An exchange of letters about the BNP in Hackney GazettePosted: June 27, 2008
Published in Hackney Gazette 15 May 2008
Like the vast majority of Londoners, I was shocked and disgusted by the news that the Nazi BNP had secured a seat on the London Assembly in the May 1 elections. Unlike your correspondent Dave Young (Matters of Opinion, May 8), I don’t think the blame for the advance of the BNP lies with political campaigners of legitimate parties who contested the elections.
The BNP themselves were careful to hide their Nazi beliefs behind a mask of moderation. A lazy media let them get away with it.
A few times in the London Assembly campaign that mask slipped and the true nature of the BNP peeped out. In April, for example, the views of Nick Eriksen – second on the list of the BNP’s candidates for the London Assembly – revealed his views on women and rape when he argued that: “Rape is simply sex. Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible physical ordeal. To suggest that rape, when conducted without violence, is a serious crime is like suggesting that force feeding a woman chocolate cake is a heinous offence. A woman would be more inconvenienced by having her handbag snatched.”
But outrageous comments like these were largely ignored by the media. Indeed the political advance of the BNP has been prepared for by forces outside of their ranks.
The media – in particular the national tabloids – bear a heavy responsibility for the BNP’s success. For well over a decade the British national press, and the tabloids in particular, have run front page after front page attacking refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. This coverage has been overwhelmingly negative and its cumulative effect has been to create a corrosive “commonsense” in people that immigration is a “bad” thing. It has de-humanised immigrants and has made them scapegoats for the government’s inadequate social policies. It has prepared a racist climate in which the BNP have thrived.
In addition, media Islamophobia – the press’s own contribution to the “war on terror” – has fuelled suspicion of all Muslims which has given the Nazis confidence to organise.
But while the BNP might have fooled some people into voting for them, London is not a racist city. The vast majority of voters did not vote BNP. The white working class has a proud record of unity with black and brown workers.
We live alongside each other, we marry and live with each other, we have children together and our shared history, from the Chartists to the Anti-Nazi League, is one of unity against racism and the racists.
The key to stopping the BNP is activity. It’s no good sitting back and waiting for others to campaign and mobilise against them.
Time to stand up and be counted.
Sasha Simic, West Bank,
Published in Hackney Gazette 22 May 2008
Sacha Simic, the Hackney spokesperson for the Socialist Workers Party, makes two claims in the gazette ( 15/05/08), both of which fly in the face of both progressive thinking and, in fact, reality.
He quite rightly identifies the BNP as a party that poses a threat to decent people. In my mind they are a danger to the working classes of this country because they seek to divide us all in terms of race. But he then ridiculously suggests their rise is down to the media and that, incredibly, the established parties are NOT to blame!
He says, “I don’t think the blame for the rise of the BNP lies with political campaigners of legitimate parties who contested the elections”
This is clearly nonsense. Of course, the media are usually lame at identifying the hard-core views of the BNP (although we should applaud the stand taken by the Gazette in resisting BNP advertising), but to lay it all at their door is risible.
The rise of the BNP, as groups like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Barking Labour MP John Cruddas have shown, is almost entirely down to the abandonment of the interests of ordinary people by the establishment parties.
To oppose the BNP we need a political opposition that actually engages with people’s real and immediate interests. The Left for which Sacha speaks, in the fight against the BNP, is as much to blame for having abandoned the working class as much as New Labour. When will the Left that he represents begin to engage directly with issues like crime, anti-social behaviour, lack of affordable housing and, dare I say it, the social impact of immigration. These are issues that affect people – irrespective of race – and on which they cast their votes.
If the Left wants to challenge the BNP it needs to find a way of addressing these issues; instead of which they reveal their impotence by dodging such ‘politically incorrect’ subjects and simply blaming the media. The fault lies exactly with the “legitimate parties who contested the elections”.
Carl Taylor – Hackney Independent
(from the Hackney Gazette 5 June 2008)
Carl Taylor (Gazette, May 22) puts forward a very fashionable arguement in his analysis of the advance of the Nazi BNP. It is the arguement that the Nazis are growing because the left have “abandoned the working-class” and will not engage with “people’s real and immediate interests”.
Mr Taylor then lists these issuesm naming “crime, anti-social behaviour, lack of affordable housing” and, to his shame, “the social impact of immigration”.
