THE INTERNATIONAL FACE OF FASCISM
Speech Given to the National Anti-Klan Network Conference, Atlanta, June 19, 1982
by David Edgar
Urgent Tasks No. 14/Fascism in the U.S.?
Let me start by saying how happy I am to be here, how honored I am to be invited and to bring greetings of Searchlight magazine, of the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, and the whole British anti-racist movement to you here today. I'd like to add to that how envious I am of your success in organizing this conference.
I say that because despite the considerable successes of the anti-fascist and anti-racist movement in Britain which I will talk about later, at the present that movement is fractured and uncertain in this particularly alarming time when last summer's riots in British cities combined with the military success of the Falklands venture to create a milieu of national chauvinism edging close to racism which I believe to be extremely dangerous to Black and Asian people in Britain, and I'll go into that more later.
But I was asked to talk about the international face of fascism with particular reference to the British National Front. I suppose it would be helpful to talk about European fascist groups as well and if I can fit it in as well, mention a little about the American fascist right, and that in France and all of this first thing on a Saturday morning in a short session shared with another very distinguished speaker.
I'm reminded of the story of a judge who's sentencing a criminal who committed a vast series of crimes, and he told the man his various sentences would add up to a total of nine hundred years. And the criminal said, "I'm terribly sorry, your honor, I can't possibly do all that." And the judge leaned down rather benignly and sympathetically and said, "I know, but try and do as much as you can."
So I'll try and do as much as I can, but I think I'd better start by giving a short summary of the history of British fascism in the post-Second World War period, a history so absurdly potted I'll probably give the impression I've been smoking it.
The central project of the National Socialist, the Nazi right in Britain since the war, has been the seemingly impossible one of making Nazi ideas popular in a country which fought longer than any other against German fascism in the forties. The method by which British Nazis attempted to gain support for this ideology has twisted and turned over the years, but until very recently the basic strategy was that summed up in a secret letter written in 1967 by leading British fascist John Tyndall to a man you may know, the American Nazi William Pierce.
Tyndall's letter made it clear that there was in his view no way that an openly Nazi movement with jackboots and swastikas could succeed in Britain. Tactics would have to be covert, therefore. Supporters would have to be recruited to seemingly respectable front organizations on the basis of single issues, and only then gradually indoctrinated into a comprehensively Nazi view.
The main issue on which the British Nazis sought to recruit was and is, of course, Black and Asian immigration to Britain, which began in the 1950s, encouraged, I may say, by the then Conservative government, keen to recruit low-paid labor and which peaked in the early-to mid-seventies.
The utility of the race question for the fascists went beyond the exploitation of simple racial hostility; immigration connected neatly to other issues.
The first was the decline and fall of the British Empire, viewed by the fascists as a deliberate act of national suicide inspired by liberal intelligentsia, of which the presence of the former colonial peoples in the mother country from the Indian sub-continent and Caribbean was a mocking reminder.
But even more important, the fascists were still totally committed to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of history and were able to blame both the end of the empire and Black immigration on the deliberate, secret plot by international Jews to destroy the British race — a plot masterminded by Wall Street and super-rich Jewish bankers who are also involved in the United Nations, NATO, IMF, Common Market, and indeed, the Communist Bloc. It was and is, as you know, a central tenet of Nazism that New York Jewish bankers directly financed, promoted, and organized the Russian revolution.
As I said, however, the central strategy of recruiting support on the basis of simple, primitive racism, and only then indoctrinating these supporters into the full Nazi ideology, went through a number of variations. First, in the 1950s British fascists were largely organized in a strangely old-world, upper-class Conservative Party pressure group called the League of Empire Loyalists.
By the early sixties, however, racial tension in Britain had mounted sufficiently for the Young Turks of the League of Empire Loyalists to break away to form something a bit bolder which would be openly named National Socialist Movement, founded on the anniversary of Hitler's birthday in 1962 at a party whose high point was a trans-Atlantic telephone call to your own late Lincoln Rockwell, who obviously wasn't late at the time and indeed in the summer of the same year came over to Britain to co-found with the British Nazi movement the grandiosely named World Union of National Socialists which, of course, still exists today.
