The past 20 years in Britain have been characterised by a level of workplace struggle so low that a whole generation is growing up with no understanding of basic class solidarity. Added to that has been the intensification of the trend towards a globalised economy [see note 1]. Traditional industries have fled to lower wage parts of the world. Along with the export of traditional jobs has come a new wave of mass migration across the globe. Already demoralised by the defeats of the Thatcher era, for the working class in the place of resistance has come a sense of alienation, isolation and despair. As a result organisations like the BNP are picking up increased support.
The rise of the BNP in Britain and the NF in France have given sections of the left [see note 2] something refreshingly familiar to fight against - the spectre of fascism. This so-called anti-fascism reveals itself in pressure groups like Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and both versions of Respect, the one run by the SWP and the one by the homophobic George Galloway.
Questions and Answers
But we need to take some time and ask what this fascism is and more importantly what its antifascist counterpart among the liberals and left represents.
Everyone knows that the Italian Fascists came to power in the 1920s and that the German Nazis did the same in 1933. They know the brutality of both regimes. We are taught in school about the Holocaust and the death of millions in the concentration camps and gas chambers. If we dig deeper we find that these same fascist governments imprisoned, beat and murdered trades unionists and socialist and communist workers. We also hear the famous statement by Hitler that if the opposition had fought him on the streets, then the Nazis would never have come to power.
What we are not encouraged to ask is why and how they came to power. Neither are we encouraged to ask just how they differ from normal, democratic capitalism. Whatever nonsense the left spout, the Fascist and Nazi governments were called into existence to strengthen and unify the power of Capital in their respective states. However, they did not do this by first defeating the power of the organised working class. In both cases this had already been done by social democracy and its union allies. The workers’ uprisings in Germany were put down with extreme brutality by a Social Democratic government. In Italy the state had already beaten the communists before Mussolini came to power.
Coalitions against the working class
In Italy and Germany, Mussolini and Hitler were invited to lead coalition governments. In Germany's case this was by a president who had been partially put in power by the social democrats themselves. They came to power to sort out their national Capitals at times of economic and political chaos. Crucially, the working class in both cases did not exist as an independent force any longer.
The effect of anti-fascism before the wars was to mobilise millions of workers for their own slaughter. Better to save democracy [see note 3] than to live under fascism, they said, carefully forgetting that this democracy had cheerfully surrendered to fascism in the first place after first murdering the very militants capable of fighting Hitler and Mussolini. This ‘democracy’ fire-bombed Dresden, annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it partitioned India, leading to the deaths of millions. It's record of slaughter is just as vile and when we add the toll from its war time allies in the Soviet Union, surpasses even the wildest dreams of any storm trooper.
Voting against modern day thugs?
So what of today? There is little doubt that the actions of Nazi gangs terrorise whole communities. There is little doubt that the murders they carry out, the attacks on workers and the vile racism they peddle need to be opposed. Anarchists and others play an active part these fights.
But what of supporting democracy? It is common during election times for anti-fascists to mass leaflet working class areas urging them not to vote for the BNP. Left unsaid is the statement “Vote Labour”, in its place comes “Vote for Democratic Parties”. This is tantamount to saying, don't vote for the fascists, instead vote for the democratic state. It means that the left can spout socialist rhetoric, whilst at the same time having the option of simply questioning one form of state control instead of beginning to contest the greater problem of what actually underpins the state itself, capitalism. As their objective is simply the replacement of one form of capitalism by another, in this case a form of bureaucratic state control, this obviously suits them nicely.
To put it another way, they say “Let's oppose one form of state control by making another, nicer, form stronger.” Worse, they are saying that our power doesn't arise from our collective existence as members of the working class, rather it comes from the ballot box as expressed by atomised individual citizens.
There’s no class any more ...
In fact, it has been the state's project since the late 1970s to destroy the very concepts of class, class solidarity and unity. That has been the whole thrust of Thatcher and Blair's governments. We are exhorted to play our full part in democracy, to be responsible citizens, to see ourselves as individual members of society. But this is a society that has become more and more totalitarian. Unions have been incorporated into the management of society. The old workers’ parties have given up any pretence of fighting for workers. Instead we get a ‘national curriculum’ in schools, we get a surveillance society, ID cards and persecution of strangers.
The BNP bogey-men provide the excuse the left needs to help weaken our class further, but the left fails to ask the question, “Why do workers vote for the BNP?” Just like in the 30s, this happens because of the defeats already suffered. The legacy of the defeat of the Miners Strike still reverberates. During the 80s and early 90s the fascists as mass political parties with ambitions of electoral success hardly existed. This was when the working class was fighting industrially and in its communities. Racism undoubtedly existed, but failed to manifest itself politically outside of small groups of violent thugs when confronted with white, black and asian workers all refusing to pay the Poll Tax.
Whilst the Poll Tax rebellion has become part of working class history (except in Scotland where local councils are still chasing unpaid bills), racism has grown stronger. The left and Labour have left the working class estates, lured away by the smell of government. Class is forgotten amongst smart suits and wheeling and dealing with bosses and their lackeys. Crumbs of regeneration money are thrown to our poorest communities, but always making sure it’s on a divide and rule basis – first some money for Asian areas, then white, never all at the same time. It is amongst communities deliberately segregated by local states that the likes of the BNP find a resonance. This is a resonance founded on neglect and desertion [see note 4].
Vote for us, not for them!
The liberal anti-fascists want us instead to vote for their friends in New Labour and the Lib Dems or even the modern Tories. They want us to turn to the liberal churches and to the mosques in their inter-faith forums, into the hands of those who preach unity of capitalist and worker against the reality of class struggle.
They skim over the facts of New Labour state rule – racist Immigration Acts, deportations of asylum seekers, cuts in benefit, attacks on single parents. They ignore the role of New Labour in the war in Iraq or the complicity of the British state in supporting oppression and murder in Palestine. They ignore the fact that more people have died in wars since 1945 than did during World War II.
To sum up - fascists need silencing. But our enemy's enemies are not always our friends. Fascism and democracy are just two different ways of running the same stinking capitalist system. They are two cheeks on the same arse. When workers struggle, fascism and racism are weakened. Our objective should be to strengthen struggle in our workplaces and communities, not to be diverted into capitalist battles between left and right, democratic and dictatorial, black or white.
Fascism/Anti-fascism by Gilles Dauve (Jean Barrot) - http://libcom.org/library/fascism-anti-fascism-gilles-dauve
The Menace of Anti-Fascism, Subversion - http://www.af-north.org/Subversion/subversion.htm
The Edelweiss Pirates, in AF pamphlet ‘Resistance to Nazism’ - http://www.afed.org.uk/ace/anarchist_resistance_to_nazism.html
Riots in Oldham, Organise! no.56, Winter 2001 - http://www.afed.org.uk/org/org56.pdf
Note 1. Interestingly when the Left complain of globalisation, the far right mirror their talk with references to a globalist order.
Note 2. When we talk about left and right we are referring to parties and organisations that seek to administer a society based on buying and selling, wage labour and the state. We argue that anarchist communists stand outside this divide, wanting instead the destruction of both the state and all that constitutes the capitalist system.
Note 3. For simplicity's sake, this text simply refers to ‘democracy’ rather than capitalist or statist democracy. It is the contention of the author that forms of organisation adopted by revolutionary workers differ in kind from the forms of government normally described as democratic.
Note 4. See the article Riots in Oldham in Organise! 56 for an analysis of how this process fostered racism in the north of England.