Issue 264 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review
Chris Bambery explains why today's fascists stand in the tradition of their Nazi forefathers
|The french Nazi, Le Pen|
Fascism in the year 2002 does not come in a black shirt with a pencil moustache--it comes in a designer suit. It is not going to call openly for the extermination of the Jews and will try to cultivate maximum respectability. Neither is it going to goosestep down your high street complete with swastika flag. This seems to throw many liberal journalists and academics into confusion. For them if someone does not correspond to their image of fascism they cannot be a Nazi. So when a spokesperson for the French Front National (FN) or the British National Party (BNP) appears in a Hugo Boss suit rather than sporting cropped hair and big boots they cannot be called a fascist.
The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, has now appeared on numerous occasions on Radio 4's Today programme. Yet it was only after the BNP had won three seats on Burnley council, helped by the oxygen of such publicity, that the programme's James Naughtie asked him at the very end of an interview whether he believed in a white-only Britain. Griffin replied in the affirmative. Leaving aside for a moment whether Nazis should be allowed a platform in the media the liberal argument has always been that by giving publicity to the BNP you can expose them. Well, on that basis Griffin's commitment to a white-only Britain should have been the starting point for an examination of BNP policy. The BNP after all stands for complete racial segregation. It claims to have dropped support for forced repatriation for non-whites in favour of 'voluntary' repatriation. But how 'voluntary' would that be in a BNP-run racially segregated Britain with a regime committed to removing all non-whites? Adolf Hitler, after all, began by standing on the basis of repatriating Jews and other 'non-Aryans'. Having found that was impossible he turned to extermination as a means of removing them.
One reason why the Nazis are circumspect in openly espousing their race hatred is because of the legacy of the mass murder committed by their role models in the Holocaust. Like other Nazis, Griffin is desperate to claim that the Holocaust did not happen. He has a conviction for publishing a white supremacist and Holocaust denying magazine (though Today refuses to mention this).
The Nazis are desperate to carve out a space for themselves by adopting a respectable front. They seem to have succeeded in conning a whole tranche of the liberal media. Yet there is nothing new in this. Months before coming to power Mussolini signed a 'truce' with the Socialist Party, the main target of the fascist gangs, promising an end to the attacks by fascist squads on socialists and trade union activists, clubs and newspapers. Mussolini's aim was to reassure the Italian ruling class that he was 'responsible' and could be trusted to govern Italy. The truce was a trick. The fascist squads continued the wave of terror. Mussolini secured the first seats in parliament for the fascist party as part of a 'national bloc' with the Liberals and other centre and right wing parties.
Both Mussolini and Hitler first took office as part of a wider coalition with establishment parties. They used the respectability this gave them to gain power and then when they felt the time was ready jettisoned their erstwhile allies. They were then prepared to beat them up, to silence their newspapers, to ban their parties and if necessary murder them. Currently the most successful fascist organisations concentrate on electoral tactics. There is also nothing new in this. The prewar fascist parties also used elections to develop a base, at the same time going for street mobilisations and confrontations. Today's fascists largely play down their association with the fascist organisations of the 1920s and 1930s. This emphasis on electoral rather than violent methods is, however, a choice of tactics rather than strategy. The same political outlook and politics are shared by both the fascists in suits and the street fighters. There is a considerable crossover in membership between, say, the BNP and the paramilitary, pro-Hitler Combat 18 group. On Le Pen's May Day march this year young skinheads joined the march shouting for the mass murder of Arabs and blacks (the stewards told them to keep quiet in keeping with the respectable image the FN was trying to adopt but they were not told to go away).
There is a double game going on here. Le Pen and the BNP can claim they are more respectable than the openly Nazi street gangs, creating a climate where they are seen as 'the lesser evil'. But the success of the 'respectable' fascists creates the conditions in which Nazi street gangs can engage in racial violence. In the first round of the recent French presidential election campaign Le Pen concentrated less on immigration than has been the case in previous contests. Instead he focused more on 'social issues', trying to pose as somehow defending the man in the street and taking up the issue of crime, highlighted by both the conservative candidate Chirac and the socialist Jospin, to great effect. Again this seemed to confuse many in the media who argued that Le Pen could not be labelled a fascist.
Having come second in the first round, Le Pen focused once more on attacking immigrants. The calculation seemed to be that he could not beat Chirac in the run-off for the presidency but he could harden up the new support he had won. So at the FN's May Day rally the Independent quoted Le Pen condemning Chirac 'as part of a "cosmopolitan elite" who had conspired with the left, with the Freemasons, "soviet bishops" and "rootless capital" [Le Pen codewords for Jewish influence] to "exclude the French within their own country".'
