Tag Archives: Anti-fascism

When the Red Wall fell

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A review of Mike Makin Waite, On Burnley Road: Class, Race and Politics in a Northern English Town

Makin-Waite was a council official in Burnley, when riots were followed by electoral success for the BNP (16% of the vote in Oldham West, 11% in Burnley), creating the conditions for the party’s subsequent breakthrough (3 councillors elected in Burnley in 2002, fifty council seats in Britain by the end of the decade).

A former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and teenage supporter of the Anti-Nazi League, Makin-Waite was at a meeting of council officials in 2002. The town was on the way to becoming a byword for racism, but one after the other the senior officials rose to insist there was no reason to panic, cohesion grants, project work, the situation would soon return to normal. Makin-Waite said that normal wasn’t coming back any time soon, the problems were too deep-rooted for that. The chief executive glowered at him and called him to a meeting. Rather than discipline him as he feared for speaking out of turn, she gave him the job of leading Burnley Council’s response.

This is a detailed and compelling account of how the state dealt with the challenge of political extremism, patiently isolating its key figures over a period of many years. The irony that it took a Communist to rescue the town’s two-party system is not lost on Makin-Waite.

The social crisis in Burnley had been brewing for many years. Its political expression began in the Labour Party under the leadership of Councillor Eddie Fisk, who was by the end of the 1990s one of the town’s longest-serving councillors.

From the mid-1990s onwards, Fisk had sought to shore up his support in “his” ward of Lowerhouse, by involving himself in all administrative decisions. Fisk’s main agenda, Makin-Waite explains, was to prevent “ethnic minorities” from being housed there. When the party finally, reluctantly, decided it had no choice but to investigate him, Fisk was defended by the Conservative, Liberal Democrats, and many in his own party. “Everyone knew” that if Asian people were permitted to live in a predominantly white ward, those white voters would flee, and the area become run down. Surely, by keeping Asians and Muslims out of Lowerhouse, they reasoned, Fisk was doing what any principled councillor would do.

The real cause of poverty, Makin-Waite insists, was job losses not immigration: the town’s manufacturing employment fell by 80 percent between 1950 and 2000. But councillors had no inclination to fight redundancies (Fisk himself was a former prominent “working miner” from 1984-5). It was easier to blame the town’s Asian minority than to fight for jobs.

Fisk was expelled from Labour and ran as an Independent in May 1998. He still had such influence in his ward that his allies were able to secure the nomination of Samuel Holgate to stand against him. The latter secured the nomination, then in the final days refused to campaign, claiming he was too ill to lave his home. On Fisk’s victory, Holgate (now revealed to be Fisk’s nephew) left Labour for Fisk’s Burnley Independents.

Three years before the BNP came in to Burnley, appeals to white identity were already being used to cohere an anti-Labour voting bloc. The Independents did not stand in the 2001 general election, and their audience swung to the BNP. By 2002, the latter had 1000 members in Burnley. Its candidates included a pub landlord, a civil engineer and an assembly-line worker. Its leaflets appealed to “ordinary,” “decent,” “authentic” white citizens.

BNP members tried to engineer right-wing talking-points. They ran local bakers urging their workers to stop up to the Muslim pressure (what pressure, the bakers asked) and keep on baking their “Christian” hot cross buns. The councillors demanded the names and addresses of all asylum seekers living in Burnley – the request was refused. They asked if IT support could be provided by white employees only. They asked to opt out of receiving information being sent to all councillors (if it contained news about Muslims). Their publications complained that Muslims and Asians were getting preferential access to plum council jobs (35 of the council’s 700 employees were Asian). The council sent the party a solicitor’s letters saying the BNP were not entitled to lie. Next thing, a councillor was standing at Makin-Waite’s desk asking him to check the copy of BNP leaflets for accuracy – he declined.

Labour’s default reaction to a new class of politicians relying on myths of preferential treatment for outsiders was to demand more resources from government. Makin-Waite understands and to some extent commends this reaction, while also observing that it was inadequate. It was easier talking about bread and butter than admitting that large numbers of former Labour voters felt the appeal of racism. Councillors and party members were defensive and had no “confidence” in resisting racism.

Shaped by his own previous activism on the far left, Makin-Waite is attentive to the positions taken by radical anti-fascists. He argues however that anti-fascist materials had little purchase in the town – the BNP candidates were local, and well-known, beyind a certain threshhold of success just terming them “Nazis” no longer worked.

“The party had earned the right to be understood in terms of political sociology: it could not longer be defined through assessing its leaders’ hidden motives.” The BNP’s success “expressed a distorted logic of class as race”. The ideology was pernicious and exclusionary, but it succeeded for a time in making BNP voters situation in the town and their own personal circumstances intelligible. Makin-Waite described the local working class as “damaged” and the BNP succeeding because it offered a “wounded pride”.

Slowly, the BNP were driven back – Griffin’s racism and long-term commitment to fascist politics proved, over time, the liability it was always likely to be. But the end of the story is not a happy one. Burnley’s exceptionalism slowly paled. In 2016, the town voted 2/3 for Brexit. In 2017, it was the home to UKIP’s only county councillor. In December 2019, Burnley had a Conservative MP for the first time since 1910-11.

Makin-Waite argues that there is a continuity between the BNP’s electoral breakthrough in 2001-2, and the present talk of the Red Wall. Undoubtedly, there are continuities, although as the content of right-wing populism becomes successively diluted and normalised, so too is it harder to resist. The answer, of course, is a re-energised working class and re-learning of anti-racist first principles. But that, as Makin-Waite concludes, is easier said than done.

(If you’ve enjoyed this piece, my next book, No Free Speech for Fascists: Exploring ‘No Platform’ in History, Law and Politics, is published by Routledge in June. It can be ordered here or here. Tickets for the booklaunch – with Evan Smith and Kate Doyle Griffiths – can be ordered here).

1990s anti-fascism: a balance sheet

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One of the things I’ve written about in the last few weeks is the experience of re-reading my 1999 book on fascism, with a view to seeing how much of the analysis still stands up.

Here, I thought it might be useful to broaden my focus a little, and treat that book as reflective of a general approach towards anti-fascism. What I thought I was doing, at the time, was writing a conventional SWP-influenced “party line” guide to what fascism was and how to fight it. (Certainly, any number of reviewers took it that way). Twenty years later, it’s worth reflecting again – not so much on the book, but on the unspoken ideas of anti-fascist politics which informed it.

Joining the SWP as I did in 1991 was a natural step for any leftist to take. I’d been in the Labour Party for a year, suffered that organisation’s lack of interest in stopping the poll tax or the Iraq War. The SWP – because of its success in the 1970s (and the implosion of the Communist Party) – was able to present itself, quite plausibly, as the party of all the movements, so that if you were seriously against racism, sexism, homophobia, and if you were committed to organising in trade unions on a rank-and-file basis, or to stopping the Criminal Justice Act, the SWP was the group for you.