He’s wrong. Genuine Socialists are not responsible in any way for the rise of the Nazi BNP.
For decades now, the political establishment, and their mouthpieces in the media, have glorified the free market and watched as the rich have grown richer and the poor poorer. They have spent the last 30 years – Tory and New Labour alike – attacking the welfare state and have then used immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees as scapegoats for the social chaos which has followed.
This has opened up the space for racist organisations like the BNP. Things have got to such a state that a recent report by the Independent Asylum Commission argued that the word “asylum” should be phased out when used in relation to foreigners seeking shelter in Britain.
After decades of attacks in the gutter press, and by New Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem politicians, only 28 per cent of people polled viewed the term “asylum” as positive. The commission recommended that the term “sanctuary” should replace it.
A “commonsense” has been built that immigration and immigrants are a “bad” thing. From the tone of his letter, it’s a commonsense Mr Taylor seems to share. It’s this myth that has allowed the Nazi BNP to flourish.
Socialists will not give an inch to this argument. Immigrants are not responsible for the lack of social housing. lmmigrants are not to blame for crime or for the privatisation of the NHS or for the lack of facilities for working-class youth.
Working-class people are faced with a choice. Encouraged by the neo-liberals, we can turn on each other in our fight for a decent life.
Last week’s news highlighted the horrific consequences of this path. In South Africa, the desperate poor have turned on equally destitute refugees fleeing from Zimbabwe. Poor South Africans have attacked immigrants for taking “their” jobs and using “their” services. In the last two weeks, anti-immigrant violence has killed more than 50 people.
Meanwhile, the neo-fascist Northern League, who now control 120 councils in Italy, are leading viscous and bloody attacks on immigrants and Roma people. It’s a terrible warning of what could happen here if we don’t stop the Nazi BNP.
The other choice the working-class have, one which Socialist work for, is that we unite as a class to fight for the things we all need for a decent life.
If the money’s there for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the money’s there for council houses.
If the money’s there for Trident nuclear weapons, the money’s there for decent pensions. If the money’s there to bail out Northern Rock, the money’s there for youth clubs for our kids.
Far from having “abandoned the working-class”, Socialist argue for the unity of the class against our common enemy.
Last year the fat cats in the City paid themselves a total of £7.4 billion in bonuses with 4,000 of them getting at least a cool million on top of their salaries.
In April, Shell announced quarterly profits of £3.9 billion and BP declared profits of £3.31 billion. This is where the resources lie to answer “people’s real and immediate interests”.
The BNP can be fought and thrown back into the gutter they came from, but to do so the working-class will need to be united. Sectarian sneering by the likes of Mr Taylor does nothing but help the Nazis.
Hackney Socialist Workers’ Party,
(from Hackney Gazette 5 June 2008)
YOU have published letters about the election of a BNP member of the London Assembly from two far-left groups which totally misrepresent what actually happened generally but particularly in Hackney.
I was the Hackney co-ordinator of the national anti-BNP campaign, Hope Not Hate, which was a joint effort between Searchlight, the Daily Mirror and trades unions. The tactic in London was to get the vote up to dilute the BNP vote by distributing anti-BNP literature at targeted areas and groups.
Twenty-five-thousand copies of a 650,000-run, eight-page tabloid newspaper were distributed by Hackney Labour Party and trades unions. I delivered 5,000 to Cllr Patrick Vernon alone. I came home one night to find that my local councillor, Dan Kemp, had, in covering his entire ward, put one through my door when I had thousands in the garage.
On April 29, the same activists distributed a special leaflet at all of the railway stations in Hackney reaching thousands more voters. While all this was going on, there was no sign of Sasha Simic, of the SWP/UAF/Respect, or Carl Taylor, of Hackney Independent, formerly The Independent Working Class Association, which is a split from the SWP.
It is easy to sit in a pub scoring points off the opposition and passing motions and I have written here before that that is all the Che Guevaras of E8 seem to do, but it doesn’t get people out to vote.
Thanks to all those who turned out in some terrible weather to hold back the most successful party of the far right that we have seen in several generations and to the Gazette for not printing the paid-for BNP advert
(from Hackney Gazette 12 June 2008)
I would like to respond to the criticisms of Hackney Independent’s position with regard to the electoral success of the BNP made by Terry Fitzpatrick (Hope Not Hate) and Sasha Simic (Socialist Workers’ Party) in last week’s Gazette (June 5).
