Fighting Talk magazine - Anti Fascist Action

Complete archive of UK group Anti Fascist Action's journal Fighting Talk, published between September 1991 and April 1999, in PDF format.

Fighting Talk 1 (Sept 1991)

Issue 1 of Fighting Talk magazine by Anti-Fascist Action.


FIGHTINGTALK01-compressed.pdf5.79 MB

Fighting Talk 2 (Spring 1992)

Issue 2 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Legacy Of The Pink Triangle - Sam Lowry

From the Nazis' concentration camps to the streets of London today, lesbians and gay men have been a target of fascist attacks. Sam Lowry examines this history of persecution.

From issue 2 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine, 1992.

One evening in Croydon two men were walking home together. One had his arm affectionately around the other. As they reached the British Rail station concourse they were set upon by six skinheads. It was 23 April - St Georges Day - and unwittingly they had just walked past a pub full of National Front members.

Pedestrians and travellers stood by and watched as the two "dirty queers" were kicked and beaten to the ground, while the skins screamed abuse. Only the ticket collector went to help them, bundling them both into his booth and summoning the police.

Later in casualty they were subjected to more homophobic abuse, this time from fellow patients, when one tried to comfort the other. The increased level of racist violence in Welling after the opening of the British National Party's headquarters there, the grave situation for black people on estates in Bermondsey and Tower Hamlets, are often pointed to by anti-fascists. But in each of these areas alongside the growth of race attacks there is also a rise in "queerbashing".

Queerbashing is less easy to produce statistics for even than race attacks but there are thousands of anti-gay attacks each year, often resulting in serious injury and even death. However, normally the victim will try and avoid any publicity or contact with the police.

But isn't the BNP and NF's anti-gay bigotry just a more extreme version of the prejudice to be found in so much else of society? Yes, at one level it is. But where does that prejudice come from, what is its cause? It is born out of a social system - capitalism - which has always, to a greater or lesser degree, discriminated against homosexuals. For the bosses homosexuality challenges the way they like to maintain social control of society and reproduce the workforce which they exploit. The family is used as a way of breaking up the working class into small units.

Feeding, clothing and caring for the existing workforce and preparing the next generation for the same fate is done within the family by the workers themselves (mainly women), not the bosses. And all the time the politicians, media and the church feed us "moral" arguments to justify this set up.

Lesbians and gays rock the boat. They show that relationships can be about more than simply having kids and bringing them up. This is a problem for the bosses and in times of economic and political crisis, they promote "family values" in order to help stabilise the situation. The fascists have always understood the importance of the family in maintaining capitalism. They glorify motherhood and fertility and like to paint man as the dominant fighter and worker for the "super-race". As one Nazi propagandist said in the 1930s:

"In the ideology of National Socialism there is no room for the political woman ... [Our] movement places woman in her natural sphere of the family and stresses her duties as wife and mother. The political woman, that post-war creature, who rarely 'cut a good figure' in parliamentary debates, represents the denigration of women. The German uprising is a male phenomenon."

Or as another put it more succinctly, "Woman... her duty the recreation of the tired warrior". The British Third Position slogan "Faith, Family, nation" echoes the old Hitlerite "Kirche, Kuche and Kinder" (Church, Kitchen and Children). So it is no surprise that one the first groups targeted by the Nazis once they had achieved power in 1933 were male homosexuals (they regarded lesbianism as an irrelevance).
In 1928 the Nazis had issued a statement declaring:

"Those who are considering love between men or between women are our enemies. Anything that emasculates our people and that makes us fair game for our enemies we reject, because we know that life is a struggle and that it is insanity to believe that all human beings will one day embrace each other as brothers."

Right from the beginning of Hitler's regime a conviction for a homosexual offence guaranteed a trip to a concentration camp. The anti-gay legislation already in place - Paragraph 175 of the German penal code - was quickly added to and the criminal police set up a special deportment, the Reichs-Centre for the Fight Against Homosexuality and Abortion. The name alone illustrates the link in Nazi thinking between homophobia and the question of reproduction. A kiss, even eye contact, became a felony and once a pink triangle was stitched onto his prison uniform a gay man's prospects were bleak indeed. As one historian put it:

“Inside the concentration camp, mere suspicion was enough to label a prisoner as homosexual and thus expose him to denigration, general suspicion and special dangers."

No-one inside a camp would assist a gay prisoner, no one outside would dare contact or visit one. They were generally considered to be in the lowest category — "asocials" — below political prisoners and criminals, and were subjected to gruelling physical labour and the murderous brutality of the guards.

Four-fifths of the "pink triangles" died within a year of being sent to a camp. We don't know how many gay prisoners there were in total — probably about 10,000, maybe as many as 15,000. This is a small number compared to the horrific slaughter of the Jews of Europe, but their systematic persecution and suffering is still a hideous crime by any standards, and one often left out of accounts of the camps.

Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union, the countries which liberated the few survivors, all regarded homosexuality as a criminal offence too, and it would continue to be one in both East and West Germany for another twenty years. As a consequence no surviving homosexual prisoner received compensation for the war crimes committed against them. The left has had a very poor record of support for the rights of lesbians and gay men in recent times. Ironically, one of the reasons for this is that gay-baiting was considered a handy propaganda weapon against the Nazis in Germany and elsewhere by both social democrats and Stalinists.

It was an open secret that a number of key Nazis, such as Roehm and other leaders of the SA, were homosexual (many of them perished during the Night of the Long Knives, 30 June 1934). The Stalinists, in particular, who by then idealised the family and motherhood, had re-criminalised homosexuality in the Soviet Union in 1934. They tried to score cheap points against the fascists in this way. As the Stalinist Maxim Gorkii said at the time:

"In the fascist countries homosexuality, which ruins the youth, flourishes without punishment; in every country where the proletariat has audaciously achieved social power homosexuality has been declared a social crime and is heavily punished."

This was in complete contrast to early statements by Soviet sexologists such as Doctor Grigorii Batkis, who codified the Bolsheviks' approach to homosexuality in 1923:

"Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offences against public morality — Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called 'natural' intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters."

The fact that the labour movement in Germany had fought unreservedly against Paragraph 175 since the 1860s is now largely forgotten. In Britain the old Stalinist position that homosexuality is a deviation caused by capitalism was held by many in the labour movement until the birth of groups such as the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s, and by some until much later.

Many lesbian and gay activists are taking a stand against fascism. Some have been actively involved in supporting Anti-Fascist Action in recent months. The London based group OutRage! had a stall at the Unity Carnival, members at the Brick Lane picket and a banner on the 10 November demonstration in the East End. They had a large and militant contingent at the picket of Le Pen outside Charring Cross Hotel too and are now affiliated to London AFA.

However, there are some who see anti-fascism as an issue for the "straight left", not for them. We can and must convince them that they are wrong. We must encourage those who do support us to get more involved. And we must not forget that AFA has lesbian and gay members already, though they may not all be open about their sexuality. Amongst other things this means we must not tolerate homophobia, not only queerbashing by fascist thugs, but the "everyday" prejudice found in a hospital waiting room too.

On the October picket of the BNP's Brick Lane paper sale an anti-fascist started shouting anti-gay abuse at Tyndall and his goons. One gay member of AFA said afterwards that despite being angry at this he did not have the confidence to challenge it there. The individual was challenged (by a gay man) and stopped shouting this rubbish. Clearly AFA cannot and should not vet every person who attends its events to see if they are pro- or anti-gay. All anti-fascists are welcome to take part in our activities.

But all AFA members have a duty to lesbian and gay anti-fascists not to tolerate open, homophobic behaviour. That means straight comrades taking it up if it occurs. AFA is committed to taking this fight seriously. By clearly standing against all the bigotry and lies spread by the fascists we can swell the ranks of anti-fascists with new layers of militants. We urge lesbians and gay men who are against fascism to fight alongside us and we commit ourselves to help them in this way towards liberation.

Reclaiming the skinhead tradition - review of "Spirit of '69" by George Marshall

Review of a book about Skinhead culture, taken from issue 2 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.

The fascist skinhead has become part of the left's mythology. Cable Street Beat [AFA's music and culture section] takes a look at a new book by George Marshall, which cuts through the myths to give a more balanced account of skinhead culture.

"Spirit of '69" is about working class youth, having a crack. It's also about what happens when the left fails to identify its interests with working class youth, and about how the space that opens up gets filled. The book's purpose is to reclaim the skinhead tradition from the hands of the far right and the gutter press. As George Marshall puts it:

"Here in Britain, we are slotted in nicely somewhere between devil dogs, England fans and serial killers in the tabloid scare story league, and things aren't much different in any other country."

Along the way, Marshall gives us some brilliantly written portraits of the '60s skinhead scene, and of a skin's eye view of the Summer of Love, where:

"middle class youngsters everywhere said goodbye to the real world and started turning on, tuning in and dropping out (man). Well, at least until Daddy found them a plum job at the office anyway."

Marshall pinpoints the real birth of the skinhead style in the emergence of gang mods or hard mods, who replaced smart suits with shirt, jeans and boots, and whose hair "proceeded to go down the barber's scale from four to one." What happened next gives the lie to the "skinheads are racist" bullshit which is accepted from the News of the World to Ian Stuart Donaldson:

"Young white mods soon became regular visitors to the blues parties and illegal drinking holes that could be found in North Kent, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol and areas of London like Notting Hill and Brixton. It gave them a chance to hear the very latest sounds and this in turn brought them into regular contact with black youths."

The best of Marshall's book is his description of early skin styles — the Charlie George style mutton chops, steel toe-capped boots with the metal tip exposed, and "eight or ten hole boats and none of this boots up to your armpits nonsense that caught on after punk." The joys of terrace rucks are touched on as well, with Marshall nailing the hypocrisy of the media:

"Most of the answers to the trouble at football from a supposedly caring society were more violent than the problem itself. Whip them. Bring back National Service, get some discipline back into their lives. Great stuff. Not on the terraces please bays. Save it for the trenches."

Marshall takes us rapidly through the seventies, with bands like Slade jumping on the skin bandwagon, and the "Clockwork Orange" cults, which led to "small armies of droogs who turned up in white boiler suits." It’s the late '70 that cause Marshall problems, though. He's clear enough about the bullshit and hype which was "punk":

"Punk was never any spontaneous street rebellion made good . . . More like a weekend exercise in shock, courtesy of the oh so trendy fashion and art colleges. And all this a million miles away from the snotty nosed kids in their snorkel coats, too busy booting a ball about a sprawling council estate to lead a charge of the punk brigade."

He's clear also that what he calls street punk, bands like Sham 69, Cock Sparrer and Menace, were a positive alternative. The problem for the scene at this time was simple:

"A lot of the skinheads who followed Sham and the other street punks bands supported the National Front and the British Movement."

Marshall suggests that Sharn 69 were wrong to play a Rock Against Racism gig as a response to the growth of far-right activity amongst their following. The fact that Sham tied their colours "to the RAR flagpole" led directly, according to Marshall, to the British Movement-led attack on their farewell gig at the Rainbow.

Marshall repeats this analysis later, when he looks at the Oi movement. He recognises the importance of Oi: "For probably the first time ever, the people on the stage really were the same as the people on the dancefloor." Working class bands addressing a working class audience, "havin' a laugh and havin' a say."

