As neo-nazis and anti-fascists prepare to head to Dover this weekend, Ed Goddard takes a look at the importance of violence as a tool in the anti-racist toolkit both in the struggles of the past and present.
The far-right are mobilising yet again for a demo in Dover and yet again anti-fascists are heading to the south-coast town intent on stopping them. The day looks set to be a repeat of January’s chaotic events, which saw hundreds of anti-fascists and openly neo-nazi demonstrators clash, throwing punches and paving stones with serious injuries racked up on both sides.
While the left is comfortable decrying fascist violence, it is noticeably more unsure when it comes to its own. Those who dish out beatings to far-right mobs are ritually accused of “stooping down to their level”, of being “as bad as the fascists”, or even of actually being “left-wing fascists” themselves for successfully using violence against their political opponents.
Though in a sense understandable due to the nasty nature of violence and the fact we’re often the first to condemn it in the form of wars or police brutality, it fails to take into account the nature of the racist gangs mobilising for Dover, not to mention the current threat to multiculturalism1 in Britain (as well as across Europe). Moreover, it completely ignores the significant role violence played in establishing multiculturalism as a reality in so many British cities in the first place; that, as well as promoting peaceful coexistence, anti-racism2 has always involved physical opposition - whether organised in racist groups or not - to those who would threaten that coexistence.
The nature of the enemy
First up, it needs to be said that the groups coming out for Dover are not your traditional right-wing nationalist political parties. They’re not like UKIP, they’re not even much like the BNP under Nick Griffin, and the difference isn’t just over politics.
The key difference is practice: while even hard-right political parties focus primarily on seeming respectable to try and win at the ballot box, these groups reject respectability in favour of a focus on violent street confrontations. A successful demo is one where members get pissed and start aggro with counter-demonstrators or, failing that, any non-white locals.
Yet this is what people misunderstand about these groups, laughing at them for being inarticulate pissheads who couldn’t string a sentence together let alone influence government policy. But their goal isn’t to affect policy or produce provocative think-pieces for The Spectator. Their goal is to intimidate. Their organisational model is not the political party, it’s the hooligan firm.
This is why an approach that rejects physical confrontation cannot work, why even chanting ‘there are many many more of us than you’ makes no sense. The South East Alliance have the words ‘sometimes outnumbered, never outgunned’ emblazoned on a St George’s Cross. They love being outnumbered as long as they get home safe enough to brag about it. It validates their self-image as brave defenders of the nation taking on crowds of irate (though ultimately soft) student lefties.
More than being outnumbered, the politics they understand is when they are outviolenced. Indeed, so comprehensively outviolenced that they can’t even put a brave face on social media (as they will inevitably always try to).
Nazis duck missiles as they are held behind police lines for their own safety during failed 'White Man March' in Liverpool, 2015.
So events like Liverpool in 2015, when National Action ended up hiding in a lost luggage department for their safety while a multiethnic crowd of Scousers chucked bananas at them, or Walthamstow 2012 when the EDL’s march was blocked by crowds hurling bottles and bricks and chanting “If it wasn’t for the coppers you’d be dead”. Events like these rupture their hardman self-image. They set off organisational disarray and internal recriminations as they start rowing amongst each other about who ballsed up what and who’s never turning up again to anything organised by whoever else. And they discourage those who were thinking about coming down for a laugh and a ruck, when they realise the reality means being shepherded behind police lines for their own safety or taking a kicking as their mates run for their own safety.
Fighting racism: a historical snapshot
All this is nothing new. Yet to a large extent contemporary anti-racism has been sanitised, reduced in the popular imagination to ‘I have a dream’ and Benetton adverts, or worse, not being able to order a black coffee in case someone gets offended. Even the collective memory of Nelson Mandela makes him seem just a kindly old man who once met the Spice Girls rather than a Communist revolutionary who spent 27 years in prison for involvement in an underground guerrilla organisation.
