Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/297/13888
THE NEO-NAZI British National Party (BNP) are standing over 200 candidates in May's council elections, as well as one candidate in elections to both the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
Emboldened by the five council seats they won in the past year, they hope to win more and recruit new members. NAOMI BYRON looks at the real nature of the BNP, why they should be opposed and what kind of campaign is needed to cut across their racist, divisive policies.
Stop the neo-Nazi BNP
THE BNP are making a big effort to present themselves as respectable and ordinary by dropping, for example, their demand for 'compulsory repatriation' of all non-whites. But the BNP are still a small neo-Nazi group who use racism and all other common prejudices to try to divide working-class people.
The BNP's recent election successes (three council seats in Burnley, one in Blackburn and one in Mixenden ward near Halifax) are a symptom of many people's massive disillusionment with mainstream political parties. The BNP present themselves as an alternative to the establishment parties - New Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.
New Labour's Tory policies in particular help the BNP. Burnley council, under Labour control, have just made cuts of £1 million while putting council tax up by 5% (9.3% once the county council and police authority's increases are included).
Instead of campaigning for enough money from central government to provide the services that people need, local councils (Labour, Liberal and Tory) are cutting services and continuing to privatise. Instead of winning Labour voters back from the far-right, the government have moved their policies further to the right. Attacks by New Labour on the right to asylum for refugees fleeing torture, repression and war help to make the BNP look more legitimate and respectable.
Many of the people who voted BNP in the last year did so out of disgust at the main parties. There is enormous anger against New Labour.
Instead of the improvements many people expected from a Labour government, Blair's party have gone even further than the Tories dared in their anti-working-class policies: cutting public services, privatising health and educational services, air traffic control and trying to sell off Royal Mail and the London Underground.
Anger against these policies has produced a protest vote. Some BNP voters openly admit that they don't agree with the BNP but voted for them to punish the main parties. However, there is also a more hardcore right-wing and racist vote, particularly from more wealthy ex-Tory voters sick of the deep crisis the Tory Party has descended into.
What the BNP say and what they do
THE BNP say they're against terrorism: in the early 1990s the BNP set up Combat 18 (1=A and 8=H for Adolf Hitler), a neo-Nazi paramilitary organisation that they are still closely linked to. In the early 1980s, BNP leader Nick Griffin (who was part of the National Front at the time) worked with members of the Italian neo-Nazi terrorist group Armed Revolutionary Nuclear (NAR) who were in Britain on the run from Italian police.
The BNP say they're against crime but that's blatant hypocrisy. How can they talk of reducing crime when they use criminal tactics to spread fear and hatred?
Many of the BNP's members are convicted criminals. 13 of the BNP's 28 regional or branch organisers last year had criminal records for offences that included assault, fraud, theft, racist abuse and possession of drugs and weapons.
Mick Treacy, an Oldham BNP organiser, has five convictions for violence, theft and handling stolen goods.
Tony Lecomber, a BNP director, is a convicted bomber and was jailed for three years after a brutal attack on a Jewish school teacher. Burnley BNP organiser Steve Smith was jailed for six months last year for falsifying election nomination signatures.
The BNP say they stand up for ordinary people. But Nick Griffin is himself a rich landowner who inherited hundreds of thousands of pounds from his grandfather and expects to inherit another half-million from his daddy - he does not care about ordinary people's lives.
The BNP say they oppose privatisation: their public position has changed since 1994 when they wrote: "The private enterprise system is the one which functions with the greatest dynamism and efficiency. We therefore favour most parts of the economy operating under private ownership and control." (BNP paper May 1994). However, according to the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, Adrian Marsden, BNP Councillor for Mixenden ward in Halifax, refused to oppose the part-privatisation of local services.
The BNP say that "elected BNP councillors will call for a boost in spending on public transport and local services to make up for years of Labour and Conservative cuts" and that they'd "try to cut council tax whenever possible". (BNP council manifesto 2002).
In Burnley, none of the BNP's three councillors attended the council's annual budget meeting, where it was agreed to increase council tax by 5%.
Cuts of over £1 million were also agreed including compulsory redundancies, cuts in leisure services and withdrawing grants from most voluntary groups over three years.
How to halt the fascists
A socialist alternative to divisive demagogues
A CAMPAIGN to stop the BNP's growth and election victories must expose the BNP's real nature. However, it is clearly not enough for anti-fascists to expose the BNP's neo-Nazi character, particularly when this is presented as a moral question, with no alternative posed.
To cut across the BNP's growth, a positive alternative is needed; one that's prepared to challenge the establishment with mass community and trade union campaigns against cuts in privatisation, an alternative based on working-class unity instead of the BNP's dead-end of prejudice, scapegoating and hatred.
This alternative must come from the left. The lack of a mass left alternative has made the BNP's job far easier. Far too many people in the anti-fascist and trade union movement depend on persuading people to vote for the mainstream political parties to stop the BNP winning seats.
An editorial article: "Developing a coherent strategy for Burnley" in Searchlight (June 2002) said: "The central question is what sort of Labour Party is needed to defeat fascists and how will that be achieved".
Many trade union leaders' strategy also appears to be big anti-BNP publicity stunts and rallies alongside Labour MPs and councillors responsible for cuts and privatisation.
