Phil Dickens is an anti-fascist activist involved in Liverpool Anti-Fascists (LiverAF). He spoke to Solidarity about recent clashes with the English Defence League (EDL) and their splinter organisations.
What’s the current situation with street-based fascist activity in the north west? Who are the “North West Infidels”?
The North West Infidels (NWI) are a splinter group from the English Defence League (EDL). Whilst the EDL bill themselves as “anti-extremist” and liberal/civic nationalists concerned with militant Islam, the NWI have taken a more overtly racist, ethno-nationalist tone, as well as declaring open season on the left and the organised working class.
Most of their activity to date has been around the northern mill towns and areas of Greater Manchester. Rochdale has been a particular favourite, and Bury and Hull have also been targeted. They come from the same street-activist tendency as the EDL, but want to be more militant and not to be kettled in a car park. The electoral collapse of the BNP and the disillusionment on the far-right with the EDL leadership has allowed them to do that.
What happened around fascist provocation against an Irish Republican march in Liverpool on 18 February?
We saw the local fash talking about targeting it and, basically, we under-estimated what would happen. There was talk by some of them about getting tooled up and confronting people who stray from the march outside the city centre; the expectation was that there would be a local mob shouting from the sidelines, so we organised for that.
Meanwhile, the “Combined Ex-Forces” group (CXF) called in their supporters for a national mobilisation, and there were posters in Manchester saying the IRA were in town. These people genuinely believed that they were here to face down a Republican paramilitary organisation. Loyalists harangued the march from its start, whilst the CXF and NWI were joined by veterans and the British Legion in town. It was a tactical mistake on our part, but also a really horrible situation.
LiverAF ended up having to steward a tiny youth demonstration against police brutality in the city centre and lead it to safety, whilst the Irish march had to turn back under threat from the police. It didn’t so much highlight the far-right’s strength — the conditions on that day were unique — but more our own organisational weakness.
To what extent are these phenomena local, and to what extent part of a national trend?
The NWI have only recently come to Liverpool, as a result of linking up with Liverpool EDL when the entire division “went rogue” and re-branded themselves as the “Scouse Nationalists”.
There’s a lot of crossover, but basically the NWI here have ties to both the local BNP branch and long-standing neo-Nazis formerly in groups like the British Freedom Fighters. The Scouse Nationalists keep some distance because there are tensions over the white power/neo-Nazi imagery and the obsession with paedophiles, but they’re still not “moderate” nationalists in the vein of, say, the EDL and British Freedom Party.
How are local anti-fascists organising?
The events around the Republican march basically served as a wake-up call. Whilst many of us have been overtaken with other issues, from the NHS to pension strikes to Workfare, the fascists have been building in confidence by picking on Occupy Liverpool as an easy target.
Since then, we’ve regrouped, drawn in new militants, rebuilt links with others in the region, and sharpened our focus. We were able to provide security for an Occupy General Assembly so that the fash didn’t show, and mobilise against a BNP stall in the city centre with half an hour’s notice. We made very definite tactical and organisational mistakes, but we’re learning from them and hopefully growing stronger as a result.
What do you think anti-fascist activists should do nationally?
There’s a definite need for a national network of militant anti-fascists. Some have already tried to initiate this and we will be looking at supporting that in whatever way we can, but particularly in the North West there is a growing sense of urgency about it.
Unite Against Fascism are all but ignoring the NWI, and even if they weren’t they wouldn’t be a suitable vehicle for opposing it. What we have always needed is militant anti-fascism: based on physical and ideological opposition to the far-right, and working-class unity. The EDL was a sign of fascism moving back to the streets and away from electoralism, and the NWI/CXF/Scouse Nationalists are the result.
They are able to mobilise quickly, and nationally, and to beat them we need to make sure we can respond in kind.