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How to fight the far-right BNP
a socialist contribution to the debate
THE FAR-right British National Party (BNP) achieved significant advances in the May 2006 local elections, where they won 33 more councillors bringing their total to 55 nationally. Their gain of eleven councillors in Barking and Dagenham hit the headlines most but this was not an isolated development.
Standing 23 candidates in Leeds, they received an average vote of 16%. In Sandwell, in the Black Country, their average was 33% across seven wards. Nationally almost a quarter of a million people in total voted for the BNP.
There are a number of reasons why the BNP made these gains. Firstly, the idea pushed by the media that hundreds of foreign criminals were "running amok" undoubtedly won them votes. Secondly, the revelation that 80% of people in Margaret Hodge's constituency had considered voting for the BNP gave them a certain legitimacy and took away some of the stigma of voting for a far-right party.
But the fundamental reasons for the growth of the far-right, racist and populist BNP are the betrayal of working-class people by Blair's New Labour government and the delay in the development of a new mass workers' party which could give a class-based political opposition to the onslaught of New Labour attacks on living standards, pay, conditions and our communities.
A large element of the BNP vote is a protest vote against all the three main parties and Labour in particular. But, by falsely claiming to support the interests of "British, white" workers, they have built a certain electoral base in some areas and are taking on the outlines of a serious political force in the minds of a layer of workers.
For example, in Stoke, they received a significant vote in the Euro-elections. In May 2005 in the mayoral election they doubled their vote to 15,766 and in the general election scored an average 7.8% across three constituencies. In local elections this May, they won three more councillors with an average vote of 30% across seven wards bringing their total to five councillors.
Whilst the increase in support for the BNP in the recent local elections is a dangerous development, they also suffered some setbacks. In Sunderland, in 21 of the 25 wards where the BNP had also stood in 2004 their vote went down. In Gateshead all eight BNP candidates got lower votes than in 2004. In Kirklees their vote fell in 13 of the 15 wards where they had previously stood.
In Burnley they won one seat but with a lower vote than in 2004 and in Oldham their vote was down in both wards where they stood in 2004. In Calderdale their vote was down in all six seats which they had contested in 2004, even in the seat which they won.
EVEN IN Stoke, alongside the growth in electoral support for the BNP mentioned above, the Socialist Party has also increased its share of the vote over the last three years from 3% to 12% and now up to 17% (from 61 votes in October 2003 to 508 in May of this year).
But even more significant is the growth in the authority and influence of Stoke Socialist Party after playing an important and sometimes key role in fighting alongside "white British workers" and all workers in a number of industrial disputes. At a certain stage, this factor will prove far more significant in winning the hearts and minds of working-class people than the temporary electoral support being gained by the BNP.
In the last few years, we have seen a small but significant growth in workers taking action to defend their interests. An increase in class struggle helps to cut across the growth of the far right and builds the working-class unity necessary to defend living standards.
When First Bus drivers in Stoke took strike action, Czech, Polish and Hungarian drivers stood alongside British drivers on the picket line. Filipino and Indian nurses also marched on the marvellous 5,000 strong march of NHS workers in Stoke on 29 April. In both cases a key role was played by Socialist Party members in giving a lead and support to these struggles.
However, although it's generally true that industrial struggle of this type as well as the conscious intervention of socialists will cut across the growth of the far right, it is not an automatic process.
For example, some NHS workers facing the threat of redundancy at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, who took part in the march - incensed at the betrayal of New Labour and with no serious alternative in their area - voted for the BNP one week later in the local elections. Similarly, some council workers who took one-day strike action only weeks before the local elections still voted for the BNP, such is their anger towards New Labour.
Character of the vote
WE NEED to understand the character of the BNP vote in order to cut across the BNP's recent growth in support, particularly in working-class areas. The outlook of working-class people is rooted in their daily experience. Workers have suffered years of constant attacks on jobs, pay and conditions.
Daily life in many areas has become increasingly difficult as a result of the capitalist class' wholesale destruction of manufacturing industry and the systematic decimation of services. Schools, youth clubs, shops, cinemas, banks, libraries, etc have disappeared.
Many areas no longer have social clubs, pubs or post offices where people can also meet socially. Even doctor's surgeries, dentists and care homes have closed. Communities feel under siege from this onslaught.
Many workers are totally repelled by the BNP's policies. But, mainly by scapegoating asylum seekers and foreign workers, the BNP has gained many votes as a protest against these worsening conditions. Clearly, opposition to an influx of foreign workers or asylum seekers has an element of racism and partly explains the increased vote for the BNP.
However, if for example, it was suggested that thousands of "British white" workers from other parts of the country were to move to some of these blighted areas then the reaction would not be much different. Many people's attitude would be, "our services can't cope with people here now. How can we cope with another thousand, wherever they are from?"
Cutting across BNP support
A KEY question therefore is how do we win these workers away from supporting the BNP? Some anti-racists or anti-fascists concentrate on denouncing the BNP as "racists, fascists and criminals" but this is no longer sufficient to stem their growth.
Even when there was in the past a greater understanding about the role of fascist organisations, it was still necessary for socialists to use slogans and demands which dealt with the root causes of racism and fascism, linked to the need for socialist change.
Others call for campaigns to "Smash the fascists" without explaining how this applies for example to elected BNP councillors. Even if "smashing the fascists" was successful in removing a BNP councillor it would still not necessarily convince BNP voters not to vote for them again.
Of course, there are elements within the national and local leadership of the BNP who are fascists and it is necessary to expose clearly that one key role of fascism is to break up the unity of workers' organisations. However, during the inter-war years fascists like Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy used electoral successes to legitimise the power they had already built on the streets through paramilitary organisation.
