There has been much debate about fascism in the UK recently, what with the election of two British Nationalist Party members to the European Parliament and Nick Griffin’s appearance on a prime time television debate. I’ve previously mentioned, also, my support for the new Folk Against Fascism collective, which seeks to negate the BNP’s stated ploy of using traditional music as a means of promulgating their exclusive, insular, divisive beliefs.
Is it a real concern, or a momentary blip in public perception? Remember, the Green Party, in the nineties, won over a quarter of the votes in a previous European election, and yet they still do not have any Westminster representation to this day. That, then, would suggest little cause to worry – nothing but a protest vote, a transient expression of discontent. But is it?
Consider how environmentalist views have become mainstream in the past decade. Recycling is king; green is good; waste is bad. That nineties protest vote for the Greens has gone the way of all protests, relegated to the history books, but the election presaged a battle of beliefs, and no-one can argue that green ideas and ideals have not now embedded themselves firmly in our culture. Thus, may we anticipate, ten or twenty years from now, the views of the BNP, currently considered beyond the pale, becoming acceptable, even popular? It is not beyond the realms of possibility. Fascism feeds on discontent, on economic strife, on divisions in society. And these we can see in the UK today. It appeals to the disenfranchised, to those who perceive – rightly or wrongly – others to be getting more than their fair share, worse, to be getting part of the disenfranchised’s share: immigrants getting our jobs, single mothers jumping the housing queue to get the best homes, politicians with their snouts in the trough, while good, honest, law abiding folks have to stump up the extra taxes to pay for it all and get nothing themselves in return. For such people, the simplistic, binary rhetoric of fascism becomes seductive: we are right, they are wrong; we are good, they are bad; we are united, they are the enemy. We fight, they are destroyed.
There is a horrifying logic to this, and history gives precedents; Mussolini came to power by promising social reforms in an impoverished country; the Nazis grew from inconsequential thugs to a ruling elite in a very short space of time by manipulating the concerns of ordinary citizens. But that is not the whole story. The Nazis’ rise to power did not occur simply as a response to the fin-de-siecle economic and social despair experienced in 1920s and 1930s Germany: partly, yes, but not wholly.
Nazism drew on a kind of primitivism which was in response to the perceived ills of modernism. For them, modernism was a horror to be confronted if civilisation was to be brought back from the brink. Rationalism, that curse of the intellect, and its dangerous bedfellow atheism, the increased use of mechanisation and growth of technology, the growing materialism of society, all were to be abjured. The cry came for a return to earlier times, to a better world. And, to fill this gap, the Nazis began to construct a mythology of their own, a volkish folklore in which common values and decent principles were exalted. That such a time and such a state never existed does not matter: the Nazis created it, and in the culture they nurtured in the 1930s and 1940s it came to exist. And circling around the Nazis, increasingly seduced by this amalgam of populist theory and elitist prophesying, there was a growing band of malcontents. Not only the disenfranchised poor, but weary intellectuals, seekers after greater truths, religious freaks, pagans, earth worshippers, naïve folklorists, idealistic conservatives, people stuck in the past, hankering after the old days of the greater Germany, the anti-rationalists, the fundamentalists, scientific and biologist lunatics, those who sought to destroy modernity and return, Rousseau-like, to better ways, the racists, the haters, those people who saw violence as a means to an end and saw hate as a positive force. It was an unholy alliance. In matters of principle these disparate groups would have disagreed, except in one respect: the present was bad, backwards to the future, culture must be redrawn.
Throughout the Nazi era there was a gradual tightening of control on all areas of cultural life. Their promotion of Aryan art and deprecation of degenerate art is well known, of course, but in all other areas of cultural life there was a similar strangulation of dissent and restraint of alternative opinion. What happened is that culture became institutionalised. I don’t know whether or not artists in Germany did enough to oppose this, and I cannot say whether, in the same position, I would have had the moral and physical courage to object either. But a time will come when the same sorts of choices will have to be made again. What must be understood is that fascism is not merely a political philosophy. That is only its manifest appearance; underneath it is the cultural imperative that drives people to discontent with the status quo and to wishing for a return to a previous, mythical existence. The BNP cannot be defeated purely in terms of political debate. Indeed, to attempt to do so is to ensure its likely victory, because in the instant fury of argument, reasoned debate cannot counter rabble-rousing rhetoric. The debate must be held on a much wider level. It is the nature of society itself which is at stake, and which must form the basis of that debate. It is up to artists and people who care about our culture to lead that debate. Those malcontents who were seduced by the Nazis must not be allowed to be so again.
And so, if the BNP do rise to prominence in the UK, it will not be because of Nick Griffin. It will be because of the folk singer whose hatred of racism can only be argued in the abstract, not the concrete. It will be because of the politician who thinks Nick Griffin exists in a vacuum and therefore refuses to enter into dialogue with him. It will be because of the activist who cannot relinquish the sacred cows of her dogma. It will be because of the academic who thinks that authors and artists have nothing to tell society. It will be because of the archbishop who does not condemn religious intolerance. It will be because of the blogger preaching to the converted. It will be because of the conservative who lives in a past that never existed. It will be because of the neighbour who doesn’t speak up when she sees people around her being threatened. It will be because of the newspaper editor who peddles shoddy untruths about this year’s latest hate group. It will be because of the parent who doesn’t instil civility and decency and consideration for others in her children. It will be because of the schoolteacher who teaches a narrow curriculum and ensures her pupils learn facts but know nothing.
It will be because of the ordinary man you see in every street in every town, because no-one stopped to listen to him, because the folk singer dismissed him as racist, because the politician thought Nick Griffin wouldn’t appeal to him, because the activist got her opinions about him from books, not from him, because the academic was too arrogant to hear him, because the archbishop never met him, because the blogger didn’t talk to him, because the conservative hated him, because the neighbour was scared of him, because the newspaper editor wanted his money, because his mother couldn’t control him, because his teacher had targets to meet, because everyone thought he was just an ignoramus, everyone looked down on him, everyone had their own sweet opinions of their own sweet selves and everyone’s heads were so far up their own arses they couldn’t see the tidal wave of intolerance and hate and anger sweeping towards their culture and destroying it. It will be because of them. It will be because of me. It will be because of you.