Most of the bands had little or no connection with the far right. Their songs were about issues which any socialist could (or should) agree with - The Gonads' "Jobs not Jails", the Business' "Employers Blacklist" - but the far right were in the area, and bands like Last Resort, with songs like "Britain's Not Dead" and Combat 84, whose singer Chubby Chris was on open fascist, were prepared to pave the way.

When the Business, the Last Resort and the 4-Skins played the Hamborough Tavern in Southall in July '81, local Asian youth, facing on influx of Sieg-Heiling thugs, burned the pub to the ground. Marshall's problem is that he treats the forces involved with Oi as political innocents and blames the Asian community for overreacting. But the facts speak for themselves. Bands like The Elite and Combat 84 were openly Nazi. The 4-Skins' manager Gary Hitchcock was an ex-British Movement member. Leading light of the BM, Nicky Crane, was on the cover of the "Strength Thru' Oi" LP. In dealing with Oi, and with the far right's attempts to infiltrate the skin scene in general, George Marshall is never more than half right, but the fault isn't his.

When Sham played for Rock Against Racism, the Socialist Workers Party said "thanks" and left the band to face the backlash on their own. So Marshall concludes that Sham were wrong to run the risk at all. The truth is that Sham were right to follow the courage of their convictions, and the left was guilty of turning a blind eye to the consequences.

With Oi, things took a turn for the worse - faced with a movement of working class youth, the left opted out of the battle for their hearts and minds, concluding that Oi was "mindless music for an equally mindless audience, and everyone remotely connected with the movement was branded a racist", which let the fascists make all the running. Marshall tells us that "Oi ended up being daubed with a massive big swastika and the music industry couldn't distance itself quick enough." He's correct, and he's right also when he details the extent to which the best of the bands fought against this, with Info Riot and the Business playing Oi Against Racism gigs, and the 4-Skins offering to arrange an anti-racist gig in Southall.

Marshall's analysis of the strength of the far-right amongst sections of the working class youth is spot-on:

"While virtually everyone else was condemning football hooliganism and other skinhead pastimes, the Young National Front hailed them as terrace warriors and published a regular League of Louts feature in Bulldog. Here was a party that didn't talk at you, but talked to you, and didn't look down at you, but treated you as the cream of British youth."

Marshall's analysis is flawed despite this because he's been let down by a gutless, middle class left so often he ends up thinking it's wrong even when it's been right, and blaming it for sins it's not guilty of. He tells us that Skrewdriver turned to the right because anti-fascists kept on getting their gigs cancelled: "With nowhere to go and no media publicity, Skrewdriver turned to the only friends they had left, the National Front."

He's sickened by the growth of the White Noise and Blood and Honour movements, and glad for the brief alternative posed by the Hard As Nails fanzine, the ska revival and the burgeoning scooter scene. When he talks of the attack on a Desmond Dekker gig at Great Yarmouth by 30 NF skins as showing "how far sections of the skinhead cult had drifted from their roots. If the original skinheads had had their way, Desmond Dekker's birthday would have been a national holiday," you know that Marshall is on the side of the angels. His problem, and the problem of both the Spirit of '69 and his regular Skinhead Times, is that the failure of the left to deliver the goods has left him with little but the hope that

"maybe the day will come when skinheads will once again leave politics outside when they go to gigs and dances, and maybe petty politicians who do all the mouthing and then lead from the back, will find some other mugs to fight their battles."

The trouble is, these days the politics which gels injected into the skin scene all too often comes from the right. What's necessary is the forging of a working class anti-fascist left that won't buck the battles ahead, that won't put up with bands like Skrewdriver performing shit like "White Power", and will lead from the front in every battle, big or small, whether it be driving Nazis out of ska gigs or fighting for the rights of the unemployed, stopping Blood and Honour gigs or resisting anti-union laws.

"Spirit of '69" is in many ways a great book. It is a tribute to the creativity of generations of working class kids, from the hard mods, through Sham, the Two-Tone scene to the scooter kids of today. Marshall tells us that "Skinhead has always stood for pride in yourself, pride in your town, pride in your class."

What we can't forget is that "pride in your class" means taking on those like Ian Stuart Donaldson and those like Tyndall and Edmonds who stand behind them, because their loyalties are to another class, the bosses who shit on us everyday. "Pride in your doss" is nothing unless it means fighting for the real interests of your class against those who'd sell those interests out.

Marshall's problem is that he treats the forces involved with Oi as political innocents and blames the Asian community for over-reacting

Fighting Talk 3 (Summer 1992)

Issue 3 of Anti-Fascist Actions's Fighting Talk Magazine.


FIGHTINGTALK03-compressed.pdf5.07 MB

Fighting Talk 4 (1992/3)

Issue 4 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



AFA and the Police - Whatever You Say, Say Nothing

Anti-Fascist Action's guide to interactions with the police. From Fighting Talk issue 4, 1992/3.

Anti-Fascist Action has one function only and that is to provide a vehicle for a principled working class opposition to the far right, an opposition that manifests itself politically and physically. This simple statement has the effect of lining up a whole spectrum of opponents to us on all levels, from our chosen quarry on the radical right to the toy-town revolutionaries of the left and now increasingly the forces of the state. The former two it is relatively simple to sum up an appropriate response to.

One you introduce to the reality of the NHS in the 1990s, the other you just dismiss with mocking laughter. Which way round that response is supposed to be escapes me at times. However, it is the response of the state to militant anti-fascism that is addressed in this article.

The state must be considered separately for a number of reasons, not least of which is the resources it has at its disposal, in terms of manpower, finance, intelligence (we are not necessarily talking about cerebral intelligence here), and its recognition that the non-sectarian basis of our class struggle will ultimately lead us into a protracted dispute with itself. All anti-fascist activists should be prepared for the inevitability of interaction with the paid agents of the state, the police.

That interaction may be the seemingly innocent inquiry about the nature of a low profile activity such as the leafletting of an estate, to the arrest of a person in the vicinity of a vigorous demonstration. We should all be under no illusions whatsoever about these interactions. They are designed to remove our liberty from us. This is a very real threat and should be treated with the utmost seriousness.

On any AFA activity, whatever it is, someone or some group of people should be assigned to deal with inquiries from persons outside the group. These inquiries could come from any number of sources - from people in the street, shopkeepers, press, or from the police and/or their agents. All inquiries should be treated the same. Far be it for me to suggest that the police would masquerade as members of the public or reporters to attempt to gain information, but others have suggested the possibility -so always assume that is what is happening.

The response should be that you do not know what is happening, you are not aware of any leaders, you do not know who they should talk to. Plain ignorance is not a crime and you will not incriminate yourself or anyone else by exhibiting it. Hopefully, one of those appointed to liaise will step in if it seems necessary. Innocent inquiries will obviously be dealt with considerately, state inquiries will be stonewalled.
Whoever is involved should avoid speaking to the police without another AFA person being with them. This is of paramount importance for two reasons.

Firstly, it provides a witness if words or meanings are misconstrued or misinterpreted. Secondly, it reassures other AFA people that nothing untoward or damaging is being communicated. These are simple and easy guidelines that should be employed in all instances where AFA people are gathered together, whether we be having a social drink together or innocently caught up in a passing riot.

In all other circumstances the individual should avoid talking to the police. Where it becomes unavoidable forget about obtaining your statutory rights, the police have already forgot about giving them to you. All the middle class nonsense about “they have to do this, say that and behave in a particular way” is a theory propounded and set in law by those who never come into conflict with the law because it acts in their interests.

On the streets the practice will be the police will demand to know your name, where you live, where you have come from and where you are going to. Give them a name and address, and answer the other questions. Maybe you have just come from your home address and are out for a walk and are returning to that address.

Do not answer questions about the names, addresses, or intentions of others. Most anti-fascists are understandably cautious about volunteering information about themselves so it is highly likely that you only know people by sight and very little else about them. Remember, every piece of information you give the state that you are not obliged to is of use to the state, it gives them names, provides a contact network, it places people at events.

It may seem insignificant now but at a future date it may be used in a prosecution, for example to prove that a certain group are often together on demonstrations. Unfortunately, you may be arrested. Undoubtedly you will be innocent. The police will assume you are guilty and will attempt to prove that you are. If they do not have that proof, they may fabricate it. Any proof or information they already have, you can do nothing about. Do not attempt to explain it away either on the street, on the way to the police station or at the police station. You cannot make it disappear, you can only add to it.


At the station the police will interrogate you. They call it interviewing. Insist that a solicitor is present, it is your right. The police are highly trained in interviewing people. Every question has a purpose. They will see through inconsistencies. If you lie once they will constantly refer back to that lie. You will not be able to outwit the intensive training and the years of experience that they have. This is particularly so because you will naturally be feeling under pressure and your story-telling abilities may not be razor sharp. Whatever you say, say nothing.

The only reason police interview suspects is to gain enough evidence or get a confession in order to get a conviction in court. The majority of convictions arise because the police are given information by people under interrogation. This is why they are constantly demanding a change in the law to remove the right to silence. A statistic often bandied around is that 68 per cent of criminal convictions arise from confessions to the police - do not help them to convict you. You only need give your name and address when under interrogation at the police station. To get bail you should also give your date of birth. The address will be checked to ensure you live or are staying there.

After you have given this tricky information the rest of the interview will be simple. The answer to every other question is "no comment". No matter how innocuous the question the answer is "no comment". Always.
The police may use any number of tactics to gain your confidence. Camaraderie, sympathy for your predicament, empathy for your cause, they may attempt to identify with your football team etc if they can find out what it is. Do not enter into conversation with them. If you do give them clues to your speech patterns, you may inadvertently give them information, you will find it more difficult to return to the tactic of responding "no comment" when the conversation returns to the matter in hand.


Being arrested is very intimidating. The whole process is designed to strip you of individuality to soften you up for interrogation and onto the conveyor belt which ends in conviction and either a fine or imprisonment. Adopt a demeanour which indicates that you are not under any pressure. In the cell lie down and try to sleep. Do not discuss AFA or your case with anyone else in the cell. The cell may be bugged, your cellmate may be a tout or an informer.

Tactics to alternately intimidate and reassure you may be used. The good cop/bad cop routine is widespread. They will leave huge gaps in the interview in the full knowledge that most people are intimidated by silence and will want to say something to remove the quietness. Use the time to relax. Do not say anything, do not acknowledge the silence.

When the police deal with you they may use the threat of violence to elicit statements. Do not be scared into making statements. It is probable that you will not encounter violence. If you are hit it is unlikely to be any worse that the worst beating that you got at school or in a pub or on the street. It will last a finite time measured in minutes. Prison sentences are measured in months and years. Do not sacrifice years of your life or your comrades' lives to avoid several minutes pain and a few cracked ribs. The answer to every question is "no comment".

The police may intimate to you that you will be bailed as soon as they clear up a few points and if you assist them then your release will be quicker. Your solicitor may collude with this. Exactly the opposite is true. If you refuse to answer questions then they have no basis to continue interviewing you. They have no additional information to investigate or corroborate. The less information they have regarding you the sooner you will be through the process and the sooner you will be back on the streets. If you are not bailed it is because you were never getting bail not because you refuse to answer questions. Do not be influenced by these type of promises nor by the solicitor's desire to return to the dinner party or game of bridge.


