ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, June 1977


Colin Sparks

The National Front


From International Socialism (1st series), No.99, June 1977, pp.28-29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The National Front
Martin Walker
Fontana, £1

THIS book is certain to be widely read by the left. It provides a detailed history of the origins and growth of fascist groups in Britain and shows how the National Front has emerged as the largest of them. It will provide a mine of facts and quotations for leaflets and speeches.

Having said that, the fact remains that Walker has failed to write a good book. He has done his homework, read the literature, studied the election returns and had long conversations with his ‘National Front friends’ (sic!). The resulting mass of information is thrown together without a serious theoretical perspective so that the social base of the NF gets about as much attention as the annual holidays of A.K. Chesterton. Perhaps we should not expect much more from a liberal journalist working for the Guardian. Walker is a genuine anti-racist, he flirts with the revolutionary left and, despite his rather ambivalent fascination with the NF, will probably be on the right side when the chips are down.

An example of the eccentricity of his attitude is that he writes that: ‘I am enough of a democrat to accept that they have a right to make their point to the electorate, to hire public halls, and to stand for elections. If they win a British general election, then they are entitled to my respect’ while at the same time providing evidence that it is vital to physically prevent the NF from marching. He quotes Tyndall on the basis for recruitment to the NF, and it is worth repeating at length:

What is it that touches off a chord in the instincts of the people to whom we seek to appeal? It can often be the most simple and primitive thing. Rather than a speech or printed article it may just be a flag; it may be a marching column; it may be the sound of a drum; it may be a banner or it may just be the impression of a crowd. None of these things contain in themselves one single argument, one single piece of logic ... They are recognised as being among the things that appeal to the hidden forces of the human soul ...

It is always a necessary part of political psychology to seek to show strength. This is why at certain intervals of the year we concentrate ur forces together by transporting members hundreds of miles by coach. We have got to show strength to the public and to our own people ...

Tyndall is repeating the classic arguments of Hitler. He says later:

I believe that our great marches, with drums and flags and banners, have a hypnotic effect on the public and an immense effect in solidifying the allegiance of our followers, so that their enthusiasm can be sustained.

This stress on the powerful irrational appeal of fascism is undoubtedly correct. It is for this reason that we are obliged to engage in the long and exhausting physical struggle against the NF. The fact that they cannot meet or march without heavy police protection robs them of the ‘hypnotic’ myth of their own power.

Other important aspects of the NF get less attention from Walker. He proves conclusively that the NF is led by men who retain the classic ideology of fascism, indeed the ideology of its Nazi version, but he does not examine how this relates to the current support that they undoubtedly have. The social base of fascism, in both Italy and Germany in the first half of the century, was the petty bourgeoisie: the small shopkeeper, the doctor, the lawyer, etc. ... There is no evidence to suggest that the Nazis, for example, made any substantial gains from the organised core of the German proletariat before their victory in 1933. The workers, in the main, remained loyal to their class parties – the Social Democrats and Communists. The increase in Nazi strength came overwhelmingly from supporters of the traditional right-wing parliamentary parties.

Fascist ideology reflected this social base. The Nazis were the ‘National Socialist German Workers’ Party’ and the vicious attacks on workers’ parties were mixed in the denunciations of big business, monopolies and bankers. They argued that there was an international Jewish conspiracy against the nordic race and blood in general and the German nation in particular. One wing of this was finance capital, run from Wall Street and allegedly a Jewish monopoly. The other wing was international communism, run from Moscow and also allegedly a Jewish monopoly. These two forces worked together against the mystic values of the ‘Aryans’. As ‘evidence’ for this absurd hypothesis they pointed to Jewish bankers – e.g. the Rothschilds, and Jewish Communists – e.g. Marx, Luxemburg, and Trotsky. In this they were doing no more than showing that class is more important than ‘race’, in that capitalists and communists can be Jewish, German, Russian, Chinese, or whatever. But this weird hodge-podge conceals an important class interest – that the petty bourgeoisie in a crisis feel threatened both by big business and by the workers. The leaders of the NF can fairly claim to be the genuine heirs to this tradition. The question is: how far is the same true of their followers, and in particular their voting base? If we look at the results of the recent round of council elections, in which the NF got a very big vote, two things stand out. First, that in the white middle class areas the NF did badly – thier ‘classic’ base is still wedded to the Tories. Secondly, that their highest votes came in the inner-city, working class areas; there is not much evidence to show that they have won over hard-core Labour voters, but it is certain that the bulk of their supporters are not lawyers, small businessmen etc. ... It is tempting to write off this support as ‘lumpen proletarian’ – petty criminals, long-term unemployed etc., and no doubt a great number of these elements do vote NF, but if we are honest we must face the fact that they do have support amongst the white working class, in particular the youth.

A substantial racist vote is one thing, but a mass fascist party is quite another. The NF, for all their advances, face two substantial problems. The biggest one is converting what is still a largely passive, working-class base into a fighting force which is both strong enough and homogeneous enough to smash the labour movement, and in particular the trade unions. They will have to do this if they are to convince big business that they are worth substantial financial backing. It is not impossible for them to turn a substantial section of the working class against its own organisations, but it is difficult. If we work correctly inside the trade unions, on the estates and amongst the unemployed then there is every chance that we can undercut their base.

The ideological problem is secondary. Black workers in Britain occupy a different position in the class structure than did the Jews in Central Europe. For several centuries many Jews were heavily involved in the development of a money economy in overwhelmingly peasant societies. They were legally excluded from civil life and were one of the few groups with a level of culture, numeracy, etc. sufficient for economic activity on an extended scale. The bulk of the ‘Aryan’ superman remained illiterate and semi-barbarous peasants tied to the soil and primitive agriculture. With the development of capitalism most of the legal restrictions on Jews were removed and they provided a certain proportion of the middle and ruling classes, along with other groups. Thus for the desperate German middle classes it was possible to imagine that their lot would be better if only their Jewish competitors were got out of the way.

Black workers in Britain have a radically different position. They are the victims of the imperialist phase of capitalism and form part of the industrial proletariat. The number of ruling and middle class blacks is tiny. It is not possible for the NF to argue that there is an ‘International Black Conspiracy’; capitalists in Britain are, in the main, as white as Martin Webster. Hence for the core of the NF, Jews remain the major enemy and blacks are the tools the same old conspiracy. If the NF are to ‘educate’ their base to genuine fascism, then they will have to stress anti-semitism more and more.

The NF are a large and dangerous organisation and they are undoubtedly building a fascist party. In that process they will try to shift their social base towards the middle-class and their ideology towards anti-semitism. These shifts will produce strains and cracks in the NF and among their supporters which will give us an opening to cut away their base. Martin Walker seems to believe that the NF’s rise is irresistable. We can prove him wrong.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 23.3.2008