Workers Hammer No. 209
Trade unions/minorities must stop racist provocations!
Fascists feed on Labour government racism
The British National Party (BNP) was awarded a badge of bourgeois respectability when the BBC defied a storm of protest to host its leader Nick Griffin on Question Time in October 2009. Having won two seats in the European Parliament and obtained over 900,000 votes in local elections in June, the BNP thugs intend to increase their vote in the 2010 elections. The televised “debate” took place largely on the BNP’s terrain of virulent anti-immigrant racism, with representatives of all parties arguing over who is to “blame” for immigration. Labour was represented by none other than justice minister Jack Straw, who in 2006 fanned the flames of anti-Muslim racism with a provocative public declaration that he “prefers” Muslim women not to wear the niqab (veil) when coming to his constituency office (see “Racism and the Islamic veil”, Workers Hammer no 197, Winter 2006-2007).
Responsibility for the current rise of the BNP lies squarely with the Labour governments of the last twelve years, which have relentlessly pursued the racist “war on terror” against Muslims and vied with the BNP for being “tough” on immigrants. The BNP is also thriving on attacks on immigrants, who are being scapegoated for the loss of jobs brought on by the capitalist economic crisis. Among those rounded up for deportation in a racist dragnet by the state were cleaners at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and construction workers at the London Olympics site. The BNP are also reaping gains out of the reactionary crusade against foreign workers that began at Lindsey oil refinery in January 2009 under the slogan of “British jobs for British workers”. Responsibility for this lies with the Socialist Party and the trade union bureaucracy, who led this campaign. We say: Down with reactionary strikes against foreign workers! No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! For trade union/minority mobilisations to stop fascist provocations!
No-one should be fooled by the BNP’s posture as a parliamentarist outfit: the BNP is and has been a fascist organisation since its inception. Fascists are paramilitary shock troops for all-sided reaction, particularly racist terror against immigrants and minorities, and smashing the organisations of the working class. As Trotsky explained in Whither France? (October 1934):
“Finance capital is obliged to create special armed bands trained to fight the workers . The historic function of fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organizations, and stifle political liberties when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery.”
Griffin was convicted in 1998 of inciting racial hatred for articles that denied the Nazi Holocaust. The Nazi regime was unparalleled in its barbarity. The Holocaust was the systematic extermination of six million Jews, as well as homosexuals, Gypsies and millions of Slavs. Hitler’s Nazis placed themselves at the head of European reaction. From 1918 to 1923, Germany came to the brink of revolution a number of times, but the proletariat was defeated. For the failure of the Russian Revolution to spread to the rest of Europe, humanity was made to pay with Nazi terror and the Holocaust.
In the inter-war period of economic and social crisis in Europe, where the facade of parliamentary democracy could no longer deceive and contain the militant working class, the bourgeoisie looked to fascist reaction to smash the workers organisations. But this did not make the Allied imperialist “democracies” anti-fascist fighters. Contrary to the myth of the “democratic war against fascism”, we uphold the Trotskyist position on WWII of revolutionary defeatism for all the imperialists — Allied and Axis powers — and for unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state. It was the Soviet Union that smashed the Nazi war machine, at a cost of over 20 million Soviet lives.
Trade unions/minorities must stop EDL provocations!
We warned last issue that “the election of BNPers Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons to the European Parliament gives respectability to the fascist stormtroopers and will lead to increased attacks on the streets, posing real and present danger to minorities, gays and leftists” (“The bankruptcy of Labour”, Workers Hammer no 208, Autumn 2009). This warning has been borne out: since the summer an outfit calling itself the English Defence League (EDL) has staged numerous, high-profile demonstrations in several cities, including Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London. EDL marches are racist provocations, targeting Muslims in particular using outrageous slogans such as “Muslim bombers off our streets”. These provocations must be met with massive protest centred on the trade unions mobilised for defence of Muslims, immigrants and all the intended victims of the EDL scum.
All evidence points to the fact that the EDL is a fascist organisation. The EDL was set up by BNP members (or recent ex-members) and organised through networks of football “casuals” who have long been linked with the fascists. In Luton, the EDL targeted Muslim organisations who protested against a parade in March 2009 by the Royal Anglian Regiment on their return from Iraq. The EDL were particularly incensed at placards describing British soldiers as “butchers of Basra”. This is a rather benign description of British Army brutality in a city where in 2003 Baha Mousa was horrifically put to death in the custody of the Queens Lancashire Regiment, having suffered 93 separate injuries.
