Fascism is gaining ground in Britain. In May 2008, British National Party (BNP) cadre Richard Barnbrook became the first fascist to win a seat in the Greater London Assembly. He joins dozens of BNP councilors scattered around Britain—including twelve in their Barking and Dagenham stronghold in East London and nine in Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands.
In November 2008, a list with the names, home addresses and occupations of 13,500 BNP members was leaked to the public. Predictably, a large proportion of them are current or former employees of private security firms and/or the military, police and prison system. One guard at a detention center for asylum-seekers was forced to resign after his connection to the BNP was publicized. The presence of racists and outright fascists inside the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state is hardly surprising:
“Over the past two years The Independent has helped reveal nearly 300 allegations of brutality, including 38 claims of racism, made by asylum-seekers about private security and immigration staff. Some of the allegations included abusive and racist language, in which refugees fleeing persecution were referred to as ‘monkeys’ or told to ‘go back to their own countries’.”
—Independent [London], 14 January
The social base of fascism extends far beyond the personnel of the state. Most fascist shock troops are recruited from petty-bourgeois layers hostile to trade unions, along with degraded lumpenproletarians and backward workers poisoned by chauvinism.
In the 1930s, the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky, noted that a fascist social mobilization is the last resort of a capitalist class that feels threatened by mass popular unrest:
“At the moment that the ‘normal’ police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium—the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of de-classed and demoralized lumpenproletariat—all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.”
—“What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat,” January 1932
Trotsky observed that fascist movements grow rapidly when there is both “a deep social crisis, throwing the petty bourgeois masses off balance, and the lack of a revolutionary party that would be regarded by the masses of the people as an acknowledged revolutionary leader.” If, as Trotsky wrote, Marxism is:
“the party of revolutionary hope, then fascism, as a mass movement, is the party of counterrevolutionary despair. When revolutionary hope embraces the whole proletarian mass, it inevitably pulls behind it on the road of revolution considerable and growing sections of the petty bourgeoisie.”
—“The Turn in the Communist International and the German Situation,” September 1930 [emphasis in original]
To harness the despair and anger of the frenzied petty bourgeoisie, the fascists often rant about settling accounts with plutocrats on behalf of the downtrodden “little guy.” But, as Mussolini and Hitler demonstrated, fascism in power soon reveals itself as the most brutal form of rule by big capital:
“German fascism, like the Italian, raised itself to power on the backs of the petty bourgeoisie, which it turned into a battering ram against the working class and the institutions of democracy. But fascism in power is least of all the rule of the petty bourgeoisie. On the contrary, it is a most ruthless dictatorship of monopolist capital.”
—Leon Trotsky, “What is National Socialism?,” 1933
In his classic study, Fascism and Big Business, Daniel Guerin discussed the conditions under which a section of the bourgeoisie may opt for fascism:
“When the economic crisis becomes acute, when the rate of profit sinks toward zero, the bourgeoisie can see only one way to restore its profits: it empties the pockets of the people down to the last centime. It resorts to what M. Caillaux, once finance minister of France, expressively calls ‘the great penance’: brutal slashing of wages and social expenditures, raising of tariff duties at the expense of the consumer, etc. The state, furthermore, rescues bus-iness enterprises on the brink of bankruptcy, forcing the masses to foot the bill….
“But such maneuvers are difficult under a democratic regime. As long as democracy survives, the masses, though thoroughly deceived and plundered, have some means of defense against the ‘great penance’: freedom of the press, universal suffrage, the right to organize into unions and to strike, etc. Feeble defenses, it is true, but still capable of setting some limit to the insatiable demands of the money power. In particular, the resistance of the organized working class makes it rather difficult to simply lower wages.”
While most British capitalists do not yet feel it necessary to seek extra-parliamentary means to contain working-class struggle, the present economic crisis creates opportunities for the fascists to grow.
The BNP's recent electoral success provides its cadres with a platform for spewing racist venom, sometimes, but not always, masked with “respectable” euphemisms. The BNP is not a right-wing bourgeois splinter party—it is a fascist organization that poses a deadly danger to trade unionists and all the oppressed. The February 2008 issue of Searchlight, Britain's foremost anti-fascist journal, documented the threat posed by BNP Führer Nick Griffin, who in the 1990s edited a Croydon-based publication called The Rune:
“The Rune showed Griffin to be a hardliner par excellence. He used the publication to argue forcefully against modernising the BNP, stating that ‘the electors of Millwall [who voted in the BNP's first local councilor in 1993] did not back a post modernist rightist party but what they perceived to be a strong, disciplined organisation with the ability to back up its slogan “Defend Rights for Whites” with well-directed boots and fists. When the crunch comes power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate.’”
