Bloody nasty people: when the Right gets well out of hand

No, this is not a post about the events of the last two weeks in Australian public life, but a review of Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right, by Daniel Trilling (Verso, 2012). There is a connection, however, and if you bear with me I’ll return to it at the end.

Trilling charts the ascent of the British National Party under the leadership of Nick Griffin, in particular how Griffin pulled fascist strategy towards serious engagement with official politics. At its peak, in 2009, the BNP achieved electoral success exceeding that of any far-right organisation in British history, with 58 council seats and two members of European Parliament. It claimed to have over 12 500 members and, even as it started to falter, won over half a million votes at the 2010 General Election.

Bloody Nasty People is especially strong because it systematically dispels most of the mainstream mythology about the far Right. Trilling demonstrates how the ideologies that sustain British fascism are rooted in right-wing, nationalist and racist traditions to be found in more ‘acceptable’ conservative British quarters. He traces the post-Second World War regeneration of far-right currents in mainstream ‘new racism’ – based more on culture than biology – deployed by the likes of Enoch Powell.

With a real eye for local detail and colour, Trilling explains how the BNP’s October 1993 electoral breakthrough in the poverty-stricken Isle of Dogs, under the gleaming towers of London’s financial hub Canary Wharf, was initial vindication for a project of emulating the electoral success of the French Front National. With their livelihoods and social services neglected by all the mainstream parties, some East London voters looked to the BNP as the only local force claiming to offer something different. It was not that every BNP voter was a fascist, but that the party could make a convincing enough case that it would shake up the complacency of the political elite and stop politicians giving ‘special benefits’ to mainly South Asian immigrants. While the BNP soon lost that council seat, it continued to build its electoral machine and by the 2000s was making small but significant inroads in several British regions.

The resort to electoralism did not represent a softening of the BNP’s politics. Rather, it was a new strategy for building support after the defeat of the British National Front’s street orientation in the late 1970s. One result was that many mainstream politicians adapted their rhetoric to try to outflank the BNP on law and order, opposition to immigration and asylum seekers, and criticism of minorities. Talk of the need to protect ‘the white working class’ from the problems of multiculturalism became more common across the political spectrum in response to Griffin’s assertions that the BNP was the defender of a white identity under threat (an inversion of the identity politics previously considered the preserve of the Left). Yet Trilling also shows how each such move only legitimised Griffin’s party.

Traditionally, anti-fascist campaigning had been focused on direct confrontation when the far Right tried to march. The new BNP electoralism forced campaigners to adapt and engage much more with local politics and the political process, a complex matter that often led to debates over how to relate to mainstream politicians with lousy records on race but now keen to save themselves from the BNP threat. However, new methods of activism started to pay off. Successful Love Music Hate Racism festivals popularised the anti-fascist message among young people, and an increasingly sophisticated strategy of relating to elections added pressure. Meanwhile the initial spurt of rapid growth led to ructions within the BNP, with (as seems to be the norm for the far Right) death threats and violence being a prominent feature. Griffin botched an appearance on BBC’s Question Time (Britain’s version of Q&A) in 2009 while hundreds protested outside.

The 2010 election, with no seats won, seems to have been a turning point by disappointing inflated expectations of electoral success, and council seats began to tumble thereafter – including all 12 in the BNP stronghold of Barking. Yet if it appeared that the far Right would simply disappear, attention soon shifted to the English Defence League, a shadowy outfit emerging from football supporter networks but articulating a clear Islamophobic line and confrontational strategy on the streets. Since Trilling finished writing the book, campaigning against the EDL has led to significant setbacks for the organisation.

If there is one area that Trilling’s otherwise excellent book is weak, it is in explaining the context in which fascists can make an impact.  At various points he mentions how the BNP fed off poor socioeconomic conditions and policies targeting minority groups, but this largely remains at the level of background detail. European fascists have tended to be more successful in conditions of growing social polarisation and relative economic stagnation in the decades since the end of the post-Second World War boom. But the hollowing out of political representation in the neoliberal era also creates a significant space for far-right alternatives to try to insert themselves.

Even where the far Right has posed it no threat, the political class has resorted to deflecting its failure to provide secure social conditions into the scapegoating of minority groups and other threats to national cohesion and security. Trilling recognises the influence of the War on Terror but misses how politicians’ use of coercive state power, often to try to mobilise authority when traditional social bases withered, creates the material basis for more authoritarian ideas and organisations to be legitimised. Thus Trilling places some hope in the actions of politicians and the state in addressing the threat of fascism where I would see them as much more part of the problem.

