Tommy Robinson’s memoir: the landlords’ road to socialism


There have been few sustained attempts to understand Tommy Robinson’s movement. Various academic books (by Joel Busher, Nigel Copsey, Simon Winlow and others) have been written about his previous party, the EDL, but their accounts tend to stop before 2016, i.e. with Robinson separated from his former supporters. In the last two years, Robinson has built up a larger street presence than ever before: 15,000 people marched for his release from prison, or around five times more than the EDL ever mobilised. One way to understand Tommy Robinson’s movement is to closely look at his memoir, Enemy of the State (2017). Written during a period of imprisonment for mortgage fraud, and widely read by his supporters, it precedes Robinsons’ elevation to his present celebrity, but it reflects the same sort of relationship to his supporters that you see in Robinson’s more recent social media output.

A personal style of leadership

Robinson’s book is an autobiography. It seeks to establish that its author is much like his readers, if perhaps more politically conscious than they are. An obvious comparison to make is with Hitler’s Mein Kampf, another far-right memoir, and also written in prison. Hitler’s book is longer: at around 1000 pages, it is about four times the length of Robinson’s. This reflects the much greater crisis in post-1918 Germany, the actuality of revolution and the obsession with which the counter-revolutionaries opposed the left, as well as the much greater availability of reactionary ideas in post-war Germany which Hitler could fuse into a more coherent theory.

Adolf Hitler had one basic idea, which was to make “race” a concept in order to transform the state. Races, he insisted, were unequal. This was an absolute law, which both explained all of human history, and gave birth to a detailed, systematic programme for territorial expansion, war and genocide. There is a personal story in Mein Kampf, but it is interspersed with a political manifesto. Reading Mein Kempf is in many places like being stuck in a pub with the worst bore you could imagine, except that Hitler demands your attention not merely for a few hours, but for days or weeks without allowing you a break even to sleep because all this time will be needed if he is going to explain to you how Europe will be transformed as soon as the racial idea dominates. Hitler ends his book by promising that Germany will soon lead the earth.

Tommy Robinson, by contrast, writes as if he has no developed programme other than a general feeling that people like him have been unfairly ignored. Robinson admits that when he joined the English Defence League he didn’t read newspapers on even watch news programmes on television. He describes feeling “belittled” by interviewers when he first started going on television Robinson frequently asserts his ignorance, admits to listening to other right-wing leaders but says that their arguments were beyond him. His book is narrower than Hitler’s, and more personal,. Its ends by asserting a personal project – simply to stay out of jail.

Part of the working class – but running away from it

In the first chapter of Mein Kampf, Hitler tries to show that he was different from many Germans: middle-class and more affluent. “My father,” he writes on the first page, “was a civil servant who fulfilled his duties very consciously.” These passages were not chosen by accident. The NSDAP’s strategy was to recruit suffering members of the middle-classes and convert them into a private army which could be used against the unions and the workers’ movement. Hitler’s life fitted into that project.

By contrast, Robinson insists on his working-class origins. He describes himself as having been born into an Irish family and having a Glaswegian stepfather who worked as a pipe fitter. Robinson grew up in Farley Hill, “the biggest working class community” in Luton and attended his local Junior and High schools. After that, Robinson was employed as an apprentice to be an aeronautical engineer with Britannia Airways, then as a self-employed painter and decorator, and later ran a plumbing business with his stepfather. His closest ally, Kevin Carroll (also Robinson’s cousin), is described as a “first class carpenter, builder and five star bloke”.

While this sounds like an ordinary working-class existence, actually Robinson’s account points somewhere different. Early on, Robinson describes a neighbour who moved into the next door house and raced bikes professionally. The neighbour owned his own Lotus and Ferrari and even leant encouraged in Robinson an interest in trials bikes. But the neighbour turned out to be involved in fraud, on a massive scale, and was caught and imprisoned. Robinson is full of admiration, crediting this friendship for introducing him to the possibility of a “flash” life.

Robinson describes himself as working class, and those he dislikes as middle class. But what he means by class is birth and education rather than trajectory. This is a description of class in which Alan Sugar would be working class (even though he is rich and employs people to work for him) or Donald Trump (even though he was given pocket money amounting to several millions of dollars a year while he was still a young child) because he is “one of us”: white, combative, and showy with money.

Throughout his book, Robinson’s boasts that he has pulled himself up, away from normal working class life. His book was written in 2016, i.e. before Robinson was being paid ‎£8,000 per months by Rebel Media, and before the vast sums he took in donations during his recent imprisonment. Already by this point, he says, he owned seven properties, starting with the freehold on a tanning salon business – and these leases earned him, no doubt, a rental income several times more than the average salary. Indeed Robinson now lives in a £950,000 home in rural Bedfordshire.

Robinson is not saying that only landlords can join his movement; but what he is pitching to a particular segment of working class life. His supporters predominantly have jobs in the private sector, rather than the public sector. They operate on the borders of illegality. They are self-employed. They get on through schemes of personal enrichment rather than through unions or any collective approach.

Women – not wanted

“I’ve always been comfortable,” Robinson writes, “in a bloke-oriented environment,” and it is a feature of his memoir that very few women are mentioned: his mother, his wife (good), his probation officer (bad). He is the sort of writer who can describe himself – without finding this in any way unusual – as “having a bit of a domestic” when describing walking outside his home with his own wife.

A quarter of the way into his book, Robinson recalls his cousin Jeanette, a woman of about his own age. As teenager, Robinson says, Jeanette was “groomed” by a gang of Pakistani men, persuaded by them to acquire a heroin addiction, after which she was “gang-raped by half a dozen Muslim men”. Jeanette apparently returned home, only to escape again. At the end of his story, Jeanette has converted to Islam and married a Muslim. She has six children. The family cannot see her, Robinson complains, even if she was still living in Luton, since even if they were on the same street as her should would be unrecognisable beneath a burka.

There are many reasons to be sceptical. The story is too convenient, it involves too many people doing what Robinson’s politics tell him “ought” to have happened: a female victim, Muslim criminals, the passivity of the incompetent British state.

One further reason for caution is that the story fits over-neatly into older patterns of sexist story-telling. The historian who captures this best is Klaus Theweleit, who for his book Male Fantasies, studied the diaries and memoirs of a previous generation of far-right activists, the 1918-era German Freikorps, the immediate predecessor to Hitler’s Nazis. In their books, Theweleit observed, there were only two sorts of women: “white” (mothers, nurses, nuns) and “red”. The latter were sexually promiscuous and politically pro-Communist. Supporters of the German right were required to murder or rape them, or they might be killed themselves. In Robinson’s story, his cousin Jeanette is a latter-day red woman. She is a race traitor: a willing convert to Islam. She betrays her family. She is sexually active and indifferent to human suffering, even if the suffering is played out on her own body. She expresses, in other words, a recurring far-right fantasy in which an entire class of women – even though they are British and “ought” to be virtuous – are a little less than human. They can become full people only be setting aside their selfish desires and agreeing to put their lives into the hands of their betters: i.e. patriotic white men.

Racism – obsessive and banal

For Hitler, everything was race. In the first pages of Mein Kampf he sets out that the Jews are Germany’s greatest enemy, and that if Germany’s national ambitions are to be allowed (and she will build a colonial empire), the Jews must be defeated. Hitler espoused a racial theory of history, in which every single non-white person had to be classified in terms of how much they would, or would not, assist his plans for a universal white ascendancy. Repeatedly, this lead Hitler to absurd results. He would give no practical assistance, for example, to those anti-Muslim racists and anti-semites who were the forerunners of today’s BJP. Because they were Hindu, they were racial inferiors, and had to be ruled by the British. Even in the depths of the Second World War, Hitler preferred to leave India in the control of the British (with whom he was at war) rather than the people who wanted to ally with him.

A recurring argument of Enemy of the States is that Robinson has no problems with other races but only with Muslims. Islam is “taking over communities, racially victimis[ing] [whites] … ethnically clean[ing] non-Muslim people”.

When talking about Muslims, Robinson comes over as obsessed, paranoid, willing to believe any conspiracy that suits him. When it comes to his dealings with other black people, his approach is different. Repeatedly, Robinson alludes to having black friends. He takes one to a BNP meeting, he invites another to EDL demonstrations. These figures (if they ever actually existed) appear once, and are named, but never appear twice. Robinson seems to think that treating black people as his stage friends proves either that he isn’t a racist, or that his supporters aren’t.

Robinson is trying to lead his supporters towards the adoption of a particular kind of politics: one that is hateful towards Muslims while offering black or Jewish people an Alan Partridge or David Brent sort of racism: exaggerative, inconsistent, ignorant, lurching suddenly from declarations of friendship to hostility.

Distancing himself from the BNP

There is a widely-held view on the British left that Tommy Robinson represents an immediate fascist threat. Writing in Jacobin, Richard Seymour describes Robinson as “a clever fascist”. Meanwhile Socialist Worker calls him, “Nazi Tommy Robinson.” There are indeed a few places when Robinson’s book reads like the sort of memoir that a leader of the National Front or the BNP might have written. “My over-arching crime,” Robinson writes, “has been to be a patriot. I love my country.” Elsewhere he complains, “It still seems perverse to me, the way that taking pride in the cross of St George and the Union Jack suddenly makes you at best a far right bigot”.

Robinson was a member of the BNP – although briefly. He claims they were “the only people talking about the problems with the Muslim community”. He says he attended one meeting where the speaker talked “plain common sense about the whole range of Muslim / Islamic issues” and never renewed his membership.

His account is self-serving. Long ago, Searchlight published a photo of Robinson at a BNP meeting. The speaker was Richard Edmonds. By the time of Robinson joined the BNP, the party’s original leader John Tyndall had been deposed as leader by Nick Griffin, and Griffin was taking the party away from its street fighting roots in the direction of a more respectable Euro-fascism, modelled on the Front National in France. Edmonds was a critic of Griffin’s leadership – he did not speak often at BNP meetings and when he did, it was on a factional basis, to promote a perspective which was even closer to Hitlerian National Socialism than the BNP mainstream. We can assume, therefore, that the speech would have been littered with anti-semitic codewords and other ideas derived from 1930s-style national socialism. If it really struck Robinson as just mere “common sense”, that tells you more about the extent of his politicisation during these pre-EDL years than he likes to admit.

Who, really, is Tommy Robinson?

The figure that emerges from Robinson’s memoir is different from the monsters of classical fascism. The traditional basis under which anti-fascists have justified our politics is by saying that the far right represents an urgent threat, in Leon Trotsky’s phrase, to uproot ‘all elements of proletarian democracy within bourgeois society … whatever has been achieved during three quarters of a century by the social democracy and the trade unions’. Jair Bolsonaro plausibly fits that description: like Hitler, he is promising punitive violence against the left. But the Tommy Robinson of Enemy of the State has a different antagonist – not the left, not reformism or social democracy, not even all racial others, but simply Muslims, politicised or otherwise. The fascists of the 1930s told the majority of people that they too could take part in politics, but the price of their participation was the destruction of the only organizations which provided any chance of popular rule. If Robinson’s programme really was the abolition of democarcy, then he does very little in his memoir to prepare his followers for it.

The strongest impression of Tommy Robinson that emerges from these pages is rather of what an older generation would have considered a spiv: a person who works on the border of legality, who is concerned only with their personal enrichment. A person born into the working class, but doing all in their power to escape from it. Tommy Robinson is the salesman of his own reputation, who finds himself by chance having to incarnate the present moment of post-9/11 politics. He has no programme and little vision, other than the hunch that this is the way to an easy life and nothing else he does will ever be as well remunerated again.


Never Again


Readers may enjoy a couple of interviews I’ve done this week. One was for the Allston Pudding music blog in Boston, and they’ve kindly posted both the interview itself and a transcript. We talk about migration, colonies, the police in Manchester – and the way in which Labour politicians worked behind the scenes to cover up for them. Link here.

The other thing I want to share is an interview with Joe Mulhall from the Hope not Hate podcast. It’s available by clicking the image, above or if you have a generic fruit based device via “podcasts”. Before Joe worked for HnH he was a historian, and with this interview (especially in the second half) he takes the story to places that aren’t obvious:

How can we know for sure that the 100,000 people at the first RAR carnival were there for the politics rather than the music?

Why have I’ve argued that the Coroner at Blair Peach‘s inquest prevented that from being in any way a fair hearing?

How do we know that it was the political anti fascist movement rather than, say, Thatcher that defeated the NF?

What did physical force anti-fascism contribute?

Is it really fair to argue that in the last fifteen years anti fascism has been overburdened by the memory of our victories at the end of the 1970s?

The interview is here.

The book itself can be ordered here.

Next week I’m speaking in Edinburgh and Glasgow. PM me if you’d like details.

Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League


More tasters for my book Never Again:

A video kindly made for me by Steve Davidson of Cardiff Momentum:

Never Again has had a first review, in The Spectator.

And, on the RS21 website, a piece in which I talk about Rock Against Racism, why the movement was so special and why it’s wrong to try to recreate it: “What anti-fascists need, it follows, is a step away from past models. That was the spirit in which I wrote my book, in the hope that by understanding what was compelling and successful about the past, future generations might think away from it. That they could create something new, relying on different cultural politics better suited for our moment. That if they understood the anti-racism and anti-fascism of the 1970s, they could be even bolder than the generations of forty years ago.”

Red Lion Square and the death of Kevin Gateley


On 15 June 1974, clashes between anti-fascists and the police at London’s Red Lion Square culminated in a police charge against anti-fascist demonstrators. One anti-Front protester, Kevin Gateley, a student at Warwick University, died. He was the first person to be killed at a political protest in mainland Britain since 1919. The purpose of this piece is to explain how he was killed, who in fact was blamed, and to fit his death into the wide context of anti-fascism in British history.

The events leading up to his death began in April 1974, when the Front booked the large hall at Conway Hall, a venue long associated with secular humanism and the anti-war left. In early June, the anti-imperialist campaign group Liberation, headed by veteran Labour MP Fenner Brockway, learned of the Front’s booking and attempted to book a room of their own elsewhere in the building. By 9 June, the police were aware that both the Front and its opponents planned to hold demonstrations culminating at Conway Hall. The owners of Conway Hall, the South Place Ethical Society, through their General Secretary Peter Cadogan, released a press statement defending the decision to allow the Font a room on free speech grounds.

There were two demonstrations on 15 June. A Front contingent, about 900-strong, formed up at Tothill Street in central London and approached Red Lion Square from the southwest. They were held by the police and made to wait at the corner of Vernon Place and Southampton Row, about a hundred metres due west of the northwest corner of Red Lion Square. Meanwhile, 1500 or so Liberation marchers approached Red Lion Square from the northeast.

In a later report Lord Justice Scarman estimated that within the anti-fascist crowd there were about 400-500 supporters of the International Marxist Group, a smaller number of International Socialists and about 40-50 supporters of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist). The front of the demonstration marched from east to west along Theobalds Road and turned left down Old North Street where it approached Red Lion Square from the north. The organisers had reached an agreement with the police that on arriving at the Square the anti-fascists would be permitted to turn left and march clockwise around the eastern edge of Red Lion Square. They would pass Conway Hall, in the square’s northeast corner and settle in the south east corner where they would hold a static protest. On arriving at Red Lion Square, it was made clear however to the organisers that the police had changed their minds and would permit a public protest only in the northwest corner of the square, that is, at a much greater distance from the Front meeting. The police therefore instructed the demonstrators to turn right, away from Conway Hall. The Liberation organisers agreed to this re-routing of their protest and about 500 people followed. The rest of the marchers however remained where they were.

As for what happened next, there are two main versions. The first is the account given by police officers to the subsequent Scarman Inquiry. They reported that forty or so Maoists behind a red CPE (M-L) banner briefly pushed towards the police line on the North side of the square. In response, the officer in charge Deputy Assistant Commissioner J. H. Gerrard ordered his officers to clear all remaining anti-fascists from the northwards edge of Red Lion Square. This decision required the police to split the anti-fascist group in two: the Liberation contingent were allowed their meeting in the square’s northwest corner; the remaining anti-fascist were to be expelled from the square northwards leaving the area around Conway Hall free for the National Front to hold their meeting. In this account, it was as the demonstrators were being expelled from the square that Kevin Gateley was killed.

The other version of events is the one found by Lord Scarman. In his account, the Maoists were ignored in favour of members of the IMG (‘a front of determined-looking young men with their arms linked’) who had refused to follow the Liberation organisers and led instead what Scarman termed ‘a pushing affair – the weight of a small number of demonstrators’ against police lines. This tentative push, Scarman found, grew in force, even though the numbers involved were still tiny, becoming a first ‘vicious scrimmage’, then an ‘unexpected, unprovoked and viciously violent’ assault and in its final stages a ‘riot’, to which it was the police’s ‘duty’ to respond with unrestrained force. To an event greater extent even that the police themselves, Scarman blamed Gateley’s death not on the officers who struck him but on the IMG whose failure to disperse was (for Scarman) the effective cause of Gateley’s death.

At forty years distance, some of Scarman’s findings just about ring true. The measures of linking arms was a recurring anti-fascist tactic, which had travelled to Britain via the IMG from Paris. The suggestion that a couple of dozen protesters may have pushed at police lines is plausible; the police were, after all, blocking the agreed route to Conway Hall. At demonstrations, it is far from unusual for police pushes to be resisted and for something like a ‘scrimmage’ (i.e. a rugby scrum) to follow between protesters and the police. Members of the IMG, a party which in its subsequent history was never at the militant wing of anti-fascism, may well have seen the CPE (M-L) and may have pushed in the same the direction as them. Even if we accept that they pushed as hard as they could while still linking arms (Scarman’s ‘vicious scrimmage’), this is no force at all. Anyone who has attended more than a handful of protests will have seen desultory pushing of this sort; the reason why Red Lion Square is remembered is not because of this push but because of the police response, which was to escalate the conflict by charging at the crowd with batons drawn.

Photographs from the day show mounted police striking at the heads of demonstrators with sticks. Nick Mullen, a twenty-eight-year-old student from an Irish family was one of those struck on the head. He had been on Old North Street at the same time as Kevin Gateley and a picture shows Mullen’s face thick with blood. In Mullen’s account, the fatal conflict began when the policemen on foot received an order to attack, causing them to lift their batons. One demonstrator called out, ‘Why don’t you put your truncheons away?’ To which a policeman answered, ‘You must be fucking joking.’ There was a push and one of the demonstrators fell. Mullen claims to have heard a policeman shout, ‘One of the bastards is down. Let’s trample him.’

The last photographs before Gateley suffered the blow that killed him show the student at the junction of Red Lion Square and Old North Street with his way seemingly blocked by police officers. Between Gateley and Conway Hall there are mounted policemen, riding their horses into the crowd. Gateley is three rows back from them, facing mounted officers to his front and police on foot to his side. Subsequent photographs show Gateley after he collapsed. Officers reached for Gateley’s unconscious body and lifted his foot before it fell weightless to the ground.

The post-mortem was conducted by Dr Iain West of St Thomas’s Hospital. West indicated that the cause of death was a haemorrhage resulting from a head injury. He found an oval bruise at the back of Gateley’s ear about three quarters of an inch long. The injury had been caused by a hard object. It was impossible to tell from the shape of the bruise what had caused the injury, other than that it was likely to be a blunt object, possibly a police truncheon.

By quarter past four, the police had succeeded in clearing the north east corner of Red Lion Square, after which they were able to bring in the Front to their meeting. Aside from Gateley, some 48 people were reported to have been injured and by the end of the day some 51 anti-fascists were arrested.

Martin Walker noted that in the aftermath of the events, the Front was jubilant. It was the Front who ‘emerged as the innocent victims of political violence, the Left who emerged as the instigators.’ Richard Clutterbuck, an academic writer about terrorism, also read the day as a victory for the Front: ‘Television films showed the NF marchers standing stock still with closed ranks on one side of Southampton Row while “dirty, hairy lefties” swarmed about in a chaotic battle with the police on the other … The result was precisely what the NF would have wished: publicity for the purposes of their demonstration, discrediting of their detractors.’

So assured was the Front of its moral authority after Red Lion Square that Martin Webster wrote to the Home Secretary demanding that ‘the leaders of the International Marxist Group, the International Socialists, the Communist Party and their individual associates on the Executive of the National Union of Students be indicted for conspiracy to incite and promote acts of criminal violence.’

At Lord Scarman’s Inquiry into the Red Lion Square disorders, Martin Webster admitted that he and John Tyndall had a history of anti-Semitism. He acknowledged the chants used by the Front, ‘The Reds, the Reds, we’ve got to get rid of the Reds,’ and admitted that the Front expected their opponents to respond angrily to them. Webster named the two heads of the Front’s honour guard, Ron Tier and Ken Merritt and claimed not to know that just four years before Merritt had spent six months in prison for robbery with violence. As for the suggestion that the National Front was led by self-confessed Nazis and Hitlerites (i.e. himself and John Tyndall), Webster said that it was led ‘by people who ten or twelve years ago were National Socialists but have long ceased to be so.’ Webster became ill-tempered as his evidence wore on and his answers petulant. He later wrote to Scarman to apologise for the way he had given his evidence, ‘I am a rather quick-tempered person … and it may be that I over-reacted.’ Ultimately, Scarman’s conclusions gave succour to the Front, absolving the police and concluding that ‘those who started the riot,’ by which he meant the IMG, ‘carry a measure of moral responsibility for [Gateley’s] death.’

Undoubtedly, there were periods when physical confrontations with anti-fascists sapped the morale of the Front’s supporters, reducing attendances at marches and public meetings and isolating the Front from potential supporters. But at other times and especially when the Front was able to claim the mantle of victimhood, physical confrontation seems to have boosted the Front’s morale. In June 1974, the academic Nigel Fielding was carrying out fieldwork among Front branches in South London. He records the ‘keen interest,’ with which members discussed the possibility of ‘confrontation with opponents’. Branch members wanted to discuss practical plans to prevent anti-fascists from attacking their coaches while the Front marched. Some Front supporters were impressed by the security arrangements at Conway Hall, where sixty-five members of the Front’s Honour Gard had been tasked with protecting the venue. One exchange between members ended with the NF’s Branch Organiser saying, ‘The Front knows how to defend itself.’

Around this time, Halifax National Front established a ‘flying squad’ with a goal of confronting marches by ‘communist, leftist, immigrant or other groups’.

Four months after Gateley’s death, the NF branch in Birmingham wrote to its supporters: ‘It is doubtful if many members are aware of the intense hostility which our campaign in Birmingham has engendered.’ The letter described an attack which had been made by members of the IS and IMG on a Front meeting in Handsworth. That had been repulsed. However, it continued, ‘We have received information that another public meeting, to be held on Tuesday 8 October at 8pm, is most certainly going to be subjected to the same treatment by the opposition who are determined to try and “Smash the National Front in Birmingham”. The meeting will be their Waterloo and all activists are urged in the strongest possible terms to attend.’

The events at Red Lion Square fit awkwardly into anti-fascist narratives of the 1970s. For anti-fascists, it is much easier to remember a political victory (a march which demoralised our opponents and contributed materially to their isolation) than a draw or a defeat. While the accusation that the left had significantly contributed to Gateley’s was unjust, the opinion of a single Judge with too much power, too much authority, and too little insight; there must be people still living who have doubts as to how the anti-fascist contingents were organised. The key participants on the left – the IMG even the Communist Party (whose members diligently attended the inquest and published the best account of it we have), even the Maoists – aren’t the people that most historians go back to when researching the story of the 1970s. As for the setting, a central London street with no politicised black community to draw on; this is one in which the left has rarely flourished. It is also, of course, exactly the scene in which anti-fascism has been located repeatedly over the past two years.




As readers may know I have two books coming out in the next four months: Never Again, which is a history of Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League, and is published by Routledge next week, and the New Authoritarians, which is about the ways in which the contemporary far right differs, for example, from the global far right of the 1970s. That appears with Pluto / Haymarket, next April.

In the run up to the publications of these books, I’ve been doing a number of interviews with podcasts, and readers may enjoy either of the following:

This week, I’ve been on the Better Off Red podcast, talking about anti-fascism in the 1970s. (Link above).

I also gave an interview a couple of months ago to Novara Media, putting the rise of the DFLA in the context of how the far right has been growing internationally (Link below).

