Text of a leaflet of Anti Fascist Action (AFA) in 1999, which contains information about its history, its activities and the far right in Britain since 1985.
Anti-fascist Action was formed in 1985. The founding statement committed AFA to provide a “physical and ideological opposition” to the far-right. Since then, AFA has faithfully fulfilled this role, playing a pivotal part in the fight against fascism.
An immediate focus for the new organisation was the annual NF Remembrance Day parade. The NF at the time were the main fascist party and Remembrance Day was the highlight in the fascist calendar. An estimated 2,000 fascists took part in 1986 and in successive years AFA led similar numbers of anti-fascists into the area. This focus led the BNP to withdraw entirely from the event, complaining that the area was ‘full of reds’. And by 1990 the NF itself had been whittled down to 200.
Meanwhile in between times, smaller NF marches elsewhere were often completely disrupted by AFA. Notable successes in this period included Stockport and Bury St. Edmunds both in 1986. The fall-out from the latter leading directly to a split in the NF, with one faction abandoning the ‘march and grow’ tactic entirely (a scenario destined to be repeated by the BNP almost a decade later).
1989 saw the music based Blood and Honour movement establish itself in Carnaby Street in the heart of Central London with, significantly, a number of outlets openly trading in far-right merchandise. As well as ‘removing’ the fascists from the pubs locally, a concerted six month campaign saw the B&H shops forcibly shut down, and the far-right influence in the area extinguished.
In an attempt to turn the tide, B&H announced that a major international gig with a thousand tickets sold in advance was to be held in London. On 27th May 1989 AFA occupied their re-direction point at Marble Arch, preventing 500 fascists, many who had travelled from Europe, from attending the event.
It would be September 1992 before B&H, by now huge on the continent, would be tempted to try again. An initiative resulted in what the media dubbed the ‘Battle of Waterloo’. The battle which lasted over three hours, forced Charing Cross, Waterloo and a host of smaller tube stations in the area to close ‘due to riots’.
By 1990 the BNP, now the largest far-right party, launched the ‘Rights for Whites’ campaign in East London. AFA rose to the challenge, by ambushing two election meetings in quick succession, and for the first time since the 1970s took over the BNP/ NF Brick Lane paper sale. This was followed by an intensive campaign of work in the area. 60,000 leaflets were distributed door to door. AFA speakers addressed meetings in schools and with community groups. BNP pubs were targeted. While a 10,000 strong Unity Carnival in the summer of 1991 put anti-fascism back on the national agenda. In November 1991 a 4,000 strong AFA demonstration against race attacks marched through the BNP heartland of Bethnal Green unopposed. An event that led directly to the relaunch of the ANL.
By now, BNP activities were being confronted by AFA the length and breadth of the country. In Scotland where, prior to 1990, the BNP had been allowed a free run, the AFA launch saw the tables turned figuratively and literally. On one notable occasion, BNP leader John Tyndall was forced to escape an AFA siege through a sewer. This was swiftly followed by a series of devastating setbacks for the BNP both in Manchester and the satellite towns surrounding it. A method of operation soon taken up by the AFA Midlands region. By 1994 the BNP were now losing ‘the battle for control of the streets’ not just in London but nationally. A fact they publicly acknowledged in April that year when announcing that there would be “no more marches, meetings, punch-ups”. It was a decisive moment.
For a brief period C18 picked up the physical force gauntlet. Heavily hyped by Searchlight (magazine) and subsequently the media, the “charismatic street fighter” myth was quickly exposed by AFA stewards. All the major initiatives which came under their protection were confronted with relish. At the B&H gig in London in January 1994, and UVF marches in both Bolton and London in 1996, security was breached and C18 humiliated. A retaliatory bombing campaign of which London AFA was a target exposed its State links (MI5), and C18 effectively collapsed.
Fully aware of the differing fortunes of anti-fascism on the continent AFA hosted an International Conference for militant anti-fascists in October 1997. Despite being banned by the Labour run Camden Council at the last minute (a decision which resulted in a four-figure out of court settlement), the conference which attracted 22 groups from the USA, Canada and Europe was a huge success. The Militant Anti-Fascist Network which resulted is already proving influential, with a particular resonance in Germany, where the far-right have just recently entered regional government.
As well as countering far-right initiatives, AFA has been pro-active on behalf of anti-fascism in other areas. In 1991 it launched its own magazine Fighting Talk. Through music based organisations like Cable Street Beat and Freedom of Movement and it’s influence with fanzines at leading football clubs it has, by pre-empting the fascists, helped re-awaken the tradition of anti-fascist working class resistance at a cultural level.
Since 1985 AFA has diligently and successfully repulsed a whole series of initiatives by the far-right. Demonstrating in that process not only how, but as importantly why, fascism must be ruthlessly confronted at the earliest possible stage. An obvious result being that despite having one of the highest race attack rates in Europe (a figure that has quadrupled in a decade) the British far-right, unlike their political counterparts in mainland Europe (the far-right recently topping the poll in Austria) have thus far been firmly confined to the margins. That said, it is a situation the BNP, by standing in all regions and distributing over 10 million recruitment leaflets for the European elections in June, are clearly determined to change. As they openly admit if AFA can be outflanked: ‘if AFA can be stopped, that is all we need to win’.
In recognition of this danger, militant anti-fascism, rather than resting on its laurels, has been busily preparing for the challenge. It is a new phase of the struggle. Which if won in Britain, can trigger a similar resistance in Europe.
An historic struggle.
A struggle moreover you personally can help win.
Join AFA. Ring the National Office. 07000 569 569
or write to AFA, BM 1734, London, WC1N 3XX