The BNP was formed in 1982 by John Tyndall, former chairman of the National Front, and Ray Hill of the neo-Nazi British Movement. Combat 18 (the numbers “1” and “8” representing the position of Adolf Hitler's initials in the alphabet) has long been associated with the BNP. In 1997, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) broke from Combat 18. The NSM is most notorious for its member David Copeland, known as the London nail bomber, whose attacks on a gay pub in Soho and the largely black and Asian neighborhoods of Brixton and Brick Lane killed three people and injured hundreds more in April 1999.
The BNP leadership tends to formally disavow much of the violence of its associates, but stands ready to get involved when things heat up. During the 2001 Oldham “race riots” in the north of England, BNP members joined National Front and Combat 18 thugs in attacking Asian youths:
“Several of those sent to prison last month for the Roundthorn Road incident [the site of a fascist attack on Asians] were active BNP supporters. Darren and Sharon Hoy are both regulars at BNP meetings, as are Bourne, Rhodes and Walsh. [Paul] Brockway, ‘the General’, heads the FYC [the Oldham hooligan mob, the ‘Fine Young Casuals’] and has attended BNP and C18 [Combat 18] events in the town. Matthew Berry, Hoy's cousin, was photographed with Darren Hoy giving a nazi salute at a C18 gig in Wigan. James Clift was arrested only three weeks before the riots during an earlier attempted racist incursion into an Asian area. Mark Priestley was sent to prison in 1995 for his part in a C18 attack on a Chinese takeaway in Derbyshire. More recently, in 2000, he was convicted for using racially abusive language and threatening behaviour. He too has beem [sic] involved in the BNP. [Mick] Treacy [an Oldham BNP organizer] knows these people well. Many of them continued to attend BNP events right up until the judge sent them to prison for nine months each.”
—Searchlight, July 2003
On 20 September 2008, 800 fascists, some wearing Nazi regalia, terrorized the locals during a rally and a concert in Somerset held to commemorate the death of Ian Stuart Donaldson, lead singer of Screwdriver, which helped raise funds for the National Front and the BNP.
The only way to deal with fascists is to mobilize sufficient force to crush them:
“Fascism finds unconscious helpers in all those who say that the ‘physical struggle’ is impermissible or hopeless, and demand of [French Prime Minister Gaston] Doumergue the disarmament of his fascist guard. Nothing is so dangerous for the proletariat, especially in the present situation, as the sugared poison of false hopes. Nothing increases the insolence of the fascists so much as ‘flabby pacifism’ on the part of the workers organizations. Nothing so destroys the confidence of the middle classes in the working class as temporizing, passivity, and the absence of the will to struggle.”
—Leon Trotsky, “Whither France?,” October 1934
Fascism is not a set of ideas that can be discussed and debated—it is a program of violent terror directed at the left and workers' movement, visible minorities, immigrants, the disabled, homosexuals, the transgendered, Jews, Muslims and anyone else who does not fit their psychotic vision of a “pure” society.
Fascism attracts the demoralized and disturbed, typically people with defective personalities and low self-esteem who are bitterly disappointed with their lives and looking for scapegoats. They are, in Trotsky's phrase, “human dust.” Knock-backs, even on a relatively small scale, can have an immediate positive impact. Would-be fascists are attracted by the prospect of terrorizing the defenseless—when groups like Combat 18 or the BNP get hammered by their intended victims, their appeal disappears and recruitment dries up.
At its peak in the 1930s, Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF) could hold meetings of tens of thousands, yet they were stopped in their tracks on several occasions by mass working-class action. On 9 September 1934, when BUF “Blackshirts,” named after Benito Mussolini's thugs, tried to hold a rally in London's Hyde Park, 150,000 determined anti-fascists made sure it did not happen. Two years later, the BUF staged a provocative march through the largely Jewish East End of London. Despite the efforts of thousands of police to clear the way for the fascists, a powerful mobilization of over 250,000 working people blocked their path and forced the Blackshirts to retreat. This victory, known as the “Battle of Cable Street,” boosted the morale of anti-fascists across Britain, and demoralized the Mosleyites and their backers.