A great deal of the SWP’s credibility was down to the large number of people who’d joined the group in 1976-9 during the Anti-Nazi League. The SWP in that period had been able to renew itself, recruiting a younger generation of members who still led SWP branches 15 years later. They were experienced and articulate. They had a philosophy of the world which included art, science, and music. Soon after I’d joined, I went through experiences that seemed to justify my decision to join including the election of BNP councillor Derek Beackon in Tower Hamlets, the campaign to unseat him a year later, and the Anti-Nazi League carnival of summer 1994.

I met my partner at Welling. We’re still together, more than a quarter of a century later. The politics of that period shaped me – and continue to shape the socialism in which I believe.

I was in Oxford in 1992-5 and one of the campaigns in which I took part was in support of the family of a middle aged Somali man, S- G- A-, who had been killed in a racist firebombing. The police refused to treat it as a racist murder. The same attackers had, that evening, also attacked a synagogue (the rabbi depressingly, was later a prominent public supporter of Steve Bannon). Together with friends, I helped to take collections for the family, provide security for people afraid of being attacked again, spoke in schools, and helped to call a march in support of the family, attended by them and around a hundred other local residents.

These are some of the proudest memories of my life, and I want to be absolutely clear: if I hadn’t met the SWP or the Anti-Nazi League, I would not have had the confidence to believe I could be part of challenging that racism, the skills to organise a protest, or even the sense of obligation which forces you to act in other people’s defence. I owe that activism to other people’s prompting – and I am grateful to them for pushing me.

You can get a sense of the SWP in this period by thinking of just one high-profile member: Julie Waterson. The leader of the ANL on its re-launch, she was a working-class woman from West Lothian with a fierce sense of humour and an absolutely loyalty to the people around her. If you did something right, she’d tell you. And if you got anything wrong, she wouldn’t hold back from telling you. Julie inspired love and anger in equal measure. But if she had one virtue above all it was this – what you saw was what you got. What she said was what she believed; and if you were her comrade then she’d give all of herself for you. There’s no better example of that than events at Welling whe she was trying to negotiate with the police, and they responded by clubbing her. She kept on organising the crowd, defiantly, her jacket splattered with her own blood. Could you imagine the grey blurs who run today’s SWP putting their bodies on the line for their comrades like she did?

I remember Julie coming to speak to Oxford SWP in 1995; the local branch was ignoring the local Campaign to Close Campsfield – in practice (and without any ever having admitted this), because we didn’t run it and other groups did. “What are youse doing?” Waterson demanded. I also remember a couple of years later when I started writing for Searchlight magazine. At that year’s SWP conference, Julie took me aside. “We’ve had a discussion on the Central Committee,” she began. They’d had a vote and wanted me to stop writing for what was, after all, a rival leftwing publication. “If you listen to those bastards” (she meant her comrades on the CC), “I’ll never forgive you.”

Under her leadership, the anti-racist part of the SWP was in some ways recognisably like the sort of left you’d want to see nowadays – it actively cultivated the support of Jewish Holocaust survivors, it put them on platforms, it also tried to educate its members in something of the black Marxist tradition. We might not have known for the most part who Darcus Howe how was, or the origins of the Race Today collective, but we were expected to have read about Malcolm X, the Panthers, DRUM…

A surprising lot of all left-wing politics is about positioning, and the niche the ANL carved out was for “mass” anti-fascism.

Further to our left, although sometimes we pretended they weren’t there, were the “militant” anti-fascists of Anti-Fascist Action. (This is their term for themselves; we called them “squaddists”). AFA specialised in events such as confronting BNP paper sales, and physically turning them over. If a fascist was speaking in a town hall, AFA would insist on anti-fascists forcing their way in and preventing the fascist from speaking. The ANL, by contrast, emphasised numbers: winning the Labour Party and unions. The idea was to organise huge turnouts in order to physically confront and beat the far-right, but (AFA complained) there was a lot more emphasis on generating the numbers than there was on ever using them.

Meanwhile, on our right, we had the Anti-Racist Alliance, a campaign which focused much more on winning mainstream opinion to anti-racist and anti-fascist positions. It was broader than the ANL, with a much greater focus on eg all-black shortlists for Labour Party selections, a much greater opposition to institutional racism in the police. But at key moments, it was more “liberal” than the ANL.

So if you take events at Welling in 1993, the single major street confrontation in this period (albeit with certain previous AFA mobilisations, notably the “Battle of Waterloo”, not far behind it). Welling saw an alliance of left wing groups (SWP/ANL and Militant/YRE) temporarily agree to hold a joint march against the BNP. AFA and other forms of radical anti-fascism (eg anarchists, Class War) were there. At Welling, anti-fascists fought the police, defying batons, throwing bricks in return. Tens of thousands of people were there. Meanwhile, ARA were organising a rival, peaceful protest, barely a thousand strong, miles from the BNP headquarters.

Fascism: Theory and Practice was an attempt to express the perspective of my party and my left “generation” in book form. Reviewers understood that and tended to read the book either positively or negatively according to how they saw the SWP in general.

Of course, that organisation no longer exists. At the start of the 2000s, Julie Waterson was removed as the SWP link to the ANL. The SWP’s anti-racist work which was handed over to Martin Smith and Weyman Bennett, two individuals who lacked Julie’s sense of fun – or her honesty.

The ANL was folded into a different campaign “Unite Against Fascism”, whose methods of organising were both more liberal than the 1990s-era SWP, while also ceding to ARA the principle of black political leadership.

None of this was healthy for my old party. In 2004-6, the SWP put on a dozen events, including both concerts and traditional speaking engagements, for the Holocaust denier Gilad Atzmon. (One SWPer, Richard Seymour did speak out against Atzmon’s promotion; but years had to pass before anyone else in the SWP would agree publicly with him).

Black political leadership, exercised by a middle-aged white socialist, caused Martin Smith – and the people around him – to lose all sense of who they were. If you want to get a sense of what UAF’s anti-fascism became, then watch the five-minute film taken in 2010 of Smith speaking outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court after he had been convicted of assaulting a police officer. Smith had just been convicted for assault (kicking a policeman in the balls). It wasn’t part of any synchronised attack on police lines, still less on the EDL, but a juvenile piece of posturing: the sort of thing that someone might do if in their head they were Leon Trotsky, but life itself wasn’t providing the chances to lead anything real. Smith’s petulance was punished with a community sentence. Not the prison sentence it might have received had the prosecution been motivated by political malice, and the courts genuinely cracking down on anti-fascists.

Outside court, Smith told his supporters that he was in a tradition, “If you go back to the first black regiments in the American civil war, the black soldiers were sent back to become slaves and their white generals were shot … In Birmingham Alabama in 1963, people went in their thousands to prison to break the Jim Crow laws. So I stand in the best of company, with Malcolm [X], with Martin [Luther King]…” In his imagination, Smith had ceased to be like the great leaders of the past, he was one of them, as black and as poor and as unjustly victimised as all the others.

