Socialist Worker

How Britain’s Nazis were smashed in the 1970s and 1990s

Chris Bambery continues our series with an analysis of the struggle against the National Front

Issue No. 2033

Jean-Marie Le Pen

Jean-Marie Le Pen

One argument concerning contemporary fascist movements such as Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France claims that they cannot be fascist because they do not deploy stormtroopers against the left, blacks and Muslims.

This ignores the fact that both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini operated a “twin track” approach, employing both street violence and a conventional electoral pitch.

The Nazis in particular created a well oiled electoral machine using the most modern techniques to get their message across.

Their electoral message soft-pedalled the party’s hatred of the Jews because it was not a major vote winner. Antisemitism was, however, crucial in binding together the core membership of the party.

Today’s fascists operate in the shadow of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Through long and bitter experience they have learnt it is necessary to ditch their uniforms and open Jew baiting.

Being thoroughly modern racists they switch their scapegoats as fashion befits. In the 1970s British fascists played up the fear of African Caribbean people. Today fascists rush to target Muslims.

One reason why the British National Party (BNP) today is playing down its street activity lies in past defeats they suffered at the hands of anti-fascists.

In the 1970s the National Front (NF) tried to recreate a mass movement based on street marches and rallies.

Its chairman, John Tyndall, paraphrased Hitler’s statement that “mass demonstrations must burn into the little man’s soul the conviction that though a little worm he is part of a great dragon”.

NF marches targeted black and Asian areas and spawned a uniformed “honour guard” dressed in paramilitary uniform. Disaffected Tories joined with skinheads and fascist veterans from the 1930s.

At Lewisham in August 1977 the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) took a decision that a march through an area with a large black population had to be stopped.

A carefully planned operation cut the Nazi march in half as local people, trade unionists and others joined in to humiliate the Nazis.

But the SWP was not content with stopping the Nazis on the streets. We wanted to go further in undermining the NF’s electoral support.

That’s why we were central to launching the Anti Nazi League (ANL), which undertook a huge campaign aimed at exposing the Nazi nature of the NF, involving massive carnivals, street leafleting, concerts and street mobilisations.

The NF was decisively checked and splintered.

Many years later the faction that emerged as the BNP secured a dramatic council election win in east London’s Isle of Dogs in 1993.

It was clear that they had picked up on dissatisfaction in a traditional Labour area being redeveloped at the expense of its largely white working class population.

The BNP’s success immediately translated into racial attacks climaxing in the terrible murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

After the Nazi election win, ANL supporters responded by mobilising to remove a BNP paper sale from nearby Brick Lane.

But the left and anti?fascists had little presence on the Isle of Dogs itself. That had to be addressed through ANL mass leafleting of homes.

Nurses and firefighters helped put across an anti?fascist message, and the left campaigned on issues such as the threatened closure of a health clinic.

It also involved winning the TUC to organising a mass march against fascism through east London.

As the tables turned on the Nazis their frustration boiled over into violence and, in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder, the ANL helped initiate a united march on the BNP’s headquarters in Welling, south east London.

Some 60,000 took part, with the police going on the rampage to defend the BNP bunker. But this succeeded in isolating the BNP and ensuring the Nazis lost their council seat.

In both cases anti?fascists used different tactical approaches to maximum effect.

Nick Griffin of the BNP and Le Pen might dress in suits as both are keen to cut a respectable façade.

But the street fighters are never far away. They form a potential nucleus for future Nazi squads.

Both Griffin and Le Pen want to whip up a fantasy of a movement engaged in struggle for the nation’s future and besieged by a myriad of alien forces.

They might employ occasional anti-capitalist rhetoric, but fascist violence is always aimed at the left, working class organisations and minorities. That remains 100 percent true today.

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