In the run-up to the “Battle of Cable Street,” the Communist Party (CP), along with the Independent Labour Party, called on the government to ban the BUF march. The CP, acting on directives from the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow, was pursuing “unity” with the supposedly progressive bourgeoisie, and did not want to risk being labeled “extremists.” Instead of confronting the fascists, the Stalinists proposed to ignore the BUF provocation and hold an “anti-fascist” rally several miles away in Trafalgar Square.
Joe Jacobs, a CP secretary for Stepney in East London at the time and later a Trotskyist, recounted:
“We in the CP were supposed to tell people to go to Trafalgar Square and come back in the evening to protest after Mosley had marched. The pressure from the people of Stepney who went ahead with their own efforts to oppose Mosley left no doubt in our minds that the CP would be finished in Stepney if this was allowed to go through as planned by our London leaders.”
Jacobs reports getting the following note from Frank Lefitte, the CP's East London organizer:
“‘Keep order: no excuse for Government to say we, like BUF are hooligans. If Mosley decides to march let him. Don't attempt disorder (Time too short to get a “They shall not pass” policy across. It would only be a harmful stunt). Best see there is a good, strong meeting at each end of march. Our biggest trouble tonight will be to keep order and discipline.’”
Jacobs was astounded:
“I could hardly believe my eyes. How could they be so blind to what was happening in Stepney? The slogan ‘They shall not pass’ was already on everyone's lips and being whitewashed on walls and pavements….
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“In any case, the people of East London had their own ideas about all this and would oppose Mosley with their bodies, no matter what the CP said. We argued long and hard.”
—Out of the Ghetto
The CP leaders eventually abandoned their cowardly maneuver, but only after it became clear that they risked losing influence over their working-class base if they ducked the fight to block Mosley.
Trotsky's policy regarding fascists was clear and unambiguous. But many ostensibly Trotskyist groups today take a very different attitude. For example, the Socialist Party (SP—flagship of the Committee for a Workers' International) generally prefers not to refer to the BNP as “fascist,” choosing instead to describe it as “far-right,” “racist,” “homophobic” or “sexist.” The SP's reluctance derives from political, rather than terminological, considerations—i.e., a desire not to alienate BNP supporters:
“…where people are voting to punish New Labour merely calling the BNP ‘fascists’ is counter-productive. It is the BNP leadership who are fascists, not the voters and even some members do not agree with these far-right ideas.
“During elections when Socialist Party activists have spoken to people with ‘Vote BNP’ window posters they have patiently explained and discussed with them. Some have swapped their posters over on the basis of seeing the need for a united working-class party.”
—Socialist, 10 July 2008
The SP has a history of indulging a variety of unsavory elements. In January 2008, when over 20,000 cops marched to Westminster to demand higher pay for enforcing capitalist repression, the SP sought to give this reactionary mobilization a progressive spin:
“This is in many ways a momentous occasion, since the last time they took any action over pay was 1919….
“Socialist Party members got a mixed response but there was clearly a strong underlying anger at the government….
“Unusually compared to most demonstrations, the police did not talk the numbers down! And the Police Federation had to distance themselves from the presence of the BNP's London Mayoral candidate on the march.”
—Socialist, 30 January 2008
The “BNP's London Mayoral candidate,” Richard Barnbrook, the Greater London Assembly member, was not merely “present”—he marched right at the head of the demonstration. He “had been told by officers that he was welcome and said a number of the protesting police officers had agreed to be interviewed for BNP TV” (Guardian [London], 24 January 2008).
A few months later Barnbrook was approached in the street by SPers, who asked:
“what about the BNP councillors in Stoke or Kirklees who voted for cuts and privatisation and tax increases—or don't even bother to turn up to the council chambers?
“Barnbrook handily didn't know anything about that. So we explained it to him—the BNP pretend to be the party for the white working class but when they get in the council chamber they preside over cuts, the same as the three main parties.”
—Socialist, 14 May 2008
By sanctioning discussions with this scum, the SP leadership teaches its followers that fascism is a set of ideas suitable for debate. This is entirely wrong. The BNP poses a deadly danger to leftists and all the oppressed—the only way to “explain” anything to a fascist is through forceful direct action.