Yes, it’s true that multiculturalism was created by the increasing interactions - cultural, social, romantic - between people of different ethnicities and, yes, it’s true that those interactions have been based on basic humanitarian principles like ‘peace’, ‘love’ and ‘unity’. But it must always be remembered that those interactions and those principles had to be defended and the capacity to use violence against those who would threaten them played a significant part in that defence.
So when fascists attacked London’s black community during the 1958 Notting Hill race riots, themselves thought to have been triggered by a group of white people attacking an interracial couple, the West Indian community formed its own self-defence groups. As Jamaican community activist and participant, Baker Baron, describes:
The men, well we were armed. During the day they went out and got milk bottles, got what they could find and got the ingredients of making the Molotov cocktail bombs. Make no mistake, there were iron bars, there were machetes, there were all kinds of arms, weapons, we had guns.
Black man is searched by police during the Notting Hill riots, 1958.
Eighteen years later, Notting Hill’s black community would again be on the frontline fighting racism on the streets: black youth revolted, this time against racist policing at the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival, resulting in officers taking “a real hammering [...] knocked over like ninepins by volleys of bricks and bottles”.
And almost exactly a year after Notting Hill, it would be the National Front’s turn to feel the full force of militant anti-racist mobilisation as they attempted to march through Lewisham. Anti-fascist activist Steve Tilzey recounts his memories of the day in which, apart from one group of nazis being “pummelled to the ground by fists and boots”:
All along the route of the march the NF were getting serious problems as fighting and skirmishing broke out between the two sides. At one point the march was smashed completely in half as hundreds of anti-nazis broke through the ranks of police and engaged the Front in vicious hand-to-hand fighting.
An anti-fascist lays into a National Front member during protests in Lewisham, 1977.
All these represent the fight of communities, whether against the encroachment of fascist groups or of racist police, to exist both socially and culturally in Britain. Yet even these remain a handful of spectacular events in the history anti-racism in Britain. While multiculturalism took root among those who welcomed it in those environments where different ethnicities mixed freely, it was imposed on those who didn’t want it through thousands (or hundreds of thousands, potentially millions even) of minor scuffles, struggles and conflicts whose only record is in the memories of those who experienced them.
One such memory is that of my older sister who remembers being slapped in the face by an older white boy for playing football with a group of black kids in the park behind our house when she was little (which must have been as late as the early 1990s). They leapt to her defence, gave the boy a slap and chased him off. My sister continued playing in the park, as did I when I got older, but I don’t ever remember seeing that boy.
I don’t include this anecdote because it’s particularly exciting (I sometimes even wonder whether the kids who backed my sister up even remember it). The opposite, actually: to show the kind of everyday physical defence of simple coexistence which took place in British cities in order for multiculturalism to become a reality. Those kids fought for their right, and my sister’s right, to play with whoever they want in our area. The innumerable stories of playground punch-ups and public altercations which won’t make history books, in large part because there are just too many of them and their unspectacular nature make them interesting only to those who know those involved.
When looked at together, however, as part of a generalised fightback or movement, they become more interesting. The fantastic Young Rebels documentary on the Southall Youth Movement does just this in recording some of these stories of young Asians growing up in 1970s-80s Britain. One SYM member, Jagdish Banger, remembers “coming out of class, all these white people just jumped on me, started beating me up and there was another Jamaican boy with me [...] and he ran off and I thought ‘Ah, that’s nice.’ But what he did two minutes later: he came back with a load of Jamaican black people and we had such a big scuffle.”
In the same documentary, Jaswant Hunjan, recalls:
We were young, we formed a gang. And like, what the skinheads were doing, they always shouted ‘We’re going Paki bashing today! We’re going Paki bashing today!’ So we were going skinhead bashing. Coz most of the time, at night time, they’ll come, in cars and everything, you know, just to swear at us, and find someone on his own and beat him up. Well, there was quite a few of us and, we just stood round corners with bottles and bricks and when you see the cars coming… let it go.
