Griffin's eclectic manifesto
BNP policies owe as much to the mainstream as they do to its leaders' fascist past, writes Eddie Ford
After much delay, widely attributed to the recent attempted ‘palace coup’ against Nick Griffin, the British National Party finally launched its 94-page election manifesto, Democracy, freedom, culture, identity, on April 23. This, of course, happened to be St George’s Day and hence Griffin was accompanied throughout the entire press conference by a man, or clown, dressed in an appropriately themed St George’s costume - though you could not help but wonder if the patriots of the BNP were aware of the fact that St George is also the patron saint of Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republic of Macedonia.
At the Stoke-on-Trent launch Griffin was keen to put across the message that for the 2010 general election, which sees the BNP standing a record 339 candidates - more than three times as many as the whole of the left put together - the party’s manifesto was not solely about immigration. In fact, he claimed, it was the media and not the BNP which are “obsessed” by the question. So, yes, obviously the BNP wants to ‘keep Britain British’ - seeing how “Britain is full” and is the “most overcrowded” country in Europe; therefore it is time to “shut the doors”. However, Griffin insisted there were other fundamental questions just as important as immigration, if not more so - notably, immediately pulling British troops out of Afghanistan, withdrawing from the European Union, “renationalising” the welfare state, scrapping ID cards and axing “bureaucrats and quangos”. Indeed, Griffin points out, economic issues get far more space than immigration in the manifesto - which he proudly described as a “serious piece of political kit”.
Now, of course, most of the liberal and socialist left with almost neurotic eagerness will seize upon the BNP’s manifesto in order to detect evidence of fascism - even the BNP’s congenital ‘Nazism’. This is certainly the approach of Jim Wolfreys of The Guardian, who writes that in the manifesto there are “features” of a “political current that has existed before” - yes, “it has a name” and “its name is fascism”.
This profoundly foolish approach is, needless to say, shared by the Socialist Workers Party - hence the latest issue of Socialist Worker shrilly warns us about the “Nazi world view” that “lurks” inside the pages of the BNP’s manifesto. Such a method is predicated on the entirely erroneous and prejudiced notion that fascism possesses some sort of coherent, well-rounded ideology or clearly identifiable set of credos - which you can always find if you look hard enough for the ideological ‘giveaway’ signs.
Yet this is plainly not the case: if only life was so simple. Rather than fighting for various precious programmatic shibboleths, fascism instead wants to capture the streets and physically crush the organised left, using non-state fighting formations or street gangs. This is hardly a description of today’s BNP, whose central and overriding political priority is to “claw its way” into parliament and “seize control of councils” - to use the words of the same Socialist Worker article. No, far more deserving of fascist status than the BNP is the decidedly non-electoral English Defence League, ever up for a violent ruck with the anti-fascist left - particularly its number one bête noire, Unite Against Fascism (which in turn is led by the SWP). And, contrary to the ludicrous idea persistently and brainlessly promulgated by the left, the EDL is not an outrider for the BNP, but an entirely separate organisation. Indeed, the two organisations are actively hostile to each other.
In reality, an examination of the BNP’s manifesto reveals a rag-bag of political positions. Some of them are in fact remarkably similar to those adopted by sections of the left. Like the promise already mentioned to “end the involvement” of British troops in Afghanistan, and the pledge “not to allow” British troops to become involved in a war against Iran, “reverse the budget cuts on education”, “increase spending on front-line” NHS staff, “oppose the privatisation of natural monopolies like Royal Mail”, and “repeal all laws aimed at restricting freedom of speech” - including those “relating to race relations and religion” (admittedly this last one is not a demand taken up by the likes of the SWP).
Meanwhile, the BNP’s commitment to “defend” British industry could virtually be copied from the social democratic or ‘official communist’ handbook. For instance, and surely warming the ageing hearts of Morning Star readers, the BNP will “nationalise the telecoms infrastructure” and generally “invest” in “rebuilding British industry and skills” through an “active protectionist policy, as many other European nations already do”. As for the demand for an “immediate withdrawal” from the EU, a body “dedicated to usurping British sovereignty” and to “destroying our nationhood and national identity” (though the BNP “loves Europe”), this could have come from the No2EU website. Such strident EU-phobia, which communists have always adamantly opposed, has been an extremely undesirable feature of a whole swathe of the left, from the ‘Bennite’ Labour left, through the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, to the International Socialist Group.
For communists then, what shines through the entire BNP manifesto is not incipient fascism - clearly a leftist dogma. No, what we are confronted with, in addition to the positions outlined above which resemble those held by some on the left, is a far-right version of British nationalism, which is, of course, the ideology of official Britain. What gives the BNP its particular appeal is its ability to ride the ‘anti-politics’ politics mood, its attacks on international bankers and its targeting of Muslims.
Islamophobia permeates the manifesto and is merely a variation on the racist scapegoating seen in the political/election propaganda churned out by the BNP in the past. So, yes, naturally, the BNP still wants to provide “incentives” for all British citizens with migrant ancestry to “voluntarily” return to “their lands of ethnic origin” and a “halt to all further immigration”. Not to mention a “review all citizenship grants awarded” by the Labour government since 1997, “based on that party’s admission that they orchestrated mass immigration to change forcibly Britain’s demographics and to gerrymander elections”. In this way, including through the “repeal of the Race Relations Act and all other far leftist social engineering projects” - such as multiculturalism, the “wrecker of nationhood” - the BNP hopes to prevent the “extinction” of the British people and its “culture, heritage and identity”.
