Tag Archives: UAF

Martin Smith: a retrospective

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The CC staked the party’s future on Martin Smith. When he was first accused of sexual misconduct, in 2010, the response should have been to suspend him, properly investigate and expel if any hint of misbehavior was found. Instead there have been years of attempts to hide the complaints.

When our leaders have been asked in private why they gambled so heavily on protecting Smith they have had a stock answer: that without him, the party would not be able to do industrial or anti-fascist work in future. How could the leadership get to a point where they believed this was true?

Smith joined the SWP in the 1980s, and was an activist in the CPSA (fore-runner of today’s PCS trade union) before first taking a high-profile role working for the SWP in 1993. He was asked to be the SWP’s East London organiser after the BNP’s Derek Beackon won a council election to a council seat at Millwall. The Anti-Nazi League campaign was helped immensely by the presence of a number of SWP members in key jobs (eg among the council workers who walked out after Beackon was elected) and living in the council estates where the BNP was trying to build.

Smith was still the SWP district organiser for East London in 1994, when Beackon lost his seat. He was not slow to claim the credit for that victory.

In the early 2000s, Smith was promoted to work for the SWP’s industrial office, and for a couple of years brought real vigour to the job. He worked with the party’s carworkers, postal workers and railworkers, encouraging them produce rank and file newspapers. At their peak, according to Smith, they were selling between 2,000 and 5,000 copies per issue. (What we would give to still possess networks with that sort of audience…)

From 2004, when he became National Secretary of the SWP, Smith retained overall responsibility for two key areas of the party’s work, our industrial politics and our anti-fascism.

This was a heavy responsibility; the tasks take time, require different skills. The other leaders of the party took a gamble that Smith would have the vigour to play both roles well. At least at the start, he did apply himself with energy. But his tactics always involved top-down maneuvering and the longer he was in post the less success he had.

In 2006, the party initiated an “Organising for Fighting Unions” (OFFU) event, also intended to build the party’s then electoral initiative Respect. The conference was built around a mix of left union leaders on the platform in front of an audience of 700 or so, heavily leaning on party members.

“OFFU” did not survive the collapse of Respect. It was replaced by a new campaign “Right to Work”, which responded to the election of the Coalition government in 2010 with a conference attended again by about 600-700 people. Right to Work was eventually mothballed, without any adequate public explanation of why, in around spring 2012.

Unite the Resistance then took over, having its first conference in November 2012, again with 700 or so attendees. The same formula – a conference of left-ish union leaders and audience of largely SWP members – obtained, perhaps unsurprisingly, more or less the same results each time it was tried.

There was one change: UTR differed from its predecessors in that it sold itself to SWP members  as a temporary alliance with the trade union bureaucracy, who would agree to grace SWP platforms in return for something. Quite what we would give them was never spelled out.

Smith’s supporters have pointed to his key contacts in the unions – Mark Serwotka of PCS and Kevin Courtney of the NUT – as the source of his importance. However, when our much smaller rival Counterfire employed more or less used the same formula for their People’s Assembly, both Mark Serwotka and Kevin Courtney assumed positions on the platform.

UtR does rally the party’s trade union members in the few unions where we have still any base. But it has not done more than that. And it is not a strategy that requires Smith’s personal input.

Smith seems to have recognised that the drift to cheering for the union leaders has its problems, and occasionally led a balancing lurch to the left.

At the end of the 2010 Right to Work conference, Smith led a couple of hundred SWP members to occupy the nearby headquarters of ACAS where Unite leaders were negotiating with British Airways over the Cabin Crew strike. The occupation was national news. But the Cabin Crew workers thesmelves did not support the stunt, leading to an embarrassed apology in “Party Notes” two days later “We are trying to bring together a serious coalition that can resist the cuts … That means when we hold stunts and protests we need to point all our fire at the Con-Dems and the bosses, and should try and avoid at all costs protests that embroil Labour and trade union leaders in them”.

