Last month’s leak of a list of British National Party (BNP) members and supporters has raised the issue of what we should do about fascists in our workplaces and communities.
Leading teaching unions have spoken out against allowing fascists into the classroom. A joint statement from the UCU and NUT unions declared that “policies and positions of the BNP are incompatible with the ethos and values of teaching”.
Many people will rightly be horrified at the prospect of card-carrying members of a Nazi organisation teaching in a classroom or performing some other vital service.
For all its attempts to cultivate a “respectable” image, the BNP remains virulently racist. It is committed to creating an “all-white Britain” – and to using terror tactics to achieve it.
Top BNP bosses have a string of convictions for thuggery and racism. The party’s leader Nick Griffin was convicted of incitement to racial hatred in 1998 for publishing a magazine that denied the Nazi Holocaust had taken place.
Griffin has described the murder of six million Jews at the hands of Adolf Hitler as “a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie and latter day witch-hysteria”.
But there are deeper reasons why we should campaign against BNP members in the workplace – and these are related to the very nature of fascist organisations.
Fascism emerged in the years following the First World War as a response to the growing strength of the workers’ movements. Benito Mussolini in Italy began organising squads of right wing veterans to break up left wing meetings and murder trade unionists.
Once they came to power in 1922 Mussolini’s fascists proceeded to smash every last vestige of democracy in the country.
His tactics soon became a template for others. In 1933 Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party seized control in Germany by following the same strategy.
But Hitler went even further than Mussolini. He didn’t just smash the left – he destroyed every single civic institution that remained independent of the Nazi party. Even the Boy Scouts were suppressed.
The Nazi assault on ideas and culture went far beyond burning left wing books. They suppressed a whole spectrum of ideas – the physics of Albert Einstein and the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud for example.
Even the pure mathematics developed by Felix Hausdorff was denounced for “Jewish abstraction”.
Just six years after Hitler came to power the world was once more plunged into war, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust and the deliberate extermination of six million Jews.
Fascist organisations ever since have been characterised by their opposition to democratic rights – and by their willingness to use their militias to terrorise those who oppose them.
They threaten all of society – but their primary target is always the workers’ movement, the left and all those who fight for political equality and justice. That is why the workers’ movement has a special duty to drive fascists out of our unions, out of our public services and – if possible – out of every workplace and community.
People who join fascist parties such as the BNP sign up to be part of an organisation dedicated to the opposite of everything that the workers’ movement has fought for. They do not deserve to be protected by the rights those struggles have won.
Still less do they deserve any sympathy for any negative personal consequences that stem from their decision to throw their lot in with the heirs of Hitler.
Moreover, the defence of those rights for everyone else depends upon actively excluding fascism from everyday political life.
Our bosses and rulers did not simply grant us the right to vote, or to organise in the workplace. We had to struggle for those freedoms, and tolerating the presence of fascists undermines the struggle to maintain them.
Though the BNP has been weakened by the leak of its list, it still poses a serious threat. The example of Germany in the 1930s demonstrates how large numbers can be attracted to fascism in the midst of an economic crisis.
But the leak has exposed one of the BNP’s vulnerabilities. While the fascists are gaining large votes for their racist lies, they are having serious trouble turning their voters into members, and turning members into hardened Nazi thugs.
A militant campaign to drive selected BNP activists out of their jobs can drive a wedge between the party’s Nazi core and its wider periphery of passive racists.
Those already wary of joining an organisation whose membership database gets posted on the internet will be still more cautious if doing so means losing their livelihoods.
But such anti-fascist campaigns can only work when they are supported by a broad range of people across the working class movement. Socialists and trade unionists have built such campaigns in the past, and we can do it again.
But we need to be arguing hard in our workplaces and communities – explaining why there is no place for the fascist BNP in any democratic society, and why we should unite to drive the Nazis out of political life.