Report on anti-racist and anti-fascist activity adopted by AWL conference 16-17 October 2010 (as amended).
Race and immigration featured prominently in the popular imagination as one of the "key" issues of the general election. Both New Labour and the Tories pandered to racism. Cameron was elected promising to cut immigration by 75%and the coalition has since introduced a cap which even Vince Cable has criticised as being irrational. Fully-blown anti-migrant and anti-Muslim racist populism is now appearing regularly on the front covers of several tabloid papers.
The labour movement itself is not free of national chauvinism. Although there has not been a repeat of the scenes of the February 2009 engineering construction strikes where the slogan "British Jobs for British Workers" was raised, there has hardly been a decisive repudiation of the slogan or its logic. The official trade union movement is, on the whole, either ill equipped or unwilling to challenge these ideas.
It is this context that the British far and fascist right is undergoing a process of change and re-composition.
In contrast to its’ electoral zenith during the last set of European elections, the British National Party now seems to be in a state of collapse, approaching a nadir. Until shortly before the general election this year, it looked likely that fascists would secure representation in Parliament. In the event, they suffered a broad defeat – not only failing to win in target constituencies but losing large swathes of representation in local government. This in itself is good, but the actual situation is not straightforward.
The reasons for the collapse are three-fold: (1) internal disputes, including the mis-handling and mis-appropriation of funds; power-struggles; death threats; printing mistakes and the associated disorganisation. (2) Intense and well organised Labour voter turn-out operations in the key areas of Stoke and Barking & Dagenham. (3) The polarised dynamic of the election itself, which amounted to a straight fight between Labour and the Tories.
Despite these factors and the failure to secure any victories, the BNP’s overall vote was maintained. In an election where they stood more candidates and ran more campaigns than ever before, the average votes per BNP candidate reflected the average figures won during the European and previous general elections. There is now a ‘core’ layer of BNP voters which suggests that when the organisation re-gains some stability, they will have real opportunities for growth.
The English Defence League continues to tap into, exploit and mobilise large numbers on the back of a wide-spread, ‘complex’ and specifically anti-Muslim racism. This organisation has staged a series of boisterous, sometimes violent and always aggressive provocations in a number of towns and cities.
The EDL proposes no political demands as such other than a vague call for the government to ‘do something’ about ‘Islamic extremism’. Under the cover of this demand a whole host of forces, organisations and views operate. The EDL cannot be classified as a straightforward fascist grouping. Its form and politics is a mix of right-wing populism (which is finding a new expression in the ‘Tea Party’ and anti-mosque movement in the United States) and old-style street-racism which had largely been absorbed into the football hooligan milieu and is expressed anew through the EDL.
Despite unrealistic claims and boastful sabre-rattling on internet discussion boards, the EDL has been unable to mobilise very large numbers to its protests. However, between 500 and 1500 EDL supporters consistently appear at events in England. Much smaller numbers turn up to similar events in Wales and Scotland.
The immediate future for the EDL is uncertain. The core leadership group will continue to call provocations but without some new focus or political shift, these are likely to lose momentum and peter out over time.
The circumstances that allowed for the significant growth of the BNP over the past ten years could now potentially change. The specific organisational ramifications of the Labour leadership elections and the shape and degree to which the trade unions mount a serious campaign against the cuts will be decisive. The role of the left is, of course, important. If the labour movement can mount a serious offensive against the government, the working class communities around which the BNP has orientated and built – posing as a ‘radical’ alternative – could be won away from reactionary influences. However, any such offensive will be accompanied by a shift to the right within the middle class/petit bourgeois layers of society. The right will mount its own offensive. A sharp and well defined class conflict will create a new polarisation and the degree to which the Conservative party can readily express their social as well as economic nature – i.e. how ready they are to risk the coalition – will effect the degree to which this will be confined to the political ‘mainstream’.
In such circumstances fascist groups like the BNP and any organisational splits/offshoots that appear from it over the next few months will have fresh avenues for growth. The BNP experienced a setback, not a defeat at the last general election. Waves of social strife do not produce straightforward lines of march, affinities and solidarity within our class. The BNP will continue to appeal to sections of the class beyond the reach of labour movement, trade union and socialist organisations. Likewise, the EDL will be able to exploit the unevenness that develops. Anti-Muslim racism could provide an even greater avenue for racist scapegoating that at any point so far. The degree to which specifically fascist groups can relate to and organise around the forces of the EDL will determine a great deal.
‘Official’ anti-fascism and anti-racism
The two largest anti-fascist organisations, the SWP front operation ‘Unite Against Fascism’ and the Searchlight-initiated ‘Hope not hate’ campaigns serve a dual function within the working class: (1) they aim to substitute for labour movement-wide action and coordination for narrow political gains and (2) they politically mis-educate and misdirect layers of youth, trade unionists and other activists into sterile and often ineffective action.
The high-point of their collective activities over the past ten years was to mobilise sufficient voters to achieve a 13.2% increase in overall votes and an unprecedented swing of 6.5% to Labour in Barking this year. This was a good result but there was no real honesty involved in the campaign.
