the rising threat of the bnp: the underlying causes, its present nature and prospects

by Dan Jakopovich

In this paper, I will try to provide an integrated analysis of the British National Party as a political organisation and a political movement. I will begin by analysing its political evolution after the split from National Front, through the long period of John Tyndall’s neo-Nazi leadership of the party, to its current modernising phase under the leadership of Nick Griffin. This second part of my analysis will deal with the causes of the BNP’s relative success (which I will examine through the perspective of “demand side” and “supply side” factors), and a basic assessment of the space that exists for its growth. I posit that – while Europe-wide statistical research of far Right development remains in many ways inconclusive – there are some indications (such as the convergence of main parties, the relative “crisis of legitimation“, and its possible augmentation in the course of the economic crisis) which seem to indicate there is considerable space for far Right growth.

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This inquiry into the BNP’s modern trajectories will also entail an analysis of its present ideological nature. Here I will (among other things) show that, despite certain adjustments, BNP nonetheless remains informed by various fascist motifs, and can be defined as racist and “nativist” (I will explain this concept later). Finally, I will broadly indicate what a successful progressive response to the rising far Right challenge might have to look like.

THE EARLY DAYS

The central precursor to the BNP was the neo-Nazi British National Front (formed in 1967), which drew most of its support from urban working-class areas with high levels of immigrant populations. (1) As the National Front lost momentum through electoral failure and internal instability, the BNP was established in 1982 as an openly and fiercely fascist, racist, anti-Semitic party.

It held several of its annual “Remembrance Day“ rallies in York, the site of violent pogroms against Jews in the 12th century, which it presented as a historic site of national resistance to “alien money-lenders“. (2) The BNP’s leader John Tyndall openly wrote: “By his systemic attack on all European culture the Jew is polluting and destroying the European soul… If the European soul is to be recovered in our country and throughout Europe, it can only be by the elimination of this cankerous microbe in our midst“. (3) At a 1962 rally, he even referred to Jews as a “poisonous maggot feeding on a body in an advanced state of decay“ (4), and kept close ties to German neo-Nazis. (5) Moreover, in his pamphlet The Authoritarian State, he quoted from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to attack democracy as a “modern farce“ perpetrated by Jews to ensure their domination.

Tyndall formed an “elite“ activist body called “Spearhead“ in the early 1960’s, inspired by fascist (and indeed Nazi) paramilitary formations, and its training sessions included the simulation of attacks on a tower in Surrey, as well as the handling of explosives. (6) Tyndall and the current BNP chairman Nick Griffin were even introduced to and apparently cooperated with an Italian far Right terrorist group which was in exile in London. (7) A similar indication of the BNP’s ties with terrorist activity included the case of Richard Edmonds, Tyndall’s deputy, who was convicted for smashing Nelson Mandela’s statue in London, and has also been implicated in the distribution of over 100,000 copies of Holocaust News, a “Centre for Historical Review“ (BNP front) newsletter which asserted that Holocaust is a myth. Additionally, the former BNP’s youth officer and a close associate to both Tyndall and Griffin, Tony Lecomber, was convicted in 1986 for handling explosives.(8)

The authoritarian and fascist streak was further manifested through the party’s internal organisation, and Tyndall’s attempts to establish a centralist decision-making structure vested in the unitary executive of the party Chairman. Similarly, BNP advocated in favour of drastically increasing the powers of the Prime Minister (in accordance with the unitary executive doctrine), and even proposed that he be elected for an indefinite period of time.(9) The first statement of the BNP’s principles and politics certainly went beyond general far Right issues such as ethnic homogeneity, independent national defence, economic nationalism, law and order etc. to include extreme policies such as compulsory repatriation. It stated: “Immigration into Europe by non-Europeans…should be terminated forthwith, and we should organise a massive programme of repatriation and resettlement overseas of those peoples of non-European origin already resident in this country.” (10) The party’s radical Right wing ideology was further expressed in its 1983 election manifesto, which stated that “a revolutionary spirit and method must pervade not only the economy, but the whole apparatus of government and national leadership, indeed the whole of society.“ (11)

While a certain “mimethic” Nazi element in Tyndall’s BNP is indisputable (considering the party’s pro-Germanic biological racism and Jewish conspiracy theory, as well as its dictatorial predilections and connections to extreme Right, “direct action“ tendencies, and in particular considering the overt worship of Hitler), the party at the time could be better described as an amalgam of “neo-fascist“ and “neo-Nazi” influences, at least if we follow Roger Griffin’s categorisation which defines “neo-Nazi“ ideology as a more rigid and direct copy or emulation of interwar Nazism. The BNP, on the other hand, already belonged to those formations which introduce “original themes or cultural idioms into major interwar permutations, or reject them altogether in the name of entirely new rationales.“ (12)

There were various significant differences between classical Nazi and early BNP ideology. One important departure from the mimethic moment included BNP’s lack of serious expansionist pretensions. Tyndall actually went against official BNP policy when he spoke of developing a demand for “living room“, and spoke in favour of European recolonisation of Black Africa.(13) However, many typical fascist and Nazi preoccupations remained, including demands for national “rebirth“, racial and cultural hygiene (including such measures like the prohibition of homosexuality) etc. (14)

DEMAND-SIDE FACTORS

An analysis of BNP growth and its possible future prospects also requires an analysis of the relevant socio-economic conditions and variables, especially those concerning the mass electorate. These factors, combined with the party’s actions (“supply-side“ factors), determine final outcomes. Of course, these two perspectives shouldn’t be employed in complete isolation one from the other (considering their complex interactions), although this classification can be helpful in developing a more coherent interpretation, as I hope to show in the course of this paper.

Fascist and Nazi movements do not simply “fall out of the blue“, or come about as a result of some fixed, static “human nature“. Instead, they thrive on the inherent brutalities of contemporary life, and the contradictions of capitalism. “(T)he emergence of totalitarian government is a phenomenon within, not outside, our civilization. The danger is that a global, universally interrelated civilization may produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages.“ (15) In a similar argument, Enzo Traverso develops a more radical critique of fascism’s social basis. These roots are not simply a pathology which develops against liberalism – for him, they are the core of modern social experience in “liberal societies”, the “mental world“ of neoliberal social Darwinism.

I will expand on his socio-psychological argument here, applying it to issues of neoliberal social and economic conditions. Nonetheless, a wider analysis of concrete material subjective forces behind the recent growth of the British far Right remains to be written.

A good place to start my analysis here is the impact of Thatcherism and the subsequent cruelty of neoliberalism with its social Darwinism, social dislocations (destruction of the manufacturing sector, unemployment…), the collapse of security and solidarity, anomie, mass frustrations, broader cultural or social brutalisation, etc. Thatcher presided over the resurgence of a socially negligent, increasingly centralised, repressive and militarist, authoritarian state. The rigidly impersonal, indifferent characteristics of post-Keynesian bureaucracies, their disempowering and anti-democratic influence, corrode egalitarian social values and – somewhat paradoxically – often also work to delegitimise authentic democratic principles and ideas.

Some of the underlying economic and social issues important for understanding the rise of far Right’s popularity include the problems of urban decay, destruction of council housing under both Conservative and Labour governments, a “yob culture” (various forms of youth vandalism, property crimes and physical violence, mostly in working-class areas), etc.