However, the previous racist bile directed against those originating from the West Indies or the Indian subcontinent has been replaced by an obsessive anti-Muslim agenda. Indeed, from reading the BNP’s manifesto you would have to conclude that Islam and Muslims are squarely to blame for almost all Britain’s woes and tribulations. Accordingly we have the section revealingly named, “Counter jihad: confronting the Islamic colonisation of Britain”. Here we read that the “historical record shows” that Islam - unlike Christianity presumably - is “by its very nature incompatible with modern, secular, western democracy”. Therefore the BNP thinks that there “should be absolutely no further immigration from any Muslim countries”, seeing how it “presents one of the most deadly threats yet to the survival of our nation”.
In order to further meet this objective, of stopping Britain from being “colonised” by the forces of Islam “within a few decades”, the BNP would ban the burqa, ritual slaughter and the building of further mosques in Britain - as well as ordering the “immediate deportation of all radical Islamist preachers” and any other “members of their community who object to these reasonable security measures”. We also discover that the BNP is the “only party to identify correctly the twin causes of Islamist terrorism” in Britain - which are, predictably enough, “mass immigration” and, not quite so predictably, a “biased British foreign policy which serves to incite Muslims living in Britain” (that is, the continued presence of British troops in Afghanistan).
Now, this is pure and simple bigotry, but it chimes with the deep-seated sense of insecurity that exists in British society, especially amongst those who are the most atomised, who feel betrayed by self-serving politicians and who are being slowly crushed by the blind workings of the market and fear further impoverishment from the ‘slash and burn’ cuts that are sure to come in 2011. To these people the idea of further mass migration into Britain appears plain crazy when there is mass unemployment, squeezed health and education budgets and virtually no building of council houses. And Muslims not only often have brown faces and dress differently. Their loyalty to the nation-state can be questioned, what with Iraq, Afghanistan and a whole series of terrorist outrages. Yet the Islamophobia so prominently on show in the BNP’s manifesto differs in no fundamental way from the ‘respectable’ version of it you can find in the Daily Mail or The Sun. This is the well that the BNP draws upon - the ignorance being manufactured by Associated Newspapers and News International - not from a political and philosophical copying of Hitler’s Mein Kampf or some other such 1920s nonsense.
Apart from Islamophobia, Democracy, freedom, culture, identity promotes a striking authoritarianism. Indicative of this mindset, the BNP promises, or threatens, to enact legislation which will “hold journalists” and their media outlets “criminally liable” for “knowingly” writing or publishing “falsehoods” - especially those, one suspects, directed against any newly installed BNP government (this does not sit easily with the pledge to “repeal all laws aimed at restricting freedom of speech”).
Needless to say, the BNP thinks it is “time to get tough on crime”, and perhaps here we see the party at its most crudely populist. Playing to the tabloid gallery, the manifesto pledges to “reintroduce” the death penalty for drug dealers, child murderers, multiple murderers, murderers of policemen on duty and terrorists. But there is more. Slightly bizarrely, though with a streak of genuine originality, the BNP will establish a “penal station” for “extremely dangerous/violent repeat criminals” - notably rapists - in South Georgia (the British overseas territory in the south Atlantic).
We also discover that the BNP wants to introduce a “clause 28-style proscription” against the “promotion of racial integration” in schools and the media. There will also be legislation to “ensure” that the “only languages” to be permitted in official government documents/papers will be English, Welsh, Cornish, Manx and Gaelic. Alongside all this, the “British concepts” of civility and courteousness will be taught again in our schools - side by side with an “emphasis” on British history, along with English, Irish, Scots and Welsh culture and their “relation to western civilisation as a whole”. In this way, the BNP hopes to encourage patriotism amongst future pupils and students.
It goes without saying that the BNP detests the “trendy egalitarian” teaching methods that the left has “deliberately employed” as a sinister “instrument of social engineering and indoctrination” - wreaking “untold damage” upon the country in the process. An important part of the struggle to restore traditional teaching methods, or so the BNP argues, is to bring back the ‘three Rs’ to every school in the land, especially at elementary level, and it looks forward to the “return” to the “system of learning by phonetics” - a case of a stupid populist prejudice straying into the teaching of literacy, as just about anyone working in the field today will tell you.
Another example of such right populism can be found in BNP plans to save £18 billion by abandoning the various schemes and technologies designed to tackle global warming - which is described as “unproved science”. We also get some fairly bog-standard petty bourgeois fare about championing small businesses - with the added twist, reminiscent of the open anti-Semitism previously embraced by BNP leaders, of railing against “international profit”, combined with “a rootless, amorphous globalist philosophy”. Interestingly enough, we also learn that the word ‘racist’ - which is of a “loose definition” - was “invented” by the “arch” Marxist, Leon Trotsky, in order to “suppress any debate on this important subject”.
How should the eclectic mix of left and right populism contained in the BNP’s general election manifesto be countered? This can only be done by the systematic and programmatic confrontation with the chauvinistic and backward ideas constantly generated by the mainstream parties, the establishment as a whole - and its media - rather than getting obsessed by the supposedly “Nazi” BNP, let alone idiotically chasing the genuinely fascist Englsh Defence League from one town to the next.
Crucially, that means putting forward an alternative. Not the warmed over Labourism favoured by most of the left, but the programme of Marxism that espouses extreme democracy, internationalism and working class independence.
- The Guardian April 27.
- Socialist Worker May 1.