Both UAF and HnH reject have rejected time and again a specifically working class political response to the British National Party. In place of class politics, both form popular fronts based on lowest-common-denominator concepts of society. UAF makes no efforts to mount localised, community campaigns in direct opposition to the BNP preferring instead ephemeral leafleting sessions, city centre stalls, city-centre parades and music events. All of these activities have a place in any campaign, but they are not sufficient. In contrast, HnH does build local campaigns and conducts serious efforts in response to the BNP’s attempts to gain a foothold. However, class politics plays no part.
With respect the confronting the English Defence League, the situation is reversed. Where UAF mobilises members of the SWP and their supporters for anti-EDL events, HnH makes no such calls and would prefer for the government to issue blanket bans. However, the tactics adopted by the SWP/UAF on anti-EDL activities have proven ineffective. The compounded errors of judgement and activity revealed themselves in full force in on 28 August this year.
AWL and the Stop Racism and Fascism Network
Members of the AWL have taken a leading political role in establishing the perspective of working class campaigns against racism and fascism. The Stop Racism and Fascism Network grew out of our intervention in the Nottinghamshire Stop the BNP campaign, efforts to stop the BNP’s ‘Red, White and Blue’ festival and a series of conferences. These efforts have not been matched by active participation throughout the group. It is bizarre then that some sections of the left claim that SRF is a front for the AWL.
We should note that establishing local groups along the lines of Notts StBNP is not a simple matter. In Nottinghamshire the campaign had a particular ‘hook’ given the election of a leading BNP member to a local council. The campaign also grew through building opposition to the RWB festival held locally. Comrades did not have to rely on building a campaign as an emergency measure during election periods.
However, opportunities existed and still exist to get working class orientated campaigns off the ground. The Sheffield AWL branch set up a local group in response to BNP campaigning in part of the city. An individual comrade in and two comrades in Leeds/Bradford helped organise groups independent of UAF and HnH in the run-up to planned EDL demonstrations.
SRF is not yet a solid and stable organisation. The network has supporters and affiliates in Liverpool, South London, Stoke, Leeds/Bradford. We can expect more support given the debate emerging out of earlier experiences. So far, the only activity approaching coordination between SRF groups has been a series of meetings and the efforts around the Bradford anti-EDL demo. In spite of this, the campaign has growing recognition.
The two other main groupings involved in the network are various class struggle anarchists and unaffiliated socialists as well as the Socialist Party.
Aside from the usual anarchist ultra-leftism towards the trade union movement, the orientation of the former is often to address their arguments solely to "their" white working class communities on the grounds that fascism is not in their interests. While this is of course true, this approach alone can ignore affirmation of the interests of the sections of the working class immediately endangered by fascist activity.
The Socialist Party have a similar conception. They are impaired by their unwillingness to positively raise the question of immigration controls. Their doctrinaire sectarianism towards the Labour Party has meant their position in elections has often amounted to "Don't vote fascist, build a new workers' party". Their involvement in SRF has been inconsistent, often preferring to operate under the banner of Youth Fight for Jobs and the organs of their national organisation do not mention their involvement at all.
There have been comparatively few black activists involved and changing this should be a top priority.
The network has an internet presence but as yet there are no ‘franchised’ national materials, leaflets, banners, trade union motions etc… The work of the network will be greatly improved by the production of even simple materials for circulation.
In the context of the changing political situation and developments in both the BNP and EDL, the need for working class anti-fascism is still pressing. We cannot assume that the job is done or that the sort of campaign we need will grow from existing efforts or spontaneously from the working class upsurge.
The changing and developing political situation suggests that major openings for fascist groups like the British National Party and the racist English Defence League remain.
The BNP experienced a major setback but was not crushed at the general election. The EDL have not yet met with sustained, large-scale opposition from the labour movement. UAF and ‘Hope not Hate’ are currently unable to provide consistent and effective resistance to either organisation.
In such circumstances, the need for a working class orientated campaign against racism and fascism is as real as ever. Through the Stop Racism and Fascism network, AWL members – together with other socialist groups and individual activists – are beginning to build such a campaign.
So far, only a handful of AWL members have taken an active role in the network or taken the initiative to set up local affiliated groups. This state of affairs must be reversed in the short term.
To facilitate an expansion of the network and to assist comrades in forming local groups we will:Ensure that SRF produces materials for use in labour movement and campaign groups to promote the perspective and work of the group with a view to winning active support;
Form an anti-fascism fraction to oversee and coordinate our collective work; Caucus AWL members before future SRF conferences and national mobilisations; Continue to produce analysis and comment on the BNP, EDL and anti-fascism/racism;
Agree upon a ‘culture of expectation’ within the group where our own mobilisations around national anti-EDL and anti-BNP activities are much improved;
Renew our general anti-racist propaganda work, agitate within the labour movement for discussion about the history of how migrants have contributed to and shaped working-class struggle in Britain. Make the arguments as to the racist and class-belligerent role of immigration controls and argue positively for open borders.