Below we’ve reposted a recent feature article from the Morning Star newspaper. It looks at militant anti-fascism past and present and also features an interview with a local anti-fascist activist (highlighted in bold). Whilst we may not agree with the authors comments regarding Unite Against Fascism and Searchlight, we think it’s a good article overall.
Britain has a long and proud tradition of anti-fascism.
Back in 1936 thousands of people physically stopped Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts from marching through a Jewish area of London’s East End in the battle of Cable Street.
And that same year over 2,000 Britons volunteered to go to Spain and fight against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish civil war.
Following World War II, Jewish ex-servicemen and women organised themselves into the 43 Group to physically confront the British Union of Fascists and disrupt their meetings.
They were the first militant anti-fascist organisation in Britain and were hugely successful in achieving their aims.
In the ’70s left-wing activists and trade unionists formed themselves into groups known as the squads as a way of defending themselves and their activities from fascist gangs.
They soon realised that attack was the best form of defence.
And in 1984 Anti-Fascist Action was formed, a broad-based working-class group which aimed to “confront fascism both physically and ideologically.”
It was hugely successful in confronting groups such as the National Front, British National Party and Combat 18 throughout the ’80s and ’90s and literally drove them off the streets.
Today organisations like Hope Not Hate have used their strategic know-how to crush the BNP, as at last year’s election, while Unite Against Fascism (UAF) organise successful counter-demonstrations in the fight against the English Defence League (EDL).
That fight is fast becoming more urgent by the day, particularly after Anders Behring Breivik, accused of murdering at least 76 people in the recent Norway massacres, spoke of his admiration of the group.
UAF’s joint secretary Weyman Bennett said: “Fascists have become more confident in the 21st century with the rise of Islamophobia, which the EDL use as a shield at their convenience to counter claims of fascism and racism.
“There has been far too much complacency about the EDL and they give a boost to every fascist and racist in Europe, most recently seen in Norway. But we don’t want to see what happened in Norway happening here.”
Antifa – which formed in Britain in about 2004 – also exists as a network of anti-fascist groups and individuals across the country who challenge the rise of the far-right.
According to Joe Hill, of Hereford and Worcester Antifa: “While the BNP are currently going through internal turmoil with purges, mass resignations, infighting and a leadership that seems to be losing credibility we must not simply rest on our laurels and complacently expect them to go away.”
He also recognises there has been a return to street-based tactics for some groups such as the EDL, which has managed to bring thousands of people onto the streets.
As to the rise and causes of fascism Mr Hill is quite clear – that on the one hand it is a fundamental consequence of capitalism while the tabloid press help give it a boost.
“The tabloids regularly stir up reactionary sentiment by attacking migrants, benefit claimants, single mothers etc,” Mr Hill says.
“This sows the seeds of fear, division and doubt in many people’s minds that groups such as the BNP are able to exploit and use to their advantage.
“Simply running a half-arsed ‘exposé’ of the BNP in the run-up to an election with an urge not to vote for them does not do justice – the damage has already been done and the fascists have already seized upon their opportunity to tap into people’s fears.”
Throughout history fascism has used whichever tactics suit it at the time, from beer halls to social networking sites, and Mr Hill says that this shows it’s a symptom of a much wider problem.
“Ultimately the main cause of support for fascism in this country is capitalism and the inequality that it produces,” he said.
“As long as fascism has existed it has thrived upon the economic hardship of certain sections of society either by recruiting working-class people into their ranks by promising a strong nation, jobs and prosperity, or by acting as protection for the middle and upper classes against an organised, revolutionary working class.
“In the long term it is only by revolution that fascism can truly be beaten. In the short term we have to make it very difficult for the fascists to organise and to spread their poisonous ideas, and do our best at going out there and getting stuck in to grassroots activism that will help spread our own ideas of working-class solidarity, freedom and fight.”
But the work of anti-fascists is becoming increasingly difficult as more and more people are arrested for “conspiracy to cause violence” – even when no actual violence has taken place or there is no evidence of intent.
Andy Meinke of the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group is fighting against this in the courts and deals with many anti-fascist cases.
He is currently involved in several “consipracy” cases resulting from an anti-fascist protest against a Blood & Honour gig at the Duchess of Edinburgh pub in Welling, Kent, on March 28 2009.
Blood & Honour is the musical wing of Combat 18 and uses the tagline “The Independent Voice of Rock Against Communism.”
A fight broke out between some of the protesters and fascists on the platform at Welling railway station and police arrested 23 people, with 22 charged with conspiracy to commit violent disorder.
The case was split into two separate trials as not all the defendants could fit in the courtroom. No fascists were arrested or charged.
The first 11 went on trial on June 6. The trial lasted 17 days and the jury convicted seven. Four were sentenced to 21 months in prison with the other three due to be sentenced in August. One of the four acquitted is unable to work as a nurse due to police comments on his criminal record check.
The second trial will start on September 12.
Mr Meinke said: “This is a great example of what anti-fascists are up against today. No charges of assault, ABH or GBH were made – just this bizarre ‘conspiracy’ charge.
“And there are many more examples with the 20 environmental activists convicted last year of conspiring to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, as well as the Fortnum & Mason occupation case.
“The whole conspiracy law could have a chilling effect on protests with the consequence being that anyone thinking of protesting at a fascist or racist event is in danger of being arrested.
“We need to change this vague ‘conspiring’ law that gives police carte blanche to make mass arrests of anti-fascist protesters.”
As the EDL prepare to rally in Tower Hamlets in East London on September 3 it’s up to anti-fascists to bring back the spirit of 1936 without having to deal with the police as well.
Originally published in the Morning Star – Friday 29th July 2011.
By Will Stone