Terry made the allegation that Hackney Independent were “E8 Che-Guevaras” and a split from the Socialist Workers’ Party. If he genuinely believes that, then I can understand where he is coming from, but he is wrong on both counts.
Hackney Independent grew out of the long struggles against the BNP in the 1990s. Our older members have been involved in anti-fascist activism for two decades or more. When the BNP stopped marching and turned to “respectable” electoral politics, we realised that it was necessary to attempt to provide an alternative to the BNP and to the policies of the mainstream political parties in working-class areas. Hackney Independent has never had any connection with the Socialist Workers’ Party. Indeed the SWP, I’m sure, would wish to distance themselves from us.
Instead of mobilising in a panic every four years to combat the BNP with a few newsletters and music festivals, and sitting comfortably in our armchairs in between times, we have worked consistently for 10 years trying to build a pro-working-class form of community politics in Hackne, and have worked with others to encourage the establishment of similar groups in other parts of the country.
We think it is legitimate, therefore, for us to argue that both the fire-fighting tactics of Hope Not Hate and the out-of-touch antics of the SWP and the rest of the Socialist Left is a pointless way of addressing the very real threat posed by the BNP.
Terry can call that armchair sectarianism if he likes, but I would call it trying to persuade other anti-fascist activists that we think they have got it wrong.
And this is where I think Mr Simic and his Socialist friends continue to blindly argue that 2+2=5.
It is incontestable that large numbers of the people who voted BNP in the recent London elections, and who have elected BNP councillors in Barking & Dagenham, for example, were once Labour voters. They are not all hard-core Nazi converts. They have turned against Labour, and against the “Socialist alternative’ because, as he rightly points out, Labour have failed to address the issues that matter to working-class people.
And so we come to immigration. Mr Simic couldn’t resist trotting out (if you’ll forgive the pun) the idea that even to acknowledge that immigration is having a social impact is somehow giving ground to the BNP. I would argue that to leave the field open to the BNP and the right-wing media when it comes to addressing the question of immigration is what really gives ground to the BNP.
Why can’t the Left acknowledge the fact that in many areas the social infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle the large amounts of immigration that it has been asked to support? Why do they say that it is somehow racist to point this out? What is wrong in saying, as Hackney Independent and others have, that immigrant labour should be organised and unionised, both to protect exploited workers and to integrate them into the labour movement, and to protect the job prospects and wages of workers here? What is wrong in demanding that the government provide additional resources to areas where immigration is putting pressure on welfare, health and education services?
If “Socialists” were to take seriously the concerns of working people, instead of spouting dogma or burying their heads in the sand whenever anything slightly reactionary threatens, then perhaps they could begin to contribute something.
It is possible that communities can be united around campaigns to improve their own lives and the lives of immigrants instead of voting New Labour, Tory or for the BNP, all of whose policies are detrimental to our interests. I am sure that that is what both Mr Fitzpatrick and Mr Simic would like to see.
Unfortunately, neither of the strategies they are currently pursuing is going to make any progress towards this. They have been tried before and have failed. Our’s may fail as well at the end of the day, but it won’t be for want of listening to what people have to say and trying to do something practical about it.
(Hackney Gazette, 19 June 2008)
Over the last few issues there have been a number of letters printed from myself and others concerning the strategy and tactics best used against the British National Party.
I had thought I had made my final comment on the subject, but as Sasha Simic, of Hackney SWP, and Carl Taylor, of Hackney Independent have chosen to attack me by name in your last edition (June 12) I feel I must respond, for the last time.
Your readers could be forgiven for thinking that there are three rival countrywide anti-fascist organisations competing in strategy and tactics. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mr Taylor has delusions of grandeur. He must know that his handful of people resemble the Judean Popular Front, or was it the Popular Front of Judea, in Life of Brian? John Cleese#s Brother Reg could have been modelled on him.
Sasha Simic represents a bigger group, or rather collection of front organisations. He is being economical with the truth when he claims that the SWP front, Unite Against Fascism, has done anything whatsoever except talk a good fight against the BNP.
Hope Not Hate is a mass nationwide alliance of community organisations, trades unions, religious groups and thousands of individuals. The strategy has been multi-faceted as the BNP use different strategies in different parts of the country. What they are doing in Stoke is different to the tactics in Dagenham. What is common is getting out into communities where the BNP are active, exposing their lies, pointing out the uselessness of their councillors and offering alternatives.
