To be fair, a great deal of the credit for the militant anti-fascism in the 1980s and 90s deserves to go to Red Action. Thanks to a Red Action initiative Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) was formed in 1985 which brought together the Direct Action Movement (DAM), Red Action, Workers Power, and various other groups and individuals. Red Action were striking terror into the hearts of British fascists years before I started, and were still doing it years after I became inactive. I can’t say I agree with all the finer points of their politics, but I will always have massive admiration for their anti-fascist bravery and dedication.
Red Action had concentrations of membership in North London, Manchester and Glasgow, and were better organised to mount national activities. However, anti-fascist activities in Liverpool, Yorkshire cities, Bristol, Norwich and elsewhere were overwhelmingly dominated by local anarchists. Also anarchists, in particular the DAM, were the first to question the motives and tactics of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight (See Appendix 1).
I belonged to the DAM, an anarchist organisation, with some excellent anti-fascists in it. The DAM has a proud record not only concerning anti-fascism, but also supporting striking miners, printers and others. I could wax lyrical about the fine comrades I have come to know and respect in the DAM, but why give MI5 any clues? You know who you are. However, on AFA call-outs when the DAM would muster 5-20 combatants then Red Action would normally field three times that number. So we were normally the ‘junior partner’.
However, I believe the DAM’s input into AFA was crucial for two reasons. Firstly, while various lefty and independent groups drifted in and out, only the DAM’s presence gave credibility to AFA being a ‘broad church’ instead of merely a front for Red Action. Secondly, the DAM’s physical-force policy helped save the anarchist movement from its complacency and woolly-liberalness towards fascism. For decades prior to the DAM most anarchists were pacifists, hippies, academics and had beards.
A comrade added-up the numbers at one of our biggest events (the 1991 Unity Carnival I think) and counted 120 Red Action, 60 DAM, 20 Workers Power, 8 Class War and a few ‘independents’.
Without a doubt AFA contained the best anti-fascists of our generation. AFA is of the same calibre as the anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War, The 43 Group, the Cable Street veterans, and the Italian and French anti-nazi partisans. I feel honoured to have met and befriended some of the most genuine, warm and brave people in Britain.
Nearly all those involved in physically confronting the fascists are socialists or anarchists. As such we are revolutionaries opposed to capitalism and its governments. Our long-term aim is of course to confront the government and the employers in order to bring about a free and fair society. In the meantime it is not bad practice to beat the crap out of a few miserable fascists, and if we can’t do that what chance would we ever have against the main enemy?
The best anti-fascist combatants are those with the most ‘bottle’ (nerve), not necessarily those with the biggest physiques. Some of the incidents over the years still make me chuckle at their audacity. For example when Red Action battered some National Front members in Central London, saw them taken to St. Thomas’s Hospital, waited for them outside, then battered them again!
Some aspects of anti-fascism are undoubtedly a good laugh. But it is also satisfying to be doing something really useful instead of arguing about political theory or dreaming about utopia. Another plus side is that strong friendships develop among comrades who have shared dangerous moments together.