The neoliberal, turbo-capitalist destruction of the idea of progress brought back enormous cynicism and disorientation into public life. This violent social Darwinism forms the backbone of anti-humanist political projects. Nihilism about human nature made dehumanising people easier. Sanitised, detached systems of immigration control and penal punishment, averse towards external manifestations of violence, serve to reinforce the legitimacy of violence. The modern prison system in particular is a powerful legitimiser of the scapegoating principle, violent objectification, and outright sadism. It functions through the targeting of certain groups of people who need to be sufficiently vilified for the general population not to be bothered about it. The rhetoric and ideology concerning “asylum cheats“ or “sexual perverts“ is strongly reminiscent of Nazi-style demonology. “The legitimation of violence against a demonized internal enemy brings us close to the heart of fascism.“ (16)

The ascent of conservative and reactionary economic, political and ideological forces resulted in “a space of invented and fantasized otherness the image of which was designed to legitimate its own values and forms of domination.“ (17) The contemporary dominance of neoliberal corporate capitalism, and its increasingly authoritarian state, as well as the militarist and imperialist character of global relations, all contribute to “a radical rejection of the principle of equality.“ (18)

In fact, all of the current central enemies of the BNP – “inassimilable“, culturally contentious immigrants, “ungrateful” and “barbaric” Muslim malcontents, “sexual perverts“, “subhuman terrorists“, “deceitful, politically correct leftists” and “dole scroungers“ – are also prominent constructs of the mass media, lobby groups and political elites. To be sure, fascists and Nazis tend to radicalise these constructs, and to radicalise forms of their “solution“, hence calls for repatriation, introduction of ever more draconian punishments and the reintroduction of the death penalty, militaristic campaigns and explicit Islamophobia (as opposed to somewhat more subtle forms of mainstream discrimination, covert torture and “collateral” slaughter of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere). Still, the existing terrorist “war on terror” includes “extraordinary rendition”, as well as dungeons (like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo) where thousands are being held without trial, and without protection from torture. The pattern is not new: “devaluation of human life was accompanied by the dehumanization of the enemy, an idea that was diffused by military propaganda, the press, and scholarly literature too. (…) Nationalist propaganda abandoned all rational argument on the score of causes and justifications for conflict, and instead appealed to a sense of belonging to a community under threat, calling for total, blind allegiance. The enemy always assumed the features of a hostile “race“, systematically described as “barbarian“.”(19)

Closer to home, across “freedom-loving“ Europe, and in Britain itself, thousands of “illegal immigrants“, including many children, are – as I write this – being actively persecuted, arrested in dawn raids, summarily deported or otherwise held against their will in rather totalitarian concentration camps (“detention centres“), deprived of basic political and most other human rights, sometimes imprisoned for years, often beaten by guards, and regularly transported and deported like cattle.(20) Arendt noted a similar phenomenon: “(o)ne is almost tempted to measure the degree of totalitarian infection by the extent to which the concerned governments use their sovereign right of denationalization (…). But one should bear in mind at the same time that there was hardly a country left on the Continent that did not pass between the two wars, some new legislation which (…) was always phrased to allow for getting rid of a great number of its inhabitants at any opportune moment.“ (21)

Similarly, the fast expansion of the British prison system, with the concomitant dehumanisation, creeping authoritarianism, the central principle of violent objectification and exclusion inherent in the notion of punitive deterrence, the criminalisation of specific (particularly ethnic) communities, of problematic lower working class youth and the “lumpen“/”underclass”, and the “exterminatory“ logic particularly pronounced in long-term and life sentences (largely conceived in terms of “getting rid of social weed“) confirm and strengthen far Right authoritarian and anti-humanist tendencies in modern Western and British society. “(T)he paradigm of the prison – with its principle of confinement, dehumanizing the detainees, its regime designed to exhaust and discipline bodies and enforce submission to its hierarchies, and its administrative rationality – ultimately led to the concentration camps of totalitarian regimes.“ (22)

An important functional aspect of this repressive mood includes the particularly vibrant British politics of moral panics (often supported even by supposedly “left-wing“ or “liberal“ media such as the Guardian), anxiety over decadence and crime, followed by scapegoating (23), increase of social control, state authority and repression. Constant media, “public“ and lobby-group pressures for tougher sentencing and increased surveillance intensify the normalisation of mass violence.

Equally so, the anti-immigrant agenda was first introduced into the modern British political mainstream through the anti-immigrant speeches by Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher. At the time, the consolidation of her New Right “authoritarian populism” and “popular capitalism“ took the wind out of the far Right’s sails.

Three decades later, witch-hunts against “bogus asylum seekers“ and immigrants are still being carried out on a daily basis by rigid right-wing mass tabloids like the Sun, News of the World and the Daily Mail, populist radio stations, as well as provincial media. An editorial in the Dover Express (October 1, 1998), to give a powerful example, referred to asylum seekers as “human sewage“. A Daily Star headline (April 4, 2000) read: “Get Out Scum!“.  Mainstream political actors participate in, and help orchestrate, these poisonous trends. For instance, the Conservative May 2000 local election campaign put the asylum issue at the centre of its strategy. It declared that all new asylum seekers should be placed in so-called “secure units”. (24) Major national newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express have engaged in daily efforts to stereotype asylum seekers as “bogus”, “scroungers”, “rapists” and the like.(25)

Somewhat ironically (considering mainstream bigotry), the processes of party dealignment (decreasing party identification and declining political trust) seem to further increase far Right growth. According to the 2005 Eurobarometer survey, only 14 percent of the UK respondents tend to trust political parties (26), and the recent party political scandals only exacerbated the crisis of political legitimacy. Pointing to data from the European Social Survey 2002, Norris established that “the indicators of institutional trust and social trust proved significantly related to radical right support, in the expected negative direction.“ (27)

The rise of the far Right in Europe has been accredited to the increasing convergence of mainstream parties, which have accepted neoliberal policies of the unregulated market, weak social protections and a strong repressive state.(28) However, party convergence as a factor in far Right growth is neither automatic, nor immediate. This is confirmed by the failure of the far Right to achieve electoral breakthroughs in the early and mid 1990’s, despite New Labour’s adoption of a conservative economic and social platform. Party dealignment alone also cannot explain why far Right parties should necessarily be the beneficiaries of this process.

A particularly important aspect of this party convergence (for far Right growth) seems to be the extent to which the main conservative party occupies a centrist position. (29) In the British context, Conservative Party’s repositioning towards the centre (under the leadership of David Cameron) – initially without a stronger move away from rigid neoliberalism and towards economic populism – had opened space for the BNP to grow. In addition to other factors such as the further discredit of the Labour Party among many working class voters who had begun to realise that the party is no longer representing their basic class interests, combined with the continuance of neoliberal structural violence and the influence of populist right-wing mass media, as well as the internal changes in BNP organisation and strategy, BNP’s recent rise in popularity also coincided with the recent Conservative Party break with “harder“, more traditional right-wing rhetoric of its past leaders such as William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. Moreover, an anti-establishmentarian, working class appeal of the BNP remains out of reach to Conservatives, and their likely victory in the next general elections could benefit the BNP as its right-wing critic. However, the economic crisis has forced the Conservatives to undertake a move towards a more economically populist route, which is likely to limit BNP’s prospects, although the Conservatives’ reluctance to link this with an outright, full-blown anti-immigrant offensive (since it is focused on taking over more mainstream voters and appeasing its corporate base) leaves the explicit form of xenophobia as a “prerogative” of the BNP.