But it soon became clear that an openly Nazi movement in Britain was a non-starter. At first it was laughed at, and many of its leaders were arrested and jailed for organizing a private army. By the end of the sixties, the time of the letter to William Pierce, the main line of strategy was formulated and the British National Front was established as a pseudo-respectable liberal electoral front organization which campaigned publicly on the issue of Black immigration and only privately to develop Nazi ideas.
As if to confirm the potential of this strategy, in April 1968 the Conservative Party's defense spokesman, Enoch Powell, made a famous anti-immigration speech named "The Rivers of Blood" speech, by far the most extreme racist speech to be made by a leading British politician. The reaction in the opinion polls and in elections made clear to the Nazis and National Front how potent this issue could be.
Throughout the seventies, then, the National Front concentrated on building up its organization, recruiting favors and supporters and fighting national labor elections. Gradually its votes grew in fits and starts from a derisory two or three percent towards ten percent in some areas and as high as fifteen or twenty percent in its most solid districts of working-class neighborhoods in large cities in which Black immigration had been proportionally the highest.
By 1976 the National Front was calling itself Britain's third party on the basis of having defeated the Liberal Party, which has been traditionally regarded as Britain's third party, on a number of occasions. A general election happened to be called sometime in 1979. It seemed clear that the National Front had the potential to achieve, even if it didn't get anyone elected, a significant proportion of the votes and a permanent presence on the British political scene.
Well, it didn't actually happen. In May 1979, at the general election which returned the Thatcher government, the National Front put up candidates in half the parliamentary districts who averaged 633 votes each, just over three percent of the votes in the districts where they stood. Even in their heartlands of support, the vote declined dramatically.
There are many reasons for this decline but the main one, in my view, was the quite extraordinary mass movement of the opposition to them which successfully exposed their strategy. It made clear through inventive and widespread propaganda that the leaders of the National Front were and always had been dedicated National Socialists and that their commitment to the electoral process was as shallow and hypocritical as Hitler's had been in Germany in the 1930s.
I want to develop that point but first talk a little about how the NF responded to the catastrophe of the '79 elections.
After a series of bruising internal conflicts, the Party had split into four warring factions within a year. The new line had emerged in an internal members-only bulletin dated July 1980, a document which somehow or other happened to fall into our hands. The key passage was, in the bulletin, as follows:
If it is true that the National Front has no hope of gaining power under conditions of stability, economically, socially, or politically, we should not be preoccupied with making ourselves more respectable under present conditions. We must appreciate that the image we have been given by the media, which may well lose us some potential support today, will be a positive asset when the streets are beset by riots, unemployment soars, and when inflation gets even beyond the present degree of minimal control.
Clearly, it is a small step from that argument that the National Front today is growing in conditions of social unrest to the conclusion that the National Front should be busily engaged in bringing that social unrest about. Three things very quickly started to happen that continue to happen until the present day.
The first was that in the National Front's propaganda (in saying National Front, I also mean the various parties that split from it), all pretenses of not being a Nazi organization were discarded. Open anti-Semitism ruled in the propaganda. Classic anti-Semitic texts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion appeared in the booklets and were quoted approvingly. The phrase "National Socialist" was used with pride. In its propaganda, then, the Nazi right stood proudly unveiled as just that.
The second development was an open espousal of racial violence. Since 1979 there has, in England, been a growing epidemic of organized racial attacks on Black and Asian people in their homes and on the streets which has now a level, according to the British Indian Workers Association, of 1,000 separate racial attacks a month.
Organized bands of skin-heads, which is a white working-class youth subculture, are openly proclaiming their affiliation with the National Front or its off-shoots. They're terrorizing individuals and families in racially mixed areas. Weapons have been found on National Front premises and plans to buy or import further arms have been revealed. In its public persona, then, the National Front has changed from a pseudo-respectable disciplined group of campaigners to a disorderly, overwhelmingly young, rabble of thugs devoted to Nazi regalia and indiscriminate street violence.
Behind the scenes, however, an even more sinister development was taking place.
The British fascist movement had from the sixties cultivated international links, particularly with American organizations like the Nazi Party itself but also specifically the National States Rights Party of J. B. Stoner and Edward Fields, both of whom visited Britain frequently during the mid-to-late seventies, addressing National Front meetings.
