The British anti-fascist movement is at a crossroads. Holding the growth of the BNP is getting harder every year and the post-war strategy of “No Platform” plus “Exposure” is being by-passed by significant changes taking place.
The BNP has achieved a national resonance that cannot be fought any more by us simply targeting their target areas. They have Strasserite anti-capitalist policies that equip them to compete for the huge part of the political territory vacated by New Labour. Exposing them as Nazis is no longer preventing people from wanting to find out about these policies. We already lack a means of effectively countering them at national elections and a “business as usual” approach would probably make this a permanent problem.
Future anti-fascist prospects are hit by the recession, by the crisis in political representation and legitimacy, and by the ways in which our allies in the three “mainstream” political parties, some newspapers, and the celebrity culture, are responding to the BNP. Their rearguard action against the “normalisation” of the BNP has recently involved them in breaching the principle of not appearing on the same platform as the BNP. The dam is burst and there is no going back.
Ironically, this breach has put these social and political forces in charge of articulating the anti-fascist argument and — on Question Time and beyond – has led to anti-fascism being identified with their defence of the withered and degraded democracy in 21st century Britain. Anti-fascism is increasingly defined by the divide between the BNP and these parties and interests.
Specifically, this entangles anti-fascism, by association, with the arguments between these parties and the BNP over their different conceptions of the nationalism they share, including over how tight immigration control has to be to protect British “national interests”.
This change also identifies anti-fascism with a moralistic demonisation of the BNP for being “extremist”, for being outside the range of acceptable, pro-capitalist politics which self-define as “democratic”. Because this attack coincides with the crisis in British political representation and legitimacy, within which the three “mainstream” parties are seen as essentially the same on key issues, this counterposes the BNP to all three of them as the alternative.
British post-war anti-fascism has hitherto always been essentially a single-issue movement, but the breach of “No Platform” in the course of the BBC Question Time fiasco means that this is changing into tackling the BNP as a political opponent.
In the absence of a unified left capable of putting forward an internationalist, eco-socialist and anti-racist alternative to capitalism, anti-fascism can only slip into becoming a political argument between the representatives of degraded democracy and the BNP.
In the absence of any broad left electoral alliance at the 2010 General Election, this will again condemn anti-fascists to calling on people to vote for the parties, and by implication the politics, of this degraded democracy. This further cements the BNP’s position as the party of the unrepresented, of the alienated and of the marginalised.
This is a political configuration which is untenable in the medium and long-term and which can only lead to the further growth of the BNP. Added to this, European history shows that fascism and organised racism can only be defeated by the working class movement. Because the British working class has been defeated, divided and weakened over the past 25 years, the only counter-strategy which makes sense is one which works with this reality by engaging simultaneously within the unorganised working class, the organised working class and among all those who want to defend their multiracial communities against the BNP’s divisive racism. A strategy that is capable of bringing each of these forces into play within an anti-fascist struggle can only be delivered by a unified left, because nothing else can have the political positions to compete with the BNP’s anti-capitalist rhetoric.
The problem is that the British left is currently too divided and too disengaged from all sections of a divided and demoralised working class to serve as a reliable basis for a rejuvenated anti-fascism. This call is to the left to get itself into the position from which it can play this historical role and to the anti-fascist movement — to acknowledge the need for a drastic transition from the current approach, which has been by-passed by developments and become untenable as a future strategy, to one which abandons self-indulgence and is based on a sensible, socially-rooted left wing political alternative with its feet firmly planted in the real world.