I’ve described before how the members of Martin Smith’s bodyguard behaved in 2013: the violence which they had threatened against the far-right was now turned inwards against a much more available target: a generation of young socialists who had had the temerity to argue that sexual harassment or rape were inappropriate conduct for the leader of a left-wing party. The people who were used to following Martin Smith’s lead repeated his explanation of what had gone wrong – his claims of victimhood, his sense that somehow “the state” or other dark forces were behind everything bad that had befallen him.

There is a reason why so many of the early 90s ANL generation had left the SWP by the end of 2013. We knew – better than the others who stayed were willing to admit – how far the group had fallen.

But imagine you could recreate it all – the good and the bad – highlight the former and dial down the latter. When you looked at what was left, would it be an anti-fascist politics worth salvaging?

These days, I don’t tend to see either mass or militant anti-fascism as singly “the answer”, but as successive steps the left needs to take. When fascist parties emerge from street movements (stage one of Robert Paxton’s five stages of fascism) and become electoral parties (stage two) the burden is likely to shift from “militant” to “mass” forms of protest. Saying that one form of struggle is the answer is like saying that a hammer is better than a paintbrush – you need them both, you use them for different things.

Moreover our anti-fascism has to broaden to a different kind of cultural work: not just the political struggle, including the street-fighting which Julie Waterson understood, but also that kind of free flowing and non-political campaigning in which (say) the original Rock Against Racism specialised, but ANL mark two could only ever copy.

Undoubtedly, there will be movements in future which are serious about anti-fascism and which have the same levels of support as 1930s or 1970s or even 1990s-style anti-fascism.

When they emerge, they’ll need to be better-rooted in culture – online and offline. I hope they find people to lead them with an honest sense of who they are and a commitment to the movements they lead. So yes, we’ll need more Julie Watersons, and more of the politics she lived by.

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If you’ve enjoyed this piece, my new book Fascism: History and Theory is published by Pluto on September 20 – you might like it too.

On the limits of liberal anti-fascism

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My new book, Fascism, begins and ends with an analysis of what fascism was. It avoids, almost entirely, any discussion of whether our period is fascist, whether its leading representatives are (Trump, Modi, Bolsonaro), or how to understand their armed supporters.

The book has very little present-day “politics” in it, which sounds strange – how could you have a book about fascism, which quotes the likes of Zetkin, Gramsci or Trotsky, without that book being intensely political? What I mean is that this book is about fascism in history, and understanding it.

As I’ve argued before, you can’t have any discussion on the left about the risk posed by fascism, unless you begin by agreeing on what fascism was. Only then can you work out whether anyone today deserves that name, and what is the best way to go about stopping them.

Part of the reason why I emphasise understanding fascism is to do with the ways in which politics has changed since the 1930s. One way to understand European politics in the 1930s, might be as follows. Imagine the working-through of a dialogue which began with a revolutionary approaching a reformist socialist and saying, “I am worried by the rise of Hitler. If he comes to power, both of us are doomed; therefore let’s work together to stop him.” Now imagine a second dialogue in which the reformist socialist approached someone from the liberal centre of European politics, and said the same to that liberal.

For the European left of the 1930s, it was possible to envisage that the first dialogue might result in action, and that it might be enough to set millions of people into the streets – without needing to get to that second conversation at all. So, for example, when supporters of the French right rioted on the streets of Paris on 6 February 1934, this caused Socialists and Communists to call anti-fascist counter-protests. The two left-wing groups mingled in the streets, and set in train two years of anti-fascist unity whose results included some of the largest strikes in French history, as well as the election of an anti-fascist Unity government in 1936. Co-operation was enough to grow each of the two divided wings of French socialism to the point where together they could imagine becoming the majority.

But in France, of course, unity continued past that election result. The Communists insisted on an alliance not merely with Socialists, but also with liberals. In office, anti-fascist unity (the “Popular Front”) became a means of de-escalating the struggle. Therefore for large parts of the left – dissident Marxists, anarchists and Trotskyists – the shared understanding was that anti-fascist unity in future should be only between different groups of socialists, and should not be extended so far as “Radicals”, “liberals”, etc.

The problem with extending this reasoning to our times, is that the different components of the left have shrunk so fast – especially in the countries where a street right is growing – that it becomes almost impossible to envisage a left alliance which would be capable of speaking for a majority of people. In the United States, what would it mean: the attacked population of Portland allying with the DSA? I’d love to see that alliance happen – perhaps friends closer to the struggle would say it has happened already – but the plan of attaching the “revolutionaries” to “the reformists” would still leave you speaking of only a tiny number of people – how would they outnumber Donald Trump, with his Republican Presidency, and his 70 million Twitter followers?

It is possible to imagine the different fractions of the US left uniting to stop the Proud Boys or the Patriots – but not an electoral force with as broad as support as the incumbent Republican President. That can only happen with the support of the Democrats, and under their control – i.e. with all the pressures towards conformism of the 1930s Popular Front.

The words of the equivalent dialogue are also slightly changed. It begins the same concern, “I am worried by the rise of Trump.” Then there is an extra step: “And Trump is a fascist.” It ends as before, “If he comes to power, both of us are doomed; therefore let’s work together to stop him.”

The sentences “Trump is a fascist”, and “let’s work together”, have a separate logic. The latter is a question of pure politics, it’s about the threat posed by the right, about the range of available other options (Could we help to stop environmental catastrophe by voting Green, or would that only contribute to an easier victory for Trump?).

The statement “Trump is a fascist” is to some extent similar – it’s a political and moral judgment – but it’s a judgment-call shaped by history. You can’t assess whether Trump or Modi or Bolsonaro are fascists untless you have an idea of what happened in the past which is independent of them.

There are, in fact, a lot of good political reasons why people might not want to be in a Popular Front dominated by anti-Trump liberals.

The most important is that liberals portray Trump as something utterly new and alien to American life. All the bad things that happen now are his fault. And any of the 30-year history which caused tens of millions of voters to see Trump as legitimate – like the existing parties but a bit more so – simply vanishes away.

In a piece I published two weeks ago, I made the point that between 2016 and 2019, Trump added just 9 miles to the Mexican wall. The first 580 miles were built under Bill Clinton and George Bush. Barrack Obama added around another 200 miles. From this perspective who is worse: the combined forces of American centrism who built 800 miles of the wall, or Trump, who increased their achivements by a mere one percent?

In eight years in office President Obama and Vice President Biden reported 3 million people. Trump in his first two years managed just half a million.

Donald Trump has added trillions to the budget of the US military, but not enough for Joe Biden.

