This article outlines what fascism is, how it is growing in the 21st Century United Kingdom, how it has nothing to offer working people and how we can combat it.
What is fascism?
As much as the term is bandied about to refer to anything from the behaviour of a strict teacher to the “humour” of Bernard Manning, fascism is quite a specific set of ideas and actions.
Where does it come from?
Fascism is a very right wing, fiercely nationalist, totalitarian ideology which originated in Italy in the early 20th Century to crush the powerful workers’ movement which was pushing up wages and threatening revolution. Led by Benito Mussolini, they were funded by various big businesses, such as Fiat and Pirelli, to smash picket lines and attack left-wing organisers.
Italian fascism’s counterpart in
Germany – Nazism – like most fascists today used racism
to further its aims. Again to combat a powerful working class movement
the Nazis attempted to direct public anger at the problems caused
by capitalism (mass unemployment, poverty, etc.) onto a racial group
– the Jews. To undercut the widespread support for the communists,
socialists and anarchists the Nazis used anti-capitalist rhetoric
against Jews, portraying them as money-grubbing capitalists, when
in fact the vast majority of Jews were working class. Like many
fascist groups today, they claimed they would initiate a left-wing
economic programme with good welfare and high wages – the
“socialism” in national socialism. The Nazi leadership
had no intention of putting this propoganda into practice though.
As soon as the Nazi Party came into power it violently destroyed
all progressive working class organisations. The left-wing of the
Party - always unacceptable to German business leaders - was then
disposed of in the Night of the Long Knives, having served its purpose
of aiding in the destruction of the unions and other working class
groups. The first to be sent to the concentration camps were not
the Jews who they had blamed for all Germany’s problems, but
communists and trade unionists. Read
about the Nazis' crushing of the anarchist trade union...
Never again. Fascism doesn't begin with the gas chambers, but that's where it ends.
The main far-right political party in the UK is the British National Party (BNP). Though only a tiny grouplet in the 80s, under the leadership of Nick Griffin they have grown hugely, last year winning over 800,000 votes in the European elections, and managing to win a few councils seats in Northern England. Though still a very small organisation, and mostly just a protest vote party, their success should not be ignored.
It is important to stress here that their political programme is not fascist. In their propaganda, they present themselves as an economically left-wing party which is highly authoritarian and pro law-and-order. They claim to not be a racist party, though their white-only membership rule obviously contradicts that.
That they are racist, therefore, is beyond question, and that they are bigoted in other ways – for example against gays and lesbians whom they denounce as “perverts” or “creatures” – in indisputable. However the BNP are adamant that they are not fascist, and in fact often denounce the “fascist left” for opposing them.
Of course, politicians are always economical with the truth, and none more so than fascist politicians. Like the left-wing pretences of the German Nazis – who called themselves the National Socialist German Workers' Party - the BNP is attempting to build a respectable image of itself as a normal political party and cover up its genocidal and fascist aims in order to win widespread support. It is, quite simply, lying to everyone about its true nature.
BNP leader Nick Griffin - Cambridge graduate, rich immigrant to Wales, and fascist. Says the Holocaust "tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter-day witch-hysteria." (Carlisle Two Defence Fund Bulletin)
How do we know that this really is the case,
that they really haven’t changed? Quite simply because the
Party leadership has not changed significantly since the BNP was
the radical ultra-fascist offshoot of the more “moderate”
National Front. The BNP leadership is replete with hardcore Nazi
sympathisers, and convicted white supremacist terrorists –
its leader Nick Griffin, for example, has been a member of most
pro-Nazi groups in the UK, and BNP number two, Tony Lecomber was
imprisoned for three years in 1986 for a nail bomb attack on a South
London office. He was also convicted of making grenades, detonators
and bombs and later for assaulting a Jewish teacher.
The BNP were forced to abandon the traditional fascist strategy of “controlling the streets” - a tactic based on marching, looking intimidating and carrying out violent attacks within strongholds on working class, left wing or other progressive organisations, ethnic minorities and gays. They were prevented from doing this largely by Anti-Fascist Action, a militant anti-fascist organisation which confronted the far right whenever they took to the streets. Since then, they have attempted to present themselves as a respectable, non-violent political party which will stand up for the “decent, silent majority”.
