Free Life Commentary,
Issue Number 134
7th April 2005
On Conversing with the British National Party
by Sean Gabb
I wrote this article last November and then forgot about it. But the opening of the prosecution today of Nick Griffin brought it back to mind. I therefore publish it now.
I have not changed my views on how to deal with approaches from the British National Party, though the facts have since changed. The BNP Press Officer turned out to be a fool. He got into an argument with Dr Chris R. Tame over some words used in one of our news releases, and huffily demanded to be removed from all our mailing lists. It is, of course, highly convenient for us to say now that we are disliked by the BNP. But it makes no strategic sense for that Party to have decided to dislike the only political movement in this country willing to defend its rights in public and willing to speak to its officers with any degree of politeness. It also makes me wonder to what extent the BNP is controlled by the security services. A pure front organisation would surely have run at us with arms outspread, ready to enfold us in its poisonous embrace. Instead, we were told to get lost.
But here is the article as I wrote it.
7th April 2005
On Sunday the 7th November , I took a long telephone call from the Press Officer of the British National Party. This should not have surprised me. Just over a fortnight before, the Libertarian Alliance had sent out a news release deploring the fact that HSBC and Barclay’s Bank had both told the BNP to take its business elsewhere, and denouncing the Government for making the first law in our history that requires political parties to register with an Electoral Commission and to have bank accounts in this country. This law makes what might otherwise be a private decision of the banks into a limitation of public debate. On the strength of that release, I did four radio discussions and gave telephone interviews to several newspapers. But I had then moved to other business and was surprised to be called by an officer of the BNP, and I had to think quickly about the tone I should adopt with him.
On the basic principle, of defending the rights of BNP members to organise and publish and take part in elections, I have no difficulty. I am an officer of the Libertarian Alliance, and our policy is to defend liberty. If two men were put on trial for eating each other’s excrement, we would readily go on television to defend their rights. Ours would be the only civil liberties group in the country willing to do this, I have no doubt, just as we were the only group willing last month to defend the right of some Jamaican singer—whose name escaped me even in the radio studio—to advocate the murder of homosexuals. When homosexuals were still persecuted, we defended them. We now defend their opponents when they are persecuted. As said, our policy is to defend liberty. Though our resources are too limited to do this in all cases, we do try to make some defence at the margin—that is, in those cases where the better funded but less resolute civil liberties groups are likely to think of the bad publicity involved and to bolt for cover
There is no question of our not defending the rights of BNP members. Our only concern when drafting that news release was to ask if the decision to withdraw banking services was a purely commercial response to pressure from other customers—and we believe that boycotting is part of the right to freedom of association—or if it was at least in part an attempt from a sector so regulated and cartelised as to be a private arm of the state to limit freedom of speech. We decided, taking the present state of the law into account, it was the latter, and the result can be seen on our website.
But basic principle is one thing. I had not decided—and my only excuse is that I was occupied with other matters—how to respond to an approach from the BNP. I already knew I should reject the standard response of defensive aggression. I have heard this too often. It requires a tone of exaggerated self-righteousness: “I yield to no one in my utter condemnation of these evil men. Many of my best friends are [mention some ethnic group, the more unusual the better]. I am myself half-Tibetan and one quarter Aztec…” and so on and so forth. This is degrading, and it concedes a moral superiority to the enemies of freedom of speech that they do not deserve. But while there was no doubt I should be polite, how polite should I be? After all, I do not agree with the principles and policies of the BNP. I think I adopted the right tone of polite sympathy as Mr xxx explained the raw deal his party gets from the Establishment and its tame media. But I think it would be useful for me to explain the reasons behind the tone I adopted.
If we were dealing with excrement eaters, I should be reluctant to have any dealings beyond a principled defence of their rights. There would be something so inherently nasty about their activities that no one would blame me for being rather short with them on the telephone. But it is evident to me that members of the BNP are not in this category of defended persons.
We are told the BNP is a party of national socialists, of racists and of fascists. Sometimes, these words are used as synonyms and are only uttered to add to the weight of vague denunciation. If they are thought about, however, the words are not always justly used.