National Front leader John Tyndall twice returned the visits, speaking indeed here in Georgia during the same period. Tyndall was described glowingly by the Thunderbolt as the dynamic orator whose message of white race survival has inspired a nation. Edward Fields described one of his visits to Britain in the Thunderbolt of July 1977 as follows:
The thundering cheers from the throng. . . . I told the patriots that the Jews are the common enemy of all white nations in Europe. I explained that the developing European Parliament posed a grave threat to the liberty and freedom of all European nations. I also warned that the colored immigration of foreign workers threatened to pollute and destroy all the white countries in Europe.
In addition, both David Duke and Bill Wilkinson visited Britain too, again in the late seventies, and held secret meetings with the National Front and other fascist groups. But the key organization with international linkage was, in fact, not the National Front itself, but a shadowy British body called the League of St. George — St. George being Britain's patron saint — which has never made any secret of its Nazi affiliations, which has many members who are also members of larger, public extreme-right groups.
In 1975 Edwards Fields' visit to Britain was hosted by the League, and in 1977 we were able to reveal that the League's international officer, also a National Front member, was the international representative of the journal Christian Vanguard, the violently anti-Semitic paper of James K. Waller's New Christian Crusade Church, who was formerly David Duke's number two. In the summary of the American extreme right in October 1977, the League of St. George's journal listed the NSWPP (National Socialist White People's Party), the Duke Klan, the NSRP, and the New Christian Crusade Church as the leadership that would save white America from the effects of darkness.
But the League has not restricted its international activities to the States. Most of Edward Fields' and Stoner's visits to Britain have been either en route to or from an annual Nazi jamboree — which is held in Diksmuide, Belgium, ostensibly to commemorate the Belgian war dead but in fact to celebrate the memory of Hitler's SS — which provides, when the police allow it to happen, a forum for the international Nazi movement to plan its strategy.
In July 1980 at Diksmuide, a secret meeting was held of top European Nazis, including representatives of the British League of St. George, with top American Nazis. Sadly, we weren't invited, so we can't confirm quite who was there, but it is almost certain that one of them was from the NSRP. A number of schemes were discussed including the export of guns from America to Europe and a plan to spring J. B. Stoner from jail.
The next month 82 people died in the Nazi bombing at the railway station in Bologna in North Italy, the worst terrorist outrage of the post-war period. A month after that, 14 people died in another Nazi bombing in Munich, Germany, and a month after that, French fascists bombed the rue Copernic synagogue in Paris.
We have established since that in all cases the bombers or their close associates have had intimate connections with the British Nazi right, particularly through the League of St. George and, in the case of the Italian group responsible for Bologna, several members have been provided sanctuary in Britain by League of St. George members. Indeed, the same service was provided for members of the Turkish Grey Wolves, the group responsible for the attempted assassination of the Pope, a couple of years ago.
It is clear beyond doubt that the British extreme right has performed a key support role for the growing European fascist international by providing safe houses and the like. There is mounting evidence of British arms stockpiling, indicating that fascist terrorism on the model of Bologna, Munich, and Paris could be being planned in Britain.
The picture I've built up is one, then, of a now overt Nazi movement which has spurned the road of gaining popular support in elections in favor of street violence and intimidation. In other words, I'm talking about the significant and unpleasant and dangerous, but nonetheless in many ways marginal, group that has been forced into marginality by successful anti-racist campaigns.
I know that you've had the same kind of argument here that we've had in Britain as to whether the racists on the streets are maybe unofficial arms of the racist state, as to whether indeed the state was already fascist and that the activities of actual proclaimed fascists was no more than guarding the bolted stable door. The situation of the National Front in the aftermath of '79 seemed finally to prove, if proof is necessary, that practically, politically, and sociologically the fascist right was an exclusive, excluded phenomenon, that it had to be considered and fought separately from the racist machine of the state.
I still think this is broadly the case. And yet, over the last twelve months or so, more precisely since riots broke out in Brixton and London in April 1981 and particularly since further riots broke out in the summer in Liverpool and Manchester, there has been a strange and alarming change in British politics which results partly from the manifest failure of Thatchernomics — we got that first — with growth in the Conservative Party of a kind of right-wing authoritarianism which has hitherto been confined to the tiniest and craziest of the Party's fringes.