Yet the mainstream has also been shifting to the Right on these and other issues. A strong rise in anti-immigrant sentiment among the British population has been identified. (30) Unlike other EU countries, UK respondents placed immigration on top of their concerns (followed by terrorism and crime).(31) Despite national variations which always need to be taken into account, “negative feelings toward immigration, refugees, and multiculturalism predict whether somebody casts a ballot for a radical right party, even after including a range of prior controls for social background and political trust. Attitudes toward cultural protectionism prove far more significant predictors of radical right voting than economic attitudes.“ (32) This might partially confirm the dominance of a trend (up until recently it seems) to switch from class politics towards new “post-material“ concerns, although the relevance of economic vs. directly racist rationales in the construction of anti-immigration sentiments is under-researched. It appears uncontroversial, however, that a climate of “scarce resources“ (high unemployment, low wages etc.) tends to contribute to anti-immigrant feelings.(33) The recent “British jobs for British workers” campaign and the Lindsey Oil Refinery strikes spell this out. Yet, considerable differences exist among BNP voters with respect to their underlying concerns, especially among different basic types of voters (e.g. ideological vs. protest, pragmatic and clientelistic voters). It is likely that in many cases a complex relationship exists between materially and non-materially based factors. This is an issue which could perhaps be better analysed through concrete theoretical applications of the concept of ”cognitive dissonance”.

Fear of downward mobility and loss of social status lead to an erosion of social trust, and they encourage an orientation towards scapegoating and authoritarian solutions among the losers of transition into post-Fordist neoliberalism. “Extremist movements have much in common. They appeal to disgruntled and psychologically homeless, to the personal failures, the socially isolated, the economically insecure, the uneducated, unsophisticated, and the authoritarian persons.“ (34) With the socialist and communist Left marginalised and discredited, the fragmented, weakened labour movement, and the “social democratic“ and conservative mainstream still unwilling to address economic inequality and social insecurity, and tending to converge around a minimal common denominator in order to maximise votes, this electoral “niche“ for the far Right appears to have stabilised in Britain. It is, however, necessary to analyse these electoral social bases for the far Right on a case by case basis, since cross-country analyses of the European far Right led to more complex findings which often transcend popular stereotypes. (35)

Despite the stereotype (popular in vulgar Marxist currents) of a homogenous, middle class fascist social profile, it is the working class collective identity, class consciousness and working class organisation (instead of mere economic position) which provide a barrier to far Right penetration among the working masses. This is confirmed by historical evidence that working class fascists mainly came from non-unionised sections of the labour market. (36) There is an important historical lesson to be learned in this respect: “(t)he relative scarcity of working-class fascists was not due to some proletarian immunity to appeals of nationalism and ethnic cleansing. It is better explained by “immunization“ and “confessionalism“: those already deeply engaged, from generation to generation, in the rich subculture of socialism, with its clubs, newspapers, unions, and rallies, were simply not available for another loyalty.“ (37) The neoliberal destruction of cohesive working class identities and convincing left-wing alternatives has provided a critical opening for the modern far Right. In Britain and across Europe, there seems to be an increase in the ratio of working class support for far Right parties. (38) Yet perhaps certain “middle class” layers are still most vulnerable to far Right propaganda, considering their relatively isolated and disorganised social experiences as a “third way” between capital and labour, failing to articulate their economic and social insecurities and demands in class terms. This is also the tentative conclusion of a Democratic Audit (a think-tank based at Essex University) report, whose limited empirical research indicates that lower middle classes exhibit higher levels of BNP support.(39)

The current economic crisis carries several contradictory prospects with regards to the labour movement. On the one hand, the threat and reality of rising unemployment will very likely negatively impact the rate of unionisation and put limits on union militancy, thus also diminishing the impact of union culture and organisation (in some sectors) as a “fortress” against far Right influence on the working masses. On the other hand, the importance of the labour movement’s defensive function is likely to increase, which might even help to bring back many workers into the fold of the labour movement. However, especially with the threat of mainstream parties turning further towards right-wing populism (40), the importance of the political “subjective element“ is paramount. Also, the economic wing of the progressive struggle might experience a dangerous setback if trade unions prove unable or unwilling to reverse the current chauvinistic climate among workers, or even help channel these through their specific organisations and activities. Instead of pitting workers against workers, unions must point to the real culprits – corporate elites who engage in “regime shopping” in order to undermine pay and conditions.

Largely as a result of Labour’s abandonment of class politics, its working class membership base has been shrinking (especially as the post-Thatcherite euphoria evaporated), while the proportion of its middle class membership rose. (41) The initial reaction of the Labour Party elite to this phenomenon, and to the general decline in working class support, has largely been to stress its “tough“ stance on immigration, which further legitimised right-wing bigotry. These ideological pressures strongly influenced mass opinion concerning immigration. As the BNP’s successful candidate Simon Darby in Dudley admitted: “Issue after issue, day after day, asylum this, asylum that. So we now have the luxury of banging on people’s doors with the mainstream issue of the day. “ (42) In fact, Conservative Party literature in Dudley and Broxbourne imitated BNP’s materials, even though there were no asylum seekers in Broxbourne at all.(43)

In any case, the increase in BNP’s popularity coincided with the intensification of party-political and tabloid anti-immigrant propaganda. As Nick Griffin told to Guardian: “The asylum seeker issue has been great for us…It’s been quite fun to watch government ministers and the Tories play the race card in far cruder terms than we would ever use. The issue legitimises us“.(44) In many ways, the party-political elites and the British gutter press like the Sun and News of the World are the parents of modern fascist “sensibility“ in Britain. Even ideas of eugenics, such as the sterilisation of people “unfit to have children“, are regularly propagated on such mass media outlets like the Talk Sport radio James Whale Show, alongside BNP publications. (45)

MODERNISATION OF THE BNP

BNP and contemporary British society appear to have “met half way”. As the social climate shifted rightwards, the party under Nick Griffin’s leadership embarked on a process of political learning, which was largely informed by foreign parties and movements such as the French National Front and the Italian National Alliance. The main innovations involved organisational professionalisation, a move towards community-style politics and ideological refashioning partly committed to the avoidance of public stigmatisation. The latter aspect entailed the rejection of direct anti-Semitic and openly racist propaganda, as well as the crystallisation of a nationalist, authoritarian ideology rooted in the conditions, concerns and prejudices of British society. BNP’s broader ideological “war of position” has included the development of several front groups – the Great White Records record label, an embryonic trade union Solidarity, an annual Red, White and Blue festival, the recently established  Association of British Ex-Services Personnel etc.

This modernising shift did not come about easily, and it took almost two electorally barren decades before Tyndall’s domination within the BNP was ended. Nick Griffin had himself belonged to a hard-core current of the far Right, and had for a long time criticised the quest for political legitimacy, avoiding participation in the reformist, anti-extremist BNP current. With a reputation as “a friend of “boot boys“ and the skinhead scene“ (46), Griffin was also prominent in the propagation of Holocaust denial. (47) The transformation of his views seems to have come about through a combination of several factors, including the successful experiences of the reformed far Right in France and Italy, BNP’s successful “community-based“ Millwall campaign, and the charges of incitement to racial hatred which he had to deal with in 1998. Bruce Crowd, BNP’s south-west regional organiser, recognised one of the main problems: “How many members and voters have been lost over the years by photographs of JT [John Tyndall] in his neo-nazi uniform?“. (48) Additionally, the party under Griffin began recognising the need to retreat from the old, unsuccessful confrontational style of politics, such as the “march and grow“ tactic (which elicited a strong anti-fascist response and frequent clashes), opting for “door-to-door“ communication with voters instead.

