BNP WILL BE BEATEN IN OUR COMMUNITIES
By Steve Silver
Searchlight has given top priority to assisting and supporting community-based organisations combating the BNP over the past few years. These groups exist in dozens of places in Britain.
Some of these anti-BNP groups are anti-racist coalitions recently set up to combat local BNP electioneering. Others have been established longer, by individuals whose activism goes back to the 1970s and beyond. Often we find ourselves working with trade union branches and trades councils, hundreds of which are now affiliated to Trade Union Friends of Searchlight. Some trades councils that were virtually moribund have been revived by their new-found role of taking the lead in combating fascism in their area.
The reason that we have given priority to organising at grass-roots level is because we recognise that the BNP, despite being a "national" party, is building its electoral successes on the back of specifically tailored local campaigns. Gone are the marches and rallies that you would expect of an old-style fascist party; over recent years they have been replaced by door-to-door leafleting and canvassing with great emphasis placed on local issues. In places with poor-performing councils where the mainstream parties do little or no work, it is hardly surprising that the BNP can present itself as the solution to problems - if you are white of course.
The BNP's current strategy is rooted in the experience of the early 1990s when on the back of a local "Rights for Whites" campaign in the East End of London, its then chief steward, Derek Beackon, was elected to Tower Hamlets council in a by-election in 1993.
However, under John Tyndall's leadership the BNP squandered the opportunity and failed in the short term to build on Beackon's success. When the seat came up for election again six months later, although the BNP increased its vote, a superb anti-fascist mobilisation ensured Beackon was ousted. In addition, Beackon was a diabolical representative, only able to operate in any meaningful sense when the BNP's then full-timer, Richard Edmonds, pulled his strings.
The anti-fascist mobilisation in Tower Hamlets was a model campaign in terms of local organising. It remains a campaign that anti-fascists should study and learn from.
The significance of the "Right's for Whites" campaign and Beackon's election cannot be overestimated. Although the BNP did not secure any more councillors for several years it learnt an important lesson. That was that local campaigning, canvassing and organising - community politics - held the key to the advance of fascism in Britain. Traditional anti-fascist street methods such as counter-demonstrations would be rendered useless with the BNP's new strategy.
In 1998, long before any of the current BNP councillors were elected, Tony Lecomber explained this strategy in Spearhead:
"The self-proclaimed radical Left gave up real politics years ago, after consistently coming a poor second to the National Front in the seventies. With the acceptance that they had no popular support, and with the defeat of Communism in the East, leftists everywhere knew that the 'inevitable' march of Marxism had been halted. All they have left now is violence … The BNP recognised this historical theme several years ago when it turned its back decisively on the confrontational strategy of its past. The reason for abandoning confrontational street politics was because it hindered our political progress, and was the only thing holding our extreme opponents together."
Lecomber went on to describe what he believed was the winning formula for the BNP in 1993 and would be the winning formula in the future:
"Going on the doorstep, canvassing and presenting a better image to people, empathising with our people, talking to them about their problems and advancing popular solutions is real politics and it is better politics. This was how we won Millwall [Tower Hamlets] and came within an ace of winning a seat in neighbouring Newham."
While of course the political climate is far better for the BNP today than a decade ago there can be no doubt that the BNP's methods, which were tempered in 1993, work. Therefore the fascists' approach must be counter-acted with an anti-fascist strategy that works at the same local level.
In addition, to defeat the BNP will require solid intelligence on what the fascists are up to in the various places they are targeting. A successful campaign is one that is informed by knowledge of where the BNP is leafleting, who its main activists are and what the key local issues are on which it will be campaigning.
Searchlight will continue to build on our work with local groups to defeat the BNP because experience has shown that in the places that the BNP have suffered defeats recently it has been these groups, armed with good local propaganda, that have inflicted them.
This article appeared in Searchlight Magazine January 2004.