The EDL is linked to a number of fascistic organisations such as “Stop the Islamisation of Europe” and its mobilisations have targeted mosques, such as in Harrow, London. Britain’s fascists have historically had links to the anti-Catholic Ulster Loyalist paramilitaries. At a November 2009 demonstration in Glasgow by the Scottish Defence League the Loyalist slogan “No surrender to the IRA!” was chanted. Today, according to the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, the BNP has its call centre in Northern Ireland. The EDL makes a point of thrusting a couple of mixed-race faces to the fore when facing the press but its claim that it is not racist is hogwash.
It is in the interests of the multiethnic working class as a whole to combat these racist terrorists. We call for trade union/minority mobilisations to stop fascist provocations. At the same time, as Marxists we make clear that the decaying capitalist system breeds the social conditions in which the fascists thrive and therefore the struggle against fascism is inseparable from the fight for socialist revolution.
The BNP führer used the BBC debate to engage in open gay bashing, declaring that he finds the idea of two men kissing “creepy”. Recent months have seen a dramatic rise in murderous homophobic attacks. On 13 October 2009 Ian Baynham died of severe injuries received in a homophobic attack in London’s Trafalgar Square; on 25 October James Parkes, a 22-year-old gay man (who is a trainee cop) suffered multiple skull fractures when he was attacked by up to 20 people as he left a gay night club in Liverpool, while two transsexual women were also murdered — Andrea Waddell in Brighton in October and Destiny Lauren in London in November. In response to the rise in homophobic attacks and in memory of the victims of the fascist firebombing of a gay bar in London’s Soho ten years ago, thousands held vigils in London, Liverpool and other cities at the end of October.
Our call for trade union/minority mobilisations is counterposed to wretched appeals to the capitalist state to halt fascist provocations. Mobilising the social power of the trade unions to defend immigrants and minorities requires a political struggle against the reformist trade union bureaucracy and is counterposed to the “anti-fascist” strategy of Unite Against Fascism (UAF), built by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Demonstrations organised by UAF are not intended to stop fascist provocations: the UAF slogan “stop the BNP” in reality often means that the state should ban the BNP. We oppose calls on the capitalist state to ban the fascists, which will invariably be used against the left. The role of the capitalist state — in particular its police, prisons and courts — is to maintain order within the framework of private property relations and therefore it embodies the chauvinism that is inherent in capitalist society.
Anti-fascist myths glorify bourgeois “democracy”
The standard reformist answer to fascism is to unite all “democratic” forces into a cross-class coalition. This is today embodied in UAF, whose strategy consists of using bourgeois “democracy” as a bulwark against the fascists. But the counterposition between bourgeois “democracy” and fascism is false. Parliamentary democracy, imperialism’s preferred method of rule, is merely the best disguise for the dictatorship of the capitalists. Fascism in power is another form of the dictatorship of finance capital, one which the bourgeoisie only resorts to under extreme circumstances such as when its rule is threatened by the proletariat mobilised for revolution.
In the post-Soviet climate, the fact that the capitalist ruling classes currently face no threat from the insurgent proletariat means that fascist organisations across Europe have increasingly focused on parliamentary activity. Thus in France in 2002 when Le Pen’s National Front fascists scored big gains in the presidential elections they did so primarily as an electoral party and in Italy Gianfranco Fini’s formerly neo-fascist party mutated into an electoral party that merged with Berlusconi’s Freedom People movement in March 2009.
Our demand that fascist provocations must be stopped rests on the understanding that there is nothing to debate with fascists. What’s to debate with supporters of the Holocaust, for example? The fascists’ methods of “debate” are the firebomb, the lynch rope and other murderous weapons. However today reformists and liberals are rushing headlong to debate the fascists. Leading the pack is Searchlight editor Nick Lowles who proclaimed a “new reality” in July 2009, a month after the BNP won two seats in the European Parliament. Lowles argues that:
“Searchlight comes from a proud tradition of No Platform, a belief that fascism should not be allowed to air its politics of hate publicly. We have always opposed legitimising fascism through public debate and where fascists try to incite hatred within communities through provocative marches and actions, we have backed mobilisations against them.