Last two decades witnessed a definite growth of far Right popular support across Europe, which coincided with the rise and stabilisation of neoliberalism. The electoral results of the far Right tripled. (49) Accordingly, under Nick Griffin’s leadership, the BNP has become the most successful far Right party in British history. It has increased its share of the vote in elections to the European Parliament from 1,1 percent (a little over 100,000 votes) in 1999 to 4,9 percent (808,000 votes) in 2004, up to 6,2 percent (943,000) in 2009. Similarly, BNP’s support in general elections rose from a little over 35,000 in 1997 to more than 192,000 in 2005. (50) The party has become a local force in various geographic locations across England (but in small local pockets of target wards), including places like Burnley (plagued by deindustrialisation, socio-economic deprivation, high crime rates, the perception that the Asian community received preferential council funding etc.), Oldham (due to Asian “race riots“ which the BNP largely provoked, and on a racist platform dubbed “Equal Rights for Oldham Whites“), and Barking and Dagenham, predominantly white areas in outer London. Previous Labour strongholds in its breakthrough zone in north-west England have usually been identified as its primary electoral base. (51) It does not automatically follow that former Labour voters are its main current supporters. Indeed, the Democratic Audit’s analysis “suggests that the BNP gains its electoral support from all three of the largest parties, and not just Labour; and in fact that it gains most from the Conservatives and least from Labour“.(52) In the 2008 local elections, the BNP got 55 councillors in various regions, and even gained a seat in the London Assembly. The recent BNP victory in a council by-election in Swanley, Kent confirmed its growing geographical spread. According to the Democratic Audit study, 18-25 percent of the population would consider voting for the BNP. (53) At the same time, the recent electoral failure of the populist conservative, anti-EU UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) at the last local elections helped stabilise BNP’s electoral fortunes, and even briefly opened a major new space for the party’s growth, especially since opinion polls suggest that the two parties are partly linked in voters’ minds.(54) Moreover, mass media attention has been highly disproportionate in relation to BNP’s electoral strength. Marginality breeds marginality, while the BNP successes will raise its resources (e.g. public funding, political patronage, media coverage between elections etc.), legitimacy and ambitions, and contribute to a development of its taste for mass politics. This is why the BNP’s success at the recent European parliamentary elections, where it managed to acquire two seat due to the proportional representation system of voting, is particularly disconcerting. UKIP’s image as an anti-EU party contributed to its surprisingly great results at these elections, yet the BNP’s breakthrough is all the more ominous considering that large sections of its potential working class electorate appear to have abstained from voting at the European level. The parallel local elections in 2009 have confirmed there is more than enough space for both UKIP and the BNP on the British electoral scene.

At the same time, the party has not been overly successful in increasing the number of active membership, and its support base remains mostly passive, although its new “community-style“ politics might help it to address this problem somewhat. Moreover, BNP’s electoral results have tended to be better when voter turnout was low, and even limited measures to encourage higher turnout (like postal ballots) as a method of combating the BNP have proven quite successful. (55)

Despite this, a manipulative (although not completely artificial) turn towards a simplified, less threatening, populist far Right presentation will be hard to defeat. By renouncing verbal extremism, the BNP attempted to become less threatening to ordinary voters: “to scale down our short-term ambitions (…) is not a sell-out, but the only possible step closer to our eventual goal.(…) we must at all times present them (the voters) with an image of moderate reasonableness.“ (56) As a matter of fact, BNP leadership has largely begun to draw its propaganda message from the conventional nationalist narratives of “Churchill’s Britain”.(57) It has also denied public accusations for racism, and publicly advocates “a political response to anti-white racism“.(58) Hence BNP populism such as local party “Helping Hand“ teams (for instance in Sandwell’s Tipton Green ward) addressing neighbourhood concerns like crime, litter, housing and “positive discrimination“ etc. A membership list that was leaked in November 2008 reveals that the party membership has broadened far beyond the usual neo-fascist subculture. The list contained more than 12,000 names, exposing fascist inclinations of a considerable number of graduate level professionals, and revealing Yorkshire as a stronghold of BNP members, followed by Lancashire, Essex, West Midlands, Kent, London and Leicestershire.

THE IDEOLOGY OF THE CONTEMPORARY BNP

It is important to err on the side of caution when considering whether an organisation has ceased to be (neo-)fascist. In the words of Federico Finchelstein, “(t)o borrow a Saussurean metaphor, fascism is to be understood as a specific code, a language of political interpretation and action that had a changing set of signifiers attached to a less malleable signified.(…) The “fondo commune“, the fascist primal notion of the world, was more important than its contextual practices or strategic presentations.“ (59) It is highly debatable, however, what this “signified“ or “fondo commune“ actually is, and in particular what degree and combination (specific synthesis) of the constituent elements needs to be involved in this phenomenon to warrant the dreadful adjective. Schmittian “friend-foe“ concept of fascist politics, which focuses on the importance of fascist mobilisation against (dehumanised) internal and external enemies, is more helpful for identifying the seed of fascist politics within modern “democratic“ societies than it is for discerning the “differentia specifica“ of actual fascist ideologies, movements and regimes. As I have already illustrated, modern Western societies largely still function through the construct of the “Other“, and are certainly very familiar with radical dehumanisation. Similarly, developed capitalist (especially neoliberal) societies largely reject humanist and egalitarian normativity, often embrace ultra-nationalism (e.g. the United States), etc. I would therefore posit that the main differentiating ideological factors distinguishing fascism from most other societies are: firstly – the totalitarian ideology and practice of merging the state with civil society through the imposition of state authority across boundaries between different public and private social spheres; secondly – the explicit embracement of violence as a goal (rather than just a means); and thirdly – “revolutionary“, radical anti-establishmentarianism devoid of the progressive ideal of popular sovereignty and egalitarian democratic constitutionalism. Still, these are again a question of specific degrees, as similar tendencies exist (to different degrees) in most known societies. The last point in particular is difficult to gauge, especially considering the notorious unreliability of revolutionary rhetoric, and the historical record of actual fascist regimes, the most important of which (the Italian and German) came to power constitutionally rather than through an insurrection. The seemingly democratic right-wing interpretation of the notion of “general will”, which I will soon consider, further complicates the entire classification. In any case, if Roger Griffin’s notion of palingenetic ultra-nationalism as a “fascist minimum“ (60) was enough to define a political actor as a “fascist”, the BNP would certainly appear to fall under this rubric. I am personally not convinced such analytical tools and terms can theoretically take us very far.

