Part 2: They did not wither and die, by Matthew Collins (from HOPE not hate magazine)
John Tyndall was replaced as National Front (NF) Chairman in 1980 by the safe, if unspectacular, Andrew Brons.
Although Brons was considered a moderate and highly educated, he was not without a dark past, having been schooled in National Socialism under Colin Jordan’s National Socialist Movement (NSM) during the 1960s.
Brons recognised the need for modernism, understanding that the NF desperately required more dynamism to recruit and survive. Nor could it be tied to the sort of ideology and harsh economic illiteracy that Tyndall had put so much stock in when faced with the narrowing political space between the mainstream left and right.
The anti-immigration impetus and Cold War anti-trade union message had been firmly ensconced in Thatcherism and the economic, cultural and class struggle into the lap of the Labour movement.
The party was not without people capable of realising this but, overwhelmingly manual and blue collar, the crude racism that the NF had indoctrinated in its supporters during the heady days of growth and electioneering simply became even more visceral.
In May 1980, the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight called on the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) to “stir themselves from lethargy” as reports came in of fascists from the NF and British Movement (the loose successor to the NSM) organising on the streets.
The lethargy appeared, in the main, to be among the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which no longer had an interest in fighting the now-electorally-insignificant fascists.
Thatcher’s government was unveiling the beginnings of what would become an all-out assault on the working class. Within the ANL and the SWP an internal struggle broke out with the ‘squads’, who refused to stop physically organising and confronting fascists.
The ‘squads’ refused to believe, as did the NF, that the NF’s dangers or successes lay solely in electoral politics. (By 1982, those who chose to continue fighting fascists on the streets would either leave the SWP or be expelled from it and go on to form or work with Red Action.)
As the NF struggled and fumbled with its ideological and factional concerns, Andrew Brons issued a stark internal memorandum as to what was to come in July 1980:
“…under conditions that are stable economically, socially and politically we should not be preoccupied with making ourselves more ‘respectable’ under present conditions. We must appreciate that the ‘image’ that we have been given by the media and which may well lose us some potential support today, will be a positive asset when the streets are beset with riots, when unemployment soars, and when inflation gets beyond the present degree of minimal control.”
Not for the last time, British fascists were rejecting the electoral path to power and respectability. The electoral road was simply never going to work for them. Brons (rightly) predicted further inflation, higher unemployment and race riots.
Until the NF was ideologically capable – never mind logistically – of offering a radical alternative to its own methodology, it would only stoke and encourage the flames of hatred.
The party was building a street movement of violent, feral skinheads who would organise and antagonise in the hope of igniting the anticipated race war the NF prophesised was imminent.
Brons was well aware he would not be leading the NF into this race war. John Tyndall’s departure had opened doors within the party for the true “Strasserites”.
Here come the Strasserites*
The NF student group as well as the Young National Front (YNF) (which had both been irritants to Tyndall) became central to the NF’s political and cultural survival under Brons. Martin Webster had survived Tyndall’s departure, holding onto his position as National Organiser but his cards were marked, too.
The NF operated now out of a “Nationalist Centre”, a converted house in Croydon, south London that had been passed around the far right since the 1970s. The NF had been forced out of its rather plusher surroundings of Exacalibur House in Great Eastern Street, Hackney.
The premises on Pawsons Road was suitably dour and backstreet. It was to become a hotbed for young nationalists from around the country, poring over the party’s demise, electoral failure and the dark chasm it had become.
Meetings and education seminars were conducted in tiny rooms that were meant to be bedrooms. Pawsons Road also housed a number of commercial ventures, including a small printing business from which the party’s staff were supposed to draw their salaries.
Within those walls and in nearby pubs a new radicalism was devised by the party’s younger members. There were lively and dangerous conversations dominated by a self-styled group of self-declared “intellectuals”, thinkers and radicals.
Taking over the offices and isolating Webster, the group descended on Pawsons Road mixing with and attempting to radicalise the ruffians and hooligans from the council estates under, in the words of the building’s former caretaker, “the dim glow of the one working light bulb the party used.”
For young skinheads who also made Pawsons Road a hub for racists to hang around, the atmosphere was electrifying. Clearly not understanding what it meant, former party apparatchik Adrian Woods would describe the period as being “like the Paris Commune”.
The party desperately needed new leadership and a new direction. Brons would be on hand to guide and enthrone the new messiahs whenever they should arrive.
The first favourite to emerge was Joe Pearce a “true working class hero” who led the NF’s youth wing (YNF) since 1977 and was the editor of the notoriously racist magazine Bulldog.
A native of Barking in outer east London, Pearce was jailed in 1982 for breaching the 1976 Race Relations Act. Early newsreels show him as a cocksure teenager spitting out racism and unabashed anger at the changing country and his lot in it.
