Tag Archives: EDL

Hsiao-Hung Pai, ‘Angry White People’

Standard

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

After Whitechapel

Standard

over

Sadly, the following piece only appears to be available to print subscribers to Overland literary journal, but people may be interested in my article for that magazine, or at least the final sixth or so of it. The reference to “outriders” seems especially timely in light of what went on to happen last Saturday:

“…Looking at UAF in particular, my sense is of a campaign that has lost its purpose, which one day promotes the idea of a dense patchwork of local groups, and the next suggests a propaganda campaign against UKIP. Neither idea is followed through, nor does anyone seem to notice that these tactics point in different directions – and (if done properly) would attract different audiences.

At various points in the past – the early 1920s, the mid-1930s, the mid-1970s, and then again ten years ago – anti-fascism has been in a state of organisational flux, as new groups emerged. Today, there is no immediate counterpart of the Red Shirts of Oxford in the 1930s, or the Grey Shirts in Newcastle, who took part in anti-fascist campaigns before the better known struggles led by the Communist Party. But the situation calls out for that sort of intermediate form, the ‘outriders’ who will presage a shift of strategy.

Part of UAF’s difficulty has been precisely the success that people had 35 years before, which encourages the comforting but false conclusion that replaying the most compelling sounds of the past will produce the same energy.

In 1981, as Rock Against Racism organised its last Carnival, Red Saunders approached the music promoter Richard Branson, who had recently brought out, on his Virgin Records label, the Sex Pistols’ single ‘God Save the Queen’, thus beginning the accumulation of the Branson millions.

Branson agreed to support a Rock Against Racism compilation, an album that featured the likes of Steel Pulse, Matumbi, Carol Grimes, and the Gang of Four. It still bears listening to today. Three years later, Virgin Records released a very different compilation, Now that’s why I call Music 1, featuring various singles by well-known chart acts such as UB40, Culture Club and Madness. There was no successor to the RAR album. The Now compilation, by contrast, spawned 83 successors. Counting international spin-offs, the series has now sold in excess of 100 million copies worldwide. Thirty years ago, Now was some kind of innovator. These days, by contrast, the series is the very epitome of uncool and no-one with the shallowest knowledge of music would actually admit to buying a copy. The fruits of innovation, in other words, are strictly limited.

The comparison may be a little unkind, and I am describing what UAF risks becoming, not what it yet is. But in politics, as in other areas of life, mere repetition always ends in exhaustion.

The next successful anti-fascist campaign in Britain will probably have a one- or two-word name rather than a three letter acronym. It may have a cultural “partner” organisation; if it does, that partner will need to have a name coined freshly for the present. The new group will need to get the very same things right which UAF gets wrong.
I don’t doubt that the anti-fascist campaign that we need will repeat the substance of the Anti-Nazi League: its youth, its militancy, the diversity of its support and the scale of the numbers involved. But part of the trick needs to involve giving up more of the form in order to get back to the content of the relationships that were once at the League’s heart.”

You can order the magazine here: http://overland.org.au/previous-issues/issue-212/feature-david-renton/

To those arrested: my heart

Standard

kettleimage source: lib.com

Guest blog by anti-fascist, arrested at Whitehall in June:

Solidarity to all those arrested for being an antifascist on Saturday. It’s still not clear what the numbers are, and to be honest the number isn’t the point. After a while, talk of figures can become an abstraction and lead us to forget that every single one of those arrests is an injustice with a human cost.

I wasn’t at the demonstration. Bail conditions forbade me because of a previously heinous crime of standing in a road. Either way I didn’t think I’d get back in town in time. Ironically the coach that me and my partner took back to London ended up going directly down the Whitechapel Road, right past Altab Ali park. From the windows we could see hundreds of people we’d stood with dozens of times before and we banged in the window to get their attention, but they couldn’t hear. A couple from Seattle turned round and asked why there were so many cops, so we tried our best to explain what the EDL were, who Altab Ali was, and why free speech was no way to justify racist violence. They seemed impressed, albeit a little more concerned about whether they’d be safe in Victoria, and the group behind us that had been mocking demonstrations changed the subject. But when they asked why we weren’t on the demonstration I changed the subject, because I was ashamed to admit I was on bail. I thought it would undermine my argument. That was a mistake, because its precisely what these policing tactics are designed to do.

It is meaningless to begin ‘solidarity with those arrested on Saturday’, if you follow it up by saying, ‘even if I disagree with their tactics’. Solidarity is affirming collectivity in the face of victimisation. Solidarity is recognising that the ruling class uses the state to divide us with a box of material and psychological tools. And therefore solidarity is about placing legality within a historical context and not treating it as a distinction of value between antifascists.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree with someone because they’ve been arrested – just don’t dilute solidarity. As ever, our movement needs debates about how to fight fascism, and we should continue the productive ones we’ve been having. Critical support is not at odds with solidarity. But in that moment, as the dust settles and hundreds are in cells, getting out of cells at 5 in the morning – that is not the time for that criticism. Even worse is being silent.

This isn’t a criticism of a particular group or tendency. You see it regularly amongst different groups to differing degrees – not because we have no moral, political or ethical integrity but, because we remain alienated, we reside in an alienated era in which we are systematically discouraged from being human. Our collective action is always a counterpoint but never a circumvention to that fact. The solidarity that we do show, in particular the incredible time and work of volunteer legal teams like Green and Black Cross, is a reminder that a world without alienated social relations is at least a possibility.

With that in mind, it’s crucial to recognise that these policing tactics, especially the Public Order Act, play to those effects of alienation. They are designed to make us forget the human side of arrests, and think instead about numbers. They are designed to be ‘lenient’ enough to prevent the successful drumming up of sympathy. Yet at the same time, they are bureaucratic, drawn-out and sufficiently stress-inducing to exhaust or scare off a layer of people from being active.

What Saturday apparently shows, alongside the Palace Gardens arrests earlier this year, is a return to the style of policing we saw around the student demonstrations. That is, the police using mass arrests to criminalise huge numbers of activists and delegitimise the movement. If that includes arresting legal observers and passers by, then so be it.

Those months on bail will have their effect. The use of mass arrests is unjust. Solidarity isn’t about criticising each other but about working together to challenge an increasingly aggressive state. My heart goes out to all those arrested.

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

Standard

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.

Police and Thieves

Standard

This video is dedicated to all the comrades, from whatever tradition (or part of a tradition) they come, who were at Sheffield this evening, as described by one participant:

“About 60 anti fascists on the Unite against Fascism demo (called only a couple of hours ago) in Sheffield this evening, turning away 12 Nazi EDL members. Well done everyone. No Pasaran!”

[first posted here: https://www.facebook.com/davidkrenton/posts/10151382891461269%5D