Perhaps this dynamic is clearer in Australia where the far Right has not achieved organisational breakthroughs in recent years, yet the actions of the political class and state have had the effect of what might be called the ‘fascisation’ of part of the Right’s constituency, as well as legitimising their vile ideas and language more widely. Perhaps controversially, I’d argue that the language being deployed by the Right – such a big issue in the last fortnight – is a much lesser danger than the actions of government around things like denying equal marriage rights, policing Muslim communities, mistreating asylum seekers, criminalising Indigenous populations, stripping benefits from single mothers and introducing ever more repressive security legislation (all while they remain united in support for military adventures abroad). In deeds there is little to separate the ALP from the Liberals, and the more both sides lose authority, the more that darker forces will find a space to claim they can succeed where the major parties have failed. Gillard may finally have found the ability to speak against some of what has been unleashed, but her actions continue to feed it.

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  1. The rise of something far worse than Hansonism, more systematised, more organised, and in far greater numbers, you are predicting then?

    • It’s entirely possible, especially if the social crisis worsens and the hollowing out of the LNP’s social base accelerates. I recall invective and racism in the Hanson period, but what we are seeing out in the open now, and the mainstream Right’s willingness to tolerate it, is clearly a portent of something worse. Of course, I’m not saying it definitely will happen, but the ground is being prepared by the actions of the political “centre”.

      I think the best person to read on this is the German Communist historian Arthur Rosenberg, who described the rise of Italian and German fascism in terms of understanding them as mass movements (he had lived through and survived that period of German history himself).

  2. Does Trilling explain what’s ‘far-right’ or even especially ‘right’ about ethnonationalism? Was Gandhi ‘far-right’? Is the Dalai Lama ‘far-right’? Why are only ethnonationalists who happen to be White called ‘far-right or Fascist? Not that there’s anything necessarily derogatory about either label.

    If you’re concerned about the criminalisation of indigenous populations, TT, you ought to be supportive of the BNP which was forced by the criminal courts to conform to the objectively racist double standards of the establishment parties and discard its constitutional aim of representing the indigenous peoples of Britain specifically.

    There are hundreds of organisations in Britain devoted specifically to serving the interests of non-indigenous ethnic and racial groups – many have been funded by the state under all of the establishment parties who also frequently invite their participation in policy formulation. Now, in what must pass for a deliberate criminalisation of the indigenous British peoples as such, their equivalent right to form organisations devoted to their specific interests has been outlawed.

  3. Writing fortunately from well outside Godzone, I note – in the face of the secular deteriorating Gini coefficient of income inequality in the Anglosphere since Reagan/Thatcher/Hawke – Tietze’s purely and merely Cultural Leftism, exemplified best by the invariable bourgeois moral dudgeon: “vile ideas and language”.

    After all, what relevance has gay marriage to the issues of the day? What a successful distraction. Tell me, Tietze, if a coolie is a gay quickie in the snow, what does this say about the current meltdown of the Arctic? Would you say that latter is a smidgin more important than who is permitted to occupy whose orifices in a warming atmosphere? Or do you prefer libido to albedo, as it were?

    How is it in the age of Capital-individualised narcissism that Tietze selects purely single mothers as victims of welfare cuts rather than other Godzone groups as well? Are you bothered by e.g. teenage unemployment in Godzone at all, Tietze? Or even by casualisation of the precariat in general? Possibly not, after all, it contains young bogan football-loving Ocker males who – criminally – don’t know a
    Mudgee Chardonnay from a glass of cordial.

    And Tietze’s words “military adventures abroad” shows Cultural Leftist naivete about Godzone’s role in US foreign policy. Why was Brendan Nelson sent by Rudd to Brussels recently as 1st Aust.ambassador to NATO? This is not “adventures”, this is policy.

    Note to Dennis Garvey: six-figure salary scribblers at “The Age” did indeed bucket Hansonisms. However Hanson’s social policy was 1945-1979 Old Labour and equitable, something that Tietze, Gsrvey and other “clercs de trahison” naturally suppress in their zeal to distance themselves from what their 1990s hero Keating, currently a Point Piper resident I believe, described as the “Hills clothes hoist” people.

  4. The Jutes were indigenous to Jutland. The clue is in the name. They are not a factor here, where peoples presently living and indigenous to Britain are, namely the English, Scots and Welsh.

    Why poeople pretend to find it so baffling that European peoples are indigenous to their respective European homelands in precisely the same way that Asian and African and Americans and Australasian peoples are is baffling to me.

    Perhaps they pretend bafflement to excuse their objectively racist political double standards?