The struggles which Southall Youth Movement members engaged in with local racists were inseparable from the wider issues of racism the group took up. Indeed, it was the assault and murder of Gurdip Singh Chaggar by a racist gang that led to the the group’s creation, with its dedication to “physically keeping racism off the streets of Southall” as well as the “lack of youth provision in the Borough”. The climax of Southall’s youth activism came in 1981 when the community stopped a far-right skinhead concert, torching the pub it was due to be held in and attacking fascists while police were helpless to stop them. As Jagdish Banger explains: “It was a proud moment, we stood up for ourselves saying ‘We’re Southall’. Yes, alright, it’s full of Indians but we stood up for ourselves.”
Facing the threat ahead, not just with violence, but certainly not without it
For anyone who opposes racism, there seems an endless cause for alarm these days. In Britain, UKIP finished the election with almost four million votes, 27% of the total and the third-highest of any party. Meanwhile, hate crimes between 2014 and 2015 increased 18% and Islamophobic attacks in London went up a worrying 70% while EDL-splinter groups are able to mobilise hundreds for demonstrations under nazi flags for the first time since the early 1990s.
The rest of Europe is equally worrying, if not more so: Greek neo-fascists Golden Dawn remain the third most popular party while continuing to carry out attacks on migrants. Xenophobic Eastern European governments continue to use barbed-wire fences and the inflammatory language of ‘invasion’ to keep out refugees. In Calais, France, fascist groups frequently abduct, strip and beat refugees living in the ‘Jungle’ encampment while French police frequently make incursions with batons and teargas while between 2014 and 2015 Germany saw a 500% increase in attacks against refugee centres. And with every ISIS terror attack such jingoistic nationalism becomes further entrenched.
While there was never any ‘Golden Age’ of multiculturalism, we certainly are seeing a return to cruder, more explicit (which in turn enable more vicious) forms of racism. This is not to say that violence is the only ‘true’ form of anti-racism or that the problem of racism can be tackled only with violence. In the end, the only long-term solution is to build a movement which can oppose both the racist narrative and the social injustices it conceals, a task which involves a wide range of activities and tactics.
But while there are those who act out the politics of ‘race’, with all the violence it entails, there will be those who will respond in kind. Multiculturalism may have been created in the spirit of peaceful coexistence but it was defended with a violence strong enough to overpower its enemies. And for that, we make no apologies.
- 1By 'multiculturalism' I mean the fact of people from different cultures and ethnicities living alongside each other rather than state-run multiculturalism as local government policy.
- 2My use of 'anti-racism' in this article is as a catch-all term for all those movements that can be said to oppose racism, though here mostly what has been called 'anti-fascism' and 'black liberation'. This is not to say the two are reducible to each other nor that they are the only things which have been called 'anti-racism' but that they share anti-racism in common.
Ed writes Quote: Yet to a
If Nelson Mandela really had been a "Communist revolutionary" as Ed asserts, rather than the black but bourgeois President of a bourgeois nation that still continues viciously to exploit all its workers regardless of skin colour, then I doubt he would have joined an underground and black nationalist guerrilla organization, spent 27 years in prison for doing so amongst other things, and had to be kind to the Spice Girls.
That anti-racism has been reduced to the status of "I have a dream...." and not ordering "black coffee" too loudly, may be no bad thing, specially if its main achievement up till now has been providing fodder for the fire and hate of right-wing and violent loonies looking for trouble.
The solution to racism as to all the other bourgeois phobias, like women and queer bashing, that some members of the working class take on board as a means to venting their unelaborated resentment of their perpetually unpleasant treatment by capitalist society, is to be enabled to identify the culprit for all our ills as capitalism itself, and its ruling class, not other members of the suppressed and exploited classes.
All these so-called
All these so-called 'nationalists', are a bunch of drink and drug fueled morons, out for a punch-up, are their politics really serious? Lets look at them.
They attack journalists instead of talking to them. They totally avoid the press, unless its to attack them.
They don't interact with the locals, they probably hate them almost as much as everyone else not supping cheap nasty lager in their meet up point pub, exchanging racist comments between themselves incoherently.