Smith’s anti-fascism showed the same problems. Julie Waterson was removed from the Anti Nazi League leadership in 2003. Shortly after, the Anti Nazi League merged with the organisation to its immediate right, the National Assembly Against Racism. The new group, Unite Against Fascism, had good relations with the TUC race relations committee and other union grandees.

Unite Against Fascism mobilised opposition to the threat of the BNP. The press were haranguing us all with endless stories of “bogus asylum seekers”, New Labour were conciliating the racists, and the fascists were winning more council seats. The party, under John Rees and Lindsey German’s leadership, was in the ropiest of conditions, with barely half the branches outside London that we had had five years before. The party lacked the activist base to fight a campaign on the scale of the heroic anti-fascism of the 1970s.

In these unfavourable conditions, UAF did well to keep anti-racist campaigning alive. But there was always something discordant about the campaign: in the way that one month’s success was never used to build the next month’s activity, in the drop-dead dull format of UAF annual conferences, in the lack of transparency or accountability about the campaign’s tactics and finances.

This was also true of UAF’s ally Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR). Smith used to claim that LMHR had “adopted the punk DIY ethic.” However, while LMHR successfully recruited many musicians and swathes of volunteers, LMHR events always felt top-down. There was never a democratic relationship between the organising core and the young activists who would be courted for a particular event and then, often as not, dropped suddenly.

One nadir was the 30th anniversary festival in 2008; at which the gap between the celebrity status of the performers and the lack of an LMHR organisation was made good by privatising the event; giving security, refreshments, etc, to the private outfits who run all the “normal”, corporate festivals.

In his capacity as head of LMHR Smith also embarrassed the party by forging a relationship between our organisation and the jazz musician Gilad Atzmon. Smith invited him to speak at Marxism in 2004, when Atzmon began spouting some of the anti-Semitic rubbish he now specialises in. Despite SWP members challenging Atzmon from the floor, Smith continued inviting him to SWP events, and to perform with him at concerts as late as 2007.

Unite Against Fascism faced a new challenge after 2009 with the rise of the English Defence League. Smith took the decision that the party (with or without UAF) would confront each and every EDL demonstration. This was a tough demand and hard to deliver. UAF’s top-down approach hadn’t built anything like as strong local groups that we needed.

The pressures of the campaign led UAF to swing between either “broad” demonstrations quite separate from EDL mobilisations on one hand, or small numbers directly confronting the EDL on the other. Several of the demonstrations, including Bradford in 2010, became Popular Front-ish mobilisations away from the local EDL, while local youths unassisted by SWP members fought Tommy Robinson in the streets. Others were almost the exact opposite with small groups of young comrades being treated like “cannon fodder” in small, stunt-ish confrontations. Anti-fascist work is vital but Smith’s leadership was not perfect and he is not irreplaceable.

Any activist can test their own success in whatever role they have found for themselves by seeing what happens when they finish and someone else has to take over from them. If the organisation they leave behind is strong, if more people are involved then, they can be proud of themselves.

The CC will tell us that UAF and UtR have been glowing successes. They will never tell us how few members either campaign actually has than it used to, what funds they have raised, how many people are involved compared to 5 years ago.

All of us can see with our own eyes that UtR is less than it was, while UAF is decreasingly capable of mobilising anyone outside the SWP’s ranks. Even the number of comrades willing to turn out for either campaign is fewer than it was as recently as 12 months ago. These “united fronts” have taken more and more of the party’s resources to get less and less impressive results. It was on Smith’s watch that they suffered their decline. Progress will not involve simply repeating the same models, again and again, until nothing is left.

You can also see the measure of Smith in the way he has tried to defend himself since the complaints were made: encouraging his friends to speculate about the complainants and smear them, minimising what he did, and lying to the party at our 2011 conference with his “I am no angel” speech.