    “It just isn’t the same — Obviously! Everyone knows that! So I don’t need to find a good reason for thinking it too.”

    • The Jutes, Angles and Saxons settled in Britain from the 5th century AD. They thus are a part of the make-up of modern day Britain, and in fact the Angles gave us the term Anglo, as in Anglo-Saxon.

      To establish your ethnically pure ‘English’ homeland you would have to weed out all descendants of these Germanic tribes, not to mention the earlier products of intermarriage between the Brythons and Romans.

      Good luck with that…

  5. And the world awaits an explanation of what appears like another objectively racist double standard …

    White people who are ethnonationalists are ‘far right Fascists’ because they are White ethnonationalists.

    Non-White people who are ethnonationalists, eg. Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, are not ‘far right Fascists’ because they are not White, so their nationalisms are worthy and heroic and are therefore not attacked.


  6. Nick you have opened a can of whoop-ass…on a strawman.

    I’m not aware of the claim that non-white’s cannot be fascist. In fact I would consider organisations such as Shiv Sena and the BJP in India to fascist or not far off it.

    I would assume there are far-Right and fascist parties in most countries of the world, especially where a majority ethnicity oppresses a minority.

    Which is why the EDL and BNP are fascist parties, they encourage the oppression of non-white minorities in the UK. To say restrictions placed on the BNP or EDL (actually, restrictions are most often placed and enforced against anti-EDL counter-demonstrators)deny white Britons political representation is laughable given all the major political parties, the state bureaucracy, judiciary and armed forces are dominated by them!

  7. Dave, I made two claims.

    The BNP and similar parties in Europe are called Fascist and far-right because they are (or were, before it became illegal) ethnonationalists while White.

    And secondly, quoting Tad Tietze who professed concern about the criminalisation of indigenous peoples as such, I suggested he ought to have taken the side of the BNP in that case where they were prosecuted by the establishment parties expressly because they sought to give native Britons as such political representation (to quote you).

    Where’s the strawman? These are facts.


    Essentially every political party in office throughout Africa and Asia is ethnonationalist, defending the rights of the indigenous peoples of that country to control that country in their own interests. No-one calls these governments Fascist or far-right, because they are not. Ethnonationalism is merely normal.

    Further, most of these countries have education and employment regulations favouring the native majority over non-native minorities where the Han Chinese across south-east Asia for example are formally discriminated against in favour of native Malaysians, Indonesians, etc. In sub-Saharan Africa White and Lebanese and other non-native groups are formally discriminated against in countries from South Africa to Kenya, and again no-one calls these measures Fascist or far-right, because they are not. Malaysia belongs to the Malays and if the Han don’t like how the Malays run Malaysia, that’s just tough. This is the unimpeachable moral argument that makes imperialism and colonialism, and even burglary and theft universally recognised crimes. Except where it comes to extending these rights to peoples that happen to be White.

    Where non-White peoples do not enjoy these advantages in their native countries, for example in Tibet and Palestine, it is usual for progressive people to support efforts for these to be won and to see leaders of these movements, like the Dalai Lama, as great and heroic.

    You say there’s no double standard. But that simply isn’t so. By your definition (with which I would disagree) most people and most governments across Africa and Asia are Fascist and far-right. Much more so than the BNP and EDL who are more moderate on the key criteria by which you define the terms. And yet rather than call those peoples and governments Fascist and far-right, you join the debate in such a way that could only prop up the attack on more moderate ‘Fascists and ‘far-rightists’ who are not in power and who are much less of an oppressive threat. Coincidentally, they just happen to be White ‘Fascists’and ‘far-rightists’. But again, no double standard implied.

    • Perhaps I should have been clearer and said that one of the reasons the EDL and BNP are fascist organisations is that they encourage the oppression of non-white minorities in the UK.

      Fascism is primarily a movement of the pauperized middle classes driven into a frenzy by economic crisis and which mobilises to crush the organised working class.

      By insisting on whites-only trade unions the BNP would substantially weaken unions in Britain. Not only that their EDL allies have attacked a trade union and community bookshop and threatened school and college students protesting over tuition fee hikes.

      Then there is are the historical links between the BNP and the National Front of the 1970s and the British Union of Fascists of the 1930s.

      That governments across Africa and Asia discriminate against ethnic minorities does make them right wing. However just because they aren’t fascist in the traditional sense doesn’t mean there aren’t fascist organisations in these countries.

      • Dave, the BNP are primarily a party of the working class with a typically old Labour economic and financial outlook. They have been in existent through several cycles of boom and bust. How does that fit with your reframed definition?

