Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/530/4039
How can we defeat the far right?
Mass action needed
The far-right, racist British National Party (BNP) is hoping to gain a seat on the Greater London Assembly on 1 May, as well as more councillors round the country. This prospect will horrify many people who oppose racism and understand the wider dangers of the growth of the far right. Naomi Byron looks at the methods and ideas required to defeat the far right.
The BNP has tried hard to reinvent itself as a respectable populist party. However, most of its leading members remain convinced neo-Nazis and 'white supremacists' who believe that they are part of the 'master race' and that all other races are inferior.
How can such an organisation get support? One reason is that from the defeats they suffered in the 1990s they have learned to hide their real ideology. They know that by openly expressing these ideas they will remain tiny and marginalised.
Therefore they claim that they aren't racist, and formally have dropped some policies such as making homosexuality illegal and forced repatriation of migrants. It is not that key BNP members don't maintain their support for these ideas - they just realise they are very unpopular.
But the main reason the BNP have attracted hundreds of thousands of votes recently is because the policies of the three main capitalist parties, Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, have meant worse conditions for working people.
The stench of corruption in these parties - MPs' expenses are only the latest scandal - and their contempt for ordinary workers (shown for example by the abolition of the 10% tax rate) has opened up a vacuum in politics for workers' interests.
Need for a new workers' party
Huge numbers have stopped voting altogether, repulsed by big business politics. But this vacuum unfortunately gives opportunities to the far right. If those trade union leaders who give their union's funds to New Labour stopped and launched a new party for working people, the BNP would have much less of an audience.
Already, a small number of socialists, trade unionists and community campaigners have shown that the most effective way to undercut the BNP's electoral support is to provide a genuine left alternative to the main parties.
In Huddersfield in 2006, Jackie Grunsell, a Socialist Party member, was elected as a Save Huddersfield NHS candidate to Kirklees Council with an 800 vote majority. The BNP candidate got 9% of the vote in that ward - still too much, but less than half of the 18.4% average the BNP attracted in the other seats in Kirklees.
This year, one of the few wards in Coventry in which the BNP are not standing is St Michael's, where Socialist Party councillors Dave Nellist and Rob Windsor have won many victories fighting alongside local people. They provide the only consistent opposition to cuts and privatisation in the council chamber.
What do you do if you don't have a left candidate to vote for and the BNP are standing? The organisation Unite Against Fascism (UAF) urges people to vote for any party against the BNP. A 2008 UAF leaflet reads: "the BNP will rely on you not voting to get elected".
It is understandable that many people, repelled by the thought of the BNP getting in, will hold their noses and vote Labour or Lib Dem just to stop them. However asking people to vote for the very parties responsible for the rise in the BNP's vote is not an effective solution.
But the problem is that it is the main parties' policies of low pay and cuts in public services that are responsible for the growth of the BNP in the first place. Anti-racist activists need to challenge the BNP's ideas and offer a positive alternative based on working-class unity and socialist ideas.
Figures show that there is a growth in reported racist attacks in Britain. An Observer survey found that between "2000 and 2004 racist incidents reported to the police in England and Wales - anything from verbal abuse to the most vicious of assaults - rose from 48,000 to 52,700".
Migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees are sometimes directly or indirectly blamed for the problems in society by the very people responsible for the problems - the New Labour government and the other two main parties - and by the media. The BNP has taken advantage of this racist scapegoating and of the lack of sufficient public services in areas where immigration has been high.
However it would be wrong to categorise all BNP voters as convinced racists. Many are former Labour voters desperate for a real left alternative; many vote BNP to punish the main parties and many don't see the hidden agenda behind the BNP's rhetoric.
A new workers' party will be even more necessary as the economic crisis bites harder, both to defend our rights in action and to provide a political alternative to the main parties and the far-right. In any crisis, society tends to become more polarised, with people searching for solutions to the right and the left.
Immigration is likely to become an even more contentious subject as unemployment grows and millions struggle against the rising tide of debt. The government has cynically exploited migrant workers to provide cheap labour for the bosses, without extra investment in run-down public services and housing to help cope with the changes in population.
While the BNP try to pit the existing white working-class against migrants, bosses will be able to continue to push down wages and conditions for all workers. Socialists campaign for migrants to be organised in trade unions to fight for and defend their rights alongside other workers.
