Fascism in Britain Today (1976): The Left and the National Front - Martin Wright

Young Asians, Blacks and Whites confront the NF march in Bradford

Martin Wright on fascism and anti-fascism from Anarchy magazine in 1976.

Article typed up by the comrades at Kate Sharpley Library. Notes in square brackets are by KSL. Footnotes by Libcom.

"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." – Hitler

Counter-demos, Pickets

How has the left shaped up to the National Front (NF)? The answer is, usually, in the most abject fashion imaginable. For instance… whenever the NF has held a demonstration or a rally the left opposition consists of, for starters, howls of protest to the appropriate local government authorities, ‘Don’t let the fascists use the Town Hall!’

Then, after their protestations have been rejected, they stage the predictable counter-demonstration picket, which occasionally ends with a bust-up involving the police (who protect the fascists with such determination that, so far, there has been no major clash on the streets between left and right). As a sideline, adventurist elements such as International Socialists (IS) might furtively depart from the main march and in a vain attempt to enhance their ‘street-fighting’ image try to tackle the NF by themselves, which results in a number of arrests and injuries with as always the unfortunate ‘breakaways’ coming off far worse than the NF. Meanwhile, as another sideline, tiny cliques of screaming Maoists attack police lines Kamikaze style, and this time they and everyone unlucky enough to be in the immediate vicinity end up getting their heads kicked in by zealous cops. Every shade of leftism is represented during these manifestations, the smaller groups in order to increase their tiny stature adopting violent phraseology which they are incapable of fulfilling with actions.

The platform is always controlled by an ad-hoc committee, with usually the Communist Party (CP) in control behind the scenes. The CP doesn’t use the platform for advocating the use of violence against the NF: sometimes, in fact, in order to convey the impression that they are just as respectable as the Labour Party, they even go so far as to say that anybody using the platform to propagate the use of violence against the NF will be slung off. (As at Hyde Park, where the left successfully closed Speakers Corner to prevent the NF from marching there.)

Tackling The Front On The Street

The left, in challenging the NF on the streets, has for the most part fallen flat on its face, although by the images projected in their papers you would think that every time the NF ventured into the streets they were defeated decisively by a mass turnout of the working-class and the left1 . Unfortunately, or fortunately perhaps, each time the left attempts to reach the NF they are prevented by the police. The truth of the matter is that the left is unable to make a real physical impression on the police or fascists. What happens sometimes is that we have the spectacle of police beating shit out of the lefties, while the NF looks on from a safe distance, sniggering or cheering, depending on how vigorously the cops are laying in. All that’s achieved in these struggles is hundreds of arrests and injuries, and at Red Lion Square (an example of what I’m thinking of) an anti-fascist was killed by the police2. I think that this is because the left is unable to devise tactics and strategy to suit the situation.

Propaganda

Propaganda directed against the NF has taken on the appearance of a small industry, with even the most obscure left groups churning out a mass of pamphlets. Despite the tremendous amount, all these pamphlets and articles are of a low calibre. They all, for instance, lay stress on the criminality of the leaders of the NF. We are treated to the same old photograph of Tyndall in his nazi uniform. They never go much further, never attempt to analyse why the working class never turns out en masse to smash the Front, or even why large numbers of working class people subscribe to Front-type ideas. They are at pains to point out that NF leaders strutted in nazi uniforms, embellished with swastikas, but who has any use for that emblem now? Today, British fascists parade around using the Union Jack, and it’s ‘unpatriotic’ to insult the flag, isn’t it? (This is the view of the CP more than other left groups.) In a book written by a CP hack, Tony Gilbert, called Only One Died3, which deals with the government inquiry into the Red Lion Square riots, the author in giving evidence claimed that the NF placing the Union Jack was a ‘misuse’ of the flag.