When it finally became clear this summer that the party would properly investigate the second complaint, Smith resigned rather than face a second enquiry into his behaviour. No-one who was accused of crimes on this seriousness would keep quiet; they would use every opportunity to clear their name. Smith did not because there was nothing he could have said.

Smith’s friends in the leadership will no doubt to continue to plead his innocence. Something like a hundred people from his faction met at a central London pub in June, with Smith  himself trying to duck away and pretend he had not been seen.

I do not doubt that his faction continues to meet, and co-ordinate its response to his critics. But loud as Smith’s friends continue to protest his innocence; his actions speak louder than their words.

This leaves the party with the worst of both worlds: Those who thought Smith played an essential role have lost him. But nor has the party appeased those of us of who grasped that the first disputes procedure was “mate’s justice”.

The party has lost hundreds of members and has a terrible stain on its reputation in the wider movement – a stain that won’t wear away with time, or be removed by expelling or suspending more members.

To move forward, the SWP needs to do two things. Firstly, we need to admit to the terrible mistakes made by not handling the allegations against Smith properly from the moment the first complaint became tolerably clear – summer 2010. And we need to apologise unequivocally for his treatment of the two women.

Second, we need to admit that his role in the party was in any case mixed. When other members of the leadership suggested he was irreplaceable, they were describing their own weakness, not his strengths.

What his case exposes more brightly than anything is the fallacy that you can build a healthy socialist party by restricting  all decision-making to a group of a dozen or so people. Were they geniuses of the highest calibre, this would still be an error. With the CC we’ve had, it has been a disaster.

After Whitechapel

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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

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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

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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.

“My best run”: an arrested anti-fascist speaks

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A guest post 

When they let me out I was too polite, I said ‘night night’ to the duty skipper and then instantly regretted it. Once I got out of the yard S, L, M and some people from Green and Black Cross were waiting for anyone who was coming out and started cheering. At half past three in the morning that means something. They all headed up north and I trotted up to the bus stop. Sitting down, realising that the next bus wasn’t coming for at least another 50 minutes, one of the Made in Chelsea knock-offs that were piling out of the Brasseries guffawed at me; “you know your flies are undone don’t you”. I tried to give him a withering look, I wanted to show him my bail sheet, but he was too fucked to keep up the jibe. Rather than waiting, I started running home.

My flies weren’t undone: my trousers were just completely shorn of buttons, they had holes on the knees where I’d been dragged along the ground. My shirt was ripped apart completely. One of the ways I tried to kill time in the cell was by fashioning a belt from the shredded remains of my shirt. When the Met’s Tactical Support Group officers were ordered to lift people they were impressively efficient. I just remember them pointing at me and then grabbing. They were so determined to get me that they ripped every piece of material on me, my bag, my trousers, my shirt and, when they were walking me away back behind the police lines, journalists were just taking pictures of me with my chest out and my trousers trailing around my ankles. I asked them ‘Is that really necessary?’. I should have told them to fuck themselves.

It was a stupid way to run. My shoes had no laces. They had been taken out in case I decided to strangle myself. I could hear them wheezing and flopping. My clothes were held together by knots and I couldn’t wear my bag because the straps had been torn off, so I had to switch it from hand to hand and pump the alternate arm. But it felt  wonderful.

In spite of the exhaustion, where I’d tried to sleep only to wake up again on the plastic mat covered in sweat, the halogen still on and still sneering, in spite of that I was just able to run. It definitely wasn’t my best pace, and I could feel that my bones were suffering from what my muscles were refusing to do as I clodhopped up through Wandsworth towards Clapham Common. The difference between this run and all of my best runs was that I had forced myself to run well in the past. Now I was running because I was compelled to, because I wanted to be as far as possible from Battersea police station, because I could. I’d spent those nine hours pacing, estimating the dimensions of the cell, practising handstands, looking up at the grated window and trying not to be melodramatic. I ran the four miles home, across South London and enjoyed every moment.

