Anti-fascism in the 21st century: the far-right and elections
The fifth and final part of a series exploring anti-fascism from a radical, working class perspective. Given the conclusions already reached, how should antifascists tackle the electoral ambitions of fascists? And where does this tie into other activist movements?
Elections offer a particular contradiction for antifascists. On the one hand, we of course want to stop organised fascist movements from gaining the political power to enact their policies. On the other hand, as social activists often involved in other movements to challenge pre-existing injustice, we do not wish to offer even an implicit support for the status quo or the incumbent ruling class.
This contradiction raises two significant problems.
The first is that fascists are often able to capitalise on this contradiction in order to present themselves as radicals. Their propaganda effectively paints them as the only serious opposition to the government, and the only group who really cares about the issues affecting real people. By extension, antifascists are associated with the incumbent parties and those same socio-economic ills, regardless of the truth.
The second is that a looming election and questions of how to approach it quickly bring on a schism in the antifascist movement, particularly between socialists and anarchists. Not only does this the fallout from such a tactical disagreement create disunity, it impedes the ability of the left to make the political arguments against fascism. As a result, the moral arguments of liberal and even conservative “antifascists” take precedence, allowing a genuine campaign against the far-right to be overtaken by more cynical campaigns to appropriate their support for the centre-right.
If there is to be a serious, radical antifascist challenge to the electoral ambitions of white nationalists, it is clear that this contradiction, and the problems it creates must be overcome. The question is, how?
The problem with voting
During last year’s European Parliamentary elections, Hope not Hate made the case for voting;
Nothing is certain in politics and while the terrain is certainly getting tougher the BNP can be defeated. However for this to happen requires a massive campaign to mobilise everyone opposed to the politics of hate to turn out and vote. We have shown time and again that there is a huge anti-BNP vote out there and if it is organised and motivated then it will turn up at the polling stations and be decisive in an election.
There is a valid point within this. The prime aim of fascist parties is to gain the political power with which they can enact their policies. As such, by ensuring that those who vote do not vote for the far-right, we keep them out of power. However, the logic of this idea is not watertight.
Most people who vote for the far-right are not themselves white nationalists or fascists. They are, in the main, white members of the working class who once voted for labour and socialist parties. As Johann Hari writes, they are “not straightforwardly bigoted,” but “angry and alienated,” with a vote for fascism being “the sharpest needle to jab into the eye of the political process.”
Mainstream politics is the business of maintaining power and privilege at a profit. Under the neo-liberal economic system which dominates the globe, the vast majority of people live in abject poverty for the benefit of the richest 1 – 5%. In the West, through trade union militancy and outright rioting, the working class has been able to resist this trend. Every important social advance that we have seen, from the end of slavery and indentured servitude to women’s suffrage and socialised medicine, has been a result of intense and often violent struggle. However, since the 1980s, the ruling class has had some success in rolling those gains back.
At the same time, neo-colonialism and globalisation have combined to offer the world a hitherto unprecedented phenomenon in mass migration. Met with an increasingly repressive system of controls aimed at dividing people into citizens and non-citizens, legal and “illegal,” migrants quickly became a near-inexhaustible source of cheap labour. Not only is this invaluable for employers who wish to undermine hard-won rights and undercut wages, it also makes for an invaluable propaganda tool. Thus, immigrants become the guilty party in a system that they, too, are victims of.
The only challenge to the divisive myths about immigration comes from a liberal press which offers no class perspective and an open apologism for the status quo. As Hari writes, “instead of offering these solutions, we have turned the white working class into a national punch-line. We dismiss them as “chavs”, “pikeys” and racists, and jeer at their clothes, voices and names.”
In this context, and with the left too riven by factionalism and navel-gazing to offer any serious alternative, the far-right becomes very attractive. As Antifa note;
For decades the middle-class Left have told us ‘Vote Labour Without Illusions’ – or some other trite slogan. Under Thatcher, they told us we had to vote Labour ‘To get Maggie out’. What did that get us? If anything it got us a government that was even further to the Right. Since 1997 New Labour have continued to shit on the poor and institute a vicious Police State. They have completely alienated working-class people, pushed the political agenda immeasurably to the Right, and fostered the rise of the fascist British National Party. Ordinary people are understandably VERY pissed-off with politicians.
The BNP are hoping to capitalise on the current economic crisis by scapegoating immigrants and asylum-seekers, and to capitalise on anger against Westminster by mobilising a so-called ‘protest vote’ – ie a vote for the fascist BNP. Meanwhile, the drips of ‘Unite Against Fascism’, ‘Hope Not Hate, the ‘Socialist Workers Party’, and all the other middle-class idiots who told us to vote New Labour in the past, are telling us not to ‘waste’ our votes! They know that working-class communities are not going to vote Tory, do they really think that a vote for New Labour is a vote AGAINST fascism?! This is the party that has been bombing the shit out of Iraq and Afghanistan for years now, and locking up and deporting refugees en masse.