“While I still adhere to this in principle I also believe that we have to accept a new reality. Firstly the BNP has MEPs and whether we like it or not Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons will appear more regularly on television. No platform agreements between political parties were already breaking down before the election, with only Labour holding to them, and this process is likely to quicken now.”
— “The Way Forward”, Searchlight, July 2009
Related to this, Lowles argues in the same article: “To fight the BNP effectively we must move away from city and town centre events to focusing on the very communities where the BNP is drawing its support” — in other words more electioneering among the racist BNP voters. The SWP’s strategy of “use your vote” means voting Labour (or some alternative), absolving the Labour government of its role in putting the wind in the sails of the fascists.
The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in Weekly Worker (15 October 2009) mocks any demonstrations against the fascists as “mindless ‘fash-bashing’” and an article by Eddie Ford denies that the EDL is fascist, insisting they are but “a motley and ugly” alliance of “nationalist, far-right and lumpen elements, such as intoxicated football hooligans and semi-criminal riff-raff ”, a description which sounds like any gang of fascist scum. The CPGB equates any opposition to the fascists with the SWP’s reformism, but its criticism of the SWP for grovelling appeals to the state to ban the fascists is a cover for the CPGB’s line, which amounts to doing nothing to combat the BNP or the EDL. Rather than protesting against Griffin outside the BBC, the CPGB suggested that “the establishment make room for the Marxist left on its platforms” (Weekly Worker, 1 October 2009).
SWP honcho John Molyneux argued in a letter to Socialist Worker (13 June 2009) that the SWP shouldn’t make a “fetish” out of not debating the fascists. Meanwhile, according to the SWP’s Pre-conference Bulletin no 1 (October 2009):
“A discussion has been taking place in the party about our stance on No Platform for the BNP. While our committment to denying the fascists a platform is not in doubt, there have been calls from comrades centrally involved in Unite Against Fascism to scrap our opposition to debating with the BNP leadership in the media.”
The SWP leadership has decided not to debate Griffin, at least for now.
When the EDL began mobilising in major city centres in the summer of 2009, UAF was lukewarm about mobilising any kind of counter-demonstration. A petition on UAF’s website (25 September 2009) called on the home secretary, local council and police to ban the 10 October EDL demo in Manchester. According to Permanent Revolution’s website (permanentrevolution.net, 11 October 2009), when this was denied UAF sought permission to rally on the other side of the city. However, the cops placed the UAF demo near the EDL mob of 500-700 thugs and “kettled” the anti-fascist demonstrators. UAF deliberately called its demonstration for noon, two hours after the EDL provocation began. Socialist Worker (17 October 2009) reports that the North West TUC urged people to stay “away from the UAF protest”.
Workers Power defends the position “no platform for fascists”, saying: “Communists see fascist organisations as instruments of civil war against the working class. Their aim is to smash the workers movement”. They conclude: “we believe they [the fascists] have to be stopped from organising their forces. This is the policy of ‘no platform’. Wherever fascists seek to grow and develop their influence and support, communists seek to organise united action of workers, youth and anti-racists to stop them” (workerspower.com, 29 September 2009). What Workers Power doesn’t say is that upholding the slogan “no platform for fascists” in no way precludes — indeed is often synonymous with — calling on the state to ban the fascists. Workers Power attacks UAF for its failure to physically stop the fascists in the streets, saying: “Though UAF sees the need to protest against the BNP, it suffers from having to limit its arguments and tactics to what the capitalist politicians and figures on the right wing of the labour movement will accept”. The problem with UAF is not that it lacks militant tactics, but its reformist programme, which Workers Power shares.
Reformists seek unity behind chauvinist “British jobs” crusade!
Nowhere is the political bankruptcy of the Labourite left more evident than in their pleas for unity with the leadership of the reactionary strikes for “British jobs for British workers”. Both the SWP and Workers Power look to the Socialist Party and RMT leader Bob Crow, who led the No2EU coalition at the time of the European Parliament elections, to form a new electoral vehicle for the 2010 general election. No2EU was founded on support to the “British jobs for British workers” strikes and protests that began at Lindsey oil refinery in January 2009.