Over most of the UK this strategy has had very little success – people still know of them as a bunch of Nazi thugs – but in certain areas where they have devoted their efforts to long-term community organising they have developed solid bases of support. Bradford, Keighley and Burnley all have BNP councillors and in these towns the BNP is the third largest party. They have achieved this by appearing to attempt to deal with real problems felt by poor working class people in these communities who are ignored by the traditional parties. The BNP has also been given a massive boost by the anti-immigrant hysteria generated by the mainstream media, particularly The Daily Mail , The Sun and The Express. These media enterprises are owned by huge corporations and opportunistic politicians who happily use the small number of asylum seekers as a scapegoat for all the problems caused by capitalism – particularly housing, unemployment, poverty and poor healthcare.
Newscorp, Rupert Murdoch’s company which runs The Sun, The Times, Sky and much of the rest of the British media dodged £89million in UK corporation tax in 1998, after making £1.4bn worldwide profits – so it’s no wonder its media outlets try to blame scrounging asylum seekers on £39 a week benefits for draining public money.
Homelessness - landlords and profit-driven government policy, not asylum seekers, are to blame for the housing crisis.
While significant numbers of working class people are turning to the BNP in some areas, the BNP offers working people nothing. Indeed, the BNP leadership even believe the working class to be genetically inferior to the rich. They oppose workers organising to win better wages and conditions, claiming trade unions to be Soviet-paedophile plots, and refuse to blame capitalism and the rich for any problems, instead blaming the poorest and most marginalised in society. For the problem of 100,000 homeless households in Britain, they do not blame the wealthy landlords who leave 790,000 properties empty – instead they blame the 60,000 or so asylum seekers a year who mostly live in squalor in cramped conditions. Instead of blaming the corporations who throw thousands out of work they denounce those left jobless and poor as naturally inferior to their bosses. Instead of blaming the disintegrating health service on years of privatisation and under-finding, they blame immigrants – without whom the NHS would collapse. In London, for example, people born overseas make up 47% of nurses and 23% of all doctors.
Previously in Britain many workers turned to the trade union movement and the Left to try to improve their lot as a class, irrespective of race and nationality. By sticking together, and practicing solidarity and direct action – particularly in the form of strikes and sympathy strikes, workers up to the late 1970s won big increases in pay and quality of life together. However, bosses and the Thatcher government in the 1980s led an all-out assault on working class power, and crushed the trade union movement in Britain in the Miners’ strike and Wapping printers’ strike in 1984-5. Meanwhile workers were betrayed by the official Left - in the centre by Labour and the TUC and in on the extremes by Arthur Scargill and the Leninists. Labour refused to back the workers in these crucial times, and when in power bowed to the bosses’ pressure and then later abandoned any pretence of standing up for workers. The Trades Union Congress – the central trade union body in the UK – refused to call a general strike or back serious action during either strike, dooming them to failure. Scargill was the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers during the great Strike, during which he falsely led miners to believe they could win by going it alone at a time when the government were determined to smash the miners, whose only real hope was that other workers would support them.
This destruction of the possibility of collective class advancement has led many workers to turn instead against each other in an effort to get ahead. From an explosion in crime and unemployment, drug abuse and racism, an atmosphere conducive to the growth of the far-right was created. With the trade union movement in ruins, and the Left abandoning the working class for moralising student-based campaigning on third world issues, many workers saw the BNP fill the vacuum as the only viable political force with was attempting to address their concerns – on housing, crime and public services.
If the BNP ever did reach power its fascist leadership could drop their mask of respectability and use state power the way ever fascist regime does – enslaving the population, destroying independent workers’ organisation and driving down wages and conditions to make huge profits for “The Nation” (read – the ultra-rich of the nation). With a little ethnic cleansing on the side of course.
Even short of seizing state power the dangers of the success of the BNP, or any other fascist party, are as follows. Firstly, success breeds success – the more votes and councillors the BNP gets the more it looks like an effective alternative to the mainstream political parties and the more socially acceptable far-right and racist views become. Secondly, success of fascist parties presses the mainstream parties to adopt the tone, rhetoric and policies of the far right as the political agenda shifts to the right. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party decimated the large National Front in the late 70s and early 80s by stealing its thunder and shifting further right. Thirdly, in areas with elected BNP officials or strong far-right votes, hardcore fascists feel powerful and escalate physical attacks on groups like ethnic minorities, gays, trade unionists and human rights campaigners. In Tower Hamlets, East London when a BNP councillor was elected in 1993, racist attacks surged 300% . Fourthly of course if enough fascists are elected into positions of power they can begin passing damaging regressive legislation aimed against workers, civil liberties, minority groups and in favour of big business and greater state power.
