Martin Wright on the class composition of support for the National Front, from Anarchy #19, 1976.
Fascism in Britain Today (1976): The National Front, the working class and the lumpen - Martin Wright
These conclusions and generalisations, arrived at over a considerable period of time, are the results of many long conversations with various individual militants some of whom, in my mind, had progressed beyond the sloganising of the left and had begun to examine more seriously the implication of both present-day fascism and its rival, anti -fascism. As for myself, I have been involved in various anti-fascist activities, so, having read most of the current anti-fascist papers and pamphlets, having attended many meetings, pickets, demonstrations (and incidentally being somewhat pissed-off with the scene) I am not a disinterested observer.
Having a keen interest in the subject I think I may be able to make a small contribution to the re-examination of some of the issues involved. I will attempt to draw conclusions in a context which I think is radically different from the way the subject has been tackled by the left press. I will for the sake of convenience try to deliberately limit my article by concentrating upon the best-known manifestation of fascism in Britain - the National Front. Although the Nat-front has recently split, the more "moderate", opportunist, ex-Tory section breaking away to form the National Party, which represents a pitiful attempt to gain respectability and cast off the fascist image, I don’t think this schism affects my arguments in any way.
The article will be divided into two parts. Part 1 will deal with the relationship between certain sections of the working class and the NF. Part 2 will deal with the fashion in which the left has struggled against the Front.
Part One: The National Front, the working class and the lumpen.
"Working people should demand: -
(1) An end to monopoly control and speculation of commodities
(2) that the Government freeze all food prices by slashing the outrageous profits of these giant food monopolies
(3) a scrapping of the fraudulent 'Price Commission' and the establishment of Government-approved housewives and trade-unionists councils to monitor food price increases in every locality
(4) the rigid control of the big banks and slashing of the present exorbitant interest rates."
- Neil Famell, National Front Industrial Organiser
Who supports the National Front?
The type of person who made up the rank-and-file of the fascist movement in the past, the small shopkeeper, the student, the petty clerk, the landlord, with the occasional lumpenproletarian and "hang-'em-flog-'em" military type, although much in evidence at the leadership end of Nat-front, do not necessarily make up the rank-and-file membership or support. The "traditional" supporter of the extreme right wing of the Conservative Party, the union-bashers and racists of the Monday Club that flooded into the NF after the last Tory government allowed the expelled Ugandan Asians to settle in Britain, is slowly trickling back into the Tory party, attracted by the violent laissez-faire rhetoric of Maggie and Jo (or joined the breakaway National Party). Where then does the NF draw its support from?
The answer is, unfortunately, from certain sections of the working class. The strata of the working class I refer to are the most alienated - super-alienated in fact (although due of course to their super-alienation they are unaware of this); this does not mean they are the most economically oppressed - some of them are though.
A large number of them are exploited by their bosses, but are in a strange position in their relation to their bosses and their fellow workers. These people live in working-class areas, their friends, family, relations, environment are almost exclusively working-class, yet incredibly they are almost totally alienated from their class - within the realm of class-consciousness, that is.
Where are they found?
The environment, the relation to the point of production determines for the most part their consciousness. You will find that they usually work in very small, antiquated, un-unionised factories or workshops. Inside these places they stand on opposite ends of the same wavelength. One lot for example, the minority. These lot may have worked in the same establishment for a considerable period, having built themselves up into a slightly superior position (as charge-hands, foremen, or just by the fact they have been there a long time, they receive more pay and get more overtime) they are deeply rooted into their particular job, and they have some sort of incentive, over the other workers.
The slightly better-off workers may not like their bosses as persons (who does?) but neither do they have much of a regard for their fellow-workers, many of whom are women and immigrants. On balance, then, it would seem their loyalties are divided evenly, but another factor remains, that of interest. They support their bosses' interest. Examples of this are in their attitude to their bosses, crawling, bootlicking; to their fellow-workers, indifference mingled with a callow viciousness which becomes exacerbated if the other workers are immigrants.
These characters can never do too much overtime, never make too many racist, sexist remarks; their traits are familiar - nauseating.
Workers of the same mentality on the other end of the wavelength, who make up the majority of this breed are mostly unskilled and disillusioned (with what ,they don't know) and let the media, with their mostly backward, conservative, racist ideology, do their thinking for them. They are. most importantly, white. Whenever they start a new job in these places typified by foul working conditions, low pay and long hours, they head straight towards the people they can identify with, the people who express like thoughts, the minority referred to above. (I remember the very first day l started one of these jobs a young person who started with me, in the space of a few minutes, made a remark to me: "l don't see why they employ them” - referring to black workers.
Other workers in these places usually consist of large numbers of super-exploited women and immigrants of both sexes. Of course, to a lesser extent, these other workers may be partly responsible, through their apathy, for the prevailing conditions, but when It comes to the crunch and some of these workers start fighting, say, for a union, the backward workers referred to have a choice. If they take the side of the struggling workers they can no longer be thought of as backward; they should rapidly begin to lose some of their reactionary viewpoints and head towards the camp of the revolutionary working class. If they don’t they will regard the struggle as an unwarranted disturbance, stirred up by "outsiders ' or "commies' perhaps, a disturbance on the otherwise humdrum existence that prevails.
