The BNP’s recent election defeat has led many commentators to declare the fascist party finished. But, argues Martin Smith, the anti-fascist movement must continue to mobilise
Only two years ago, the fascist British National Party (BNP) made a major political breakthrough, winning two seats in the European elections. A euphoric Nick Griffin, the BNP’s leader, declared, “My election victory will bring about a huge change.”
He wasn’t delusional. The BNP’s electoral successes were part of a resurgence of fascist and far-right parties across Europe.
Today, the 2009 Euro elections must seem like a dream for Griffin.
His leadership is being challenged, his party is virtually bankrupt and split into feuding factions, and there have been a large number of expulsions and resignations.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the BNP got a real drubbing in the recent elections.
Without doubt the Nazis’ biggest humiliation occurred in Stoke-on- Trent. Before the election they had five councillors in the city, down from nine in 2010. Today they have none.
Stoke has become the new Barking for the BNP. That was where the party received two hammer blows to its ambitions in the 2010 elections.
Strong anti-fascist campaigning ensured Griffin was overwhelmingly defeated in his attempt to become an MP. And the party’s 12 councillors in the borough were all kicked out.
In-fighting and demoralisation broke out in the BNP’s ranks, leading to the present crisis.
Some claim that the BNP’s failure was due to David Cameron and the Tories taking its ground by playing the “race card”.
It is true that Cameron has aped his European counterparts, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel.
He has launched a series of attacks on multiculturalism and has been happy to join in with the vicious racism aimed at Muslims.
More shocking has been the fact that some Labour politicians have added their voices to this attack. David Miliband and Andy Burnham have both made statements saying the last Labour government was too soft on immigration.
But Cameron’s accommodation to racism has not undermined the BNP and the racist English Defence League (EDL). It has only helped legitimise their racist views.
The idea that pandering to racism undermines these kind of organisations is a dangerous one. We only have to look across the channel to France to see where this can lead.
Throughout much of the last decade the Nazi Front National (FN) has seen a decline in its electoral support following mass protests against it in 2002.
However in recent years its fortunes have once again risen.
The government’s ban of the full face veil worn by a small minority of Muslim women, and Sarkozy’s deportation of Roma Gypsies, have clearly aided the FN. Now we have the appalling situation where FN leader Marine Le Pen is second in many opinion polls for next year’s presidential elections.
In Britain, the main reason the BNP has declined electorally is because of the hard work of local anti-fascist activists across the country.
Unite Against Fascism (UAF), other anti-racist campaigns and local groups have delivered a body blow to the electoral fortunes of the BNP.
In Wales, UAF activists distributed 120,000 election tabloids. In Stoke, over 35,000 leaflets were handed out.
All in all over 700,000 UAF leaflets were given out during this year’s election campaign.
The campaign to break the back of the BNP also required patient, long-term work.
For instance in Stoke, North Staffs Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, UAF and Searchlight have opposed the BNP for many years.
Their campaigns have operated on many levels. Activists have leafleted thousands of homes and organised countless meetings.
Only last month the local CWU post workers’ union organised a march with a strong anti-fascist theme along the same route the EDL took when it rampaged through the city in 2010.
Two years ago, Love Music Hate Racism organised a 20,000 strong carnival against the BNP at the home of Stoke City Football Club.
All this played a big role in undermining the BNP at the polls. And the internal political dynamics of the BNP are now also playing their part in the break up of the organisation.
Since Griffin took over the BNP in 1999, he and the leadership have constantly tried to claim that it is no longer a fascist party. Instead they try to assert that it’s a “normal” mainstream political party.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Griffin’s own political history shows this. He joined the Nazi National Front while at Cambridge University in 1978 and has been involved in fascist politics since.
Since the end of the Second World War, the barbarity of Adolf Hitler’s regime has made it difficult for Europe’s fascist parties to break out of the political fringes. Many have tried to repackage themselves in an attempt to do this.
Griffin has tried to “rebrand” the BNP and shed its openly Nazi image. So the skinheads have been replaced by thugs wearing suits.
Talk of genocidal racism has been replaced with the politics of identity and patriotism.
But behind the façade, the BNP remains fascist to its core.
Historically, fascist parties have had two wings—electoral and street‑fighting. The most successful fascist parties are those in which the leadership has united both groups.
The electoral success of the BNP meant that Griffin was able keep his party together. However, since the electoral setbacks, these internal pressures have come to the fore.
There have been a number of breaks and splits from the BNP. Some activists, attracted by the marches and the promise of violence, have left and joined the EDL.
Others have become frustrated by the decline in the BNP’s support and blame Griffin for this failure. They have either been expelled or left the organisation in disgust.
Griffin is now left with a demoralised, disgruntled and feuding membership. The recent election defeat will increase those tensions.
Nobody should make the mistake of writing off the BNP. The economic crisis and the legitimisation of racism by mainstream politicians and the media means that there is fertile ground for fascist and right wing populist parties.
And over the last two years we have seen the EDL develop as a relatively new and growing racist threat. It has organised a number of large and provocative racist demonstrations whose main targets are Muslims.
Its core support comes from violent football “firms” who are united by a deep-seated Islamophobia—anti-Muslim racism. There are a large number of fascists and other assorted right wing thugs leading it.
When it was first launched, I argued that the EDL was a proto-fascist group. This is no longer the case. It now acts like a classic fascist organisation.
It looks and behaves like a paramilitary group. Its members parade around the streets wearing black hoodies and divisional insignia.
They have rampaged through black and Asian areas, attacking mosques and homes.
What started out as a movement against Muslims has morphed into an organisation that attacks trade union demonstrations, anti-racist meetings and socialist gatherings. Threats were even issued against last year’s student demonstrations.
Fascist groups aim to destroy every aspect of democracy, especially working class organisation.
The rise of the EDL presents the anti-fascist movement with new and difficult challenges. First of all, it is vital that we defend multiculturalism from Cameron’s attacks and make a principled stand against Islamophobia.
Secondly, every fight against the cuts should be encouraged and supported. The wreckage of the economic crisis creates the perfect conditions for fascist and racist parties to grow.
We also have to continue with our work in local communities, trade unions, colleges and on the football terraces against the BNP and EDL.
The EDL is trying to create a street movement designed to terrorise minority communities and attack socialist and trade union organisations. We cannot ignore it.
When the racists take to the streets we must organise the biggest possible counter-protest.
The recent elections were a big blow to the fascists but many more blows will be needed.
The BNP had a dreadful election.
It did not win any new seats, and out of the 11 it defended it only held on to two—one in Bradford and the other in Charnwood in the East Midlands.
In the Welsh Assembly elections the BNP boasted it would win a seat. But its vote almost halved from 4.3 percent in 2007 to just 2.4 percent.
In Barnsley, a town the BNP claimed was its “bastion”, it stood 19 candidates, who polled on average 8.8 percent, down from 16 percent.
Across the country the party’s vote halved when compared to 2007, the last time it contested the same seats.