The best way to “reason” with the thug who comes after you with a knife or a broken bottle in his hand is — as Leon Trotsky once put it — to “acquaint his head with the pavement".
There is no guarantee that bouncing fascist heads off pavements will make them see sense or turn them into decent human beings,0 but there is no other way to “reason” with them. And it is better for fascist heads to learn the hard “lesson of the pavement" than that the heads of innocent black people, Jews or trade unionists should.
The right to self-defence is basic. That means that we have the right to stop fascists from beating and killing by any means necessary. It also means that we have the right to go on the offensive, to seek them out, when that makes sense.
Against this, the argument “leave it to the police" is sheer nonsense. To put it at its weakest: the police are not reliable.
It is a matter of fact that the police do not stop racist attacks; nor are they successful in catching those who carry out racist attacks.
It is a simple matter of fact that there is widespread racism in the police force itself — virulent, active, persecuting racism. A large proportion of racist attacks on young black people are carried out by police officers who pick on them, harry them, and beat them in the streets because they like picking on black people.
Blair Peach, a white London schoolteacher, was killed on an anti-racist demonstration in 1979 — not by a fascist, but by a policeman who hit him on the head with an illegally weighted truncheon. Though many serving police officers must know the identity of that murderer, he was never caught.
The police also defend the racists and fascists. The police are no reliable defence against racists and fascists.
In such conditions what should anti-racists in the labour movement do? Ideally we should set up trade union defence squads, made up of both black and white anti-racists. Essentially such defence squads would be flying pickets against racism. Such pickets — now outlawed by the Tories in industrial disputes — were a powerful weapon in the great strikes of the 1970s. That would be the answer to racism of a healthy labour movement determined to stop its enemies dividing it in order to rule it.
The truth is that the labour movement lacks self-confidence now. We live in a country where the trade union movement is only half-legal, hemmed around with anti-union laws which are the worst in Europe.
That means that the socialist left should argue within the labour movement for such defence squads, patiently explaining why it is in the interest of white as well as black workers to smash the racists and to unite black and white workers against them.
It means that practical, immediate defence work against racists and fascists in places like Oldham has to be the work of militants from those communities directly threatened by the fascists and of individual socialists and trade unionists.
If black and Asian youth, threatened by violent racists or fascists, take action to defend themselves and their communities — they are right to do so.
Self-defence is no offence. The greatest crime would be peacefully to let the fascists grow and develop.