Nothing British, is the newest "anti-fascist" campaign to enter political discourse. It is also, perhaps, the oddest, as it is a conservative organisation.
This isn't just reflected in their message - "there is nothing British about the BNP" - but also in their stance. Like liberal anti-fascists, Nothing British are a world away from the working class agenda of the radical left, and instead offer support to the state and the status quo. Unlike the liberals, this isn't just done by signing up an MP or two on the Hope not Hate bus, but by listing amongst their friends the organisations such as MigrationWatch and Balanced Migration. Their "Fresh Approach" to anti-fascism comes from a centre-right position that is "more Andy McNab than Lily Allen" and "more the Sun than the Guardian."
This is highly dangerous. The BNP are gaining ground because they are offering reaction to a disenfranchised working class, twisting the very real problems caused by global capitalism into racial and national issues in order to draw people to their camp. They gain strength from liberal anti-fascists pretending that the class problems do not exist, but also from conservative politicians, groups, and newspapers offering exactly the same slant on the issues as the BNP. Nothing British continues this right-wing tradition of "combatting" the far-right by offering exactly the same message that they do in a more "legitimate" package.
So it is with their latest campaign. On Tuesday, Nothing British launched "Operation Stolen Valour," and issued a report on "how the forces of extremism and racism are hi-jacking the good name of Britain's military, and what needs to be done to stop them."
The BNP, for their part, released a lengthy rebuttal by Nick Griffin on their website. It opened with the warning that "those Tory generals who today attacked the British National Party should remember that at the Nuremberg Trials, the politicians and generals accused of waging illegal aggressive wars were all charged — and hanged — together." Beyond the historical parable, which is actually more fitting than the usual grandiose nonsense such party diatribes offer, there are accusations of "disgusting Tory hypocrisy and [General Richard Dannett's] utter disregard for the ordinary British soldier."
Nick Griffin's response is a distraction from the issue of using soldiers for political purchase, which I will come to, but it does raise some interesting points. Though his party is promoting national interest over class interest, offering division in the name of race and nation, those behind the Nothing British report are doing exactly the same. "At the time [when Dannett was head of the Army], official army documents said that the nation must maintain ‘Armed Forces which are predominantly British and whose members reflect and share the culture and values of British society’." This was the justification for "instructions to limit the number of foreign recruits," which is "BNP policy, as endorsed by Sir Richard when Chief of Staff," even though "these same policies are now reprehensible in his eyes."
But what of the accusation that "almost everything the BNP does is somehow linked to the commemoration of fallen heroes, evokes the spirit of the Blitz, condemns the broken Covenant and gripes about foreign wars?"
Frankly, the accusation is true. Nothing British do notlie when they say that the party is engaged in "a deliberate strategy to exploit warm feelings felt towards the Armed Services by the British public" and "claim to represent the memory of Britain’s proud military past and good name of those who continue to defend our freedom." Pointing this out, however, does little to nothing for the cause of anti-fascism. Not only is it an accusation levelled at the BNP within their own framework of unquestioning nationalistic fervour and militarism, is is the "exposure" of an electoral tactic hardly limited to the far-right.
At the end of August, Gordon Brown "promised more support for UK troops in Afghanistan," in a visit to the country which the BBC's deputy political editor said was organised "to show not just his support for British troops," but also "to restate his case for war." Gordon Brown and New Labour, then, were "exploit[ing] warm feelings felt towards the Armed Services" in order to drum up support for continuing to drag out an illegal war of aggression. At the start of this month, David Cameron "promised to send more soldiers to Afghanistan in a bid to bring the war to a speedier end," declaring that "the first and gravest responsibility I will face is for our troops in Afghanistan and their families at home." He and the Conservatives, too, "exploit[ed] warm feelings felt towards the Armed Services" for political gain.
The accusation by Nothing British is, itself, an example of such a tactic. The whole report aims not just to dissect the BNP's tactic of using the military, but also to prove that the authors are the ones who "represent the memory of Britain’s proud military past and good name of those who continue to defend our freedom."
Such is the flaw of a group that claims, absurdly, that British "affection for the monarchy and our pride in the Empire meant we were never susceptible to the egotistical charms of fascism." This idea, based upon the nonsense of patriotic romanticism, is not the idea of an anti-fascist organisation but of servants of established power. In reality, it was the concerted efforts of working class activists to educate people about racism and physically organise against fascist groups that has kept the far-right at bay.
That tradition must continue. Anti-fascists must reject a stance that turns soldiers into idols, for it is precisely this idolatry that not only perpetuates nationalism but also solidifies support for the very wars in which these soldiers suffer and die. Moreover, it allows the state to silence all dissent against its actions with the accusation that the dissident does not properly "Support Our Troops."
To claim that there is "Nothing British about the BNP," whatever its truth, is to claim that "Britishness" has any meaning besides that demanded by social planners. To attack a group that perpetuates militaristic nationalism for not being patriotic and respectful of the military enough is to miss the point by a country mile.