Black Shirts in Green Trousers

The far right is moving in, and greens and globalisation campaigners must do more to shut it out.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 30th April 2002

The polling stations had scarcely closed before Le Pen’s success was being blamed on the greens and the new left. The leader of France’s Front National, commentators on both sides of the Channel agree, had done so well because the radicals first established the political territory he exploited, then split the left-wing vote.

Both charges are ridiculous. The space seized by Le Pen was not created or fragmented by the critics of inequality, corporate power and environmental destruction, but by the inequality, the power and the destruction themselves, and the abject failure of Lionel Jospin to address them.

But there is no question that the far right, just as it has always sought to ride on the back of the labour movement, is now seeking to climb aboard the unleaded bandwagon driven by the new progressives. There is also no question that we have been far too slow to push the racists off.

The far right has scarcely hidden its attempt to ride our truck. An article on the British National Party’s website explains that “there is a huge gap in the political market here”. While its members might have expected the BNP to side with its traditional allies, the landlords, against the greens, “the Country Landowners’ Association … has 50,000 members”, while “the National Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds … have 4,000,000 members. Which interest group would you rather have on our side come polling day?”

So the BNP now thunders about the loss of small farms, the overuse of pesticides, genetic engineering, the destruction of landscape features and (neatly fusing its new politics with its old) soil erosion. This is just one of the means by which it hopes to “harness the ‘green’ idealism of middle class youth, and to give a new vision to many of their working class contemporaries in the cities”. Citing Noam Chomsky and, to my horror, my own work, it has also begun campaigning against corporate power, the World Bank, the private finance initiative, the disposal of council houses and the dominance of the superstores.

The BNP is not the only force on the far right which now describes itself as “the true green party”. Similar claims have been made by members of Le Pen’s Front National, by the Vlaams Blok in Belgium and, in Britain, by a tiny offshoot of the National Front which calls itself Third Way. This is the group which most clearly articulates the way in which the politics of the hard right are shifting.

Third Way, which was founded in 1990 by the Front’s former chairman and vice-chairman, claims to reject “racism and the politics of hate.” But it believes that cultures should, for their own good, be kept apart, and defended from “mass immigration”. Globalisation, the splinter group claims, “reduces us to a rootless, transient population disconnected from its history”, precipitating ecological crisis and encouraging migration. The party’s leader, Patrick Harrington, has made contact with the black separatist Nation of Islam and orthodox Jews pursuing “separate development”. Third Way, like many far right groups, has abandoned overt racist aggression in favour of cultural isolation.

Much of the intellectual work underpinning Third Way’s policies has been conducted by a Dr Aidan Rankin. The position statement he wrote for the group blames indigenous people’s loss of land and sovereignty partly on corporations and brutal governments, but also on “left-wing cultural prejudice”, feminism, human rights and the politics of “tolerance” and “inclusion”. Oddly conflating it with assimilation, Rankin sees multi-culturalism as a globalising force which forbids tribal people to lead their own, culturally-pristine lives. He then goes on to suggest that “we are all indigenous peoples now”, our “voices … silenced, our language castrated” by “political correctness” and gender equality. Nick Griffin of the BNP takes this analysis a small step further when he claims to be defending the “endangered white tribes of the First World”. It should be a cause of grave concern to everyone in the green movement that Dr Aidan Rankin was, until very recently, the comment editor of Britain’s leading environmental magazine, the Ecologist.

This is not the first occasion on which the Ecologist (which despite Rankin’s bizarre appointment remains, by and large, a progressive paper) has found itself in trouble of this kind. The previous editorial team split with its founder Teddy Goldsmith after he addressed a meeting of the hard right Groupement de Recherche et d’Etudes pour la Civilisation Europeene. Goldsmith, whose politics are a curious mixture of radical and reactionary, has advocated the enforced separation of Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda and Protestants and Catholics in Ulster, on the grounds that they constitute “distinct ethnic groups” and are thus culturally incapable of co-habitation.

Goldsmith, as the former editors later pointed out in their paper “Blood and Culture”, assumes that culture is a rigid, immutable thing: that different communities can live only within the boxes nature has assigned to them. Confusing, for example, Protestantism and unionism, he fails to understand the political forces which cause splits within communities and associations between them. He fails too to see the external manipulation which first defines ethnicity inflexibly, then drives the newly separated peoples to fight.

The far right claims to be contesting an imperialist homogenisation, but at the same time it is developing one of its own: telling people which culture they belong to and what its characteristics should be. It has simply reinvented the ghetto.

By seeking to pre-empt the far right with “tough” policies on crime and immigration, Jospin and Tony Blair have moved the game onto its home turf. A far more intelligent strategy would have been to re-secure the new territory the racists are exploiting, by getting tough on inequality, environmental damage, corporate power and new imperialism. This is the left’s own ground, on which the right will always be scrambling to catch up.

But those of us whose clothes are being stolen also have a responsibility: not to leave them lying around in the first place. We must define our intent more carefully. “Globalisation” means whatever you want it to, so people who call themselves “anti-globalisation” campaigners are leaving their laundry outside the BNP’s door. A tighter fit, such as the “social justice” or “internationalist” movement would at least ensure that our unattended keks were harder for other people to climb into. Pluralism and anti-racism must be not supplementary aims, but core values, around which all the others are built.

Anti-racism is not just about defending the victims of abuse. It is also about defending ourselves from becoming the unwitting accomplices of those who seek a segregated world.


Update, April 2007: Aidan Rankin has asked me to note that he has now severed all his connections with right-wing politics, partly as a result of the arguments presented here.