From the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard
In 1977 the fascist National Front received 119,000 votes in London. They were talking about becoming "the third major party" and silly little men in Nazi uniforms were dreaming of re-enacting the Third Reich while skinheads roamed the streets believing that racist violence was being legitimised through the ballot box. At the time the Socialist Party did the only thing politically conscious workers can do: exposed the dogmas of the NF as dangerous illusions which are part of the sick ideology of capitalism.
By the early 1980s the NF was a spent force. Its various leaders were busy stabbing each other in the backs; the neo-Nazis were squabbling among themselves as to who would play Hitler when the big day came, and Fuehrer-in-waiting Tyndall left to form his own tin-pot outfit. Most of the thugs who had provided the muscle behind the fascist re-emergence in the late 1970s either joined the British Movement (the party for those who fail the entrance exam into the NF) or fell back into political apathy. By 1983 the NF vote had dropped to a mere 17,000 in the whole of London—102,000 less than six years earlier. Martin Webster, the one-time tactical commander of the party, is in the process of taking the NF leadership to court because they have expelled him and he does not want to go. In short, at the beginning of 1984 the NF was falling to pieces.
Two years ago the Front sent Patrick Harrington, their student organiser, to recruit members within the North London Polytechnic, where he was supposedly studying philosophy. Clearly, he was not there for the scholarship, as he did not even take the trouble to sign up as a member of the library. His aim was to recruit members to the NF. As democrats, we can no more object to the spreading of overtly racist views than we can to the expression of other anti-socialist ideas. Needless to say, that is not the view of fascists.
The Socialist Workers' Party does not aim to recruit members by talking to them about socialism. Their theoretical whizz-kid, Alex Callinicos has referred to such activity as "abstract propagandism" and accused the Socialist Party of this alleged tactical error (see "Politics or Abstract Propagandism?" International Socialism, Winter 1981). According to the SWP, the movement for "socialism” (a term about which they are not clear) must be built up by winning workers to the cause on the basis of single issues. The SWP prides itself on its "tactics". So, when it was discovered that an NF recruiter was at work in the North London Poly, the self-appointed vanguard saw an ideal opportunity to do some recruiting for themselves.
Now, one point must be made clear: the fear of students—especially blacks—that Harrington was in the poly to compile hit-lists of those expressing views unacceptable to the fascists is quite probably justified. The NF in Islington, where the polytechnic is based, have a reputation for intimidating their enemies: arson attacks on anti-racists have taken place; socialists selling this journal in Chapel Street market have been intimidated; and not very long ago a woman working in The Other Bookshop in Islington was attacked by fascists and suffered a fractured skull. Without doubt, the NF does compile hit-lists and activists like Harrington are potentially dangerous. But the fact is, there is no evidence that Harrington recruited a single member into the NF during his two years at PNL or that any hit-lists were compiled.
The SWP were not prepared to be confused by the facts. They saw Harrington as an "issue" around which they could recruit members. So, a mass picket was organised to prevent Harrington from entering the polytechnic building and after a few days they organised an occcupation. This was precisely the publicity Harrington and his dwindling party were looking for. He was presented by the media as the persecuted underdog; the NF was able to raise the issue of “civil liberties” which it clearly does not believe in granting to others; and, worst of all, the concept of “socialist activity" was linked to the suppression of free speech. No wonder the press were eager to give publicity to the SWP's antics.
The National Front has been given a new lease of life as a result of the undemocratic. adventurist, anti-socialist tactics of the SWP and their foolish allies. When students are shown on the television waving placards stating "FASCISTS DON'T DESERVE AN EDUCATION" we have one answer: fascists, along with all other politically ignorant workers who support the continuation of capitalism, need to be educated. If the battle is fought in the arena of working-class ideas the fascists will be defeated utterly. By adopting the methods of fascism to fight fascism the SWP distort and damage the name of socialism.
Socialists will continue to present the case for a society without nations and without classes. We will not involve ourselves in the tactical manoeuvres of the infantile Left, who are opposed to the task of winning workers to socialism by open and democratic means.
Ironically, the National Front and the Trotskyist Left are united on many issues. Both want to nationalise the banks; both support import controls; both want to pull out of the EEC. both want American military bases off “British soil"; both believe in "smashing opponents". Both will get occasional boosts in their membership campaigns as a result of publicity from momentary campaigns, but they are destined to remain insignificant because they arc pro-capitalist political factions which do not suit the current needs of capitalism. Neither the pure state capitalism of the Left nor the corporatism of the fascists arc likely to ever be adopted by the capitalist class.
The end result of the SWP's tactical brilliance is that Harrington is still attending the polytechnic—students who tried to have him expelled feel defeated because they acted too soon, before there was evidence to remove him—and the local NF has received some useful publicity and. in all probability, an increase in membership. And the SWP lecture us about tactics!