Not once, in the whole process, did I panicked. When your face is being ground in the tarmac and your hands are being cable-tied together behind your back you quite quickly recognise that there’s little you can do. Either that or I’m just a pushover. I was only really concerned that my partner would be mad with me that I had ruined our holiday plans. She wasn’t, for the record.

What happened between 3 and half 4 that afternoon was incredibly confusing. When I got back, when the sun was rising, my partner woke up and reminded me we’d won, because the BNP couldn’t march. It was of course far better than Monday, but it didn’t feel like we’d won. It felt like we’d been punished. We held the line because we were led to believe that was what was necessary to stop them passing. I hope it was. I think to some extent we had the easier target, we didn’t have the EDL. We need to remember that when the police pulls a fascist attempt to march before it ends, its because they realise that they can’t police it if the community tries to drive them back. If they move it from outer to central London, its because they want to ensure that they can control the situation and disarm resistance with greater ease. Its their turf. We can’t get away with the things we got away with in Tower Hamlets and Walthamstow. Ironically the first time I was arrested was on the second demonstration I ever went to, and it was less than fifty metres away from where I got arrested on Saturday, when the EDL marched on parliament in solidarity with Geert Wilders.

I can’t pretend that a night in a holding cell is anything like custodial sentence. But you can feel the things that become the themes of prison films start to show themselves. The loneliness and the boredom, the sensory deprivation, then mistaking the people who check on you and who bring you water for anything other than screws. So when I was running, I didn’t feel miserable, I felt rejuvenated. I ran past cul-de-sacs in backstreet Wandsworth that looked like the art deco suburbs from Hollywood’s boom. I ran down Clapham High Street. I ran past bus stops of people going in for early morning cleaning shifts in central London. The run wasn’t my best time, it wasn’t particularly fast or the longest distance. But it was my best run.

The author is among 58 anti-fascists who were arrested at Whitehall on 1st June

More anti-fascist history; Hyde 1977

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The historian is me is intrigued by the decisions that confront the organisers of Saturday’s anti-BNP protests in Woolwich and Lewisham. As I see it, they face three areas of difficulty. 1. The BNP’s original route itself involves an assembly and an arrival point which are implausibly far apart (6 miles). I simply don’t believe that the BNP will actually try to march from one to the other, but will probably rely on what even they describe as mobility (cars, etc) to get from borough to borough. 2. Will the BNP keep to its original plans, or will it follow police instructions and reassemble in Whitehall? 3. How far to prioritise stopping the BNP (who have not marched in 30 years, have very few numbers, etc…) over the EDL (who have numbers, and momentum, and who are planning up to 60 events of one sort or another this weekend, including, crucially, events in central London)?

So far, what this weekend reminds me of best (and it was Sue Sparks who suggested the comparison) is events in Hyde in 1977 – when the NF were still on an upward curve:

[The following is not from my book on anti-fascism in the 1970s, but a separate piece I once published for North West Labour History on anti-fascism in the North West in the 1970s]:

“Activists learned in autumn 1977 that the National Front were planning a march through Hyde, a small industrial town a few miles from Manchester, on 8th October. Protests against the National Front march received the backing of the local left-cultural magazine the New Manchester Review. The September issue ran a long editorial criticising the police for using the Public Order Act against a small knot of republicans who had protested against the Queen during the Silver Jubilee celebrations. The editorial then raised the question of the pending National Front demonstration,

“The NF can claim to be merely exercising its right to make a political point. But even in the absence of any counter-demonstration by the Socialist Workers Party, the avowed policies of the NF which include the forcible repatriation of all Black immigrants, can hardly be calculated to stir sympathy among a significant and hitherto peaceful and industrious section of the community. Even Voltaire would have approved of the use of Section 5 here.”

