‘get this racist jack straw off the bbc’…?

Leaflet for tonight’s demo against Nick Griffin appearing on Question Time

– Labour and Tory anti-fascism is a con
– Support migrant-worker organising: no borders
– For workers’ action against racist propaganda


The recent row over the British National Party’s appearance on BBC Question Time displays the level of anger at the rise of the far-right party. All of us have turned out today because we oppose Nick Griffin’s racist effort to blame immigrants for all of society’s ills, including the economic crisis, and do not want his rubbish to gain more of an audience. But given the level of establishment racism, a campaign to defend immigrants must not stop at mere anti-BNPism, nor can the growth of the far-right be stopped by appealing to the existing authorities to silence them.

The rise of the BNP

The BNP’s electoral support has rocketed in recent years—in the last decade its European Election vote has increased ten-fold, achieving nearly one million votes in this June’s poll. Much greater in number than the fascist core leaders of the party, BNP voters are typically identified as working-class former Labour voters who no longer feel that they have a ‘voice’ with the open pro-business turn of that party. The BNP does not simply advocate its racist ideology, but also plays on very real concerns like poor housing, underfunded public services, and the economic crisis, to win support for their effort to scapegoat immigrants for these same problems. With all the main ruling class parties agreeing to the ‘austerity consensus’ that working-class people have to suffer because of the crisis, for some voters the BNP seem like an alternative.

Ruling class anti-fascism

For this very reason it is mistaken to believe that the Labour and Conservative parties are allies in efforts to stop the growth of the BNP, as Unite Against Fascism does. UAF platforms often feature establishment politicians like Peter Hain, or even Sir Teddy Taylor, one of the most right-wing leaders of the Tories, because they are ‘anti-fascist’, and yet these are exactly the people at fault for the rise in the BNP vote. It is no good to accept the behaviour of the existing parties and keep silent about their racism and their capitalist ‘austerity and cuts’ consensus. This was shown when UAF’s Weyman Bennett, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, debated the BNP’s Simon Darby on the radio, steadfastly remaining ‘apolitical’ and saying nothing as Darby attacked bankers and free-market capitalism for causing the crisis—making it look as if the BNP were the only alternative on offer. This is a dead end both in terms of stopping people turning to the BNP, and stopping the media and political onslaught against immigrants.

Moreover, although the Tory and Labour politicians who have alienated their voter base routinely denounce the despicable racist ideas of the BNP, they do so not because of sincere concern for immigrants, but rather for fear of a challenge to their support. They themselves rail against ‘illegal’ immigrants even more than against the far-right. And these politicians are not just speechifying: for some, this support for racist borders poses a very real life-and-death risk. In 2000, when Jack Straw, who is opposing Griffin on Question Time tonight, was Home Secretary, 58 Chinese migrants died in a truck as they were smuggled into the UK: the direct result of ‘Fortress Britain’s’ borders. Day after day we hear of more police raids on workplaces—such as SOAS or the Willis insurance office in the City of London—where unregularised migrants had spoken out against low wages and long hours. The workers were arrested, imprisoned and then flown to their countries of origin, where they face poverty and violence from paramilitaries. Just last Friday the UK Borders Agency carried out its first mass forcible deportation to Baghdad since the 2003 invasion. Disgustingly, the Daily Express congratulated them, arguing that the Iraqis threatened to bring Sharia law and mass female circumcision to the streets of Britain. These sentiments are not just coming from the BNP—they reflect a racism running deep in British society.

Freedom of speech?

This conservatism of mainstream anti-fascism is also reflected in its tactics, with UAF lobbying the great and good of the BBC as well as the state to silence the BNP. They argue that the BNP is not a ‘legitimate’ party and the state should silence it: yet surely, in the state’s eyes, the radical left, the anti-war movement and militant workers’ struggles are also not ‘legitimate’? We must have no trust in state bans or state censorship: we need only look at its use of ‘anti-terrorism’ laws to silence protests, and its demands on migrants seeking regularisation to show their ‘loyalty’, with a ban on taking part in anti-war demos. The idea of ‘legitimate’ politics, as defined by the existing ruling class, is a total dead end.

