Militant anti-fascism and the Occupy movement

Militant anti-fascism and the Occupy movement

A brief overview of the ideas behind militant anti-fascism, and why physically confronting the far-right is necessary. Aimed at people who've been taken in by the idea of pacifism as an absolute, but specifically the Occupy movement and those camping at Occupy Liverpool.

On the very first night that Occupy Liverpool set up camp, at the base of Wellington's Column, members of the English Defence League showed up. This wasn't unexpected in the context of previous and continued hostility by the EDL towards the Occupy movement, but it did raise some concerns. In particular, with the 24/7 nature of the camp meaning that security would have to be almost entirely left in the hands of the permanent residents, the attitude of the occupiers towards violence and physical confrontation would have to be addressed.

I was at the camp for the fascists' first appearance, and my experience then was indicative of these concerns;

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Soon after dark, I was alerted to the fact that there were five lads standing outside the camp shouting up at a woman standing by the tent facing them. Nobody else appeared to have noticed, as there was a group of tourists asking questions of the occupiers whilst others were sorting out provisions or chatting amongst themselves. However, from the lads still kept their distance and though at first I couldn't make out everything they said, their tone was clearly mocking or goading.

I exited the area in which the camp sat, enclosed by pillars connected by chains, and walked around to where the lads were stood. As I came along and leant against one of the pillars, one of them looked up at me and said "alright Phil." This pretty much confirmed who they were, alongside the pointed question "what do you and Liverpool Antifascists hope to gain by occupying a war memorial?" Only fascists take such obvious pleasure at knowing on sight who a "red" is, and whilst we had shown up yesterday because of the threat of fascists, LiverAF had never previously made any mention of Occupy Liverpool and the local EDL were the only ones to make any connection between the two things.

There were some words exchanged between us, with them - all in their early twenties bar one who looked about twelve - claiming that we were disrespecting a war memorial before denying being any part of the EDL or fascist groups. However, this was quickly belied by their parting shot that they would return later with petrol bombs to "warm our feet up." Pointing out that throwing petrol bombs at Wellington's Column was somewhat more disrespectful then camping by it, I got the reply "the petrol bomb's for you, you cunt."

During the exchange, a couple of people had come up and asked me not to antagonise them. I was also told that "if you ignore them and don't rise to it, they'll go away."

After I made a point of arguing against this notion, and a later intervention by other anti-fascists at the General Assembly, the point appeared to have been made. They set up rotas for security, and though there were a number of people there who were incredibly politically naive - including more than one who had never heard of the EDL before - there were also a fair few who seemed quite switched on.

However, several days ago, a group of between 9 and 12 EDL turned up at the camp. They had previously tried to nick the camp's banner, but this time one of the campers approached them and tried to engage a discussion. For his troubles, he was punched in the face and earned a black eye and split lip. I've since heard that the attacker was caught on both CCTV and hand-held camera as well as spotted by a cop, who subsequently nicked him. However, following the incident another fascist turned up later on, videoing people - and people still tried to engage with him, and answered his questions! Clearly, the threat they pose still hasn't sunk in.

The argument over how to deal with fascists, and particular the contrasting liberal and militant approaches, is an old one. If you look around the internet, you can find a number of pieces covering it - including my own on violence and censorship. However, the issue here is not about selling the Anti Fascist Action approach as superior to the Unite Against Fascism / Hope Not Hate one (though I will contend that it is). It is about a group of people who are in the sights of the far right, including some more vulnerable or less experienced than others, believing that "if you ignore them and don't rise to it, they'll go away." That is a dangerous notion which needs to be debunked.

As such, I would make several points very strongly:

1. Fascism is a violent ideology. We are not talking about people who have come to the camp purely to engage, who have since been provoked into a scrap. The English Defence League was born of football hooligan gangs. It has been violent from the offset, even to the point of fighting amongst themselves when there are no reds to scrap with. The Liverpool Division, as if that wasn't enough, have gone "rogue," because the national EDL wasn't racist and violent enough for them. Opposing those they see as communists is now their driving motive, and they see Occupy as the epitome of everything they stand against.

That opposition doesn't take the form of leaflets and well-written political rebuttals. It is physical, in the form of confrontation, intimidation and - where they can get away with it - assault. The fascists want to hurt you.

2. You cannot reason with them. It may be the case, in certain situations, where engaging fascists in argument can de-escalate a situation, or at least buy time until there are more people who can chase them off. However, those who have mobilised on the streets to oppose you are not wavering in their commitment to fascism. Liverpool Antifascists does a lot of work leafleting working class estates during elections because there are people swayed by far-right arguments on the basis that there appears to be no alternative, and in doing so we have seen the BNP's support fall. But this is not the same situation and the people threatening to petrol bomb you are not floating voters.

Even if engagement and de-escalation are the best tactic, don't let your guard down. As we've seen, that will only get you a split lip.