        Where did you get that idea about White-only trade unions? It isn’t true. Where did you get that idea about their being allies of the EDL? Nothing could be less true.

        If right-wingedeness really were defined by discrimination against minorities, why doesn’t anyone but you think of Mandela’s South Africa or Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China as being right wing regimes?
        Here again we see secular political frameworks appearing to serve as little more than cloaks for a racialised program, where given your previous comments and desire to seem even handed you’re forced to say absurdly that South Africa’s ANC are right-wingers just to maintain the claim that ethnonationalists who happen to be White are always Fascist and right wing (again, not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with either).

  8. Dr Tad wrote,

    “Nice, the far Right are visiting Overland to prove my point for me.”

    Dr Tad, I used to believe that every people had the right to control its homeland in its own interests, except where they were White, in which case I called such ideas ‘racist’. At that time I was most likely to vote Green or Lib Dem.

    Eventually I was persuaded to overcome that double standard in my thinking and was prepared to say that all the peoples of the world (including those that happened to be White) should enjoy equal rights in this most important regard as in all others.

    In what way was this a shift to the right, and even the ‘far’ right? Normally the overcoming of objectively racist double standards would be seen as an achievement of leftist principles. Why not in this case?

    It’s almost as if right and left ultimately are mere cloaks for White/Non-White conflict. If this were not so, how to explain how White ethnonationalists are always said to be ‘far-right’ while non-White ethnonationalists are almost always heroes of the left, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Chavez, Morales, etc?

    Thnaks in advance for the reply.

    • The problem for your racialised grand narrative is that throughout modern history it has largely been white people who have plundered the rest of the globe and oppressed and enslaved the indigenous. They certainly haven’t respected the rights of indigenous people’s around the world.

      If the history had taken a different track and ‘indigenous Britons’ (still no sensible definition from you I note)had been conquered and oppressed for centuries by a rampaging Chinese, Mayan or Aboriginal imperialism you might have some kind of point. But it didn’t and so your white/non-white grand narrative seems to be a desperate struggle against reality.

      • I’m proposing universal standards, have been throughout, and my primary complaint has been that others will not. On the general question of modern history, conquest, genocide etc., and how we can overcome legacies of past ethnic conflicts today, I went into my thinking on these questions fairly thoroughly in the thread exchange following this blog by Arabist scholar Kevin Barrett:



        “Asians and Africans were colonising parts of Europe and enslaving Europeans before, during and after the period in question; Asian, African and Native American groups were invading, colonising, enslaving and slaughtering each other before, during and after the period in question, quite apart from whatever Europeans were up to; The group that can most plausibly be fingered as the chief ‘ethnic’ architect and intended beneficiary of the W.O.T. and contemporary globalising trends is not White, it originates in south west Asia. It also played a prominent role in funding and profiting from the ‘European’ age of expansion, so EAE was clearly not a project of and for White people”

        What do you think indigenous means when referring to non-Europeans that it simply cannot and must not mean when referring to Europeans?

  9. I sincerely and warmly appreciate that Dave has tried to engage in deconstructing the risible views of our (unwelcome) vistors from the depths. But in fact no amount of deconstruction works, in large part because these people are impervious to argument outside their emotionally charged tropes of national, ethnic and cultural victimhood.

    Having spent a lot of time following and writing about the fallout from Breivik’s atrocity, and its connections with growing hard Right subcultures much further afield, I think it is best to declare these ideas as part of what they are: A reactionary, anti-democratic, authoritarian worldview and project that needs to be smashed, not debated with.

    When Griffin was on Question Time, the correct place to be was not on the panel or the audience to provoke his humiliating performance with logically constructed, rational questions, but as part of the protest outside demanding the BBC refuse to give him a platform. With our visitors, I would equally suggest a strategy of declaring what they represent, but not giving them any more legitimacy by trying to rebut what are, in effect, irrational articles of fascist faith.

    • Dr Tad, I think I am amenable to reason. I believe that’s why I was converted from an objectively racist anti-racism into a universal nationalism.

      I did not closely follow the Breivik tragedy but wouldn’t he conventionally be labelled a left-winger? Weren’t his appeals against Islamisation founded on such concerns as ‘women’s rights’, ‘gay rights’, and the threat to liberal democracy, tolerance and religious freedom that he believed were incompatible with Islam?

      These are tropes that any right-winger, never mind a far-right winger would laugh at.

      On Question Time and ‘no platform’, are you not aware of how that tactic appears to people? It looks like you are the one impervious to argument and attached to articles of irrational faith. Normal people know the value of sunlight, debate, examining one’s own prejudices and beliefs.

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