One Might Be Unlucky... Two Is A Trend

After Haider the cry was 'Never Again!' With Mussolini's heirs set to return to government - 'Not Again!' - may prove the more durable slogan. Analysis by Joe Reilly.

With a 15 point lead in the run up, Silvio Berlusconi should now be forming his government following the victory of the Forzia Itialia coalition in the general election on May 13. Silvio Berlusconi is one of the richest men in Europe, comparable to Rupert Murdoch over here, in his dominance of the media in Italy. Berlusconi was also Prime Minister once before in 1994.

However, the coalition of which he was leader collapsed in ignominy. His political resurrection, and return to power would be of no particular interest to anyone outside Italy, were it not for the men who he will bring to power with him. Or put more accurately, the political forces that will deliver Berlusconi victory. For without the support of the Far-Right Alleanza Nazionale (AN) and the almost as dodgy Lega Nord, he would never be prime minister. Because of their role, some expect Gianfranco Fini of the AN, a party with a lineage direct to Mussolini, and Umberto Rossi leader of the Lega Nord, to be rewarded with ministerial posts, up to, and possibly even including deputy Prime Minister.

A second Far-Right party at the centre of government, in the heart of Europe, makes liberal pretence that Haiders victory last year could be explained away by reference to 'special conditions in Austria' look more than a little silly. One fascist party in government might be unlucky, but two in a year looks more like a trend. Searchlight are surely right when they say that "such an outcome would redouble the alarm raised by last year's Austrian elections, which brought Jorg Haiders party to power. Apart from tilting the political balance in Europe considerably further to the right, this double dose of 'Le-Penism' could pave the way for an advance of extreme right wing views and progressively lend political legitimacy to racist and neo-fascist ideologies throughout Europe".

It is probably inevitable that there will be those, who in an effort to reassure, will stress that the AN was briefly in government with Berlusconi back in 1994, and the sky did not fall in. So there is no need to for undue concern now. But if memory serves, supposedly 'special conditions existing in Italy' was the palliative employed by them then. And while in 1994, Forzia Itialia did not survive long enough for the effectiveness of their political strategy, including Italy's biggest ever post-war demonstration, to be assessed objectively, this is no longer the case. The strategy of approprium to be employed against Berlusconi, has been put in use in Austria against the Freedom Party these twelve months past. Demonstrations have taken place on an almost daily basis, to no discernible effect. True, the Freedom Party's support among the working class in the local elections in Vienna this year, was down. But this was not because of the almost nightly protest by 'anti-fascists', but was instead the price paid by Haider's party, for the cuts in public spending implemented by it's coalition partner in government.

In reality, and not at all surprisingly, the resistance initiated and shaped by Austria's liberal elite is 'crumbling'. Less and less people are turning up for demonstrations at the same time as Haider is consolidating his grip on power. The Freedom Party are in government to stay. More than that, it will soon have an ideological and strategical ally in government, in nearby Italy. So can we expect the strategy employed in Italy be any different from the one shown to have failed so dismally in Austria? Will, say Searchlight or the SWP be urging 'new thinking'? Well, in the case of Searchlight, yes (of which more later), but a firm nein from the SWP. After all, considering the same cross-class appeal underpins the strategy domestically, such a volte face would be unthinkable.

During March and April we were all reminded of the danger in indulging SWP delusions.First there was the scandal of the SWP forcing through the decision to back Labour in Beckton. Confronted for the first time by the BNP in a by-election in the borough of Newham, the SWP-dominated east London Socialist Alliance branch took fright, and immediately rushed behind New Labour skirts. This logic of a united front against the BNP was followed through to the point of insisting the LSA actively campaign for New Labour. Followed by, on two successive Saturdays the toe-curling embarassment of the anti-nazi demos in Bermondsey. Beckton taken together with the ANL counter demonstration fronted by local political big-wigs, a couple of vicars and notorious opportunists such as Trevor Phillips visibly failing against even a minuscule NF twice over, was rightly felt, to have diminished not just the LSA and the ANL, but anti-fascism itself.

