Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The BNP, the Left and categorisation

Tom has an interesting post up about that old chesnut about the BNP being left-wing (he also has an utterly ace kittens video on his blog!).

It made me think about the point that some Righties make about how most BNP support comes is areas that have previously been Labour-voting. I'm genuinely not sure what this is supposed to mean. I mean there's sort of an implication that more working class areas are somehow inherently left-wing. So I guess the argument is that if such an area provides a lot of BNP votes therefore the BNP must be left-wing in order to gain their support. But then what if a formely Labour seat is taken by the Tories, does that mean that the Tories are left-wing? It doesn't feel right as an argument somehow.

To be fair, Hayek does an alright job in the Road to Serfdom of tracing an intellectual line between 'socialism' and the Nazis. There is quite a lot of material provided from German socialists who argued that Germany embodied socialism and so was preferable to other more economically 'laissez-faire' countries, like Britain. I still think the vast bulk of the socialist movement had very little meaningful overlap with the Nazis. There was some overlap, both intellectually and in terms of people moving from one camp to the other, but I don't think it was significant. (I also don't buy Hayek's general argument about socialism leading to totalitarianism, but that's another story).

That it turn got me thinking about how we define what is real, 'legitimate' socialism, or any other -ism, and what isn't. In my mind 'real' socialism can't overlap with Nazism because core principles - ie views of equality - are fundamentnally in conflict. But why is my view of socialism any more legitimate than those socialists Hayek identified as arguing that Germany embodied the idea, and as such must triumph in war against its enemies in order to further the cause?

Are the core features of socialism those set out in various works of socialist theory, or can they be found in the policies that are adopted by parties and governments that call themselves socialist? Or should we make assessments based on the outcomes of the policies that are adopted - a tool many use to 'prove' Labour's lack of progressiveness for example. As I've said before, whichever categorisation system you pick will (to a greater or lesser extent) define your answer for you. (And to be honest I suspect that some Righties who really aren't Hayekian adopt his analysis because it allows them to designate the BNP as being on the Left).

Ultimately this one can't really be solved. If we adopt different classification systems then often we will end up with very different aswers from the same info. And we can't overlook our tendency to choose a categorisation system that enables us to reach an answer we favour.

The only thing I can see to fall back is reasonableness - and perhaps I'm reaching for a comfortable categorisation system myself. So, for example, is it 'reasonable' to class the BNP as left-wing, knowing all that we know about Left and Right, and the extremes on both sides, and how they behave? Is it a definition that people would accept in ordinary useage, as opposed to a theoretical classification argument? On this basis, calling them left-wing again just doesn't feel right. In common with the other Tom I think the clear racist element of the BNP's programme is too much of hurdle to get over. Not very scientific I know, but in light of the problems in reaching a definitive answer from a theoretical point of view, is there a better way to answer this one?

2 comments:

Falco said...

"In common with the other Tom I think the clear racist element of the BNP's programme is too much of hurdle to get over. Not very scientific I know,"

No kidding on the science bit. Both left and right have had racist views at various times so however you want to classify the BNP that is not the way to do it.

What I would like to know is how the left does define itself. Much of the time it seems to come down to no more than; "We're the nice people and if you don't agree with us you are evil and therefore on the right."

So if the left is not for massive government, high taxation and redistribution and moving power from one bunch of self serving bastards, (corporations), to an even worse one, (unions), then what is it?

Tom P said...

I would argue that attitudes to equality are the big divider. It's seems a more common attitude on the Right that inequality is a natural outcome, and trying to address it is social experimentation which will inevitably go wrong. In contrast Lefties tend to view inequality as some that can and should be fought against.

In those terms it's pretty clear to me that the BNP belong on the Right rather than Left, and that's why I think that the BNP's racism must be a major factor in the way they are categorised.