Over the last few weeks, there have been countless occasions when people speaking on behalf of the American centre have spoken as if racism and incarceration began in 2016. On Twitter, Paul Krugman has been explaining to his followers how there was no increase in racism in the US after 2001, no detention of Muslims, no state paranoia and no “anti-Muslim sentiment“. Such a way of mis-understanding the past doesn’t just treat everyone like children, it also fails to acknowledge where Trump came from – not as the negation of the previous three decades, but as their simplification and extension. Not despite what happened to Willie Horton but because of it, not despite the Iraq War or bail-out of the banks, but because of them.

Friends will have seen the clips in which Trump is given the opportunity to say he will accept the result of the election – and he refuses it. This isn’t a good sign – the effect such words have on his base is troubling.

But it is no more healthy to see parts of the American state (the army, the Secret Services) being treated heroes, standing in the last redoubt before the collapse of democracy. Or to see former officers speculating on the necessity of a coup to unseat Trump, using “the once-unthinkable scenario of authoritarian rule in the United States,” as a justification for the sending the army to the streets. After Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq (again), maybe it’s time to grasp that sending in the US army doesn’t result in more democracy for protesters but less.

The argument that Trump is akin to fascism rests on his campaign rhetoric, and the threat posed by his alliance with an extreme right online and on the streets, not on his record in office.

If Trump really was a fascist then some of this blindness about the past might be justified. If, for example, Trump was about to steal the election … If he was about to show a vastly greater contempt towards American voters than (say) even George Bush in 2000 … If he was about to call an army of his supporters onto the streets to invalidate a popular vote, and you could realistically expect the Patriots kill hundreds of people. If the left was genuinely facing that immediate catastrophe – then an alliance with liberals would make sense, even if meant biting our collective tongues and keeping silent through a great deal of annoying myth-making.

On the other hand, if Trump isn’t a fascist, then how could that alliance be justified?

The theme of my book is not whether Trump (or Modi or Bolsonaro are fascists). Back in 2019, I tried to answer that question, and nothing since has changed my understanding.

What I’m trying to do in this book is slightly different. It invites readers to look the past square in the eye, and set out in clear terms what fascism was.

We need a book which speaks of the role played by fascism in the Holocaust and the World War – the millions of lives that fascism took – and tries to explain what it was about fascism that caused it to become more militant in office. Why it played a different role in office not just from conservatism, but from the other reactionary regimes most similar to it.

That’s the book I’ve written.

Noisy, messy, unconventional, progressive

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A short blog post to share two new reviews of my book Never Again.

Tim Wells has written up one of the book’s launch events in the Morning Star: “RAR,” he writes, “changed the face of a drab, politically festering Britain.”

In the New Statesman, John Harris describes the book as “forensic” and “eloquent” and concludes:

There are obvious lines to be drawn between the Powellite cry of “Send ‘em back” and the Home Office’s current hostile environment doctrine, as shown in the ongoing Windrush scandal. And when Renton describes the League of Empire Loyalists as “a movement of the old rather than the young, and of men with social power”, he shifts the reader’s attention to the present with even more clarity. That description surely fits the politics of Brexit, and the alliance of angry fifty-somethings who now howl their rage on Question Time and Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage – whose delusions and prejudices deserve a cultural response that has so far failed to materialise.

I do not know what a 21st-century version of the Victoria Park carnival would look like, whether any musicians will ever again channel their time as brilliantly as the Clash, or if contemporary popular music could give rise to anything resembling Rock Against Racism. But this book once again put an inescapable thought in my mind: isn’t it time someone at least tried?

The book itself is still available to order – most efficiently and without avoiding union-busters – here. I’ll be doing launch events in the next few weeks in Leicester,  Brixton, Bristol, Melbourne, Dunedin, Wellington, Chicago … – so drop me a line you’d like more details or want to suggest somewhere else that suits you.

Ellen Wilkinson: anti-fascism in the 1920s

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A previous article described Ethel Carnegie Holdsworth as Britain’s first anti-fascist. It is pleasing coincidence that the second anti-fascist in British history was also, like her, a working-class woman. Published in October 1924, presumably to accompany the second anniversary of Mussolini’s seizure of power, the first sustained piece of anti-fascist writing in Britain was published by a left-wing radical education campaign, the Plebs League. Thirty-eight pages long, and printed in a distinctive gothic front, the cover shows the image of a skull, presumably to represent the fate of the left if it did not respond adequately to the new far right.

The pamphlet’s publishers, the Plebs League, were the distant ancestors of today’s trade union education movement, with a network of organisers giving classes to some 30,ooo students a year in trade unionism, psychology, economics, geography, the politics of trade unionism and of the industrial co-operatives.

The author chose to remain anonymous, giving herself no more than the initials LW. The members of the Plebs League executive at this point include the historian of the feudal economy Maurice Dobb, the publishers Eden and Cedar Paul, the writer Raymond Postgate, JT Walton Newbold (who had been, briefly, one of Britain’s first Communist MPs), Ellen Wilkinson, and Winifred and Frank Horrabin. The most likely candidate is Wilkinson, who has gone down in history as the MP who led the Jarrow March, and was later the Minister of Education in Clement Attlee’s 1945 Labour government. She was in 1924 a full-time official of the precursor of today’s USDAW shopworkers’ union, the newly-elected Labour MP for Middlesbrough East and a recent ex-Communist. She was also a creative writer and her 1929 novel Clashtells a story of romantic entanglements and revolutionary politics in the Yorkshire coalfields during the 1926 General Strike.

            LW’s pamphlet Fascism tries to steer a narrow course between parliamentary and revolutionary socialism, which would be consistent with Wilkinson’s recent membership of the CP. Indeed Wilkinson would travel to Italy in July 1925 and meet anti-fascists there, and in 1935 she would publish a further pamphlet Why Fascism?together with Edward Conze, an anti-fascist Communist in exile from Bonn.

LW begins her pamphlet with smashing of the Italian labour movement in 1919 -20, Mussolini’s beating and burning of his opponents: ‘The murderous policy of the Fascists during the period preceding their seizure of power was directed almost entirely against the workers.’ Fascism, LW acknowledged, used a language of class collaboration, and hinted at the possibility that one day workers might enjoy some say over the control of Italian industry. But this, LW insisted, was mere ‘nauseating cant’ (pg. 6). Fascism was ‘a force directed against the interests and ideals of the workers’, (pg. 7). LW referred to Clara Zetkin’s June 1923 presentation to the Executive of the Communist lnternational (republished in 2018 by Haymarket), from which LW drew the conclusion that fascism was the punishment of the propertied for the Italian left’s failure to carry through the revolution that had been possible in 1918.

The author blamed the defeat of the Italian workers on the Italian Socialist Party which as late as 1920 had attempted to fudge the difference between the reformist and the revolutionary approach to seizing power (pg. 12). The pamphlet was familiar with figures such as the parliamentarians Serrati and Turati (Wilkinson had attended the April 1921 Congress of the Communist International, where the respective failings of each had been discussed). The Communists, ‘Zinoviev and his friends,’ LW writes, ‘were right’ to demand the removal of reformists from the Italian Socialist Party; ‘and Serrati’ (who had sought to hold both reformists and revolutionaries together within a single left-wing party) ‘was wrong. There is a time to hold one’s hand and a time to strike hard, and the hour for striking hard had come in Italy in the autumn of 1920’ (pg. 14).