If working people allow themselves to be divided they will be weaker. The fight against racism and prejudice, like the fight against the far-right, needs a mass response.
And working people need their own party! The Socialist Party in England and Wales launched the Campaign for a New Workers' Party in 2006 as a step towards a new party.
See www.cnwp.org.uk for information.
The BNP have no solutions
The BNP pretend to be an alternative for disillusioned ex-Labour voters. They are nothing of the sort. Though they try to appear like they support 'old Labour' policies, they are more like the far-right wing of the Tory party in disguise. Several BNP councillors are ex-Tories - the BNP was just a career move for them.
The leaders of the BNP, and many of the leaders of the 'Voice of change' split-off, are convinced neo-Nazis whose dream is to run a fascist dictatorship in Britain. The BNP say that they aren't racist but even Pat Pattison, briefly a town councillor for the BNP in Llysfaen said: "They are racist. They refer to anybody who is non white as 'Pakis'." As well as their racism and bigotry the BNP should be opposed on many grounds.
- Council tax: when they want your vote the BNP say they will oppose attacks on working people's conditions. In reality BNP councillors often vote with the main parties for cuts and above-inflation increases in council tax - in Burnley, Stoke-on-Trent, Barking, Kirklees and other places.
- Workers' rights: the BNP claim they are the only defenders of workers' rights, criticising trade union leaders for not fighting for their members. Yet, when workers take action to defend their pay or working conditions, the BNP tends to side with the bosses.
The BNP opposed firefighters striking for decent pay. Their only answer was for people to vote BNP because a BNP government would give firefighters a 'good' settlement. If they won't support workers fighting for their rights here and now, there is no way they would respect workers' rights if they had any power.
Meanwhile trade union branches led by socialists are winning major victories - like Greenwich Unison who led a successful campaign against council threats to increase the working week and cut pay for some staff, bonuses and overtime payments. Thousands of low-paid workers will now be getting compensation and a pay increase of up to £130 a week, and the working week will now be reduced without loss of pay.
- Democracy: the BNP say they defend democracy. But Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, won't even allow real debate in his own party or let BNP conference decide policy. According to the BNP website: "official BNP policy... is decided by the Chairman [Nick Griffin] after a period of ongoing consultation and discussion at the annual conference".
Anybody who challenges Griffin for the leadership of the party seems to end up being forced out or expelled. During the BNP's most recent split in December 2007, Griffin and his 'security team' openly admitted raiding the house of Sadie Graham (one of the leaders of the split), and taking computer equipment without her permission, bugging phone calls and looking at private emails.
- Women's rights: The BNP claims to defend family values. But this is just a cover for attacks on women's rights. Ex-Tory councillor and new London BNP organiser Nick Eriksen was second on the BNP's list for the Greater London Assembly election until comments in his 'Sir John Bull' blog were publicised: "Rape is simply sex. Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible physical ordeal." (Rape: lies, lies, lies, 24 August 2005).
Disgustingly the BNP would not condemn his comments, saying that he had been removed from the London list because of how his remarks could be 'perceived' because they had been 'taken out of context'.
The BNP defeated: Welling & Brick Lane
The two most potent symbols of the BNP during the early 1990s were their national headquarters in Welling, South East London and their only regular public activity anywhere in the country - a weekly paper sale next to Brick Lane market aimed at intimidating the local Bangladeshi population in the same way as Mosley and the British Union of Fascists targeted Jewish areas in the 1930s.
But the BNP were driven off their pitch at Brick Lane and forced to close their national HQ in Welling because of mass demonstrations and opposition.
Both movements were organised by Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE, initiated and led by Socialist Party members) which was originally a small section of the anti-racist movement but through its correct ideas and strategy quickly became the most successful and effective. The YRE's main slogan to unite young people and local communities against the BNP was "jobs & homes - not racism".
The aim of any campaign against the far right should be to mobilise the largest possible number of working-class and young people. You cannot depend on the law or the police - in fact these are often used to protect far-right or fascist groups and to restrict and harass anti-racists.
Mass opposition has always been the most effective way of defeating the far right. The demonstrations of 8,000 and of 50,000 in Welling against the BNP's HQ and the hundreds of local people who occupied the site of their regular paper sale in Brick Lane in 1993 signalled the defeat of the far-right and neo-Nazi forces in Britain in the 1990s.