The BNP is not, at this stage, a paramilitary organisation which is physically trying to break up the organisation of workers but is primarily an electoral phenomenon. However, where fascists attempt to carry out physical attacks in our communities we need to organise united defence action.
Despite the honest intentions and hard work of many anti-fascist campaigners, neither will calling on workers to "Vote hope not hate" cut across the increase in support for the BNP.
This is particularly the case in "British white" working class areas where this in reality means carrying on the tradition of voting for Labour whose policies are the reason why many more are turning to the far right in elections in the first place. The use of anti-racist/anti-fascist pop concerts, whilst playing a useful role, again do little to counter the root causes of the growth in racist ideas.
Despite the divisive policies of the BNP offering no solution to working-class people there is a danger that that they can become a semi-permanent feature in Britain. They will be defeated not by vague calls to "smash the Fascists", "Vote hope not hate" or by pop concerts alone.
It is necessary to oppose Labour's anti-working class policies with active campaigns which alleviate the problems faced by working-class people in the workplace and communities and bringing together different communities - asylum seekers, migrant workers, white working class and ethnic minority workers - around a common struggle.
For example, fighting for local councils to agree budgets based on the needs of the community instead of passing on government cuts, for an increase in the minimum wage, to defend jobs, or for affordable housing.
New workers' party
THE TRADE unions have a key role to play in building the maximum unity among workers. Most trade unions have anti-racist or anti-BNP campaigns. But those trade unions who continue to hand over £millions to finance Labour's neo-liberal onslaught on our jobs, pay, conditions and living standards are funding a party whose policies are contributing to the BNP's growth.
The fight within the trade unions to stop the financing of Labour must be stepped up. This money should be used to finance instead a new workers' party that can give a political voice to ordinary working class people and an alternative to the policies of Labour, Tories and Lib Dems who all represent the interests of big business.
IT IS vital to consistently expose how the BNP's defence of "British white workers" is confined to empty words only. In Stoke this has been proved on many occasions. For example, the BNP did nothing to help the overwhelmingly "British, white" First Bus drivers when they were striking for a minimum wage of £8 an hour.
In March 2006, the BNP councillors refused to vote for the Socialist Party alternative council budget which would have ensured no cuts in council workers' jobs or much-needed services. This is a strange way to protect "British, white" working class people!
The BNP claim on their leaflets that they are, "the only party that opposes the year on year rises in council tax", and it, "should only rise by the rate of inflation". But, in Stoke, the BNP have twice voted for council tax increases of 4.9% and refused to support the Socialist Party alternative budget which would have ensured no rise in council tax this year.
The BNP have played no part in the campaign to save the jobs of 1,200 NHS workers at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS). How could they when their divisive and racist policies could never build the unity necessary to unite NHS staff which includes a variety of nationalities and workers from different ethnic backgrounds.
When Socialist Party councillors, Dave and Paul Sutton forced the Labour-controlled Council Scrutiny Commission to question Antony Sumara, Chief Executive of the UHNS, in front of the media, no BNP councillors even bothered to turn up to take their place on the Commission!
Nationally, the BNP did nothing to help millions of public sector workers fighting the government's attacks on their pension rights. When the firefighters were forced to take strike action in 2002 the BNP demanded that they, "must be placed on the same level as military personnel and police officers and forego... their ambiguous position of using strike action".
In other words, the BNP would act as strike-breakers by denying the rights of firefighters and other public sector workers to take effective action to defend or improve living standards!
Countering the BNP's programme
GIVEN THE growth of the BNP it is also necessary to expose their programme in more detail to demonstrate the blind alley which it represents. For example, in their "What We Stand For", the BNP use radical-sounding policies which in reality if implemented would do nothing to solve the fundamental problems faced by working-class people.
The section on the "Economy - British workers first" says, "we will restore our economy and land to British ownership". But, "British ownership" of our economy hasn't prevented British bosses sacking British workers by the million in the past. British bosses have also carried out a remorseless attack on the jobs, pay and conditions of British and other workers in the recent period.
British Prime Minister, Churchill used British troops against British workers taking strike action. British Tory Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, mobilised all the forces of the British state in an attempt to starve British miners back to work in 1984-85. Successive British governments since have conducted a crusade against public-sector jobs, pay, pensions and are trying to privatise our public services like the NHS and education.
The fatal flaw in their policy of "British" ownership of the economy is that it ignores the fundamental class differences within any capitalist society like Britain. The capitalist market system itself means all workers are locked into a daily struggle for a share of the profits produced by their labour. The nationality of the bosses or representatives of big business who exploit them makes no fundamental difference.
The struggle of working-class people and increasingly a layer of the middle class brings them into conflict with the capitalist system itself and its representatives who dominate and control society in their own interests. Their struggle is not against this or that nationality but against the capitalist ruling class.
Every worker knows that without maximum unity effective struggles are not possible to defend jobs, pay, conditions or our communities. The BNP's racist and divisive tactics help bosses and the government to carry out their attacks on British white workers and all workers. The BNP offer no solution.
Rather than putting British industry into the hands of "British" people it needs to be owned and controlled by working-class people - those that produce the wealth. On this basis a plan could be drawn up of what we need to produce to satisfy the demands of the whole population instead of for the profit of a few.
The BNP will be defeated in the future as working people learn through their own experience the blind alley which the BNP represents and by the conscious intervention of socialists, armed with a genuine socialist programme which is the only way to solve the problems that working-class people face.
Andy Bentley, Stoke Socialist Party
This article was first published in the socialist newspaper on 13 July 2006: