Militant, working class self-organisation: a response to Hope not Hate and Unite Against Fascism
Editorial note: although Liverpool Antifascists agrees with the overall thrust of the following article, it should be read as the opinion of its author and not of LiverAF as a whole.
It is now three weeks until the English Defence League (EDL) descend upon Bradford, and the debate continues about how antifascists should oppose them.
Hope not Hate has led the call for a ban on the EDL marching at all, backed by local political parties, trade unions, Bradford University, faith leaders, the Chamber of Commerce. Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has organised a “unity event,” which has received the backing of at least three trade unions.
The Stop Racism and Fascism (SRF) Network has also called for a demonstration, though they emphasise “working class unity, working class politics and secularism” over cross-class “unity in the community.”
My own opinion on this has long been more in line with the SRF position. In relation to Bradford, last week I reiterated that antifascism needs to be “a non-hierarchical grassroots movement, based upon radical, working-class opposition to the state and capitalism” ready to engage in militant, physical resistance to fascism.
Since I wrote that, both UAF and Hope not Hate have set out the arguments in favour of their respective positions. Here, I would like to clarify why – in different ways – both positions are mistaken.
Nick Lowles tells us that “despite pretending to be opposed only to Islamic extremism, the EDL is going to Bradford to provoke the city’s large Muslim population.” It is this which informs his thinking when explaining why “we are doing everything now to prevent the EDL protest from taking place;”
Almost a third of the people of Bradford are Muslim, the second highest proportion anywhere in England outside London. More signifi-cantly, the city experienced race riots in 2001 for which 200 people went to prison. The city’s reputation was destroyed, divisions between communities widened and deepened and the only beneficiary was the BNP, which began to make significant breakthroughs in council elections.
The scars of the 2001 riot run deep and the city cannot afford another.
This ignores the fact that the 2001 riots followed on from previous riots in Burnley and Oldham. All three followed from increased activity by the British National Party and the National Front, and in 2003 Judge Michael Mansfield emphasised that the Asian community at the time lived under a “matrix of fear.”
As the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty point out;
The riots erupted after weeks of tension fomented by the activities and threats of the National Front and the BNP, both assiduous in stoking the racial tensions that have developed in the economically deprived and politically neglected Northern cities of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley.
An NF march was threatened and so were counter demonstrations. Local Asian communities, who for years had expressed resentment at targeted policing and racism on the part of police officers were angry and frightened. When, that afternoon, an Asian youth was attacked by fascists leaving a pub and police apparently took no action, fear and anger gave way to violent rage and a bloody street battle that lasted through the night.
Indeed, the fact that then-Home Secretary David Blunkett banned all marches through Bradford only three days prior to this did not prevent the riot from happening.
This is aside from the fact that, given the public mandate to ban protests, the police will use it against working class people and the left far more than against reactionaries.
I have previously argued in-depth against collaboration with the state in any form, citing an appendix to Bash the Fash: Anti-fascists recollections, 1984-1993;
There are three main reasons why co-operating with the police against the fascists is a bad idea (i) the police demand or covertly obtain information about our side who they regard as a worse enemy anyway (ii) the police agenda is against ‘extremists’ left and right, which may account for Searchlight’s disgraceful smear campaign against some fine anti-fascists in the DAM and Class War (iii) as some hairy bloke once said “the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class alone” ie we can fight our own battles thank you very much.
In the Guardian, Sunny Hundal gives some concrete examples of the police’s conduct in this regard;
In 1995, following protests by a large group of Sikhs in Birmingham, the controversial play Behzti was shut down. The protestors weren’t directly culpable – they had a right to protest after all – for that act of censorship; it was the police that informed Birmingham Rep that they could no longer guarantee the safety of their staff. A lot of pressure from local councillors was also alleged. Five years later, when the author of that play tried to put on her next production, the police initially demanded £10,000 a day to protect the theatre – without a single threat being issued. Eventually they were negotiated down to nothing and the excellent production went ahead.
The problem isn’t just the police, it’s our political culture. The Conservatives and New Labour have never been particularly enamoured of protecting civil liberties (though the influence of the Lib Dems on the coalition may change this) and have fallen over themselves in the past to give the police carte blanche. The media has the same hypocritical attitude: the rightwing press will rail against protests or complain about the cost of policing on certain occasions, but take up the cause of free speech and the right to insult people at other times.
Like Hope not Hate, UAF have no problem with the fact that “section 12 and section 13 of the Public Order Act, allow the police to ban both marches and static demonstrations.”
They agree that “the response to the EDL planned mobilisation in Bradford has to be to campaign for a ban,” despite all the above. However, they cite the practical point that “to date, apart from one in Luton, the authorities have refused to ban EDL demonstrations.”
As such, ”it is also vital to develop a movement that comes to the defence of communities under attack, demonstrating to the fascists that these communities are not isolated and will not be left to stand alone.”
The problem is that what UAF are organising is no such thing. They are keen to stress that “the event being organised is not a “counter demonstration”.” It is a “peaceful, multicultural celebration of unity” which “is co-operating fully [with the police] to ensure that there is no confrontation with the EDL.”
In which case, one might ask, how are they going to “defend” anybody from them?
This is why, in Hope not Hate’s words, “no EDL protest has actually been stopped by a counter-demonstration” thus far. This is not the genuine radicalism that annihilated the National Front in the 1980s, it is a heavily watered-down version for middle class, liberal consumption.
Hence the analysis of the factors that gave rise to the EDL. It is simply “in the context of a rise of Islamophobia across society” that the group exists, “to whip up hatred, prejudice and fear,” with “anti-Muslim prejudice as a focal point for racism.” They are the street branch of the BNP and an attack on lovey-dovey multiculturalism, nothing more.
This ignores the fact that the “rise of Islamophobia” comes in the context of concerted attacks on the working class in the name of capitalism. We are being made to pay for the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, with jobs, welfare, local infrastructure, and public services all in the firing line.
Meanwhile, the state and the media have offered external threats – immigrants and Muslims – as convenient scapegoats, glossing over reality.
Sections of the left have further muddied the waters by declaring “solidarity” with Muslim “communities,” without any regard to the complex internal politicsthey were wading into. A clear example of this is the recent debacle at Tower Hamlets, where UAF offered support to the reactionary Islamic Forum of Europe, whilst those who aligned themselves “against fascism in all its colours” were branded as “racists.”
The English Defence League is just one group which feeds off the discontent and confusion that this creates. State and media propaganda, as well as an entirely out-of-touch left, allows them to drum up support by turning real grievances driven by capitalism into latent racism.
None of which is acknowledged by UAF, sticking rigidly to the “one society, many cultures” line in order to keep the state and ruling class supporters of their “popular front” on board.
This is entirely the wrong approach to take. Not only because it means antifascism’s only success will be as a recruiting front for tiny sects on the authoritarian left, but because it adds to the Blairite spin that “the class war is over.” Which, of course, leaves fascism as the only alternative to the status quo.
If that’s not what we want, then clearly neither UAF nor Hope not Hate offer the answer.
Although antifascism is an end in itself, it is also a part of the wider class struggle. If we want it to have any effect, we cannot gloss that over for the support of those who – when the fascists aren’t around – will be attacking our livelihoods and bussing scabs across our picket lines.