I hope you enjoy both of them.

When No Platforming really did mean No Platforms


Anyone who has attended an anti-fascist meeting, worth of the name, will have heard the phrase “no platform”. The idea is that fascism is a unique and urgent threat to the left, not just communists or anarchists but even the most moderate forms of social democracy. It threatens to remove the right to vote, the right to organise in workplaces, and the welfare state. To prevent this catastrophe, anti-fascists must deprive the far right of any opportunity to spread its message.

For much of the time, the phrase “no platform” is not meant literally: as Evan Smith has shown, the term was coined in 1972, i.e. at about the time that the National Front secured its highest by-election vote (Martin Webster won 16 percent of the vote at West Bromwich in 1973), and when the Front by standing in sufficient number of parliamentary seats was able to put on party political broadcasts, which were watched by hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. No platform was a statement of intent, not a description of the real balance of forces between different groups.

That said, there was a time when anti-fascists could use the term accurately: in the immediate aftermath of the second world war.

Between about 1946 and 1951, the characteristic form of anti-fascism was the 43 Group, an organisation of militant anti-fascists, dominated by young Jews, very many of whom had recently seen active service.

It was never the only form of anti-fascism: the Labour Party and the Communist Party (CP) both supported anti-Mosley campaigns; probably the single most effective group in this period in turning out large numbers of people to oppose the fascists were local trades councils.

The 43 Group, moreover, was not a single generation of people with a shared strategy. At one wing, it shaded into Zionism (43 Group literature was effusive about the Irgun). At the other, it overlapped with the CP. Several 43 group members dual carded; including Maurice Essex, Phil Piratin’s election agent, and Len Rolnick, who helped to found the group. A full list would run into the dozens.

The 43 Group came as close as any anti-fascists in British history ever had to literally “no platforming” the Union Movement.

One of the Group’s distinctive tactics was to group a dozen of its members into an arrow-head shape, then charge into a fascist crowd, with the view of finding the speaker and knocking him down from the platform.

To explain how this tactics could work, certain things need to be remembered:

In an era before mass ownership of television, almost all public political discussion took place in the open, with speakers standing on boxes or small steps, in one of a large number of local “speakers’ corners”.

The Union Movement was sustained by a close-knit generation, at the heart of which were the 750 or so fascists who had been detained in war time. This group went from private to public meetings following instructions from Mosley, reaching a peak of around 20 meetings a week in autumn to winter 1947. With sufficient intelligence, in other words, anti-fascists could establish who would be speaking, at what times, and be pretty confident that they knew every potential fascist “pitch”. Indeed there are reports of 43 Group members travelling by car from place to place, knocking over far-right speakers. A small number of anti-fascists could have a very considerable effect.

Moreover, this was immediately after the war, and the majority of onlookers needed no persuading that fascism was a violent and despicable tradition, or that physical resistance to it was a reasonable response.

The fascists had relatively few other means of putting their ideas across. They experimented with other approaches – fascist book clubs under neutral-sounding names, entryism in Conservative Parties, employers groups and unions… But they had no real means of going public other than these speaker meetings.

By winter 1947-8, the Union Movement had settled on a single tactic to avoid these confrontation, i.e. pulling together all its London meetings into a single venue, and using almost all the group’s active members to protect the stage and prevent its speakers from being knocked over. But this approach could be no long-term answer: by restricting themselves to a single venue (the Ridley Road market in Dalston), their ability to find a new audience was reduced; moreover, the centralisation of British fascists into a single place, made it much easier for local trade unionists, socialists, and communists to organise against them.

In March 1951, Mosley announced that he was leaving England for Ireland, complaining, “No man can start a crusade from within a gaol”. He recognised that sustained anti-fascist campaigning had made it almost impossible for his supporters to speak.

It is certainly possible to imagine other kinds of anti-fascist victory more relevant to today’s world of decentered communication and social media. Maybe the goal should no longer be the total incarceration, as it were, of fascism but its containment below a level so far below its present level of success that even today’s popularity seems unattainable to its cadres. But when we think of previous cycles of fascist/anti-fascist conflict, we will always look back to the 1940s. This was the lowest point for the British right since the fascist parties were launched a hundred years ago.