Those demonstrations were inspired by the way the British Union of Fascists was defeated in 1936 when 100,000 people, led by the Communist Party, prevented them marching in East London in the 'Battle of Cable Street'.
But none of these demonstrations happened automatically - they took months and years of preparation, campaigning regularly in the local community to explain the real nature of the BNP and why they should be opposed.
For more info about the YRE's campaign against the BNP in Brick Lane see: http://www.yre.org.uk/towerhamlets.html
In the past 20 years the neo-fascist Vlaams Belang (previously Vlaams Blok) has grown from a small grouping to a party with almost one million voters, over 60 MPs, 794 elected councillors and 127 full-time party workers.
In the 2007 parliamentary elections the Vlaams Belang did not take steps forward for the first time. A right wing populist force gained ground instead but the rise of such groups is no solution to stopping the neo-fascist Vlaams Belang. To secure votes, the populist far right are competing over who can attack Islam the most, helping create more fear and division in society and putting forward no solution to the problems we face such as wages not keeping pace with the rising cost of living.
There is an urgent need to organise resistance against the Vlaams Belang. As long as there is no real alternative put forward to the neoliberal policies of all the established parties, the far right can grow or come back.
While the Vlaams Belang tries to present a more acceptable face (even appointing a former industry boss as the new party chairman), the same neo-fascist ideas remain present amongst the party leadership, with a well functioning and centralised party structure.
Take for example the racist elements. The new chairman, Bruno Valkeniers, made clear that he is still convinced that the South African apartheid regime was correct! On the issues of low pay and high living costs, they are limited to a passive dissatisfaction. In the first months of 2008 we saw a growing number of strikes and workers' actions demanding higher wages as a response to higher prices. The Vlaams Belang was absent in this struggle. The reason is simple: they are in favour of such attacks and they oppose workers getting organised. Yet it is only by getting organised that the workers in some of the strike movements this year have been able to win higher wages.
The lack of active support for the Vlaams Belang is shown in its lack of ability to organise public demonstrations. This was shown at their student group's annual demonstration on 6 March in Ghent.
Its national mobilisation did attract some youth, but with only 250 participating in the far-right demonstration, they were outnumbered by the 1,200 anti-fascists on the counter demonstration organised by Blokbuster, the anti-fascist campaign led by socialists.
We continue to organise young people and workers against the far right to limit their opportunities to organise in the streets and to raise the need for a political alternative to neoliberal policies.
Instead of passive dissatisfaction, we need an active opposition to put workers' need for a living wage and decent living standard on the political agenda. The working class must organise its own political representation. This will be the most efficient answer to the danger of the far right and its electoral hopes.
Geert Cool Linkse Socialistische Partij (Belgium CWI)
On the electoral front, the growth of the Left Party has pushed the fascist organisations in Germany back. This gives a small glimpse of what a strong workers' party with a clear socialist programme could achieve in the battle against the far right.
But on the ground the neo-Nazis are still very active in building their forces. They can make use of ongoing racist campaigns by established politicians and the right-wing mass media, especially against Muslims.
For example the far-right party 'ProK-ln' campaigns against the building of a mosque in one of the working-class neighbourhoods of Cologne. They want to hold an international 'anti-Islam-congress' in the city in September. Sozialistische Alternative (SAV, the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Germany) and LeftYouth-solid, the youth wing of the Left Party, campaign against this congress and call on the local authorities not to give any public venues to the far right. But our anti-fascist campaign is not limited to appealing to the capitalist institutions. We will organise independently against the congress.
In Hamburg the far right is trying to take over May Day and will hold a demonstration on the traditional route of the trade unions. Scandalously the union leaders are not trying to stop the fascists but will march in another area of the city. SAV, together with others, will try to confront the fascist march and stop them.
There is a similar situation in the small city Stolberg where an allegedly far-right youth was found dead after a clash with other youth. The Nazis are trying to make him a martyr, despite the fact that his friends and parents reject the claim that he was a fascist sympathiser.
The fascists are calling for demonstrations in the city and again SAV, LeftYouth-solid and others are organising for counter-demonstrations to oppose the fascists while the established parties only make token protests and not even on the same day.
Sascha Stanicic Sozialistische Alternative (SAV) German CWI
In The Socialist 23 April 2008:
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party election campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
The Socialist Interview
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party review
International socialist news and analysis