You have the right to a solicitor. Exercise that right. The preference is to get one recommended by AFA if this has been arranged for the particular event you were lifted from. Failing that you may yourself know or prefer your own one. If these options fail use the duty solicitor.

The important thing to keep in mind when dealing with solicitors is that they are not on your side, they are there to represent you. Most will do this in a way that does not do them any harm. If your solicitor advises you to make a statement the only statement you should make is to tell him/her to piss off. They are there to be aware of your rights and to advise you of them. To insist you are bailed. To ensure you are rested, exercised, and fed at the set times. It is not unheard of for a solicitor to inform the police of "confidential" statements that you may make to them which may indicate your involvement in a transgression of the law. Even if you are confident that your solicitor is above reproach it has recently been ruled lawful for the police to bug cells or conference rooms in police stations to gather information from solicitor/client conversations.

When a solicitor arrives to represent you do not abdicate all responsibility to them on the basis that they are experts in the law and you are not. Be aware of everything that is going on - do not lose interest, even if it seems incredibly tedious. Although you may be on legal aid you are employing the solicitor, ensure that they act to your instructions in your best interests. The probability is that the person attending the police station is not a solicitor at all. They may be trainees, or clerks with little or no experience. Your legal representative may never have attended a police station before to represent a client. He/she may never have spoken to a police officer before. There is a wealth of practical experience in AFA which should not be surrendered to a neat haircut in an impressive suit carrying a law book and a file with your name on it bound in pink ribbon.

You must stay in control. If you do not it is you who could pay the penalty not a middle class prosecutor not a middle class defence solicitor, not the police, not the judge in the court. All these people potentially interact in pubs, restaurants, clubs, lodges. They share class interests which exclude us. It is not in their interests to be involved in conflict with each other. They may well have very cosy supportive relationships which they will be loathe to endanger for a working class anti-fascist activist - you must be in control.


Do not engage in political conversations with the police. If you do you provide them with information about your political affiliations and those of your comrades. They may be able to determine whether you are a "political animal" or a "brutal thug".

You have nothing to gain from such a conversation. You will not win the debate, and even if you did we will not recruit police officers into AFA. So you will have wasted your time, your time is more profitably spent in your cell asleep on your bunk.

Police procedures

Do not volunteer for any police procedures (e.g. fingerprinting, photos, identity parades, forensic examinations). When charged the police will fingerprint and photograph you. If you resist fingerprinting they will use force, you can continuously smudge the imprint but they will become steadily more insistent and eventually it will become too painful to resist.

Photographs can be similarly painful. Avoid unnecessary pain. Do not wear glasses if you normally do so, attempt to rearrange your hair. If you are a happy person, frown. If you are a miserable old git, attempt to smile - this may need practice at home first. Do anything to try to make the photo different from you. Once taken it is always there to be used to identify you in the future. It seems incredibly unlikely that they really destroy such items when you are released without charge or found not guilty.

Identity parades should be avoided at all costs. You are totally divorced from any control at all. The witness may have been tipped off about your presence, you may be the only one with the salient feature. You cannot, normally, be forced onto a parade. A possible tactic if you are is to immediately invalidate it, possibly by asking if it is too late to change position as the witness is brought in.

Do not volunteer your clothing, skin, hair, etc for forensic examination. Blood is notoriously difficult to clean from skin and clothes. If it could have been there, assume it still is.

If you are confronted with forensic "evidence" do not succumb to shock and confess all. It may not be conclusive, it may not even be true. After all, you are completely innocent.


When you are brought into the police station for questioning your property will be taken from you and held until your release. You will be asked to sign for it to remove the possibility of theft or loss by the police. Be very careful when signing for property. It is not unknown for additional items such as bloodstained coshes to be included in this list. Insist that they be listed and stored separately and do not sign for them. If they refuse to remove the disputed item do not sign for anything - it is better to lose the Cartier watch than to admit to being in possession of a broken beer glass and three ounces of fascist face.


Eventually you will be released on bail or without charge. Bail may be of two types. You may be bailed to appear in court to answer specific charges or you may be released on police bail while they investigate the matter further. Regardless of any outcome you should contact AFA immediately upon release. For our demonstrations we will be coordinating the collection of witness statements, press comment, photographs, etc. We need to debrief you to assist you with you defence if you are charged. Regardless of that, it is desirable to maintain information about police behaviour and lines of questioning in connection with anti-fascist activities.

You have nothing to gain from a political conversation with the police. You will not win the debate, and even if you did we will not recruit police officers into AFA. So you will have wasted your time, your time is more profitably spent in your cell asleep on your bunk.
Anti-Fascist Action

Fighting Talk 5 (1993)

Issue 5 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.


FIGHTING_TALK_05.pdf14.73 MB
FIGHTING-TALK_05-compressed.pdf5.43 MB

A Right Result

We have devoted a relatively large amount of space in this issue of Fighting Talk. to the following account of the trial of a group of fascists, after a race attack in the village of Bungtingford, Herts. The article highlights just how much the state is prepared to let the fascists get away with and poses important questions to those who feel that reliance on the police, rather than militant action, is the key to success.

After a series of inexplicable delays and postponements, four members of the neo-Nazi British National Party finally stood trial at St. Albans Crown Court during the week Monday 14th June - Friday 18th June. They were charged in connection with an armed assault on five Bengali restaurant workers in Buntingford, Herts. The attack took place late at night during November 1991.

The court heard that during the incident, two of the workers were knocked unconscious, and one of them made the subject of a kidnap attempt. After the initial attack, the BNP van drove away - but then returned, this time attempting to run over the Bengalis as they stood on the pavement. They literally had to jump for their lives. The van's occupants jumped out once more and handed out a second beating. As he jumped from the van, one of the attackers yelled, "Yeah, this is our lucky day!"

At the preliminary committal hearing in April 1992, eight of the van's thirteen occupants were found to have a prima facie case against them in respect of a charge of violent disorder. Remarkably, four of them were bound over to keep the peace at a hearing at St. Albans Crown Court on 12 July 1992. They were Neil Parrish of Milton Keynes; James Spencer Liggett of Loughborough; Stephen Clifford Jones of Coalville, Leicestershire; and Anthony Raymond Johnson of Dunstable, Bedfordshire. That really was their lucky day.

Neil Parrish is number two in the neo-Nazi music organisation, "Blood and Honour” and was featured on Sky TV on 11 September 1992 to promote a planned appearance by the Nazi "Skrewdriver” band. Neil Parrish has also featured in an uncritical front page photo article in the Milton Keynes press, along with fellow members of the BNP, as the leader of a vigilante group whose proclaimed objective was to establish "Law and Order' in the town. In the same year, racist attacks in Milton Keynes, according to notoriously under-reported police figures, went up from 46 (1991) to 66 (1992) - a 50% increase in a year. The "vigilantes" seem to have been busy.

English Rose

Jones and Liggett are members of the racist band "English Rose", which is well known on the fascist circuit. Van occupant and prosecution witness Shaun Graham Hill (also of Coalville, Leics), according to testimony is also a member of English Rose, along with a certain David Blake (also in the van but not charged). Hill testified that the van and its occupants were returning from a Blood and Honour gig held at the Buffalo Hall, Baldock and that English Rose were one of the bands playing that night. Hill, facing no charge, claimed to have been scared and to have put his head between his knees and his arms over his head throughout the first attack, and to have slept through the second attack, two minutes later.

In fact, Hill, at the time of the attack, was the only occupant of the van to wear his hair long. All the others were skinheads. A number of witnesses stated that one of the attackers stood out from the rest due to having long hair. Clearly, Hill's decision to do a deal with the police and act as a prosecution witness against his former partners in arms, was motivated by the need to save his own skin. In his court appearance, he identified Barker as the driver, which will no doubt cause a few inquiries to be made by his erstwhile friends on the fascist music circuit.

They may indeed already have been made. Hill was chalk white and in a funk sweat throughout his testimony. Afterwards, he sat outside the court with his head in his hands whining to his friend, "It was a nightmare, a nightmare...". Later he complained to court officials that he had been "threatened" by someone within the court and was afraid to leave. Hill and his mate made one attempt to leave through the revolving doors of the court, and apparently believing they were being followed, did a 360 circle straight back in! The visibly quivering pair sat tight for some 30 minutes, refusing to move until the police had been called and escorted them to their car. The performer of the classic single, "Smash Red Action" will never cut the same figure on stage again.

Others in the van at the time of the attack were: Anthony James Morgan, Sally Ann Barnes, and Toni Asquith (the girlfriend of N.J. Marsh -details below). Although arrested, they were never charged with any offence. Conspiracy would normally have looked a likely contender in most circumstances of this kind, especially since the evidence established that there were 10-11 people involved in the attacks at the same time. Perhaps it was their lucky day too.

Violent Disorder

Three defendants pleaded guilty to violent disorder at the hearing in July 1992: Paul Donald Parrish (brother of Neil) of Milton Keynes; and a man possessing an extensive string of convictions for crimes of violence, Nicholas James Marsh also of Milton Keynes; as well as Paul Raymond Lincoln of Newbury, Buckinghamshire.

The last defendant, 18 stone skinhead Kirk Barker from Basingstoke, pleaded not guilty on charges of violent disorder and reckless driving. Barker has the swastika-like symbol of the South African white supremacist organisation, the AWB, tattooed on his forehead. He failed to turn up to the hearing on 17th July 1992. He was finally arrested at Waterloo Bridge railway station, during the "Battle of Waterloo" while attempting to make his way to the Skrewdriver concert. He was convicted at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court (14th September 1992) of the possession of a firearm, namely a can of CS gas. He received the remarkably lenient sentence of one day in jail.

Evidence was heard from the Bengali victims of the assault, as well as from two residents of the road in which the attack took place. Statements were originally taken from seven residents, who were notified that they would be required to give evidence in court. In fact, the remaining five witnesses were not called, without being given any reason why their evidence was not to be heard. The real reason may have been that they were able to provide identification evidence that the police did not want to use, since this would have involved multiple charges against a number of those in the van.

The court was told that when the van was stopped shortly after the attack, police officers found a number of items inside. These included; what the police termed "vast amounts" of racist and homophobic BNP literature; Blood and Honour magazines with a large swastika on the cover; White Skin and British Oi magazines; racist tapes and albums; a poster of Hitler; a 6’ x 4’ swastika flag; and an assortment of weapons were made exhibits in the trial: two rubber coshes, a truncheon, a baseball bat, and a pickaxe handle.

In another remarkable decision, the judge ruled that the other items found in this assortment of weaponry were "inadmissible evidence", and therefore could not be made known to the jury. The list of weapons found in the van, but concealed from the jury was as follows: an axe; a machete, two heavy metal chisels, two items which the judge described as "fearsome looking knives with long blades", a stiletto knife, a silver knuckleduster, a "black widow" catapult with ball bearing ammunition, and a canister of CS gas (see above).

The judge referred to these items as "a veritable arsenal". In the judge's own words, he might be "erring on the side of over-fairness to the defendant", but he would not allow the jury to know that these weapons, including the CS gas, had been in the van.

Barker also admitted that he was the sole driver of the van, a white transit, which also belonged to him. He was found not to have a driving licence, or insurance. He was not charged with these offences. The charge of "reckless driving" was only added at the insistence of the magistrate at the committal stage. The police, apparently, did not think that deliberately driving a van at speed towards a group of people, in a manner causing them literally to leap for their lives, was sufficient grounds for such a charge, or indeed, a charge of attempted murder.