LW described the occupation of the Italian factories in 1920 as the high-point of recent struggle, showing the potential for ‘workers’ control’ (pg. 15). From their leader’s irresolution all subsequent defeats had followed. Fascism, the pamphlet argued, was a ramp of ‘industrial capitalists’ – not the landowners, not the army, not the professions – but the employers of heavy industry. If, under Mussolini, workers had joined its corporations this was only ‘out of fear’ (pg. 21). Elements of the industrial class remained aloof from fascism, it found its keenest support among employers in military production (pg. 28).

The author concluded her section on Italy by envisaging the possibility of a capitalist rejection of fascism, or of both the fascists and the capitalists being overturned by the workers (pg. 30). If anything, LW appears to have underestimated the capacity of Italian capital to maintain conditions of dictatorship and one-sided class war against the workers.

In common with Zetkin and other Marxist writers of this period, LW treated fascism as an international force: ‘a menace to the workers throughout the world’ (pg. 35). She acknowledged the success of Hitler and referred to his ‘temporar[y] retire[ment]’ from active political life – in October 1924, he was nearing the end of his eight-month sentence for participation in the Beer Hall putsch. She describes the success of fascist parties in Austria, Poland and Hungary. In a warning to those who attempt to describe a developing movement before it has fully formed LW wrote, overconfidently, that ‘In France, Spain … there is no real Fascist movement except in name’ (pg. 33). She was on stronger ground in describing the British Fascists as ‘an object of laughter … a glorified Boys’ Brigade’ (pg. 35).

‘Fascism,’ LW argued, ‘is a move in the class war, and its opponents can hope to succeed only if they recognise this fact and act accordingly’ (pg. 35). In terms which pre-empt the united front discussions of the 1930s, the author called for complete unity among working-class parties (i.e. Socialists and Communists) but radical distancing from the bourgeoisie. The fascists, she argued, were the direct expression of big business and the landlords, the Liberal politicians their indirect expression. Neither were the answer. ‘The courage and the political sense of the Italian workers have often been proved; if their leadership and organisation can only reach the same high standards in the coming struggle; Fascism can be crushed and a workers’ government set up in Italy’ (pg. 38).

Given the range of Wilkinson’s personal experience, her time as a worker and a union organiser in a largely female industry, and her own creative writing, there are perhaps omissions. Fascism and its opponents are examined in purely economic and social categories, there is no sense of fascism’s dependence on the Church and the monarchy, still less any integration of these power realities with a sense (for example) of the gendered way in which fascism appealed to workers.

That said, LW is an acute observer of fascism; her pamphlet stands on an equal footing with the most cited work of this generation – Gramsci’s writings on fascism, Zetkin’s, or the likes of Trotsky or Thalheimer.

 

 

Britain’s first anti-fascist: Ethel Carnie Holdsworth and the NUCF

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In his new book, Fascism, Roger Griffin observes that the first people to write seriously about the far right were Marxists. This is true, but when thinking about Britain it is insufficient. Here, the first anti-fascists of any stature were not just socialists, they were also women: Ethel Carnie Holdsworth and Ellen Wilkinson.

Here I will describe Holdsworth, a later piece will be dedicated to Wilkinson.

In most accounts of anti-fascism in British history Holdsworth is given a brief mention. She is described as a poet who lived in the Yorkshire village of Hebden bridge and inspired the National Union for Combating Fascism, a non-violent body which warned local Labour Parties about the fascist threat. That account underestimates the significance of Holdsworth as a writer and activist and does little justice to the range of groups within the labour movement with which she worked

Ethel Cranie Holdsworth had worked as a spinner in the Lancashire cotton industry from 1897, when she had been aged just eleven. By the time she was thirteen, She was working full-time. Holdsworth later wrote poetry, children’s stories and published ten novels, including Miss Nobody(1913), a social realist romance whose themes include trade unionism, tramping, and gender politics in the family, and Helen of Four Gates (1971), which was turned into a successful silent film. Holdsworth is sometimes described as this country’s first working-class women novelist. Her fiction was feminist: there are men in her books, and relationships, good and bad. But the action is resolved by the decision of women.

Holdsworth’s contacts ranged across the left: born into a Marxist family, she wrote for the Labour Party press and for the anarchist journalFreedom, where in winter 1924 she added her name to an early demand for the closure of Solovetsky prison, which held a number of the regime’s left-wing critics.

Between 1923 and 1925, together with her husband the poet Alfred, Ethel Holdsworth edited The Clear Light. It was a one penny paper, whose message was that the left needed to unite against capitalism, militarism and religion. The paper was sold principally in Yorkshire, although some issues name sellers in Scotland and in London. Other contributors included William Holt, a Communist from Todmorden, and the anarchist feminist Rose Witcop. Holdsworth was sympathetic to the Labour Party but skeptical of the actual Labour government that was formed in 1924, on a modest programme, and with a number of non-Labour ministers.

Anti-fascism became a central theme of The Clear Lightonly in the paper’s second year’ Holdsworth was disturbed by the support of the British royal family for Mussolini, as well as signs of fascist organizing in nearby Leeds. In summer 1924, The Clear Lightannounced its support for the National Union for Combating Fascism (NUCF). Holdsworth explain that fascism was a movement of exclusion and slavery, the opposite of democracy. She noted that the Duke of Northumberland, one of Britain’s wealthiest coal plutocrats, had gone over to fascism.

The NUCF had not been founded by Holdsworth but by Eric Burton Dancy, an activist in Chiswick. Having heard of his nascent campaign, they threw their weight behind it. The Clear Light urged its readers to join the NUCF, publishing the group’s membership form and with them the famous concluding words of Shelley’s poem The Mask of Anarchy: ‘Ye are many – they are few’.

The paper printed lists of fascist atrocities and an extract from the murdered socialist Matteoti’s The Fascists Exposed.

Holdsworth was at times despairing, warning in one article that most workers in Britain were blithely unconcerned with the fascist threat. Indeed, her sense of foreboding grew more intense with the plainly faked Zinoviev letter, and the success of the right-wing fringe in toppling the first Labour government.

Fascists threatened The Clear Light’s printer, William Ackroyd.

The July 1925 issue of the newspaper featured a number of recent successes: new NUCF branches being established in Burnley and Holdsworth. There were also urgent appeals for funds. The issue turned out to be the paper’s last.

We can only speculate about why The Clear Light was shut down: it seems that Holdsworth was living on the proceeds of her books and films, using them to subsidise the paper. The paper’s writers came from a narrow group, and it was competing against the better financed publications of the Labour and Communist parties.