Yet that does not mean we want Nick Griffin on Question Time, and we look to a force which can challenge the BNP’s anti-immigrant propaganda: not the courts, not the Labour Party, but the collective action of organised workers. Much like the Sun workers who in 1984 blanked that papers’ lying front page during the Miners’ Strike, media workers should use their power to stop racist views getting an audience—from the BNP, or anyone else. Our support for free speech in terms of opposing state censorship by no means implies passivity to the BNP finding more and more of a platform. This debate does however pose the question of who changes society: the state intervening to curb the worst excesses of the worst parties, or collectively organised action by workers?

Migrant worker organising

Most centrally, we must challenge the underlying racism in society and insist that everyone has the right to live and work where they please and on equal terms. Only if we determinedly make the argument for this basic democratic right can we even begin to try and push back the atmosphere where Labour, Tories and the BNP trade blows over who can best sort out the ‘problem’ of immigration. Anti-racism and anti-BNPism should not be a propagandist effort separated from the existing struggles of unregularised migrants, which are usually in direct conflict with Labour.

Here we can look to migrant-worker cleaners in the City of London and on the Tube as excellent examples of how to resist the recession. These workers, many of them without papers and living in a perilous unregularised status, have refused to accept management bullying and being paid peanuts. They show the whole working class that we do not have to knuckle under and accept the Labour-Tory consensus that the working class has to suffer because of the capitalist crisis: such community and workplace resistance is the real alternative, not the BNP.

Borders, national identity and ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ status have long been used by our rulers to divide the working class and bulldoze through their attacks. The answer is not to line up with Labour and the Tories, congratulating them on being less hostile to immigrants than the BNP are, but rather to build links between migrant workers’ struggles, resistance to the recession like the Royal Mail strikes, and anti-fascism resting on the power of organised workers rather than state censorship.

13 thoughts on “‘get this racist jack straw off the bbc’…?

  1. I was intrigued by how, after about half an hour laying into the BNP and Nick Griffin – who made a total arse of himself and made several disgusting comments – when it came to discussion of immigration there was a bidding-war for being reactionary. This was far worse even than the efforts to glorify the racist, anti-working class Winston Churchill.

    The message from Straw, Warsi and Huhne on the show was: it’s disgusting to base a party on racism/skin colour and Nick Griffin is lying when he says the BNP immigration policy is not racist… but we are opposed to ‘mass immigration’, it’s just that we are looking for the right skills and work ethic from migrants, not any concern about their skin colour…


  2. Anti-fascism truly showed its limits last night. A rowdy protest at the gates with no obvious purpose. As David says, the limited energy and organisational potential we have on the Left would be much better spent helping to assist and publicise migrant labour organization and the ideological battle for no borders.

    Being against something, and for preventing certain views being heard (even if they are racist and, lets be honest, quite silly) is not productive.


  3. “Being against something, and for preventing certain views being heard (even if they are racist and, lets be honest, quite silly) is not productive.”

    In what way is it not productive, anti-facist struggles even in themselves have brought tangible benefits in certain periods, struggles in which the working class and communists in particular have played a pivotal role. Cable Street was a key defeat for the ability of the British Union of Fascists to deploy and gain the freedom of the streets, Southall in 1979 on several occassions played a key role in driving the National Front out of this area of West London and began their decline there. Historically we can even pinpoint the victory of the Bolsheviks and their allies over Kornilov nascent Russian fascists in 1917 cleared the way for proletarian hegemony and the October Socialist Revolution.

    It is self-defeating to make anti-fascism and organising migrant workers into false-opposites. The fascists British Nationalist’s ARE a threat in relative terms in certain areas and political space.


  4. Chris: it is the UAF strategy which separates anti-BNPism from organising migrant workers! After all, it is the idea of an anti-fascist popular front which requires them to say nothing about mainstream politicians’ anti-immigrant nonsense. Migrant worker organising and no borders campaigns challenge the wide current in society hostile to immigrants, yesterday’s UAF demo did not.


  5. The posting above by Nathan states “the limited energy and organisational potential we have on the Left would be much better spent helping to assist and publicise migrant labour organization and the ideological battle for no borders.” and concludes: “Being against something, and for preventing certain views being heard (even if they are racist and, lets be honest, quite silly) is not productive.” This clearly counterposes one activity – organising migrant workers – to another activity – anti-fascism. This is a blanket statement not specifically about UAF. Posing these false opposites is itself self-defeating. Migrant workers for example can bee victims of state racism and simultainously constant harrassment and racist attacks by fascists British Nationalists. It would be plain wrong to counterpose one to the other – communists need to project the principle of militant anti-state racism AND anti-fascism.