Flying flags, asking for a fight, and attacking by passers, sounds so much like the morons I come across so many times in the past.
Last January, they behaved as I expected. Mindless violence against anyone they didn't like, sadly, they cornered me by Durham Hill, me and another two photographers. The police just sat in their vans ignoring us.
Politics is a sideline to their antics, its a day out, beside the seaside, beer, fish and chips, and a good old fashioned punch up.
You must feel sorry for their parents, and the rest of their idiot brain dead families.
jojo wrote: If Nelson Mandela
I don't think this is in any way controversial. I mean...
and from wiki...
and according to the South African Communist Party...
South African Communist Party
He might not be our kind of communist, hence the capital-C, but I don't think it's inaccurate to describe him as one. The point I was getting at is that in a bid to sanitise and integrate anti-racism into mainstream liberal democratic discussion a lot of important details get glossed over (to the point where I've literally had conversations in which people thought Mandela advocated non-violence like MLK!). I wasn't saying I supported everything in Mandela's or the ANC's political project nor the current South African govt.
I think that's a very unfair appraisal of the achievements of anti-racism and I think you know that too.. do you think nothing has changed in British race relations since the 1940s? How do you think that came about? Things like the sus law? 'No dogs, no blacks, no Irish'? Southall? Newham?
Well, in a sense yes, but what does that mean in practice? While I think you're right that any anti-racist movement needs to have an anti-capitalist analysis it's also worth pointing out that a) most of the British anti-racist groups from the 1970s-80s did have such an analysis; and b) there are different ways of experiencing being working class and so different experiences of oppression and exploitation; it's not as simple as 'class unity vs capitalism'. For instance, how does your solution relate to the Black Lives Matter movement? Or the fact that black male unemployment in Britain is double that of white males?
Ed says of Mandela: "He might
Ed says of Mandela: "He might not be our kind of communist, hence the capital-C, but I don't think it's inaccurate to describe him as one."
So how many kinds of communists are there Ed? Are there no criteria for judging who may be a communist and who just masquerading? Do you think there are actually authentic bourgeois communists? And what about Stalinists are they communists too? They say they are of course, but is that all that matters? And do you really think a person who is the President of a bourgeois state like S, Africa can actually be regarded as a communist just because you Ed in your sympathy for Mandela the man have decided to decree him an honorary communist and overlook his commitment to capitalism and the bourgeoisis to which class he was clearly committed?
Or maybe Ed you have no clear idea at all of what communism is?
Ed's point is Mandela wasn't
Ed's point is Mandela wasn't a liberal pacifist but a CP member and leader of armed struggle, not that the SACP is brilliant.
Wikipedia suggests that
Wikipedia suggests that earliest literary articulation of communist ideas in Europe goes back to Thomas More (that guy Mark Rylance executed on Wolf Hall). Historically communism is pretty broad and pretty old movement.
I think Stalin kinda was a communist. A communist leader of a state capitalist dirigiste revolution, but the bolshevik ideological rationale for their politics was certainly based on pursuit of a communist society. Putting communism in a historical perspective a good commie has to admit that while being a historically transcendent movement, our victories have been fairly small and we share a movement with some really dodgy people.
jojo wrote: So how many kinds
Of course there are criteria but that doesn't mean that there's only one strict definition that only includes people you like! And what's so special about you that means you've got the bona fide objective measuring stick by which all communists must be measured? How do we know you're not the one masquerading?
Imo, there are loads of kinds of communists who I have massive levels of disagreement with. Are Bordigists communists? Gramsci? What about Autonomist Marxists? What about those Turkish Stalinists that were involved in bitter workplace organising in London during the 1990s? The Italian Red Brigades? The Black Panthers?
The point about words is that their meaning depends on how they're used; if millions of people use a word to mean a particular thing, then that thing becomes (at least partly) the meaning of that word. You can't just say, "no, millions of people are wrong and my own particular idiosyncratic meaning is the correct one".
