Note: this article includes details of the forthcoming by-election in Dagenham where the BNP threaten to win another seat.
Far right wins in E. London and soars in Germany.
Cut the roots of fascism - fight for a workers' government!
On 16 September, the fascist British National Party won a council by-election in Barking, East London, with over 50% of the vote.
It was a ward which the BNP did not even bother to contest at the last full council elections, in 2002. Then, Labour won all the ward's three council seats easily, with between 847 and 778 votes to 520 and 509 for the Lib Dems, the only other party which stood. The borough of Barking and Dagenham is working-class “safe Labour” heartland.
This time, the Lib Dem vote imploded — they got only 85 votes — the Labour vote sagged to 602, and the BNP won with 1072 votes on an increased turnout.
Back in July, the BNP got 31% in another by-election in the borough, with leaflets claiming that the Barking campus of the University of East London was to be turned into a home for asylum seekers.
A few days later, on Sunday 19 September, the fascist NPD won 9% of the vote for the state parliament in the east German state of Saxony, and the far-right DVU won 6% in the state of Brandenburg.
The DVU may also do well in municipal elections coming up in the west German state of North Rhine Westphalia.
Fascism usually grows in conditions of crisis and slump, where millions of people are ruined and desperate enough to clutch at its scapegoating message. These gains for the far right have come in comparatively placid times.
This fact, which should alarm us, can, paradoxically, encourage complacency. Over nearly 20 years now, since the Front National began its electoral rise in France, fascists have won large and stable bodies of voters in many European countries — France, Belgium, and Italy, where Gianfranco Fini of the Alleanza Nationale is deputy prime minister.
Yet the fascists have remained cautious. They have not put large armed gangs on the streets as the Nazis did in the years before they came to power. Some, like Fini, have moderated their message.
The BNP has 22 councillors now. There was great alarm, and large counter-mobilisation, eleven years ago when they had just won their first councillor; but familiarity breeds numbness.
Far-right parties have gained a political base, on a stripped-down core message of racist and anti-foreigner scapegoating, with very little of the quasi-socialist demagogy which 1930s’ fascists used, and with, by now, a proven inability to offer any social answers or even to function halfway competently on the councils and in the parliaments to which they are elected.
When the crisis and slump which create the fevered conditions for gangs on the streets arrive — and only the most foolish optimist for neo-liberal capitalism can think they will not — the fascists have a huge springboard to leap from.
The fascists are winning this initial base not because economic conditions are catastrophic, but because the mainstream pro-capitalist parties, with their neo-liberal consensus, their scarcely-differentiable economic policies, all attuned to the big multinational corporations and the international financial markets, and their reduction of politics to a game played between spin-doctors and the media, with the population as mere spectators, have become so arrogantly distanced from the electorate.
Under the rule of the Blairs and the Schröders, the political and cultural fibre of society is being rotted away.
The highest-profile anti-BNP campaign — Unite Against Fascism, supported by all sorts from Tory and Lib Dem MPs through the TUC to the SWP — has responded by urging people to turn out and vote for anyone but the BNP.
The results in Barking and Saxony are a resounding refutation of this approach. In both places the fascists gained mostly not through a collapse of the vote for the governing party (the Social Democratic Party in Germany, New Labour in Britain) but through a collapse of the vote for the opposition.
In Saxony, it was the vote for the Christian Democratic Union — the majority party in the state, but the opposition in Germany’s federal politics — which shrank. In Barking, it was the Lib Dems, the vehicle in 2002 for all the protest votes in the ward, who collapsed.
People who vote fascist want to cast a protest vote. Telling them that they can cast a protest vote if they like, but at all costs to keep it a moderate, mainstream, not-very-protesting protest vote, is not an effective reply.
For the next by-election coming up in Barking and Dagenham, on 7 October, we have no choice but to support the Labour Party campaign while doing all we can to make it visible that there are forces in the labour movement who oppose Blair and Brown and fight for a different sort of labour representation.
But we have to widen the choices. The fascists will only be defeated by a renewed and transformed labour movement — by trade unions which really fight for affordable housing for all, for decent jobs for all, for better pay, for shorter hours, for decent pensions and benefits — by a labour movement which in every working-class community makes politics something people can participate in, and win improvements through, not a cynical mass-media affair.
It can be done. Under New Labour as under the Tories, inequality has increased. The wealth of the top one per cent has soared, while the poor have stayed poor. Take that wealth now pouring into the pockets of the billionaires and put it under workers’ and democratic control!
But it needs a struggle. It needs a labour movement willing to fight. It needs a labour movement which fights for a workers’ government, a government as loyal to the working class as the Tories and Blair are to the capitalists, instead of cajoling Blair for minor concessions.
In France in 1995, when the fascist Front National was still riding high in the polls, the trade unions initiated a mass strike movement against the government’s welfare cuts.
The Front National tried to organise strike-breaking. It failed miserably. In Toulon, where the Front National controlled the city council, huge demonstrations marched past the city hall denouncing the FN, and the FN was unable to respond.
Workers understood that by joining together in struggle, native-born with immigrants, they could win; by turning on each other with rancid scapegoating, they could only lose.
That pushing-back of the FN was only temporary because the left was not strong enough to draw large numbers into the trade unions after the strikes and revive those unions. The dead weight of the continuing collapse in morale of the French Communist Party, following the collapse of its counterfeit-socialism in the USSR, proved stronger than the efforts of the anti-Stalinist and revolutionary left.
In Britain, the factor impeding the left is less the direct dead weight of collapsing Moscow-Communism — always weaker here — than the recent decision by a section of left activists to resort to Islamic communalism in order to try to catch votes.
The Respect coalition, organised by the SWP by George Galloway, has been calling on Muslims to vote as Muslims for Galloway as a “fighter for Muslims”, devout and militant on “Muslim” causes like Palestine and Iraq. It has sought alliances with the Muslim Association of Britain, British offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This stance is both a betrayal of the radicals and the secular-minded in the mainly Muslim communities, and an incitement to non-Muslim communities to respond with a backlash counter-communalism, which the fascists can easily feed on. You can’t fight the narrow communalism of one community by trying opportunistically to latch on to the communalism of another community.
Working-class unity, working-class struggle against the social roots of fascism, a revived labour movement uniting workers of all communities — that is the only effective answer to the fascists.
By Rhodri Evans
To help the Labour candidate in the Dagenham and Barking Village ward by-election to be held on 7 October -
Canvassing: meet Hatfield Community Centre, Hatfield Road, Dagenham, at 6.30pm, weekdays (except Friday); 10.30am-12.30pm on Saturdays. Nearest Underground: Dagenham Heathway; more details: 020 8984 7854.
The Goresbrook (Barking) by-election took place on Thursday 16. September because of the resignation of a Labour councillor.
Turnout was 28.8%.
UK Independence Party 137.
British National Party 1072. Elected.
Conservative Party 111.
Labour Party 602.
Green Party 59.
Liberal Democrats 85.
In the last council elections in 2002, Labour won the ward's three seats easily, with between 847 and 778 votes to the Lib Dems' 520 and 509. Neither the Tories nor the BNP nor any other party contested the ward in 2002.