Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The danger in the BNP's 'indigenous Brits only' food banks

What is it with fascists and charity? One of the most insidious propaganda coups on the part of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece was to initiate a series of food banks for "indigenous" Greeks. Since last year, BNP food banks have been spotted in east London – similar to their traditional propaganda efforts based on civic activism such as litter-picking – and now the party has announced to a riveted world that these are only for "indigenous Brits".
This isn't even coded racism. It was only a few years ago that the BNP explained the concept of "racial foreigners" to the credulous – if you're not white, they averred, you're not truly British. As if to underline the point in this context, the BNP's duce, Nick Griffin, also charmingly compared a leading black member of Unite Against Fascism, who had criticised the scheme, to an orc – a mythical, villainous humanoid creature with facial features drawn from various animals.
There's no need to speculate about what sort of person reduces black people to bestiary. It is the sort of person who received a suspended prison sentence after he published a Holocaust denial in The Rune. The cover of said publication also tantalised readers with a picture of a hangman's noose and the query: "What has a rope got to do with WHITE UNITY?" Continued inside, the article disclosed that when "payback time" came, the rope could be put to "capital work". Question: in all of the many media spots allotted to Griffin over the years, how many of his interviewers thought to bring this up?
At any rate, there is nothing new about such folkish charity. Mussolini's regime ran a series of charities including the Ente Opere Assistenziali, which distributed meals to poor Italians. The Nazi Winterhilfswerk charity distributed food and fuel to the German volk in harsh winter times. In fact the charity had been set up under Chancellor Brüning in 1931, but Hitler – knowing good propaganda when he saw it – appropriated the charity wholesale, making it central to nazism.
The BNP is far from having the clout to emulate these past forms of fascist welfare. The party is on a downward spiral. At the high point of its success, gaining nearly a million votes in the European elections in 2009, it was a regular feature in the media and all too often setting the terms of the debate on immigration and race. Its subsequent electoral breakdown and schisms have seen it recede from the spotlight. The attempt to belatedly make something of the social misery arising from the capitalist crisis and subsequent austerity regime is painfully transparent. The money and infrastructure behind this scheme is negligible, and its sole purpose is likely to be to generate the publicity that it has.
Still, there is an underlying logic here, which it is worth paying attention to. One of the central ambiguities of fascist ideology is the demand for, on the one hand, social cohesion, discipline and solidarity, and, on the other hand, vicious competition along social Darwinist lines. The latter militated strongly against welfarism, and particularly against redistribution – but it was hard to see how masses could be mobilised for national revolution, much less subsequent wars, without some form of social solidarity. Linked to this is a second contradiction. Fascist parties have often claimed at some level to be working-class parties, but at the same time align with business once in power.
What the deployment of charity did was to resolve this deadlock. Charities would embody the desired ethic of national community, while only redistributing modest amounts of income from workers to other workers, often in a coercive way. Moreover, using the charitable method meant this welfare didn't have to be provided as a right to citizens, but could be directed by the party to preferred social groups or toward ideological ends such as "race hygiene" or the promotion of families and birth.
And this is the danger. The BNP are currently not the major force on the right profiting from austerity, nor is their initiative here significant in itself. However, the rise of food banks and soup kitchens in the neoliberal era has been real, and austerity has accelerated the trend. Right now, evangelicals are better at taking advantage of this than fascists, but the fact is that such manipulative charity thrives in the spaces vacated by welfare. The less provision we can claim as a citizenship right, the more can be offered as propaganda, on the basis of some putative moral advantage – even if the only moral edge one has is to be "indigenous"


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