This is unglamourous, hard work and, in some areas, dangerous. There are dozens of recorded assaults on anti-fascists taking the fight to the BNP on to estates where they are strong.
I have told UAF/SWP activists to their faces that they are too cowardly to do this kind of work and lack the community connections that make it possible in the first place.
UAF/SWP have actually denounced us as “pandering” to the BNP by knocking on doors in places like Barking and Dagenham and talking to people who have voted for the facists.
It is total hypocrisy for either Mr Simic or Mr Taylor to claim that they have done anything whatsoever, except talk, to hold back the BNP.
An example of the grandstanding tactics of Mr Simic and Co is the ridiculous march against racism to be held on Saturday.
Having done nothing whatsoever to stop Richard Barnbrook being elected to the London Assembly, they are now having a musical procession through the West End to demand that he be ejected from City Hall, something which is legally impossible.
I have no doubt that the tourists and shoppers watching along the route will be entertained, but think they would be far more effective if they had had their march around the two wards in Barking and Dagenham where the BNP are standing in by-elections on July 3.
Hope Not Hate leafleted the area on Sunday and there will be two more days of action this coming Saturday and Sunday.
Volunteers are needed and the meeting place is Chadwell Heath station at 11am on each day. The days of waving lollipops and chanting “Nazi scum off our streets” are long gone as is thinking that by referring to the Battle of Cable Street something is being done to challenge the most successful party of the far right in a generation.
There are three articles by the editor of Searchlight, Nick Lowles, spelling out the threat we all face which can be read in the current edition of the magazine on line at www.searchlightmagazine.com. For continual updates of the movement, visit www.hopenothate.org.uk.
That really is my final word, unless, of course, Bruver Reg/Rick in The Young Ones/Citizen Smith/Dave Spart, also known as Messrs Simic and Taylor, want to carry on making fools of themselves!
(Hackney Gazette 26 June 2008)
Dear Editor, I hope you will allow a final response to Terry Fitzpatrick’s letter (Gazette, 19 June 2008) in this ongoing debate about strategies to challenge the British National Party (BNP).
It’s a shame that Terry has chosen to caricature Hackney Independent’s contribution to the debate about anti-BNP strategy in Monty-Python ‘Life of Brian’ terms; and incidentally not even address any of the arguments we put forward.
Hackney Independent shares his concerns about the lollypop-waving antics of the Socialist Workers Party’s various front groups. It is unfair of him to lump us together and pretend that what we have to say isn’t worth listening to. In doing so he ignores the fact that what we are suggesting is not only very different, but also not a million miles away from what his own organisation is beginning to discuss.
We would not deny that Hope Not Hate have put an enormous amount of effort into combating the BNP, making alliances with trade unions and local groups, etc, in the areas in which the BNP have contested elections. Where we have a problem with the Hope Not Hate strategy is that it concentrates its response to the BNP during election campaigns, for example its “2008 Anti-Fascist Fortnight” campaign.
We believe that building consistent, long-term, community campaigns that address people’s genuine concerns about local problems could more effectively undermine the BNP. To focus on a fortnight of activity to “fire-fight” the BNP where they have already established themselves is crisis management and, moreover, non-sustainable.
In fact Nick Lowles, the Editor of Searchlight, which organises Hope Not Hate, has recently acknowledged that the kind of strategy that Hackney Independent has argued for is partly the way forward. In a recent article in Searchlight magazine (“Where Now?” June 2008) Nick Lowles says, “unless we do something radically different the situation will get a lot worse before it gets better… It is also clear that a simple Hope Not Hate message is insufficient… We need to replace empty slogans with substance, and that means involving ourselves in the community as never before… A good functioning local group … needs to be community-orientated, broad-based and non-dogmatic. It needs to be able to address local issues and concerns while having roots within the community.”
(You can read the full article on Searchlight’s website.)
I don’t pretend to agree with everything that Nick Lowles has to say in his article, and Terry Fitzpatrick may not agree with him either; but it clearly demonstrates that even Terry’s own organisation is taking seriously the most important aspects of the argument that Hackney Independent has been making. Perhaps anti-fascists could begin to make progress if we concentrated on the substance of important debates like this one without evasion and name-calling.
Carl Taylor, Hackney Independent