Thursday, November 05, 2009

Countering racism as well as the racists

I went to an extremely interesting Socialist Resistance meeting last night on the rise of the far right (write up). One of the reasons I like this bunch is that the standard of political discussion is extremely high and they have the knack of being able to openly disagree with each other without turning every issue into a crossing of the Rubicon.

There are a number of crucial debates taking place at the moment over how we deal with the far right. For example, tactical discussions on the utility of no platform, the need to mobilise counter demonstrations against the English Defence League (EDL) and how we deal with the fact that more than a million people voted for the BNP in the European elections.

Now, I think that if fascists are organising an 'anti-mosque' march in your area the number one short term priority is to make sure anti-racists turn up in larger numbers and directly confront the bone heads. I'm also completely opposed to inviting the BNP, or other far right ideologues, onto political platforms to debate their ideas. These people are building a movement to send me to a gas chamber and I'm opposed to giving them a leg up.

That said I'm concerned that the debate can sometimes get boiled down to these counter measures, because they are part of the left's 'comfort zone', when they are only a small part of the fight against the far right.

You can't defeat the BNP through counter marches because they rarely march, that's not how they've accumulated their record support. Likewise, no platform was the mainstream consensus when the BNP won their first MEPs, we should maintain it in my view, but those Euro-seats were won without the assistance of Question Time and the show is not make or break in terms of the fact that the BNP have managed to achieve mass support for the first time in history.

All the evidence points to the British National Party being a disorganised bunch of inarticulate muppets who have an anatomy problem - they don't know their arse from their elbow. They do not garner votes through the force of their arguments or the genius of their street mobilisations but because they are the focus of pre-existing bigotries and anger.

The tactical questions of countering the EDL physically or shoring up the confidence of those who can deny the BNP electoral platforms must not be allowed to obscure the fact that the BNP have grown out of a sewer, and it is no use spending time combating specific racist organisations without also recognising that racism, homophobia, and all the rest of it are social problems that exist independently of far right organisations.

UAF, Hope not Hate and independent local groupings do tremendous work which we should all support where we can, but we shouldn't confine ourselves to their sensibly limited menus. We have to do what we can to undermine racist ideas, Islamophobia, climate change denial. It's not enough for people like Jack Straw to take up a posture of hatred for the BNP while parroting their anti-immigration agenda in the hope that it will undermine their vote.

We've seen recently that homophobia is still alive and well, it wasn't created by BNP goons and our work to tackle it is just as important. It would be very easy to get distracted by mobilising against right wing football hooligans and for the focus to drift away from the bigger picture. These set piece battles are not enough.

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