The follow-up issue (which appeared two days before the planned march) went even further in supporting calls for the National Front march to be banned. “It is also worth recalling for the benefit of members of Tameside Council that Mr Webster is interested not so much in free speech as ‘Kicking our way into the headlines’. That can best be done on marches and rallies such as the NF had planned for Hyde. Victims and traders face being driven off the streets; opponents are determined. Can they really be blamed?”

Tameside Council had given permission for the National Front meeting in Hyde Town Hall. Colin Grantham, the Tory leader of the council, explained that the Front were only marching (in his words), “for free speech and against red terror”. When it came to a vote on Tameside Council the meeting split along party lines – Labour voting against the march, the Conservatives for. In the weeks following the announcement of Tory support the amount of racist graffiti and National Front stickers rose. The small number of Black and Asian people living in the area spoke openly of their worries. One resident, Abdul Jalil, told the New Manchester Review, “We’re frightened, and we’ve never felt that way before in Hyde.”

Geoff, who was to become a full-time worker for Manchester Anti-Nazi League, had recently returned from several years spent working abroad. He suggests that the events at Hyde need to be seen through the prism of the NF’s defeat at Lewisham on 13th August 1977. “Webster was trying to regroup the Front after Lewisham. That’s why they put so much effort into Hyde.” In London the negotiations that would lead to the formation of the Anti-Nazi League were already taking place. But they were not yet complete. Local activists determined to prevent the Front from marching, although there was not yet any one umbrella group to co-ordinate the movement. The local Communist Party specifically turned down the suggestion of joint work with Mick Murray, Secretary of the Greater Manchester Communist Party, stating that they were “are opposed to adventurist and isolationist tactics which only strengthen the forces of reaction.” According to Geoff, “Steve Jeffreys [of the SWP Central Committee] and I walked around Hyde for a day to plan the protest. What we saw was that it would be easy to block any march. The main road goes through a series of underpasses, we would have four opportunities to block the road. [Manchester Chief Constable] Anderton and his assistants must also have done the same, and thought it through like us. I’m sure that’s why they banned the march.”

In response to the protests the Greater Manchester Police announced that the National Front would not be allowed to march in Hyde. This ban was announced publicly, receiving the full support of local press. Even the Communist Party’s paper the Morning Star applauded James Anderton’s seeming about-turn. Mick Murray wrote that the ban “has lifted a storm cloud from over this small northern town.” But in reality the police had done deal with the NF to allow them to march – and receive full police protection – on a different route. Unlike the ban this deal was never publicised, and the agreed route remained, of course, a closely-guarded secret.

Local activists were less willing than the press to take the police announcement of a ban at face value. Different groups continued to build protests, including the Anti-Nazi League, the SWP, the North West Trades Union Congress, the North West Standing Committee Against Racism, Manchester City Labour Party, the Manchester Anti-Fascist Committee and the North Manchester Campaign Against Racism. Geoff remembers buying in flares and £20 of rotten tomatoes from the street market to throw at the NF. “The stallholders could tell what we were up to!” Activists soon realised that some sort of deal had been struck between the police and the National Front, even though the terms only became clear after the event. John was one of the young anti-fascists who attempted to prevent the National Front from marching. He remembers that no-one knew for certain the revised route of the demonstration. Anti-fascists therefore divided into three groups. The largest contingent of anti-fascists, marshalled by the SWP’s national organiser Jim Nichol, headed for Stockport. Press information seemed to suggest that if there was going to be an Front march, then it would begin there. Another smaller section of about 200 people remained in Hyde – in case the National Front attempted to march there. Another group, of about the same number, waited in Manchester town centre. They were to be kept in reserve – in case either of the other two contingents were caught out.

These three groups of anti-fascists were to have very different experiences. The first group of comrades in Stockport found themselves waiting for a march that never happened. Roger was then in his early twenties, and a student at Salford University. This is how he remembers the protest. “The SWP and other groups gathered at the Town Hall, but it was very much a cat and mouse affair, as the planned NF march was re-routed, and most of the afternoon was spent with groups of anti-NF demonstrators scouring Stockport being tracked overhead by police helicopters and on the ground by police squads. Eventually the NF march was discovered but [it was] very well protected by police lines and from where I was there was little which happened.”

