The agony and the ecstasy that come with commitment to the fascist politics of the British National Party have been shown in all their squalidness recently.
On the side of agony comes the ruling on BNP membership conditions by the Equalities and Human Rights Council together with the leak of an updated membership list.
On the ecstatic side the backbones of the racists, nationalists and fascist thugs who compose that membership will be substantially stiffened by the appearance of Nick Griffin on the BBC’s “Question Time” and the waves of publicity that come with it. How do all these things fit together?
On 22 June this year the EHRC wrote to the BNP raising concerns under the Race Relations Act with regard to its conditions for membership of the party. These conditions stipulate (no changes have yet been made) that membership be restricted to particular “ethnic groups”, namely those people of “English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish” ancestry. In short, people who are white and British. Three years after the Equalities Act of 2006, the EHRC came to the conclusion that the BNP is fundamentally racist.
The EHRC gave the BNP the opportunity to amend membership restrictions or face legal action. The fascists failed to comply and the matter went to court.
Between the receipt of the initial letter and the BNP’s day in the dock, the party went into a frenzy of activity. Their website promised a heavy-weight like confrontation between Griffin and EHRC chair Trevor Phillips. The party leader posed before war memorials, with stirring orchestral music in the background, demanding “extra efforts” and donations from the membership to fund their legal case.
But behind closed doors, even stranger and arguably more paranoid mutterings were making the rounds. Anti-fascist protestors picketing a BNP meeting in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, were accused of being the stooges of a man called Simon Woolley who wanted them all to join the BNP. Simon Woolley is the director of “Operation Black Vote”, a group that organises within the black community for greater political engagement. The BNP was telling its members that Woolley had motivated the action by the EHRC in order to allow black people to join.
This claim has an appalling symmetry with another BNP claim that the government, urged on by and in cooperation with “Muslims”, is encouraging the “Islamisation” of Britain. In the minds of the BNP this “weak government” is walking hand-in-hand with “alien forces” to bring about the collapse of the nation. Only Nick Griffin and the BNP can save us.
In fact, Griffin can’t even save his own party. Despite all the promises of a showdown, the BNP backed down and agreed to amend its membership rules.
This humiliation will not transform the party; such legal measures will not and cannot make it any less racist or dangerous.
When they change the rules, anyone can be a member but only certain individuals — a small collection of people, selected and indoctrinated for the task — can actually vote on party policy. Conforming to Orwell’s formulation of totalitarian thinking, in the BNP “some are more equal than others”.
The second dose of agony comes from a new leak of the BNP membership list. The list, which is dated April this year, shows a total membership of 11,560 with a marked increase in female members since the last leak in 2008. (About one eighth of the party is now female.)
Interestingly, the information shows something of a contradiction between areas of electoral success and party membership.
Barking and Dagenham, Stoke, the North West and Yorkshire are areas where the party enjoys political representation but membership is actually most concentrated in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. The only apparent correlation is the North West, where Lancashire suffers from concentrated membership.
One explanation for these concentrations is historic: in the hey-day of the National Front and openly Nazi organisations, Leicester and the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border towns and villages were centres of activity. It’s likely that a number of long-time fascists, a readymade membership base, have joined the BNP but are of the “pub room fascist” variety rather than the energetic, younger members capable of winning elections.
Despite the facts and the embarrassing revelations, some parts of the mainstream are opening their doors. The BBC’s decision to invite Griffin onto “Question Time” is the most prominent example of this to date.
The foolishness of the invitation has been explained elsewhere but the historic parallels and creeping dangers should be aired afresh. In the German Weimar Republic, members of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) — Hitler’s paramilitary organisation — operated with relative freedom, attacking Jews, socialists, trade unionists and other opponents. The Republic had very relaxed attitudes to free speech — anyone could say anything and quite frequently did, from all sides of the political spectrum.
The problem, however, was not one of free speech. Further up the establishment hierarchy, the Weimar courts treated SA members very lightly. The Nazis in general received a soft-ride from sections of the press. There was a slow but steady accommodation to the existence and influence of the Nazi party, especially when electoral successes came their way.
The BNP is nowhere near as influential or threatening to democracy as the Nazis were in the years running up to taking power. The same levels of threat do not exist. But the slow, bit-by-bit accommodation by sections of the bourgeois media is following a similar pattern. As yet, the courts have shown themselves to be able and willing to take on the BNP. But such institutions are and can only be fair-weather friends in the fight against fascism.
The next general election is likely to herald significant changes in the political climate. Parliamentary representation for the BNP is not out of the question; neither is a significantly increased presence in local and regional government structures. If these things happen, then we cannot be sure how institutions of the state — the police, courts, law makers — will react.
We can rely neither on the bourgeois media nor the state to act against the threat posed by the BNP and similar organisations.
We can rely on our own ideas and our own movement to resist racism and fascism, but only if a political battle in our own house is won.
This means mobilising on our own terms against the fascists, articulating labour movement ideas and rejecting class-collaboration as a tactic. It means building and mobilising for a working-class movement against fascism.
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