3. You cannot rely on the police to protect you. At the least, this is because they cannot and will not be at the camp 24 hours a day. But through experience most anti-fascists know that it is more than that. We have seen the police protect British National Party marches and stalls, shake hands with fascists and facilitate their events, even turn a blind eye to acts of violence by fascists. Those at Occupy will also have seen police violently evict protesters, kettle peaceful marches and use unprovoked force against the left.

The police are not on your side. If you rely on them for protection, you essentially leave yourself unprotected.

4. Conceding ground to the fascists only makes them stronger. The strategy employed by the EDL and its off-shoots is a typically fascist one - to control the streets through force. If we back off for fear of confronting them, we effectively concede to this strategy and allow them to grow in numbers as they grow in confidence. Whereas, if they are not allowed to go unchallenged on the streets, those less up for physical confrontation will fall away from them.

Adolf Hitler put it most bluntly whilst in power;

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Only one thing could have stopped our movement. If our adversaries had understood its principle, and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.

For those in Occupy, the key point here is that if you do not want the EDL to keep resurfacing and attacking your camp, you have to be prepared to confront them and chase them away. This doesn't necessarily mean physical violence - anti-fascists have managed to run the BNP out of Liverpool City Centre without a single punch being thrown - but it does mean that non-violence should not be fetishised. Though useful in some situations, it is dangerous in others and should not be an absolute principle.

Most of all, I would argue that when dealing with fascists the key should be security, not engagement. What to do in these kind of situations should be discussed among everyone as far as possible, so that nobody is in the dark either about the threat posed or how to act when it arises.

When confronted, it is vital that you stand together. The task of confronting the EDL or other hostiles should not be left to a small, specialised group. Not only does this leave that group bearing all of the risk, but it also makes others more vulnerable to attack should the fascists get past them. Confront them as a group, keep the most vulnerable safe, and don't take your attention from the fascists until you know they are gone.

Anti-fascism is neither a game nor merely an intellectual exercise. The far-right pose a significant physical threat, more so in fact now that their electoral support is deteriorating, and those they have chosen as targets need to be able to defend themselves. You cannot ignore them and hope that they'll go away, as this only makes you more vulnerable. But you can talk to those experienced with anti-fascism, who will always be willing to offer help and support where we can. If you find that the presence of these goons pisses you off enough, you may even want to join us!

¡No Pasarán!

Comments

working class s...
Dec 24 2011 21:25

spot on

A Trotsky quote sums it up for me, "If you cannot convince a Fascist, acquaint his head with the pavement".

If a person pitches up at an occupy camp and makes threats to the residents, the last thing to do would be to debate with them.

That person has developed (probably over time) far-right views, they have thought about it enough to make contact with a local group. They have then been interested enough to attend meetings, they have then been committed or brave enough to go to an occupy camp and make threats of violence to people who they perceive as being their enemies.

They are not there for debate, the time to debate them was months earlier, when they were making horrible remarks in the pub or workplace.

Communard
Dec 25 2011 00:22
Virindi
Dec 25 2011 01:26

Awesome write.

Arbeiten
Dec 25 2011 14:15

I'm not sure this applies to anti-fascist action. Maybe UAF. But not LiverAF. nice try though wink

RitaRearguard
Dec 25 2011 16:50

That article about occupy and fascism is bloody good and deserves reproducing because it is balanced and uncompromising in its understanding of the EDL. In Halifax we had a confrontation with about half a dozen of them. The big hard core thugs couldnt handle discussion and buggered off leaving us discussing with three lads who ended up agreeing with us on lots of stuff. Do it peacefull if you can but be prepared for the worse.
neither violence nor non-violence should be a mantra or a fetish, it depends on the situation, but because they are thugs they have to be got rid of by any means.

Rowan22
Dec 26 2011 17:12

Right wing ideology itself is the product of distorted emotional process. The central tenet being that "might makes right". Once people have been negated emotionally they slowly develop an internal revulsion for their own, and everyone else’s vulnerability. They have snarling contempt for all we on the left embody and represent. They regard their own feelings of fear as an enemy to be controlled and threatened into silence and that fear transferred to anyone who defends fear and vulnerability, your basic fascist scapegoating! I agree with RitaRearguard who advocates a necessary evil approach. If they can be reached by finding the common human ground to agree on then great, but don't be under any illusions as to what lies at the heart of many of these thugs. Some of them delight in inflicting pain and fear on people. And I'm afraid once someone’s own emotional landscape is so twisted towards sadism the only cure is a technically sound combination of punches to return the command of the situation to people for whom it is a regrettable last resort,rather than to leave power it in the hands of people for whom violence is a blood "sport".

Steven.
Dec 27 2011 00:13
RitaRearguard wrote:
That article about occupy and fascism is bloody good and deserves reproducing because it is balanced and uncompromising in its understanding of the EDL. In Halifax we had a confrontation with about half a dozen of them. The big hard core thugs couldnt handle discussion and buggered off leaving us discussing with three lads who ended up agreeing with us on lots of stuff. Do it peacefull if you can but be prepared for the worse.

this seems like a good principle.

