Thousands of anti-fascists were cheered to see the British National Party’s (BNP) leader Nick Griffin driven from an attempted press conference by some well-aimed eggs last week.
But some commentators were quick to denounce the protests as counterproductive or even anti-democratic.
Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes complained that the protests made Griffin look like a victim. Others went further.
A presenter on BBC Radio Wales demanded that a representative of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) clarify on air whether the organisers of the protest were “anti-fascist or anti-democratic”.
We are told that we may not like what the BNP stands for but that we have to accept that the party has legitimacy because it won two European parliamentary seats in a democratic election on 4 June.
These arguments are not new. Over the last century there have been debates over how to stop fascists.
These have often revolved around the questions of democracy and free speech.
Anti-fascists have to be clear that the BNP is not a democratic party. It is a fascist party that is seeking to use the democratic system to gain a foothold in politics in order to destroy democracy, as the Nazis did in Germany in the 1930s.
There is nothing democratic about the BNP’s policies. Its constitution makes it clear that it is a racist party.
Griffin, who was elected as one of the MEPs for North West England, is a convicted Holocaust denier. Andrew Brons, who was elected as an MEP for Yorkshire & the Humber, has a long history of involvement in Nazi parties in Britain. He has led protests calling for the compulsory repatriation of black and Asian people.
But fascism is about more than racism and other prejudices.
It is a political ideology that seeks to organise to smash democracy and workers’ resistance.
So when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, the Nazis banned every vestige of democracy or self-organisation. Even the boy scouts were outlawed.
Fascists have always used a mixture of constitutional means and thuggish violence to come to power.
When Italian fascist Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922 it was through a combination of organising armed squads who terrorised the workers’ movement on the streets, and posing as a legitimate party in elections.
Mainstream parties in Italy denounced Mussolini, but insisted that the fascists be granted constitutional rights.
When Mussolini was allowed to seize power he quickly suspended these rights, abolished press freedom and brutally repressed all criticism of his regime.
Similarly, Hitler came to power through a mixture of elections and street thuggery.
Again the mainstream politicians of all political persuasions denounced Hitler but believed that he could be fought through constitutional means. Once in power, Hitler sent many of these politicians to concentration camps.
Despite being an admirer of Hitler’s political manifesto Mein Kampf, Griffin has tried to hide his fascist politics.
He has tried to remodel the BNP along the lines of French fascist Jean Marie Le Pen’s National Front.
Like Le Pen, Griffin has tried to maintain a Nazi hardcore at the heart of his organisation but also attempted to win a wider audience by adopting a veneer of respectability.
This is why elections are so important to the BNP – Griffin hopes to use them to win a foothold in mainstream politics.
But the real aim of the BNP is clear. Griffin spelt this out when he told supporters in 1996 that the BNP needed to be seen as “a strong, disciplined organisation with the ability to back up its slogan, ‘Defend Rights for Whites’, with well-directed boots and fists.”
He made it clear that “When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate.”
He added, “It is more important to control the streets of a city than its council chamber.”
Griffin is aware that there is a widespread revulsion towards fascism throughout Europe. This is why the BNP tries to hide the reality of its fascist politics.
But no one should be fooled. It was revealed last week that the US white supremacist who shot dead a security guard at the Holocaust museum in Washington had attended meetings in the US to raise support for the BNP.
This should remind us of the sort of people attracted to its politics.
And it is just ten years since former BNP member David Copeland murdered three people and wounded 127 more with three nail bomb attacks in London, which he hoped would spark a “race war”.
History shows that fascists must not be allowed to present themselves as part of the mainstream political process.
Nazi organisations want to use any platform given to them to organise and group people around their politics of hate.
We have to firmly pin the label of fascism on the BNP and deny it the respectability its leaders crave.
There is no reason for the left to be defensive about the arguments around democracy.
Socialists are profoundly democratic. Unlike most politicians we believe that ordinary people could run their own lives and do a much better job of it that the professional politicians currently in charge.
Socialists have a long history of fighting for civil rights and liberties.
Socialism is about extending democracy so that ordinary people can make decisions about how the world is organised and resources allocated.
Defending and extending democracy means effectively countering those such as the BNP who would crush it.
This means isolating and exposing the BNP. This is why we should campaign among the media and political parties to say that the BNP should not have a platform for its ideas.
The media should not confer an aura of respectability on these fascist thugs.
The BNP lies about its politics – it cannot be beaten through debate.
Neither is education alone the solution.
We also have to confront fascism.
Mass movements against fascism in Britain stretch back to the struggle against Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s.
In the 1970s mass mobilisations of black and white people confronted the National Front, the forerunner of the BNP, and beat them back.
The BNP will try to use its breakthrough in the European elections to gain a hold in British politics.
The anti-fascist majority has to ensure that we don’t let this happen.