Filling The Vacuum In May 2002?

Largely thanks to Tony Blair a huge political space exists in working class areas. This was something a London AFA strategy document from May 1995, entitled appropriately ‘Filling the Vacuum’ predicted would be the case. All ‘the experts’ can of course see it now, not least because voting in the General Election in June was, coming in at under 60%, the lowest ever recorded. In any social breakdown of the absent forty per cent, the working class, political analysts agree is overwhelmingly dominant. So for the politically ambitious, almost regardless of ideology, this is obviously the social strata to target. Not that you’d know it.

The Socialist Alliance (SA) in an effort for instance to broaden appeal, rather than orientate to the working class proper and be seen to 'be the best fighters for the attainment of the immediate aims of that class', evidently regard what some define with a sneer as "community work" as beneath them, and hanker after some form of coalition with the Greens instead. Now it is true the Greens did better than ever in the last general election, but all that amounted to, despite liberal media goodwill was to increase the number of saved deposits. Not anywhere did they come even near taking a seat. It is true they did better than the SA, but that says more of the potential of the SA than it does the Greens. Despite the bizarre pretence in some quarters particularly within the Scottish Socialist Party, that the BNP did less well in 2001 than it had in 1997, this is the mainstream fringe party that made most waves.

Speaking at the Red White and Blue 'festival' in Welshpool on 8th August, Nick Griffin stated that the BNP were now the only ones capable of filling the political ‘space’ in working class areas created by New Labour. Going on to scour the political landscape for likely contenders, Griffin ignored the Greens and the Socialist Alliance, instead identifying AFA and Red Action as the principle challengers.
"We've got Red Action and people like that saying they are going to fill it, but we don't see them on the streets we don't see them in the estates, we don't see them helping people on the those estates. But we are just learning to. We haven't got it right yet, we have in a few places, but you know too many branches are not working properly yet, but at least we know what to do now, and some of them are doing it right. But we are there, and Red Action and AFA the rest of them are not there. We are the ones filling the space to the left of Labour where the working class have been neglected for 30 years."

While a measure of BNP triumphalism was to be expected, taking into account the media profile they now enjoy nationally (no less than twelve different BNP spokespeople interviewed in the last couple of months), and even while Griffin's analysis is accurate up to a point he must suspect (or else why even mention Red Action) that the same 'neglected white working class constituency' he repeatedly referred to throughout his speech is, with political and logistical support from RA and AFA, being targeted - by the IWCA as well as his own party.

Now it is perfectly true that the IWCA strategy is not currently being implemented on the SAME estates as those worked by the BNP. But the orientation to the class is the same, while the systematic 'climbing of the ladder rung by rung', as against the grandiose claims of the SLP and the SA is identical. If anything, when current size and resources are taken into account, the IWCA is potentially the bigger hitter of the two. Last June the IWCA branch in Oxford's Blackbird Leys "came from nowhere" in a district council election to knock the Lib-Dems and the Greens both long established in the area, into fourth and fifth place respectively. What is more, senior anti-fascists are confident that in the inevitable head to head with the BNP for working class hearts and minds, the IWCA will emerge victorious.

On the other hand even without council seats, the BNP is already widely recognised by both the national media and the establishment parties as the radical alternative. They have established across the country a number of areas where the BNP Griffin felt would ‘do very well’ come the local elections next May. But he went on, they definitely would “win” council seats in northern towns, specifically, Bradford, Dewsbury, Burnley and Oldham of course. Certainly politics can be an unpredictable business, but there is nothing currently to suggest Griffin is being wildly optimistic. By any measure, four areas where the BNP can confidently state it will win seats is a gigantic step forward for the far right. By contrast the IWCA has four areas where it expects candidates to 'do well'. But nowhere is it in a position to confidently predict victory. It is a realistic assessment of the gap that currently separates the IWCA from the BNP.

