In the run up to London’s Mayoral election, HOPE Not Hate have published and distributed a free paper to spread their message of anti-racism, specifically in opposition to the British National Party. It is an unconvincing response, however, and is riddled with its own prejudices and rampant nationalism. Moreover, it typifies a number of current responses to fascist racism, which fail to consider the root causes of these problems.
“Vote for OUR Britain Not Theirs”
Rather than seeking to counter the BNP’s nationalism, HOPE Not Hate seek merely to replace it with their own – they find nothing objectionable about the notion of articulating and defending a national identity, they just want it to be done on their terms. HOPE Not Hate are, rather than opponents to the BNP’s nationalism, merely rivals to it. Much of this nationalism currently focuses, perhaps inevitably, on sport (as we have observed before), and the paper is saturated with contrived slogans and cliches of nationalist rhetoric; “We Are All Team GB”, “come together behind the Union Jack”, etc. The emphasis on defending British national identity extends into society though, with the quasi-nostalgic fetishisation of “Great British Street Parties” (an increasingly common expression), and the somewhat unsettling vision that “we believe we can change Britain neighbour by neighbour”. Of course, HOPE Not Hate claim only to oppose racism, but we argue that turning to nationalism is an inherently flawed response. The approach of HOPE Not Hate is encapsulated in the claim that:
“For racists, the Olympics must seem like a nightmare, all those athletes of different ethnic backgrounds united behind our flag. Because it’s not their flag – it’s ours.”
In this approach, racial diversity is instrumentalised as a sign of the superiority of one nationalist agenda over the other: the increasingly hostile claims to ownership of the flag betray the same attitudes of division and ‘in groups’ & ‘out groups’ which are inherent in racist, nationalist and fascist thought. The ideological opposition to an external ‘Other’ (ethnic, religious, etc) that forms a linchpin of fascist thinking is reproduced here in national terms.
Focusing on the BNP
One article opens with:
“IMAGINE A BRITAIN run by the British National Party (BNP). It’s hard and it’s frightening and it’s probably unlikely.”
Here is, perhaps, one of the most important issues with current centre left responses to fascism. The BNP are not going to win this London Mayoral election, and are not about to start running the country. This paper, and HOPE Not Hate as a group, are (because of being almost entirely focused on the BNP) not addressing urgent concerns. Fascism, nationalism and racism are not phenomena which exist among small sections of society who helpfully identify themselves by joining certain groups. Rather, they are political forces whose influences can be detected in every official and unofficial political channel and power structure. This is one of the impulses behind our own project; to recognise that to be anti-fascist is not simply to counter the BNP (or similar groups) but rather to critically consider and repudiate fascism as an ideology, no matter who espouses it. HOPE Not Hate wishes to oppose racism and violence at the Mayoral elections and beyond, and yet fails to address the inherent racisms and violences of our current political processes. In responding to the BNP’s divisive politics it presents an impression of unity which is otherwise starkly non-partisan. Perhaps a more useful document, for those who believe that racism can be combated at the ballot box, would have addressed the racial politics of the candidates who actually stand a chance of winning, and accepted that rather than being the unacceptable ideology of an unpopular fringe party, racism is the endemic condition of our society, and must be tackled as such. A country run by the BNP is frightening and probably unlikely; a country which is still firmly in the grip of white hegemony is a frightening reality, and while local electoral politics are not going to change that, it would be appropriate to address the issue.
“HOPE NOT HATE speaks out against all extremism.”
HOPE Not Hate dogmatically occupies the centre ground (and, perhaps, seeks to attract a more conservative audience) with frequent declarations that all forms of extremism are wrong, seeking to counterpose ‘far-right extremists’ and ‘Islamist extremists’ as though there exists an equivalence between the two. This is, obviously, a view which allows for no nuance, no understanding of the nature of violence and bears no relevance to racial antagonisms as they are experienced in people’s daily lives, as it continues to relegate the causes for concern to the peripheries, rather than the core, of our social existence.
HOPE Not Hate assures us that “We will campaign against all extremism and we believe in this we are in tune with the vast majority of society”. Claims to represent the will of the majority in objecting to minority political opinion do not have a particularly noble history, and while we want to avoid any glib comparisons, the overlap between this rhetoric and notions of the ‘silent majority’ and the language of the BNP itself is unavoidable.
It is worth considering the word ‘extremist’. In a political moment marked by protest and civil unrest, the branding of ‘domestic extremist’ is being applied ever more liberally by the state and the media. By echoing this, and by reinforcing the notion that all ‘extremist’ politics are inherently wrong, and equivalent to the EDL or Islamist terrorists, HOPE Not Hate are allowing the continued dismissal of dissenting voices. This is an inherently conservative document; it instructs us that “you do not fight one form of extremism with another”, but its calls for moderacy can do nothing but preserve the status quo, and while the BNP won’t be elected, we are also under no threat of having our existing power structures challenged. Without wishing to be unfair to HOPE Not Hate, any response to racism which is based on a majority’s superiority to a minority is entirely inappropriate, any response which resorts to competing forms of nationalism is dangerous, and any response which locates racism in the extremes rather than addressing it in our own politics is futile.