1990s >> 1994 >> no-1081-september-1994

The British National Party: the symptom not the disease

A lot has been said about the BNP in recent months, none of it good. Apart from calls to ban the BNP in the wake of a three-fold increase in racially-motivated attacks in the past year, there has been a lot of scaremongering. Newspaper columnists have put forward nightmare scenarios, prompted by Derek Beackon’s victory in Millwall last September. Earlier this year an Observer article began: “The Right-Wing British National Party is poised to win another two council seats in London’s Isle of Dogs, giving it control of a budget of about £23 million” (6 March). And, in the May council elections, no part of Britain received as much media scrutiny as the East End of London.

The original BNP victory, however, had less to do with the racist views of the average voter in Millwall and more to do with local voters protesting at the inertia of the mainstream parties on matters such as housing and unemployment. This must be coupled with the turn-out that day. This May, Beackon was defeated in spite of his tally increasing by 500. [561 votes, in fact] The turnout this time round was 30 percent up on last September’s by-election. Neither is the fact that racist parties in England polled 6.8 percent of the vote evidence of a new rising tide of fascism. As far as racism goes in Britain, the tide never went out.

To give the average workers their due, few really believe the clap-trap the BNP leader, John Tyndall, spouts. For one thing, the mainstream parties, Labour, Conservative and the Lib-Dems, have been giving the public the same cant for years, albeit a watered-down version.

All racists now
John Tyndall, for instance, believes we should buy British and stop foreign imports, but his ideology is imported from Nazi Germany. He believes in the death penalty, but so do most Tory MPs and the majority of the police force. He claims his is the only party that “puts British people first in jobs and housing”, but in the past year Liberal Democrat and Labour councils have been taken to the High Court for pursuing racist housing policies. Last November the Guardian ran a headline: “Labour councils face race bias allegations” (29 November). A UNISON branch secretary commented that in 50 “disciplinaries” he had attended in eighteen months, only two of the workers he had represented had been white.

The BNP oppose immigration, but Margaret Thatcher secured National Front sympathies in 1978 when she said, musing at the prospect of 4 million Britons of “New Commonwealth” origin by the year 2000: “Now that is an awful lot and I think it means people are rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people of a different culture.” Ten years earlier, a Labour government had rushed through the Commonwealth Immigration Act in three days, introducing the racist concept of patriality and excluding thousands of persecuted Kenyan Asians in the process. That Act, however, was one of only eight racist Acts passed this century to restrict the flow of immigrants.

The BNP are anti-Europe and believe in British independence. On April 24, the Times reported on John Major’s xenophobic ranting regarding Europe. Major feared that opposition parties would surrender Britain’s “sovereignty” to Brussels, that they were “diluting” our national identity. He went on to tell supporters that “we must never forget the traditions and inheritance of the past”.

One would have thought that Major would have learned from Michael Portillo’s media wrist-slapping a month earlier, when he told students at Southampton University that “outside this country the standards of public life are way below what goes on in this country . . . Go to any other country and when you have got an A level you have bought it or you were a friend of the minister” (Guardian, 4 February).

Tyndall, though, not only passes off the hackneyed sentiments of racialism as his own to would-be voters, he looks upon the average voter with contempt and is on record as saying: “What we oppose is the method whereby the man in the street is called upon to pass judgements on aspects of affairs of which he has no understanding.” Not only does the BNP have no elected leadership, there are no women with pivotal roles within the party.

In reality, Tyndall is little more than a poor man’s führer leading an intellectually bankrupt party of shorn-headed bigots.

Pointing the finger

Workers should be aware that the only way to confront such fascists is on the battlefield of ideas, not with clubs and boots. The fact that so many “left-wing” groups believe they should be banned is evidence that they have yet to come up with the arguments to discredit them. It does not say much for allegedly socialist movements (such as the SWP and Militant) to call upon the state to pass laws proscribing fascist activity. If they really had the interests of the working class at heart, they should be pointing the finger of blame at the real perpetrator of racism — the capitalist system.

For instance, an Oxford University report published in December 1992 found that 7 out of 18 judges sampled sentenced black defendants more harshly than whites. This February, the Guardian (18 February) reported on how elements within the judiciary (Circuit and High Court judges) were resisting moves to be trained in race awareness. Lincoln Crawford, a Bar Council member, commented on how it was the educational system the judiciary were brought up in that “produced people who were self-confident, proud of their heritage and history and deeply grounded in their society’s basic values, but without any knowledge of the ethnic minority communities, their culture, sensitivity and sentiments.”

