Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fascism and how not to fight it

Predictable though it was, it has been incredibly disappointing to see the reaction from some parts of the left to the success of the British National Party in the local and European elections. The open letter that appeared in the online edition of Socialist Worker on Tuesday sounds like it was written by someone who is in some odd way pleased by the BNP victories as it may now provide them with the opportunity to take part in a 21st century equivalent of Lewisham '77.

Martin Smith, SWP top dog and Unite Against Fascsim spokesperson, made a handful of media appearances this week that for me summed up all that is wrong with the anti-fascist movement. Seeing the cretin on Channel 4 News was bad enough but to then see him spouting the exact same nonsense only a few hours later on BBC's Newsnight was just too much. In both debates I was praying for something to develop that would mean Snow or Paxo would have to leave chatting to him in order to devote their time to a breaking news story elsewhere but unfortunately no such story occurred. Instead, we had to endure an embarrassingly inarticulate and clichéd rant against the BNP, the kind of which does nothing to further the case against the far right and one which all fascists nowadays know how to easily deal with.

If we are going to fight back against this rise in support for the British National Party then lets fight them on their policies. Calling them Nazis or antisemites or claiming that if they get into power they will slaughter thousands of blacks, Jews and Muslims is pointless. All they have to do is reject such allegations, leaving us nowhere except in a name calling cul-de-sac. Also, while I have no doubt that many of those involved in organising Love Music Hate Racism gigs do so with good intentions, I have always wondered just how getting Lily Allen, Pete Doherty and a host of third rate pop acts on stage together somehow inflicts a crushing blow against the fascists.

I say give Nick Griffin his day in the sun. Let the bastard sit on the Question Time panel he's been crying about being excluded from for all these years now. When he gets there lets make him answer in the most intricate detail just what exactly he means by 'voluntary repatriation'. Make him tell us just which members of the England football team that turned out at Wembley last night he would like to put on a boat or a plane and have thrown out of the country. Theo Walcott maybe? Joleon Lescott perhaps? Carlton Cole? Ashley Cole? Glen Johnson? Shaun Wright-Phillips? Just what would the average working class Brit think of the notion that these people are not English and therefore should deported in order to turn the clock back to some mythical pre-1950s all-white utopia?

I am of the opinion that a large chunk of the BNP vote is made up of people who are not aware of just what this party stands for. It is because of this that I think the tactics advocated by Smith and friends are absolutely harebrained. Keeping them out of view of the public and handing them the propaganda value of martyrdom does not help one bit. We don’t need to drag up stuff about Hitler and the Holocaust from the 1930s and 1940s in order to scare people. The BNP's policies in 2009 are terrifying enough, yet in most news items about the party in the run up to last week's elections these were completely overlooked.

Then there is the whole question of image. Like it or not, a lot of people out there consider the BNP to now be a respectable right wing political party that deserves to be treated no differently than UKIP or the Conservatives. Nowadays their representatives look respectable. They sound respectable. They wear suits. Some of them even smile. This might sound trivial to you if you happen to be a member of Unite Against Fascism trying hard to apply the anti-fascist tactics of 1930s to the Britain of the noughties, however nobody should be under any illusions that had the far right not ditched their attachment to seventies-style National Front flag waving, Hitler salutes and confrontational marches through ethnic minority areas of English towns and cities then it is highly unlikely that the voters of such areas as Sevenoaks would be giving these goons the time of day. However, if they have won respectability and I think it is probably fair to say that Martin Smith's TV appearances on Monday could only have lost the anti-fascist argument respect from some sections of the public.

It is possible that Smith felt appearing on national telly in a pair of jeans, naff white top and wearing the type of glasses available in the 2-for-1 offer at Specsavers gave him some proletarian street cred but to be honest I thought he just looked like shit. I remember when I was at university I used to see a mature student in his 40s who would hang around the campus all day with people half his age, sup pints in the students union and then embarrassingly flirt with petrified girls after he'd had a few. That's who Smith reminded me of. At least if he had been a tad more presentable it might have disguised some of the shortcomings in his argument, but no such luck. The man's incoherent ramblings were coupled with his vagabond-like appearance made for car crash television.

