Stop laughing at the English Defence League

Stop laughing at the English Defence League

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.

Some perspective
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.

South London Anti-Fascists are calling for a calling for a counter-mobilisation agains the BNP's march on Saturday. Get involved and contact them at

Posted By

Joseph Kay
May 29 2013 11:54


  • 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.

Attached files


Jun 2 2013 11:28

And yet youth unemployment amongst black youths is still around double that of their white counterparts. It's simply not true to suggest that white working class kids are at a disadvantage compared to non-white working class kids.

There should be more support available for working class school students, but the absence of that support is not "anti-white racism" just because there exist (inadequate) measures aimed at supporting non-white working class students who are at a greater disadvantage on average. This is the problem with the idea of a separate white working class, it just leads to playing the same shitty, communalist zero-sum games that state multiculturalism encourages.

Edit: Also this amounts to reframing class issues as white people issues. Rather than buying into far right narratives about white people being victimised by nasty political correctness gone mad need to be putting forward class arguments on class issues.

Jun 2 2013 17:31

Unfortunately, your link just goes to full facts website and I've been unable to find the article, so cannot see whether it corrects for class and socio-economic background.

fingers malone
Jun 2 2013 17:54

I've heard that in Hackney unemployment for young black males is 55%, but I don't have a source for it. I don't think it's very easy to compare "like with like" as the statistics don't usually include class background, but by observation I would say that unemployment is definitely very high for young black males.

Jun 3 2013 16:01
martinh wrote:
Unfortunately, your link just goes to full facts website and I've been unable to find the article, so cannot see whether it corrects for class and socio-economic background.

Yeah, for some reason link doesn't work. The specific statistics don't account for class, but the point remains, black working class kids will face all the same problems that white working class kids do while also facing systematic racism.

Jun 3 2013 17:17

Some research by Chatham House and Demos on the EDL, not in a position to verify the methodology though:

Jun 5 2013 15:37

That research is interesting, but pretty flawed. It focuses on people who in some way sympathise with EDL, rather than necessarily being involved.

Does show that EDL supporters are less likely to have degrees or FE qualifications and are older on average than rest of population. Also more likely to vote. Not sure that fits to well with the assumption that support from EDL comes from mainly disaffected youth, seem to be more likely to be (socially) working class.

Would be interesting to see similar research for left.

Edit: referring to Chatham house study -

Jun 5 2013 17:25

Having a closer look at Chatham house research, EDL sympathisers are significantly more likely to be in skilled manual (C2) occupations. No significant difference in likelihood of being in professional/managerial (AB), routine non-manual (C1) or unskilled (DE) manual occupations. Big differences in level of education. EDL sympathisers significantly more likely to have GCSE as highest level of education and significantly less likely to have A-levels or degree or postgrad qualification. However, no significant difference in unemployment or in likelihood or having no qualifications at all.

So like I said, more likely to be socially working class, but it's actually older men who already have full time employment in (semi-)skilled jobs who form the bulk of EDL sympathisers, not unemployed/precariously employed working class kids.

Jun 5 2013 18:07

shows some similarities with stuff which I read about the social composition of Hooligan firms in the 1990ies

Jun 6 2013 09:46

Saying that, just looking at Demos research, which seems to contradict Chatham House's. Demos has EDL with higher level of unemployment, much higher rate of support of BNP, though would be willing to bet the slant would be more toward UKIP now.

IMO, Demos research has a better measure of who is or isn't an EDL supporter, since the YouGov survey that Chatham House base their research on just took people responding to a general survey who said they agree with either the values or the tactics of the EDL (so not necessarily people who would ever be involved in EDL activities or identify with far right groups), while Demos have gone out of their way to find EDL supporters who are on Facebook* and got information about level and type of participation, whether or not they consider themselves an EDL member, etc. Having said that though, Demos also seem to be comparing demographic data on EDL who are on Facebook with stats about general population while Chatham are at least comparing like with like by comparing EDL sympathisers with other online survey responders.

Both have their merits, but would be tempted to give more weight to Demos' research. Of course, I'm far from an expert in these things and am just spitballing based on the small bit of undergrad statistical knowledge I do have.

*Their argument for using Facebook is reasonable, though still think it could distort results somewhat if you're comparing with general demographic data instead of other Facebook users.

Jun 6 2013 13:56

Fwiw, thecommune published an article in 2010 that looked at the support base of the BNP that might be of some interest:

Jun 7 2013 10:54

I think about the only unambiguously useful thing about that BBC "Great British Class Survey" thing (that "7 class" nonsense) was that it nailed down, once and for all, that online surveys are utterly bloody useless ways of looking at class.

While I'm here, I'm surprised so far in the discussion that no-one has pulled out the distinction between racial prejudice and racism. Racial prejudices are the individual subjective prejudices that individuals hold against other people based on perceived "race". Everyone can have racial prejudices against any particular group. Asian taxi drivers can refuse to pick up afro-caribbean people, use the "N"-word etc. Afro-caribbeans can have prejudices against "Paki" shop-owners indistinguishable from casual white racists, etc. Either could have prejudices against white people.

A lot of the dominant "market society"* ideology sees racism as being nothing other than the sum of individual racial prejudices. Because people's day to day personal experience of social relations is inter-personal relations, there is a further bias towards this individualised model.