The statements also contain Barker's admission that he is a member of the BNP. Questioned about the swastika flag, Barker stated: that "there is no way the BNP use the swastika publicly" although it remained a "white man's symbol used by us". This, he stated, was due to the fact that, "too many lies had been told about the people who used it before us". His counsel, Mr Ross, acting for Southampton Solicitors Peach and Gray (curious, in that none of the van's occupants were from Southampton), argued at some length that Blood and Honour was not a racist publication, and that possession of a Nazi flag did not necessarily indicate that the owner held racist views.

Despite all these manoeuvres, the evidence against Barker (including his own admissions) was so overwhelming that there was little doubt of the eventual verdicts: guilty on both counts. He and the three defendants who pleaded guilty were sentenced on July 2nd. Incidentally, no-one turned up to support Barker during the entire five day hearing. He got nicked, and the BNP dumped him.

The case obviously exhibits a number of curious features: even though the defence counsel himself admitted that "lots of people" (i.e.: at least ten) were involved in the attack, of the eleven originally arrested, only eight were charged. Of these eight, four in effect had their charges dismissed by the judge, i.e.: were "bound over". The evidence was so strong that the "leniency" of the prosecution in offering the bind overs became even more baffling. Then again, of all the charges that would appear to be appropriate, conspiracy, assault, GBH, possession of offensive weapons, attempted murder etc., only the blanket charge of violent disorder was invoked.

Moreover, despite the van occupants’ original pleas of "not guilty" all round, these were changed by three of the four defendants to "guilty" in July 1992. Why the sudden change of heart? Was there a deal, so that at the eventual trial the impression would be given of a single fanatic acting alone, rather than of an organised racial attack by members of a neo-Nazi organisation?

It is another uncomfortable fact that the legal process was allowed to drag on for almost two years before the final appearance at court. Witnesses were told repeatedly that the case was to be heard on a certain date, only to have it postponed - without explanation. The passage of time could of course, only weaken the prosecution case. Memories would fail; key witnesses might become unavailable. Several independent witnesses who had made statements and had been told that they would be called, were later told that their evidence would not be called after all, again without explanation.

At the heart of these murky circumstances, was the inexplicable decision of the judge to rule that the weapons cache was to be kept secret from the jury. Despite constituting a serious criminal offence in itself, and despite constituting the clearest evidence of intent and identity (why carry CS gas, a catapult or a knuckleduster around in your van, unless you intend to attack, or have attacked someone?) no mention of the van's armoury could be made. In essence, the weapons were the damning evidence of premeditated, organised criminal intent, and it was deliberately hushed up, for the very reason that it was too incriminating!

The Verdict

On Friday 2nd July the four defendants were brought back for sentencing. Once again, AFA mounted a picket of the court. Although Barker was left to his own devices throughout the week-long trial, a mob of BNP minders were expected to attend the sentencing. Surely Neil Parrish would show up to support his own brother? He didn't. A small team of three BNP boneheads sat in on the morning session, greeted enthusiastically by their friends in the dock, but refused to leave the building when the hearing was adjourned for lunch. They eventually left through the back door, escorted by the police, without waiting for the court to resume. The consternation on the faces of Barker, Parrish and Co. when they failed to reappear during the second half was a treat.

In mitigation, Barker's brief frankly found nothing to say. Speaking for Marsh, his lawyer announced that he wanted to apologise, not only to the victims of the attack, but to the whole Asian community. The best was yet to come.

For Paul Lincoln, who looked the village idiot of the group, his brief explained to the court that he had joined the BNP solely because of his interests in Renaissance History. He was also a keen member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and therefore should not go to jail! Presumably Lincoln's brief knew a lost cause when he saw one, and decided to play it for laughs which he certainly got.

All had previous: Paul Parrish for attacking an Indian Restaurant and together with Marsh, giving someone a hiding at a bus stop (another race attack?). He had several other convictions for violent offences including affray. Parrish, Lincoln and Marsh all received the remarkably (but not surprisingly) lenient sentence of 21 months: with six months added for Parrish who was serving a six month suspended anyway. Marsh, who had looked close to tears before hearing the sentence, gave his girlfriend a two-fisted thumbs up as he left the dock. Barker got three years. With time already served and remission, all will be out within a year.

The police frequently complain that racist events cannot be prosecuted, because there is no evidence that they are linked to the commission of violent offences. Well, here is a case of a racist gig immediately followed by a savage racist attack by those who attended it, organised it, and even played at it! The circumstances of the attack indicate that it was clumsily executed. Its carelessness wasn't typical of BNP ventures of this type: plainly, the participants were hyped up by the gig. Further, the gig brought the participants together in circumstances where an attack was likely to ensue, should the opportunity arise. To that extent, the gig caused the attack. Yet there has never been a whisper than "Blood and Honour" events should be banned.

Key Lessons

Through the judicial murk, the lessons of the case remain clear. The BNP (and other neo-Nazi organisations like the National Front) claim in their public announcements, to operate within the law. They claim not to encourage race attacks. Of course, anyone familiar with BNP activities knows very well that the opportunity for inciting and committing race attacks (or attacks on "reds" or homosexuals) is the only point of joining. But for anyone in doubt, the Buntingford attack provides the strongest possible refutation of these claims to be "normal" political parties.

A group of self-confessed BNP members attend a gig organised by a neo-Nazi music organisation, whose supporters are themselves drawn almost exclusively from the BNP. They leave a racially inflammatory concert in a vehicle containing BNP literature alongside openly Nazi publications and paraphernalia such as a 6’ x 4’ swastika flag, together with a collection of weapons that a judge describes as a “Veritable arsenal”! These are used to attack a group of people with no provocation over than the fact that they are Bengali. The equation of BNP = Nazis = Race attacks could hardly be illustrated with greater force.

AFA believes that the case has highlighted a further important feature of the fight against fascism and the racial attacks that it breeds. Some anti-fascist elements, such as the ANL or ARA, believe that the police and the judiciary should be called upon to take stronger action against the race hate organisations. The Buntingford case shows the futility of such a strategy. If incidents such as the Buntingford attack were to receive the publicity and attention appropriate to the seriousness of the offences committed and the problem they represent, the police and judicial system would be obliged to devote far greater resources to race attacks than they currently do. This is the last thing that they want.

Setting the Agenda

The police and judiciary do not consider racial incidents to be their responsibility. It is highly questionable whether either system, despite occasional public protestations, actually regards racism as a crime. For them, it is a "natural" or "inevitable" product of a multi-racial society and out of their proper jurisdiction. Their personnel frequently share the same perceptions of ethnic minorities as the race attackers themselves. On top of this, right wing politicians regard the fascists as an essential lubricant for their own racist policies. The fascists create a racist agenda on which the "decent" parties of "order' then capitalise.

There is a consistent pattern. As in Germany, racist atrocities are followed by a decent outpouring of public outrage and then by legislation directed against the members of the minorities being attacked! As in Germany, those caught red-handed in race attacks will be treated with the upmost leniency by the legal system. The clear implication is that the very presence of racial minorities ''provokes" the attackers, and that racial offences therefore, by definition, are always attended by mitigating circumstances.

A genuine effort to eliminate organised racism is against the state's own interests and the state will consequently not make those efforts. The only circumstances in which the state would act against fascist organisations, would be as part of an offensive against certain groups on the left, for which prosecution of the fascists would act as cover. By calling for tougher police action, the left is making a rod for its own back. Only the independent, direct and committed action of working class militants will effectively destroy the racists and the organisations behind them.

Fighting Talk 6 (1993)

Issue 6 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.


FIGHTING TALK 06.pdf19.86 MB
FIGHTING TALK 06-compressed.pdf7.14 MB

Film Review: AFA on Romper Stomper

Anti-Fascist action review Romper Stomper and contrast their position with that of the Anti Nazi League. From Fighting Talk issue 6.

Although the Australian film Romper Stomper, and the controversy surrounding it, may seem now like an old issue, many people are yet to see it. This is partly due to the fact that the Anti-Nazi League mounted a campaign of pickets against the screening of the film.

If the film was an openly fascist propaganda movie, then AFA would have agreed that the film should not be shown on the basis of not giving the fascists a platform. The fact is - it isn't. This is the usual knee-jerk reaction we have come to expect from the ANL, the vast majority of whom it seems haven't even seen it themselves.

Norwich AFA, when they heard the film was coming to their local cinema, decided on a slightly more inspired course of action. The idea was to use the film to promote AFA, by getting the cinema to show "Fighting Talk", a half-hour video made by AFA for the BBC2 Open Space programme, before each screening of the main feature. As well as this the AFA exhibition was to go in the foyer, and speakers were lined up for certain viewing times.

What followed isn't so outrageous, because it's so predictable. Up come the ANL, with the foreknowledge of Norwich AFA's plans, and threaten the cinema with the lollipop treatment if they show the film. What's bloody ridiculous is the cinema actually caved in to such 'terror'. Did somebody say unity?

Unfortunately, Norwich didn't have time to reverse the decision back before the showing was cancelled, but apparently negotiations are now under way to sort the situation out for the future.

Below we've printed an in-depth review culled from the Oxford AFA bulletin, which provides the reader with an insight into the film and the issues surrounding it. Like we've said, seeing so many people are yet to see the film, a review still has relevance even though it's been out for ages!
Back in the spring the Australian film "Romper Stomper", which had been advertised as a "coming attraction", was pulled from the Phoenix Cinema in Walton St. Oxford. The management of the cinema explained that although, personally, they had no problems with the film, fear of reprisals by anti-fascists had persuaded them to cancel it. The "Anti-fascists" concerned were of course the Anti-Nazi League who have called for pickets and lollipop patrols outside all cinemas which show the "vile film".

The ANL had started campaigning against Romper Stomper before it had even been released in this country. Not one member of the Oxford branch of the ANL, who were planning to protest against the film had actually seen it and I would guess the same applies nationally. As one local ANL member put it, "if the ANL Central Committee (or steering committee as they are now called) deem the film to be Nazi propaganda, then we must accept their word for it and act accordingly". This is a perfect example of the lack of autonomy and intelligence encouraged in a centralised organisation.

The award-winning film explores the world of a gang of fascist skins in contemporary Australia. The gang is led by Hando (Russell Crow) who exercises almost complete control over the others. He is obsessed with Hitler's Germany and ideas of white supremacy. He sees the Vietnamese (and the government that 'let them in”) as the enemy and leads the gang to commit violent racist attacks.

In fact the film opens with one such attack upon a group of Vietnamese children. The violence is indeed repulsive and all the more real for this reason. These acts of brutality and the cowardice shown by the fascists leave you with no illusions about the film maker having any sympathy for them. The film does lose it a bit as a dissection of neo-Nazism when a love triangle develops halfway through - and the ending is weak, but I still found it compelling.

The film has been criticised for failing to centre on any of the Vietnamese characters, therefore depriving us of any intimacy with them. This is a valid point, but the film sets out to explore the fascist skins’ lifestyle. There have also been criticisms that the fascists will be inspired by watching it (Hando likes to round off a good sex session by reading aloud from Mein Kampf). There is also a pitiful Oi! soundtrack (more of a skinhead Spinal Tap). If this film inspires individual fascists, and I'm sure that some fuck-wits will be inspired, then they are past the point of no return!

