Three reasons why laughing at the EDL is counter-productive, and what we should do instead.
You've all seen the images doing the rounds on facebook of EDL members waving mis-spelt placards. Maybe you've liked or shared them on Facebook. I had the autotuned 'Muslamic Ray Guns' tune stuck in my head for ages even though it was politically problematic. While humour and ridicule can be an important political tool, much of the 'humour' in this vein is counter-productive to an effective anti-fascism.
The problem with the EDL is that they're a violent, nationalist street movement. Not that they have northern working class accents and can't spell.
1. Class hatred. The first problem here is the most obvious one: laughing at the EDL for poor spelling or regional accents is barely-veiled class hatred - in the wrong direction. I'm not sure when exactly the left joined in patronising the working class rather than identifying with them, but this fuels the EDL sentiment that white, working class people are the only ones it's still ok to hate in 'PC Britain'.
The concept of 'the white working class' is of course bullshit. The working class is the most diverse class. But sneering at accents, spelling and grammar cedes a whole demographic to the far right. Some of the grievances that feed into far right mobilisations are legitimate concerns around as housing, unemployment, the abandonment of former armed forces personel.
These are and should be issues of class mobilsation. This should not be the natural constituency for the far right. The EDL have attacked picket lines. EDL leader and small-businessman Stephen Yaxley-Lennon even goes by the psuedonym 'Tommy Robinson' to sound more working class. By laughing at the uneducated proles this territory is abandoned to the anti-working class politics of racist scapegoating of muslims and immigrants.
2. Ignoring liberal racism. The second problem with this kind of laughing is it cordens off explicit, inarticulate, uncouth racism and thus ignores smug, implied, articulate liberal racism. The latter is far more common. Professional controversialist Rod Liddle was forced to apologise for describing the Woolwich murder as the work of "black savages", but far fewer people saw the problem with the Guardian's front page which said the same thing to its genteel, educated audience with an image and decontextualised quote:
3. Not all racists are thick. Third is the little problem that not all racists are thick. Racism is not the product of inadequate education or reason. In fact, plenty of racists spout well-educated nonsense about genetics, or in the past, phrenology. Some of the canniest racists are in government. When Theresa May said the Woolwich stabbing was 'an attack on us all' she knew exactly what she was doing. If only there was some kind of 'league' to rally to the 'defence' of 'England'...
In this sense the EDL are the extra-parliamentary attack dogs of institutional racism, whistled into action when the government wants to pass represive legislation, or the right-wing press want to criticise the EDL as a way to paper over their daily hate-mongering and incitement. Laughing at mis-spelled placards underestimates the breadth and depth of the problem, and obscures the way it's intertwined with 'respectable' mainstream politics.
All that said, we shouldn't over-state the threat. While the EDL and friends spate of attacks on muslims and mosques has understandably created widespread fear, there's signs their sudden revival from infighting and near-collapse is not a complete ressurection. Nor will it necessarily be sustained. As a comrade wrote:
Ok so not getting complacent, but should probably have a bit of perspective on yesterday however shit it was. EDL had a perfect storm. Bank holiday, good weather, immediately following a "terror" attack hyped by the media. Held in central London, the easiest place to get to in the UK. Most figures are 1500-2000. Obviously this is shit, but without having any of this on their side, in Luton in 2011 they pulled 3000.
That said, at the time of Luton the EDL were keen, in public at least, to stress their allegedly non-racist opposition to extremist Islam. They even used the anti-racist slogan 'black and white unite'. Now, their leaders are openly saying "Islam is not a religion of peace… enough is enough..." and calling to "send the Black cunts home". So while the numbers haven't recovered their peak, they are no longer attempting to hide their racism and are certainly up for a fight.
Finally, some brief comments on strategy. I think what's needed is a two-track approach. Physical mobilisation to counter the immediate street threat, and class mobilisation to deny them a constituency in the longer term.
In terms of physical mobilisation,Brighton's anti-facsist mobilisations are those I'm most familiar with. The main element of the mobilisations was the refusal of the familiar split between secretive, small group direct action and mass, symbolic action. Rather the mobilisations created the space for mass direct action and community self-defence, where participants could engage in tactics they were most comfortable with. Streets were blocked and roaming fascists chased and confronted.
In terms of class mobilisation, there's some promising campaigning against the bedroom tax in Merseyside, and an increasingly urgent need to organise collectively around housing. Workplace organsing is also important in creating solidarity (it was heartening how many workmates turned out to oppose the March for England), while anti-raids work and migrant solidarity is also significant. This isn't a comprehensive list, I more want to pose the question to groups and individuals about what longer-term class-based organising involves, and stress it shouldn't be abandoned for the necessary short term street mobilisations.
There's a place for piss-taking and lulz, but let's save the class hatred for the class enemy.