The partial presentation of violence as “an object of political desire“ (61) remains an indicative factor for the analysis of the contemporary BNP. This positive presentation of violence is evident in the fascination with past militarisms, historical armies, weapons, battles etc. in BNP publications, as well as in tensions between reformist and “political soldier“ currents in the party, and the preservation of BNP elements among football hooligans.(62) An alarming increase in the number of racist attacks has been noticed in some areas where BNP won council seats.(63)

In any case, it remains clear that full-fledged fascists do continue to congregate in and around the BNP, and a tension between neo-fascist and more moderate populist far Right positions continues to exist within the party. There is a conscious effort on the part of the party leadership to differentiate the level of ideological indoctrination according to different levels of party membership (cadres vs. new and paper members).(64) These differences, however, seem to be transcended through some common points of agreement. In particular, these include the rejection of Enlightenment. “We are fighting a war against the liberal gene that sits destructively and uniquely within our own people.“ (65)

It is useful to remember that fascism (and neo-fascism) is a dynamic concept open to various permutations, and ostensibly even occasional, temporary abandonment of some fixed external manifestations of the “fascist minimum“. Also, BNP’s combination of various far Right orientations is not unusual for these types of parties. The Italian Alleanza Nazionale (recently merged into Silvio Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà) was a case in point. Although it was supposedly a “moderate” populist Right party, it contained a significant fascist membership, and had recently enhanced its electoral strategy with a reappearance of a kind of squadrismo in the form of “neighbourhood watches”. Even many middle-ranking party officials openly look positively on Mussolini’s regime. (66) These ideological tensions might, however, carry the seed of internal self-destruction. Ideological schisms are never far in the BNP. For instance, Nick Griffin and the “old guard” might argue in favour of the purification of national culture through a return to classical artistic forms and a renunciation of “decadent“ Modernist and Post-modernist art (67), yet this conflicts with the skinhead “White noise“ music movement, and the modern musical tastes of the BNP youth.

Perhaps it would be most precise to conceive of BNP’s ideology as one centred around ethnic (or ethnocentric) nationalism, in contrast to state nationalism which emphasises “political“, “territorialist“ concerns and allegiance to the state over ethnic and cultural preoccupations. Ethno-centrism implies the centrality of ethnic and/or racial allegiances. (68) The term nativism also seems to be a good basic or minimal descriptive formulation: it is “an ideology, which holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (“the nation“) and that nonnative elements (persons and ideas) are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state“. (69)

Richard Edmonds, one of the BNP leaders, openly stated: “We are 100 per cent racist, yes.“ (70) A recent BBC documentary even revealed BNP members openly admitting that they have committed racially motivated crimes.(71)

But the official party positions, as I have already mentioned, are more cautious. A move in the BNP – though by no means complete – from biological to cultural (culturally differentialist) racism has been initiated (72), and also a policy move from compulsory to “voluntary“ resettlement of immigrants and their descendants.(73) Perhaps it is precisely through this rationalising discourse that racism becomes stronger, more pervasive and harder to delegitimise. This (partial) pragmatic move enables the party to attract much broader layers of the population and to more openly mobilise for xenophobic policy proposals. These remain very extreme (although the previous official policy of compulsory repatriation of immigrants has been abandoned): in addition to resettlement, they promise that a BNP government would immediately halt all immigration from Africa, Asia, China, Eastern and South Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America. Deportees would not be allowed to take any assets with them in case they had been arrested.(74) The party also calls for “abolishing multiculturalism“ and for the abolition of legal protection for minorities, as well as for housing and other preferences along racial lines. (75)

Yet thinly veiled biological racism remains evident. For instance, they state: “we simply recognise that – as any biologist would be able to predict, and the new medical science of pharmacogenetics is now confirming – human populations which have undergone micro-evolutionary changes while separated for many thousands of years have developed differences in many fields of endeavour, susceptibility to health problems, behavioural tendencies and such like.(…) Taking these facts into account, we believe that it is far more likely than not that the historically established tendency (…) of the peoples of Western Europe in general – and of these islands in particular – to create and sustain social and political structures in which individual freedom, equality before the law, private property and popular participation in decision-making, is to some extent at least genetically pre-determined.“ (76) In this Manifesto, in the chapter “Multi-racialism – a recipe for disaster“, they write: “The tendency to conceive of our relationships with other human populations in terms of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups, is older than humanity itself. ‘Racism’, in other words, is not a consequence of ‘false consciousness’, economics, imperialism or the work of evil agitators, it is part of human nature.“ (77)

In terms of its policies on religion, the party openly declares a challenge to secularism, stating among other things that they will “ensure that appropriate areas of public life, including school assemblies, are based on a commitment to the values of traditional Westernised Christianity.“ (78) Particularly after the September 11 attacks in the United States and the commencement of the terrorist “war on terror”, Islamophobia became a major new element in the BNP’s ideology. This appears to have largely started as an instrumentalist orientation towards exploiting a hysterical “siege mentality“ and public fear from “the enemy within“, which were strongly induced by the mass media and the political elite. Since then, “the Muslim question“ has become one of the party’s favourite issues, and Islamophobia is one of the major fronts on which the BNP and many others on the Right are waging their war against the scourge of multiculturalism. Therefore, to give an example, BNP’s 2008 London mayoral candidate Richard Barnbrook actually stood on an openly Islamophobic platform which included “no new mosques“.(79) The extremism of their wider policies on issues of religion and “race relations“ corresponds to these statements.

It is also interesting to observe how a dichotomy between civilisation and barbarism informs the BNP’s isolationist approach, unlike the classical imperialist notion of a “white man’s burden“. In other words, the BNP inverts a usual implication of this shared Western presumption of supremacy: rather than civilising others, the mission of the British state should be to construct an insular “Fortress Britain“ mobilised around the struggle against internal and external enemies. The most important immediate aspect of this mobilisation would be to halt further immigration and to reverse the consequences of mass immigration from former British colonies.

A prominent additional example of the BNP’s ideological adjustment is the shift from openly “revolutionary“ rhetoric towards the use of less threatening iconography and terminology like “freedom“, and the introduction of wider themes relevant to many voters, like the issue of local democracy, economic and social protection, and the opposition to corruption. Yet, in 2003, Griffin still maintained that a “protest party“ is not enough, and that a “political, cultural and economic revolution“ is required. (80) Nonetheless, BNP propaganda is packaged in quite popular terms. “(W)e must present ourselves nationally as the party of Democracy against Plutocracy, of Freedom against Euro-tyranny, of Security against Fear, and of Identity against Multi-culturalism.“ (81) The BNP’s notion of “democracy“, of course, apart from being understood in racial and ethnic terms, carries a pronounced authoritarian undercurrent, similar to the dictatorial, mob rule understanding of the concept of “general will“ or “common sense“, where the majoritarian penchant for penal cruelty, cultural monism/monoculture and ethnic homogeneity (for instance) override “politically correct“ concepts such as universal human rights and legal guarantees concerning the protection of minorities. Still, BNP’s recent propaganda in this respect is quite skillful, and might represent one of the biggest arguments in favour of the thesis that it has begun its transformation into a more modern, new type of far Right organisation. It has even attempted to co-opt certain left-wing traditions and historical memory by placing itself (highly hypocritically) in the tradition of progressive British movements: “From Magna Carta to the Peasants’ Revolt, through the Levellers, the Chartists, the early Labour movement and the suffragettes, we have defied the executioner, the rack, and the prison door to wrest liberty of conscience, speech, action and political association from monarchs, barons and bosses, and from popes, priests and censors.“ (82)  It is amazing that, unlike most left-wing and even self-described “socialist“ parties in Britain, the party now actually calls for some form of “participatory democracy“/decentralisation of decision-making, including the concept of a “County Council government“ and Swiss-style referendums. The anti-centralist approach is also reflected in its opposition to the introduction of ID cards, and its opposition to the corporate monopolisation of the media. (83) This (quite surprising, quasi-libertarian) demand for decentralisation is somewhat incoherently combined with simultaneous demands for a strong executive branch as part of a strong nation state. Bizarrely, the impulse to micromanage extends to issues like British soap operas. (84) More ominously, the party advocates the reintroduction of corporal punishment for “petty criminals and vandals“, argues in favour of making whole families financially responsible for a crime their family member commits (this is indirectly de facto case in many instances already), calls for tougher overall sentencing, less scope for reduction in prison time, extension of tagging and tighter restrictions after being released, etc. It calls for an introduction of the death penalty for “paedophiles, terrorists and murderers“, additionally promising that “individuals convicted of the importation and large-scale dealing of hard drugs will face the death penalty.” (85) The BNP has also made a name for itself in the anti-paedophile pogroms, when it tried to exacerbate and capitalise on the wave of lynch mob unrest induced by the News of the World vigilante campaigns. (86)

