In the council elections on 4 May the fascist British National Party (BNP) is standing 350 candidates, hoping to make a small breakthrough.
They appeal to those who feel themselves “despondent, depressed, angry, ignored, abandoned, forgotten, ripped off, exploited, overtaxed, unrepresented”. They say that the crisis in the Health Service shows “the profit motive outweighing patient care”, and denounce “private gain for public service”.
In other words, they appeal to many of the same working-class people as socialists appeal to. But the BNP identifies the enemy, the people who are doing the “abandoning”, the “exploiting”, the “ripping off” as... “the forces of multiculturalism”.
Socialists have our own criticism of official “multiculturalism”. Along with promoting openness to other cultures, which is good, it tends to box people off into distinct “cultures”, each supposed to be welded to a particular ethnic group and religion, rather than working towards a multifarious secular world culture.
But it is what’s good in official “multiculturalism” that the BNP attack, not what’s bad. In fact their attack isn’t really on the established powers. It’s on Muslims, or people of Muslim background, and anyone who wants to behave even half-decently towards them. The stuff about “multiculturalism” is just code.
The BNP appeals to white British self-employed people, small business people, unemployed people, and workers, who are too “despondent” and “depressed” to take on the real big-business class enemy. It calls on them to support the BNP in having a go at a more vulnerable scapegoat — mostly workers who are even worse “ripped off, exploited, and unrepresented” than white workers are.
It is sick, poisonous, and dangerous. If this is the “theory”, then racist attacks and racist discrimination are the “practice”. And the longer-term goal of the BNP, like all fascist groups, is to crush the whole labour movement, black and white, and put us all under a fascist dictatorship in the name of fighting the ‘scapegoats”.
How should we combat the BNP? In some areas activists including AWLers have been out with anti-BNP leaflets produced by Searchlight/Stop the BNP or Unite Against Fascism.
The leaflets are useful in exposing the BNP as a fascist, extreme racist party. Their limitation, however, is that are confined to that.
Implicitly, or sometimes fairly explicitly, their conclusion is: vote for any “respectable” party, Labour, Lib Dems, Tories, whatever, “to stop the BNP”. UAF can scarcely say anything else. Although its core activists come from the SWP and the people around London Mayor Ken Livingstone, it was set up as an alliance to include, among its sponsors, several Tories — even hard-right Tories like ex-MP Teddy Taylor and former Orange Order and Monday Club leader Martin Smyth.
But many working-class people who are not “despondent, depressed” paranoid racists feel “unrepresented” by the big established parties. The mainstream political consensus does shut out working-class people. The Labour Party of today, deep in cahoots with the millionaires whose loans keep it going, allows us scarcely a glimmer of working-class political representation. The working class is effectively disenfranchised, apart from a few socialist or left-Labour candidates here and there.
In times of relatively low unemployment and relatively steady economic growth, like now, a call to working-class people to “vote mainstream” to stop the BNP may work up to a point. In times of economic slump and crisis — and capitalism will bring such times, sooner or later — it will not work.
If the socialists and activists are still presenting ourselves then with the message “stick with the mainstream: it may be bad, but not as bad as the BNP”, then we will drive people into the arms of the BNP. If all they hear the left saying is “grit your teeth and stay with the status quo”, then they will feel “abandoned and unrepresented” by the left.
Already, in some areas, socialists campaigning for asylum rights often find people who are by no means hardened racists replying: “OK, good luck to the asylum-seekers, and good for them that they have people campaigning for them. But who’s campaigning for us, the people already here? If nobody’s listening to us, then we have to stand up for ourselves. If some asylum-seekers get hurt in the process, that’s a pity...”
This response, starting with a justified feeling of being unrepresented and politically exploited, can quickly turn rancid, into BNP-type scapegoating.
Unless we challenge the shortage of affordable housing, of good schools, of decent jobs, directly — if our effective message to working-class people is that they should accept that shortage, but be generous in sharing out the short supply — we cannot fight the scapegoating effectively.
The fight for:
• a revival of publicly-provided cheap local authority housing;
• a good local school for every child (under local democratic, not business-people’s, control);
• an integrated publicly-owned, democratically-controlled Health Service without internal markets and profit calculations;
• a shorter working week with no loss of pay, and expanded public services to create decent jobs for all;
• a Workers’ Charter of union rights, including the right to take solidarity action
• taxing the rich
— this fight is not something desirable but separate, not something that can be postponed in the name of “uniting everyone” now against the BNP, but the essential core of any activity which can seriously, in the long term, undercut the BNP.
What we should have is a labour-movement-based campaign which is against the BNP but also for socialist policies, against the Tories, the Lib-Dems, and the Blair-Brown New Labour leadership.
We have to transform the labour movement so that workers are no longer unrepresented. We have to re-gear the labour movement around the fight for a workers’ government — a government that will base itself on working-class organisations and struggles to defy the power of capital and push through those necessary measures for housing, schools, health, jobs. That is what Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty fights for within the labour movement.