But such antics from an organisation that believes, probably genuinely, that "the memory of the Holocaust" and not an organised working class, "is the biggest barrier to the re-birth of a modern nazi movement", should raise few eyebrows. And maybe it is just coincidence, and not baleful SWP dominance, that come the general election in June, the LSA will not be contesting the Bermondsey seat either. "A fascist candidacy in Bermondsey is not something Southwark Socialist Alliance can deal with on its own" wails Weekly Worker (12.4.01).

If seemingly a borough-wide organisation like the Southwark Socialist Alliance cannot even contemplate dealing with a lone NF candidate now, what of the LSA when the BNP throw down the gauntlet, as it is threatening across the capital in local elections in 2002?

If not prepared to present itself as a 'radical alternative' where it counts, what is the LSA actually for? It is a point that found an echo in some quarters, with RA and AFA earning bouquets for drawing out the implications. But at the same time there was a sense RA was making a little too much of it. Afterall, for all the embarrassment, Beckton was due to 'special conditions' and therefore a one off, was it not? Well, as Southwark have since shown, not entirely. And what's more this instinct to 'unite' against the BNP, seemingly regardless of the LSA, is still entirely consistent with SWP leadership perspectives. Certainly Chris Bambery, during a public debate with the CPGB last August, responded to questions relating to the BNP 'success' in Bexley by admitting as much. Despite the LSA, 'the Isle of Dogs paradigm' ('love your neighbour vote Labour') remained the preferred option of the SWP leadership if faced with any substantial electoral threat from the Far-Right he declared.

Unlike the Socialist Alliance who are pouring all their hopes into the general election campaign the BNP are focused, correctly, on the local elections in 2002. Once again Searchlight, to be fair, see the danger. This prompts them, rather desperately, to suggest that 'the lessons learned' on the Isle of Dogs in 1993 can again be applied, but this time - on a national basis! Logistics apart, what first are the lessons? "Anti-fascists must learn from the BNP and like the Nazis engage with the local people on local issues." (There is a distant echo, but we'll pass.) So where should anti-fascists do this? Why, in the target wards chosen by the BNP of course, "the South East region of the BNP is prioritising North End ward in Bexley; North West Hollingwood in Oldham; the South West; Plymouth; the West Midlands; Tipton Green, in Sandwell; East London; Barking & Dagenham and Dewsbury in Yorkshire ." Searchlight's advice to anti-fascists is 'to target the same areas' and - physically go there.

Quite apart from entirely overlooking that in the three actual council wards they list, the BNP have already established a considerable base of support ranging from 19% to 27% there. Of the other BNP target 'areas' one, Barking and Dagenham is, you may have noticed, a parliamentary constituency, while Plymouth and Dewsbury are complete towns! If that isn't sufficiently mind-boggling, "with over twelve months to go" we are instructed "there is enough time to build up anti-nazi support in each of these areas".

Even supposing 'the lessons of Millwall' were appropriate, (and there not, as a result of the ANL campaign, the BNP vote actually increased by 30%) where are the necessary forces to come from? Who would they campaign for? And on what issues? 'Anti-nazi' ones?

The fact is, liberalism was lucky on the Isle of Dogs and has dined out on it ever since. In reality, what did for the BNP then, was not anti-nazi parables but an Asian occupancy of approximately half the 'island' and a general election style turn-out of 70%. In truth, the real lessons of Millwall were that 'anti-nazism' so-called, is not enough. Secondly, you need to be in a community to properly organise it, and thirdly, that there are no quick fixes. All the real lessons, needless to say, are swept aside in the Searchlight design.