The Socialist Party’s claim that these strikes were not aimed at foreign workers is a whitewash. At a protest in Newark, Nottinghamshire on 24 February 2009 a section of the demonstrators chanted “foreigners out” while another anti-immigrant strike in May in Milford Haven, South Wales resulted in some 40 Polish workers losing their jobs. According to the Guardian website (21 May 2009), the strike was settled when “the Dutch-based employer, Hertel, agreed to withdraw 40 Poles and replace them with UK staff at the terminal owned by ExxonMobil and Total”. The Socialist Party proclaimed the outcome as yet another “victory” and blatantly admitted that the British workers “were not opposed to laggers from Poland getting work on the site as long as local laggers were given the opportunity of the work first as under the union agreement” (Socialist, 28 May-3 June 2009).
No2EU’s election strategy consisted of feeding at the same trough as the BNP, aiming to compete for the racist vote. In November the Socialist Party and Bob Crow formed a new coalition for the 2010 election. Its leadership also includes Brian Caton — leader of the Prison Officers Association, part of the armed fist of the capitalist state — who is now a proud member of the Socialist Party. Given its history as No2EU and its leadership, this “new” coalition could be nothing other than a vehicle for chauvinism, class collaboration and betrayal. But Workers Power criticises this cabal because they will not form a party, and therefore “will not stop the Tories but, on the contrary, demoralise working class activists and deliver the more backward and disorganised parts of our class over to the British National Party, which can pose as ‘anti-establishment’ unopposed by a genuine, radical party of the left”.
The notion that a mass workers party should accommodate would-be BNP voters expresses Workers Power’s commitment to a social-democratic “party of the whole class”. This view, which is common to all Labourite organisations including the Socialist Party and SWP, sees the workers party as an analogue of the trade unions, embracing the most advanced as well as the most backward layers of the working class, in which the backward layers usually dominate. In contrast, the Leninist vanguard party that we seek to build necessarily excludes from its ranks all chauvinists and bases itself on the most advanced layers, fighting every manifestation of backwardness, chauvinism and prejudice, leading the entire working class and acting as a “tribune of the people”.
The protectionist poison expressed in the “British jobs” strikes is inherent to the programme of social democracy. To workers facing ruin by the capitalist economic crisis, it substitutes class collaboration for class struggle, lining workers up behind their own capitalist rulers. Protectionism is common among “left” union leaders, including former NUM leader Arthur Scargill, militant leader of the heroic 1984-85 miners strike, who expressed his support for the “British jobs” crusade in a 4 November interview with Indymedia Ireland. Asked about the Lindsey oil refinery strike Scargill said: “You can’t have a situation [where] you can just move migrant labour, migrant capital into a society without it having devastating effects on the whole society”, while emphasising that: “I’m not talking about immigration [and] I’m not talking about asylum seekers! I’m talking about migrant labour being moved by capitalism.”
Our proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist programme is flatly counterposed to nationalist protectionism. We insist that until the working class takes state power, we will not be in a position to worry about the ebbs and flows of labour migration or the world economy more generally. We have noted that in cases such as the Lindsey strike, the bottom line for the trade union movement must not be whom the contractors hire, but at what rate of pay. The way to undercut attempts by the bosses to “level down” the wages and working conditions, including safety standards, of all workers, by playing off one nationality against the other, is for the unions to demand: Full union pay for all work at the prevailing rate, no matter who does the job! Equal pay for equal work! This poses the need for international collaboration among construction workers across European countries.
Twelve years of Labour rule has meant an even more rapid de-industrialisation than under Margaret Thatcher. The chronic job losses have been devastating for the working class. Entire areas of the country, from the former coal-mining and steel-producing areas of England, Scotland and Wales to the desolate former textile towns such as Bradford and Oldham offer little hope of a decent job. The situation cries out for a socialist revolution and a planned economy to regenerate social and economic life. There is no answer to the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism short of proletarian socialist revolution that takes power out of the hands of the irrational capitalist ruling class and establishes a planned, socialised economy. The greatest obstacle to this is the social-chauvinist Labourite leadership of the working class who are loyal to British capitalism. We seek to build a multiethnic revolutionary workers party, forged in opposition to Labourism, to overthrow the racist capitalist order and replace it with working-class rule.