Not only was Le Pen using the traditional codewords for anti-Semitism but he was also targeting the traditional enemies of French fascism. Each May Day the FN parades past Joan of Arc's statue in central Paris. In the 1930s the French fascist leagues marched to the same spot. The dominant message in the Nazis' election campaigns was not anti-Semitism. Hitler knew that was not a particular vote winner. Like Le Pen he too concentrated on 'social issues'. But he also used anti-Semitism and virulent racism to harden up his supporters and to motivate them against an easily identifiable enemy.
|Jews in the Lodz ghetto during the winter of 1940 were victims of Nazi attacks|
Today beneath the veneer of respectability lie the same murderous politics. When the FN won control of the town of Vitrolles near Marseilles in 1997 skinheads ran amok shouting 'Heil Hitler!' Last June, the day after Nick Griffin polled just over 16 percent in Oldham West in the general election, Asian gravestones were smashed and racist filth was scrawled on them. Earlier the home of the town's Asian mayor had been firebombed and an Asian man beaten unconscious by four white men.
The electoral success of the 'respectable' Nazis shifts the whole political spectrum to the right with establishment politicians queuing up to outdo each other over who is tougher on asylum seekers and who is most critical of Islam. New Labour, with David Blunkett and Peter Hain to the fore, need little encouragement in this.
No one should be conned into thinking that attacks on asylum seekers and Islam are not racism. New Labour has no problems with white migrants from Australasia, Europe or Southern Africa. Neither does it have any problem with Christian fundamentalism. The fascists have also targeted asylum seekers and Islam. By joining in, New Labour ministers are simply sanctifying the new racism.
Just how far this goes was shown recently in Scottish Socialist Voice where columnist Kevin Williamson, having earlier attacked the position of no platform for fascists, stated, 'One of the most dangerous myths currently being peddled by the mainstream media is that recent votes for Le Pen in France, Berlusconi in Italy, the assassinated Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, and the BNP in Burnley, somehow corresponds to a vote for a right-wing racist ideology. To equate racism with genuine concerns over how we cope in practical terms with the current level of immigration, as Scotland on Sunday newspaper did recently (28 April), is to play into the hands of the far right.' Williamson then addresses 'the most explosive question of all--how many?' He says, 'How many asylum seekers can a country like Scotland reasonably provide with decent homes, health, education, jobs and benefits?' That Scotland has a declining population seems to pass the writer by. More importantly, the only immigrants to Scotland that there is a fuss over just happen to be non-white. It is not a white Zimbabwean who is going to get stabbed on the streets of Glasgow, but a Turkish asylum seeker.
The slogan of no platform for fascists, which Williamson attacks, was raised in the 1970s against the background of the rise of the National Front. Those who were combating the rise of the Nazis ran up against the classic liberal argument, 'I don't agree with what the fascists say but I'll defend their right to say it.'
We live in a democracy, however limited that may be. Free speech has been won after being fought for and socialists were in the front line of that fight. But is freedom defended by allowing free speech in every case? Would you grant free speech to a party of men who wanted the right to rape women at will? Certainly not--nor should we grant freedom of speech to those who incite the intimidation and murder of black people. This is not an abstract argument. In 1968 the racist right winger Enoch Powell made a string of speeches demanding the expulsion of blacks. His respectable words translated on the streets into a string of racist murders.
Nazi organisations aim to drive black people and other racial minorities from this country. Ultimately they aim to repeat the Holocaust. They are not going to say this openly, partly because of the law but, more importantly, because they need to speak in code to get respectability for their views. To allow fascists free expression is to allow them to gain respectability for the politics of race war and racial annihilation.
The position of no platform for fascists is based, firstly, on the basis that they are not just another conventional party with whom people might disagree but they are organising on the basis of race hatred. Secondly, it draws on the experience of Germany and Italy before the war, where the fascists used democratic channels to build their support and then to suppress all forms of political expression. Hitler did not just target the left and the Jews. He banned all other political parties, suppressed all the media except that which obeyed his dictates, and reduced society to the level of a military barracks where everyone had to conform and obey and where no organisation independent of the state was permitted. The concentration camps were full of people who, before the Nazis took power, had said they would defend the right of the fascists to free speech with their lives. We are for denying free speech to those who want to destroy free speech altogether.
Of course there are those like Kevin Williamson who can caricature the no platform position as that of small groups of leftists running around looking for individual racists to beat up. But opposition to fascism and racism has to be based on mass mobilisation. It is only through mass unity in action that we can defeat fascism.