Evening Telegraph reporters shut out of BNP festival, holdthefrontpage, August 21, 2008
Anindya Bhattacharyya’s Angry protest against the BNP’s Nazi ‘Red, White and Blue’ hate-fest (Socialist Worker, August 19, 2008) provides an excellent example of the witlessness of the Socialist Workers Party’s peculiar brand of ‘anti-fascism’. Naturally, no mention is made of Unite Against Fascism’s scrambling attempts to capitalise upon a protest it had previously given little or no thought to (presumably on the basis that the protest would be politically insignificant). At the same time, upon reversing its previous position and calling for a separate protest at a different time to that planned by local organisers, the struggle against the BNP is interpreted as a straightforwardly anti-Nazi one. Thus UAF spokesperson — and SWP Central Committee (CC) member — Weyman Bennett: “The BNP is trying to hold a festival of hate… We must expose them for what they are – Nazis who want to repeat the Holocaust”. (NB. According to one report, the SWP Central Committee — its peak leadership — has 14 members, an increase of three from January 2006, when there were 11: Chris Bambery, Weyman Bennett, Michael Bradley, Alex Callinicos, Lindsey German, Chris Harman, Chris Nineham, Moira Nolan, John Rees, Martin Smith and Candy Udwin.)
Love Music Hate Racism, another SWP front group, carried the same article as the UAF site. LHMR/UAF:
Over 500 people met on Saturday and took to the streets in Codnor, Derbyshire to oppose the fascist “Red, White and Blue” festival. Unite Against Fascism organised a demonstration and managed to mobilise many trade unionists, community groups and local residents… Because of police restrictions only 30 people were allowed to directly oppose the BNP at the entry gate.
By ‘directly oppose’ is meant ‘gain police approval to walk past the entrance to the Festival’, I think. Not exactly a triumph, but an opportunity for both the BNP and media to take photos. And, of course, for the UAF banner to be prominently displayed…
In any event, the appeal of the BNP is not that it proclaims or in fact intends to conduct another Holocaust. In July 2005, Searchlight magazine proclaimed upon leaving UAF “We believe that localised campaigning on broader issues than racism, fundamental as racism is, is the key to turning back the British National Party’s electoral advance”; something that militant antifa concluded 15 or more years ago, and in the context of an understanding of the triumph of neo-liberalism (‘Thatcherism’), the disintegration of social democracy, and consequently Labour’s electoral stranglehold on (white) working class Britons.
Not exactly rocket science.
A brief glance at the list of UAF supporters, however, suggests one reason why it may be reluctant to identify the appeal of the BNP as being, in part, the absence of a working class alternative to Labour. This is further reinforced by the disintegration of the Respect coalition and the flogging the SWP’s Left List (since re-branded ‘The Left Alternative’) received at the May council elections. (The List’s candidate for Mayor of London, SWP CC member Lindsay German, got a mere 16,796 votes or 0.68%. The BNP’s Richard Barnbrook, on the other hand, received 69,710 votes or 2.84%.)
Upon quitting the SWP in 2003, Mark Thomas wrote (Mark Thomas has had enough of the SWP, New Statesman, May 19, 2003):
It was not surprising that the [SWP] dominated the Stop the War Coalition; its leaders are old hands at controlling “popular fronts”. They have to be. Without fronts like Globalise Resistance (commonly known by activists as Monopolise Resistance), the SWP would have shrivelled into political oblivion long ago.
What should be surprising is the party’s treatment of its coalition partners. It may hate the competitive pressures of capitalism and believe in our ability to co-operate with each other, but the SWP itself is totally incapable of co-operation. Coalition partners would be presented with decisions as faits accomplis: the SWP would call a demonstration, then inform everybody else after the press release had gone out. Moreover, it actively undermined protests and demonstrations that it didn’t control.
Finally, a letter from Jon.
Curtailing the right to protest
August 21, 2008
I was one of 30 people – from the 500-strong gathering of anti-BNP protesters – allowed within Derbyshire constabulary’s 1.5-mile “official protest area”. Tightly controlled under sections 14 and 14a of the Public Order Act and under constant surveillance, we marched up Denby Lane to the Bungalow, the hilltop site of the BNP’s “Red, White, and Blue festival” (Czech far-right party activist to address BNP, August 16).