But this isn’t isolated – witness the revolting behaviour, the chauvinism, of most of the groups involved in the latest anti-fascist movement during the European Economic Community referendum. Most of these groups regard the imperialist bloodbath known as World War Two as – anti-fascist! How many times have we been subjected to speeches containing such gems as ‘Free speech for fascists? That was decided on the streets of Stalingrad… or Berlin’ ad nauseum at anti-fascist events? Too many times, I think.

With the growth of fascism in this county (and indeed, worldwide), with the struggle against it, a magazine exclusively anti-fascist has emerged, Searchlight. The contents are detailed and informative (and I recommend it for this) but on the other hand its tone is legalistic, ‘patriotic’, trade-union oriented. For examples, there are open letters to Roy Jenkins [Labour Home Secretary] requesting him to ban the NF, and articles urging the government to create stronger laws against racism – laws which, as we know, end up being used against anti-fascists like the 1936 Public Order Act. Writers for Searchlight range from IS hacks to right-wing Labour MPs.

The left and anti-fascist tactics

One of the many weaknesses of the left has been shown by their misunderstanding of the use of force. It’s all right for the trots to don their bovver boots and chase a few fascists around the back streets (a task which they find heavy going at times). But what happens when the agro reaches proportions of another dimension? They are, I’m afraid, left high and dry. In London’s Camden High Street the lefties held a meeting to discuss tactics for opposing a Front march. As the delegates arrived they were menaced by NF heavies who told them that they ‘would be back later’. They were, firing a shotgun Chicago style from a car and shattering the window of the building; The reaction of the lefties inside? They called the police! And then? Why, they are surprised by the lack of interest shown by the police!

All these left groups knew where the NF headquarters were at that time (50 Pawsons Rd, Croydon), but they remained un-attacked. Such is the respect the left has for conventional methods. A couple of weeks after this event, the International Marxist Group (IMG) instruct their members to turn up at the Hyde Park rally wearing crash helmets, but even this minimal effort is rendered useless when a police snatch squad pluck an unfortunate from the centre of the IMG defensive circle and arrest him. After the rally has finished the IMGers put their helmets into plastic bags and sneak away in the most nervous fashion.

Worse still, when the NF held their vile ‘march against (black) muggers’ in London’s East End last summer, the opposing anti-fascist march, outnumbering the NF by more than 4 to 1, formed up only five minutes from the fascists’ departure point. Yet when anti-fascists marched off in the opposite direction! - even Searchlight commented, "The counter-demonstration was attended by nearly five thousand people… but this rally had failed to grasp the fact that it was in their power to have halted the fascist provocation, by just non-violently standing in its path before it got under way. Whilst we at Searchlight are against violence and see no point in fighting with the police, we must respect the handful of youngsters who stood in the path of the march only to be batoned by the police."

But more recently, April 24th to be precise, things showed a turn for the better, as at Bradford where counter-demonstators faced 1000 Front marchers. The NF were protected by large numbers of police (as usual); they provoked the violence by damaging Asian-owned shops while the police stood and did nothing. The anti-fascists, though, showed they could fight with some success: bricks, bottles and beer cans were hurled at the Front. Barricades were dragged across the street in an attempt to halt the fascists, and when the police attacked the anti-fascists, they too were showered with stones and bottles, police vans were overturned, and attempts were made to set them on fire, numbers of police were badly injured including numbers of the mounted police.

The number arrested was 30. Contrast this with events in London the same day, when 200 marchers mostly from the nazi ‘British Movement’, were challenged by about 500 anti-fascists. There was a battle in Trafalgar Square between the anti-fascists and the police – mostly members of the Special Patrol Group4, who brutally beat up the outnumbered anti-fascists, injuring many while police casualties were virtually nil. Twenty-five arrests. I think we have things to learn from both events on the 24th.

Fascist tactics

Front tactics are more brutal than the left’s: anonymous attacks in back streets on militants and immigrants, and even worse, pouring paraffin into immigrant workers’ letter boxes and setting light to it; the list is endless. Then, on another level, attacking the small bookshops and headquarters of sectarian left-wing groups (like Maoists); owing to the distance and size of these groups, few, if any, reprisals need be expected. Pacifists and liberals make excellent targets – they don’t hit back.