The second group were no more successful. In Hyde town centre Martin Webster of the National Front conducted a one-man march, defended by over 2,500 officers (similar numbers were employed at each of the predicted flashpoints, with one newspaper estimating the total police presence at an extraordinary 9,000 officers). As he walked, nervous and sweating past the distant jeers of the protesters, it must have occurred to him that rarely in the history of public order have so few people owed so much to so many. Without the police to protect him, his “march” could not have begun. Ramula Patel of the Asian Youth Movement walked in front of him the whole way with a placard which said “This man is a Nazi”. Anti-fascists were able to heckle Webster and disrupt his parade, but could not prevent such a large contingent of police officers from demonstrating. Declan, a rail worker and member of Longsight SWP, was also involved in the clashes at Hyde. “I got within twenty yards of Webster at one point. He didn’t look much like a Führer to me.”

The third group of anti-fascists – the reserve – found themselves in the thick of the action. Seven hundred members of the NF assembled in Levenshulme. They were dressed up for the day, some in paramilitary fatigues. According to the journalist from New Manchester Review, “One or two NF marchers were warned by their escorts, but there were no arrests for incitement or for the paramilitary uniforms. Even a refrain or two from a Simon and Garfunkel song, perverted as ‘I’d rather be a nigger than a jew’ passed off without comment from the guardians of law and order.” By the time that the word came out that the fascists had assembled in Levenshulme – and were marching to central Manchester – it was too late for the Stockport contingent to prevent members of the Front from marching. Despite the disparity in numbers, the 150 or so anti-fascists in reserve attempted to block the Front. There were scuffles through Levenshulme and along Kirkmanshulme Lane towards Belle Vue. But “road diversions and well drilled marching columns of police four and five deep siphoned off the SWP column into an aimless tour of side roads.”

Owen was another student from Salford University. He had never been in a situation like this before, “There were some NF and that was the first time I had seen the steel pointed Union Jack DMs and shaved heads up close. I had shoulder-length hair and was busy growing my first beard (like you do) when this NF guy made eye contact with me and shouted ‘you’re the next Kevin Gateley, you’re gonna die you long-haired communist bastard’. Needless to say I found this quite disturbing and was somewhat nonplussed by the total indifference of the constabulary standing in between me and this guy.” One of Owen’s friends, Rob, was a Young Liberal form Manchester. “He managed to get in and talk to some of the NF as they were not all shaven haired thugs. He spoke to a couple of very confused older people who had been bussed in by the NF and did not know what they were getting involved in. They expressed concern over urban decay, family of theirs who had been mugged by blacks, unemployment etc.”

Having praised Chief Constable James Anderton’s decision to ban the original National Front demonstration, the local press was outraged when they learned of his complicated deceit. The Stockport Express reported the anger of the local Labour group, and their desire to find out what the police operation had cost. “Now that it is all over”, recorded the New Manchester Review, “the point has been well made that the events in Hyde and Levenshulme were organised not so much by the National Front, but by the police.” The Manchester Evening News was no more endeared to the police. Following a serious assault by the police on one of their reporters Peter Sharples, Dennis Ellam of the Daily Mail told the National Union of Journalists’ newsletter, “I have never, even during two years in Belfast, seen such displays of official aggression towards newspapermen.” Anderton ordered an internal inquiry. Bert Ellison of Tameside TUC sent round a circular letter listing fifteen complaints against the Manchester police, who had frisked anti-fascists, and detained people without arrest. Some officers had even illegally removed their identity-numbers so that they could not be subject to prosecution. Despite these and other protests, Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees declared his support for the police action.”