So, why has the film been so differently received by the ANL and AFA? In Romper Stomper the Vietnamese win the day. They do this by deploying the only thing the fascists understand – fear and physical confrontation. When the Vietnamese strike, they don't fuck about - this is no vanguard doing it for the people, but the people doing it themselves, fighting back. The reactions of the fascists in this film mirrors real life: they don't know what to do with themselves; they are transformed into blubbering fools; they piss themselves and rue the day that they ever got involved with each other.

This situation will be familiar to many AFA members. We stand by the tactics of physical direct action as well as ideological confrontation, not because we are macho as is often claimed by our opponents, but because history -and our own experience- show this to be effective.

The ANL leadership is opposed to physical confrontation which has led to the disgusting situation of new recruits being exposed to fascist tactics because their 'leaders' misguide them into believing that strong argument and a lollipop will deter fascist storm-troopers from kicking the shit out of them. This situation of 'the leaders' playing general with a (mainly) well intentioned membership is another example of the centralised and undemocratic politics of the ANL.

In Romper Stomper the Vietnamese win the day. They do this by deploying the only thing the fascists understand – fear and physical confrontation.

The Blueshirts – Ireland’s Fascists

History article from Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine, issue 8 (1994)


The Blueshirts, Ireland's home grown variant of Fascism developed in Ireland during the 1920's and 30's. The bitterness created by the betrayal of the principles of Republicanism in 1920 led to the Civil War during which the Bourgeois forces allied themselves with the defeated British to ensure the dominance of anti-republican and anti-socialist forces in the emerging neo-colonial Irish state.

During the 1920's the Cumann Na nGael party, which had won the Civil War, were in power for ten years. In government they implemented draconian anti-working class and anti-republican policies. The reality of life in the Irish Free State was one of grinding poverty, slum housing and emigration. The world economic crisis of the 1930's was an important aspect of the rise of Fascism throughout Europe and this was also the case in Ireland.

Opposition to Cumann Na nGael came from the diverse forces of the Republicans divided on the question of policy and tactics after their defeat in the Civil War. The main Republican grouping was centred around Eamonn de Valera who set up a constitutional Republican party, Fianna Fail, to challenge Cumann Na nGael for power in parliamentary elections. It gained significant support between 1927 and 1932 when it defeated Cumann Na nGael in the general election.

The left wing of the IRA, grouped around leaders such as Frank Ryan and George Gilmore, argued that the Republican movement should adopt a more radical stance on social issues to win the support of the working class and small farmers away from Fianna Fail. Ryan and his supporters were routinely denounced as communists.

The run up to the 1932 election was marked by increasing repression of Republican and Socialist groups with the indiscriminate banning of progressive political organisations and the regular imprisonment of their leaders. The General Election campaign itself was characterised by the Chief of Police, Eoin O'Duffy, touring Bishop's palaces with Special Branch files which, he claimed, proved the rapid spread of communism in Ireland. The Bishops obliged by issuing pastoral letters denouncing this non-existent threat.

Despite this clamp-down on dissent, Cumann Na nGael still failed to win the election and this defeat marked a serious setback for Irish conservatism and was the backdrop to the rise of the Blueshirts. Having been defeated in the democratic field they turned to extra-parliamentary means to regain power. Cumann Na nGael launched a reactionary campaign to portray Fianna Fail as an extreme organisation supported by communists, republicans and atheists.

The Blueshirts

“While we have fists and hands and boots to use and guns, if necessary, we will not allow free speech to Traitors.” (Frank Ryan)

The Blueshirts had been set up in the spring of 1931 under the name of the Army Comrades Association comprising ex members of the Free State army. Their first leader was Dr. T F O'Higgins. In late 1931 the ACA claimed a membership of 100,000, adopted the uniform of a blue shirt and changed its name to the National Guard.

A new leader, Eoin O'Duffy, was appointed in 1933 after he had been sacked from his post as Police Commissioner. O'Duffy had been prominent in the Free State army during the Civil War and had been responsible for the murder of eight Republicans by tying them together over a landmine in Kerry. The Blueshirts used the handy label of "anti-communism" as a cloak for their fascist activities. This excuse was used to justify the breaking up of republican and socialist meetings. James Hogan claimed that:

"It was the growing menace of the Communist IRA that called forth the Blueshirts as Communist Anarchy called forth the Blackshirts in Italy".

The movement went through many name changes over a period of five years but were generally known as “The Blueshirts". The organisation confined its membership to those of the Christian faith. The policy of the Blueshirt movement included the demand for the creation of an Irish Corporate state.

While O'Duffy and other military figures were the public face of the movement its ideologues included ex-government ministers and college professors. One of these was Prof. James Hogan who wrote a paranoid tract entitled "Could Ireland Become Communist?". The famous poet WB Yeats composed a marching song for the Blueshirts. The Blueshirt newspaper commenced publication from August 1933. Blueshirt propaganda was racist - and anti-semitic, as in this extract from their journal:

"The founders of Communism were practically all Jews. This can scarcely be a mere coincidence. It may appear singular that Marx, Engels, Lasalle and Ricardo were all Jews".

Blueshirt publications also proposed that the leader should be greeted in the Nazi style, suggesting the ludicrous "Hail O'Duffy".

In February 1934 John A Costello, a leading Cumann Na nGael member declared in the Dail:

“The Blackshirts have been victorious in Italy and Hitler's Brownshirts have been victorious in Germany, as assuredly the Blueshirts will be victorious in Ireland".

O'Duffy had contacts with European fascist groups. In December 1934 he attended an International Fascist Conference in Switzerland which included representatives of far-right groups in 13 European states.

At this stage Fascism was firmly established in Italy and Salazar had come to power in Portugal. Germany had embarked on the Nazi nightmare. The far right had made strong headway also in Eastern Europe and the Franco coup d'etat in Spain was only two years away. To themselves and to others the Blueshirts seemed to be on the crest of a wave that would sweep fascist regimes into power throughout Europe.

Although the Blueshirts had, to a large degree, grown out of a specifically Irish situation they shared a lot of the features with fascist movements abroad. These included anti-Semitism, anti-communism, hatred of democracy, indoctrination of children in youth wings, the uniform of a shirt (the blue came from the traditional colour of St. Patrick), the ideology of the corporate state, violent attacks on opponents - and stupidity.

The main force of the Blueshirts was drawn from the conservative class of big farmers but the organisation also mobilised lowlife elements of the working class, particularly in Dublin, as a street mob to attack "communist" meetings. This group of thugs were known as the "Animal Gang".

O'Duffy proposed a huge march of Blueshirts in Dublin in August 1933 to commemorate the deaths of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, two Free State leaders. It was not difficult to discover O'Duffy's motivation for this suggestion. He was attempting to recreate, in an Irish setting, Mussolini's March on Rome.

De Valera invoked a Public Safety Act to ban the march. Huge contingents of police were drafted into Dublin to enforce the order. Armed IRA volunteers, unsanctioned by their leadership, were prepared to physically stop the Blueshirts from marching. O'Duffy drew back from the confrontation and cancelled the parade. From this period on the Blueshirts went into terminal decline. This was partly because O'Duffy had failed to live up to his rhetoric but also because the promised Communist takeover did not emerge.

On the political front the politicians who were sympathetic towards, or openly supportive of the Blueshirts realised that there was not going to be a fascist coup d'etat in Ireland and that they would have to revert to parliamentary tactics to regain power. The Cumann Na nGael party amalgamated with the Blueshirts and a number of smaller groups to form the Fine Gael (United Ireland) party in 1933. O'Duffy was its first president but became an embarrassment to the organisation and was soon ousted to make way for more moderate leadership.

The youth wing of Fine Gael, the "Young Ireland Association" continued the militaristic tradition of the Blueshirts. This faction was banned in December 1933 and reappeared as the "League of Youth".

The Blueshirts did not lose faith in the idea of a coup d'etat although they were always on the decline after O'Duffy's failure to confront the ban on the Dublin march. This has been portrayed by liberal historians as being the result of the failure of the Blueshirts to win power in the political sphere. The strong working class and left opposition to fascism in Ireland is pointed out by Michael O'Riordan in his book "Connolly Column":

“The fascist threat was not demolished by the De Valera government. This was done by a powerful anti-blueshirt movement that developed in the streets and in the countryside. A fighting united front met them everywhere This front drove them off the streets after many violent encounters."

The anti-fascist united front was composed of Republicans, Trade Unionists, Communists and small farmers. It was led by Frank Ryan, Tom Barry, Peadar O'Donnell, Sean Murray and George Gilmore. O'Donnell and Ryan issued a call for a united front to fight fascism and imperialism:

“The dangers that face this and every other country from Capitalism, Fascism, International War and Imperialism are too real and too serious for us to remain parties to artificial divisions within working class ranks. We call for a truce among all who stand for an Irish Workers Republic and a united front against the common enemy".

The Labour party refused to participate in the united front. The official Trade Union movement passed policy against fascism but did little to implement it. "An Phoblact", edited by Frank Ryan, condemned the failure of the trade unions and called for mass mobilisation of the working class to defeat the Blueshirts.

The leadership of the mainstream of the IRA discouraged the involvement of volunteers in the struggle against fascism. It denounced street battles against fascism as "aggravated faction fights" and boasted that only six of several hundred anti-fascist prisoners were IRA men. The Army Council argued that the campaign against the Blueshirts was hysteria whipped up by the Fianna Fail "Irish Press". The right wing of the IRA saw the main fight not as the advancement of the working class or the defeat of fascism but instead hoped for the re-commencement of the Civil War.

In 1933 a mob incited by catholic reactionaries attacked and burned Connolly House, the headquarters of the Irish Revolutionary Workers and Small Farmers Groups. Members of the IRA who were present defended the building but were disciplined by the organisation for doing so.

The organisation of the battle against the Blueshirts was carried out by the left wing rank and file of the IRA, the tiny Communist Party of Ireland and a number of radical trade unionists. Urban workers and rural small farmers were mobilised to physically break up Blueshirt meetings and rallies throughout the country. The police and the army were used to break up anti-fascist protests and on many occasions the demonstrators had to face bullets, baton charges and bayonets as well as the Blueshirts themselves.

The full force of the Public Safety Act was invoked against anti-fascists and more of these were jailed than were Blueshirts. In his book 'The Irish Republican Congress" George Gilmore reports on a fascist meeting in Co. Mayo:

"Blueshirts were driven in military lorries to a rally in Swinford to be addressed by O'Duffy....many of them were escorted home without any shirts".

In another incident in Tralee, Co. Kerry:

"O'Duffy was struck on the head with a hammer on his way to address a meeting and over 100 Fine Gael supporters were besieged in a hall by a stone throwing crowd outside. O'Duffy's car was burnt and he had to have a Garda escort as far as the county border. An unexploded bomb was found at the rear of the hall the following day".

The Republican Congress was founded in 1934 to organise a broad front campaign against fascism, imperialism and British occupation on the basis of the mobilisation of the progressive elements of the Irish people towards the establishment of the Worker's Republic. The Republican Congress received its greatest publicity and historical recognition as a fighting anti-fascist group.

After the defeat of the Blueshirts, Fianna Fail brought the full force of repressive legislation down on the IRA and the Republican Congress, banning both organisations in 1936.