RitaRearguard
Dec 27 2011 11:04

Steven is right. Ultimatly a fascist is a bully, what freaks them out is people standing up to them but not been goaded by them and NEVER been afraid of them. Their sadism breeds off fear.
In the late 1940s the 43 Group of Jews and Communists took on the re-formed forces of Mosleys fascism on the streets. Having just witnessed the barbarity of German fascism the 43 Group gave no quater and hammered the fascists. After a while even leading fascists would ring them up to surrender because they were sick of it. The 43 Group would meet them for a pint or a coffee get some intelegence off them and part with a handshake on human terms.
Unfortunantly that human conclusion could'nt be achieved with out standing up to them physically.

durruti02
Dec 29 2011 12:24

HI Phil.Ok I sympathise whith what you are saying but also disagree.
As Rita says imho the principle needs to be
"Do it peacefull if you can but be prepared for the worse."
AFA (to which i was peripheral i.e. i'd turn up to big call outs and lurk at the back) failed ultimately because a street fighting strategy is NOT what defeats fascism. What defeats fascism is numbers.
Hitler was incorrect or on a wind up when he said "Only one thing could have stopped our movement. If our adversaries had understood its principle, and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement." His movement was smashed day in and day out, and unlike the myth the KPD did not fight them enough, hundreds of socialists and communists died on street battles with the Nazis in the 20ts and 30ts.
And AFA took imho the correct decision to turn toward community organising with the IWCA. To our movements eternal shame and discredit this decision has been ignored.
Specifically on the ground I am really not sure what would work though. Identifiying an Occupy camp with anti-fascism is surely going to make it MORE of a target.
And there is nothing a bully and a fascist like those in the BNP/EDL want than a row. why do you think they are there? they WANT a row. They want to provoke. So not rising to that is as clever as being ready to resist. (tbh anyone who knows how to fight knows that the first principle of fighting is NOT to fight if you can)
I appreciate you have a hard core of nasties in Liverpool who you have to be prepared to deal with, but you know what? They want to fight more than you!
While the occupy movement is interesting, it like militant anti-fascism seem to be yet another of the 57 varities of excuse that will do and say ANYTHING to not get involved in the community. smile

Joseph Kay
Dec 29 2011 12:37
durruti02 wrote:
And AFA took imho the correct decision to turn toward community organising with the IWCA. To our movements eternal shame and discredit this decision has been ignored.

has it been ignored? i think 'filling the vacuum' is probably part of the common sense on libcom (though I may be mistaken and/or projecting my views). if people are turning up to meetings/occupations hospitalise people though, you've little choice but to stand your ground imho.

durruti02
Dec 29 2011 12:49

there is also sadly a myth, imho, around the 43 Group.
While of course I admire those who stand up to fascism, the brief rise and fall of the British League of Ex Servicemen Union Movement and later the Union Movement, was based not on the actions of the 43 Group, but the events in Palestine and the dozens of deaths of British Army and civilians there ( p.s. i am NOT saying either side were right or wrong) .
Also the CPGB claim legitimately, imho, that their work in the angry war weary communities that were marginally sympathetic to the BLEXSM and the UM was what stopped them.
Does that mean i would have not been at Ridley Rd to oppose them? I doubt it, but with the knowledge that like us the far right need a sea to swim in. Take away the sea and you have no far right. And we, the Left lost our 'sea' decades ago!

RitaRearguard
Jan 4 2012 20:04

We have to be a organic part of the working class, articulating their desires sharing experiences and entering into discourse or we become as isolated as the trots. Difference is we have the ideas to avoid the mistakes of the trots. IWCA was correct in its approach we should emulate it.

Steven.
Jan 4 2012 20:57

I agree with Durruti, above, that Occupy camps getting more overtly antifascist will likely make them more of a target (which is dangerous due to the nature of camping outside).

Rita, the IWCA was partly correct in terms of stating that instead of fighting we should be organising, however their electoralism was a fatal flaw, and they focused too much on "the community" as opposed to the workplace. Both of course have their place.

I would agree with Joseph that I don't think what they said has been ignored. I would say that is the majority position on libcom at least

Phil
Jan 9 2012 20:40
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Specifically on the ground I am really not sure what would work though. Identifiying an Occupy camp with anti-fascism is surely going to make it MORE of a target.

That identification was made even before they set up camp, unfortunately. The point of this article is to argue that they fight back when attacked, more than anything else. Though I do stand by the more general argument for militant anti-fascism, being involved in it myself ATM.

This won't involve AFA-style brawling with hammers, axe handles, etc, for a number of reasons. But it does involve physically confronting the fascists. This (alongside leafleting on estates and other propaganda work) has seen the BNP in Liverpool decline massively. The new fascist groups are on the ascendancy at present because they've been relatively unmolested when picking on easy targets such as Occupy. This has to change.

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And AFA took imho the correct decision to turn toward community organising with the IWCA. To our movements eternal shame and discredit this decision has been ignored.

FWIW, I agree with you about community involvement. The only disagreement is that this means abandoning explicit anti-fascism. For example, I see no difficulties doing workplace and community organisation through Solfed and anti-fascism through LiverAF. I also strongly support the IWCA model - with the critical exception of standing in council elections.