Fighting racism and the rise of the far-right in the North


The recent attacks in South Belfast in which over a 100 Romanian families were forced to flee the North should serve as a wake up to everyone. Racism is not a new phenomum in the North, nor is it confined to one section of the community or social class, or cannot be simply reduced to economic factors. The rise of the far right in countries such as Hungary and Italy and the breakthrough of the British National Party (BNP) in the recent EU elections have only compounded fears and anxiety.

However, most economists and historians would agree that it is inaccurate to compare that rise of the far-right at least in Britain anyway with 1930s. Social and economic conditions are not the quite the same, and a detraction from the real crisis we are witnessing which is a crisis in the left, who have a vested interest in playing up the threat of fascism. It uses it to reoxygenate itself.

We are also witnessing pathetic attempts from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) alligned Unite Against Fascism to re-brand itself as inheriting the tradition of militant anit-fascism, even though in the past they have distanced and ostracied genuine groups such as Anti-Fascist Action and Red Action. In the North, fascist groups remain small numerically even in comparison to the left and historically whenever organisations such as the National Front did have a bit of a foothold they have achieved poor showing in local elections.

Indeed the current Labour Government has appropriated many of their ideas from ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ to recently referring to the need of ‘local people’ getting access to local housing first’. It is the current adminstration which is curbing civil liberties, privatising public services and deporting migrant workers.

We should resist attempts by sections of the media and political parties to demonise an entire community for the actions of a few. The evidence is still unclear as to whether latest publicised attacks are the work of a specific organisation or the actions of a handful of individuals.

Statistics produced by the Observer newspaper revealed that between January 2005 and September 2006, 90% of all such incidents occurred in so-called loyalist areas in South Belfast and right across the North. South Belfast is the most ‘ethnically’ diverse areas in Belfast and if not the entire North. The area also is a very transit community with more available housing available compared to other parts of the city, especially in mainly ‘nationalist areas’ where there is a massive housing waiting list. The availability of housing is a magnet for migrants (not just from outside the country) but also a student population. It is also an area with a high level of social deprivation and some of the worst housing conditions in Western Europe are in the Village. Incidentally, not the fault of ‘immigrants’ but decades of underinvestment and parasitic property developers and slum landlords. Conditions created by the conflict has resulted naturally in many working-class communities being suspicious and fearful of those who are deemed ‘others’.

Loyalism and fascism

While there maybe common characteristics between the two, and that elements of loyalist organisations or those who would define themselves as loyalists are active in some of the racist attacks, it is too simplistic to merely equate loyalism with fascism.

Historically, these differences can be traced to the second war world and the struggle against fascism and Nazism. The flying of Israeli flags in some protestant working-class communities is also an anathema to your average fascist. In 2005, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) reportedly stood down its commander in the village after being involved in attacks.

However, the fact that the youth wing of the UDA, the Ulster Young Militants have added their name to threatening letters beside Combat 18 highlights this shady relationship with elements of loyalism.

What is Fascism?

Fascism, Nazism and racism are words that are used interchangeably and wrongly attributed to everything from Israeli’s collective punishment against the Palestinians to the Stormont administration pre 1972. Fascism, on the other hand is a distinct political ideology, and thus why we need to understand our enemy and the ideas which underpin it and its violent manifestations if we are serious about combating it.

Traditionally fascist parties have used ethnic minorities as a scapegoat for the problems created by capitalism. For instance the BNP often point to migrant workers as being the cause for the degradation of the NHS or the reason for the lack of decent social housing. Similarly they blame migrant workers for “taking our jobs” instead of attacking the employers who routinely pay derisory wages and treat workers like disposable commodities.

The reason fascist groups tend to attack ethnic minorities and immigrants in this way are because they want to divide the working class. By sowing the seeds of division, fragmentation and suspicion in working class communities they undermine notions of solidarity and cooperation thus strengthening the status quo and perpetuating existing inequalities in society.

