A member of Portsmouth Anti-Fascists takes an interesting look at the situation British anti-fascists find themselves in, the enemy we find ourselves against and what we can do to move forward.
The below is an article written by a socialist activist from Portsmouth Antifascists just before the new year. To add a bit of context – we are a collection of people with different political beliefs who are united against racism and fascism. The author wanted to mention that the views expressed in this article are their own.
Portsmouth Antifascists – Where we are, what we are up against and what we can do.
Where we are?
The demonstration on the 4th December opposite the Jami mosque by a group still identifying as the EDL, despite the recent shenanigans of Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll, shows that their are still those in the town who have been won to far-right street politics still willing to organise and act. The EDL’s origins as an viciously anti-Muslim street outfit born in the Islamophobia that saturated British society to justify the Afghan and Iraq wars after the 9/11 attacks introduced a whole swathes of angry and misguided young men across to proto-fascist marching. It’s a sad fact is that despite appallingly boneheaded leadership and strong opposition over the last few years that the general anti-muslim climate persists and feeds into their support. Indeed, an anti-migrant message from the right-wing press and from three main political parties is a convenient excuse for the drop in living standards their austerity policies entail.
It was an interesting test for the Portsmouth Antifascists group. Firstly and foremost our aim has been to provide a network for a quick response to these racist thugs in Portsmouth and a physical solidarity with communities under siege. At the incident mentioned above we managed to mobilise pretty much the same numbers as them within an hour of the call going out. Because of the surprise nature of events our mobilisation did not include some regular activists of the left in Portsmouth. It did however include a number of people who members of this group know and invited. We should be moderately pleased here. We can justifiably say we have introduced new people to anti-fascist activity over this year. On the blog shortly after the event we called it neither a victory nor a defeat, this is an assessment I am inclined to agree with.
What we are up against?
The beeps from the horns of works vans and taxis directed at the EDL were frequent and distressing. The violent posturing and acting out was reminiscent of football hooliganism. There is clearly an aspect of the EDL and its spin-off groups where intimidating demonstrations and marches functions as a form of self-actualisation for deeply alienated, misinformed and degraded people.
It was quite often said of classical fascism was a reactionary movement of the middle class, albeit one with a plebeian street fighting base. There is still some truth to this. But classes have been restructured. Outside London the small shopkeeper – the exemplar of petit-bourgeois fear and hatred of anything that may displace his property – is dying as chain stores and big business drive them out. Outside the ranks of the wealthy those most drawn to identify with reactionary nationalist-racial ideas are those who have the least experience of social solidarity. Today’s exemplar is the precarious self-employed. The man in a van, small tradesman and his cash-in-hand crew. Of course, we don’t want to tar all with the same brush. There are white self-employed people and their day labourers (for instance) who wouldn’t touch the EDL with a bargepole and no doubt some who are anti-racist and for a multi-ethnic open culture. However, I would argue that those in this socio-economic situation are layers which are particularly likely to draw the most destructive conclusions from the racist, immigrant bashing journalism and politics peddled in the name of division at home and war abroad.
When you work with groups of people in standard workplaces there are a number of factors best described as a backstop that can help mediate against racist ideology:
(i) Even in unpleasant workplaces there is often a culture of solidarity between the workers that will help one draw the conclusion that authoritarian mono-culture and violence against the “othered” isn’t a solution to societies ills. There is also the possibility of a trade union culture. Those that don’t work because of disability, caring responsibilities (or both) often have an underdogs understanding of scapegoating and being downtrodden for who they are. On the other hand those who work alone all day, the cabbie, van driver, can easily make themselves ill with talk radio and festering stress.
(ii) Those that abhor racism are far more likely to know Black and Asian people. Those most likely to believe the racist prejudices are those who do not. In larger workplaces and the public sector you are far more likely to have a mix of different ethnicities.
(iii) Despite the racism of tabloids and some popular culture the victories of the past has made broad swathes of people feel that racism is not only a great ill but that it actually degrades those who practice it. More than official policies against discrimination (which flow this fact from this and provide an important formal buttress for it) it means people just can’t be openly racist as they once could. The informal validation of the casual racist is absent; people start to think for themselves.
For the self employed and, in particular, precarious workers that work for them (often by family or social connections) it is a particularly cut and thrust world. As somebody put it to me ‘their customers are bastards that don’t want to pay, their suppliers are bastards that fleece them, and the government are bastards that tax them’. Like security guards and cops they experience the world as predicated on permanent conflict.
This social world is one that is extremely close to the neoliberal conception of society as a world of individualized consumers responsible for their own success or failure which has become the official establishment ideology. This has fed back into mainstream culture since at least the eighties: the logic of this shift has produced a generalised anti-politics -understandable disillusion with all political parties and a culture of personal self-advancement at all costs. Depression, alienation and a feeling of being duped is widespread.
As the very rich increased their wealth at the expense of the rest of us new hate figures were promoted to take the rap for it: benefit scroungers, asylum seekers and economic migrants. The figure of the Muslim in the clash of civilizations propaganda of the now spectral ‘war on terror’ has become a peculiar composite of the these types fused with terrorist danger and implied sexual threat reminiscent of old school anti-Semitism.
The danger the EDL pose is that they are often the people that have been most affected by the atomisation of social life and racist rhetoric under the successive neoliberal governments. As austerity, immigrant bashing, wars (and of course the terrorism they inevitably provoke) continues the EDL (or a refashioned group based on similar foundations) may grow stronger and become attractive to those outside their current core audience. If they are not challenged and an alternative offered at best they will push British politics even further to the right, at worst, it could be much, much worse.
What can we do?
The task we must set ourselves is to build a movement that is locally accountable, that is based on real grassroots activism in communities, especially making links with targeted communities. This has to happen in every locality. For too long Anti-fascism in Britain has been based around bureaucratic maneuvers with trade union money and backdoor deals with community leaders and councillors. We need not leaders of stage armies but to build networks that can offer real solidarity to the targets of racism. It that way we can win both the political and moral arguments against the racists.
Anti-Fascism needs to have autonomous organisation within the left – therefore we need to be non-partisan, to be better than an organisation that is seen as the property of one group while developing links with all those who wish to organise.
We need regular meetings in which we invite all those that share the politics of anti-fascism – open meetings as far as safety allows – creating a network which all members feel they have some ownership over. We need to stress that the far right is not just a danger to ethnic and religious minorities but their open misogyny, homophobia and transphobia makes them a danger to all of those of us who believe in a free society.
We need to have a relationship with bureaucratic campaigns like UAF. They can perform a propaganda function on a widespread basis that can be useful in disseminating anti-racist ideas but they have shown that their narrow base cannot win over activists unwilling to follow their unaccountable orders. They have links with the trade unions that can be extremely useful but their mobilising potential doesn’t often go beyond the existent far-left.
We need to develop links with the arts and music scenes. Often the cultural sphere contains people who already have consciously anti-fascist politics. We need to develop a cultural presence to argue for a militant approach to anti-fascism.
I suggest we enhance the network in a number of ways:
1) An attempt to make cultural in roads by organising gigs and other cultural events.
2) That we open the network to also work against racist immigration policies and for refugee rights. We need to make links with groups that already campaign around these issues.
3) To become a recognised as a key network on the left without limiting our horizon to those who self-identify as leftists.
4) That we try to develop better links with feminist and gay groups – let us unite in the name of human liberation.