When the BNP was trying to expand its activity in Glasgow's heavily working-class Pollock area in September 1989, hundreds of energetic anti-fascist youths met to discuss how to respond. Militant, as the SP was then known, pushed for a “flabby pacifist” debate:
“We decided to challenge the fascists to an open debate—originally to be held in a local football ground. Some of the youth wanted to take matters into their own hands. But we said we should wait until we had this meeting. Although normally we wouldn't have considered debating the fascists we realised we could thoroughly discredit them in the eyes of the youth—and thought they probably wouldn't turn up anyway.”
—Militant, 22 September 1989, cited in Workers Hammer , November/December 1989
Militant subsequently approached the fascists a second time to propose a debate. The only reason it did not happen was that the BNP, perhaps unable to believe the depths of the stupidity of these reformists, decided their offer was “too dodgy” to accept.
On 20 September 2008, 350 fascists held a rally in Stoke to commemorate a BNP thug, Keith Brown, who was killed a year earlier when his neighbor, Habib Khan, found Brown strangling his son. The SP, which participated in a “peace and unity vigil” held as a counter-rally to the BNP event, made the incredible claim that “Keith Brown was tragically stabbed to death by his Muslim neighbour over a year ago” (Socialist, 23 September 2008). The only thing that was tragic about Keith Brown's death was that Khan was sent to jail for eight years for it. “Militants” who preach pacifism to the victims of fascist terror, and see the loss of a BNP hoodlum as “tragic,” have no business claiming to be any sort of socialists.
In the mid-1970s there was a surge of fascist activity spearheaded by the National Front (NF). The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) initially responded with anti-fascist mobilizations aimed at confronting the NF. On 13 August 1977 in Lewisham, thousands of anti-fascists, led by the SWP, successfully prevented the NF from marching. The Economist, which featured the demonstration on its front cover, reported: “The police thought they could control the march. They were wrong.” The issue's lead editorial, referring to “echoes of Cable Street,” observed that:
“the Socialist Workers party has succeeded once more in exacerbating tension between London's police and its black community, so advancing its message that only the far left is ready to fight for the rights of blacks against a hostile political establishment.”
—Economist, 20 August 1977
The Times (15 August 1977) pronounced: “the blame for Saturday's violence must be laid squarely on the Socialist Workers' Party, whose members and adherents, some of them armed with vicious weapons, came prepared to fight.” Britain's ruling class was clearly alarmed that thousands of Asian, black and other youths were prepared to follow the SWP's lead in spiking the NF provocation. Alex Callinicos and Alastair Hatchett responded to widespread criticism of the SWP by bourgeois pundits and labor bureaucrats with an article entitled, “In Defence of Violence”:
“The physical struggle is as important now as it was in the 1930s. The Nazi leaders of the National Front are faced with a major strategic problem. They have succeeded in attracting a considerable protest vote, especially from working-class voters disillusioned with Labour, suspicious of the Tories and willing to blame the blacks for all the problems under the sun. But the membership attracted by the NF's racism is very different from the hardened Nazi cadre that Tyndall and Webster need in order to succeed.
“The NF will only begin to attract the interest and financial backing of important sections of the bourgeoisie, and not the occasional racist or crank, unless they can prove that they are a worthwhile option. This means building a fascist fighting formation that can, one day, take on the workers' movement and smash its organisations. In other words, the NF leaders must turn their membership, still predominantly ‘soft’ and racist (except for the hardened thugs of the Honour Guard), into fascist storm-troopers.
“The Nazi marches through black areas are an important part of this process.”
—International Socialism (1st series), No. 101, September 1977
This is exactly right, but after Lewisham the SWP leadership began denouncing direct action as “squadism,” and instead launched the more bourgeois-respectable Anti-Nazi League (ANL).
The ANL held a rally of tens of thousands in Trafalgar Square on 30 April 1978. After a few speeches by union bureaucrats, participants set off on a four-mile hike to Victoria Park, for a punk rock “Carnival.” The next day, May Day, over a thousand NF fascists marched under police protection from Portland Place in central London to Hoxton in the East End without any opposition. This was the first time the NF had ever been able to march in London without incident.
On 24 September 1978, 2,000 fascists marched in London from Embankment to the East End, without meeting any serious resistance. This time, the leadership of the ANL led thousands of militants in the opposite direction, from Hyde Park to Brixton, for “Carnival 2.” The then-revolutionary Spartacist League reported on this disgraceful desertion:
“Lulled by ANL leaders into thinking that all was well in the East End, an estimated sixty to one hundred thousand people stood in the sun and ‘rocked against racism’ in Brixton, and only a handful of ANL supporters joined leftists and local immigrants in the Brick Lane area for an anti-fascist demonstration called by the Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee. In all, perhaps a thousand or twelve hundred anti-fascist militants gathered in the East End. Pitifully weak and woefully disorganised, they had no chance of getting near, let alone stopping, the Front's deliberately provocative ‘march against communism’.”