At one stage in the Channel 4 interview Smith stated, when asked by Snow why the BNP should not be given the same rights as others, that they represent a "revolutionary fascist ideology." What though of those, such as Smith, who represent a revolutionary Trotskyist ideology? Do they deserve similar treatment at the hands of the authorities? I personally do not happen to think so yet this is the danger when you start banning or silencing political parties. It is often difficult to know when you draw the line. If we are to ban far right parties on the basis that they may bring back the death camps and the gas chambers then should we not also proscribe far left groups in case they try to resurrect the gulags at some stage?

It does seem slightly odd that any self-proclaimed revolutionary Marxist would seek the assistance of the bourgeois state's anti-hate laws in order to silence the fascists. I seem to recall Chris Harman writing many years ago in The Prophet and the Proletariat that the SWP position on Islamism was "with the Islamists sometimes, with the state never." Then again, the Cliffite's principles have had a tendency to be chucked out the window when it comes to winning over the Muzzies. Of course, what most people watching Martin Smith probably weren't aware of is his own history of tolerating reactionary far right and antisemitic loons. The Gilad Atzmon affair from a few years back springs to mind, as does his own party's history of refusing to condemn Hamas suicide bombings in Israel (I would love to have heard his views on whether or not he felt that Hizb ut-Tahrir should be banned along with the BNP).

Fear not. All is not lost at this stage. It isn't too late to reverse the gains made by Nick Griffin's despicable little party, but many people out there must first learn one big lesson. The fight against the BNP will not be won with Martin Smith and his mates at the helm. We will never defeat totalitarian political cults as long as the fight against them is being led by the heads of other totalitarian political cults.


kellie said...

How to defeat the BNP, here:

The authorities should work with vulnerable communities to “rebuild community cohesion and authority structures”, so as to marginalize and drive out radical elements. Attacking radical networks would be a secondary and defensive measure “designed to create a breathing space in which the construction of friendly, trusted networks can proceed”.

The downside, it would involve lots of work over a long time, and would cost rather more than half a dozen eggs.

Jim Haughey said...

So you're opposed to Martin Smith because he looked like shit on Newsnight. I have absolutely no time at all for the SWP or Smith but I'm with them on this one. The BNP have no place in the democratic process. The left have always called for the BNP to be banned and I don't see why that should change. We did it with the NF in the 70's and 80's. We did with the BNP following Tower Hamlets in 1993. We continue to do it today. The thinking is simple - why should an organisation that is pledged to destroy the democracy we hold dear be given the same rights and priviliges as the rest of us. Martin Smiths glasses and dress sense are irrelevant and you should know better.

Anonymous said...

Martin Smith and Unite Against Fascism are building a movement to actively defeat the fascists by humiliating them on the streets and in the media. Giving a platform to the BNP on Newsnight, as you suggest, would potentially give legitimacy to a party where there is none; the BBC know that, Nazis should be called what they are- Nazis.

Rabelais said...

'...why should an organisation that is pledged to destroy the democracy we hold dear be given the same rights and privileges as the rest of us'

I have a lot of time and sympathy for the sentiments you express here. But for me there is a problem with this position and that is that I suspect fewer and fewer people give a shit about democracy these days. Turn out at elections is down; consumer culture has eroded political literacy and democratic notions of citizenship; political parties are internally undemocratic and that has an impact upon the broader political process; human and democratic rights are held increasingly cheaply; politics is motivated by fear and anger rather than aspirations for a 'good society' and as a consequence political optimism has waned and in its place is despair and cynicism. The list goes on... and it's fertile ground for fascists. We may be greater danger of simply sleep walking into totalitarianism than being goose-stepped into it by Nick the Dick.

The problem for the Left in this is that many of the things it professes to be defending against fascism are gone already. We're starting from a very low point here and I don't no that the old tactics and slogans of the 70s are going to cut any ice

Anonymous said...

Many thanks.