From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
The BNP's racist ideology is hateful and it is understandable – and to be welcomed – that most people don't like it. But what's the best way to deal with them?
Despite the high profile media campaign supported by the churches and all the other parties to try to stop this, the BNP did manage to get two MEPs elected to the European Parliament in last month's elections. The BNP is an obnoxious outfit and people are stupid to vote for it. It is no more able to provide an answer to workers' problems than the other parties. The problems facing working people and their families are not caused, as the BNP claims, by immigration or immigrants and will not be solved by the Fortress Britain they advocate with "British Jobs for British Workers". They are caused by capitalism which the BNP, like the other parties, supports. Even if all immigration was stopped and all (recent) immigrants expelled this would not make things better for those the BNP calls the "indigenous population".
The other parties had a cheek in asking people to vote for them to keep the BNP out. That's because they all support capitalism and it is capitalism's insoluble problems that the BNP exploits to gain votes. Voting for some other capitalist party to keep the BNP out is as stupid as voting for the BNP. That’s to vote to maintain the conditions which allow the BNP to flourish.
Others, on the Far Left, want to take a more confrontational attitude towards the BNP. They say it is a fascist party and that it should be physically "smashed" before it has a chance to smash political democracy. One problem with this is that the BNP is not a fascist party. Some of its leaders have expressed pro-Nazi sympathies in the past (and may well still harbour them) but, unlike the Nazi party in pre-1933 Germany, the BNP is not blaming parliamentary democracy for causing working-class problems. If it did, it wouldn't get the votes it does. It blames workers' problems on immigration and immigrants. So, it is anti-foreigner and racist, which is objectionable enough, but that's not the same as fascism.
The only effective way to deal with the BNP is to confront their arguments head on and that includes their nationalism. The other parties cannot do this because they too are nationalists. The BNP is only expressing in an extreme form a nationalist position that they themselves share. They have even tried to steal the BNP's clothes here by emphasising that they are against "illegal" immigrants and vie with each other to boast how many they have, or should have, deported. They encourage nationalism by describing members of the armed forces as "heroes" and by flying the Union Jack or even the flag of St George (a traditional fascist emblem) on public buildings. All grist to the BNP's mill.
Like the BNP, the other parties claim that all "British people" have a common interest as against the people of other countries, i.e. as against "foreigners". But this is not the case. UK citizens are divided into two classes, on the basis of their relationship to the means of production – those who own them and those who don't –, whose interests are quite opposed. It is in the interest of those who own Britain to convince the rest of us living here that we share a common interest with them in them acquiring and protecting outside markets and investment outlets. To get us to support them is the role of the nationalism that is inculcated into us from birth and reinforced every day by the media.
The semblance of justification for this is that, if employers are successful in this, then they can offer more and more secure jobs. In actual fact, however, those in one country who have to work for a wage or a salary have a common interest with wage and salary workers in other countries rather than with our employers. That is the socialist, anti-nationalist position which the Socialist Party maintains against all other parties, not just the BNP.
Bash the Fash?
The Far Left have made two mistakes in trying to counter the BNP. The first has been to adopt a policy of physically fighting with them. The second has been to invoke the BNP as a bogey to try to gain recruits amongst post-war immigrants and their families.
Beating somebody up never changed anybody's mind. It probably reinforces their views. In any event, this is defeatist in assuming that people can't change their minds. Which, fortunately, has been disproved many times. For instance, the actor Ricky Tomlinson, who introduced the Scargill Labour Party's Party Political Broadcast in the recent elections, was once a member of the National Front, even a candidate for them in a local election. Now he thinks that the EU not immigrants cause working-class problems. Still wrong, but no longer a racist.
What BNP members need is not a kicking, but putting right. And the best way to do this is to confront the ideas of their leaders in open, public debate. That's why the Socialist Party is opposed to the policy of "No Platform for the BNP". On the contrary, we want them up on a platform to face socialist criticism of their erroneous ideas and futile policies.
Organising particular immigrants as a group, as the SWP tried to do with Muslims through Respect (before George Galloway threw them out and continued this with the aid of other Trotskyist groups), is dangerous and plays straight into the hands of the BNP by introducing "communalist" politics. If, says the BNP, Muslims can organise as a "community" to defend and further their "communal" interests, why can't the "indigenous" (read: "white") working class do the same? Indeed, under Nick Griffin, this is the successful strategy the BNP has pursued. The BNP, he argues, seeks to represent the interests of "indigenous" workers as against immigrants who, he claims, are being given preferential treatment by the "liberal Establishment". It's untrue, but it finds an echo amongst some sections of the working class, though not amongst those living and working in close proximity with immigrants who have learned to regard second and third generation "immigrants" as fellow workers.
In other words, two can play at "communalist" politics and the BNP will always be able to make more progress at this than the Far Left since they are appealing to a majority "community". It is possible to detect a certain jealousy amongst Leftists at the ability of the BNP to "mobilise" workers they would like to be able to mobilise themselves. Indeed, the rivalry between the BNP and the Far Left, which sometimes finds expressed in physical fighting, can be seen as a rivalry between two leadership groups – one calling itself a "vanguard", the other a "spearhead" – to lead workers. To which workers should adopt "a plague on both your houses" attitude.
As capitalism is the cause of the problems workers face these problems will continue as long as capitalism does. And as long as capitalism continues there will always be parties like the BNP which scapegoat other workers as the supposed cause of these problems. The answer is not to stop these parties by voting for other parties or by physically fighting or banning them. It is to organise on a world-wide class basis to end capitalism – which, necessarily, involves a rejection of nationalism.