Egging on the BNP

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Unity is strength. I therefore don’t want to get too sneery about Unite Against Fascism. However, I am far from convinced that the UAF’s tactics are the most effective means of campaigning against the BNP.

UAF representative Martin Smith gave a cringeworthy performance on Channel 4 News last night. I agree that it is important to stress the neo-Nazi ideology that underlies the BNP and motivates its leaders, but the situation is no longer one in which the main body of fascists are the ones associated in the public mind with bringing violence to the streets (as the BUF, NF, and early BNP were).

They now have nearly a million people voting for them and have won elected office with the funding and other privileges that that entails. They are also moderating their message. Griffin is telling journalists that they are not a racist party and is distancing himself from Holocaust denial. Instead of insisting that their success should be taken as an endorsement of white supremacist politics, they have the tact to claim to be simply representing popular concerns over immigration.

By contrast to this mild restraint on the part of the BNP, Martin Smith’s total refusal to engage with the fact that Griffin and Brons have been given democratic mandates, or to display any regard for concerns over freedom of speech, or indeed to place limits on the forms of direct action he would be happy to see taken against the BNP, make him – and by association the anti-fascist campaigners – seem more like the unreasonable extremists.

This is not totally surprising. Remember that UAF is dominated by the Socialist Workers Party, an unpleasant Trot outfit of which Smith is a leading member. Read this article by a whingeing Communist. It suggests that Smith is happy to use ‘physical force’ tactics against fellow far-Left loons as well as far-Right nuts like Griffin. It also serves as a reminder of how weird the world of the far-Left really is, with their penchant for wasting paper by printing lots and lots of boring pamphlets saying how much they hate each other. They are enthused by “anti-imperialist” violence overseas and have their own totalitarian outlook on the world. Anti-fascist efforts cannot be entrusted to these people.

I am instead a great supporter of Searchlight (the folk behind ‘Hope not Hate’). I have subscribed to the magazine for a few years now, met a few of the staff, and have been happy to stand at tube stations handing out leaflets for them. Searchlight famously broke away from UAF in 2005 (famously, at least, in anti-fascist politics!). The UAF’s recent stunt made me think of the Searchlight editorial from the time:

This month Searchlight leaves Unite Against Fascism. Searchlight had members on UAF’s steering committee but, like others, we found it difficult to function when decisions were being made elsewhere. But the prime reason for our departure is because it is incompatible for us to be in an organisation that is pushing a different strategy to our own. We believe that localised campaigning on broader issues than racism, fundamental as racism is, is the key to turning back the British National Party’s electoral advance.

We have found it impossible to work with UAF in any meaningful sense for some considerable period of time. However, the final straw has been public accusations that we are pandering to racism by addressing the issue of the grooming of young women in Keighley. We believe that if we did not address the issue then the BNP would be given a free hand to use it to garner votes.

We believe that what is needed is not a big national campaign, but localised campaigning to counter the BNP’s own targeted campaigning. Local campaigns should ideally be rooted in the trade union movement – because of its capabilities – which in turn should mobilise the broadest possible alliance of forces. And because fascism is about more than racism we simply do not believe that UAF’s concept of black leadership is appropriate for an anti-fascist organisation. Racism is just one part of what fascism is about and it cannot be reduced to it.

Also, there was only ever so long that we could participate in an organisation which had leading figures conduct a whispering campaign about Searchlight being “Zionists”.

Leaving UAF will allow us to get on with the work that we are doing with trade unions and local groups unhindered. We have no intention of engaging in an ongoing row with UAF or of setting up a rival national organisation. We also recognise that there are good activists on the ground who will carry on identifying with UAF whom we will continue to work with in the future.

We are looking to the future confident in our approach, having learnt a lot from the intensive campaigning that we have been involved in over recent years. The BNP are trying to present themselves as a respectable alternative political party; mainstreaming. Time is short, they have made considerable headway – their 21 local councillors are testimony to that. The BNP will be defeated by activists on the ground, in our communities, in the council wards that they fight electorally. Ultimately, that means winning the battle of ideas, and to win you have to prove yourself relevant to people’s lives.

Since then Searchlight has indeed focused on localised campaigns based primarily around trade unions but also other groups such as political parties and churches. They’re working with  Blue State Digital and mobilising an increasing number of people against the BNP. The campaign obviously has a long way to go, but despite the recent BNP victories I’m confident that Hope not Hate is going to grow in size and effectiveness as an anti-fascist force over the next few years.

Although I understand that the feelings between Searchlight and UAF are quite bitter, I’ve only once witnessed sectarianism in anti-fascist campaigning. After I had publicised a nearby Hope not Hate campaigning session to the local Labour crowd, an antiquated party member loudly proclaimed her preference for UAF over Searchlight, even though she could not quite remember what the difference was between them.

I don’t want to dismiss UAF completely as I think there is still a time and place for noisy protests. I’ve been to them myself, along with other Paintbrushers. But as the political situation with regard to the BNP develops, so the tactics of the anti-fascists must improve and become more sophisticated.

A large amount of the BNP’s success has come through their grassroots campaigning in areas which see little activity from the other political parties. As a Labourite, I want to see the Labour Party regenerate itself in these localities and take the fight to the BNP on the doorstep. Until Labour is able to do this we must give our full support to Searchlight’s efforts to organise anti-BNP campaigns spearheaded by trade unionists and other activists. The BNP threat is too serious to leave to egg-throwing Trots to try to sort out.

Saying that, have you played The Sun’s ‘Egg Nick Griffin’ game? Not wanting to support the Murdoch press or anything but it is fun.

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