The Blanket

The BNP, Anti-Fascism And The Libertarian Dilemma

Mark Hayes

Despite the defeat of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the French Presidential elections the issue of Fascism is still very much on the agenda. In countries like France and Austria the extreme right has entered the mainstream political arena, whilst in Britain the BNP is beginning to make an electoral impact. Certainly the recent local election results in Burnley and elsewhere have provided a degree of impetus for the BNP, and this has precipitated renewed concern about the (re)emergence of the Fascist right. Indeed, according to Dr. David Baker (University of Warwick), the election results constituted a “credibility breakthrough” for the British National Party.

The fact is that, far from being consigned to a particular historical epoch, Fascism has never actually gone away. The Fascist creed, which embodies among other facets, a toxic combination of xenophobic nationalism, racial supremacism and a commitment to an authoritarian state, has been sustained during difficult periods by a small coterie of fanatics. The difference now is that the political and social context has altered significantly, and the Fascists themselves have modified their strategy and re-articulated their message.

In Britain we now have a “New” Labour Party unambiguously committed to Thatcherite assumptions about the importance of private enterprise and the need for a severely circumscribed role for the state. Those marginalised working class communities most in need of resources have been disappointed by a government pre-occupied by the pursuit of power for its own sake. No amount of political doubletalk or spin-doctoring can disguise “New” Labour’s supine submission to capital. The smoke and mirrors will not work anymore. Those with any pretensions toward left-wing radicalism have long since abandoned ship, whilst activism amongst a declining membership at constituency level is sparse, and even the unions are now re-considering their relationship with what is essentially Tony Blair’s fan club.

This situation has created a political void in Labour’s core constituency, which the BNP is hoping to fill by claiming to be the “radical” alternative. At the same time, the BNP has attempted to re-invent itself in Euro-Nationalist mode by eschewing street confrontations and the bully-boy skinhead image. As BNP leader Nick Griffin put it, “we have de-commissioned the boot”. This may be overstated, but the emphasis has undoubtedly changed. The BNP is attempting to work within communities on the so-called “sink” estates that have been effectively abandoned by “New” Labour. Moreover, as George Monbiot has rightly pointed out, Fascists now are expressing their message in a variety of different ways, for example Fascist activists have infiltrated the Countryside Alliance, trade union organisations and even the anti-Globalisation protests! Prominent BNP strategists are determined to break out of the political ghetto, where once they squabbled over the fickle loyalties of political psychopaths and football hooligans, and enter the electoral mainstream.

All of this makes constructing a viable anti-Fascist strategy exceedingly problematic. Of course the notion, expressed recently by New Labour “guru” Anthony Giddens, that the so-called “Third Way” can somehow eradicate the right wing threat, displays an alarming lack of political perspicacity. In fact, by continuing to undermine organised labour - a movement which might be expected to be at the very forefront of resistance to Fascism - Blair’s government is making it far easier for Fascists to operate. In short, more of the same pallid pragmatism will not work.

Unfortunately, for other organisations on “the left” the struggle against Fascism has often meant purveying the same old puerile sectarianism. For the Anti-Nazi League, to take the most prominent example, the fight against the extreme right has always represented an opportunity to inculcate new members with their Trotskyist credo. Although Alex Callinicos has referred to the “enormous success” of the ANL since 1977, the paradox is that whilst they were the most vocal and vociferous in their opposition to the Nazis, the ANL were often the least able to deliver, despite their revolutionary rhetoric.

Yet Fascism does need to be confronted, both physically and ideologically. In effect this means denying them political space and adopting a “no-platform” position. However, it is here that those adopting a pro-active anti-Fascist stance encounter powerful arguments prioritising civil liberty and freedom of speech. Certain elements on the left, and in the liberal intelligentsia, argue that Fascism can be dealt with most effectively by exposing it to the light of democratic debate. Rational people will, it is argued, see through the lies and half-truths of Fascist discourse and be convinced by the intellectual rigour of those advocating freedom and democracy.

Such arguments will undoubtedly resonate with certain elements in the broader Irish Republican Movement (especially those intimidated by the Provisional leadership), who seek an open and genuine debate about political strategy and the “peace process”. However, we need to be absolutely clear here, because to conflate the two issues, and prioritise liberal freedoms over and above political necessity, would be a fundamental error.

The argument for greater democratic control and debate within Republicanism is entirely sustainable and reflects a legitimate aspiration in the context of a potentially progressive political movement seeking positive social change. To extrapolate from this and justify the right to air and disseminate any political aspiration would be to undermine effective anti-Fascism in deference to an, albeit valuable, libertarian instinct. The fact is that Fascists utilise freedom of speech in order to destroy it. In this sense Fascism is the political equivalent of plutonium, and there is no genuinely safe means of engaging with it at any level. In any event, we all accept legitimate constraints upon our freedom of expression, and it cannot be construed as an absolute right in all circumstances. Freedom of speech is a contingent liberty, which depends very much upon political circumstances and social consequences.

Fascism needs to be destroyed, with force if necessary. Those of us who aspire to becoming part of a “relevant left” must not be squeamish about confronting this issue. The failure to do so effectively may consign us all to irrelevance.





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I was determined to achieve the total freedom that our history lessons taught us we were entitled to, no matter what the sacrifice.
- Rosa Parks

Index: Current Articles

8 September 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


The BNP, Anti-Fascism and the Libertarian Dilemma
Mark Hayes


Out of the Ashes of Armed Struggle Arose the Stormontistas And They Fought...Ardoyne Youth

Anthony McIntyre


Republicanism in the Age of Empire
Michael Youlton


The Interface
Davy Carlin


Colombia Deteriorates Daily
Sean Smyth


The Letters Page has been updated.


5 September 2002


Why Doesn't Britain Leave
Sandy Boyer


Che Guevara

Anthony McIntyre


Perfecting the Violence of Curfew
Sam Bahour


Understanding Culture
Billy Mitchell


Brian Mór


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