Activists from Nottinghamshire Stop the BNP returned to the streets in their campaign against the British National Party. Leafleting door-to-door in the Beeston area of Nottingham, a small group of anti-fascists found themselves on the same front steps as the BNP, who’d covered the area a short time before.
The BNP material — a combination of glossy leaflets and a photocopied local newsletter — repeated the fascists core themes for the coming European and local elections: “Say to to EU rule”, “oppose mass immigration”, “house British people first”, “help pensioners not banks”. Wayne Shelbourn, a county council candidate, attempts to present himself as an ordinary bloke. “Born into a mining family” and now a publican, Shelbourn is a “no nonsense [sic], straight talking [sic] guy who doesn’t ‘do’ political correctness”. If he were either of the first two things, Shelbourn would admit to being a fascist.
The Beeston South & Attenborough Patriot, the BNP’s local mouthpiece in this election, asks readers, “the Silent Majority”, to fill in a questionnaire. The Patriot asks: “Do you feel like a second class citizen in your own country?”, “Do you feel that your hard earned taxes are being wasted?”, “Do you feel betrayed by the government and let down by empty promises?” ... yes, yes and yes. All workers are treated as “second class”, New Labour has wasted billions of pounds on attacking working class communities and they haven’t kept their promises on most manifesto commitments. “Do you feel that we have lost control of our own Borders?”, “Do you feel that criminals are given an easy time?”, “Do you agree, ‘British Jobs For British Workers’[?]” ... there you have it.
This questionnaire is fairly typical of the BNP’s approach to potential supporters. Harnessing quite valid and understandable anti-government sentiment, connecting it to their own agenda and exploiting fear and anger.
Like the anti-fascists, the BNP will have had a mixed reception on their rounds. For example, of the two people who came out of their houses on one street, one threw the BNP material straight in the bin and another pursued them down the street with a torrent of abuse. A few streets further on, one man told the anti-fascists that: “yes I spoke to them ... the second word was ‘off’”, whilst another began shouting, blaming immigrants for his son and daughter being unable to find jobs.
This sort of campaigning, especially in small numbers and just a few days before an election, has significant limits. It’s exactly the sort of “emergency campaigning” that AWL members have been critical of. But for Nottinghamshire Stop the BNP, this work is not the whole of anti-fascism. Neither are rallies and concerts.
Like the AWL, the Nottingham campaign believes that anti-fascism is inseparable from the labour movement, democratic decision making, action to shut-down BNP activity and political action to contest fascist ideas.
Socialists should recognise, but not be consoled by, the fact that in the run-up to the European elections, very few avenues for mass anti-fascist work presented themselves. There are neither the organisational structures nor the political ideas and will in either the trade unions or the left to mount such work. In Leeds, for instance, AWL comrades have turned up to advertised “Unite Against Fascism” events to find nobody else there. In other places, the campaigning materials are so poor that the impact of an hour or two of leafleting is probably negative.
The growth of the BNP and the likelihood that they will fare well — by the standards of fascist organisations of the past — in the coming elections is connected to the state of the left and the unions. The final victory of fascism comes at the expense of a totally defeated workers’ movement and likewise, the ups-and-downs in the fortunes of fascism outside of “revolutionary situations”corresponds to the state of our movement. Any serious attempts at anti-fascism must therefore be linked to attempts to renew sections of the labour movement and build an organisational scaffold for working class politics — wherever the opportunity arises.
The aftermath of 4 June is likely to provoke a great deal of discussion, if not action in the first instance. There cannot but be some degree of “thinking through”and reassessment on the part of those responsible for or in a position to shift and re-coordinate how trade unions — in the first instance — do anti-fascism.
There will be layers of people on the left who’ve been inactive for some time, who may have been newly reactivated by the economic crises, the Visteon disputes and wild-cat actions and who wish to re-assess where anti-fascism and working class politics more generally is going. It’s unlikely that those at the helm of official anti-fascism — the SWP and UAF or the Stalinists-cum-social democrats of Searchlight — will allow themselves room for serious reflection and renewed action.
If this sort of “thinking through” does occur, then it’s the responsibility of socialists to take an initiative, provide an open and democratic forum for discussion and organise those who we can convince into more adequate anti-fascist campaigning.
Anti-fascists in Nottingham* are clear that the trade unions, political education and political solutions are central to defeating the BNP. They have committed themselves to calling an open discussion and organising meeting in the wake of the elections to hammer out and plan an effective anti-fascist campaign with the unions, the left and individual activists. They have also committed themselves to attempting, once more, to shut down the BNP’s annual “Red, White and Blue” festival, which is likely to return to the area in the summer.
• See boxes — names have been changed to protect anti-fascist activists from reprisal attacks.
We must go door to door
“The changes in the Labour Party, the lack of working-class representation and the economic crisis have all contributed to the growth in support for BNP. The trade unions should continue to expose the BNP for what they are but we should be campaigning door-to-door rather than staging rallies and concerts. Things have become too centralised. Unions should be using their political funds to do a lot more, sending leaflets out to members is no substitute for working in communities to take on the BNP.”
Nigel Rand — National Union of Teachers activist in Nottinghamshire
We need a political platform
“My participation in the labour movement tells me that the influence of trade unions was far greater in the 1960s and 1970s. There was an education taking place. Ordinary shop stewards — whatever their academic capabilities — on the shop floor, ordinary people who had not risen through formal education, received an education in the social structure of society. In the late 1970s the labour movement lost its way, there was no rank-and-file education. The main reason the BNP has grown is that the representatives of the working class have compromised themselves by not applying a political solution to the problems of society. Jobs aren’t guaranteed and benefits removed. We see a situation where people with a lot of money get away with cheating. Amongst the ranks of people who oppose fascism, there are a cross-section of views. If we are going to challenge the BNP’s ideas we need a sound platform to challenge them. There are some people who want to take the fight to the fascists. They have to be able to take them on. We shouldn’t be prim. As an individual I’ve never had the stomach to do this, but those socialists who are prepared to do it are necessary and we should defend them. The trade union movement could provide a political solution to the BNP. There are some people on the left who say they’re the political solution. If you say that Parliament is a farce, you have to say what the alternative is. The fascists would love a dictator state. We have to have our own political solution and at the moment that’s based on parliamentary democracy, so we need a political platform.”
Adam Majors – Shop Steward at Plessey, Beeston from 1970s-1990s, now a Unite activist
Labour must change
“A lot of people who voted for Labour feel very disaffected and are seeking other parties. The simplistic answers that the BNP offer are attractive to them. I think the nature of the BNP needs to be exposed, like their historical routes in Nazi ideas. Anti-immigration and anti-Europe ideas have an appeal but people don’t know what they would mean. How would we ‘get rid’ of immigrants? What would it mean to leave Europe? The Labour Party needs to fundamentally review the whole issue of poverty and disadvantage. In a very real way, we should align ourselves with these groups if we don’t want the BNP to get a greater grip”.
Karen Lewis — Labour Party activist in Nottingham