How can we oppose it?
All mainstream “anti-racists” from the government to groups like Unite Against Fascism say is to vote against the BNP. This means telling people to vote for the very parties which cause and perpetuate the problems which drive people into the arms of the far right in the first place. Read more about why social change via political parties is ineffective...
Instead, we propose a three-pronged strategy
to combat the growth of fascism in Britain: organisational, political
This is the first and by far the most important way of stopping the growth of the BNP. As explained above the growth of the far-right is due to problems related to poverty, caused by capitalism. These are predominantly unemployment, poor housing and public services, and low wages. They have been filling the space left by the destruction of the unions 1980s stopping collective advancement of workers, and the Left abandoning the domestic working class in favour of moral crusades about faraway places.
Racism doesn't help us. Organising as a class does - as striking Gate Gourmet workers show us in 2005.
Instead of being dragged into the dead-end road of nationalist and racialist politics, we need to re-develop ways of improving our lives together, as a united working class. We need to recognise that our problems are not caused by our fellow workers of another skin tone but by the bosses who exploit us and exploit poor illegal immigrants, the landlords who leave properties empty, then rake huge profits from housing asylum seekers and other homeless people in appalling temporary accommodation, and the governments who sell off our public services, and waste our money and lives on wars to benefit huge corporations.
We need to come together to form re-build workplace organisation based on solidarity, and direct action to win better wages and conditions, and stop the super-exploitation of foreign workers which keeps all of our wages down. Workers in the public sector, with outside support can help combat the privatisation of our services which slashes jobs and service quality. Read more about workplace organising...
In our communities we need to try to begin to stick together against anti-social criminals which is ignored by the police, while fighting for provision of better services for our youth. Council tenants can oppose the sell-off of their homes into the private sector, and others can build tenants’ unions to take action such as rent strikes against bad landlords. Homeless people can occupy building left derelict or empty by absentee landlords and turn them into homes. Read more about community organising or housing...
A growing number of white working class people have been tricked by the BNP into believing that they have something to offer them. In fact for working people and our families the only thing fascists have to offer is tyranny and “freedom through work” – which is good for our bosses, but not for us.
It is important to explain how they have nothing to offer us, and to combat the lies they spread in order to win support. These lies include their left-wing pretences in their policy documents, and statements in their propaganda and party political broadcasts on subjects such as trade unions, ethnic minorities, crime, Aids and even the BBC!
Their strict law-and-order stance needs to be compared and contrasted with their leadership’s violent terrorist and criminal pasts (and present!), and their claims to no longer be fascist must be countered by exposing the leaderships’ hidden politics.
Finally, fascism as an ideology is based on violence. The violent destruction of all those individuals and organisations who do not give their all to the “fatherland”. These include people who don’t wish to work incredibly long hours for very little pay, those who believe in democracy, or human rights, or equality, and can include any other perceived “inferior” people, such as the disabled, mentally ill, homosexuals or ethnic minorities.
With fascists, there is no question as to whether they will be violent or not. They will begin acts of violence as soon as they feel powerful enough to do so. In Britain in the 1970s they were powerful, and carried out violence across the country, even including attacking old people in small human rights meetings. To know they still have the same aims now, all you have to do is look at Redwatch, a UK fascist hitlist site with pictures, names and addresses of “traitors”: trade unionists, anti-racists and left-wingers, including children. As shown in Italy, Spain and Germany once they have conquered state power, it is too late to physically oppose them, since with the might of the armed forces, the police and the prison system they are practically invincible.
So how can they be fought? Adolph Hitler, while
in power, explained:
“Only one thing could have stopped our movement. If our adversaries had understood its principle, and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement. "
At the moment the far right in Britain is in this nucleus stage. The fascists in the 1970s and 80s were physically smashed off the streets by militant organisation Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), with the once-might National Front reduced from 20,000 members to the pathetic 30-60 it is today.
Thousands of pounds of damage inflicted on BNP leaders' cars, smashed outside an organising meeting in 2005
Fascism can only grow while fascists are free to organise – to have a website, to have meetings and demonstrations, and to produce and distribute propaganda. Without this they cannot be heard, and so cannot grow. Preventing them speaking is not nice, but it must be done if they are to be prevented from gaining support by their deception.
