FRFI 210 August / September 2009

Socialists and the fight against the British National Party

The collapse of the Labour vote in the 4 June European election has created a crisis on the left. With 15.7% of the vote (22.9% in the 2004 European election), Labour came third behind the Tories (27.7%) and UKIP (16.5%). The number voting BNP (943,500, 6.2%) was three times the number voting for the Socialist Labour Party (173,000) and for No2EU (153,000) together, and enabled it to win two seats. The Scottish Socialist Party obtained a mere 10,000 votes.

The left’s response has been to issue yet further calls for electoral unity, this time focusing on the general election which has to take place by May 2010, arguing for example that ‘In the first instance, we need to build the broadest possible unity in action to isolate and drive back the BNP’ (Alex Callinicos, Socialist Review, July/August 2009), a call echoed by many others. In presenting the need to fight the BNP as the priority for socialists, however, the left is both over-playing the strength of fascism, and under-playing the strength of racism that is the norm of bourgeois politics in Britain today. Within the European Parliament, for instance, UKIP MEPs have made a great show of shunning the BNP. Yet they have formed a bloc with viciously racist organisations such as the Italian Liga Nord, whose leader has suggested opening fire on boats of illegal immigrants landing on Italian shores; the openly anti-Muslim Danish Folkeparti and the anti-semitic Greek Laikos Orthodoxos Synagermos. The Tories have also organised their own grouping which includes the homophobic Polish Law and Justice Party, and the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom party, whose members have honoured Waffen SS veterans. Bourgeois politics and racism in Britain go hand in hand.

But it is Labour which makes racism respectable in the working class. At the end of June, the government published Building Britain’s Future, trailed as its future election manifesto. It says that ‘in every community, our national policies such as managing migration or building and allocating social housing, are tangible, real, and seen to be fair.’ The link between immigration and housing is quite deliberate, pandering to the widely-peddled racist myth that immigrants and asylum seekers jump the queue for council housing. In fact fewer than 2% of social housing tenants have arrived in this country over the last five years according to a July report from the Institute of Public Policy Research. Continuing, Building Britain’s Future says ‘migrants must contribute and play by the rules’ and that ‘in tough economic times it is right to be more selective about the skill level of migrants, and to do more to put British workers first. It is even more important that communities see those who come to Britain contributing, and embracing our sense of fair play – working hard, respecting our way of life’. Continuing the pretence that there is some connection between immigration and social housing allocation, the document says ‘we will change the current rules for allocating council and other social housing, enabling local authorities to give more priority to local people.’ The racism is naked.

So when Callinicos and the rest of the left call for the ‘maximum possible unity’ to defeat the BNP, they are inviting us to join a coalition of racists, which in the case of the SWP’s Unite Against Fascism includes Zionists, Tories and Ulster Unionists as well as leading members of the Labour Party. What they self-servingly ignore is that it is Labour which has the power to make the lives of black people, immigrants and asylum seekers a misery in Britain today far more than the BNP. It is Labour which is driving asylum seekers to destitution, incarcerating and deporting them – not the BNP. It is Labour which uses police to harass black people and Muslims on a daily basis. More than that: it is Labour which defends police murders such as that of Jean Charles de Menezes, and which sanctioned their use of violence against Kingsnorth and G20 demonstrators. It is Labour which murders Afghani people. It is Labour which turns a blind eye to rendition flights and sanctions torture. It is Labour which has built fewer than 2,500 council houses in the last 12 years. It is Labour which has reduced unemployment benefit by 25% in relative terms since 1997 and made it even more difficult for the unemployed to live. Labour has powers which the BNP can only dream about.

In saying that fighting the BNP is the priority, the left is downplaying the culpability of the Labour Party in order not to disrupt its cosy relationship with Labour’s left wing. Undoubtedly socialists have to fight against fascist attacks, but it has to be part and parcel of organising a movement against state racism. The priority now is to build that movement, one which brings together those fighting against deportation of asylum seekers or immigrant workers, those fighting police racism and brutality and migrant workers fighting for a living wage, like the cleaners in London. This will be the basis for genuine anti-fascism.
Robert Clough