The message of anti-fascism did not yet have a mass appeal; Holdsworth’s enemy the British Fascists recruited principally in an aristocratic milieu far way from their socialist opponents. The BF’s moment in the public eye – the General Strike – was still a year away. And its success, when it was obtained would be short lived; involvement in strike-breaking, working alongside the Conservative Party, caused the BF to split with a majority returning to the Tory fold.

At the same time that Holdsworth was drifting away from the anti-fascist movement, she was finishing her boldest novel,This Slavery (1925). This uses the setting of a city besieged by mass strikes, the attempts by socialists and syndicalists to foment mutinies among soldiers, and the poverty of people living on nothing better than ham bones and potato peelings. It describes the part played by working class women in leading the people around them into struggle.

Holdsworth’s politics lived on beyond her involvement in the campaign. She left an anti-fascist legacy in the mill towns: nearby Nelson would be an epicentre of the conflict between fascists and anti-fascists in the 1930s.

Changing tack

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For the last couple of months I have been writing updates and articles about what the far-right is doing – at the rate of maybe 2-3 a week (including longer posts on facebook) – going back to the internationalisation of the right, its success, the convergence of mainstream and extremists…

Post-Bolsonaro I’m going to pause on that. Everyone can see that this is a moment of breakthrough for the right in almost every country. It’s their “1960s”.

So, instead of trying to fill everyone with gloom I’m going to write more about anti-racists and anti-fascists, about strategies which have worked and ones which haven’t. And why.

There’s no shortage of pessimism of the intellect out there – what we’re missing is optimism of the will.

Hsiao-Hung Pai, ‘Angry White People’

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pai

One way to understand the recent history of the British far-right is as a series of attempts to overcome the isolation of fascism, a form of nationalist politics, where among the prime candidates for a unifying national story is precisely the memory of a war against fascism. In the 1960s, John Tyndall tried to revive interwar Nazism, complete with uniforms and copies of Mein Kampf. After the National Front there was the British Movement, who wanted Nazism without Hitler and tried to promote Gregor and Otto Strasser as the revolutionary martyrs of the fascist victory.

The British National Party (BNP) calculated that if you could split the old fascist parties of the 1930s in two and lose the street-fighting half, the electoral remainder would be sure of a breakthrough. Indeed, so rapid was the march rightwards of the Labour Party in the 2000s that it left a space which the BNP was able to exploit, winning two MEPs and fifty elected councillors. The BNP had, however, nothing new to say about Islam or the War on Terror and its demise, as the Conservatives and UKIP filled the space available to right-wing electoral parties. This created a further opportunity, which was taken in 2010 by the English Defence League (EDL). Islamophobes with Israeli flags who sang the Dambusters tune in pubs, for a time they seemed to be much more successful than the BNP at articulating contemporary racism.

Although there are passages in Angry White People which connect the story of the far-right to that of institutional racism, and there are attempts near the end of the book to situate the EDL’s rise within a broader context, Pai’s book is essentially a study of the English Defence League between about 2010 and 2013, based on a series of interviews conducted principally in Luton, where the group was founded. Pai has spoken to EDL leaders and supporters, sometimes re-interviewing the same people repeatedly over time, and her main characters appear in the book as fully-rounded people, with lives both inside and outside the far right.

Historically, the left has lacked a coherent approach towards interviewing fascists: some writers have refused to do this at all, but are then left dependent on interviews conducted by others. Some have spoken to activists from the far right and have been bowled over by them, and the books and articles they have written about fascism have absorbed the fascist version of the history (Stephen Cullen, Robert Skidelsky’s Oswald Mosley). Others, while remaining broadly sceptical of the right, have repeated select parts of the interviews naively, as if the mere fact that Nick Griffin says something distinct about why his party developed a certain way makes it true (Matthew Goodwin).

As a result, no-one on the left has spent as much time as Pai has done interviewing and then re-interviewing the same leaders of the EDL since Christopher Husbands in the 1970s. While Husbands’ book resulted in a collective academic and sociological portrait of a different generation, Pai’s approach is a journalist’s: she listens and relates and keeps her commentary brief.

Pai is very good on Luton, the town’s poverty and its diversity. She notices a steady influx of people from white minority ethnicities (Irish, Roma) into the EDL and the tensions that arise from the positions they took.

The most interesting character Pai interviews is Darren, a cousin of Kevin Carroll, Tommy Robinson’s deputy. Darren lived in Luton and became one of the EDL’s leaders. An anti-racist in the 1970s, he was motivated to join the EDL by intense localism combined with a dislike of the Muslim controversialist Anjem Choudary, whose 2009 protests against Luton troops provided the opportunity for the EDL’s launch. Darren saw the soldiers as workers like himself; he was pro-Palestinian and anti-war, but supported the anti-Choudary protests, understanding them as Luton residents standing up to outsiders pushing them around.

Darren mentions having bought Socialist Worker once and having read articles in it against the war in the Iraq but – unlike the 1970s, where the left usually had a base in the very areas that the National Front contested – there is never a sense in Angry White People of the left being any sort of option for potential EDL joiners. The choice is either the EDL or representative politics as usual.

In Pai’s book, Darren is a good introduction to the ideological blurredness of the EDL, which in reality runs through much of the organisation. Pai mentions the last book about the EDL, the participant-memoir ‘Coming Down the Road’, but perhaps could have made more of its author’s name “Billy (i.e. the poet William) Blake” and other, incompatible heroes, Bessie Braddock (the doyenne of the old Labour right in Liverpool) and Dave Nellist of Militant.

Darren was present on many of the early EDL marches. He listened to the EDL’s anti-racist critics and felt torn. He detached himself from the EDL’s social events, but continued marching. Darren attended the protests with a “black and white unite” banner, testing how much space there would be in this new movement for the diverse group of football supporters who he had thought were its original core. Darren was disgruntled to see Carroll taking his grandfather’s wartime medals to an EDL protest, in order to wave off criticisms that he came from a Catholic (i.e. Irish) background. Carroll was lying to himself and to his supporters, Darren thought. In such clashes, you can see the working out of the kind of tensions that sociologist Satnam Virdee has talked about in his work on the “racialized other”.

The liveliest parts of Angry White People are reminiscent of Inso Hasselbach’s book Führer Ex or Matthew Collins’ Hate in describing Darren’s journey out of the far right. By the end of the book he has joined the Labour Party, only to be disappointed by their unwillingness to tackle racism directly.

The EDL’s Tommy Robinson, of course, has been going through a more public process of reinvention after his own departure from the EDL. Pai is generous about the local activists who encouraged Robinson to leave. She is, however, gently scathing about the Quilliam Foundation, which was in some financial difficulty when it met Robinson and benefitted from the publicity that accompanied his departure. By the end of her book, you doubt that Robinson can stay away from the far right for long.