A similar policy inconsistency includes its advocacy of “natural law“ (social Darwinism), while simultaneously opposing neoliberal capitalist economics. (87) The BNP insists on putting the capitalist processes in the service of “national rebirth” through greater state control and centralisation. It tends to promote a classless ideology of nationalist corporatism: “As Nationalists, we do not recognise that there is an employers’ interest or an employees’ interest; there is only a national interest.“ (88)

In short, nativism is usually rationalised through the construct of ethnic supremacy, and it excludes liberal forms of nationalism. The nativist concept is, nonetheless, still an imperfect ideal-type, particularly since it is not completely clear whether it would actually be better conceptualised as one of the central aspects of a wider ideological construct – the opposition to the “liberal“, “egalitarian“ virus. External enemies often seem to constitute – along with domestic ones – merely a partial expression of the mythical Other, an objectified backdrop to an autistic type of politics, embodied through the internal demons of the fascist’s mental world.

FUTURE PROSPECTS

Far Right parties already rule or they’re bursting into the political mainstream in Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Holland and Belgium, and they are gaining votes and legitimacy elsewhere as well. The BNP is a part of this common European context of neoliberal brutalisation and the crisis of the Left. Its future prospects depend on a variety of factors.

One of the major limitations for far Right popularity are the ideological constraints imposed on far Right politicians by its militant membership, and often also by leaders’ personal extremism. These ideological constraints are more often than not outside or close to the boundaries of the mainstream public “zones of acquiescence“. Furthermore, a major stumbling bloc for far Right growth is the relative stability of the British political elite, including an absence of any major left-wing challenges which might necessitate coalitions of mainstream parties with the BNP. This difficulty in alliance-building is one of BNP’s major obstacles in the pursuit of power. There is some limited cause for concern in this respect, however, for various reasons. Firstly, as the economic crisis and the political crisis of legitimacy unfold, in conjunction with the possibility of an increased international instability, the incentive for new and more extreme forms of social control might develop in modern Western societies. Alternatively, if political expediency encourages conservative party-political moderation and the continuation of some form of status quo policies, an increase in the alienation of more radical right-wing voters and organisations from mainstream politics is likely. Yet there are big limits to the politics of ressentiment, which have so far seemed to drive BNP’s success. Namely, despite the palingenetic, revolutionary phraseology of “national renewal“, the BNP is hardly perceived as an agent of “modernity“ and optimistic revival, which contributes to its inability to attract broader layers of the general population, let alone broader layers of intellectuals, technocrats and ambitious populist politicians. Still, to the disempowering, bureaucratic anti-politicism of mainstream politics, ultra-nationalists usually counterpose a vibrant, invigorating political life, mass mobilisations, a sense of community and an individual sense of self-worth and self-importance. This is another reason why the far Right cannot be most effectively fought through the usual implements of ossified status quo party politics. It actually appears that the political, economic and media elites are unwilling to mount a serious propaganda and legislative campaign against the BNP for their own manipulative ends. On the one hand it allows them to appear as the guarantees of stability and civility, while on the other they profit immensely through the normalisation of the populist politics of hysteria and hatred. After all, BNP’s greatest importance for British politics might be its contribution to a wider right-wing contagion. This contagion is already well underway, as evidenced by increasingly authoritarian Labour and Conservative policies. It can only be seriously fought through a wider challenge against the British political and economic mainstream.

***

A successful strategy against the far Right needs to incorporate two complementary strategies – a broad “united front“ strengthened by a left-wing challenge against reactionary and conservative forces, as well as against the general brutalities of capitalist life. This  socialist alternative entails a strong focus on class politics, which are particularly dependent on the independence of the labour movement and left-wing organisations. Simultaneously, however, extremist and dogmatic political traditions – characterised by an aversion to compromise and the non-comprehension of the importance of avoiding extreme polarisation and antagonisation – continue to exert influence on progressive organisations and movements. The task of the democratic Left is doubly difficult: to empower the disempowered and sufficiently erode the powers of the elites; to challenge exploitation, oppression and alienation, while simultaneously constructing a broad, non-corporatist alliance with the middle class (one of the central historic fascist constituencies) and, in certain cases and to limited degrees, with the political mainstream. In other words, the task of the Left is to develop a rational form of anti-establishmentarian politics. A particularly serious problem is that “the radical Right had no serious rivals as the mouthpiece for the angry “losers“ of the new post-industrial, globalized, multiethnic Europe“ (89), so a mere “cordon sanitaire“ against the far Right is unlikely to work sufficiently well unless the problems of socio-economic dislocations and lack of democracy, as well as the growing social acceptance of bigotry (ethnic, racial, “classist“ with  regards to the “underclass“, against law offenders etc.) are confronted head on. As useful as it can often be, the mostly propagandist approach of Unite Against Fascism (not to mention the approach of the political and mass media establishment) is insufficient. In fact, such vilification of the BNP, without an organised, bold effort to confront material as well as ideological root-causes of right-wing radicalisation, risks reinforcing voters’ faith in the BNP as an “anti-political”, anti-establishmentarian party.

This is the primary reason why anti-far Right and anti-fascist resistance necessitate the construction of independent, progressive forces. Yet, as Gramsci wrote, it is necessary to simultaneously “exploit every crack in his front and (…) use every possible ally, even if he is uncertain, vacillating or provisional.(…)(Y)ou can’t attain the strategic goal (…) without having first attained a series of tactical objectives – which aim at breaking up the enemy – and then confronting him in the field.“ (90) Historical tragedies signal roads to be avoided.

1)      Pippa Norris, Radical Right: Voters and Parties in the Electoral Market, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2005, p.71.

2)      Searchlight, no.150, December 1987, p.4, in Nigel Copsey, Contemporary British Fascism: The British National Party and the Quest for Legitimacy, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2004, p.92.

3)      John Tyndall, The Jew in Art, copy in possession of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, in Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p. 9.

4)      Press Association Special Reporting Service: Report of the proceedings at Bow Street Magistrates Court, 20 August 1962, in ibid., p.12.

5)      Ibid., p. 17.

6)      Nigel Copsey, Contemporary British Fascism: The British National Party and the Quest for Legitimacy, p.10.

7)      Nigel Copsey, ibid., p.34.

8)      Searchlight, no.170, August 1989, p.9, in Nigel Copsey, ibid., p. 44.