Racism and xenophobia are not the primary goals of fascism but are rather part of their means for promoting the ascendancy of the nation state. Fascism originates from Italy and promotes the ideals of nationalism and patriotism in opposition to internationalism and class solidarity. Fascism’s glorification of the nation is really the veneration of the hierarchies that exist within the nation. Fascist’s promoted the interests of ruling elite above those of the majority and in the past have used all the apparatus of the state to ensure that those hierarchies in society are maintained and bolstered. In this context talk of supporting the “indigenous people” is used to garner the support of the white working and middle classes to undermine class unity between people of different race or nationality.

Fascism should be opposed because it aims to crush all autonomy and freedom in the name of creating a strong nation state; it curtails freedom of expression, supports rigid hierarchies and most importantly stands against the interests of every working class person regardless of their race or nationality. Fascism only amplifies the violence of the state such as the police, army and prisons.

Nick Griffin, a Cambridge graduate is trying to give the party a more moderate and ‘respectable’ image, exchanging the swastikas for the Armani suits. Its current programme based on previous election manifestos is not strictly ‘fascist’ but rather a law and order one, dressed in a left-wing package. The BNP prides itself on Le Pen’s National Front party successes through building a local base, exploiting local fears and anxiety. The recent breakthrough in the EU elections gives them a national profile.

What about freedom of assembly?

None of us have the power to stop fascists saying what they think, we cannot legislate against their words no matter how vile we consider them to be and neither would we want to be in a position to do so. However that doesn’t mean we should tolerate their presence in our communities or allow them a platform from which to organise. History has shown that when fascist groups come to power they use all the apparatus of the state to violently crush progressive working class groups and initiatives.

If all Nick Griffin and his disciples were doing was talking amongst themselves about repatriating migrant workers, clamping down on those they saw as deviants and splitting communities along lines of race then there wouldn’t be a serious problem. The reality is the BNP are organising to gain seats of power and to implement their white nationalist policies. This attempt to gain power and influence must be challenged by all effective means. Lastly, we need to separate between challenging fascists and the need to challenge racist views and attitudes.

We need to advocate a twin approach of ideological and physical opposition in tackling racism and the far- right.

Firstly, we need to throw out of the window right away any illusions that political parties can solve our problems. Calling for tougher legislation is at best a distraction and at worst, counter-productive ending in being used to criminalise all opposition including genuine anti-fascists.

I could not of thought of a better propaganda coup for the BNP than the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight unleashing their secret weapon days before the last EU election- none of other than a photo-op with Prime Minister Gordon Brown who is head of the most unpopular Labour Government in history. This bankrupt strategy is similar with liberal pleas of ‘Vote for hope- not hate’ of ‘Vote anybody but the BNP’ which literally means voting for the same corrupt parties which are responsible for the same anti-working-class policies, which are driving people into the arms of the BNP in the first place.

We need to reject this artificial concept of ‘multi-culturalism’ which results in communities being carved up on the basis of race and ethnicity, with each competing bloc of unelected quangos representing their ‘tribe’ squabbling for power and resources. This idea undermines class unity and plays into the hands of the BNP who present themselves as the voice of white working-class. We need diversity not division.

Physical and ideological opposition

A small part of our resources and energy has to geared towards disrupting such groups when necessary. As Hitler said himself in power

“Only one thing could have stopped our movement. If our adversaries had understood its principle, and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement. "

However, the cornerstone of our strategy is a political strategy and serious commitment to working-class communities. This means building a movement which serves the needs and desires of our class. It means working towards tackling them very class issues such as housing, immigration to workplace struggles which others seek to racialise. It means advancing anarchist ideas and methods of struggles through propaganda and involvement in the class struggle as equals.


WSM position paper- No Platform for fascists
Anti-fa interview:

Edited text of talk delivered at a recent day of discussions and workshops organised by the Belfast branch of the WSM on the theme of tackling racism and the far right.