Caricatures, Confusion and Combating the BNP

This post was written by Dan on August 25, 2009
Posted Under: Protest,Racism/Fascism

This is a response to Ed Mustill’s guest post written yesterday.

Pic: Guy Smallman

Pic: Guy Smallman

In the 2009 elections the BNP gained two MEPs, gaining near a million votes. Whilst they undoubtedly benefited from the the ‘perfect storm’ of the expenses scandal and the recession, this had been coming. The BNP’s strategy of playing down their core ideology, begun when Nick Griffin wrestled control of the party from John Tyndall, combined with pandering to racism by the mainstream politicians has brought them unprecedented electoral gains and they are now undoubtedly the most electorally successful fascist party in British history.

Griffin’s strategy is made clear in this quote from 1999:

Instead of presenting the party as a revolutionary alternative to the system, we must present the electorate with an image of moderate reasonableness… Of course we must teach the truth to the hardcore. But when it comes to influencing the public, forget about racial differences, genetics, Zionism, historical revisionism and so on.

That’s why stories like this terrify them. In the run up to the elections the BNP forbade local branches from having their own websites, and a quick glance at Merseyside BNP, now hastily renamed Merseyside Nationalists, will show you why. This is why it is key to Unite Against Fascism’s (UAF) strategy to expose the BNP as a fascist organisation. It’s therefore a shame that Ed Mustill’s guest post so denigrates this, reducing it to a caricature with accusations of ‘Bulldozing your way into a community and shouting ‘Nazi scum off or streets’’. During the election I, and hundreds of others, distributed thousands of leaflets that did not merely call on people to ‘not vote Nazi’, but explained in detail the loathsome politics of the BNP, attempting to expose them as the fascists they are. This is important work, as it undermines a core part of the BNP strategy, namely to hide their fascist roots beneath a respectable veneer.


Map of Codnor demonstration from Socialist Worker

Ed appears to agree that the BNP must be confronted where they organise, citing approvingly a recent example in Derby. It is therefore odd that he is so critical of another two recent important examples, those of Birmingham and Codnor. I wasn’t at Birmingham, but it appears to have been a significant defeat for the English Defence League, and the only criticisms of UAF I have seen are from those who want to paint the young Muslim men as as bad as the fascists. I was, however at Codnor, where thousands of demonstrators were able to severely inconvenience the Red White and Blue Festival, an important part of the BNP’s calendar, used to harden up and recruit new members. The blockades Ed mentions were an important part of this, and would have been impossible had UAF not worked for weeks in the build up to it to organise groups from across the country to attend. My blockade contained activists from across the country and included a number of Trade Union banners. Of course many of us will not return to Codnor, neither will most of the Fascists, that is the nature of a national mobilisation, but it was important to challenge the festival, and in my experience there was very little hostility from the locals, who understood why we were there.

So what about No Platform? For me, at least, this is neither a tactic nor a principle, it is a strategy. It is a strategy aimed at isolating and delegitimising the BNP. Within this strategy there are a number of tactical decisions to be made. Of course anti-fascists shouldn’t refuse to sit in parliament with Fascists, and there is real debate about rare circumstances in which it may be appropriate to ensure they are challenged in the media. But these decisions should be understood as part of a wider strategy of denying them a platform wherever possible, as a crucial part of defeating them.

Ed seems to link UAF’s use of No Platform to its attempt to build the broadest possible movement against the BNP, and claims this has something to do with UAF’s lack of Trade Union orientation. I confess to be dumbfounded, both by how these things are connected, and some of the charges themselves. Across the country UAF has not just union affiliations, but significant engagement from Trade Unionists, on my coach to Codnor their were delegations from Unison, Unite and the PCS. UAF’s position is clear that

[Our] movement must unite the trade unions with the Black, Asian, Muslim, Jewish and other minority ethnic communities alongside all other opponents of fascism, including political parties, religious groups, the lesbian and gay communities and sections of the media.

Nothing here entails refusing to criticise mainstream politicians and their policies, or calling for a vote for anyone specific.

I suspect Ed believes that an important part of beating the BNP, as well as a valuable aim in itself, is the creation of an electoral force of the left that can take on the issues such as jobs and housing that have been abandoned. I share that aim, but it is only a part of how we beat the BNP, and it is dangerous to think we can subsume anti-fascist strategy to it. Local Labour groups have a role to play, as do sections of the unions still wedded to the Labour Party. We also shouldn’t assume that those voters moving to the BNP are ones that could be easily won to a left wing position, as this recent YouGov poll shows.

If the BNP are to be defeated we need a multi-faceted strategy. Jobs and Homes not Racism is a fine slogan, but not when counterposed to exposing the BNP for what they are, and building a broad movement against them.

For UAF’s statement on the European elections and the way forward click here.

For a more detailed exposition of the strategy I’m defending, click here.

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Reader Comments


I was out of the country when the Codnor demo took place but was aware of the build up to it and have read a range of commentary about it. No doubt UAF has made efforts to gain support and involvement of trade unionists in mobilisations such as this, but my impression is that, for the second year running, UAF failed to work effectively and democratically with the existing locally based campaigns. This raises an issue of strategy just as important as the no-platform debate, which is about building sustainable and strong movements against fascism in local communities from the grassroots upwards, supported rather than led by a national campaign.

It is not just about one-off stunts and protests – which must of course continue – but also about supporting and enabling local campaigns to carry out patient work to win away from the fascists many of those who have started to support them.

Dan is right to say “We also shouldn’t assume that those voters moving to the BNP are ones that could be easily won to a left wing position”. While the BNP were undoubtedly beneficiaries of a large protest vote at the Euro elections, voters had more than enough candidates to vote for to express their protest at the establishment parties, and choosing to give them to the BNP was a conscious act. Nevertheless, we need to act to ensure that that vote is seriously challenged and not solidified among those who voted BNP for the first time.