Newspapers last year reported several cases of racism within the army (in 1992 only 0.6 percent of recruits were non-whites) and the police force. In May this year, a black detective, DC Barry Thompson, won compensation and an apology from the police for racial abuse and discrimination he suffered while on a training course. In March an industrial tribunal ruled that black lecturer Stanley Jenkins had been subjected to “institutional discrimination and victimisation”. For eight years he had endured taunts of “wog”, “sambo” and “nigger” from students, while the governing body of Thanet College, Broadstairs, Kent, failed to take action to stop it. A report published the same month found that “solicitors are actually discriminating against blacks in recruiting trainees” (Guardian, 21 April). A survey of 4,000 law students found that white students had a 47 percent chance of getting articles with law firms, compared to 7 percent blacks.

In government, racism is just as rife. In December 1993, the Home Office attempted to pass legislation authorising the fire service to record the ethnic origins of fire victims. This was rightfully attacked by the firefighters’ union as an “outrageous monitoring service for racial purposes” (Guardian, 17 December). When it comes to immigration, the Home Office is a law unto itself. It believes it is entitled to detain asylum-seekers under the 1971 Immigration Act without giving reasons — a belief that does not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, which states:

“Everyone who is arrested shall he informed, in a language which he understands, of the reason for his arrest and of any charges against him. ”

A few months after the death of Joy Gardner at the hands of immigration officers and the police, because she had overstayed a six-month visitor’s permit, immigration officers at Gatwick detained 190 Jamaicans off one flight who were visiting relatives in Britain. Two days later, on Christmas Day, 27 were put back on board a plane for Kingston.

Politicians, however, appear to be the most vociferous in their nationalistic and racial rantings.

In 1964, the incoming Labour Foreign Secretary lost his Smethwick seat to a Tory who had used the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.”

Two days before the 1992 General Election, the Daily Express ran the headline: “BAKER’S MIGRANT FLOOD WARNING — LABOUR SET TO OPEN DOORS” (7 April 1992).

Likewise, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn pointed out a few days before the same election that a Labour victory would result in Britain being “swamped by immigrants of every colour and race and on any excuse of asylum or bogus marriage, or just plain deception”. (Runnymede Trust Bulletin, May 1992).

Racism, then, is not the poorly-thought-out doctrine of a few hundred bonehead supporters of the BNP. Neither will a ban on the BNP eradicate racist sentiments.

Claire Dissington of the Anti-Nazi League recently remarked uncharacteristically, that “if you ban the BNP it does not eliminate the reason for racism. Racist groups have become popular because of the recession and people want to find a scapegoat” (Guardian, 28 September 1993).

William Rees-Mogg takes this a little further when he says “the essence of their propaganda [the Nazis] was to speak to the emotions and not to the reason of the people” (Times, 19 May 1993). Fascism, he asserts, “is always fuelled by the anger of the dispossessed”.

Workers will indeed feel more alienated during recession, more so in run-down areas like Tower Hamlets, where unemployment is high and housing policy a shambles. In 1992, Tower Hamlets had a housing stock of 67,000 houses, 45,000 of which were considered in desperate need of repair or unfit to live in.

Dispossessed, frustrated and alienated workers will always look for a short-cut to even up the imbalance between themselves and their masters. One only has to look at crime statistics. Is it any wonder workers are hoodwinked into believing ethnic communities are the cause of their misfortune, and so must bear the brunt of their frustration

In the past thirty years a host of racist organisations have sprouted up with the same utterings (League of Empire Loyalists, BNP, Racial Preservation Society, Greater Britain Movement, National Front, SS Wotan 88, Blood and Honour, Combat 18). Their impact on the political scene has been as insignificant as calls for direct action to confront them has been myopic.

Racism will only be destroyed through a change in society, not with physical force, nor with laws. The Prevention of Terrorism Act has done little to prevent the continuance of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. At the most, a ban on extreme-right groups will only make them martyrs in the cause of free speech and bring right-wing thugs flocking in to swell their ranks.

Racism has to be seen for what it is — a parasite on the back of nationalism, which is itself a disease of world capitalism.

Bernard Crick puts forward the view that:

“racialism is not necessarily connected with nationalism, they are indeed formally opposed. Racialism is a myth of the body whose mode of expression is pseudo-scientific, nationalism is a myth of the mind whose mode of expression is cultural and historical” (In Defence of Politics, 1992, p.83).

It is a truism that not all nationalists are racists, and a paradox that xenophobia can exist without nationalism, as Crick points out. The task for socialists in their argument with racists is to convince them that workers have no nation and that there is more that unites the exploited members of the human race, all of whom have the same basic needs, than can ever divide us culturally or historically.

Racist ideas are a manifestation of capitalism in crisis, and will only be eradicated when the capitalist system itself is expunged — not through physical violence or laws, but by workers taking control of their own destiny, becoming conscious of their position in the relations of production and by democratically establishing a socialist society.

John Bissett