In the new environment, Pearce was to grow and to immerse himself in politics that should have been totally alien to him.
The other half of an emerging double act was to be Nicholas (Nick) Griffin, the son of a self-declared “very comfortably off” former Conservative Party councillor from Suffolk.
Before studying law at Downing College, Cambridge, Griffin had joined the NF in 1974 and later formed the NF’s students’ organisation, which emerged from Pearce’s own Young National Front.
Griffin later claimed in defence of historical allegations made against him by Webster that, in or around 1978/79, he and Pearce had approached Tyndall to alert him to Webster’s homosexuality. (Obviously neither were aware that Webster and his long-term partner had on occasions stayed at Tyndall’s Brighton home.) And then, later, in 1983 to force Webster out of the National Front, the two threatened to switch to Tyndall’s new British National Party (BNP).
In 1981, Griffin stood for the National Front in the Croydon North West by-election. It was characterised by a typical derisory 429 votes (1.4% overall). To give a flavour of the sort of field Griffin faced, as well as the established parties in the field, there was one other declared “Nationalist” candidate, a self-declared “white resident”, a pro-life candidate and last and least, an “anti-Common Market” candidate.
During the campaign, Griffin managed to get himself onto the NF payroll, allowing him more time to direct the growing radicalism sweeping parts of the party. He was not, however, interested in giving up the post once the election was over.
Despite having known Webster since the mid-1970s, Griffin was now leading the charge to undermine and oust him from his paid position.
The upstarts, led by Griffin and Pearce, but also encompassing other young ‘radicals’ like the pious Derek Holland and, later, the national revolutionary Patrick Harrington, were all keen to explore revolutionary routes and avenues.
They indulged themselves in their own tastes and whims, slowly taking control of National Front publications and producing longwinded, short print run discussion documents spouting their new ideas.
They explored and exploited concepts of counter-culture, exploiting fascist mysticism and plain old nazi rock bands to fund their excesses.
Bands like Skrewdriver would become central to the idea of funding the intellectualism and radicalism of the “movement”, mainly at the expense of the young skinheads with whom the NF was so publicly attached and financially dependent.
Although Webster still carried great political weight, by the time he was removed from his post in December 1983 so too did his many enemies.
Two factions within the party, one led by Griffin and one in support of Brons, unceremoniously shoved him out. He was expelled later, in 1984, for issuing “factional bulletins.”
Singling out Pearce and Griffin, Webster later described them as believing that they were “God’s gift to the salvation of nationalism” and said that Griffin, in particular, had been and still was an “awful swindler.”
Webster had lived an impoverished existence for most of his adult life just to hold positions of importance within the far right. He was simply worn down by younger, even more devious and exotic fascists, exactly those he had encouraged and lured to join and expand the party during the preceding decade.
The Italian Job
Other than his ties to the past and his by now rather open homosexuality (the NF had taken to holding social evenings for gay supporters), Webster was hounded for his refusal to entertain the new exotic ideas and political pasts of some of Griffin’s new, foreign friends in particular the Italian fugitive Roberto Fiore.
Fiore arrived in Britain in October 1980 as a 21-year-old fugitive from the Italian police. He was wanted for questioning in relation to the Bologna train station bombing two months earlier, in which 85 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
Fiore was a self-declared fascist, which since the demise of Sir Oswald Mosley had been a self-description of anathema to British fascists.
“It just didn’t mean anything to us, anymore,” as someone put it. “It was the language of ‘The Reds’ for a start. When the Reds called you a ‘fascist’ they were saying you were rich. I found it an arrogant insult.”
In terms of the racial and biological obsessions of the British far right, fascism seemed wholly inadequate. But Fiore’s fascism and his own personality, his wealth and worldly experiences made that easily forgivable.
Some in the NF kowtowed to his supposed brilliance almost immediately. Plus, Fiore was reputed to be a member of the extreme right-wing terrorist organisation, the Armed Revolutionary Nuclei (NAR), several of whose members were subsequently convicted of mass murder. To the eager young radicals and for being potentially dangerous to know, Fiore was a pill eagerly swallowed.
In 1984, Andrew Brons stepped down as Chairman due to “work commitments” but the truth was he wanted no part in the factional fight that was looming. The removal of Webster had, in reality, only hastened the party’s love of sliding towards crippling factionalism.
Brons was replaced by Ian Anderson, an Oxford University drop out and the bitter enemy of Griffin. Anderson represented an equally significant number of ‘radicals’ vying for ideological control of the party.
