by Kofi Kyerewaa
Despite the repetitive Nazi name-calling, the British National Party achieved their hope of getting elected into the European Parliament, and the British hard left once again finds itself at the margins of electoral politics and unable to match the BNP in votes even across its fractured political front. The landscape has changed: the British National Party can command 900,000 votes, while a hotch-pot of Stalinist bureaucrats, Impossibilists (SPGB) and Scottish Socialists garnered less than half at 350,000.
What is Socialist Workers Party leader Martin Smith’s remedy to this tragic state of affairs? More of the same with added egg throwing, “No freedom of speech for fascists”, “we should ban the BNP” and, bizarrely on BBC’s Newsnight Smith exclaimed to the polite but patronising Jeremy Paxman and Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes that the BNP had to be stopped because “they are counter-revolutionaries [to a Socialist Revolution?]!”
The question facing socialists is that as believers in democracy, do we respect the BNP’s ‘democratic right to express its views’? Or does the call for ‘No freedom of speech for fascists’ and therefore state censorship help in the battle to defeat the far right?
The principle of ‘No platform for fascists’ has been a stalwart of anti-fascist tactics since the days of accepting no platform in the National Union of Students in the early ’90s. This argument has been outlined as follows:
1) When the BNP speak, attacks on migrants increase in the surrounding area – 6 million Jews didn’t die because they failed to win the argument.
2) Rational debate with the BNP is impossible because they lie.
3) The BNP are fascists and seek to destroy working class power, they are not a “respectable” or “legitimate” party! They destroy our freedoms so we must destroy theirs!
Point 1: Without doubt the BNP are particularly good at attracting vicious and hateful racists. Where they organise it is without surprise that incitement to hatred results in attacks on immigrant communities. No platform in society means a state enforced media blackout, a laughable demand when you consider that Daily Mail and the Sun are the most popular papers in Britain and that the BNP has the most popular political party website.
To prevent the BNP from having the ‘right to speak’ does not just mean banning them as a political party but also means calling for more powers for the state to suppress wherever they seek to speak. ‘No freedom of speech for fascists’ is equal to McCarthyism for fascists which is as precarious as pissing in the wind. Yes, we must defend ethnic groups from racist attacks which happen by the state much more than BNP thugs our answers are at looking to working class self-defence against fascists and not by an extension of the surveillance state. And as it happens, it is we who must physically confront fascists in self-defence when they pose a threat: we cannot rely on any organ of the state to do that for us.
Point 2: Avoiding debate is a non-solution as rather than denying the BNP the oxygen of publicity or legitimacy, we find that their ideas are spread unchallenged politically. Socialists, rather than making the case politically about why we need to fight for the defence of all, are reduced to name calling and reporting on certain personalities (odious though they maybe). Electoral victories for the BNP shows that it isn’t working. Such adherence to the principle of being willing to physically fight but not ideologically fight the BNP is absurd when they are close to controlling councils and have elected members of the European Parliament.The BNP are not going to be banned. Neither should we clamour for it: fascist ideas are not defeated by state diktat.
When socialists are campaigning on bread and butter issues like council housing or unemployment, working class people are dealt out rhetoric and propagandistic activity rather than mutual aid and support. The hard-left’s love-hate affair with the Labour Party has crippled it in acting independently on delivering social solutions. The BNP have been growing steadily in councillors, a prelude of bigger electoral gains, because they canvass through door-knocking much more than the radical left. Electoral fronts are not enough: we need a political project that is long-term in thinking and is relentless in building a constituency in communities and not just in remote trade union bureaucrats’ offices.
Point 3: The ‘Why the Nazis don’t deserve democracy’ argument, but the state would replace Nazi with Islamist, or revolutionary socialist. We already can see the results of the rhetoric “they are not [legitimate] like us”; the reintroduction of detention without trial, extensive monitoring of all electronic communication and the promise of identity cards and a central database of all citizens.
As socialists we cannot trust the state to respect the historical values of bourgeois democracy or to decide which political parties are “legitimate” or not. Fascists can only be stopped by answering tough political questions through practical competence. Unlike liberals, we do not use the concept of freedom of speech to excuse ourselves from organising on the streets but rather the opposite. We know that where the BNP seeks to spread its agenda we must be on the same streets bringing people together in a left-wing coalition for a better alternative.
If we believe the BNP must be fought physically then we must also do this intellectually too: walking off from public debates can’t be done in London’s City Hall any more than it can be done the European Parliament. Pretending that no-one will take them seriously if only we shout “Nazi Scum” loud enough must end. The political process has legitimised the BNP whether we like or not, ignoring the BNP as a political force is no longer an option, they are a growing powerful political force and we must treat them as such. UKIP raided £2 million in expenses from the EU, we can only assume that the BNP will do the same.
Working people will only trust a political party that not only offers real change to the status quo, but appears to know how to do it. This is why community organising is so important, this is why Scottish Socialists despite the splits are doing better than their English and Welsh counterparts.