9)      Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.85.

10)  Principles and Policies of the British National Party, 1982, in Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.31.

11)  Vote for Britain: The Manifesto of the British National Party, 1983, p.3, in Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.84.

12)  Roger Griffin, The Nature of Fascism, Routledge, London, 1994, p.166.

13)  John Tyndall, The Eleventh Hour: A Call for British Rebirth, Albion Press, Welling, 1998, p.423.

14)  Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p. 90.

15)  Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Harcourt, New York, 1994, p.302.

16)  Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, Vintage Books, New York, 2005, p.84.

17)  Enzo Traverso, The Origins of Nazi Violence, The New Press, New York and London, 2003, p.18.

18)  Ibid., p.36.

19)  Ibid., p.92.

20)  See for instance Scandal that shames us all, Morning Star, 31 August 2009.

21)  Hannah Arendt, op.cit., pp. 278-79.

22)  Enzo Traverso, op.cit., p.45.

23)  It is hard to strictly demarcate the boundaries between “pure” victimisation and scapegoating (which is an instrumentalist form of victimisation, a convenient transfer of guilt, anger and punishment on an easy, unprotected target). It could be argued, for instance, that an instrumentalist logic (in the socio-psychological sense) is inherent in most cases of victimisation, considering the centrality of the victimiser’s self-definition through the notion of the adversarial “Other“.

24)  Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.118.

25)  Martin Smith, How do we stop the BNP?, International Socialism, Issue 123, 2009, published online at http://www.isj.org.uk.

26)  Eurobarometer, 2005, in Matthew J. Goodwin, The Extreme Right in Britain: Still an ‘Ugly Duckling’ but for How Long?, The Political Quarterly, Vol.78, No.2, April-June, 2007, p.244.

27)  Pippa Norris, op.cit., p. 158.

28)  See for instance Herbert Kitschelt and Anthony McGann, The Radical Right in Western Europe: A Comparative Analysis, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbour, 1995.

29)  Wouter van der Brug, Meindert Fennema and Jean Tillie, Why Some Anti-Immigrant Parties Fail and Others Succeed: A Two-Step Model of Aggregate Electoral Support, Comparative Political Science, No. 38, Issue 5.

30)  Lauren McLaren and Mark Johnson, Understanding the Rising Tide of of Anti-immigrant Sentiment, in Alison Park et.al. (ed.), British Social Attitudes: The 21st Report, Sage Publications, London, 2004.

31)  Eurobarometer, Eurobarometer, 66: Public Opinion in the European Union, Brussels, European Commission, Autumn, 2006, p. 26.

32)  Pippa Norris, op.cit., p.167.

33)  See for example Matt Golder, Explaining Variations in the Success of Extreme Right Parties in Western Europe, Comparative Political Studies, No.36, Issue 4, 2003, pp. 432-466.

34)  Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man: The Social Basis of Politics, Doubleday, New York, 1960, p.175.

35)  For more on this topic, see for instance Pippa Norris, op.cit., pp.136-144.

36)  See Thomas P. Linehan, Whatever Happened to the Labour Movement? Proletarians and the Far Right in Contemporary Britain, in Nigel Copsey and David Renton (eds.), British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005, p.163.

37)  Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, Vintage Books, New York, 2005, p.50.

38)  See for instance Piero Ignazi, The Silent Counter-Revolution: Hypotheses on the Emergence of Extreme Right-Wing Parties in Europe, European Journal of Political Research, No.22, 1992, pp.3-34; Cas Mudde, The War of Words Defining the Extreme Right Party Family, West European Politics, No.19, pp. 225-248, 1996; M. Lubbers, M. Gijsberts and P. Scheepers, Extreme Right-Wing Voting in Western Europe, European Journal of Political Research, No.41, 2002, pp.345-78.; R. Eatwell, Ten Theories of the Extreme Right, in P. Merkl and L. Weinberg, (eds.), Right-Wing Extremism in the Twenty-First Century, Frank Cass, London, 2003, p.6.

39)  Helen Margetts, Peter John, David Rowlance and Stuart Weir, The BNP: The Roots of its Appeal, Democratic Audit, University of Essex, p. 14.

40)  While European conservatives have mostly mastered the art of mass politics, far Right populism serves as a useful resource and example for radicalised conservative activism and mobilisations.

41)  Nigel Copsey and David Renton (eds.), British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005, p. 170.

42)  As quoted in the Guardian, 30 April, 2003, in Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p. 146.

43)  The Guardian, 26 April, 2003, in ibid., p.147.

44)  The Guardian, 20 May 2000, in Martin Smith, op.cit.

45)  See for instance William Stanton, Our Future Is Maltusian, Identity, August, 2008, published online at http://www.identitymagazine.org.uk/archive2008.html.

46)  Spearhead, no. 367, September, 1999, p.13, in Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.100.

47)  Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.92.

48)  Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.110.

49)  Pippa Norris, op.cit., p.8.

50)  Matthew J. Goodwin, op.cit., p.241.

51)  See Thomas P. Linehan, Whatever Happened to the Labour Movement? Proletarians and the Far Right in Contemporary Britain, in Nigel Copsey and David Renton (eds.), op.cit, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005, p. 160 and p.174.

52)  Peter John, Helen Margetts, David Rowland and Stuart Weir, op.cit.

53)  Ibid.

54)  For more on this linkage, see Peter John, Helen Margetts and Stuart Weir, 1 in 5 Britons Could Vote Far Right, New Statesman, 24 January, 2005.

55)  Thomas P. Linehan, op.cit., p.177.

56)  David Broder, The European Elections, the Left and Anti-fascism, The Commune, May 2009.

57)  Nick Griffin, The Patriot, Spring 1999, p.5., in Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.102.

58)  Spearhead, no.363, May 1999, p.28, in Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.103.

59)  Federico Finchelstein, On Fascist Ideology, Constellations, Volume, 15, No.3, 2008, p.323.

60)  Roger Griffin, Hooked Crosses and Forking Paths: The Fascist Dynamics of the Third Reich, in R. Griffin, A Fascist Century, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008, p.98-90.

61)  Finchelstein, op.cit., p. 325.

62)  Darcus Howe, The British National Party Is Surely Rather More Than A “Vexatious Group“, New Statesman, 24 May, 2003, p.13.

63)  Martin Smith, op.cit.

64)  Ibid.

65)  William Stanton, op.cit., published online at http://www.identitymagazine.org.uk/archive2008.html.

66)  Piero Ignazi, op.cit., p.52.

67)  Steven Woodbridge, Purifying the Nation: Critiques of Cultural Decadence and Decline in British Neo-Fascist Ideology, in Julie V. Gottlieb and Thomas P. Linehan (eds.), The Culture of Fascism: Visions of the Far Right in Britain, I.B. Tauris & Co., London, 2004, p.131.

68)  See for instance Liah Greenfeld, Etymology, Definition, Types, in Alexander J. Motyl (ed.), Encyclopedia of Nationalism.Volume I: Fundamental Themes, Academic Press, San Diego, 2001, pp. 251-65.

69)  Cas Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2007, p.19.

70)  Interview in The Guardian, 20 February, 1993, p.3.

71)  Secret Agent, BBC1, 15 July, 2004.

72)  Matthew J. Goodwin, op.cit., p.245.