—Spartacist Britain, October 1978
A gang of 50 NF thugs celebrated their victory by rampaging through a predominantly Asian estate off Brick Lane, smashing shop windows and threatening local residents. The SWP leadership, pleased by the turnout at its “anti-fascist” carnival, responded with a petition calling for the removal of the new NF headquarters in the East End. The November 1978 issue of Spartacist Britain acidly commented:
“True to its character, the ANL has resorted to that classic instrument of ‘militant’ struggle, so beloved of the pacifists, preachers and Labour reformists…a petition. This petition calls for the ‘removal’ of the fascist headquarters. But who is supposed to do the ‘removing’? Certainly not the masses of workers and oppressed minorities: according to the ANL, they are supposed to spend their time listening to ‘anti-Nazi’ speeches from union bureaucrats and Liberals and dancing at Carnivals, not ‘falling into the trap’ of confronting the fascists in the streets. Clearly, the ‘removal’ is supposed to be organised by the local Labour-controlled Council, since calls for state bans against the NF go hand-in-hand with social-patriotic leaflets and pacifist Carnivals to make up the sum total of the ANL's anti-fascist strategy.”
In August 2008, IBT comrades participated in an anti-fascist demonstration in the village of Denby, Derbyshire to protest the BNP's annual “Red, White and Blue” festival. They reported:
“NSBNP [Nottinghamshire Stop the BNP campaign] was the main organiser of the protest, but with little national cooperation, only about 400 people turned up. Much of the blame belongs to Unite Against Fascism (UAF), one of the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) front groups, which called a similar demonstration at the same place but at a different time than the one organised by NSBNP. UAF failed to organise coaches from London, which might have significantly increased the size of the demonstration.
· · ·
“NSBNP set up a platform for speakers before the march towards Denby was to begin at about 11:45 am. But UAF irresponsibly started to march before the speakers had finished, thereby temporarily splitting the demonstration. There was further tension over whether UAF or NSBNP banners should be at the front of the march.
· · ·
“Not everyone saw the need for militant action against the fascists, who brazenly hung about the demonstration, down side streets and at the assembly point. Combat 18, the military wing of the British neo-Nazi organisation Blood & Honour, were rumoured to be guarding the farm. Yet the demonstration organisers had evidently made no serious provision for self-defence, and it was apparent that they had no real intention of actually preventing the fascists from holding their hate-fest, despite the SWP's claim to want ‘to stop [the] Nazi BNP rally’ (Socialist Worker, 16 August). Some people were foolish enough to bring small children on the march.
“Back in Codnor, Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR), another SWP front group, had already set up stalls and a stage with music, but most of the crowd dispersed soon after returning to the site. After this frustrating protest, which left the fascists unscathed to carry on with their business, it is perhaps not surprising that LMHR was unable to bring ‘people together through music’. ‘Moral witnessing’, reliance on cops and sectarian division do not make for successful anti-fascist actions.”
—www.bolshevik.org, 21 August 2008
It is necessary to initiate labor-based “united-front” actions to physically confront and disperse the fascists whenever they attempt to mobilize. Following the Denby debacle, our comrades proposed: “Close tactical cooperation between stewards from each participating organisation could be achieved without blurring the political lines between them, as each group would be free to put forward its own programme in its own name” (Ibid.).
The basis of a united front to stop the BNP would be an agreement to mobilize sufficient force to prevent the fascists from rearing their heads, and to teach any who dared appear a painful lesson. All organizations committed to ridding the streets of these thugs would be welcome to participate without having to adopt a particular set of political ideas or belong to any sort of front group. Everyone would be free to put forward their own distinctive views. This sort of non-sectarian united-front approach has the potential to attract the broadest number of militants, and thus maximize the chances of dealing serious blows to the fascists.
The BNP poses an immediate and acute danger—it must be confronted before it becomes even stronger. Successfully spiking the next “Red, White and Blue” festival would be a real victory for workers, minorities and all those targeted by the fascists. A united front offers the best framework for conducting an effective fight, because it combines organizational flexibility with political openness. Ultimately, the only way to eliminate the scourge of fascism once and for all is to uproot the capitalist social system that breeds it.