Heavily flanked by police, the half-mile walk was uneventful. My arthritis slowed me down somewhat (I’m 66). A police helicopter clattered overhead, and after passing the Bungalow we reached a grass verge, where some protesters were interviewed by the local press. After 10 minutes we walked back down the hill, again past the Bungalow; “festival security” filmed us from the gateway, and further down a few vehicle drivers, irritated by being slowed up, treated us to some foul language, while four middle-aged men at a pub jeered at us to “get a job”, before we rejoined the main demonstration.
At no point did my wife and I, our comrades from Stoke-on-Trent or most of the hundreds at this protest see stones thrown, or arrests made. Indeed the assistant chief constable of Derbyshire said our behaviour was “impeccable”. But what media reports there have been about the demonstrations focused only on disorderly events, and missed the fact that the vast majority of people taking part in marches of this type are law-abiding citizens, most with jobs and responsibilities, who worry about the rise of far-right politics in Britain, and in Europe.
I fear that this type of reporting may discourage many people from attending such events, as does the constant surveillance filming by police units.
My father, Charles Edward Honeysett, 1899-1982, served on the western front in 1918, spoke at open-air meetings and demonstrated against fascism in the 1930s, and had to serve Britain for six more years after being called up in 1939; for his sacrifice alone I have no alternative but to continue joining with all those good people with social consciences, and try to raise awareness of the ignorance, divisiveness and racism behind the BNP’s “mask of respectability”.
From previous events in Australia and over there I am noticing a trend by these ‘socialist parties’… a trend of cowardice and being just plain fucking shit.
When was Mark Thomas a member of the SWP? Never, you ill-researched and sensationalist numpty.
You’re right gilbert!
(A former sub-editor for slackbastard got Mark Thomas confused with Mark Steel.)
Great to know everything else is correct.
Mark Steel has now resigned from the SWP and has officially joined the teeming ranks of numpties. Once lauded, he’s now been panned by the SWP’s chief ideologue:
What’s Going On?
Book Review by Alex Callinicos, September 2008
Mark Steel, Simon & Schuster, £12.99
How could someone as charming, talented, and funny as Mark Steel have produced as sad and at points as unpleasant a book as this? The answer that Mark himself gives is that the past decade has been a bad one for him.
Personally, he turned 40 and a longstanding relationship painfully fell apart. Politically, even though mass resistance to neoliberalism and war developed on a spectacular scale, he believes, “The link between the left and youth now seems almost completely broken.” And – partly in response – Mark tells us at the end of the book that he has resigned from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
Inevitably this last aspect of the book is of particular concern to this review. Mark’s midlife crisis is no one else’s business, even if he chooses to share it with the rest of us (and one can’t help wondering what the woman who Mark consistently calls his “ex-partner” must feel about him ventilating his side of their breakup so publicly). As for the political commentary that runs through the book, it views the SWP and the rest of the left from a great height. It is from this vantage point that we all seem to Mark petty, old and stupid.
This means it’s hard to know how to argue with him. His political pronouncements reflect an immense degree of detachment from the movements and organisations on which he passes generally damning judgement. I don’t agree with some of the things he says about what the SWP did in the 1990s, but at least they show an insider’s knowledge, for Mark was still quite an active member then. What he says about the past decade evinces a kind of grandiose ignorance that is a consequence of the fact that he’s no longer actively involved in the SWP or indeed anything else.
What seems to have reawakened Mark’s interest in the SWP was the crisis in Respect. He thinks that the SWP leadership was wrong not to have broken with George Galloway when he appeared on Celebrity Big Brother – an act on whose iniquity he waxes most eloquent – and also wrong to have defended ourselves when the same Galloway attacked us.
If you think it’s hard to find the logic in this, you will be even more puzzled to learn, though Mark doesn’t mention it himself, that he has publicly associated himself with Galloway’s breakaway from Respect. The only principle one can detect here is that the SWP is always in the wrong.
Amid the muddle and special pleading, there is much that is both perceptive and engaging about this book. Mark is, for example, eloquent about the immense power of the media and their culture of celebrity to deflect and to incorporate. But, if Galloway’s trajectory bears witness to this power, so too does Mark’s. He tries to generate some pathos from the moment when he cancelled his subscription to the SWP, but the truth is that he’d left us in spirit years before.
Upon quitting the SWP in 2003, Mark Thomas???
Mark Thomas was never part of the SWP you are thinking of Mark Steel!