The third main interviewee after Darren and Tommy Robinson is Paul Sillett of Unite Against Fascism, who is quoted repeatedly without authorial comment. Pai also speaks much more briefly to activists from Sisters Against the EDL, but it is a shame that she saw no need to interview anyone from the Anti-Fascist Network, who have after all been so much more visible than Unite Against Fascism at Dover, in Liverpool, and at many other protests for two years now.

Overall, this is an exemplary account of the working class milieu in which a version of the far right began. The main thing I will take away from Pai’s book is the failure of socialists to build in the areas where the present government’s austerity politics have hit hardest. If we are ever again going to have a left of which we can be unambiguously proud, one place it would surely have to prove itself would be in the very terraces and on the same estates where the EDL was born.

Originally published by RS21

Anti-fascism without fascists: how should the left organise against UKIP?

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In spring this year, some different fragments of the British left, with former comrades of mine to the fore, launched “Stand up to UKIP” (SUTU) promising to turn against UKIP the strategies which were said to have been decisive to the recent defeat of British fascism. SUTU is a strange campaign: formed to challenge a solely electoral party, its website says very little about the coming by-election in Clacton, which has generated more publicity for UKIP than anything for months, but focuses instead on the coming UKIP conference, outside which SUTU promises to hold a protest. 

With the electoral defeat of the British National Party in 2010, there is no longer any far-right group in Britain capable of operating meaningfully in both elections and on the streets.

The demise of the BNP gives every impression of being fatal. The number of its elected councillors has dropped from 58 in 2009 to just 2 today (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/05/why-has-bnp-collapsed). Its declared membership has fallen from around 12,600 in 2009 to just 4,097 by 2012 (https://pefonline.electoralcommission.org.uk/Search/SearchIntro.aspx). In UKIP it faces an electoral rival which is well-financed, has support from important sections of the mainstream press, and shows every signs of being sufficiently durable so that the BNP should expect to be shut out for a generation. In the future, when individuals from fascist backgrounds win elections, they will almost certainly not be members of the British National Party.

Moreover, the British National Party has not been supplanted by an organisation with any discernible roots in fascism. The present conjuncture would be different if the English Defence League was not also in a seemingly irreversible decline. The EDL had among its membership a number of individuals who had come from the BNP, most notably its leader Tommy Robinson. In its few attempts to formulate an independent statement of its aims, the EDL attempted a fusion of militant English nationalism based on a nostalgic invocation of the separate interests of the white working class with surprising details from the history of the left (a clue is the author’s name in ‘Billy Blake’, Coming Down the Road (London: VHC Publishing, 2011). This combination was at least arguably comparable to similar attempts by different interwar groups.

The EDL too has lost all energy: it has no membership figures, it does not stand in elections, and even the “demo calendar” it used to publish on its website is no more. Wikipedia gives the following estimate of EDL assemblies: 9 in 2009, 18 in 2010, 24 in 2011, 12 in 2012, 5 in 2013, and exactly none in 2014 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_Defence_League_demonstrations). Yes, the Wikipedia page is an arbitrary source, and a number of early EDL marches are missing from the list, but the largest EDL assembly was three years ago at Luton (3000 people); the last time that the EDL turned out more than one tenth of its peak numbers (i.e. more than 300 people) was over a year ago, on 8 September 2013 at Tower Hamlets.

So should anti-fascists transfer their energy – and tactics – to UKIP? Should we see combating UKIP as one of our principal strategic priorities, something to which we devote people and resources, to the exclusion of (for example) campaigning against the Coalition government? Should we say – as we would of the BNP – that every UKIP candidate who is allowed an unchallenged platform, represents a temporary defeat for our movement? Should we offer UKIP, as we would the BNP, physical resistance?

The normal way in which an “anti-fascist” approach to UKIP is defended is by the argument that UKIP is pulling politics to the right.

I don’t think this is enough. In the actual context of a universal revulsion with the Thatcher-Major governments of the 1980s and 1990s, when the mainstream if politics was moving rapidly to the left (as shown for example, by the enormous 25-point poll lead Labour had stormed into within months of the 1992 election) it is arguable that Tony Blair’s election as leader of the Labour Party in 1994 pulled politics to the right. He used his enormous authority as Prime Minister in waiting, to argue against traditional social democratic policies of redistribution, nationalisation, etc, beginning with his immediate attack on Clause IV. Yet Blair was not targeted as a “fascist” or proxy fascist, and rightly not.

Moreover, UKIP is pulling politics to the right from a position as an outsider party. Part of the way in which people experience contemporary politics is as an unreal show, in which the same faces, supposedly representing different viewpoints but in fact disagreeing about nothing of significance, recur again and again. By the mere election of new people, UKIP promises to shake the snow globe of the existing order; opposition to UKIP, no matter how well handled gives the impression of trying to protect the old.

Now UKIP’s external status is of course contradictory. From the point of view of its policies, the class background of its leading figures its access to funds and even to press support, it is of course no outsider at all.

When anti-fascists fought the National Front or the BNP, there was the same risk of being perceived as the establishment’s shield, but the danger was significantly mitigated by what you might call the fractal nature of fascism. The BNP might bring new people into politics but behind them there were usually familiar figures from the long history of British fascism, people with criminal records for attacks on their opponents, the skinheads protecting the suits. Opposition to these local bullies, as to Tyndall or Griffin nationally, could connect with a local audience. UKIP, being a different sort of party, its national leaders are themselves an eclectic mix; and locally, its supporters often do not replicate UKIP as a whole.

(In fact, taking this point further, anti-fascist electoralism has worked best too when we could apply something like the same logic in reverse: when the people canvassing were involved in local unions or tenant campaigns or struggles to defend particular services, and were already locally known, so that they were bringing the credibility they had established in class campaigns into electoral politics, rather than being perceived as yet another set of outsiders).

While it was certainly arguable that the fascism of the 1970s was “spearheading” the country’s move to authoritarianism (i.e. the NF’s electoral defeat at the hands of Thatcher came at the cost of the partial absorption of NF ideas into state policy on immigration, the family, etc), there is no meaningful sense in which UKIP is any more at the forefront of a national lurch toward sexism, racism, militarism or towards any meaningful attack on the political left.

Anti-fascism places an exclusion zone around fascist politics, by arguing that they are unique and distinctive and particularly bad. It says, to a greater or lesser extent: we are all good people, save for those few who are not. In the coming Clacton bye-election, those canvassing against UKIP will be pressured by the logic of their situation to call for a Conservative vote as the only party who could keep them out. And yet, nowhere on the present British left can you find anyone with the confidence to argue this openly and support canvassing for the Tories as the last defence against the threat of Douglas Carswell (who was, after all, a Conservative until recently). Even my former comrades while promising to call for votes against Carswell (“Stand Up to UKIP will be campaigning locally against Carswell”; http://standuptoukip.org/clacton-dont-be-used-by-ukip/), will not say directly for who they will be urging people to vote: an uninspiring Labour candidate, an eco (rather than a social) Green…

50,000 people were deported from Britain in 2013 (http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/deportations-removals-and-voluntary-departures-uk), this figure is twice as many as in 2004, you cannot blame Carswell for any of these broken families. The mass impoverisation of welfare recipients through the bedroom tax, welfare caps, and attacks on the disabled, was pioneered by Cameron and Clegg as a conscious attempt to shift the blame for the 2008 bankers crisis – other than in the limited sense that he too is a banker, Farage was marginal to that process. UKIP cannot be blamed for Coalition policies to set up lecturers, doctors and (from next year) landlords as immigration police: these policies come from the Coalition, and predate UKIP’s recent rise.