    Furthermore the UAF does not equal anti-fascism or should it be allowed to gain hegemony over the concept. The UAF represents a break from the tradition of militant, independent working class, anti-fascism.


  6. Whether or not the UAF represents true anti-fascism or not, the protest at the BBC certainly was not very productive and simply plays into the hands of the major parties and liberal elite, who use the BNP as a scapegoat in order to morally posture on their own liberal, multicultural enlightenment.

    Since the liberal state now enforces by law any deviance from the norm – whether that be making remarks about Islam, race, or whatever, the Left in my view is nowadays pissing up a tree wasting its time with just being a more extreme version of mainstream liberalism.

    This is where I also think historical analogies break down and unless we appreciate the extent to which anti-racism and multiculturalism are utilized and hegemonised by the liberal state in this country, we cannot see how the Left simply play their part in the game by pushing a more ‘radical’ line. Peter Hain calls for a ban on Griffin from Whitehall; the UAF shout for a ban at the gates.

    I don’t much like Patrick’s piece in Spiked [ http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7608/ ] (being Spiked it cannot even consider for a moment a principle transcending freedom of speech or even think about working class migrant organising as a political subjectivity) but it does at least capture some of the hysteria and lack of logic behind the protests.

    Talking of Spiked, they even seem to be trying to pump the Griffin as free speech martyr line – they have four pieces on his QT appearance, and only one on the postal strike. Alex Hochuli even went down to SOAS to write a report on a TV screening [ http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7612/ ] – which seems to be his new favourite pastime: lurking around SWP events and heartlands and carping from the sidelines. One thinks he doth protest too much.


  7. Nathan, this amalgam technique is unhelpful and self-defeating, by that logic communists would end up opposing all sorts of tangible gains achieved by the workers movement simply because bourgeois liberal democrats support them. If the protesters at the BBC had managed to halt the BNP appearing on Question Time it would have been to the benefit of all workers, it would have been a defeat for the fascists. That’s the issue not whether liberals or populist sectarians were involved. Raya Dunayevskaya used to argue that it was a hall mark of ultra-radical sectarians to be unable to tell the difference between bourgeois democracy and fascism, let’s not fall into that category. History does matter and we can learn a lot from it.


  8. I don’t see the value of the Dunayevskaya comment. The fact that there is a difference between bourgeois democracy and fascism does not mean we should work with Labour/Lib Dems/Tories against the BNP, which is the question at hand. Saying that there is a difference between bourgeois democracy and fascism could, after all, be used to justify any number of tactics other than those you suggest – for example, from the Popular Front to the calls for state bans – so it is not enough just to assert that the difference exists. The point is to ask how they are different and what conclusions you draw from that.

    I once took part in the no-platforming of Michael Howard, on the day before the last General Election. He is not a fascist. He believes elections should take place. But tetting him speak or not is not a question of defending bourgeois democracy, the purpose of what we did was to disrupt the Tories’ organising. Perhaps you could say the same about no-platforming the BNP. I do not think it is a cast-iron principle one way or the other.

    But more important is the political motivations and arguments behind such an action.

    Anti-fascism which distinguishes between ‘legitimate’ politics and the BNP (i) creates a division between the tasks of organising against immigration controls and organising against the BNP (ii) explicitly sides with the ruling-class political establishment.

    On Thursday night on Question Time, Lab/Lib/Con baited Griffin’s racism all the better to justify their own attacks on migrants in the second part of the show. This is ridiculous. We should oppose all attacks on migrants no matter who they come from, not treat the BNP as if they were the number one threat. As it happens I did not see many no borders activists, nor many militant migrant worker activists, at the UAF demo, with the exception of those giving out critical leaflets.


  9. Well I have never argued the BNP were the number one threat. No the question at hand is diminishing the importance of the relative and growing threat posed by the fascist British Nationalists. Which is what is done by the crude posing of the issue as one of false opposites between challenging state-racism and challenging the fascists. This is what is being posed above.

    The starting point for communists on this question is not how bad the opportunist and populist politics of UAF (SWP) are. Nor should the goal of communists be to go for the maximum shock affect to differentiate oneself. Communists should explain the true scale and nature of the threat of the BNP and project independent working class politics to deal with it.