In 1936 O'Duffy resurrected the Blueshirts into a 700 strong Irish Brigade to fight for Franco in Spain. O'Duffy had the open backing of the Catholic church in this venture as evidenced by the statement of the Dean of Cashel:

“The Irish Brigade have gone to fight the battle of Christianity against Communism. There are tremendous difficulties facing the men under O'Duffy and only heroes can fight such a battle".

The media was strongly pro-Franco. The Irish Independent declared:

"All who stand for the ancient traditions of Spain are behind the present revolt against the Marxist regime in Madrid".

There had been strong links between Irish Republicans and the Basque people of Euskadi who were strongly anti-fascist. The Basque priest Fr. Ramon La Borda spoke at meetings in Ireland refuting the pro-Franco propaganda of the Catholic Church. The suppression of the Basque and Catalan nations, the murder of workers and the destruction of democracy in Spain was not only condoned but actively supported by the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The Blueshirt organisation ended soon after their farcical intervention in the Spanish Civil War. O'Duffy's group joined the Tercio, Franco's Foreign Legion. In their first military engagement they shot at their own side. There were regular threats of mutiny among the Blueshirt Brigade and on one occasion O'Duffy had to review his army without guns for fear that they would shoot him. O'Duffy wrote a highly amusing account of the Spanish fiasco under the title "Crusade In Spain".

The demoralised Blueshirts voted to return home after only a few months of the fight for Christianity. Brendan Behan quipped that they were the only army in history to return from war with more soldiers than they left with. Despite their pathetic performance the returning "heroes" received a civic reception in Dublin. After his disastrous intervention in the Spanish Civil War O’Duffy offered to recruit Irish volunteers to fight for Hitler in Europe but the Nazis showed no interest in his suggestion.

The Republican Congress activists of the anti-fascist struggle in Ireland supported the Spanish Republic during the Civil War. 300 volunteers, under the command of Frank Ryan, went to fight in the 15th International Brigade. 59 of the best socialists and republicans in Ireland gave their lives fighting for democracy and freedom in Spain.

O'Duffy was struck on the head with a hammer on his way to address a meeting and over 100 Fine Gael supporters were besieged in a hall by a stone throwing crowd outside.

Fighting Talk 7 (1994)

Issue 7 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.


FIGHTING_TALK_07.pdf18.91 MB
FIGHTING_TALK_07-compressed.pdf6.96 MB

Let's Get Physical - Sid Martell

The implementation of a No Platform policy will invariably involve physical confrontation with the fascists. In this issue Fighting Talk's Sid Martell explores the politics of the pavement...

From Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine issue 7, 1994.

"AFA is committed to fighting Fascism both physically and ideologically. We are not fighting fascism to maintain the status quo but to defend the interests of the working class"

Point 1.4 London AFA constitution.

Many people beside the state are opposed to Anti-Fascist Action's policy of physical confrontation, these range from the fascists (they especially don't like it), the liberal 'state ban' wing of the movement (ARA, Searchlight etc..), all the way to so-called revolutionary organisations like the Socialist Workers Party (see the last issue of FT, they might pay lip service to 'taking on the fascists', in reality they can't implement a No Platform policy and they need the police to function). So, what with all this opposition, is AFA merely being obstinate? Are we just isolated thugs? Or are we principled militant anti-fascists using the best means at our disposal to stop the fascists.

Firstly, let's get a few things straight. Anti-Fascist Action is not a terrorist or military organisation, neither are we just a group of thugs who simply enjoy a good row. AFA is a broad-based national organisation made up of working class people who are serious about combating fascism. Fighting fascism demands a lot from those who undertake it seriously, the risks are high, the hours are long and mostly spent getting bored - waiting for something to happen, and it doesn't earn you a living.

As any committed militant in any struggle will tell you that goes with the territory, nobody asks for thanks or a pat on the back, you just get on with it. What's to a large extent unbelievable, and yet at the same time so predictable, is that as well as this there are characters in the movement, whose courage and integrity are questionable to say the least, who seem to spend more time slagging off the militants than they do making the minimal (and often detrimental) impact that they do on the fascists.

AFA started when everybody else dropped Anti-Fascism, the real problem of course, being the Tories!? Now that the rest of them have come back on the scene they find that we've not been away, our rag-tag band of directionless cut-throats and thugs managing to stay the distance while the rest of them chose complacency and denial of their own ineptitude. As well as this they also find that while they run around chasing their tails and getting nowhere, AFA continues to pop up every now and again to remind the fascists that there will always be two sides of the opposition to them.

Throughout this century it seems that anti-fascist militants have had to put up with unwholesome elements at their backs. During Franco's dictatorship after the Spanish Civil War, the words of anarchist anti-fascist guerrillas (who were making 'substantial withdrawals' from various financial institutions on behalf of the resistance movement) have a familiar ring...

"Yet some of our so-called comrades attempted to defame our conduct in this matter - calling us robbers, bandits, criminals in exactly the same way as our fascist enemies. They do so to justify themselves to our movement for their own cowardice and inactivity."

Even within AFA there have been times when certain elements have called for more 'political' campaigning: when pressed, more 'political' campaigning basically means `non-violent' protest type campaigning a la Anti-Nazi League. AFA has outlined many times that it has a 'twin-track' policy of both ideological and physical confrontation, what this article aims to make clear is that both parts of our strategy are indeed political. Both are of equal importance, and the balance between them constantly and consistently maintained.

A classic cliché used by all manner of characters, from magistrates to 'revolutionaries', is to confront them physically you are "Just as bad as the fascists". Anti-fascist militants have had this thrown at them since fascism began, the equation being; if you meet violence with violence, then you become what you hate. This oddly Christian moralisation (odd because easily as many people have been killed in the name of Christ, as Mussolini or Hitler) is not just misguided, it's thoroughly out of order. Fascists employ violence as a means to an end, they are not violence personified; to be violent is not to be a fascist. It is what lies behind that violence; virulent hatred of the working class and its aspirations, that gives fascism its character.

The aim of fascism is to amplify the violence already inherent in the state; the violence of the Police, Immigration officials, the Army, etc. being just a tea-party to what the fascists would have them do. It is obvious that if working class people are to defend themselves and their interests, they must react in accordance with this threat. Therefore an act of aggression against the fascists must be seen as an act in defence of the working class, and as such be a political act.

The argument that anything other than pure self-defence (for instance defence against attack on an ethnic community) is mindless petty violence with no political motivation holds about as much water as a sieve. The formidable increase in state terror that would arise from a fascist dictatorship is justification enough for the eradication of fascism. The working class is already under attack, the state is already throwing punches, the coming to power of the fascists is the big right-hander, the knock out punch. It's already a question of them or us, the war has already started.

It's interesting here to note just who is saying what as regards this question. The vast majority of anti-fascist militants are working class, not just for the wider abstract reasons outlined above but because they bear the first brunt of the onslaught of fascism, and in the long term they will suffer the worst casualties. If someone in a pub full of local fascists declares themselves an anti-fascist, there won't be much time for formal debate and dissection of analysis. Working class people don't baulk at violence, they are not so conditioned to reject personal/political violence while condoning institutionalised violence as the middle classes are. It is obvious then that while the middle class orientated wing of the movement call for the police to deal with the "criminal fascist element", people on the street are forced to deal with it themselves.

It is the organisation of this militant working class resistance to fascism that is the task that AFA has set itself. All of the moves made by AFA are dictated by this aim. The direction of the organisation is orientated by discussion of the militants on the ground, there is no military hierarchy governing the politics of the organisation, rather the politics control all AFA stewarding activities. The stewards are at all times answerable to the rest of the organisation, their role is to carry out the wishes of the membership. It is the people active in AFA who have defined this, it is the militants on the ground who argue for political discipline. We would argue against a purely street outfit, not because we are against 'street activity', but because alone it has no meaning. There are many historical examples to draw from this, from the IPLO in Ireland to renegade Zapatistas in the Mexican Revolutions.

If you carry out acts of an 'illegal' nature then you are bound to attract those who simply wish to get involved in that end of affairs, who are not political. It is up to the movement to either educate or reject those elements, and only the backing and guidance of the wider movement can define were the line is drawn, where acts degenerate to the socially criminal rather than the political. It is only when the politics are let go that things are reduced to pure factionalism and criminality, that has never and will never be the case with AFA. All those who have made claims along these lines are either enemies of militant anti-fascism, or the sort of play-pretend 'leaders' who get their fingers burnt when they play with fire.

The need for discipline and organisation then is paramount to us, one because it makes us accountable to ourselves and the movement, and secondly because it makes us a more effective force on the street and in the political arena. There have been times when elements attracted to AFA seem to feel that these things can be dispensed with, those that espouse the anti-fascism of the cider bottle and the wildebeest. While not denying anybody's right to oppose fascism, there is no place for this within AFA. It must be made clear, AFA wins, there aren't any prizes for second place. Without coordination, without experience and back up, little groups marching off here and there will ultimately come a cropper. This is not a game, the fascists mean it - and what has kept AFA effective is that we mean it too.

It's ironic really, that many who have consistently slagged off the physical element of AFA, have at the same time come begging for protection when there's a possibility that they themselves might be attacked by the fascists. AFA has learnt a lot from this, smiles the one day, vilification the next. It has also learnt that being some sort of token police force for the 'left', has gained us nothing but their subsequent whinging afterwards. Or even during, there have been a few occasions when an AFA stewarding outfit has actually had to 'steward', only to meet shock horror from those who most definitely would have been on the receiving end of it from the fascists if we hadn't been there.

Our job is beating the fascists on our terms, our stewards are only jeopardised by our activities, or the ones we sponsor. What many on the 'left' don't realise is that the physical victories of the fascists are worth more than ours because they are in the ascendancy, they are on the offensive while the left' stares up its own backside wondering what day it is. Any victory that we give them on the street is a body blow for us, if we are to be defeated then we'll go down fighting for something to fight for, not for liberals and cowards who can't hold their hands up.

But again that's not to say that we won't work with anyone else, we have stressed time and again that unity is made around activity, not verbal niceties. (See the Unity Article in the last issue of FT). If anybody who adopts the same stance as us, who works in the same arena as us, isn't working alongside us, then could they let us know? The point has to be made, AFA has a job to do, it hasn't the time or the resources to argue the toss about 'United Fronts' and such like. Let's face it, that isn't just fiddling while Rome burns, it's setting up the whole orchestra and giving the audience boxes of matches.

It seems that the calls for Unity tend to be made most vociferously by those who when they had a chance to make some sort of impact, i.e. when they were in AFA, chose to abandon that and now wander in the wilderness calling for "committees" around this and "Unity" around that because it's the only chance they'll get to prove how 'wadical' they are by talking a load of old nonsense. They now find they're in a position where far from "making No Platform mean No Platform", they are effectively more unable to deliver that than they ever were! It's not saying it, it's doing it that counts. AFA continues to do it.

