The exact relationship between the fascist far right and the “anti-Muslim” English Defence League is unclear. The EDL claim, implausibly, they are not racists. Perhaps there are direct links between the EDL and the increasingly visible and self-confident British National Party, perhaps the relationship is a little fuzzier.
What is clear, however, is that — de facto — a division of labour has emerged between the “respectable” face of political fascism, the BNP, which leads on anti-Muslim hatred, and the street provocations and violence of the EDL. And the EDL are stepping up their activity. They have called demonstrations in Harrow on 11 September, Luton on 19 September and Manchester on 10 October. This follows a demonstration in Birmingham on 5 September which involved around 80 EDL supporters clashing with anti-fascists.
Wherever Asian communities are attacked by bigots in their homes, in mosques, etc, we should help their defence. In this we cannot, and should not, rely on the police. We remember the slogan from the 70s: self-defence is no offence. And we will do everything we can to stop the rise of racism.
We also will not forget who we are. We fight racism to unite workers of all skin colours and backgrounds to fight for human solidarity and socialism. That calls for a secular, working-class, socialist programme and no political concessions to any group — such as the political Islamist groups — who would also divide black, Asian and white workers.
In a number of areas of the country Asian and white workers live close to each other, but send their children to different schools and rarely mix. Distrust between Asians and whites in parts of the North West, for example, has been given a sharpness by poverty and the malign influence of the mainstream parties (who compete with each other to be tough on immigration and asylum), as well as by the fascist right. Trade union organisations which could bring black and white together on a progressive basis are weak organisationally, and politically.
The “example” provided by the EDL — that whites should “stand up for themselves”, including by using violence and intimidation — will not be lost on some backward white people.
We can expect a rise in attacks on Asian people — Muslim and non-Muslim alike. And it is not inconceivable that relatively small-scale confrontations between the EDL and Muslim youth could spark much bigger anti-Muslim riots. That polarisation is what the EDL want. And the “electoral” political beneficiaries will be the BNP.
In the 1970s a spate of violent attacks on and racist murders of Asian people led to a radicalisation of Asian youth. But then the youth were influenced by a militant workers’ movement (including examples of official labour movement solidarity, backing for instance the largely Asian Grunwick workers). Across the country hundreds of grass-roots anti-racism campaigns existed, often organised by far-left organisations.
And the Asian youth movements of the 1970s were influenced by the far left.
Now the situation is different. Among Muslim youth the Islamist groups are likely to grow partly as a result of the poisoning of white-Asian relations.
We should not forget that the EDL is not the only group to organise aggressive, reactionary provocations which have the aim of driving workers and youth into communalist/religious camps. Islamists — Taliban supporters — organised a stupid protest in Luton recently against soldiers returning from Afghanistan. They got the ugly reaction they were cynically looking for, and publicity for their reactionary cause.
Leftists who continue to believe we have something in common with Islamists, or believe they can opportunistically benefit from such protests, are turning themselves into the dupes of Islamism.
We conceive of ourselves as competitors with the Islamists. Our aim is to win the youth to the labour movement, away from communalism and the influence of the mosque and towards social protest directed against the system which creates poverty and inequality. To do that we need to fight hard to build a working-class campaign against racism and fascism.