However, recognition of the systemic force of racism, over and above individual acts or attitudes of bigotry, is itself a "racialised" experience, for lack of a better word. Its much easier for white people to remain unaware of the systemic forces of racism in (say) English society, than it is for black** people. If, for example, you were to ask young afro-caribbean lads in a large inner city in England whether the biggest threat to them from racism came from individual racists or the police, you'd probably get answers that indicated a far greater degree of awareness of the difference between racial prejudice and racism, than if you asked a group of socio-economically similar group of white youth.

So, if by racism we mean not just individual prejudices, but systemic exclusion and disadvantage, then the example that Martin gave above, does come into play. You need to look at the intersection between race and class in real situations to answer the question - are (certain) groups of white working class people on the receiving end of institutionalised exclusion and disadvantage? The answer is, in the example given, they are, but it's the white middle class*** parents that are excluding them, rather than the black parents in the "outreach" parents group. This because the white middle class can accept the black parents as an "acceptable other" through "liberal anti-racism" (which is implictly racist, in fact), in a way they can never accept the "otherness" of the white working class families. Without the alibi of racial difference, the only way the power-monopolising hostility of the white middle class parents towards their working class counterparts can be justified is by normalising themselves as competent and decent and the others as incompetent or scum (there are more subtle ways this "not one of us" attitude is successfully transmitted, but when push comes to shove, these are the underlying attitudes that inevitably surface). By a sort of complex intersectional ji-jitsu, one of the justifications for "scum" status, is the accusation of racism on the part of the white working class families. This creates a double-jeopardy in that exclusion being first denied, and then being labelled as "racist" for persisteing in the challenge that white working class people are being excluded from the school governance process in a way that black people are not - at least at the level of appearance (in fact no doubt the same intra-class dynamics happen within those groups also, plus the fake participatory nature of the black parent "outreach" group, as dissected by Arnstein's ladder all those years ago, still relevant today) - is a good way of convincing people that maybe the label of racism is not something to be so afraid of, if it is used hypocritically in this way.

Ugg, sorry, that "paragraph" got away from me. Oh well...

* the problem with "bourgeois ideology" is it sounds like something only "bourgeois" or middle class people suffer from, the point is the ideology of the market, private interest, etc is most important (from our point of view) in the way it affects working class thinking
** understood in the original political sense given to it by anti-racist struggles in the 60s/70s/80s that defined black as the result of the political othering that constructs "whiteness".
*** NB we're talking about the socio-cultural dynamics here, which are distinct from the use of class in relation to the struggle between capital and labour. The antipathy and struggle between, say, the white middle and working class is, in the capital/labour sense, an intra-class conflict, if none the less real for that.

Jun 7 2013 11:57

Really good post, ocelot.

Jul 22 2013 13:00

When I see people behaving badly, and waving banners that display a poor command of their native language, or worse their ignorance of another culture, it upsets me, and I despair of what's happened to the country of my birth. The decline in education, the failure of law and order, and the abuse of human rights. I could list so many other things that have gone wrong over recent decades, but I'd probably run out of space. Am I expressing class hatred when I despair of all this? I don't think so.

Jul 29 2013 17:03

Stephen Yaxley Lennon wrote:

By the age of 26 I had acquired 7 properties , had a tanning salon, and a plumbing firm employing 6 lads. All from nothing? #uneducated

I guess those who aren't landlords or bosses/management are just pig ass ignorant then - working-class? Jabroni more like!

Noah Fence
Jul 29 2013 17:31

Jabroni? What's that?

Jul 29 2013 19:51

I use it as a generic insult meaning asshole, but it's wrestling jargon from way back.

Aug 26 2013 16:35

An American wandered through this thread and mentioned stereotypes in use against Asian people and Jews as 'model minorities'. it is important to note that in american english, asian usually means "east asian" and refers to a stereotype of mixed-immigration-status families, though they are still treated as perpetual foreigners (and abused with intentional as well as systematic racism) everywhere they go, even where they are the majority like at my university. Jews are also degraded both as a model minority and otherwise. South Asians are typically not well understood by USians, who tend to call them Indian, but never Asian outside of geography classrooms. Southeast Asians are a large minority group whose presence is largely ignored in the mainstream discourse due to their absence from TV and movies, their having dark skin without being Black, Mexican or Indian.

this has been your american ignorance minute.

Aug 26 2013 16:52

cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth over our failure to recruit the last 1000 white people in each county who stubbornly refuse to see the difference between individual prejudice and systematic racism. no thanks. Where's the talk of how our movements can assure the humanity and safety of the oppressed? I have no interest in bending over backwards ti edit my or anyone else's language for the comfort of barely reconstructed racism apologists.

Aug 26 2013 17:28

"all from nothing". I like how those properties magically constructed themselves from the ground and staffed thenselves from the ether. yep, nobody helped ol bootstraps steve, who built the roads to his properties himself, drew up the signage, and patrolled the properties with a knife himself, refusing the help of police.

Sep 2 2013 21:39

EDL now spreading lies about muslim workers coming up from Birmingham to undermine the BFAWU strike in Wigan over zero-hour contracts.

Noah Fence
Sep 2 2013 21:48
EDL now spreading lies about muslim workers coming up from Birmingham to undermine the BFAWU strike in Wigan over zero-hour contracts

Where are they doing this Wojtek? Do you have a link or some more info? Thanks.