Physical confrontation is not only necessary, but from a propaganda point of view it's indispensable; Waterloo was a straight go, and an immediate success. It shows people what can be done, and what has to be done, if fascism is to be beaten back. AFA victories in the North. in Scotland, and in the Midlands are a direct result of the commitment to a physical presence put in by AFA militants, the ceaseless work of individuals and groups gaining results that no amount of lollipops and petitions will ever bring. AFA's work against the recent 'Ian Stuart Memorial Gig' made sure that it didn't go ahead, that Combat 18's 'security' was turned on its head (Charlie Sargeant and 'mad' Phil Edwards both making early bids for the 'shithouse of the year' award), and we still managed not to get battered by the Met (unlike both the ANL and C18, the latter getting a serious seeing to in a pub outside Waterloo, looked bloody nasty from where we were standing...).

AFA, despite all its enemies, continues to go from strength to strength. We've proved time and again that only by militant action will the fascists be put down, and despite all the efforts of the establishment, the fascists, and the liberals, we're still in the game. Time will tell what happens with the ANL, YRE etc.. We're not asking anything of them, what's important to us is that AFA remains a viable outfit, and that it holds to its tradition. Remember, though we've said it before, a physical commitment by us doesn't require every individual in the organisation to be a super fit street-fighter, what we do want is people who agree with our policy, and who will work towards its implementation in the capacity best suited for them. Genuine anti-fascist militants should join AFA, and militants from other outfits should work with us on the day. True unity. unity in action, is the only 'unity' AFA calls for. A commitment to that is what earns AFA's respect, and it's the only thing that does.

Fascists employ violence as a means to an end, they are not violence personified; to be violent is not to be a fascist. It is what lies behind that violence; virulent hatred of the working class and its aspirations, that gives fascism its character.

To Ban or not to Ban: The Case Against State Bans on Fascists - Jim Kane

From issue 7 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine, 1994.

The question of whether anti-fascists should call on the state to ban fascist organisations or demonstrations has always been a controversial one. The moderate wing of the anti-fascist movement has never had any problem in appealing to the state. For all their apparent differences on other issues, Searchlight, the Anti-Racist Alliance and the Anti-Nazi League have all made such demands on the police at one time or another.
Anti-Fascist Action represents a different tradition - militant anti-fascism. In contrast to the other groups mentioned, we have never called on the police to do our job for us. Nor will we. In this article, Jim Kane explains why.

Militant anti-fascism has a single goal - to forcefully disrupt the fascists from going about their business. Our aim is to prevent them from selling their papers, distributing their leaflets, putting up their stickers and posters. Our intention is to make it impossible for them to stand candidates in elections, and where they do manage to stand, to disrupt their campaigns at every stage. Ultimately, our aim is to crush them completely, to wipe them off the face of the earth.

These are serious matters: the fascists know the importance of physical force in politics, and are far better organised on this level than the so-called revolutionary left, which is long on words, short on action. If you set yourselves these aims, as we do, you have to work out a serious strategy of how to carry them out. You have to know what it is you are up against, and what it is you are doing.

We have never made any bones about it: to fight the fascists ideologically, you have to fight them physically. To fight them physically, to disrupt their meetings, to subject them to the pressure that they try to subject us to - to do any or all of these things means to break the law. A purely "legal" anti-fascism is no anti-fascism at all.
You don't have to be Einstein to work out the consequences: if you set out on a militant strategy, you are on a collision course with the forces of law and order, the state. If you seriously oppose the fascists in a way which is effective, you are operating against the state. This is a fact of life.

The fascists often taunt AFA as "bootboys for the establishment", claiming we do the mainstream parties' dirty work for them when we attack the "real" revolutionaries of the far right. It's not our job to point out to the fascists that they are making a mistake on this - let them dream on. But if we were to entertain the same illusion, that we are in some way involved in a common fight alongside the respectable politicians of the establishment parties, then we will come a cropper.

The moderate wing of the anti-fascist movement does see things in this way. Searchlight makes no secret of the fact that they trade information with the state, and that they want to see the state take a more active part in combating fascism. The Anti-Racist Alliance and Anti-Nazi League similarly expect, though they are sometimes disappointed, that the police will take their "responsibility" for keeping the peace seriously enough to keep the fascists and anti-fascists apart.

This is what happened at Brick Lane after the fighting the first week after the British National Party election victory. The anti-fascists turn up to demonstrate peacefully, while the police stop the fascists from getting anywhere near them. And it worked, in a fashion. The fascists lost their paper sale, or rather gave it up sooner than get involved in a regular set-piece with the Old Bill; the anti-fascists got to take over the corner of Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane and proclaim the area a "Nazi-Fee Zone."

Everyone, the BNP excepted, is happy. Or so it seems. True, the fascists temporarily lost their paper sale, and that is no bad thing. But the anti-fascists lost something else that is far more important in the long run: they lost their momentum. As we warned in the previous issue of Fighting Talk, two or three weeks of turning up in droves to shout anti-fascist slogans when you know the fascists won't be allowed to turn up is more than enough for most people.

Numbers fell very rapidly at Brick Lane thereafter - the Militant decided to call the whole thing off, just weeks after they pledged to drive the fascists out of Brick Lane “forever", while the Socialist Workers Party opted for a handful of paper sellers on the corner instead of a full ANL turnout.

The police were more than happy to keep the fascists at bay so long as it was a matter of hundreds of anti-fascists turning up - they didn't want any more bad publicity, after all. But when the numbers fell down to the tens, the police, too, called it a day, and left everyone to get on with it. Overtime or no, it’s cold out there protecting the anti-fascists.

The situation now is untenable in the long run. At the time of going to press, the SWP send half a dozen paper sellers for an hour, and then go home. Would these six or so Bolshevik hardies be able to hold off a BNP/C18 attack? Of course not. Does the SWP have a van load of heavies just out of sight, ready to respond if the fascists make their move? Don't make me laugh. Brick Lane is now like just any other SWP sales pitch - a few local branch members standing on the corner hoping to flog a few copies before they get thumped.
And get thumped they surely will. One day, when it suits them, the fascists will stroll down Bethnal Green Road and retake their paper sale, disposing of a few easy targets from the SWP in the process. The fruit of a strategy that relies on police protection is a good kicking.

AFA opposes the reliance on state bans for precisely this reason: it doesn't work. We are not like the pillocks in the Revolutionary Communist Party and their front organisation, Workers Against Racism, who go on TV to proclaim their willingness to defend the democratic rights of the fascists. We shed no tears, not even crocodile ones, on the odd occasion when the police get stuck into the fascists. In our book, the fascists have no rights, democratic or otherwise.

But “fighting" fascism with state bans means opting for the role of peaceful bystanders. It means not fighting fascism, but wishing someone else would do it for you. Worse than simply not working, it is actually counter-productive. The fascists thrive on presenting themselves as a party of action, who, in contrast to the left, can actually get things done, can actually make a difference. They laugh at most of the left as a bunch of middle class tossers who haven't got a clue.

Unfortunately, the left's habit of standing behind police barriers and striking up a chorus of “The police protect the fascists" does nothing to dispel this image. On the contrary. It proves the fascists right.

If we are to challenge the fascists effectively, not only on the streets (though that is crucial) but in the hearts and minds of white workers, we have to behave differently. We have to show, in action, that the fascists do not have a monopoly of violence and initiative. We have to show that we, too, can make a difference. We have to push them on the defensive, make THEM hide behind the barriers and shout "police protect the fascists - please!", and we have to make sure everyone knows about it.

Some groups, especially on the Trotskyist left, put forward the argument that it is wrong to call for state bans because any weapon that the state has in its arsenal, including any special powers you sanction for them to deal with the fascists, will ultimately be turned against you. In a sense this is true: the public order legislation that was enacted in the 1930s was allegedly to be used against Mosley and his British Union of Fascists, but in reality was used far more often against the Communist Party and other left-wing organisations.

But it would be a mistake to see too much in this. The capitalist state certainly prefers to have a legal fig-leaf to shroud its real intentions against the working class and its organisations, but it hardly needs it. The rules are there to be broken, and only middle class liberals should expect otherwise.

We, on the other hand, should face facts: the state is willing to use any means necessary against us, legal or otherwise. If they need extra powers to deal with the working class, they take them - and they certainly don't wait around for some well-meaning democrat to beg them to act against the fascists before they do so.

The argument against calling for state bans is more practical than that. We know that the fascists are the establishment’s last resort when the going gets tough. We know, therefore, that when the state makes any partial moves against the fascists, it is to deal with a temporary source of embarrassment - a propaganda ploy. It has nothing to do with really combating fascism.

Consequently, if fascism is to be stopped, it must be stopped by other means, by the direct action of the working class. State bans can play no role in this, our strategy. They are a diversion, a blind alley. Let others wander down there.

"The Good Old Days" - The Roots of AFA in Manchester

Anti-Fascist history from issue 7 of AFA's Fighting Talk magazine (1994).

The late 1970s saw the emergence of the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) in response to the growth of the National Front (NF). The NF targeted left-wing, Irish and Troops Out public meetings in the town centre.

In response to the threats and attacks on left and progressive meetings. a stewards group was formed by anti-fascist activists from a number of left groups in Manchester. The primary function was defensive, and with the influx of activists politicised by the ANL, this type of frontline defensive grouping attracted the interest of many keen to implement Sir Matt Busby's football strategy "Attack is the best means of defence," in the political arena against the fascists. This was evident when the Manchester NF football team "The Lilly Whites" attempted to fulfil their league fixtures, only to be kicked out of the park by some tough tackling anti-fascists.
Left/Irish meetings were resolutely defended and fascists activities were attacked/disrupted without let up. The high point of the ANL campaign was the Manchester Carnival.

After the 1979 election demise of the NF, the ANL organisationally ground to a halt. However, fascist activity didn't, and the beginning of the eighties saw the NF attempt to sustain a paper sale in the centre of Manchester. This was met with attack after attack and on one occasion the whole NF group were ambushed at their meeting point. A number of NF supporters were taken to hospital including a German soldier on leave from NATO duties.

Both covert and overt operations designed to disable the NF organisationally and demoralise their membership were carried out. The net result was that the NF were driven out of the town centre and no fascist group has managed to regain the position since.

1981 saw the re-emergence of the ANL in response to the continued NF and British Movement (BM) threat, both now operating on an openly Nazi ticket. It also saw the Hunger Strike Commemorations for Irish Republican POW's held during the year. This led to the resurrection of the Manchester Martyrs Commemoration. The issue of Irish Nationalism has always proved a great motivating factor for British Nationalists in Manchester, especially after the successes in 1974 of driving the Manchester Martyrs March (MMM) off the streets amid much anti-Irish hysteria in the aftermath of the Birmingham bombings.

The MMM of 1981 and subsequent years ensured a large fascist turnout, and likewise an even more determined anti-fascist presence, who showed both the capacity and tenacity to extend the skirmishes to before, during and after the march. This has been fine-tuned over the years to the extent that even in 1993 despite the MMM being a shadow of its former self, the fascists still implement an "arrive late and leave early policy". No doubt there are some who will be leaving even earlier this year!

The ANL which re-emerged in 1981 contained many of the anti-fascist street activists of the late '70s who had now embraced the need to organise politically as well as being active on the streets.

This led to a more direct style of political campaigning with anti-fascist groups operating week in week out at Maine Road (Manchester City's Football Ground), and Old Trafford (United's, need I explain!). Pat Crerand, ex-Celtic and Man United player came out on occasions to assist the Reds Against the Nazis (RAN) group issuing leaflets.