The components of this authoritarianism will be familiar to you. A critique of social explanations of crime, the scapegoating of Blacks as a criminal class, calls for tough law-and-order measures, militant anti-feminism, calls for reassertion of traditional sexual, family, and educational values, and militarism. But what's been particularly striking is the way the idea of nationhood and national pride is increasingly expressed by the idea of race and racial pride, which have been common factors in comments first on the riots and then on the Falklands venture.
As it were, the British people, the white British people, have stood up against the alien enemy without and reasserted their national pride and identity. Now one can draw the implication that they might well consider standing up against the enemy within, the alien hordes that, so runs the rhetoric, were admitted by the liberal elite against the wishes of the vast majority of the British people — the rhetoric of a once-great nation, buffeted by the liberal intelligentsia but finally reasserting its own tenets on racial community that were already familiar to us from the writings of our fascist right and are familiar to you from the writings of your fascist right and are certainly familiar to anyone who has read anything about the propaganda of the German Nazi Party in the '20s and '30s.
This does not mean that the Conservative Party is developing a fascist wing, although there have been significant organizational links forged between right-wing conservatives and those older British fascists alarmed by the lumpen thuggery of the present fascist movement. What it does mean is hierarchical, elitist, and authoritarian ideas, ideas with inherent racial differences between nations, and inherent differences in intelligence, talent, and competence within nations, biological determinist ideas, in other words, are becoming at least slowly but surely part of the common sense of the age.
You can see it in the growth of the French New Right, which argues for the inevitable genetic differences between and within peoples. You can see it in the increased popularity of the pseudo-science of socio-biology, an American phenomenon. As Anne Braden, I think, hinted yesterday, you can see it also in a rather different form in the ideology of your own neo-conservatives, whose lurch to the right began, you will recall, with the repealing of the Black gains of the 1960s and indeed the general democratic gains of the sixties which had gone "much too far" and that what America needed was a reassertion of tradition and authority.
None of this, let me repeat, is to say that National Socialist ideas are rife within the conservative movement on either side of the Atlantic. There is, however, one increasingly respectable movement which is National Socialist, is growing, and is dangerous, which is the campaign to revise the history of the Second World War to deny the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews.
As I'm sure most of you know, this campaign was the province of the tiniest of fascist fringes until Arthur Butz of Northwestern University in Chicago produced a book called Hoax of the Twentieth Century which quickly shot to the top of the Nazi bestseller lists, to be followed by a number of well-produced, well-financed glossy pamphlets and books exploring the same theme, one of which was written by William Grimstad, a former editor of White Power and more recently an employee of David Duke.
Between those two pressing engagements it is almost certain that Grimstad recruited the director of the Institute of Historical Review, a Liberty Lobby front which began holding prestigious pseudo-academic conferences on what they call the "Holocaust myth" in California in 1979. The director of the institute, although he called himself Lewis Brandon, was in fact a British fascist called Dave McCalden who left the National Front during internal squabbles in the mid-seventies.
The purpose of the "revisionist" campaign, as it's called, was made crystal clear by Brandon/McCalden in an interview with Los Angeles magazine when he stated,
It is ideologically useful to show that the whole concept of an ethnic political campaign is not the big bogey man it is generally thought to be. If you say anything about Blacks or Jews, they say you want another Holocaust. If we can take the Holocaust propaganda and put it away, then there will be an open, frank, and true discussion on ethnic matters.
In other words, the racists and fascists want to deny their most notorious historical crime for the express purpose of reviving their gruesome ideology. It is my view, therefore, that in the British context (and I am not, I hope, arrogant enough to apply those confusions to your context — I have come here to learn about that) the fight against racism and fascism can no longer be compartmentalized, because racist, elitist ideas themselves have, since the late seventies, infiltrated and informed all kinds of other issues from law and order to the family, from education to foreign policy.
I am firmly convinced that the Conservative Party, its economic policy in ruins, will go to the electorate sometime next year on a social authoritarian platform which will combine evocations of the Falklands victory with a much tougher line on law and order, the repeal of equal rights legislation for Blacks and women, and probably some scheme of so-called voluntary repatriation for Britain's Black population.