To inflame tensions further between the two competing groups, Anderson’s sidekick and the editor of the party newspaper National Front News, Martin Wingfield, had conducted a very open affair with the wife of one of Griffin’s faction.
An implosion was coming. In 1984, the National Front published Derek Holland’s pamphlet The Political Soldier: A Statement, a document that was to act as a statement of intent of the NF’s new direction.
Much of what was in the booklet had already been touched upon by Holland and Griffin in long and disjointed articles and polemics in the NF’s theoretical journals, Rising and Nationalism Today.
It gave fair warning of the direction in which the NF’s young radicals were preparing to take the party but, like with most things Holland touched, it was not without confusion.
Anderson and Wingfield endorsed the booklet. They thought it a brilliantly written metaphor about the struggle for national salvation and the personal sacrifices one had to make.
Holland and Griffin, it appeared, saw it as a literal call for sacrifice. The party was now openly ‘National Revolutionary’ as Holland had been insisting in his sermons. With Brons gone and Anderson ideologically weak, the party and the Directorate shifted with the document.
There was little now to halt the death-slide embrace and the call of rural fascism from the likes of Julius Evola, a heavy hint of Fiore’s Catholic fundamentalism and even the embracing of fundamental Islam (where it was part of national revolutionary movements or integral to those who preached either antisemitism or racial separation).
It was mooted internally that the NF should look kindly – as Hitler had done – upon “anti-imperialist” struggles, particularly in the Third World and Middle East in particular, where there was good enough cause to embrace anti-Zionism through which the NF could pass off and pass on its own rather passé and outdated forms of antisemitism.
“I’d thought for a while that things were getting weird. But Brons and Anderson were a safe pair of hands. Then, it felt like suddenly, things went totally off the rails. We were being asked to prayer for foreign ‘martyrs’, to give a fuck about Palestinians and Iranians. The ayatollah and stuff like that. It was really weird – quite dark, actually. You had to check on your way out of some meetings that it had been a National Front meeting and not a Workers Revolutionary Party meeting or something like that. But at the same time, I suppose, it made us almost electric… different. Frightening? But mainly bloody weird, I suppose. They wanted us to still go out and fight in the streets, but to martyr ourselves while doing it. For someone off a council estate in Forest Gate who had never read a book in his life, not even when in prison, it was also quite exciting.”
– interview with a former ‘Political Soldier’ who moved to the Flag Faction.
Although embracing Catholicism was nothing new to British fascists, the embracing of Lefebvrist Catholic fundamentalism along with Fiore and the NAR’s own radical Catholicism was immediately problematic.
Italian fascism in particular had a habit of not overly adopting the unholy waters of blind and unabated racism that the National Front traditionally preferred. The attempt by Holland and the “Political Soldiers” to try and fuse the two – fascism and Catholicism – in a movement that overwhelmingly embraced unreformed Anglicanism and Protestantism was difficult.
Holland in particular seemed keen to totally disavow Nazism using his influence to claim Hitler was backed by rich Jews and had “betrayed National Socialism.”
The party leadership had backed this new document in its preparation as the first salvo in perhaps many more to expand on the NF’s adoption of ideas and ideals around ruralism and distributism. But Holland in particular wanted to take it further.
The Political Soldier cited the Iranian revolutionary guard as an inspiration. “We must learn that the power of idealism is beyond calculation.”
The radicals also argued that the party should abandon its support for a British mandate in Northern Ireland, a state designed to ensure the supremacy of Protestants over Catholics. In 1984, punches were thrown at the party’s AGM when a motion backing “Independence for Ulster” was moved.
In 1985, Anderson stepped down as Chairman and Martin Wingfield took over. Anderson and Pearce were facing charges under the Race Relations Act for Bulldog and, although Anderson was cleared, Pearce was sent to prison a second time. With the party confused and the (again) martyred Pearce jailed, the NF imploded.
By 1986, the radicals were finding themselves under attack. Recruitment (the NF had around 3,000 members) ground to a halt and so the party simply raised membership dues.
First to leave had been Ian Stuart Donaldson, the lead singer of the cash-cow band Skrewdriver. Donaldson took the skinheads out of the NF and into his new Blood & Honour music venture.
Donaldson was a dyed in the wool nazi and he could put up with a lot of things but hearing the Union Flag derided as a “butcher’s apron” was, apparently, the straw that broke the camel’s back. That and the endless amounts of money going missing after gigs.
Griffin and co emptied the NF’s Croydon office and moved their own faction to rural East Anglia in keeping with their belief in ruralism.
In an attempt to claw back materials that belonged to the party, Anderson drove to confront Griffin but found himself confronted by Griffin with a shotgun. Back in London, a car bomb exploded under Anderson’s car, courtesy of another factional rival.
