The obligation and means to resist tyranny
Eddie Ford disagrees with the preaching of pacifism and legalism dressed up in anti-fascist clothing
Clearly, large sections of the left are totally unable to think when confronted by organisations like the English Defence League or the British National Party. With regard to the latter, the comrades totally abandon any concrete analysis and, quite pathetically, prefer instead to mindlessly describe it as “Nazi” at every available opportunity. There is an idiotic determination to prove that Nick Griffin is a new Hitler in waiting - the BNP’s “fuhrer” - and that somehow the Britain of today is akin to Germany in the 1930s, albeit with different accents and a costume makeover. Worse still, the left’s stubborn refusal to grapple with the reality of the BNP at times degenerates into outright dishonesty.
So last week we were presented with a pristine example of this ‘anti-fascist’ deception. Both Counterfire, the brainchild of former Socialist Workers Party dissidents John Rees and Lindsey German, and the Morning Star ran tabloid-style horror stories about supposed comments made by Nick Griffin. His “chilling” words, as Counterfire puts it, were made to the journalist, Dominic Carman - who is also standing against Griffin in Barking and Dagenham for the Liberal Democrats, with the declared intent of “exposing” him to the poor, duped masses, and has diligently, or obsessively, amassed some 20 hours of videotaped interviews with Griffin going back many years.
Hence, according to a horrified Counterfire, Griffin apparently thinks BNP members “have [a] duty to use physical force” - and even more sinisterly, or so we are led to believe, he also affirms that “white people” with a “legitimate grievance” have the right “to hurt people”, “to maim” and “blow things up”. What diabolical evil. As far as Counterfire is concerned, Carman’s “investigation” into Griffin and the recent alleged death threats made against him by the BNP’s publicity director, Mark Collett, all help to supply “further evidence” that violence is at the “core” of that organisation’s politics. Just in case you still had not got the message that the BNP equals Nazi, the picture accompanying the article shows the evil visage of Adolf Hitler lurking behind a smiling Nick Griffin.
The Morning Star, its ‘official communist’ nostrums and platitudes finding a near perfect home in Counterfire, carried on the pacifistic theme. All violence is obviously terrible. Thus, “Griffin backs violence”, the headline cries, and the (factually inaccurate) strapline tells us: “Lib Dem MP [he is not] posts video nasty of BNP chief advocating right ‘to hurt and maim’” (April 7). The online headline appears to have been subsequently changed to the (more measured?) “Griffin backs whites to launch race war as last resort” (my emphasis). For some reason the online date for the article is April 6.
In the actual Star article, just like with Counterfire, we are darkly informed that the “white supremacist”, Ian Davison, is due to stand trial for allegedly producing the toxic poison, ricin - though curiously enough neither of them mention that he has also been charged with “possessing a record containing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing acts of terrorism”, such as “electronic copies” (ie, downloads) of The anarchist handbook, Kitchen complete and Mujahedin’s explosives handbook. They also fail to mention, curiously again, that Davison has no known connections or ties with the BNP, but if the mud sticks then presumably it is a job well done - even if its does mean implicitly lending support to a state crackdown on democratic rights and free speech. Should the easily available The anarchist handbook, for example on Amazon UK, be banned under anti-terrorism legislation?
Naturally, the Morning Star article comes to a righteous conclusion with some huffing and puffing from Hope not Hate campaigner Paul Meszaros, who states that the BNP “can hide behind the suits and lies” but the recent allegations about death threats and so on show the “real face” of the organisation - the “real picture of hate” - which is why it is so vital that “we all need to unite together to work against it”. The “we”, it seems, includes Liberal Democrats, Tories, the anti-terrorist squad, the CPB, John Rees, etc, who are all opposed to “violence” and the ‘fascist menace’ of the BNP.
As a quick aside - though the Weekly Worker, of course, does not subscribe to conspiracy theory politics - it does seem very convenient, perhaps too convenient, for the mainstream parties that these various lurid stories and headlines about the BNP appear just before a very closely fought general election. A bunch of violent thugs pitched against the respectable parties of law and order. So vote accordingly. However, the really significant point lies in the crude ‘anti-Nazi’ spin put on the ‘Carman tapes’ by the Morning Star and Counterfire comrades - so much so, in fact, that the articles quoted above represent a conscious attempt to distort what Griffin actually said to Carman and in the process says far more about the mindset of the left than it does about the BNP leader.
What Griffin told Carman was that “when people have a genuine grievance” - with no actual mention of “white” people, as claimed by the Star and Counterfire - and you have a situation where “the state not only doesn’t care” but actually “puts them down”, then “what choice are people left but to do something which is outside the parliamentary system”? Griffin then adds that people “don’t have the right to hurt people, to maim and blow things up or whatever” (my emphasis) - rather, he explains, “people only have that right when they are not allowed any other way of expressing a legitimate grievance”. To make it even clearer, when questioned again by Carman on this issue - inside a pub, whilst drinking a pint of beer - Griffin says that in “overall morality, if a tyrannical government, establishment refuses its people any way to protest against genuine injustices, in particular at a cultural level, then they have a right to take up arms, arguably in fact a duty to take up arms”, to use “physical force”.
Now, it is a moot point as to whether Griffin thinks that the Gordon Brown cabinet - or possibly a future Mandelson-Cameron-Clegg national coalition - would constitute a “tyrannical government” that needs to be overthrown with “physical force”. Certainly any move towards the formation of a government containing Nick Griffin should see the working class movement issuing a clear warning that a tyranny was in the offing and would be resisted with all means at our disposal. Hence we need to approach the nonsense being generated over Griffin’s remarks from another angle. Are we to conclude - and it is hard not to - that the comrades in the Morning Star and Counterfire think we should not take up arms against a “tyrannical” government? Or that the people, the masses - the working class - do not have the right resist oppression, to struggle “outside the parliamentary system” if necessary and make revolution?