It is this sort of patronising, condescending stupidity that has led to the rise of the BNP in the first place. It is an insult to the intelligence of ordinary people. Antifa are not calling on people to vote Labour or ‘Respect’ to stop the BNP, we are calling on people to boycott the whole election charade, and to get out onto the streets and combat the rise of the BNP in the only way that matters – by Direct Action.
We can understand the contempt people rightly have for the mainstream political parties. We can understand why white working-class communities feel abandoned and alienated. But a vote for the BNP is NOT a so-called ‘protest vote’, it is a vote for FASCISM.
Don’t believe ANY of their lies.
Don’t play the politicians’ games.
Don’t vote – Organize!
Working class self-organisation
Although that latter sentiment should be one common to all revolutionary left groups, it has now become associated almost exclusively with anarchists. Within the trade unions and the vast myriad of socialist parties that exist, a belief in the power of electoralism still prevails.
As such, a common approach is to attempt to unite all the various sects under the banner of a broad electoral coalition. One example is the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which will be standing candidates in the forthcoming British general election;
With the coming ferocious attacks on public spending, wages, living standards and workers’ rights, regardless of which party (Tory or New Labour) forms the next government, the coalition aims to bring home the urgent need for “mass resistance to the ruling class offensive, and for an alternative programme of left-wing policies to help inspire and direct such resistance”.
Here, again, theory and practice diverge. In reality, such coalitions achieve little significant success, and are defined by their differences more than their commonalities. With TUSC, “different strategic views about the way forward for the left in Britain, whether the Labour Party can be reclaimed by the labour movement, or whether a new workers’ party needs to be established,” and it already faces difficulties from “the lack of formal endorsement of the coalition from even left-wing trade unions like the RMT, the POA, the PCS or the Fire Brigades Union.”
But, without the ambitions towards power that drive such factionalism, an electoral coalition could work. But it would have to be one built not to win votes but to, using the pretext of the elections, galvanise communities to organise themselves and take matters into their own hands. Writing for Truth, Reason & Liberty, I explained how community resistance can be far more effective than even the most “strategic” mark on a ballot paper;
All politicians are wankers, and all political parties are conglomerates of worthless, power-hungry, often-reactionary horseshit. But people have power in numbers.
Most people think of community participation as “neighbourhood watch” and other such peeping-tom exercises. But it doesn’t have to be. It can mean organisation, and resistance, for a better society. Whether it’s booting out Islamist / fascist rabble-rousers, stopping your council from closing a public footpath, resisting forced eviction and building up a squatters’ movement to make good use of derelict homes for the homeless, occupying a school so the council can’t close it down, or any other act of defiance, we can build up a new society within the shell of the old. With organisation, education, and activism, anything is possible.
Antifascism, being the most significant area within which otherwise quite disparate left-groups work together, offers the best basis for such an initiative. Not only can antifascists work within their own communities with an aim to educate people and organise them against the threat of the far-right, but they can offer the disenfranchised a way to work towards genuine change without having to choose a lesser evil.
A clear and honest perspective
In writing this series of articles, my purpose has been to give a clear and honest perspective on antifascism, both as it stands today and where it is going in the future.
Too often, those who make such points are leapt upon as “sectarian” and silenced. Such a tactic is particularly endemic within Unite Against Fascism (UAF), being a front group for the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP). But such suppression of dissent is both off-putting to new antifascists and actively counter-productive. It speaks of an authoritarian movement unwilling to tolerate differences of opinion, not of a movement which is supposedly opposed to groups with such tendencies.
There is a need for openness and honesty. There are serious flaws with the antifascist movement, and it is not just antifascists who are aware of them. As such, attempting to brush them under the carpet will only make us more isolated. Addressing these flaws directly, in a democratic way among equals, will win far more respect than a figure of “authority” shouting down “sectarianism.” Especially as, in their attempts to monopolise resistance, such authorities are in fact far more sectarian than any of their detractors.
The course ahead
It is, of course, unlikely that those for whom antifascism is a recruitment platform will see the error of their ways. Likewise, those who wish to use bashing the BNP as a way to pull in support for the status quo will continue to do so.
However, by being open about what we want, the difficulties we face, and the differences of opinion among us, genuine antifascists can offer an antithesis to such stale and cynical campaigning. With democratic and non-hierarchical organisation, we can show other sincere activists that they need not be fooled by their so-called “leaders.” And, through activism and engagement at a grassroots level, we can spread the word that people need not vote for fascists to oppose the current system.