By Daphne Liddle
The most significant fascist and racist groups active in Britain at the moment are the British National Party, the English Defence League, Britain First, the English Volunteer Force, Traditional Britain and a number of regional Infidel and alliance groups – and of course the United Kingdom Independence Party.
The British National Party is now just a shadow of its former self after its election wipe-out in 2010 and the collapse of its electoral strategy. But it still exists. It has enormous debts and financial problems and has lost its main former financier, Ulster businessman Jim Dowson, but it is still getting money from somewhere and cannot be totally written off.
Jim Dowson himself recently told a [Channel Four News] documentary on Britain First, who are Dowson’s new protégés, that although he had broken with the BNP he had previously given them a total of around £4 million and he considered this well spent because BNP public activity during elections had “moved the whole British political spectrum several degrees to the right”.
And we should note a coincidence that the National Front’s dramatic collapse and splintering into umpteen warring factions in 1979 also coincided with a general election that swept Labour from power and brought in a very hard-line anti-working class, anti state-welfare Tory regime.
The NF at the time had also just lost one of its main sources of income – money from the US-based World Anti-Communist League (which was funded from US, Saudi and Brunei sources and initiated by former Ukrainian Nazis) that was channelled via Lady Jane Birdwood. WACL’s new director, John Singlaub redirected the money from Birdwood to extreme right-wing Tory fringe groups. These groups included the notorious Federation of Conservative Students, which ran a campaign to hang Nelson Mandela.
In 1979 The NF was also wracked with internal strife after Special Branch leaked to anti-fascists the information that Martin Webster, second in command of the NF, had regularly supplied them with information on the NF in return for money. He considered himself seriously underpaid by the NF.
But like the BNP in 2010, the NF had done its job of diverting and dividing the working class to allow for the election of a right-wing Tory government with a strong anti-working class agenda and was no longer needed by those who had been financing it.
The English Defence League is also now just a shadow of its former self. A few years ago it could attract thousands of assorted football hooligans, former squaddies, neo-Nazis and general thugs looking for something to fight about on the streets. Its declared anti-Islamicist policies were a thin cover for its general racism and demonization of immigrants. They would bring terror to the streets of the towns targeted for their marches and they deliberately picked areas with a large Muslim community.
The tide of success for the EDL turned with massive anti-fascist mobilisations in Tower Hamlets, Brighton, Walthamstow and other places where large numbers of local residents took part in blocking the paths of the intended EDL march routes, sheer numbers and mobility making it impossible for police to control. When this happens police can, with difficulty, clear a stretch of road but it fills up again immediately with more anti-fascists.
Anti-fascist photographers, being close to the EDL ranks, witnessed the intense anger and frustration of EDL members when their marches were blocked in this way. They were most furious to see the numbers of white working class people among the anti-fascist ranks because they have a delusion that the majority of white working class people share their racist outlook. “You’re not English anymore!” is the chant they hurl at such people.
When their marches were blocked repeatedly EDL supporters drained away. Their commitment to the cause is weak and their political understanding very shallow. Many have just come along for the opportunity of a fight. If they cannot fight immigrant communities or anti-fascists they will fight the police. And if they cannot fight the police they will fight each other.
In May 2013 the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich by two Muslims caused a new wave of anti-Muslim hysteria that revived the fortunes of the EDL briefly. They organised dozens of marches and rallies but found, as before, they were still being blocked by anti-fascists and no one wanted them and the numbers began to fall away again.
This was when their leader, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon commonly known as Tommy Robinson, decided to quit. He claimed to have suddenly realised that people of different faiths can and should live in harmony and mutual respect and from now on this was going to be his mission – as though no one had ever thought of it before. There was no word of apology to the many multi-faith groups whose influence he and the EDL had tried to smash.
Nor was there any word of apology to his former followers who had dutifully trudged up and down the high streets of England on what he now realised was a mistaken cause. He also claimed to have only just realised that the organisation he built attracted thugs, racists and neo-Nazis. He teamed up with a dubious state-funded think-tank known as Quilliam, which claimed to specialise in the redemption of Muslim extremist would-be terrorists.
The EDL had already begun to splinter into various more extreme “Infidel” groups – some of whom spent more time attacking Catholics than Muslims – and regional alliances. Paul Pitt from Essex emerged as the leader of the South East Alliance and is also a leading member of the English Volunteer Force. Last year he was seen outside the Lord Moon pub in Whitehall chatting with Jim Dowson.
Another small group of unashamed Nazis arising from the splintering of the BNP and the EDL is Britain First, led by Paul Golding. They charge around in an armoured Land Rover trying to intimidate Muslims, invading mosques with bibles and bottles of alcohol reminding the Muslims of what they probably most despise about traditional English manners.