After all, in purely formal terms all Griffin said to Carman - is that people have the “right”, or should have the “right”, to rebel or take up arms against oppressive regimes and unjust political systems. But you “don’t have the right”, as he said, just to willy-nilly “hurt” or “maim” people - “blow things up” - in an arbitrary, chaotic or criminal manner. Sure, he stresses “genuine injustices … at a cultural level” (and we all know what he means by that), but the danger is that by hysterically rejecting the weasel words and formulations of Griffin the left is in danger of throwing out Marxism and, for that matter, democratic politics with the BNP bilge water. And in their stead there comes legalism and pacifism.
The fact of the matter is that, albeit in a garbled form, Griffin was paraphrasing the 1776 declaration of US independence - he does, after all, mix with more than a fair few US far-right nutters, like Kyle Bristow of Young Americans for Freedom, who claim to be defending the true spirit of 1776. The independence declaration reads in part as follows: “That whenever any form of government becomes destructive … it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
Indeed, the second amendment of the United States constitution, as adopted on December 15 1791, enshrines the right to keep and bear arms. Or at least is meant to. Hence the famous declaration: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”. Necessary, that is, to deter undemocratic government, repel invasion, suppress insurrection or subversion, and so on. Or in the words of Richard Henry Lee, one of the great leading American revolutionaries and president pro tempore of the United States senate from April-October 1792: “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”
Orthodox Marxism continued this tradition. Hence it was not by some bizarre accident or a mad rush of blood to the head, that the father of revisionism, Eduard Bernstein - along with fellow notables, August Bebel and Karl Kautsky - included in the 1891 Erfurt programme the demand: “Education of all to bear arms. Militia in the place of the standing army.”
A basic principle defended and fought for by the CPGB, of course. Hence the statement found in the Weekly Worker’s ‘What we fight for’ column that “workers must be readied to make revolution - peacefully if we can, forcibly if we must”. Ditto, the CPGB’s recently redrafted Draft programme (section 3.10). “Communists”, it says, “are against the standing army and for the armed people. This principle will never be realised voluntarily by the capitalist state. It has to be won, in the first place by the working class developing its own militia. Such a body grows out of the class struggle itself: defending picket lines, mass demonstrations, workplace occupations, fending off fascists, etc … The people have the right to bear arms and defend themselves.”
So we are surely bound to ask this question directly to the Morning Star and Counterfire comrades - if they do genuinely find Griffin’s words, to the effect that people have the right to take ups arms against a tyrannical or oppressive government, “chilling”, then it would only be logical for them to wholeheartedly condemn our organisation for putting “violence” at the “core” of its politics, seeing how the CPGB militantly affirms the “right” of our class to defend itself and use “physical force” if needs be against our enemies. Whether they be the BNP, EDL or the capitalist state.
This is hardly crazy or “chilling”. No, as we have seen, the proposition that the people have the “right” to form a popular militia and take up arms against unpopular governments is a basic democratic demand. And one that was a clarion call for the American bourgeois revolution - and not many people these days would call individuals like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson ‘crazy’, or “chilling”.
Then again, in reality, Morning Star and Counterfire have little or nothing to do with authentic Marxism or revolutionary democracy. Their politics do not go beyond routine trade unionism. Something equally true of the Socialist Party in England and Wales. Writing to the Weekly Worker (Letters, March 18), SPEW’s Phil Culshaw displayed all the cowardice of the British left over the right to bear arms. Actually, he is in favour of it - but not quite at this moment in time.
He stammeringly explains that the reason why he and SPEW comrades, such as Dave Nellist, fight shy of even debating their views on this subject is that the bourgeois public opinion would round on them. He is doubtless right. But so what? He cites Michael Crick’s book Militant (1984) and the storm it created over the innocent remarks made by Pat Wall in a public exchange with the Socialist Workers Party. Here he “outlined” the Militant/SPEW position on the state and the “right of the workers’ movement to defend itself with arms at the time of revolutionary transformation”. As is well known, the media “subsequently seized on this” to try and prevent him being elected MP for Bradford North. The Sun demanded his defeat, Labour leader Michael Foot denounced him and the Tories used quotes from him in their election campaign. Interestingly comrade Wall won his seat with a 10% swing from the Social Democratic Party.
Nevertheless, after this the SPEW comrades have clearly concluded that silence is the best policy. But the aim of Marxists is not and has never been to censor ourselves in order to avoid a bourgeois hysteria campaign. No, our task is to arm the working class with the programme needed to overthrow capitalism. And part and parcel of that is making clear that self-defence is vital: not only for making revolution, but getting there in the first place. The need for self-defence arises not only in a revolutionary situation, as maintained by comrade Wall. It may come into play in strikes, demonstrations, anti-fascist struggles, etc. Certainly to delay raising the question of the right to bear arms till a revolutionary situation would ensure that the working class is the only class that goes into the battle unarmed. A recipe for defeat if ever there was one.
Meanwhile, showing their true reformist colours, SPEW attacks the CPGB for daring to raise the right to bear arms as a propaganda demand. Not only Leon Trotsky but George Washington would be spinning in their graves.
- For the supposedly damaging video footage, and accompanying full transcripts, go to www.youtube.com/user/dominiccarman67#p/u/0/zNAzLXdO31M and www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1jhxyzzB2M