For about 35 years, the dominant approach within important parts of the socialist left towards fascism has been what is known as No Platform. Loosely translated, it goes something like as follows.

Fascism is a unique political doctrine in that on the two occasions when recognisable fascist parties have held power they have actively rejected the parts of modernity which all other political traditions have respected. IE They have suppressed political democracy even in countries where there was a long history of democracy. And they have waged both war and genocide even in the heartlands of capitalism. Any recognisably fascist political party, granted sufficient power, carries the risk that it would do the same. That is what exactly fascism is for. Therefore while, for example, free speech is a cardinal principle of ordinary democratic behaviour, it must bend to the overriding need to defeat fascism, since free speech for fascists carries the seed of the risk of their victory.

Here is Lindsey German, a veteran of the Anti-Nazi League, justifying No Platform in the 1980s: “The experience of fascism in Germany and other countries before the war demonstrated that fascists could not be treated as simply another political party. They would use democratic channels to build their support, and then suppress all forms of political opposition – not simply left wing organisations, but trade unions, campaigning groups and so on.” (http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/german/1986/04/noplatform.html)

This idea is also expressed, by a previous generation, in the historian Edward Thompson’s memoir for his brother Frank, a British army officer who served alongside Bulgarian partisans, was captured by pro-fascists, and executed in 1944. EP Thompson publishes a letter Frank sent home to his family, in which the young soldier recalled the anti-fascists who had died in 1936 in Spain. He said that the conflict between England and Hitler was essentially the same struggle. In his words, “Those of us who came after” (i.e. the generation who died in 1939-45) “were merely adopting an idea, that they proved, that freedom and fascism can’t live in the same world, and that the free man, one he realises this, will always win” (http://www.dkrenton.co.uk/antifascism.html).

What happens though when the far-right party is not fascist, contains no recognisable fascists in its leadership, and carries no threat to the right of minorities to organise?

Anti-fascism is an imperative of left-wing politics: a call that caused the volunteers in Spain to give up jobs, homes and ultimately their lives. Opposition to UKIP may be defensible, useful and positive if done effectively, but it is not an urgent cause of the same moral stature.

Imagine Frank Thompson, ten years older, and having morphed seamlessly into the perhaps surprising role of career British officer, had been sent by the British government to fight Colonel Nasser “the new Hitler on the Nile”. I don’t doubt that he would have revolted against Eden’s logic and insisted that Nasser was no Nazi.

The Lindsey German piece I have quoted continues, “racists and sexists should not go unchallenged … But the way we challenge again has to be sensitive and not just a blanket ban.”

I am not suggesting that campaigning against UKIP is by definition wrong – I can imagine areas where it should be a local priority, indeed in some places the local priority. A genuine campaign against Farage, where he is standing Kent, makes a lot of sense to me, not least because such is his media profile that he will dominate the local contest – in a way that UKIP is unlikely to in the majority of its target seats. I would campaign against UKIP locally, temporarily and tactically – whereas I would campaign against the BNP, nationally, consistently and strategically.

And where people campaign against UKIP, I would hope that their tactics can have the effect not of cordoning off UKIP as an unhealthy aberration within the benign ecology which is British parliamentary politics; but of linking up activists’ dislike of them to their allies and to all Tories beyond. I would make the Rees-Moggs of the world (UKIP’s allies) as much of a target as the Carswells.

If no platform is an exceptional measure justifiable only because of the extreme risk fascism poses, then logically similar tactics – eg trying to prevent a UKIP speaker from addressing an audience at all lose their legitimacy when they are stretched beyond their original target. Applying no platform to non-fascists is like turning on a fire sprinkler in a lecture hall where there is no fire: strange, ineffective, and incomprehensible to your audience.

I will not cry: a second arrested anti-fascist speaks

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A guest post

I’d like to thank my friend and comrade for inspiring me to write this. You’ll know who you are. Our voices are loudest in concert.

I’m not sure which part of Saturday has occasionally made my eyes teary since being arrested. Is it the sound of hundreds of voices in chorus chanting “Black and white unite” whilst linking arms on the front line? It could also have been because we thoroughly outnumbered the BNP. We had sent a clear political message that echoes and chimes: racism will not be tolerated, we will not be divided. I had been part of sending that message with my comrades of all colours. I am proud.

Perhaps, though, I’m teary even now after having seen a friend and comrade being snatched by the police for protesting against Nazis. I too was snatched by the police for protesting against Nazis. I was then patronised by the officer who arrested me: “you’re young and inexperienced love. You don’t know anything”. I was then laughed at while being led like a child to a double decker bus. Perhaps I’m teary because as soon as I lifted my foot off the ground to step onto the bus I realised I had left the world of citizenship and entered the one of criminality: “sit the prisoner over there”. And learnt of a new kind of depersonalization: “this one, she’s nicked under section 14 of the public order act and obstructing police arrest”.

The process of demoralisation begins as soon as you realise you have been snatched out of a crowd, thrown to the ground, your arms are distorted behind your back, your face is lying parallel to the ground, you’re 20 years old and told you’re not allowed to pick up your glasses or hat, you’re not allowed to sit up, you must remain face-planted on the floor, with someone’s knee digging into your back and hand across your face. All of which is occurring outside parliament. All of which is occurring lawfully. And all because you stood in solidarity with every Muslim being scapegoated by racist scum.

This, though, is why they do it. And it is for this reason that I may be teary eyed but I will not cry.

They didn’t arrest us because we are criminals or a threat to public safety or even because we were a threat to the BNP. Central London was not about to be ransacked by a group of eccentric communist anti-fascists, with red in our eyes and revolution on the tips of our tongues.

We were a threat to every Islamophobe, every racist, every fascist. We were a threat to every politician who has brewed a boiling broth of racism and fed it to us by the gallon. We were a threat to the status quo, to the common sense that immigrants, not bankers, are to blame. Our voices broke through the chords of racism; our tones were the loudest, our pitch the highest. They try to demoralise us because they don’t want us to fight. Because if we fight, we win.

For this reason, I will not cry. My bail conditions will not demoralise me. Those 6 hours sat zoned out in a cell will not demoralise me. Your handcuffs do not scare me. Your patronising does not anger me. And I know, for certain, my composure scares you.