As someone involved in anti-fascist activity since the mid-1970s (when No Platform was used very effectively) I know the BNP has not changed its spots. It’s activists dress more like management consultants and estate agents these days, but its core nazi-fascist politics remain.

Labelling them Nazi scum in order to show voters what they have really signed up for might open the eyes of some of these first time BNP voters. I suspect it won’t shift the majority and we need more sophisticated approaches. When the No Platform strategy was established in the late 1970s, you had a very active fascist movement – the National Front – with around 20,000 members based in a few key areas and regularly marching into hot-spots to incite racial violence. The BNP hasn’t got as many members but a much wider,more disparate voting base and more legitimacy than the NF achieved. We need some new thinking on how to approach this situation and not be afraid to question long-standing anti-fascist orthodoxies.

Written By DavidR on August 26th, 2009 @ 11:18 am

I disagree that the BNP were the beneficiaries of the largest protest vote, although the media coverage of their breakthrough certainly made it seem that way. I would say, once again, the largest protest vote went to UKIP, with the second largest going to the Greens.

Written By Salman Shaheen on August 26th, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

David, I have no problem with questioning long-standing anti-fascist orthodoxies, but the article I was responding to didn’t really offer any alternatives. What, in your opinion, would a more sophisticated approach look like? The strategy outlined in UAF’s document that I linked to seems a good start.
As for Codnor, I’m clearly not from the area and I don’t know the details, but I think there is too much of a fetish being made of the local organisations in this particular case. The BNP had a national mobilisation, so we needed one too. This was far more than a ‘Codnor’ issue, or an East Midlands issue, or whatever.

Written By Dan on August 26th, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

“As for Codnor, I’m clearly not from the area and I don’t know the details, but I think there is too much of a fetish being made of the local organisations in this particular case. The BNP had a national mobilisation, so we needed one too. This was far more than a ‘Codnor’ issue, or an East Midlands issue, or whatever.”

Quoted for truth.

Written By Reuben on August 26th, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

Excuse me for going a little off track. It seems that it’s OK to accept Sinn Fein MEPs and MPs, after all they have only murdered people, shot people in the knee caps, tried to kill a PM and members of the Royal Family but this Griffin, he has opinions we don’t like so we can’t have that can we. Quite amusing really.

These Nationalists:-
First they decide that they don’t like foreign influence or foreign governments.
Then, they start to preach against those foreign things.
Next thing you know, they have a following.
Then the following grows.
Then come the civil disobedience campaigns and before you know it, there’s an upheaval and they toss out the foreigners.
Of course, I’m referring to the Nationalist Ghandi, not the Nationalist Griffin.

Written By Rayatcov on August 26th, 2009 @ 9:07 pm

Excuse me for telling you to fuck off. I don’t know who you think ‘we’ are, but there is no collective pronoun that includes both myself and someone so monumentally objectionable as you. Griffin and his bootboys do not just have views I disagree with, they are a fascist organisation.

The BNP doesn’t dislike ‘foreign influence and foreign governments’ they despise a section of the British population, and want to strip them of their rights. Your comparison of Gandhi’s desire for the removal of an armed British presence from India with the BNP wanting to repatriate all non-white people from Britain requires a word that doesn’t yet exist in the English language to describe how moronic it is.

Written By Dan on August 26th, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

“The BNP had a national mobilisation, so we needed one too. This was far more than a ‘Codnor’ issue, or an East Midlands issue, or whatever.”

Well the BNP didn’t decide to hold its Red White and Blue festival in the middle of Brick Lane, for example. it chose instead a predominantly white former mining community with significant unemployment – a large local engineering firm (Butterley) recently shed more than half its workforce there and a local aircraft fan blade factory recently announced its likely closure – with a potential loss of 170 jobs. They go to places where they think they can count on and strengthen local support. So yes, it is important to respond to national BNP mobilisations with national anti-fascist mobilisations but these must work closely with and be supportive of the long-term local campaigns too. Especially in a place ripe for further BNP political infiltration.

In terms of the strategies we need today – it’s a huge discussion that the movement is starting to enable to take place. The other major national campaign (which has its own good and less positive aspects) – Hope Not Hate – has been encouraging this debate to start happening through Searchlight magazine.

Clearly whatever work can be done through unions is important – as long as this involves the rank and file and not just leaders, but it is also important to recognise that many of those attracted to vote BNP may not be in a union, may not be holding down jobs and may not know much about unions and it is important to reach them in the arenas where they do operate which may not be the workplace. This might be through local campaigns against cuts of various kinds such as youth provision, it may be through housing/tenants issues, it may be through local community centres.

Back in the 1930s when the fascists had made serious inroads into local communities, especially in East London, the mass mobilisations and work through unions was a major factor but what really cemented the victories then was work done over several years through the Tenants Defence Campaign.

Written By DavidR on August 27th, 2009 @ 11:46 am

I’m not sure if we disagree on most of this stuff David, and I think this is part of the problem with some of the debate in the current anti-fascist movement, which is oddly polarised. I certainly agree with all of the points you make about the arenas in which we need to operate.

I don’t personally think UAF acted in a way that weakened local organisations in Derbyshire, and is doing a great deal to build active and effective local groups across the country.

Written By Dan on August 27th, 2009 @ 2:32 pm
John Piggot

George Orwell said the word fascist was meaningless.

Prof Tim Garton Ash said in an article in The Guardian that the word has been “hollowed out to mean little more than something the left hates at the moment”.

Dan: are you using the word fascist in the Orwell “totally meaningless” sense or the Garton Ash “almost meaningless” sense?

Written By John Piggot on October 29th, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

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