This essay will focus on the history of the far right and far left in the UK with a special treatment of an electoral performances of the extreme parties. After that it will be considered if its’ achievements should be perceived as an abject failure or maybe a great success paying attention on sociological and historical conditions of development for the last few decades. It will also give a brief explanation of the main ideological assumptions of extreme politics in order to have a full view over the problem expressed in the essay topic.
The term “far-right” is used to describe an ideology of a nationalism subscribed by the political parties. It contains a strong belief in a primacy of the nation state, as well as a conviction, that a country derives its power from the political strength. Far-right movements opt for government influence on a society in aim to promote inequality, simultaneously criticizing the ideas of democracy, individualism and liberalism. Another main assumption of the nationalism is a strong solidarity of a concrete group (usually a state) based on the purity of the origin and a belief in superiority over other nations.
An extreme nationalism changes into fascism, in which these ideas develop into racism and xenophobia. It is also believed that the government should have a total power over all aspects of society’s life as politics, culture and economy. Often it is connected with a cult of personality. The fascination of this ideology reached the United Kingdom in 1930s. Sir Oswald Mosley founded The British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. His manifesto contained resigning from parliamentary democracy and handing over the power to elected executives. The party strongly supported the planned economy and a concept of self-sufficiency of the state.
At the beginning, these ideas aroused a great interest among certain groups of people, as the BUF had 50,000 members at one point. However, the party decided not to take part in the General Election in 1935 as its leader felt it was not yet strong enough to face such a big challenge. He encouraged voters to abstain, at the same time promising an appearance in next elections. In the mid 30s an increase of violence in attitude to Jewish and immigrants, and also a closer ideological similarity to German Nazi party caused a fall of a support for the party among its electorate.
Because of a lack of electoral success, the BUF meant less and less on the political scene, losing its members and achieving the number of less than 8,000 people in the end of 1935. Finally, the party was disintegrated in May 1940. However, the ideology of fascism still didn’t die in Britain. In 1960 the British National Party was brought to existence. It supported a protection of a purity of a north-European race and a desire of curbing Jewish domination over Great Britain. In 1967 the BNP united with Greater Britain Movement and League of Empire Loyalists forming British National Front.
A new party grew very fast and had about 20,000 members in 1974. It had a few good election performances, as in local elections, when it got 44% of votes in Deptford, London, almost winning with a Labour candidate. It is also worth mentioning that the NF came third three times in parliamentary by-elections. In 1979, in order to be a good opponent for the Conservatives, who adopted a part of the NF’s policy, John Tyndall, the then NF’s leader decided to fund extra candidates from party’s money to seem as a growing strength on a political scene.
This move resulted in total bankruptcy and leaded to a final division of the NF to few smaller parties. One of them was founded by Tyndall in 1980 the New National Front. In 1982 he decided to come back to a name from the early 60s and changed it into the British National Party. As a neo-Nazi, the leader of a new party was very strict in forming its political agenda concerning immigrants. During his leadership, a large number of controversial events on a racist background and involving the BNP members took place.
In 1995 Nick Griffin joined the party and in 1999 took a leadership after Tyndall, who in 2003 was expelled from the party because of his critic article about the new leadership. The first electoral success of the BNP appeared in 1993, when Derek Beackon became a councilor for Millwall in London. Since then the party has growing support in certain parts of the country (mainly in England) and wins an increasing percentage of votes in every local election. Currently, it has 24 local councilors. However, the BNP has never gained seats in the House of Commons or the House of Lords.
Also it has never gained seats in the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, despite big hopes for between one and three seats and support of 4,9% of voters. Nowadays it is the fourth biggest party in the UK. Thus can it be said, that the history of the far right in the UK is one of abject failure? It is not difficult to notice, that the main problem of the movement are constant divisions and breakings-up. Alan Sykes writes: “Divided on tactics, presentation, and policy, riven by bitter internal feuds, the Right was self-destructive.