When all these attacks are combined, the fascists gain a formidable reputation. The National Front are also becoming more daring in that they attack left-wing demonstrations such as the Troops Out demonstration which was fairly successfully attacked by the NF on 21st February at Shepherds Bush Green. There is evidence that some ultra-rightists, members of the NF included, are training in forests with members of the Territorial Army – and that during these manoeuvres they are armed. On another level the Front pick up most of their members by running in elections; during the last General Election they picked up 113,000 votes (mostly in working-class areas). The Front claim that next election they will field over 300 candidates.

Is It Worth It?

Is it? Well, for groups like International Socialists it provides a fine chance for recruitment, as a reading of Socialist Worker a couple of years ago would prove. For example, it gave coverage to small local demonstrations against the Front; after the demonstration the IS would hold a small meeting where ‘six young workers’ or ‘five Asians’ then joined IS. At Leicester the IS even erected a platform after the large march (with its star speakers) to advertise a meeting that they were holding in the evening – a straightforward recruiting effort.

But, as for fighting them? After all the NF are not supported by the capitalist class who prefer the Labour and Conservative parties to run the State and look after their interests. To receive support from even the most reactionary capitalist elements the Nat-Front must prove themselves a competent labour-bashing, strike-breaking militia, and this so far they have failed to do, although some maverick characters, ex-Military, Stirling5 and Walker6, have attempted to form private armies to use against the working class.

The Front have been successful in their infiltration of anti-working-class organisations such as the National Federation of the Self-Employed, ratepayers groups, and in some areas are gaining a dangerous foothold in tenants groups and trade union branches (Searchlight is well aware of this). Liberals and pacifists say ‘Leave them alone,’ ‘Fighting them is a prevention of free speech’ or ‘If you fight them, you are just as bad as them’ – head-in-the-sand attitudes which provide a fine argument to do fuck-all.

On the other hand real revolutionaries argue that capitalism and the state are the main enemies; true, but the NF are dangerous for the working class in a way that the ‘legitimate’ representatives of capitalism dare not be. And for reasons I indicated in Part One7, fascist ideas are taking root in some sections of the working class and the lumpen, so therefore this represents an immediate threat. It is important to tackle them without negating the class struggle; after all the class struggle is the best way to tackle the NF. Small groups of revolutionaries who because of lack of resources or pressing commitments elsewhere don’t attack them directly should make it clear that if they are ‘bothered’ by fascists they will pay them back in an unconventional manner.

Ways To Fight The Fascists

For anti-fascists out on the streets this is a question of tactics. I’m not against fighting the fascists in the streets, as you can guess I’m all for it; the trouble is that it’s totally predictable how they are challenged. Whenever the fascists have a march or meeting, Hey presto: a counter-demo or picket. What should be done is say to occupy the hall that the fascists are going to use, before they turn up, or if they have a meeting make it difficult for them to get out. When fighting the police the anti-fascists should (if there are enough of them, and if they are angry enough) follow the wonderful example of the people of Bradford. When the Front march, instead of forming up miles away from them, the anti-fascists should assemble at the same point the fascists are due to march from, thereby ensuring that they find it impossible to assemble, let alone march.

When the NF held its ‘march against muggers’ a small group of anti-fascists (400) broke from the main anti-fascist march and ran off to meet the fascists. As the fascists were well protected by the police, and there were 1,000 Fronters anyway, the anti-fascists marched on the sides of the march on the pavements, heckling the fascists and threatening them. Because of this no-one joined the Front’s march – because of the constant barrage and because we informed people about what the NF were all about; people did however join the anti-fascists (including lots of kids) and we had a lot of fun and talked to lots of local people. There were about 6 arrests at the end of the march, at Hoxton.

