There was a curious sight at the newsstands the morning after Nick Griffin’s Question Time appearance last month. All the papers featured either the Nazi British National Party (BNP) leader on their front pages, or the magnificent Unite Against Fascism (UAF) demo against him outside the BBC studios. And all of them were bitterly hostile to Griffin and his fascist agenda.
The Daily Express newspaper declared that Griffin was “A Disgrace To Humanity”. Its front page editorial denounced his appearance as “a dangerous and shameful moment for British democracy”.
Meanwhile the Daily Mail newspaper focused on the wave of public fury and disgust directed at Griffin.
But there’s something odd about these papers championing the rights of ethnic minorities, immigrants and Muslims. Both spew out a daily diet of bigotry and racism against these and other minority groups.
They have played a direct role in creating the toxic atmosphere that Griffin and his Nazi boot boys thrive off.
People are quite right to be cynical about the tirades against the BNP in papers that attack immigrants and Muslims then rail against the fascists so loudly.
This question goes to the heart of what fascism is all about, and why it is a phenomenon distinct from, though related to, the wider climate of racism and reaction.
Fascists aim to halt and reverse every advance that workers’ movements have ever won. They do this by posing as “respectable” and standing in elections while simultaneously organising thugs that can physically attack and smash the left.
The ruling class is both attracted to and repulsed by fascism. Fascist organisations offer themselves to the ruling class as a deadly weapon to use against the left. But the use of this weapon comes at a price – stripping away any pretence that capitalism is a fair or progressive system.
It means the ruling class has to deploy direct coercion to maintain its power, rather than relying on the tacit consent of most people. Fascism is thus a weapon of last resort for our rulers, one that they turn to in periods of acute crisis but keep their distance from at other times.
All this means that while the ruling class is happy to stoke up racism and bigotry, it is considerably less keen to admit to doing that.
The contradictory political relationship between the ruling class and fascism manifests itself as a contradictory ideological attitude and contradictory action. So the Daily Mail attacks Muslims, but also attacks the BNP for attacking Muslims. The mainstream parties denounce the BNP, but play to its agenda on issues like immigration.
This contradiction has lessons for the left too. Approaches to fighting fascism that turn a blind eye to wider issues of racism and workers’ rights are doomed to fail. But just focusing on the wider climate and ignoring the specific threat fascists pose, as some on the left suggest, is also a disastrous course. The only course is to oppose both, while understanding the distinctions and relationships between them.
That means understanding that the “right wing anti-fascism” of the Daily Mail or the Daily Express isn’t simply a matter of hypocrisy. There are material political motives for why the ruling class is ordinarily opposed to fascism, and why historically the ruling class has split over the issue.
We cannot ever rely on this right wing anti-fascism that can rapidly reverse into support for the Nazis.
The left has a responsibility to build an anti-fascist movement that unites the majority of people on a principled basis. That means taking on both monsters like Griffin and the racist poison that feeds him.