A far greater, perhaps by now insurmountable gap also exists between the AFA branches that knuckled down to try and fill the vacuum in their own communities in a sustainable way from 1998 onwards, and those who, while not having a cogent argument to counter the Filling the Vacuum analysis, ponced about from 1995 onwards patiently waiting/hoping for the 'BNP to come back on the streets'. A few, admittedly inexperienced elements, were even sucked in by the no doubt partially state inspired fantasy revolving around the 'no platform' principle. From this stand-point it was being proclaimed as late as last year, that with both the 'BNP and AFA finished' and the 'No Platform Group' and the NF their legitimate street-fighting heirs, it was confidently predicted it would be between these two, (both incidentally state friendly grouplets) that the decisive battle for the streets would ultimately be decided.

As a consequence 'pure' anti-fascism should have no truck, nor allow itself to be distracted with any IWCA 'time-wasting'. It was also judged safe by these self-appointed strategists to allow a practically defunct BNP, (or so the ANL and Searchlight script constantly reassured) 'a free run'. Rather typically, since the recent turn of events, not one of them have had the political courage to admit publicly or privately just how comically they, along with Searchlight and the ANL, had got it so very wrong.

For the record it is probably worth reminding readers it was a thoroughly penetrated Leeds AFA who first led all-out political attack on the London AFA analysis six years ago. All to predictably, other branches in the North-west region, succumbed to the Searchlight inspired offensive. At an AFA Northern Network 40 strong delegate meeting, roughly eighteen months ago, (long after Leeds and Huddersfield had been suspended for working to a Searchlight agenda) representatives from branches like Bolton and Wigan (who really should have known better) publicly, and with even more vehemence privately, took every advantage to pour scorn on the analysis that the BNP were poised for 'some sort of breakthrough in the northern towns'.
To be fair, the data employed by the organisers did not predict a breakthrough of the scale of Oldham. But then, up until a year or so it could hardly have done so, as the BNP on their own admission had just two members in the whole town at the time of the network meeting. Number crunching apart, the political message from the platform to the AFA delegates was unambiguous: ‘the BNP are coming - there is a counter-strategy - are you going to implement it?’ With the exception of delegates from the Manchester and Liverpool, the response was a confused not to say a sullen one. Searchlight had all too evidently done an effective job.

Unsurprisingly it is precisely in the region where Searchlight entryists found a resonance particularly, it must be said, within anarchism for the ‘anti-London, anti-authoritarian, anti-Red Action’ rants that the BNP are now climbing all over the furniture.

Even more to the point it is where AFA is organisationally most threadbare; where militant anti-fascism dropped the baton, lost sight of why it had fought in the first place, or simply deserted the field, that the BNP will most likely win seats. Griffin might complain about many BNP branches ‘not doing it properly’, but within AFA, the reality is that the majority, markedly in the North-west, have never done it at all.

Unhappily, if in the future an IWCA network is to be built in the north-west region, if there is to be a political alternative to the BNP in working class estates there, little chance remains that it will now, as had once been expected, be nurtured or protected by an authentic militant anti-fascist infrastructure. For as events in Bradford and elsewhere have so ably demonstrated the entire northwest is to all intents more or less an anti-fascist free zone.

So, along with electoral prospects, the disparity that exists at an organisational level is another clue to the current strength between progressive and reactionary forces. But rather than try and remedy the situation in the North-west, in yet another attempt at a quick fix (as not insignificantly Searchlight is urging anti-fascists to do) the key strategical task for anti-fascism is to ensure that the IWCA does as well as it possibly can, in the pilot schemes best placed.

As with the BNP the IWCA too has identified four key areas. They are not, as has already been mentioned, the same areas, so the IWCA will not be politically competing head on with the BNP in Oldham, Burnley, Dewsbury, and Bradford next May. Instead the competition will continue for the moment to be by proxy. The council elections in May 2002 will nonetheless afford everyone the opportunity to draw a comparison between the four areas selected by the IWCA, and the four areas earmarked by the BNP.

Though others may stand more candidates, the emphasis by the BNP and IWCA on target wards, along with the poverty of ambition and lack of focus displayed by rivals, not to mention the histories of the sponsors create a unique set of circumstances. If everything goes to plan it is probable that the results when cross-referenced will not just illuminate the political landscape, but will in no small measure actually define it.

November 2001