All other things apart, the only thing that will eventually smash the Front is the very thing that will smash capitalism – a mass revolutionary working-class movement. Revolutionaries must work to build this – the most important task of all. An inkling of mass action was shown at Leicester, where the Front held a march in support of the ‘white workers at Imperial Typewriters’, Only about 700 morons turned up to march with the Front. Meanwhile in another part of the city more than 5000 people, including many Asian workers & whole families, joined the march. It was a great occasion because the whole immigrant working-class community was involved in the strike that led up to the marches. Eventually the only thing that will sweep the fascists off the street is mass working-class action. To build a mass revolutionary working-class movement is a political task. As anarchists we must become involved in this, as part of building our anarchist movement, but that’s another subject, comrades.

Postscript

Events have moved quickly since I finished this article. First of all the ‘story’ dredged up by the porno-Sun about the £600 a week Asians which led to an ‘immigrant invasion’ scare. Secondly the successes of the fascists in the local government elections and [racist Tory MP Enoch] Powell’s new speech. And third the imprisonment of the racist Relf8 and the vile attacks on immigrant workers and students, the worst event so far being the murder of two foreign students by a racist gang in Woodford9

The immigrants have been fighting back – witness the scenes in Birmingham when they fought with the police in an attempt to reach a pro-Relf demo put on by the NF. In Blackburn where the [ex-NF] National Party won two seats in the local elections (from Labour incidentally) the National Party victory march was greeted by shoppers with claps and cheers while a demonstration of trade unionists and Asian workers was met with insults and jeers: ‘Fuck off back to where you come from, you black bastards’. In Hackney an Indian family had their home fire-bombed, while in Greenwich a mosque was vandalised by fascists – and in the East End some mini-cab drivers are using their car radios to coordinate attacks on Asians and so on. But the immigrants are fighting back and we must aid them in their struggles.

I think that if one headline in the porno-Sun and one Powell speech can undo all the propaganda of the anti-racists and anti-fascists of the last four years, we must really consider another approach. I think that what is called for sooner or later is a few decisive battles in the streets that can defeat the fascists physically (Bradford and Birmingham show the way forward). We have tried the other way far too long – the results are nil. (The anti-fascist rioters in Bradford got a very good press, incidentally!) It is after all a question of time when this will happen; the sooner we get it over and done with, the better. The only other thing I want to say is, when we beat the fascists on the streets, why should we then all go home to our beds? Let’s keep the streets, let’s have street meetings, sell our papers on the street and prevent the police from driving us back. When we can do this we will be able to make great inroads. We will be able to build up mass movements to smash capitalism and the state for once and for all!

MFW

  • 1. This was written before NF marches were successfully opposed in Wood Green and especially Lewisham in 1977.
  • 2. Kevin Gately (18 September 1953 – 15 June 1974) was a second year student of mathematics at the University of Warwick who died as a result of blow to the head during police horse charges against a counter-protest to an NF march in central London.
  • 3. Only One Died: An Account of the Scarman Inquiry into the Events of 15th June 1974, in Red Lion Square, when Kevin Gately Died Opposing Racism and Fascism (Kay Beauchamp Publications, 1975).
  • 4. The Metropolitan Police's infamous paramilitary unit, members of which woud later kill Blair Peach at an Anti Nazi League protest againt an NF meeting in Southall.
  • 5. Lieutenant Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling's "GB75" group of ex-military types, dedicated to taking over rule of the UK in the event of civil unrest.
  • 6. Sir Walter Colyear Walker's "Civil Assistance" group claimed to have 100,000 volunteers prepared to break a general strike in the UK.
  • 7. Fascism in Britain Today (1976): The National Front, the working class and the lumpen in Anarchy #19.
  • 8. Robert Relf was a former British Movement member who was convicted under the Race Relations Act after advertising his house as "For Sale - to an English family only".
  • 9. Students Dinesh Choudhri, aged 19, and Riphi Alhadidi, aged 22, were stabbed to death by white youths.