With the exception of a small core, members tended to flow through it rather than remain as a stable base on which to build. ” (Sykes 2005:143). It is very difficult to build a strong political party without an agreement among its leaders how radical and extreme an agenda of it should be. Inability in finding a common stance led to a division of a support between a few smaller parties, rather than giving it to the one with bigger power. In British first-past-the-post electoral system it is a political suicide.
The second big failure of the far-right politics was the limitation of a radicalism, which was caused mainly by a democracy and capitalism spreading across the whole of Europe making the new standards of political development. This is connected with losing original ambitions by extreme right politicians. “The Radical Right sought power to transform, revolutionize, society and politics. But it also sought to transform mankind, to create the ‘higher type of man’, both in terms of physique and, more importantly, attitude (… to the service of the national community. ” (Sykes 2005:145). In nowadays manifestos there is no sign of such high plans and ideas. However, the 75-year history of the far right in United Kingdom also includes a few successes. “After 1945 anti-fascism was an important element in defining the British national culture so reference to the interwar tradition had to be conducted in terms of symbols or coded language for the embattled minority who tried to resurrect the phenomenon. ” (Thurlow 2000:157).
According to Thurlow, the biggest one was that this ideology managed to survive through all these years and that it still finds supporters despite all the events that took place in 20th century history. Sykes added that Radical Right parties were capable of making use of troubles that occurred in British economy causing political and social instability. In both cases (the first half of 1930s and the turn of 7th and 8th decade of 20th century) it was a time, when extreme right parties achieved its biggest membership. Sykes 2005). Moreover, the last few years has shown that the far right parties are getting stronger and stronger. The BNP has achieved more for last three years than the whole movement for the previous seventy. As well, finally all British extreme right organizations accomplished an agreement in main points of its agendas trying to build common policy in order to repair their mistakes made through the last century (Sykes 2005). In opposition to the far right policy stays the ideology of the far left.
The base of its assumptions is a belief in equality of all people regardless of their sex, origin, skin colour or religion. A very important position takes here economy. The socialists opt for overthrowing capitalism and introducing the common ownership. They support spending money on social expenses as well as admitting working class to power. This ideology was built on a conviction that sooner or later working class occurred against ruling government. Therefore, an essential role plays trade unions.
The doctrine subscribes also against tradition and rationalism, as well as the belief in God. An extreme socialism becomes a communism. Usually, it is a totalitarian political system resorted to violence as a method of depriving the opposition. As a far left ideologies are considered also feminism and anarchism. In 1964 a part of Revolutionary Socialist League members founded a new socialist party called Militant. However, for a few decades it was appeared as a part of the Labour Party. On its behalf Militant gained three seats in the parliament in the General Elections in 1983.
In the same year it captured Liverpool City Council. As a socialist party, it was a member of the Leninist political party, propagating a revolution as a way of achieving the power, rejecting capitalist reforms. It also supported the public ownership, social spends and minimum wage. In the late 80s a leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, decided to throw the Militant away, as a main reason of this decision announcing the Militant entrism and their record in Liverpool Council. After that, in 1991, few members founded Militant Labour.
It was known from its involved in the movement against Poll Tax. In Scotland, the party assumed a name of Scottish Militant Labour. However, during the next few years it changed its name twice more. First to the Scottish Socialist Alliance and then to Scottish Socialist Party. As the SSP, it gained six seats in Scottish Parliament, though its political agenda was far different from the original Trotskyist programme of Militant. In England and Wales in 1997 Militant Labour adopted a name of the Socialist Party at the same time abandoning most of its earlier assumptions.
They were one of the founders of Socialist Alliance groups, but they left in 2001. After that the Socialist Party put up their candidates in elections as Social Alternative winning two seats in Coventry and two in Lewisham in South London. In February 2005 the party announced plans to take part in parliamentary elections as a member of an alliance called the Socialist Green Unity Coalition. In the same year, 25 of party’s members were elected as members of trade union national executive committees.