In truth the Labour Party is not part of the solution to the BNP's growth, but part of the problem. The Labour Party has abandoned its roots as a party of the working-class. It is the new Tory party, there to represent British big business' interests.
The FBU members in Scotland and elsewhere who declared their intention to stand 'Firefighters Against Public Sector Cuts' candidates in the local elections point to the way forward. The only way to cut across the BNP's development in the long-term is to build a new party of the working class.
How the Nazis strive for respectability
THE BNP recognise that they can't build an openly neo-Nazi party in Britain that will attract support beyond a few scattered individuals. Fed up with their isolation and the continual political defeats, the party's current leadership aim to reinvent the BNP by turning it into a populist far-right party along European lines.
So far the BNP leadership have apparently convinced most of their membership to hide their most publicly unacceptable views and build a more respectable public image. BNP leader Nick Griffin tries to sideline previous leader John Tyndall and blame him and his followers for the BNP's hardline neo-Nazi image.
However, long-standing BNP activists are apparently unhappy with Griffin's support for Martin Wingfield, who published a story in the BNP's newspaper Freedom this February about a BNP candidate who publicly stated: "I'm the grandfather of two mixed-race children who I love dearly."
Defending the article Griffin argued that the BNP should use such material publicly in order to make them appear 'normal'. This struck many long-standing BNP activists "like a wet dead rat in the face".
According to the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, BNP members in the North-east ripped the article out of all their copies of the paper, Scotland refused to sell the issue and a London BNP branch burnt its copies in protest.
This was on top of Griffin's apparent support for Mark Collett who, until his appearance on Channel 4's Dispatches programme last November, was the BNP's youth organiser.
Many BNP activists, who went along with Griffin's strategy in order to attract votes and members, saw Collett's openly expressed admiration for Hitler and Johnny Adair (Loyalist paramilitary in Northern Ireland) as damaging the BNP's carefully toned-down public image. Though Collett was removed as youth organiser the BNP leadership were quick to defend him.
The BNP's attempts at respectability have also not gone far enough for some members. The party's public representatives are under pressure to disassociate themselves from some of their policies.
For instance Terry Grogan, BNP group leader on Burnley council, told Lancashire Evening News last October: "I do not agree with everything the BNP stands for nationally but (do) all Labour councillors agree with everything Tony Blair does? I don't think so."
How long can Griffin contain the tensions between the BNP's hardcore neo-Nazi wing and the activists who would compromise on their neo-Nazi ideas to gain respectability and votes? One thing is certain: we cannot rely on the BNP's internal problems stopping their growth, or the growth of other far-right parties in the future.
Far-right's dismal record in office
THE BNP campaign for more council seats won't be as straightforward as they'd like. They won their current seats by small margins and two of the five are up for re-election: Terence Grogan and Carol Hughes in Burnley. Their record as councillors is not exactly inspiring.
It took almost six months for Burnley's BNP councillors to present a motion to the council, and this was a cheap publicity stunt rather than a serious attempt to take up local issues. In Burnley and Halifax not one BNP councillor attended the councils' annual budget meetings. In Blackburn the BNP's councillor's very public marriage break-up since his election only four months ago has not helped the BNP's image of supporting 'family values'.
By standing so many candidates (a year ago they only persuaded 68 members to stand), the BNP risk over-stretching their resources. They are still far too small to run a campaign in every seat where they're standing. In many areas the BNP will just stand paper candidates, and concentrate their resources on seats where they think they have a chance of winning.
However, the situation that allowed the BNP to gain five seats still exists: anger at New Labour; the feeling that votes don't count because the mainstream parties are all the same; the searching for an alternative; combined with the whipping up of fear and prejudice against asylum-seekers by the media and mainstream politicians.
The BNP could possibly get a high vote even in seats where they only stand a paper candidate.
Any more council seats for the BNP would be a blow, particularly to the local community. But more council victories for the BNP would not mean that Britain faces the prospect of a large fascist movement such as Europe saw in the 1920s and 1930s. Then Hitler, Mussolini and Franco established fascist dictatorships in Germany, Italy and Spain.
Once in power they abolished democratic rights, smashed trade unions and opposition political parties and all independent organisations of the working class. Minority groups such as Jews and Gypsies were scapegoated and ruthlessly persecuted.
In fact across Europe today where the far-right has entered any position of power they have quickly lost popularity. Their image of a new alternative, untainted by the corruption and careerism of mainstream establishment politicians, has not survived their support for attacks on workers' rights, privatisation and public spending cuts in government.
In Austria, Jorg Haider's 'Freedom Party' (FPO) entered the government as junior partner of a coalition in February 2000 having won 27% of the national vote. Within two years, their vote had collapsed to 10%.
In Italy, the coalition of the populist right-wing media mogul Silvio Berlusconi and far-right parties including the Northern League and the National Alliance came back into power in 2001.
However, the Italian government's attacks on workers' rights (won through mass struggles in the 1970s) and their support for Bush and Blair's war on Iraq provoked mass opposition, including two demonstrations of three million people - the biggest ever seen in Western Europe. Only the absence of a credible left workers' party has stopped Berlusconi's coalition with the far-right being toppled.
The vast majority of Britain's population is far to the left of all the mainstream parties. However, the political vacuum left by Labour's shift to become Britain's new capitalist party has not been filled. In the absence of a mass left alternative, the far-right has been able to make small gains.
In The Socialist 26 April 2003: