. It was even  alleged on the Hope Not Hate blog - which, mind you, is closely aligned to UAF, so may not be an entirely reliable source of information on such a matter - that Griffin and his deputy, Simon Darby, have been recorded (larking about?) calling the EDL a “neo-con operation” and a “Zionist false flag operation”: all designed, they supposedly banter, to “create a real clash of civilisations right here on our streets between Islam and the rest of us”.7

What about the EDL itself? What does it say about accusations of racism, fascism and links to the BNP? Its report of the Manchester demo claims that “the support we received from people of all races, who applauded us as we walked by, was extraordinarily encouraging. The UAF’s dishonest attempts to paint us as racists or to link us to the BNP, who we denounce, are looking increasingly ridiculous.”8

Of course, it could be the case that both the BNP and EDL are engaged in a truly Machiavellian conspiracy to pull the wool over our eyes - publicly condemning each other, while disguising the fact that they are in reality two wings of the same “fascist” movement. Or there is the alternative, more prosaic explanation, which is that the BNP at this stage is genuinely committed to the far more lucrative path of electoral politics and does not want to touch the likes of the EDL with a barge-pole.

The central reason why the SWP and others on the left desperately need to ‘prove’ that the EDL are the BNP’s “boot boys” is relatively straightforward - because it sticks to the orthodox (and quite correct) Marxist view that fascism out of power is organised non-state violence, the mobilisation of a confused and enraged mass movement, especially against the left and the workers’ movement, objectively in the service of finance capital. In power fascism bureaucratises, merges with the state and eliminates anti-capitalist radicals within its ranks.

Obviously, given the BNP’s success in winning councillors and MEPs, its refusal to behave like classical fascists and the left’s abject failure to unite, even on the relatively easy terrain of elections, EDL is a godsend. ‘Look, fighting street gangs at last!’ - and the left at least has a chance of chasing, cornering and perhaps even physically whipping this pathetic bunch of no-hopers … and all with the blessing  of their popular frontist alliance of bishops, imams, media personalities, trade union officials and pro-capitalist MPs.

A disastrous and utterly self-defeating course which sees the SWP - and those that follow its example - forgetting about socialism and the main enemy being the state.

Instead the anti-Nazi credentials of the British establishment are praised, embellished and called upon to decisively deal with the lumpen menace. Naturally, in so doing the SWP, et al, looks to, seeks dialogue with and increasingly becomes a wing of mainstream bourgeois opinion, albeit its extreme left.

So the left has a choice. Either it is heads down, disengage the brain, keep on huffing and puffing about “the Nazis” and ‘bashing the fash’. Or, alternatively, devote your energies to building a united Marxist party capable of winning millions and challenging capitalism and the mainstream nationalism and chauvinism - the soil out of which fascism grows.