    Fascism has historically performed the role of a form capitalist class rule when its position is so threatened as to make the recourse to such methods essential if their position is to be maintained. In the UK today the working class in not in a position to take punch at the capitalist state never mind topple it. But that does not mean the fascists are not a relative threat to the working class in a changed historical context. The BNP are a threat.

    Communists should be projecting the view that the working class cannot and should not rely on the support of the police, bourgeois politicians or any section of the state against the BNP. They need to defend themselves. We should be for the unity of all working-class parties and organisations in a common struggle against the BNP and other fascists. That is not to propose popular frontism of the UAF but a united workers front as can best possibly achieved in today’s circumstances. To oppose such working class unity around such an elementary issue would be to consign communism even further to the blind alley of sectarianism and isolation.

    As for no platform. I disagree it should be a principle of the form of militant anti-fascism as traditionally advocated by communists. That is recognising that the fascists need to be challenged physically and politically, that no-platform is something to be implemented not by the state but by our movement. The only ‘communists’ who oppose this principle in real terms are the now social-democratised CPB and another splinter of the CPGB who produce regular gossip sheet. Neither of which are a good source of theory.

    So what if no border activists and others were not at the demo. If the demonstrators at the BBC had adopted militant tactics and successfully no-platformed the BNP that would have been a significant victory. Despite who they were and the politics of who organised the demo. It would not have been the first time people mobilised by a particular organisation such as the SWP went beyond their politics through their actions.


  10. Broadly agree with Chris when he says that it would have been good had the protesters managed to stop Griffin getting into the BBC. I can’t see why anyone would disagree with that. It being a good thing is not conditional upon them also preventing Straw arriving.

    However, I also agree with David when he says that there is no point (in the current conditions, certainly) lining up with establishment politicians to attack the BNP. Our critique needs to be different. I don’t see those two points as being in conflict.

    It has also been pointed out to me that the leaflet text problematises the BNP almost entirely on the level of migrants. It is worth remembering that they are a threat on a whole number of levels, including to established non-white communities, in a different way to Straw et al.


  11. The point of my comment about the relative lack of no borders activists and migrant workers is that the kind of people who turned up reflected the politics the demo was organised around. Lots of SWP came, since anti-fascism is one of their ‘activist’ initiatives to find “something to do”, but my broad perception was that those people who work day-in-day-out to defend migrant workers apparently did not think Griffin being on TV was exactly the most pressing concern ever.

    Whether or not the BNP are a fascist party is a debate we ought to have. In a way that is a definitional debate – which is not so valuable – but there is a further question: are the tactics used to combat 1930s European fascism still appropriate for today? There is no close analogy in terms of the needs of capitalism, the strength of the workers’ movement, the street-fighting strength of the far-right or its attempts to appear democratic and legitimate.

    I have heard a lot many people about the various ways in which the BNP is worse than the mainstream parties. No particular tactic for us necessarily flows from that. We must also consider the relative social weight and influence of these parties: even if the BNP are far more reactionary than the Tories, they (a) have no control of state power and (b) their purported power ‘in the streets’ is very limited and not such as to come close to rivalling the attacks on migrants organised by the UK state.

    In response to the previous comment and the other facets of the BNP – fine, but what does that imply is different as regards tactics? OK, so the BNP are also very hostile to ethnic minorities who are not recent migrants, but does that mean a different approach as regards no platform/allying with the establishment against them/the focus on migrant worker organising?


  12. Focusing on the BNP is a fun game no doubt; but it is also a non-starter. Had Griffin been prevented from getting on tv, it would have been a major score for their line of him being a free speech martyr – and this would, in a certain sense, have been true.

    As far as I see it the BNP have moved into a space of some form of perverted working class representation, where the labour party might once have been. They can recuperate the lost politics of old labour – socialised housing etc. – by linking it to the issue of radical anti-immigration.

    The absence of any prominent representative voice of radical pro-immigration (i.e. open borders, or at least much more open borders) is what allows the BNP to triangulate the mainstream liberal consensus to their advantage. In this process it moves the entire terms of the debate to their side of the argument and their framing of it.

    Preventing Griffin from speaking it at best a sticking plaster on this reality. The rally was predominantly young SWP activists and students (I’d say averaging about 20 years old) – I can’t see how this could possibly be taken as any form of authentic anti-fascism in the historical lineage to which is being referenced in this thread.

    I think what many people on the Left don’t understand is the extent to which they end up just playing the game of the liberal establishment, on their terms, and that is why our left is so marginal/bordering on non-existence.



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