The Big Picture: Combat 18 - Fantasy Fascism?

Anti-Fascist Action aricle about the neo-Nazi group Combat 18, from issue 16 of Fighting Talk.

As an anti-fascist organisation targeted in the recent C18 letter bombing campaign, there is a responsibility on us to try and bring some clarity to the debate. First, the media seem to be working on the assumption that C18's every move must be scrutinised because (a) they are an aberration in an otherwise progressive multi-cultural state, or (b) here is a group so fanatical that they represent a threat to society and only the courts can stop them. The reality is that they are neither.

In recent months the papers in particular have had cause to comment on the failure of the case brought by the Lawrence family and the de facto apartheid revealed by it in parts of south-east London; the C18 letter bomb campaign; the outburst by David Evans MP and the public display of solidarity shown to him by the Daily Telegraph, Garry Bushell, Richard Littlejohn, among others; the dropping of the BNP candidate in support of Alan Clark who they believe adequately reflects their views; the reactionary opinions expressed at a middle class dinner party by rank and file Tories with one of their number favouring a "benevolent dictatorship"; and finally the jailing of three C18 activists for incitement and the "anger" and "depression" of anti-fascists at the lenient sentences.

As the list clearly shows, fascism can come in many forms. Not every fascist wears a flight jacket. The rhetoric of Tory Cabinet members, MPs, and the rank and file can, in unguarded or candid moments, be indistinguishable from the rhetoric of openly fascist organisations. More seriously the Runnymede Trust estimates that there are in the region of 130,000 racist attacks annually. For the most part these attacks will have been carried out by people who are not associated with the Tory Party, would never vote Tory, or perhaps have never even bothered to vote. In other words, support for violent Right-wing solutions is not limited to the issue of race, has cross-class support and extends far beyond the membership of either the Tory party, BNP, or C18.

Indeed in many sections of society Right-wing sentiments are widespread and almost instinctive. A recent survey by Scantel in November 1996 in face to face interviews with 1,600 16 to 24 year olds in eight European countries found that "the young Britons were by far the most racist in Europe comparing unfavourably with other European nations, including those where the popularity of Extreme Right factions has caused concern". (Guardian, 6/2/97).

C18 are not the cause of this problem, more a reflection of its depth. On the other hand C18 are seen to be in the vanguard of reaction in this country and because of that must, and have been, directly and physically confronted when and where possible. Ignoring them or refusing to match violence with violence plays into their hands and as a by-product serves to embolden the more cautious or timorous Right-wingers. Only in that sense would militant anti-fascists regard them as significant.

Notwithstanding the fact that the C18 group came into existence as a direct result of an AFA offensive against the BNP in the early 1990s, it is recognised in militant anti-fascist circles that they are essentially a propaganda group who have done very little. Instead they choose to rely for their public notoriety on the media. Their celebrity is not as a result of them being "talented self-propagandists". The reality is that the media are spoon fed all the 'sexy' stories by the same organisation, who on the back of the hysteria generated (still) hope to goad/ manipulate the security services and courts into proscribing the group.

That is why they were given the credit, quite falsely, for the riot at Lansdowne Rd. However, what all the talk of a "C18 conspiracy" obscured at the time was that the riot was spontaneous and the majority of the crowd, to one degree or another, share similar politics to them anyway. After all "No surrender to the IRA" (with tacit support for the UVF/ UFF death squads) is practically the English supporters national anthem.

All the signs are that on May 1st Labour will be elected. For the first time in almost twenty years, a Labour government will provide a focus for the thwarted aspirations and rage of the Far-Right who will screech their outrage at the slightest deviation from Labour's own agenda for rolling back the Welfare State. This orchestrated anguish, combined with real attacks by a 'socialist' government on the constituency most badly mauled by the Tories (the working class), may well let the authentic fascist genie out of the bottle.

The really "depressing" thing is not only that the backlash will manifest itself politically, and the Far-Right will be the main beneficiaries, but that some anti-fascists will continue to bemoan the fact that the police, courts, and Establishment parties refuse to do their job for them, when history and the current situation in Europe demonstrates that their commitment to democracy is at best unreliable.

Apart from loudly advertising their own, and by implication anti-fascist, impotence the real danger is that when this strategy inevitably fails (as it is doing in France) there is no 'Plan B' that does not involve some sort of capitulation. As the situation in Austria, France and Italy shows it is perfectly possible to have a clear understanding of the nature of fascism and yet embrace an inadequate strategy for resisting it.