[published on FB, with discussion, here: https://www.facebook.com/davidkrenton/posts/10151394647786269%5D

And here is Sue’s comment, which took me back to this episode;

“We faced similar issues (not the web pages of course) in the 70s, when the correct emphasis on mobilising to try to prevent the NF from marching began to get distorted into things like finding their addresses, going to their houses and trying to beat them up. Of course, they did things like that to us, but that was not the point. We also spent a lot of time on coaches up and down motorways, tramping round the streets of unfamiliar cities trying to find and stop them. I particularly remember a very long day travelling to The Hyde in Manchester and back to London, with many hours of walking in the rain in between with nary a sight of the bastards. That wasn’t a waste of time, we had to do it, but the truth was that we only got close to humiliating them when the community came out in support, as in Southall and Lewisham. The latter was really kids fighting police racism as much as the NF, but that meant the NF couldn’t rely on the usual degree of police protection.”

The forgotten anti-fascist Olympics Games

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[By “Ant Fasci”, written for upcoming protest against the EDL in Walthamwtow]

Barcelona’s forgotten Olympics – 6000 athletes from 22 countries went to compete in an alternative 1936 Olympics to Hitler’s fascist games. The day before the opening ceremony the Spanish military coup was set in motion, triggering the beginning of the Civil War, and the Peoples Olympiad was cancelled.

Many of the athletes took to the streets in Barcelona and joined the pitch battles against the attempted right wing take over. The first brigadists were actually athletes there for the games and first columns to go to the Aragon front were made up of competing athletes. It was an impressive display of political solidarity from the sporting world yet remains an almost forgotten footnote of history.

The 1936 Berlin Olympics were remembered at the time as a propaganda triumph for Hitler’s ruling Nazi party, despite the best efforts of black American athlete Jesse Owens. Germany topped the medals table and the observing world powers were given a convincing enough display to warrant Germany’s reintegration back into global politics.

For anarchists and radicals, and especially the militant labour movement of the time, the 1936 Summer Olympics would be an opportunity to express direct opposition to the racist policies of the nascent fascist state, and set about organising an alternative Olympics in Barcelona. Calling itself the People’s Olympiad it brought together thousands of athletes from around the world in a show of international solidarity against the rise of European fascism.

In Spring of 36 Spain elected a republican Popular Front government which immediately pulled out of the summer games in protest at the IOC’s continued support of Hitler’s regime and began preparing an anti-fascist festival of sport. As Antonio Agullo, who helped organise the track events, remembered “the idea started from the small sports clubs in the barrios”. It was embraced by the Communists who used it as a propaganda tool although the Soviet Union pulled back from sending any athletes.

Barcelona and the Catalonian region in general was an anarchist stronghold with a militant working class tradition and as such a the ideal setting for the games. In addition to the usual sporting events, there would be chess, folkdancing, music and theatre.

Thousands of sports men and women from around the world were registered to compete including athletes from US, UK, Holland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Scandinavian countries as well as Palestinian, Polish and Canadian athletes. There were also teams from Germany and Italy made up of political exiles from those countries. Many were sponsored by trade unions, workers’ clubs and associations, socialist and communist parties and left-wing groups as opposed to state-sponsored committees and represented their regions or localities rather than their country.

The Barcelona Games was to begin on July 19th but with the outbreak of the civil war immediately followed by a general strike it was swept aside as workers and radicals mobilised to defeat the nationalists and fascists. At least 300 of the athletes joined the initial columns to the Aragon front and many more stayed in Barcelona joining the incoming international brigades. In fact Felicia Browne, the artist and first British volunteer to be killed in the Civil war, was there specifically for the Games.

[The above article was written by campaigners publicising ‘We Are Waltham Forest’ Stop the EDL in Walthamstow! Protest, August 18th, More details here: http://community-languages.org.uk/waltham-forest-trades-council/]

[Flier for anti-EDL protest here: stopedl_flyer01-6]