Saturday, 13 March 2010

The folly of legal interventions against fascism

Yesterday saw the British National Party in the news twice regarding legal decisions about its membership.

In the first instance, we had a ruling over teachers being members of the far-right party;
Teachers in England should not be banned from membership of the British National Party or any group which may promote racism, a review has concluded.

The government commissioned the report last September after a leaked list identified 15 BNP members as teachers.

Review author Maurice Smith added his recommendation should be reviewed every year, which ministers have accepted.

BNP leader Nick Griffin welcomed what he called a "common sense review" and said it was a great day for democracy.
Then there was the news that, despite a membership ballot and much wrangling, the BNP's membership rules were still discriminatory;
The British National Party has been forced to rewrite its rules again after a court said they were discriminatory.

The BNP voted to scrap its whites-only membership policy last month after a legal threat from equality watchdogs.

Instead, it said members had to sign up to maintaining the "integrity of the indigenous British" and be interviewed for up to two hours by BNP officials.

A judge at Central London County Court ruled that the new constitution was still likely to be discriminatory.

Judge Paul Collins ordered the party to pay £60,000 in costs and said its membership list must remain "closed" until it complied with race relations laws.

Delivering his ruling, he said: "I hold that the BNP are likely to commit unlawful acts of discrimination within section 1b Race Relations Act 1976 in the terms on which they are prepared to admit persons to membership under the 12th addition of their constitution."

But BNP leader Nick Griffin said the party had made the changes to its constitution demanded by the court - and as a result had now started accepting members again.

He told the BBC News Channel: "I think it's appalling. The court have opened a huge can of worms here, they have given a government funded, a taxpayer-funded body the right to interfere with the aims and objectives of political parties.

"That's not just an attack on us. It's an attack potentially on any political party. It's a bad day for democracy from that point of view."
Overall, then, a rather middle-of-the-road day for democracy, from the BNP's point of view. However, in these two instances, I find myself in agreement with Nick Griffin.

In terms of raising and teaching children, we do of course need to put safeguards in place to avoid indoctrination. However, such safeguards should not include banning people simply for holding racist and authoritarian views. In a libertarian educational environment, there is no harm in children being exposed to even the more extreme of viewpoints - as long as they are able to hear all sides of the argument and challenge what they are presented with. Especially with children, banning an idea only makes it more appealing.

This is also true with adults and, though fascist violence should be physically resisted, we should argue strongly against fascist ideas being subject to state censorship. As I have written previously, the forced change to the party's rules by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) amounts to an attack on freedom of association. Not only is this bad in principle, but it is bad from the standpoint that the government has now set a precedent which, history shows, will be used most ferociously against dissidents of the radical left.

It is a plain fact that antifascism cannot be conducted through collaboration with the state. If we are to organise working class self-defence, then it is foolish to assume that the very organs of power which pose even more of a threat than the as-yet-unelected fascists are a worthy ally.