The British National Party is in the throes of a major crisis after a series of high profile expulsions and resignations. The root of the crisis is the outspoken fascism of leading BNP member Mark Collett and the contradictions implicit in an organisation attempting to hide its real politics.
The BNP rebels - far from condemning Collett's politics - have labelled him a mere 'embarrassment' and a threat to the BNP's current 'legitimate' turn.
The crisis burst into the open with a message on the newly revamped BNP website on Sunday 9th December explaining that Cllr Sadie Graham (head of 'Group Development') and party administrator Kenny Smith had been expelled for 'gross misconduct'. What, exactly, constituted this 'misconduct'?
Graham and Smith had for some time raised concerns through internal party structures over Collett's behaviour - behaviour not restricted to Nazi worship on television documentaries. Mark Collett is notorious for appearing in two documentaries: Russell Brand's 'Nazi Boy' and an edition of Dispatches entitled 'Young, Nazi and Proud' (see YouTube).
Collett's comments ranged from the homophobic and racist to out-right Hitler worship. For example: 'Hitler will live forever and maybe I will too'. Collett and close associate Dave Hannam have constructed a clique of supporters around them. This group has been at the centre of physical and verbal attacks on fellow party members, the mishandling of party finances and various other allegations of threatening behaviour and incompetence. For example, BNP accounts have still not been submitted for official scrutiny.
Nick Griffin has firmly sided with Collett in this dispute. That the leader of the BNP sided with an outspoken Nazi over a covert one suggests something essential in his politics.
Having failed to convince Griffin to act against the Collett clique, Graham and friends set up the 'Enough is Enough Nick' web-log detailing their complaints. In taking the issue to the membership and wider public, Graham and Smith were summarily expelled from an organisation that claims to be the 'most democratic' party in Britain! On top of this it is alleged that members of the BNP 'Security Team' - currently in the hands of former South African Intelligence operatives - have been bugging members phone calls and that on the day of Graham's expulsion they gained access to her house and removed a number of items including a lap-top and mobile phone.
What next for the BNP?
Graham's expulsion and the ongoing re-composition of the BNP hierarchy pose a number of questions that anti-fascists must respond to. It is widely acknowledged that Sadie Graham is one of the most competent, articulate and organised fascists in Europe. Through consistent groundwork, community organising and political opportunism she constructed a network of BNP branches, sympathisers and fund-raisers across the country. As champion of the BNP's turn towards the 'legitimate' big-time ˆ a turn conducted without an open assessment or repudiation of an openly fascist past - Graham was a significant personality in the party.
Her success in the East Midlands in particular, where she was elected as Borough Councillor for the village of Brinsley, was a model replicated across the country. Since the expulsions a number of other prominent BNP members have come out in support. Regional organisers, councillors, 'fund-holders' (the people with access to local money we assume) and party officials across the country have responded to a call for action. Significant sections and regions of the BNP are now effectively defunct - the national organisation is left like a calamitous general with a severely depleted army.
Meanwhile Graham's supporters reiterate their commitment to the 'nationalist movement' (ie. fascism) and promise to continue their fight. This could mean a drawn-out and crippling battle of position within the BNP itself or attempts - already in embryo form - to create an alternative organisation.
The BNP has two short-term problems to resolve and one long-term contradiction to work out. The BNP intends to stand in the upcoming Greater London Assembly and Mayoral elections and is currently raising funds for the Euro Elections. Richard Barnbrook - a councillor in Barking and Dagenham and would-be London Mayor - is firmly in the Griffin camp but faces a split in the London organisation with many sympathising with Graham. A destabilised and demoralised organisation does not make for an effective electoral machine.
Before the current crisis the BNP were convinced that Barnbrook would at least make it onto the GLA. The split makes this seem increasingly unlikely. Standing candidates in European elections is an expensive business and with Graham effectively out of the picture the BNP has lost one of its most talented fund-raisers. A humiliating defeat in London will further cripple the BNP and together with insufficient funds for a European challenge could force a reassessment of strategy.
This could mean one of three options (1) to continue business as usual, tolerate the electoral defeats and wait for calmer weather, (2) re-admit Graham, Smith and company whilst sidelining the Collett gang or (3) a return to the past.
Option one would seem to be the most likely course of action for the BNP. The BNP have played a waiting game for some time now and have undertaken steps to tone-down and discipline the membership away from open fascism - they have also experienced less drastic splits and resignations in the recent past without much fuss. Re-admitting Graham would be a significant political climb-down for a man not known for his humility.
There is a precedent in that John Tyndall won re-admission to the BNP in 1999 after an appeal - but at the time Tyndall didn't present a credible threat to Griffin's leadership, unlike Graham. In both cases the strategy of building from the bottom, making minor electoral gains here and there, raising funds and recruiting members has worked in some sense and could continue to be effective without significant organised opposition from anti-fascists. Griffin isn't really interested in finding legitimacy through the electoral system but recognises that his much-hoped-for 'nationalist revolution' won't happen by magic - any type of 'revolution' requires a political base. Contesting elections and scrabbling for mainstream acceptance whilst creating an organised political cadre creates this base.
Option three - a return to the street fascism of the National Front - would be attractive to many BNP members and sympathisers and Mark Collett almost certainly. The BNP has at its core a group of long-standing, committed fascists. These people have tolerated the past few years in the hope of building a more significant organisation but a tour of the internet - especially the 'Storm Front' message board - demonstrates that these characters are chomping at the bit to renew their 'race-war'. Such a turn would be an act of desperation. The BNP has already lost a significant layer of members since Graham's expulsion and is likely to lose more before this crisis is resolved. A turn to more confrontational tactics would see a further haemorrhage of support, almost certainly towards whatever political vehicle Sadie Graham can throw together.
The current crisis in the BNP should be celebrated by all anti-fascists - but mere celebration is not enough. The dispute between Griffin and Graham has exposed the fascist underbelly of the BNP for all to see. We should act decisively to ensure that those who have voted for the BNP in the past or who may be considering voting for or joining the organisation in the future are exposed to the facts of recent events and reality of the BNP's politics.
The BNP has grown in the recent past not merely because of organisational initiative on their part but because of the Labour government's continued attacks on the working class and the relative weakness of anti-fascism. A significant element of the BNP's electoral support and membership come from sections of the community that in the past voted Labour.
Racism in the labour movement has never been extensively campaigned against. New Labour in particular has been happy to exploit racism on issues like asylum seekers rather than combat it. Now the increasing apathy of Labour's traditional working class electoral base, the atrophy of trade unions and the notion of working class solidarity has led to disoriented and politically abandoned layers within the working class to becoming easy prey for the BNP.
Any serious anti-fascist organisation should base itself on the concerns of the working-class, the labour movement and combine a critique of BNP fascism with criticism of this government and capitalism more generally. We should work to re-educate and re-integrate workers into the labour movement and build organisations that counter attacks on the working class from all corners.
Anti-fascists in the Nottinghamshire Stop the BNP campaign have started this work already. They have called a regional conference for 19th January with the aim of creating a network of labour movement based campaigns. If you want any further information on the conference or anti-fascism contact email@example.com.