What is fascism? Well you could reduce it to something like “an attempt to build a mass movement in order to smash all forms of collective democratic organisation and establish a strong centralized capitalist nation state under a strong leader”. The word fascism comes from the name for a bunch of rods, ribbon and axe that symbolized the collective strength of Etruscan kings. I think the aspect of this that turned on the first self declared Fascists, like Mussolini, was the symbol of the axe which was supposed to represent the right of kings to exercise the death penalty in judicial matters. Strong competent leadership will sort us out, say the fascists, and mix in some opportunist racism to mobilise people onto the streets.
Clearly British attempts to identify a strong competent leader have so far evaded the UK Neo-fascist movement. Tyndall and Griffin of the BNP have not commanded high levels of respect amongst people with any smarts. That said the British far right have managed to fan the flames of hatred against vulnerable minorities and have to be taken seriously at this level. What the far right does matters because real people are and will continue to suffer if the fascists are allowed to grow. The question you should ask yourself is “exactly how big do I want the fascist movement to get before I do something about it?”.
UK fascists have recently attempted to go down the Le Pen route to respectability with limited electoral success (2 MEPS, some councilors). The tactic - wear suits, make occasional veiled references to holocaust and violence etc. There is however a limit to the utility of town hall ‘hang em and flog em’ politics when attempting to construct a fascist movement (as opposed to say achieving a lumpen rightwing vote against perceived problems with immigration). To build a movement you need foot soldiers, and to motivate them you need to find a way of binding them together.
Hitler said that whilst the ordinary fascist sympathizer was ‘only a little worm’ he could be made to feel part of a ‘great dragon’ if the party supplied a chance to march up and down with bright banners and give supporters a feeling that they control the streets. The Hitlerites in the BNP leadership are still conflicted over how to implement this part of “the leaders” blueprint.
Apparently some members have decided to go down the traditional route and attempt street marches against Islam, organized by front organisations like the English Defence League. The left needs to be clear what is at stake with these marches. If they are left unopposed then we face a return to the mid-late seventies when racist culture was part of the mainstream. Allowing the fascists to march unopposed, to poster and sticker unopposed, to sell their racist newspapers unopposed, will allow then to seep into the mainstream and give confidence to every closet racist to be more open about his or her prejudices. It will make taking on the institutionalized racism in society much harder. The mobalisations of Unite Against Fascism, trade union and community bodies against the EDF are to be welcomed and supported. It may get slightly worse before it gets better, but best that we all bury our differences and unite now against the fascists whilst they are small and internally divided.