The victory of at least one BNP MEP in the upcoming Euro-elections now looks almost inevitable. To accept this is not to collapse into nihilism or to admit defeat, but to indict the New Labour, Tory and Lib Dem councillors and MPs across the country.
Their policies of cuts and privatisation have created the conditions in which the BNP — posing as a populist alternative to the establishment — have been allowed to grow.
A Euro-MP would give the BNP access to enormous financial resources, allowing them to develop and galvanise their organisation. As anyone who lives in an area of BNP strength will know, any level of significant fascist organisation poses an immediate physical threat to ethnic minorities and LGBT people.
In the absence of a serious socialist electoral alternative, the temptation to advocate a “keep out the BNP vote” — that is, a vote for anyone, of any party, as long as it prevents the fascists from getting elected — is strong. But to make this the encapsulation of immediate anti-fascist strategy, as many on the left are doing, would not only be a blind alley but, in the long term, dangerously counterproductive.
Both elements of mainstream anti-fascism (Searchlight/Hope Not Hate and Unite Against Fascism) adopt cross-class perspectives, arguing that working with (and voting for) capitalist parties against the BNP is not only acceptable but necessary and desirable. Senior New Labour politicians such as Charles Clarke and even Gordon Brown have appeared on HnH publicity. This strategy is about as effective as lining up with the Arsonists’ League and the Petrol Pourers’ Association in order to put out a raging fire. It reduces anti-fascist activists to electoral foot-soldiers for mainstream parties, and makes us appear to disillusioned workers considering voting BNP as defenders of the status quo.
What is needed is a movement not designed to hold back fascism’s worst electoral excesses, but rather to conduct a war against fascist organisation and the social conditions in which it grows. This means eschewing both the tactics (media stunts, pop concerts, celebrity endorsements) and the politics (class collaborationism) of HnH and UAF in favour of direct action, working-class anti-fascism; physically confronting and shutting down fascist organisation wherever we can, and mobilising working-class people in positive, anti-capitalist campaigns around the legitimate grievances the BNP attempt to exploit.
Members of Workers’ Liberty in Nottingham were involved in initiating the Notts Stop the BNP campaign, and it shows a model of anti-fascism which builds on the spirit of Cable Street and the workers’ anti-fascist defence squads mobilised by the Minneapolis teamsters during their heroic strike of 1934. Socialists must advocate and build around that model now.
Simply going along with the “vote for anyone but the BNP” line of the mainstream anti-fascist movement can only possibly result in the strengthening of the Tories, Lib Dems or New Labour – leading to more years of the same policies that have allowed the BNP be to grow.