But Britain First does seem to have won some funding from Jim Dowson. And from the behaviour of those vying for Dowson’s money it would seem they are competing to “kick their way into the headlines” – the tactics that Martin Webster of the old National Front boasted about. The old National Front is still around, just, and has benefitted a little from the fall-out from the shrinking BNP and EDL. In spite of its small size the NF is currently divided into three warring factions.
The Traditional Britain Group is evolving to take the place of the old Monday Club – an amorphous meeting and mingling place between fascist and racist “intellectuals” and the right-wing of the Tory party.
The EDL has shrunk but, like the BNP, is still there with a small core of hard-liners. It is still putting on marches in towns around the country: Slough, Peterborough, Rotherham, Newcastle, Stevenage and Middlesbrough.
There is a pattern to these events. The EDL turnout is low – usually fewer than 150 but the local police put on a huge and expensive show to guard against clashes with the local communities and with organised anti-fascists.
The police order the EDL to assemble outside the town so that they can enter the town accompanied by a lot of police, either by train or in special coaches laid on by the police. They allow the EDL to march noisily through the centre of town offending local residents, to a prepared pen where they make speeches. These invariably focus on the theme of Muslims and paedophilia and the grooming of young girls. There is no rationality to this – such activity is just as abhorrent to most Muslims as it is to anyone else and the paedophilia practised by various celebrities, politicians and some Catholic priests is never mentioned. It just plays to tabloid sensationalism and is the modern equivalent of the Victorian “white slave trade” scaremongering.
The EDL also boast about how much their marches are going to cost local council tax payers for policing.
There is invariably an anti-fascist counter demonstration, usually organised by the local trades council. These counter demonstrations are usually much bigger than the EDL effort but police route them around the outskirts of town so only those who participate really know they have happened. This is sad because it allows the EDL to feel they have triumphed over anti-fascist opposition and gives them a little boost. Their numbers have started to grow again a little.
There is no substitute for blocking their path with massive numbers, even if the police do not like this.
So it goes without saying that on the streets and facing the fascists there must be maximum unity between anti-fascists of all political shades. We must remember that the biggest and most successful anti-fascist alliance of all time comprised Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt and they managed to work together in spite of having very little else in common, until the threat of Nazism was smashed. If they can work with each other then we can too – communists, socialists, anarchists, Tories, Liberals, Labour supporters, young, old, male, female and every gender nuance in between, atheists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists and every other world view and every ethnic shade possible.
AS COMMUNISTS, working with other anti-fascists of all kinds also gives opportunities for friendly dialogue as we stand shoulder to shoulder against fascism and it in no way implies our support for the political views on other matters of the people we are standing next to. Those are matters for peaceful argument during the lulls in fighting the fascists. This is the only way to achieve the mass turn-outs necessary to stop the fascists. And it happens naturally on the streets. Anti-fascists of all shades will defend one another regardless where there is a threat of attack by fascists or by police.
The traditional tactics of Unite Against Fascism and the more anarchic tactics of the energetic young people of Antifa are both needed and should be co-ordinated for maximum effect. Some trade unions do a good job of mobilising their members for anti-fascist work from the workplace – but we must find a way to mobilise workers in places that are not unionised (yet). We need to knock on doors and talk to working people in their communities, countering the lies that the fascists and racists promote. This is what was most effective in wiping out the BNP vote.
And this is the best way to defeat Ukip. Ukip has undoubtedly had an enormous amount of free publicity from the media and the state. It is performing a function for one section of a ruling class that is divided over Europe. That function is not to win a majority in Parliament but, again, to shift the whole political spectrum even further to the right and to persuade the working class to accept even further draconian anti-working class measures – the total dismemberment of state welfare, the trade union movement and all working class rights that have been won over the last 200 years by diverting attention into racism and xenophobia and an obsession with immigration.
The media never disclose any other aspects of Ukip policy so few people are aware that Ukip wants to abolish the NHS and privatise all medical care and all free education; ultimately they would like to abolish all taxes. It is the task of the anti-fascist and anti-racist movement to make up for this deficit in general awareness and it is the task of communists to give a lead in prioritising this work. And we do not give a lead from the rear, telling others what to do. We do it by being in the front line of activity.
We communists are great ones for meetings, conferences, debates and committees – theoretical work that is usually done sitting down. This is all essential work but it is only half the struggle. If all those great resolutions and clarifications of the line are just left hanging we might as well not bother. We must stand up, get out and about and be at the forefront of implementation – on the streets, in the workplaces, in the communities, on the housing estates putting our line into practice and communicating directly with workers and raising levels of political awareness and class consciousness. And we must do this most of all among the masses who are currently disillusioned, politically unaware and sceptical of the value of left political activity.
We must ensure that the hardship and suffering caused by the austerity measures and attacks on working class living standards turn into anger and not into despair and resignation. To do that we need some successes in struggle, we need to set at first modest, achievable goals to build morale and awareness. And defeating fascist and racist activity is one area where we can do this.