Same people — some places
Apart from the small factories mentioned above, even smaller units such as the tiny workshop, the small garange for example, breed reactionary consciousness - why?
Well, here the boss and the worker may do the same sort of job, wear the same kind of overalls and mix socially, like for instance go drinking together. In these places it Is no exaggeration to say that there is very little chance that class-consciousness will develop at that particular point of production. Wherever class lines are hazy, reactionary consciousness develops. People like for example scrap-metal merchants, costermongers, self-employed tradespeople, mini-cab drivers, totters and their assistants are not well known as revolutionary political militants. It is most important to stress that the working conditions briefly described above are located among the most socially deprived areas.
In these areas you will find that for various reasons industry Is quitting, moving to more salubrious areas or just closing down because of the economic crisis, leaving only these small un-unionised factories, or service industries. These areas, lacking adequate social amenities at the best of times (cinemas, hospitals, clinics, schools, other social services) experience a deep blow whenever these services decline even in a small way.
Also, these areas are ravaged by property speculation and massive council re -development which between them create vast tracts of devastation, ringed by middle-class ghettos that push out the working class, and a broad discontent - which manifests itself sometimes in support for right-wing populists and the National Front.
Why the NF? Because, I think, there is a serious lack of a real mass revolutionary movement. In these decaying areas of our large cities, the traditional working class areas of London is where the NF picks up its main support. The large number of votes picked up by the NF in these areas indicates this. People support the NF because it offers easy solutions to complex problems; this involves turning one section of the working class against the other, appealing to the worst kind of irrationalities (like race) by appealing to people who cannot take any meaningful action for themselves and hence hate people who do (industrial militants, squatters). The Front's simplistic but effective propaganda "House Britons First" "Pensioners before Immigrants" appeals deeply to these people.
A good example of this situation can be found in the London Borough of Islington. Islington is one of the deprived areas mentioned above, and here a breakaway group from the Labour Party, a vile group of fuckers, play on die worst fears and irrationalities of the estranged working class.
They have a fair amount of support, and have formed a "Young Married Couples Association" which has the aim of housing those "bom and bred' in the borough, saying that outsiders' arc jumping the housing queue - the "outsiders" of course being the weakest sections of the working class: unmarried mothers, immigrant workers, most squatters. The Young Married Couples Association at the Town Hall was reported by the local libertarian community paper the Islington Gutter Press, No. 24. The speakers spewed out all the rubbish you could expect, but this rubbish appeals to the worst kind of Irrationality - and it works! The last and worst speaker summed it all up and it’s worth reproducing some of his speech in detail...
"Who gets rehoused in this borough? It's the layabouts and rubbish. A third of the last 1300 homeless families we've rehoused haven't lived in the borough for a year. They come in on Monday and get a house by Tuesday. And this rubbish keeps coming in, in, in! Do you get houses? No'. But these dirty layabouts, squatters, these weirdoes with their beards and sandals, all lousy - they get houses. Look at what the council's doing, they put 5 of these squatters, all single, into Essex Houses. And they gave them cookers, carpets. bedding, the lot. And what do you get? Nothing! And look at the 22 flats, Providence Place, which the council's done up. Who got them? Young couples who’ve lived all their life in Islington? No. They all went to homeless families from outside the borough. . . (He rants on about the local councillors.). . .They don’t represent you these councillors. They don't care about you. . . They’re just a bunch of airey-fairy queers. They drink their cheese and wine in their nice Barnsbury houses and theologise. . . (He then screams about some flats under offer)... The only way we'll get ’em is to frighten the council. They need a good fright. So we've got to crowd the chamber on Nov. 27th. If the squatters can do it, so can we. They're the only people we get in here at meetings. Squatters and layabouts... weirdoes and druggies. It's like a refuse chute in there. And it works for them. These bearded squatters get their flats with beautiful green-tiled bathrooms. It's time we crowded the place out. It’s time there was a smell of roses in the council chamber for a change. Who does this council help? There’s a building in St Paul's Road. Conditioned air. There's a printing press in there, where they print Gutter Press, all out of rate-payer money, our money, where they tell kids to play truant and to hit coppers..."
According to the Gutter Press there was "Great applause. That was it. The meeting was over. There was no discussion." Here is the type of speech, the type of language that appeals to the super-alienated sections of the working class, the type of thing that unless checked manifests itself in growing support for right-wing populists like the NF. The NF not only offers articulation of these outpourings into a coherent political programme, but can offer an organisation, plus the ability to develop these far beyond backstreet public bar mumblings. It is up to revolutionaries to combat this sort of reactionary’ propaganda; if they don't it could be very costly. Revolutionaries should try to bring the submerged sections of the class into revolution. It's not impossible, and if they don’t the NF will.
(Part 2 will deal with the left and the National Front.)