In 1920 the Communist Party of Great Britain was formed based on more radical beliefs. It araised from few smaller Marxist parties and was a member of Third International. At the beginning, CPGB had a big support, and the increasing unemployment during the Third Period (1929-1932) caused a growth in member numbers. First electoral success occurred in 1935, when the party gained one seat in the parliament on the Labour’s behalf. During the Second World War CPGB appealed for peace as the war was not a war of a working class.
However, it changed its point of view in 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. One year later, the party numbered 64,000 members. In 1945 it gained two seats in the parliament, but lost those in the next elections. Six years later, CPGB adopted a programme called “The British Road to Socialism”, which referred to the beginning of the movement in Britain, said about a peaceful way to introducing a new political order and was a determinant for the next generations for British communists. The last good electoral result appeared in 1974, when Jimmy Reid got 6,000 votes.
However, one year later, he and two other top members left the party. It led to discussions about the ideology of CPGB and finished in a split in the party. In 1977 The New Communist Party of Britain was formed and in 1988 araised the Communist Party of Britain as a continuator of ‘The British Road to Socialism’ programme. After a breaking up of the Soviet Union in 1991 the party was dissolved. It is not hard to notice, that in the far left politics the main problems remain the same as the ones in their opponents history.
A constant division, name changes, splits. Laybourn and Murphy argue that a large influent on this situation had a general economic, social and political situation in Britain, which was changing all the time through the last century. (Laybourn & Murphy 1999). They accuse CPGB about being too sectarian and closed for the new ideas. As the situation in a state changed, the party wasn’t able to adjust its agenda to the new demands of the society. It led to losing the support of the voters. It is clear that the CPGB which emerged from a number of earlier Marxist was never able to tap into the mainstream of British politics and remained sectarian and isolated. ” (Laybourn & Murphy 1999:186).
The British far left also had to manage with a fall of the communism in the Eastern Europe and collapse of the Soviet Union. It had to be hard to keep voters believing in the ideology, which turned out to be not strong and good enough to survive in the country of its origin. A main British communist party didn’t pass that test and disappeared from the political scene soon afterwards. However, none of these factors is sufficient explanation in its own right. Rather, it is likely that they worked together with other influences to ensure that Marxism would never be a major political force in British politics. ” (Laybourn ; Murphy, 1999:187). The far left parties in Britain never gained the power they dreamt about and it was their biggest failure. However, in the opposition to the far right parties, they have had their representatives in the parliament through the history.
They were able to bring their people in the House of common even despite the British electoral system, which makes difficult small parties to strive for power. Laybourn and Murphy notice the smaller successes of CPGB: “Nevertheless, one must acknowledge the sterling efforts made by communists (… ) in building up the unskilled unions (… ), the efforts that the CPGB made to defend the unemployed in interwar years. (… ) at least the CPGB tried to improve and defend the workers in British society. ” (Laybourn ; Murphy 1999:189). Unfortunately, even trying its best, it has never achieved all the aims it raised.
While in the whole Europe in 20th century the extreme parties strived for power, Great Britain remained to be govern by less radical groups. Voting mainly for the Conservatives or the Labour British opted for more right or more left politics, but never fell into the extremity. The far right parties have never had its representatives in the parliament, the far left ones have never had more than two in one time. Even the number of the members of an individual parties was ridiculously low comparing to their equivalents in other European countries.
Despite the gaining the positions in the city councils and local governments by members of extreme parties, Thurlow writes: “This is so even if at no stage, either interwar or postwar, can one talk of a successful fascist or racial populist movement which created sufficient political space to challenge the traditional structure of British politics. ” (Thurlow 2000:157). This statement is fully true also with reference to the far left movements in Britain. It appears reasonable to conclude that the opinion expressed in an essay topic is true: the history of the far right and far left in the UK is one of abject failure.