Writing these words I am acutely aware of my small contribution to the history of anti-fascism. I’m sure I have forgotten many incidents, but even so this little booklet of anti-fascist activity must look very slim compared to the volumes certain people I know could fill with their experiences. Nevertheless, I think it can be useful for the ‘small fish’ such as myself to chronicle these events, warts and all, in case nobody does it and then the history would be lost, or distorted by right-wingers or liberals.
By crushing the fascists at an early stage I think it is reasonable to assume that Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) has prevented numerous racist attacks and even saved lives. For if the fascists were given the chance to freely march, sell their papers, and appear as a respectable political force they would just grow and grow. Fascists’ number one aim while they are growing is to appear to be respectable and rational, but, to quote Matty Blagg ‘fascism does not start with gas chambers, but it ends with them’.
One criticism sometimes aimed at anti-fascists is that we are from ‘outside the area’. In a tight-knit place like Brick Lane this is often true. On the other hand, neither do the fascists have very large numbers in any particular area. They bring people in to consolidate their forces, as we do, as the police do. In an ideal world local communities would rise up and expel the fascist menace, etc. etc. But in the meantime we shall have to tackle them. It is a delicate subject though, because various lefty groups have a history of arriving in certain areas, patronising the locals, making the situation worse, then pissing off when the shit hits the fan.
I am not a violent person by nature. I do not enjoy the idea of walking up to strangers and punching them, even if they are fascists. It is just something that needs to be done. I’ve had enough scary moments to realise that I am no braver than the next person.
Nor do I possess the gift of the gab, as some anti-fascists do. I wish I did, because on some occasions that can be more effective against fascism than a good left hook. I really admire those people who stand up to them alone at places like football grounds or in their High Street. These verbal put-downs, often with passers-by looking on, are just as humiliating to a fascist as a kick in the bollocks.
Anti-fascism involves risk. Risk of getting a battering from fascists and risk of arrest. Most of us have been arrested at least once. Dealing with the legal system is invariably time-consuming, expensive and stressful. Getting sent to prison can mess up your whole life if you have a good job, home and/or dependents to consider. Nevertheless, quite a few anti-fascists have done time and come out with spirits unbroken. Three members of Red Action got a total of 11 years for throwing the notorious fascist Nicky Crane through a bus shelter. Other anti-fascists attacked a National Front march (uphill and outnumbered!) in Yorkshire and each got a few years chokey. Several other comrades have been banged up for lesser periods.
The most important thing with anti-fascism is to show up. There are a thousand excuses we could give to other people and ourselves, so I believe the hardest part of anti-fascism is getting out of bed. It is a fact of life that in a punch-up two people can nearly always beat one, so numbers on the street are critical. Even if we have two small anti-fascists against one massive nazi skinhead the anti-fascists can win if they attack from two sides at once, preferably armed with something heavy!
Despite saying that, I must admit that for much of the 1990s I have given excuses and not shown up for many of the call-outs. To be honest I cannot afford to get arrested again. I got caught and fined in 1985 and 1986, and in 1989 I got 150 hours ‘Community Service’. The magistrate made it clear that the next time I got caught it would mean a prison sentence. I have two young children now and a working wife. If I got sent down my wife would have to give up her job that pays well and she enjoys. This is the classic situation of if you can’t do the time don’t do the crime! So fear of legal action has more-or-less stopped me getting involved in the fisticuffs side of anti-fascism. This is ironic from the view that in the Second World War people were given medals, for fighting against the nazis and fascists. Fortunately fascist activity has declined in the 1990s (probably temporarily) thanks in part no doubt to them getting battered so much in the 1980s!