Thursday, 29 December 2011

Beyond the BNP?

At the start of this month, Nick Lowles of Hope not Hate / Searchlight wrote an essay titled Beyond the BNP, The future of HOPE not hate1. In it, he talks about how the group's "targets and vision have expanded" in the wake of "some fantastic successes" against the far-right. It reads as a stark revision of recent anti-fascist history and promise to expand on the most problematic elements of liberal anti-fascism.

I won't dwell too much on Lowles' version of the fight against fascism in the past year, as I intend to write a blog specifically on that subject soon. However, suffice to say that his claim to have "consistently brought communities together, around positive shared identities, to resist the hatred of the EDL" ignores the achievements of militants in this regard. In particular, Bradford demonstrated both that the call for a state ban didn't stop the EDL from turning up and that direct, physical opposition did prevent them from rampaging.

Likewise, when he claims "persuad[ing] the Metropolitan Police to request a ban on an EDL demonstration in Tower Hamlets" as one of their victories, they ignore the huge negative repercussions. Not to mention that this not only didn't stop the fascists from turning up, it didn't stop them from marching. They didn't get into Tower Hamlets itself, but that was due to a huge anti-fascist presence there rather than a ban.

Lowles' further claims that "the current problems of both the BNP and the EDL owe much to our ability to combine research and intelligence gathering with both localised and national campaigns." However, this is at best a selective reading of recent history. The BNP's failure at the polls in 2010 underpinned a growing disillusionment with Nick Griffin's leadership - creating a rift that exploded most violently in Liverpool, where Searchlight have minimal to no presence. This isn't to say that Hope not Hate had no impact - their leafleting campaign in Barking & Dagenham was hugely successful. But, as Liverpool Antifascists have also demonstrated, leafleting of estates targeted by the BNP is not a tactic exclusive to them.

In terms of the EDL, the "current problems" faced by the leadership boil down to the more hardline elements splitting off into new groups such as the Infidels and those who came along for a piss up and a day trip falling away. That the splinter elements are on the upsurge and have returned to the traditional fascist tactic of controlling the streets demonstrates that this brand of street fascism is first-and-foremost a physical threat, and it has become prominent due to a failure to adequately deal with it as such.

But this doesn't matter too much to Searchlight. The title of this essay - "beyond the BNP" - reflects an idea that the text doesn't explicitly state: that the fascists in their present incarnation have been beaten and it's time to move on. This reflects the same self-assured attitude shown by the leadership of the Anti-Nazi League when they declared the National Front defeated - leaving it to the militant Anti Fascist Action to physically beat them and then the BNP off the streets in the face of increasing street violence and rising numbers of racist attacks as their electoral chances crumbled to dust2.

Turning to next year, Lowles cites the Searchlight report Fear and Hope3 when talking of the need to "be more proactive and unite communities around a positive, united vision of society." Thus, they produce a series of initiatives for the new year on the basis that "there is a clear connection between economic insecurity and pessimism with suspicion and hatred of outsiders."

This last point is quite correct, as fascists have a long history of offering up a minority section of the working class - Catholics, Jews, immigrants and asylum seekers, Muslims - as a scapegoat for the damage being inflicted by capitalism. However, naturally, Searchlight avoid mention of class and go instead for less terrifying (to mainstream supporters) words like "community" and "shared identities." However, the proposed initiatives offered do not necessarily follow from this analysis.

Most of them are fairly innocuous or in-line with what Hope not Hate is already engaged in, and so of little concern. One, the "online community organising project" has the potential to be somewhat interesting. But there is also a fair potential for Searchlight to further feed into the narrative of the authoritarian state.

In particular, I'm concerned by the following points;
We will be seeking to engage more actively in public policy debates, such as Prevent and Integration strategies, but do so in a more innovative way that involves our supporters in the discussions and developing responses.
Aside from being a typically wet, liberal illusion in the idea that fascism can be defeated through electoral politics, this is just plain dangerous. We already know that Searchlight is a statist organisation - its first port of call being asking for the government to ban actions and proscribe organisations. We also already know that these calls have manifested in exactly the way that militant anti-fascists predicated - most notably the "ban" on the EDL at Tower Hamlets becoming a mandate for a ban on protests in five boroughs.

Combine this with the organisation's blind eye to these repercussions and the state's eagerness to clamp down on dissent at present, and you have a very dangerous combination. Especially since, by deliberately talking of "extremism" rather than of fascism and Islamism, Searchlight is offering the opportunity to view any organisation which goes beyond what it terms "the mainstream middle" as dangerous, seditious and deserving of state repression. Moreover, from its lack of any response at all to the jailing of anti-fascists for taking on the far-right, we can expect the organisation to not acknowledge this problem even when it manifests itself in the heavy repression of the left.

Then there's this;
Next summer we will host the “Great British Party” as an initiative to unite communities and help develop shared identities in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. Backed up by over 100 local community newspapers and a new Community Champion award, this has the potential to be our biggest project yet.
Again, this only feeds into "values" and "identities" as defined by the state. Arguably, by focusing on the "Great British Party" at a time of growing "economic insecurity," it offers a lighter, liberal equivalent to fascism and nationalism - diverting attention towards identity and the nation-state at a time when our class is under attack. It also ignores that the 2012 Olympics bring with them one of the biggest attacks on our civil liberties by telling us all to forget what's going on in the world and have a party.

2012 brings with it a renewed threat of fascism, particularly in the form of street gangs going on the offensive. What we need in response to this is what militant anti-fascism has always offered - a class analysis of fascism, effective organisation against the far-right in working class areas and physical opposition to their violence. What we do not need, as Nick Lowles offers, is civic (as opposed to ethnic) nationalism and an increased mandate for the authoritarian state.

1Read a longer version, in PDF format, here.
2The link above deals mostly with AFA taking on the BNP - a fuller history which includes the battle against the NF by first the ANL squads and then Red Action can be found in Beating the Fascists: the untold story of ANTI FASCIST ACTION.
3Read my full response to that report here.