Friday, 11 June 2010

Autonomous nationalism and why antifascism needs a working class perspective

Recently, one of my comrades from Liverpool Antifascists reposted an article from Wales on Sunday titled "Anti-Islam website written and run by schoolboy, 16."

In fact, the title of the article was misleading. Though it made reference to the religion, the blog itself wasn't exclusively "anti-Islam," but was rather the blog of an autonomous nationalist in Wales. It represents a movement which has existed in Europe for a long time but is fledgling here in Britain.

The issues surrounding this movement are far more complex than this article, and a follow up in the South Wales Evening Post, would have us believe.

The blog that the papers refer to is the Carmarthenshire Front and is not, despite the claim of WoS, "named after the far- right National Front." It is true that the site "features videos of BNP leader Nick Griffin talking about the “Islamification” of Europe, and describes the dangers facing the “white man” from the “tsunami of immigration” coming into Britain." However, this is at best an over-simplification of the matter.

The schoolboy who runs the site, who previously posted under the name Robert Thompson, is not a member or supporter of either the British National Party or the National Front. He is a part of Autonomous Nationalists UK (AnUK), an entirely new outfit which represents a form of fascism that Britain has yet to fully experience.

Autonomous nationalists, who occasionally refer to themselves as "national anarchists" [sic], have a fondness for mimicking the "black bloc" image of the anarchist movement, and often intersperse openly fascist or neo-Nazi ideas with quasi-socialist rhetoric. For example, the "25 points of AnUk" are plagiarised from the 25 point program of the NSDAP, yet the Liverpool Front's Danny Davies has also written "The Socialist Arguement [sic] Against Capitalism." As a reposted Pravda article on the Liverpool blog phrased it, AnUK consider themselves to be "a broad blend of left-wing socialism and far-right nationalist and libertarian views."

In fact, the article further claims that they represent the "left" trend of the Nazi scene;
Prior to the Nazi’s ascension of power in 1933, there had been two distinct trends within the German National-Socialist movement. The first, the “right” trend in the movement, developed around the alliance of Herman Goring with the German-Prussian aristocracy and the captains of German heavy industry. It is to this camp, lured by the money and the luxuries which it distributed freely to its political friends, that Hitler and Goebbels came in the years before the ascension to power. Opposed to them were the German socialists, the “left” trend in the movement, also known as the “Black Front” or the “German Freedom Front”, who formed around the Strasser brothers, Ernst Roehm and the SA, and who believed in the socialization and expropriation of the property of the aristocrats and industrialists that were supporting Hitler’s rise to power.
How real the distinction is, you'll have to decide for yourself.

For me, the fact is that they promote the same "ethnic nepotism" that the Hitlerite trend in National Socialism did. Whilst the Liverpool Front's attempts to gategrash anti-fascist events and Danny Davies's continual offer of a "straightner" challenges the notion of their rejecting Hitlerite aggression for Strasserite defensiveness.

But that's not important. Violent Nazis aren't news, and there is no need to overstate this issue when they are a fringe movement that represents no real threat. In fact, had two Welsh papers not drawn attention to the Carms Front, I would not be writing this article at all.

Whilst I am, though, what matters isn't their violent tendencies or overt racism. It's the fact that, like the BNP, they claim to be for the working class and that, unlike the BNP, the claim has just enough credibility that it might actually fool people.

In Liverpool, the merest of glances tells you that those within the autonomous "front" are not an isolated enclave of nazis, entirely isolated from "decent" society. Particularly through the punk scene, many have links to, and friends in common with, antifascists, anarchists, and generally non-racist punks and skinheads. They are not detached from the working class, like the BNP's parachuted-in "super activists," but part of it. They don't speak about class because it wins votes, but because it is something that they have experienced firsthand.

It is the racial element of the argument, the virulent anti-communism and white nationalism, that is tacked-on. Many of them no doubt hold their racial views with sincere and unwavering zeal, though I don't doubt that (as in all movements) there are also those who will grow out of it. But the point is that class - not race - is the central element of their political perspective.

The BNP use class rhetoric as a lure towards ethnic nationalist views. These autonomous nationalists, for whatever reason, have had a substantive class consciousness distorted by the question of race.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of NASUWT, says that we need to "combat and challenge these unacceptable views," and he is right. But a "clamp down," and censorship, are not the way to do that.

On the streets, people can hardly engage in any substantive debate, especially when the person you are disagreeing with keeps offering you a fight. Moreover, when threatened with physical violence, appealing to an assailant's sense of reason is hardly likely to save you from a hiding. Anti-fascism is a defensive movement whose history - from Cable Street and the Spanish civil war to the battles fought by Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) - has shown that political violence needs to be physically resisted.

But this doesn't mean that we should never acknowledge the arguments being made.

Davies, Thompson, and their comrades aren't being drawn to autonomous nationalism because they haven't been slapped around enough by anti-fascists. Such treatment would probably even harden their resolve. As with anybody who joins a movement of any leaning, they have been convinced by a political argument because its counterpoint is either weak or non-existent.

This is why a working class perspective on anti-fascism is important. We need to be vocalising that counterpoint.

Members of the working class who are drawn to the far-right perceive the mainstream anti-fascist movement as dominated by the "right-on" middle classes and students. They perceive it not as a movement against fascism but as an excuse to yell "racist" at the white working class for disagreeing with the status quo. Unfortunately, on both counts, they have a point. An anti-fascist movement with the current Tory Prime Minister amongst its signatories, or which has strike-breaking councillors amongst its speakers, cannot credibly appeal to the working class. After all, many working people can say they have suffered much more due to Tories and scabs than they have because of fascists.

So, yes, we should resist the fascists when they try to use violence or they confront us on the streets. But we should not expect that shouting "Naxi" at them will make them go away. We need to put forward the arguments as to why fascism divides the working class, why unity between natives and migrants is the only way to end the exploitation of both, and why capitalism - not a perceived lack of border controls - is the root of working class problems. Like all variants of fascism and white nationalism, autonomous nationalism is a reactionary movement which diverts working class discontent away from the real issues towards scapegoats and other working class people.

If we are unable to argue against that using only the power of our own reason, then we cannot possibly hope to build a more viable alternative to the woes of the present.