The task for British anti-racists, therefore, is to take a program and platform of anti-racism from the anti-racist committees into the Labour Party, into the trade unions, into the women's and gay movements, and into the peace movement to see to it that opposition to racist attacks from fascists and the state is as central a plank in the next electoral contest as disarmament and economic strategy.
I shouldn't finish, however, and I must finish soon, without saying a word or two about the anti-fascist mass movement of the late 1970s, which was single-issue, which was compartmentalized, because, although I no longer think its politics are appropriate, they were extraordinarily appropriate at the time, and I think we can still learn from them.
In 1976 the National Front vote was increasing alarmingly. It mounted a successful campaign to recruit unemployed white youth, and it appeared that within that subculture there was a danger that the exposure of the National Front as a Nazi front in our magazine Searchlight, indeed, and elsewhere, was not getting through to the wider public.A British left political party, the Socialist Workers Party, in a remarkable initiative set up an organization called the Anti-Nazi League in order, first, to unite liberal and left opinion around the slogans of anti-fascism, to combat the prevalent view that the National Front was an insignificant organization and if it was ignored it would wither away.
The second concept with which I gather you are familiar gave wide publicity to the Nazi nature of the National Front and further provided an alternative organizational focus for the energies of disenchanted and alienated white youth facing increased unemployment and social decay in the inner cities.
On the first, the Anti-Nazi League produced a statement of opposition to the growth of neo-fascism which was signed by an impressive number of academics, journalists, church leaders, writers, actors, sports personalities, and politicians. It managed in meetings and other propaganda activities to unite not only a surprisingly wide spectrum of left groups (I say surprising because sectarianism is as un-strange to us as it is to you) with branches of the Labour and Liberal parties and representatives of the churches.
Even more important, I think, it brought together in special conferences groups of people, notably journalists and teachers, but others as well, to discuss in a highly detailed and non-rhetorical way how to combat racism in day-to-day life, on the grounds, in the newsroom, in the classroom, very much in the manner and spirit of the conference you all are holding here.
On the second question, the League produced extremely professional propaganda in the form of leaflets, posters, buttons, t-shirts, and so on which hammered the message that the National Front was indeed a Nazi front and gave chapter and verse on the openly Nazi pasts of the National Front leaders. I should say in passing that for the first time a British left campaign managed successfully to employ the kind of high-quality, well-thought-out marketing techniques that you people developed many years ago.
On the third question, the League conceived the idea, and I think it was actually thought up in someone's bath, of holding not quite a demonstration and not quite a rally and not yet quite a rock festival but a bit of all three, which ended up being called a carnival and was held in April 1978, that brought together the predictable left groups but also an extraordinary number of Black and white working-class kids who marched together through London to a free rock concert. They symbolized to the country and, even more important, I think, to themselves, that Black and white youth were united by more than they were separated by, but that anti-racism could be as much fun, indeed more fun than racism. Indeed, one of my favorite slogans from that whole campaign was "Nazis are no fun."
I am convinced that the Anti-Nazi League and its carnival achieved three major successes. One was to convince the country that the National Front was really a fascist organization. Second, to pare down the National Front vote to the absolute hard core of its racist supporters in the general election. And third, it prevented, if only for a while, the Nazis from making significant inroads into working-class white youth.
I think the campaign ran out of steam, that the attitudes of the organization which founded it were perhaps rather over-hastily transferred elsewhere. There is an urgent need for a new initiative on the lines that I described a few moments ago. And I think it's good for us all to remember successes as we remembered the success in Chattanooga a moment ago. And I think the Anti-Nazi League carnival was a peculiar, symbolic one.
I mentioned that the British National Socialist movement was founded on Hitler's birthday, April 20, 1962. I think I forgot to mention that by strange coincidence Enoch Powell's notorious anti-immigration "Rivers of Blood" speech of 1968 was also made on that highly evocative date. It was thus peculiarly appropriate that again, as it happens by complete coincidence, that the Anti-Nazi League carnival should be held on the 30th of April 1970, because that's the anniversary of the death of Adolf Hitler in his bunker. [Applause]
That was, of course, appropriate because the message of that carnival, as the message of this conference, was and is that Adolf Hitler and Adolf Hitlerism should stay that way.