Fascists use public demonstrations to look and feel powerful. Some young people join fascist groups because of their gang-like “hard man” image, but this quickly evaporates if they are attacked. Many fascists are simply petty bullies, who will not keep attending fascist events if anyone stands up to them. This is born out by the rapidly dwindling numbers of active fascists in areas where they were targeted by AFA in the 80s and 90s. Websites can also be hacked, and fascist meetings can be trashed. The activities of AFA largely drove the far right underground, and it is thanks to them that fascists still can rarely have public meetings anywhere in the UK. We need to make sure this remain so. Workers can – and have - refuse to produce, or distribute their propaganda.
Some people argue that now the BNP have temporarily abandoned the “controlling the streets” strategy that physically targeting them is now useless. While it is true that attacking an elected BNP official in an area where they have some public support might be counter-productive, we believe that elsewhere they are even more vulnerable to physical pressure due to their need for respectability. The BNP leadership knows it must lose its association with violence and thuggery if it is to ever become widely popular. It must, therefore, avoid any involvement in street fights. Some people have worried that attacking BNP organisers might win them more public sympathy, but the BNP is so embarrassed by involvement in violence that it has covered up any news of being attacked, and the fact remains that your average fascist organiser will only take so much before they give up the fight – or ponder as to why the very people they are supposed to represent (the white working class) hate them so much as to fight them wherever they go that they change their minds.
It must be stressed again at this stage that by far the most important way of fighting the far
right is by dealing with the problems they thrive off on a class
basis rather than a racial one. Physically confronting fascists
is an activity only a minority of people can do due to its dangerous
nature, and of course all violence is horrible, and even though
necessary sometimes it should kept to the minimum possible.
1. Fascism is an ideology based on the destruction of organisations of the working class, which is often highly racist
2. The BNP is Britain’s main far-right party, which has a secret fascist leadership with a façade of respectability
3. The BNP is growing due to four main factors:
...a. The destruction of the trade unions
...b. The Left abandoning the domestic working class
...c. Problems caused by capitalism in Britain continue to worsen and mainstream parties are unable and unwilling to help, and the BNP claim that they will
...d. The corporate media have made a scapegoat of asylum seekers and immigrants for these problems
4. The growth of the BNP is dangerous because then they reach a critical strength they will begin physical (and eventual legislative if in government) attacks on ethnic minorities, homosexuals, trade unionists and any left-wing or anti-racist campaigners. If they gain state power they will enslave the population and enact ethnic cleansing
5. To stop the growth of fascism we need to
...a. Fill the vacuum left by the destruction of the unions, and organise to begin to solve our problems collectively as a class, sticking together regardless of race or nationality.
...b. Combat the BNP’s lies that they have anything to offer British working people, and expose their fascist core
...c. Physically confront them and prevent them organising on the ground or spreading their message.
1. BBC E-cyclopedia, The Economist
3. BNP “news” on website, 2004 (NB we do not link directly to any far-right websites)
5. See 2
6. Refugee Action
7. See An Anarchist FAQ for more information about capital flight
10. For example, the Dahl Jenson strike of 2004, or the Italian workers' movement in the 1970s. The Industrial Workers of the World also had much success in immigrant organising in the early 20th Century US.
11. See Blackbird Leys Independent Working Class Association
12. See Defend Council Housing; also the victorious anti-sell-off campaign in Camden
13. See the Italian tenants’ movement in the 1970s.
14. See squatters.org.uk or our Housing section for more information
15. Some recent BNP crime headlines on libcom.org: BNP member caught smuggling illegal immigrants, BNP candidate guilty of dealing crack and heroin, BNP Member Jailed For Racist Attacks
16. See No Retreat, by Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey, Milo Books
17. To get involved in militant anti-fascism, contact Antifa
18. See No Retreat, above
19. The BNP site was taken down for weeks by hackers in 2005.
20. Recent examples include: Nationalist Alliance meeting trashed, September 2005, BNP organising meeting bricked, March 2005
21. In the 2004 Elections, postal workers refused to deliver BNP materials, BBC. In 2002 German television workers refused to broadcast fascist party the NPD’s election broadcasts.
22. The BNP has covered up all recent examples of this occurring, such as the incident in footnote 20.
23. See No Retreat, ibid. for examples.