A fascist, so far as I can tell, is someone who believes than an unregulated free market leads to unacceptable economic instability and unfair distributions of wealth, but who also believes that socialism is variously unworkable and immoral. He therefore believes that the state should take a more active role in national life than is allowed by the liberal philosophers: it should ensure that businesses are allowed to operate without disruption, but that the fruits are more equally shared. Of course, libertarians can reject fascism on this definition, as can radical socialists. But I fail to see how anyone else can. This has been the position of just about every mainstream political party in the civilised world during the past hundred years. The only difference between Mussolini and Lloyd George was black shirts and castor oil—and, while important, these are differences that have no bearing on the validity of the underlying analysis. For most people in this country, to denounce the BNP as fascist is as absurd as to denounce its leadership for wearing business suits.
The word “racism” has so many meanings that it has none. It can mean anything from a preference for living in communities of one’s own sort to wanting to murder everyone else. Since most people come within the weaker definition and almost no one in the stronger, the word has about the same intellectual content and the same function as the growling of a dog. It simply means: “shut up, or we will turn your life into a misery”. This being so, the claim that the BNP is a racist party is not worth discussing.
So far as national socialism is concerned, this is a more justified claim. A national socialist believes that the main agents in the world are not individuals but nations, and that these are defined genetically, and that each nation has its own characteristics and interests that may place it in conflict with others. Individuals are but parts of the greater nation, and stand to it as do the teeth to a comb. Since national socialism has Hegelian roots, it shares with some of the Marxists a view of knowledge according to which propositions are true or false according to who is advancing them and when: therefore the often casual dismissal of “Jewish Physics” and “Jewish Political Economy”. Associated with national socialism is a socialistic, protectionist approach to economic management, and some strange and intellectually indefensible theories of money and credit. And central to the ideology is the belief that a government that represents the general will of the nation should not be restrained by any legal norms or moral considerations.
On this definition, the BNP was until recently a national socialist party. Its previous leader, John Tyndal, was a disciple of Adolf Hitler, and many party members—some of them still active—belonged in their younger days to movements that plainly owned much to German national socialism.
This being said, I am not sure if the BNP now can be called national socialist. Most collectivist ideologies are absurd, but the absurdities of national socialism have been advertised so well during the past 60 years, that they are difficult to ignore. I have trouble to understand how any person of reasonable intelligence can be a national socialist. In any event, national socialism has not, and never has had, any significant electoral appeal in this country. Under its present leader, Nick Griffin, its position seems far better to be described as white nationalist. This is an ideology that regards nations – defined according to common appearance, though perhaps also to other criteria—as important, and insists that each nation so far as possible should have its own territory, and should keep to its own national ways. In a loose sense, this is a position shared by most people, but it has, over the past few decades, been refined into a distinctive ideology; and perhaps its most intellectually coherent expression can be found in the group of writers assembled around Jared Taylor, the editor of American Renaissance.
There are points of agreement between white nationalism and national socialism. But this does not justify conflating the two. After all, there are points of agreement between Trotskyism and syndicalism—just as there are between typhus and the bubonic plague—but it is generally seen as more useful to focus on the points of difference. White nationalists may believe in some degree of tariff protection, but do not necessarily share the more socialistic views of the national socialists – especially if they are members of a nation within which market exchange is part of the culture. They also do not necessarily share the anti-semitism of the national socialists. Perhaps they dislike those Jews who think of themselves as expatriate Israelis. But they do not dislike Jews for purely genetic reasons, and usually accept the assimilated as potentially valuable members of the white race. Indeed, American Renaissance has Jewish contributors; and the BNP recently put up a Jewish candidate for election. Most importantly, perhaps, white nationalists accept at least the principle of working within legal norms that may be highly liberal—even if they do not believe in applying those norms outside their own racial grouping.