As for my "sympathy for Mandela the man", Joseph Kay has already covered it perfectly..
I think Joseph Kay is
I think Joseph Kay is actually pointing out, by saying that Mandela was a member of the CP, that Mandela was a Stallnist type communist - in other words a believer in State Capitalism. If you equate state capitalism with communism as Sharkfinn seems vaguely to do a little, though later in his post he seems vaguely to change his mind, then okay Mandela was a commie and President of S. Africa too. A successful career move for him!
I agree Ed with your point about the meaning of words being open to change. And it's also true that millions of people equate Stalinism with communism and the bourgeois encourage and support this. It works absolutely to their advantage. If billions regard communism as nothing but a tarted up version of capitalism, under which the exploited are fooled into thinking they're "free" as so many do, then the bourgeoisie have won the class struggle and we can look forward to increasing war, ecological disaster and the establishment of total misery as a way of life.
But what surprises me is that you Ed have seemingly fallen for this con trick too. There are loads of communists you have disagreements with you say, and provide a list, but as far as I know the only communist who seems to win your approval is dear old Mandela, everybody's lovable grandpa, who wasn't a communist at all, but a Stalinist-type supporter of state capitalism, and S. Africa's head of state. But as an adherent of libcom I suppose you are to be permitted your liberal views under which communism can also be appreciated and respectably understood as part of capitalism without anybody being perturbed.
JoJo got up on his/her high
JoJo got up on his/her high horse today...
jojo wrote: I think Joseph
He probably was (I don't know much about his earlier Marxism tbh, or the orientation of the SACP at that time). But my point was just to highlight Ed's: Mandela has entered the popular imagination as some sanitised pacifist grandfather figure, which erases a history of violent struggle against a racist state.
Iirc when people smashed up the Ritz at a TUC March a few years back, Ed Miliband gave a speech citing the Suffragettes (who smashed and bombed things) and Mandela (who lead an armed struggle group) as law-abiding liberal pacifist role models.
The issue in this blog is the way the (sometimes violent) history of social change is falsified into an image of peaceful progress, erasing and denying the actual means by which that change was made.
Edit: here's the Miliband transcript
All three of those struggles included considerable amounts of violence and property destruction, including plenty that would be classed as 'terrorism' if done today. (Obv all three deployed a range of tactics and their success reflects that diversity - it's not that violence won it, it's that it was a part of it and it's dishonest to erase that).
To be honest I had the same
To be honest I had the same initial 'knee-jerk' reaction to the reference by Ed to Mandela as a ''Communist revolutionary'' in his text. I accept the subsequent clarifications by Ed and others but it was an unfortunate use of the term in something on this particular site by this particular comrade and could have benefited by at least a footnote similar to footnote 1 clarifying the reference to 'multiculturalism' which also initially made me think twice.
Quote: If you equate state
Nope, that's not what I'm doing, not even "vaguely" or "a little". What I was saying was that communist idea is itself vague, unless we choose to pick a clear definition for it - well OK, I might have been vague on that one. The question is who can be defined as a communist not who has good politics (I wouldn't allow Lord Chancellor More or Stalin in a libertarian communist group, but that has nothing to do with are they communist or not).
A functional Marxist definition of communism would be a society where production of goods no longer takes the value form, but given that we have whole lot of threads on the law of value, I'm not sure how many people on this forum would be defined as communist according to this definition (doesn't mean they have bad politics). Or we could take the more populist, "workers shall control the means of production". Advocating anyone of these would make you a communist but not necessarily a good person or automatically give you good politics. I'd say good politics has to do with praxis rather than theory, thus it doesn't wholly depend on who you are as an individual or what your politics are in an abstract.
I'm agnostic on whether Mandela was a communist or not. Personally, I don't think that in order to distance ourselves from Leninism we must deny Stalin or Lenin being communist, that would actually impede our critique and understanding of Leninism. A proper definition of communism would be one that teaches us how to organize a post-capitalist society.