Historically the poll tax was defeated by mass non-compliance that made it impossible to implement. The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign won because, through an enormous effort, it achieved a truly massive level of active involvement and support. It can be done. Some say in both cases there have been subsequent reversals – the council tax system is also unjust and the Government changed the law so that in future cases like Lewisham hospital will not be able to succeed. But both campaigns did succeed in their main immediate goals and set a powerful example for others. Under capitalism there is no such thing as a permanent victory that does not have to be defended again and again but with good morale and mass involvement that is achievable.
And on the anti-racist anti-fascist front there have been a steady level of successes in anti-discrimination laws and the Stephen Lawrence family campaign led to big changes in policing. There is still a long way to go in achieving policing that is really free from racism and the progress achieved is always under threat. But that is the fluid nature of political struggle; we can never let up but we know we can win.
It is down to a critical mass of involvement but to achieve that we have to make a public political stand that people can and will rally to. Three times this year different fascist groups – Britain First and then the ex-EDL’s South East Alliance – have tried to stage events in Cricklewood, north London.
In the first instance in February the anti-fascist picket line was quite modest – the local trades council, members of the Labour Representation Committee and a few others – seemed quite modest in number. But when the fascists turned up it was heartening to see the anti-fascists numbers quadruple at least as local passers-by joined in and it turned into a major success. But it would not have happened if the trades council comrades had not bothered to make a stand in the first place.
In the second instance in June it was the young, mobile and daring comrades of the Antifa movement who totally blocked the street – and also won a lot of support from local passers-by. The fascists were unable to do anything and their leader Paul Pitt exploded with rage and frustration. No violence was involved – just a critical mass of people able to block and road and with the courage to do so.
In the third instance, Paul Pitt’s South East Alliance again tried to march in Cricklewood but the effect of their previous defeat was that Pitt could muster only 17 supporters – and three of them were so embarrassed by the low turnout they did not march with the others but hung about on the sidelines. Pitt protested to the police again – but this time it was very half hearted. Meanwhile the number of anti-fascists had multiplied again and, with a line of big banners right across the street, they barred the way again.
Back in the 70s and 80s the presence of Anti-Nazi-League pickets, however small, at every fascist and racist public activity had a true mass impact on the fascists’ and racists’ morale. It led them more or less to give up street activity. And it was always a very welcome sight to an anti-fascist photographer to know they were not alone. Now Unite Against Fascism and other anti-fascist groups are keeping up that tradition.
In Europe there is a much more serious situation developing with new Nazi parties blatantly displaying fascist and Nazi symbols, calling for pogroms against immigrants, Jews and Roma people.
And in the Ukraine, with the backing of US finance they have seized power from the weak democratic government of Yanukovich as part of a western strategy to bring Ukraine under the political and economic control of Nato and the European Union.
Once again the fascists are being used to divert and divide the working class while the most draconian cuts in wages, pensions and services are being imposed on them as the giant western companies try to seize Ukraine’s agricultural and mineral wealth.
The West had tried before to destabilise Ukraine and supported pro-western and anti-Russian puppets but the people soon saw through them and threw them out. This time they used the pro-EU Maidan Square protesters as a cover to seize power.
Ukrainians are a people who can remember living under socialism and they are putting up a mighty resistance and in the east are attempting to set up breakaway republics. Crimea broke away altogether and reverted to becoming part of Russia, denying the important Russian Naval base at Sevastopol to the Kiev Nazis.
But a full scale war is being fought by Kiev against the peoples of eastern Ukraine.
There is also strong resistance to the Nazi putsch in western Ukraine but it is being dealt with very brutally. Outspoken opponents of the junta are being murdered, communist party offices have been looted and burned, Russian language books are being burned and the language is being outlawed. All to divert attention from the huge drop in living standards being imposed on all the people by western imperialism.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a right-wing nationalist and pro-capitalist but opposed to western imperialism, was quick to accept Crimea back into Russia but is avoiding further Russian involvement. He can clearly see the hand of Washington behind the Kiev junta and he has no desire to escalate the conflict into a third world war. He knows there are hawks in Washington who would like to do that.
Meanwhile he is securing economic agreements with China and other Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries to reduce the power of the US dollar globally and to defuse the American threat that way.
There are also strong Nazi movements in Greece, Hungary, Poland and in Russia itself. But they tend to be divided from each other by their extremist nationalism. Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian and Russian fascists all lay claim to parts of each other’s territories and despise each other as lesser breeds of human.
And there are also strong anti-fascist movements growing up. The memory of the Red Army is growing stronger and communism is remembered once more as the force that succeeded in smashing fascism. It is our strength that we can unite internationally and work together with mutual respect.
We have every reason to get ourselves into the front line of this struggle and show the world that communists still know how to organise, how to recover from initial defeats and setbacks and how to win the war and destroy fascism.