Central to emerging victorious from the split was which side the jailed “hero” Pearce would take. Would it be, as Griffin described them, “the young radicals” or would it be as Griffin also described them, the “reactionary elements within the old leadership.”
Upon his release from prison in 1986, Pearce surprised many by backing the Anderson/Wingfield faction who rallied against Griffin and Holland’s capture of the party under of all things, the Union flag.
More than anything, Pearce felt the radicalism had gone too far and that the radicals all faced either long prison sentences or sectioning under the Mental Health Act.
Griffin was elected as Chairman by one vote, evidence, he would claim that:
“Since the start of 1984, the National Front has been steadily transformed from being a basically reformist pressure group into a movement for National Revolution in Britain. This transformation has not always been obvious, nor is it yet complete, but the basic trend has been clear.”
Griffin’s further response to opponents was the magnificent document Attempted Murder, a gift to the archives of anti-fascists. Written and distributed in August 1986 as a justification of the dwindling membership and as an attempt to explain why the party was again at war with itself, it gives a clear insight into the dangerous directions the National Front had taken in just six years.
In 1988, Griffin and Holland travelled to Tripoli at the expense of Colonel Gaddafi, returning home with hundreds of copies of Gaddafi’s Green Book and not the anticipated petro-dollars.
Despite merger discussions with John Tyndall’s BNP’s in 1986 and again later in 1987, the opposing ‘Flag’ faction (realising Tyndall was never going to change) persisted with the use of the name National Front. In 1987 Pearce stood (against the BNP) in a council by-election in Greenwich under the banner National Front. He quit active far-right politics soon after.
In 1989, the two National Fronts both stood in the same parliamentary by-election, in Vauxhall, south London. If the election campaign was noteworthy for clashes between the two rival NF election parties, election night itself was the real treat.
Ian Anderson and the “Official National Front” candidate Patrick Harrington brought proceedings to a standstill, entertaining night birds watching at home with an all-in brawl that had to broken up by scrutineers from the Revolutionary Communist Party.
Despite the “Official NF” getting the most votes, it was its final stagger up the revolutionary garden path. Griffin inherited £300,000 from the death of his grandfather and abandoned the UK to live in a farmhouse in France under the title ‘Third Position’.
With some of the bequest he allegedly brought an abandoned church where Holland could pray every day for supporters back home to send them financial donations.
Harrington’s own further faction. changed the name of the Official National Front to Third Way, which later morphed into the National Liberal Party.
In the first part of this essay, Martin Wingfield was credited with being the Chairman of the National Front between 1984-1985. That was incorrect. We apologise for any misunderstanding.
“Strasserite” is an historical term to describe adherents of the National Socialists (NSDAP) but who followed Gregor and Otto in taking issue with points of party policy and with the strategy of the Nazi movement under Adolf Hitler.
Today, it often takes the form of alleged deviations from a nazi party or its stated policy or programme. As a result, “Strasserite” is frequently deployed as a term for members of the modern nazi movement who are disruptive or who promote their own pseudo-radical positions with factional behaviour.
“Strasserites” are often keen to expand, evolve or modify National Socialist policy although they still adhere to racialism and antisemitism. They generally regard themselves as more radical than “orthodox” Hitlerites and claim to emphasise the “socialism” – and the associated bogus “anti-capitalism” – of National Socialism. Those accused of exhibiting “Strasserite tendancies” are usually demagogues who are neither anti-Nazi or antifascist.
The actual terms “Strasserite” and “Strasserism” refer to the Strasser brothers, Gregor and Otto, who, along with Joseph Goebbels for a time, were considered to exhibit “leftist” tendancies during the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.
Those accused of being “Strasserites” were, and are, often incorrectly labelled as being, in some way, from the left.
So-called “Strasserism” would normally exhibit itself, particularly but not exclusively, in the modern British context in the form of an advocacy of Distributism and a scaling down of the [Nazi] state’s proposed influence overall in society.
Gregor Strasser was murdered by Hitlerites during the “Night of the Long Knives” in 1934. His brother Otto survived, living in Canada until being allowed to return to [West] Germany in the 1950’s, where he almost immediately tried to re-found a Nazi party. He died in 1974
In most instances of accusations of “Strasserism”, those who exhibit or profess the tendency have no direct tie to the works and or writings of the Strasser brothers.
Head of Intelligence
Matthew Collins has been the focus of two BBC documentaries, 'Life Etc' in 2001 and the BBC3 film 'Dead Man Walking' (2004). His autobiography is 'HATE: My Life in the British Far Right' (Biteback) and he is also author of 'Nazi Terrorist: The Story of National Action' (HOPE not hate). He is a regular contributor to news & broadcast media.Twitter