73)  British National Party, Rebuilding British Democracy: General Election 2005 Manifesto, published online at news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/BNP_uk_manifesto.pdf, pp. 14-15.

74) Ibid., pp. 15-16.

75)  Ibid., p.21.

76)  Ibid., p.17.

77)  Ibid., p.18.

78)  Ibid., p.22.

79)  Dan Hancox, A Date with the BNP, New Statesman, 28 April, 2008, p.20.

80)  Nick Griffin, Identity, Issue 35, p.5.

81)  Spearhead, no.351, May 1998, p.17, in Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.103.

82)  British National Party, Rebuilding British Democracy: General Election 2005 Manifesto, p.7.

83)  British National Party, Rebuilding British Democracy: General Election 2005 Manifesto, pp. 9-11.

84)  Ibid., p.22.

85)  British National Party, Rebuilding British Democracy: General Election 2005 Manifesto, pp. 24-25.

86)  Nick Ryan, Into a World of Hate: A Journey Among the Extreme Right, Routledge, London, 2004, p. 60; Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.105.

87)  Ibid., pp. 33-36.

88)  Principles and Policies of the British National Party, 1982, in Nigel Copsey, op.cit., p.97.

89)  Robert Paxton, op.cit., p.181.

90)  Antonio Gramsci, Maximalism and Extremism, L’Unita, July 2, 1925, published online at http://www.marx.org/archive/gramsci/1925/07/maximalism.htm. On these issues, see also for instance his article Neither Fascism nor Liberalism: Sovietism!, L’Unita, October 7, 1924.

8 thoughts on “the rising threat of the bnp: the underlying causes, its present nature and prospects

  1. For the record, two comments from a holocaust denying perspective were posted here and deleted by a moderator. (One was a holocaust denial film, the other linked to a site of such films.) The comments were posted by someone under the pseudonym ‘ders’, giving the email address sadies-world@hotmail.co.uk.

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  2. Additionally, the party under Griffin began recognising the need to retreat from the old, unsuccessful confrontational style of politics, such as the “march and grow“ tactic (which elicited a strong anti-fascist response and frequent clashes), opting for “door-to-door“ communication with voters instead.

    Not quite true. The specific move away from street confrontation happened in April 1994 with an explicit definition that there would be no more marches and punch ups with leftist opponents, a recognition that the party no longer had the capacity to enact its violent rhetoric as it was under a ferocious assault from AFA.

    Also, surprised not to see any mention of Tony Lecomber and his Identity magazine in an otherwise reasonably comprehensive article. He had an important role in the modernisation process before being ditched after a bizzare incident involving him trying to beat up another BNP member.

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  3. An interesting analysis. However, I’m not convinced by the parallels implied with the 1930s nor the rather extreme claim that British society has “met the BNP half-way”. There’s no doubt that dehumanising sentiments can be found across the right-wing media, but it is hardly close to previous periods where racism, imperialism, etc, were common mainstream and elite positions. If British society really had become quite as brutal as suggested above, I’d expect more than 13,000 people (out of 61 million, let’s not forget) to have joined the BNP.

    The author also mentions only very late in the day a very crucial fact about 1930s’ fascists, i.e., that they came to power only in the presence of strong left-wing challenges which prompted mainstream political elites (and capital) to ally with them. Such challenges no longer exist.

    It seems to me the most likely trajectory is more of the same of what we have already, i.e., creeping authoritarianism and right-wing consolidation by and within the mainstream political elite. We hardly need fascist rule to implement brutal policing practices, immigration controls, constant state surveillance of the population, etc – it’s already here, and expanding. The BNP serves a useful function of permitting the mainstream elite to depict its policies as moderate and proportionate. Its rise also encourages them further into BNP territory, e.g., Brown’s recent announcements on housing.

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  4. a) I agree with Lee: analysing the fascist movement independent of its historic role as shock troops deployed by the bourgeoisie against insurgent, socialist working class movements makes no sense

    b) This:

    The task of the democratic Left is doubly difficult: to empower the disempowered and sufficiently erode the powers of the elites; to challenge exploitation, oppression and alienation, while simultaneously constructing a broad, non-corporatist alliance with the middle class (one of the central historic fascist constituencies) and, in certain cases and to limited degrees, with the political mainstream. In other words, the task of the Left is to develop a rational form of anti-establishmentarian politics.

    … seems to be thoroughly populist, and to involve the abandonment of the principle of working class political independence. And I don’t see anything to back up such a bold move, still less the blithe assertion that this is simply ‘rational’ – presumably in contradistinction to non-rational ideas, such as working class political independence.

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  5. Actually, the article doesn’t claim that the BNP and the political mainstream are directly comparable, only that there is a common development of mainstream policies and far right growth. I would agree with the author that the main danger perhaps lies in a general authoritarian contagion, not the BNP alone.

    I think it would be ludicrously propagandist to consider the BNP as direct “shock troops” of the bourgeoisie. I also think politics based solely on “working class political independence” are an ultra-left dream, and they had tragic consequences so far (sectarian theory of “social fascism” in Germany, Bordiga’s maximalist victory over Gramsci’s intelligent anti-fascist strategy etc.).

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  6. Mark I agree with your points about Bordiga etc. I also think when faced with a real threat of fascism the working class should be prepared to bloc if necessary with petit-bourgeois AND even bourgeois democrats. But this is from a standpoint of working class independence, and concious we are defending our freedom of menouvre fully aware we will use it to destroy defeat the bourgeoisie as a whole at the first opportunity. As the Bolsheviks and their many allies did with Kornilov for example. Gramsci also emphasised the united front of the working class forces against the fascists, that cohering our own strength and forces in the struggle. It is also worth noting that contrary to Trotskyist myth the Communist Parties – KPD and KPO – did establish united fronts from below very effectively. Trotsky constantly focused on the failing of Stalinism failing to see the totality of the problem – the role of the Social-Democrats themselevs in also hindering unity againts the Nazis. After all only a few years earlier the SPD leaders were allied with the Nazis against the KPD.

    Our situation is of course different, the working class is not within striking distance of the bourgeoisie never mind delivering a knock out blow, as such they do not need to sponsor fascists to supress the labour movement etc. Even in this context the left has failed to take measure of the BNP and has responded not in the manner Gramsci was proposing with effective class struggle and genuine united workers fronts, but impotent populism and meagre pacifism. At least the KPD formed the Red Front, even if its leader failed to deploy it effectively.

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  7. Whilst this is a very well researched dissection of the history, ideology and tactics of the BNP, it appears to end by using them as moral blackmail against ‘extremist’ or ‘antagonistic’ positions in favour of a reformist ‘united front.’

    Needless to say, this is exactly how the mainstream liberal media utilizes this small and, let’s be honest, virtually insignificant far right group.

    The task for the Left is not to go around obsessing about tiny far-right groups and judging our behaviour based on how it will marginally impact upon their support; out task is it to take on the mainstream press and political parties of the so-called centre. Obsessing over the far-right in 2009 is a waste of time, and in the case of the SWP seems to just provide an easy target for moralising direct action.

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  8. I wouldn’t call a party which receives a million votes “tiny”. The point is this – if there’s no credible, broad, non-sectarian left-wing alternative to these types of groups, no serious campaign is likely to be mounted against these trends (either in their radicalised or more “moderate” forms) and disgruntled voters won’t have a progressive left alternative to the mainstream parties. The perspective of the author is in my opinion correct.

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