As with any political movement that is changing its ideology, there are firm advocates of both old and new, and the majority of members who hold to a shifting and often inconsistent mixture of both. See, for example, the Labour Party, which moved in the late 1980s from various kinds of socialism to a politically correct social democracy: it is the party of Tony Blair, of Gordon Brown and of Jeremy Corbyn. Look at the old Liberal Party: well into the 1950s—long after it had become a party of social democracy—it still included a few classical liberals. The BNP is in much the same position. The leadership is increasingly drawn to white nationalism, but the older activists retain more than a tinge of national socialism. The leaders themselves may have once been national socialists, but are no longer—just as half the present Ministers seem once to have been radical socialists. Because the BNP is a persecuted movement, and therefore finds it more than usually difficult to find new activists, it is reasonable to expect this ideological divide to continue for at least the next decade. Even so, I am not sure that it is appropriate, on the basis of some of its older activists—or even on what may remain the esoteric doctrines of the leadership—to define the BNP as national socialist.
I will emphasise that the views of the BNP do not in the least influence the willingness of the Libertarian Alliance to defend its rights to organise and operate. Even if its manifesto included a promise to murder every Jew in the country and to flood the country with – non-debt bearing—paper money, that would make no difference to our position. We defend the right of BNP members to freedom of speech and association. But the nature of these views does affect how polite we feel we ought to be to members of the BNP. National socialism has its place within a collectivist spectrum that inspired the murder of perhaps a hundred million people in the last century. National socialists, in our view, are as infamous as Trotskyites, Stalinists, Maoists, and others of that kind. Taken together, they stand lower in our regard than they hypothetical excrement eaters mentioned above—who only want to inflict their nastiness on themselves and each other.
But, while I am not a white nationalist, I see no reason whatever to regard white nationalists as political lepers. I loathe and abhor the Labour Party, both as it used to be and as it has now become. I have little time for the Conservative Party. But I have close friends in both these parties; and, unless I have a specific reason not to be, I am generally polite to other activists and Members of Parliament. I do not see why a party of white nationalists should be treated any differently.
This being said, there are two considerations that affect my response to approaches from the BNP. The first is that the BNP is a persecuted movement. It cannot rent public facilities. It cannot open bank accounts in this country. Election laws are being drafted or redrafted to prevent it from winning seats on representative bodies. If it does manage to win seats in local administration, conventions are changed to deny it any administrative power. Its members either are hounded informally from their jobs and homes, or are subject to formal pressures. And persecution is not confined to party members, but spreads in some vague way to those who associate with them. I have some firmness of mind—after all, I am willing to argue for freedom when others find it convenient to look the other way. But I am not willing to put myself in a position where I cannot find work and where my friends are frightened to be seen in public with me. Had I been alive and active in the early 20th century, I am sure I would have spoken out against the persecution of homosexuals. But would I have shared a platform with Edward Carpenter? Would I have posed beside John Gielgud just after his cottaging conviction? I like to think that I would, but do not believe I would. There is in such matters both a primary and a secondary persecution; and though far less damaging than the first, I have no wish to risk the second.
There are limits to my timidity. Last year, I took part in a radio programme that included Tony Martin, and I have on my website photographs of the two of us in friendly conversation. Now that Mr Martin has joined the BNP, I have not the slightest intention of taking those photographs down. Equally, if one of my closest friends were to join the BNP, I would make a point of not altering my personal behaviour towards him. But while I will not choose my friends or alter my past according to the political shifts of others, I will not put myself with full prior knowledge into a position of risk.
The second consideration is that the BNP has never been a normal political movement. There are excellent reasons to believe it is a creature of the security services. I cannot—or will not —give my reasons. But I have no doubt that most of those prominent within the BNP are controlled by the security services. Its purpose is to attract support that might otherwise go to genuine white nationalist movements—and to neutralise that support by ensuring that advances are never followed through. Its purpose is also to taint whole bodies of analysis and policy so that they can be dismissed by the Establishment without the trouble of a refutation. Thus most discussion of how immigration is changing the demographic profile of this country remains dangerous because anyone who speaks about it too openly will be smeared as a fellow traveller of the BNP. Though without success, a similar tactic has been used against Euroscepticism. Whether or not it is a front organisation has no bearing on the civil and political liberties of its members. But it does have a bearing —taken together with the risk of secondary persecution—on my willingness to associate myself in any capacity with the BNP.
So I have explained the response that I have made and will continue to make to approaches from the BNP. I will not just defend the rights of BNP members, but will also be polite to its officers. Anyone who thinks this is an admission to be used against me is either stupid or malevolent. I have given my reasons.
© 2005 – 2017, seangabb.
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