The Socialist Alliance, on the other hand, have taken the 'anti-nazi lesson' and simply inverted it. Previously, the Left were perfectly happy to present their counter arguments in a careful, considered and negative fashion: 'anti-repatriation', 'anti-deportation' and 'anti-nazi'. Back in the 70's the principle arguments were wholly defensive; immigration numbers were being 'exaggerated to whip up fears'; 'the policies of repatriation are the politics of Dachau', etc. For reasons best know to themselves (for there has been little or no real discussion) the decision has been taken, at this of all times, to place all the emphasis on a counter-attack of careless abandon. One might have imagined it was the far-Left rather than the far-Right who were on the march in Europe. Or that unlike the 1970's, the tactical switch could be justified on the grounds that any political or social cost could now be effortlessly and painlessly absorbed. As we all know the exact reverse is true. Collectively the bargaining power and confidence of the British working class can rarely have been at so low an ebb. In three key areas, housing, education and health, funding has sunk below even maintenance level. New figures out show that New Labour is prioritising social housing even less than Major's government did. In attempting to rubbish such political concerns The Guardian quotes the Home Office approvingly: "Council tax-payers money is not being used to house asylum seekers and therefore local people are not being disadvantaged. We are using properties that do not have a waiting list". A slippery argument. Particularly as a recent audit commission has shown London councils have been forced to meet the cost of housing refugees out of council taxes to the tune of £27 million. Along with that, while classified as refugees they may well be 'housed in areas that do not have a waiting list' but that is only prior to being granted citizenship. After that they often appear to go to the head of the council housing queue. Which is when the genuine resentments kick in.

But despite all the warnings and it must be said, their own experience, the Socialist Alliance is set on a course of head-on confrontation with the working class on the very issue there can be no prospect of winning on. Race. Where the Right see only bad in immigration, the SA see only good. Where the BNP call for an end to immigration the SA demand an acceleration in immigration. Curiously, of the unthinking mediocrity that otherwise permeates the SA general election manifesto, a call for 'open borders' is the one truly radical departure. What in real terms the LSA stance on immigration amounts to, is a preemptive electoral strike against itself, eleven months prior to what may prove watershed council elections in London in 2002. Whatever the wisdom of standing by the communist principle of 'open borders' (if 'communist principle' it is, and that is certainly arguable), no effort whatsoever will be made to explain the tactical value of the working class supporting a stance of 'infinite and unconditional' immigration, as if for the all the world, the character building properties of further dividing already pitiful resources were transparent.

With repeated surveys showing as many as 80% hostile to existing immigration policy, to then proceed in the face of the facts is on one level infantile. On another level it is a calculated insult, which in hard-pressed communities will be regarded as such. You can already envisage our partners in the LSA rolling their eyes: 'On the one hand we are castigated for not standing against Labour and the BNP - thus handing to the fascists the mantle of 'radical alternative' - and now we are being attacked on the grounds of being too radical!'

For the simple minded, such a defence may have an appeal. But when in 1995 AFA stated that the Left must 'out-radicalise the BNP', it had in mind out-radicalising the far-Right on the basis of what the class itself considered important. 'Artificial insemination for lesbians' is, rightly or wrongly, not regarded as an arch priority in places like Bexley, Beckton or Bermondsey. It follows therefore, that to challenge the BNP on the basis of a programme relevant to the Left, will do nothing to convince the working class communities, who haven't, let's remember, seen the Left in any shape or form for at least quarter of a century, that 'here are people on our side, here are people that understand us, here are people worth fighting for'.

On the contrary, for the Left to 'show its hand' in such a fashion will hand 'the mantle of radical alternative' to the BNP on a veritable plate. An electoral intervention so crass must, if only by default, accelerate rather than retard nationalist influence and ambition. And as we have seen repeatedly in Europe since 1985, an electoral bridgehead established locally, can have terminal implications nationally. Meaning, that once euro-nationalism gets its nose in front, it has proven invulnerable to demonisation by the liberal Left.

Italy is now at the stage Austria was a year ago. In light of the failure of 'protest' in Austria, what lessons have been learnt? What, to put it in a nutshell, is plan B? In assessing 'the danger to Italian democracy by Berlusconi', the SWP's John Foot warns 'anti-fascists to prepare' for the doomsday scenario: "After Haider's victory in Austria, the world expressed outrage. In Italy things are much worse, potentially, and anti-fascists and socialists everywhere should", no sniggering, "be preparing their placards and their slogans for serious agitation after May 13." (Socialist Review, April 2001)

Don't be suprised if the same call for a 'commitment to serious agitation' is top of the London Socialist Alliance agenda, by mid-morning on May 6 2002.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 11, May/June '01