In the 1990’s, Tony Lecomber of the British National Party (BNP) declared that the BNP would no longer be involved in organising marches, holding public meetings or getting involved in punch-ups. This was after a sustained campaign by Anti-Fascist Action and allied groups. The BNP, then the main fascist organisation, had been beaten in a theatre which was absolutely key for growth and eventual victory, the streets. Subsequently, the BNP retreated into the ballot box.
Today the BNP are a shadow of their former selves having been both beaten on the streets and with the rise of UKIP achieving little current electoral success. The floundering of the BNP is largely symbolic, because the BNP were the far-right success story; the veritable mainstream and despite protestations from some quarters of the far-right (post-BNP, Combat 18, etc), there was always a secret admiration for them and a capitalisation on their success (by far-right standards) when the party became a household name.
In recent years this floundering stagnation has meant a back-to-basics approach for the far right; a return to the streets. Whilst we do not want to count our chickens yet and say that the BNP are gone, they are a barely visible group and less significant than what they were a mere few years ago.
In 2009 the English Defence League (EDL) burst onto the scene signalling the beginning of the return to the streets. The EDL had a simplistic and popular appeal, capitalising on the rampant anti-Muslim bile which pervades British society at the moment (until the next big scapegoat comes along). This brought with it plastic ‘casual’ elements from the football scene who wanted to prove themselves on the pavement and subsequently brought confrontation to local communities and political opponents. With the odd physical clash here and there, the EDL were literally pulling a couple of thousand on each national demonstration. However, with the defection of their leader to the Quilliam Foundation, like the BNP before them, the EDL is now a shadow of its former self, pulling barely double figures for protests in some localities. Stephen Lennon, one of the founders of the EDL threw in the towel with the aid of the state sponsored think-tank Quilliam. He has now resurfaced and tried to latch onto the PEGIDA brand in order to appeal to a more middle class demographic. Having failed in its first incarnation, PEGIDA Mark 2 has not got off to the greatest of starts either, pulling way under expected numbers for their first demo under the Lennon leadership. A clearly disappointed Lennon was then left with no other option but to try and fob potential supporters off with yet another fake attack on himself.
What has been left now is the EDL hardcore and smaller groupings such as the North West Infidels (NWI), South East Alliance (SEA), a resurfacing of the British Movement (BM) and the C18 brand, Scottish Defence League (SDL), North East Infidels (NEI), National Action (NA, itself a group which came out of the BNP) and also a salad mix of various continental European groups such as NOP, National Radical Camp (ONR), Patriae Fidelis; United Emigrants, “Hooligans Poland” and an assortment of others. Street confrontations have now become the norm.
What does this mean for us as anti-fascists though? Simply put it means we must up our ante in both the physical and the political arenas. We need to stop being a purely reactive force and aim to set the agenda in working class areas, OUR areas. For this to be done we need a working class anti-fascism by and for the working class. We have seen a resurgence in confrontation between ourselves and the far-right but at the moment (minus a few groups) we are ill prepared to take this on. Of course, not everyone has to be a fighter, it should never be expected of anyone that they MUST physically fight but it should recognised that the politics of the fist and the boot are coming back into the arena. We should all be prepared for this whether we are street fighters or not.
Militant anti-fascism, in general, has scored some notable successes such as taking on and beating the plastic casuals in a fight at the Howard Arms in Sheffield, despite being massively outnumbered; successfully confronting the White Man March in Newcastle in March 2015 (which resulted in physical injuries for a few of the fascist participants); and the widely publicised success stories of when National Action tried to repeat the White Man March in Liverpool in August 2015. In addition , this year, when various far-right outfits, with Polish “hooligans” at the helm (excuse the pun), tried to hold a demo in Liverpool – which resulted in an entire police public order unit having to form a Roman style wall in order to escort them to safety – the Polish far-right “hooligans” were humiliated ,as were their supporters who came out that day.
We have known since the days of Benito Mussolini that fascism requires the streets in order to grow, have any influence and take power. We are not going to kid ourselves and say that it is impossible for this to happen because history has shown that it is anything but impossible. Overestimating and underestimating your enemy can only lead to defeat. This will inevitably involve physical confrontation; whether this is going to-to-toe with the fascists, blockading their marches and street stalls, or engaging in other forms of physical activity intended to deny fascists the space to exist and grow.
We at Red Antifa intend to fight the fascists as and when they appear, but also to be realistic about the limitations. Physical anti-fascism is necessary when the Left has failed – and the Left has well and truly failed the working class. Our intention is to reverse this trend and to be proactive in not just telling people that there is an alternative, but to present the alternative to them. We intend to play our part fully in setting the agenda and not constantly being a reactive force. We need to be out there in our communities, on our estates and in places such as youth clubs and workplaces. This is our constituency and this is ultimately where we will break the back of fascism. The fascists have had it too easy for far too long and this we intend on turning on its head.
To this end we have formed Red Antifa with the explicit intention of driving fascists from our streets, workplaces and estates and denying them the space to exist. We will aim to tackle fascism in all of its forms and whichever face it may be wearing, whether it be the neo-nazism of National Action, the clerical fascism of Anjem Choudhary and his followers, the fascist Jewish Defence League (JDL) or whichever mask the fascists and the populist/ultra-right choose to wear.
It is liberal anti-fascism’s refusal to address ALL of the various manifestations of fascism which has led the far-right to have a monopoly on many issues that are of relevance to working class people. All fascists should and will be treated the same, without exception. Compromise has never been an option in the battle against the fascists and we as anti-fascists must represent that tradition. We are politically frank and not afraid to tackle the unpalatable issues which face us as working class people, whatever they may be. To choke the supply of fascist recruits at source, this approach must be paramount.
With this in mind, we look forward to seeing you on the streets.
10th April 2016