At Maine Road, the situation was somewhat more serious as MCFC had an in-house Nazi NF following, who had on occasions attempted to leaflet the ground. The arrival of Blues Against the Nazis (BAN) incurred the wrath of City's Nazis and the anti-fascists came under attack. Word of the attack spread and at the next home game, the NF attacked again but this time they were counter attacked by the `Kool Kats' (MCFC Black Youth). One key NF member was chased into City's souvenir shop and severely beaten by some of City's anti-fascist supporters.

With the escalation of violence by the NF at Maine Road, BAN wrote to P. Swales (City's chairman) asking him to condemn the City NF following. He refused on the basis that one lot were as bad as the other! This proved the widely held theory that he knew as much about politics as he did about football.

On a regional level, ANL activists from Manchester involved themselves in the campaign against NF chairman Andrew Brons, who was working as a lecturer at Harrogate Further Education College. Indeed Manchester anti-fascists along with Asian youth from Bradford, operated with distinction against the fascists (bussed in from Leeds) on a number of occasions. Civic recognition was bestowed on some anti-fascists, who received custodial sentences from Harrogate magistrates for turning over the BM. On another occasion, Steve Gaunt, Brons' minder, found himself on the receiving end from anti-fascists after being arrested and handcuffed to the arm of a solitary police officer. The officer was unable to make any further arrests or take contemporaneous notes! Recently Searchlight informed its readers that Steve Gaunt had returned from Croatia minus one leg, it was last seen flying backwards over Bosnia. So if you've got any odd socks you know where to send them, or even the odd boot!

Nationally the ANL were organising the Leeds Rock Against Racism (RAR) carnival. In the month leading up to the carnival Manchester ANL activists ran a full-time office and leafleted every school, college, gig, and football match they could cover. The return was phenomenal, with over ten double decker buses filled with carnival-goers from the Manchester area. At the same time a group of anti-fascists were charged with offences relating to militant anti-fascism in Rochdale, for which eight of them were eventually sent to prison. This also coincided with the SWP's move against squaddist elements in both London and Manchester, of whom they were politically embarrassed, prior to disbanding the ANL and pulling out of anti-fascist politics.
The SWP expelled anti-fascists including some who were jailed for anti-fascist activities whilst members of the SWP/ ANL. Comrades indeed!

The jailing of eight antifascists for militant action against fascism created problems for the families. The Rochdale Defendants Fund was set up to raise money. The campaign asked for support only from those who supported the actions of anti-fascists. Conditional support or support offered to only some of the 8 was refused. The SWP to their shame attempted to raise money for only two of the jailed anti-fascists.

The campaign ran for 15 months during which contributions and donations came from many trade union groups, branches and shop steward committees. Gigs were held throughout the year, the one which proved to be most successful brought together Manchester's top three reggae bands and showcased Elliot Rashman (currently Simply Red's manager) as guest DJ. UB40 sent autographed LPs to be raffled.

In 1985 AFA was formed by those committed to ideological and physical confrontation. This was soon put to the test when the NF attempted to hold a march and rally in Stockport in 1986.

The SWP were strategically massed behind the police cordon outside the town hall, whilst the NF walked past waving banners. Two vans travelling in opposite directions pulled alongside the Nazis, whereupon anti-fascists emerged from the rear and engaged in meaningful dialogue with them. The Nazis and the police retreated to the shelter of the waiting room of Stockport British Rail station.

A line of police moved on the anti-fascists who in turn moved towards them, whereupon the police and dogs turned and ran! Attempts to induce the Nazis to leave the waiting room with the assistance of smoke bombs proved unsuccessful. However, one Manchester NF-er complains of a little 'chestiness' to this day!

Four fascists arrived late in a shiny new Saab (Daddy's?), and on realising we weren't fascists they drove off at high speed. The car escaped but only to a set of red lights, whereupon anti-fascists turned the car upside down complete with occupants, and some kind soul threw in a smoke bomb for good measure!

1986/87 - AFA set up an anti-fascist hotline to monitor racist attacks and fascist activity. AFA were also involved in defending Viraj Mendis who took sanctuary in a church after facing a deportation order. A number of attempted fascist attacks were nipped in the bud. On one occasion, St George's Day, a protest by 'English Nationalists' did not materialise after anti-fascists chanced upon the same pub they were meeting in. (We weren't tipped off, honestly.)

In another attempt Mr. Payne, BNP organiser, was contacted by 'an alleged sympathiser' who offered him information that the BNP required. Payne poured forth the BNP plan to storm the church and seize Viraj Mendis, drag him out and chain him to a lamp post, where the police could arrest and deport him.

The exchanges were tape recorded and attempts were made to do follow up calls in the presence of the media. A further set of calls were made but Payne was nervous and non-committal. When challenged by the agent he admitted he'd been visited by the police, who had been made aware of the taped conversations by an 'anti-fascist journalist'!

The traditions and principles of militant anti-fascism are still firmly applied by Manchester AFA. Over the years we have proved that the fascists can be kicked off the streets and kept off by physical and ideological confrontation. It may be hard work, but we can still 'always look on the bright side...!’

Fighting Talk 8 (1994)

Issue 8 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Fighting Talk 9 (1994)

Issue 9 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine. A football special.



Fighting Talk 10 (January 1995)

Issue 10 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Trouble on the Tyne: The fight against the Blackshirts in the North-East

History article from Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine issue 10.

Most people have heard of Sir Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts getting stopped at the Bathe of Cable Street in East London, but the story of the fight against fascism in other parts of the country in the 1930s is less well known. In Excited Times is a new book that traces the rise and fall of fascism in the North East of England from the 1920s to the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Italian influenced British Fascisti were the first overtly fascist party to be launched in this country, and were established in Newcastle by 1925. Staffed by right-wing ex-army officers, they dressed in the uniform of the Black and Tans, the murdering British mercenaries who fought in Ireland in 1920. Internal divisions led to the collapse of the British Fascisti by 1926, the final order of the Newcastle Zone Commander being to join the strike-breakers in the General Strike of that year.

In 1931, the international economic crisis led to the formation of the National Government, which involved all the major parties (Tory, Liberal and Labour) uniting to save capitalism. Working class organisations became part of a "communist threat" and the conditions were there for the emergence of a fascist party to smash the Left and restore "law and order". The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was subsequently launched by Sir Oswald Mosley in 1932.

The North East has a long tradition of working class organisation and when the BUF held their first major public rally on Newcastle's Town Moor during Race Week (a major working class occasion) in 1933, only weeks after Hitler had banned trade union and progressive organisations in Germany, their lorry was overturned and they were chased off.

Being a major industrial area, the fascists realised that if they were to grow in the North East they had to break the influence of the traditional working class organisations. Tommy Moran, an ex-miner and boxer, and John Beckett, the former left-wing Independent Labour Party MP for Gateshead, were selected to front the campaign. Their credibility as ex-Labour men seemed more appropriate than the ex-army officers who generally led the movement. People like Captain Bruce-Norton (the BUF Area Political Officer) who had gone to Ireland after the First World War to fight with the Royal Irish Constabulary's Auxiliaries against Irish independence.

After Mosley visited Durham in late 1933 fascist violence increased, smashing up left-wing meetings and attacking left-wing bookshops. The BUF had some success in recruiting young unemployed youth with no class loyalty, petty criminals who wouldn't think twice about nicking from their own. The BUF was also well funded and able to provide uniforms and paid part-time work, an attractive prospect for some in an area of mass unemployment. These were their foot-soldiers, commanded by an almost endless supply of middle class ex-army officers. But fascism in the North East wasn't just about the street activities of the Blackshirts.

The 20s and 30s saw significant support in the British Establishment for fascism. Indeed, one of the initial converts in the 20s was the Duke of Northumberland, looking to protect his estates and wealth. Although most of these people didn't directly associate themselves with the BUF, they used their wealth and influence to gain support for the fascist regimes in Europe.

Two of the major industrialists in the North East fitted this category - Lord Armstrong (the armaments tycoon) and Lord Runciman (multi-millionaire shipowner). But the main spokesman for Hitler's Nazis among the English Establishment and the Tory Party was Lord Londonderry, heir to the Durham coalfields, whose family had been genuinely hated by generations of Durham miners. A man who developed his politics during the pogroms that were part of the bloody creation of the Northern Ireland statelet, where he served as Leader of the Senate from 1921-26. By the 30s, he was a personal friend of Hitler, Goering and Ribbentrop. Despite his close links with the Nazi regime in Germany, he and his wife, another rabid fascist, were given public office by Chamberlain's Tory government as late as 1937.

There were many different organisations involved in the anti-fascist movement - trade unions, Independent Labour Party, Communist Party, National Unemployed Workers Movement, local Labour Parties (the leadership, then as now, was firmly opposed to confronting the fascists). Sometimes there were local united fronts for particular activities, sometimes one organisation would take the lead, and a number of co-ordinating bodies existed at various times.

The real benefits gained by the National Unemployed Workers Movement - fighting dole cuts, providing social centres, organising "Hunger Marches", meant BUF attacks on the NUWM as "Red Subversives" fell on deaf ears, and many unemployed miners, engineering and shipyard workers became actively involved against the fascists. The lessons for today are clear.

During 1933-34 the fascists held many indoor and outdoor meetings all over the North East - and plenty were stopped. Some by physical attack, some by drowning out the speaker, and occasionally by the police who feared serious trouble. In May 1934 the physical struggle against the fascists was increased with the formation of the Anti-Fascist League (AFL) or "Greyshirts" (they also wore a uniform). Almost exclusively working class in composition, they defended left-wing meetings (but maintained their independence from any one party), "interviewed" fascist recruits, and attacked fascist meetings. Not just responding to fascist violence, but setting their own militant anti-fascist agenda.

The fascist campaign reached a watershed in the early summer of 1934. An unsuccessful Blackshirt attack on an ILP May Day rally in Gateshead effectively decided their fate. The fascists were planning a major rally with Mosley at Newcastle's Town Moor during Race Week and a series of meetings were arranged to promote the rally. In response to the May Day attack, on 13 May several thousand anti-fascists, led by the AFL in "plainclothes", stopped a fascist meeting in Newcastle, followed them back to their Headquarters and laid siege to it - with broken glass and blood everywhere.

The next night the BUF meeting was in Gateshead. Thousands turned out to oppose it and it was forced to close down early, and only a large police presence prevented the thousands who followed them back over the Tyne from getting hold of the fascists. Once again the BUF HQ was put under heavy siege. On 1st June the Gateshead BUF office was wrecked (probably by the AFL), Beckett and Moran were moved out of Newcastle in disgrace, and with fierce opposition promised, Mosley's Race Week Rally was cancelled. Not surprisingly, the effectiveness of the AFL's militant tactics led to MI5 taking a close interest (Sounds familiar!)

Attempts were made by the BUF to move their operations to North Shields, but this failed after two rallies got turned over in the summer of 1934. The fascists were in disarray, unable to do what they wanted, and Newcastle BUF duly split in August '34. They did reorganise in 1935, and Mosley spoke at Newcastle City Hall in May, but the opposition was so loud that he stormed out after only 15 minutes.

Other smaller meetings were tried but the tide had turned, in July 400 miners smashed a BUF meeting in Sunderland. In November Mosley had one more try with a rally in South Shields, next to the Arab "quarter", hoping to start a race riot. Fascist stewards were bussed in from all over the country, but the anti-fascists mobilised thousands, and with fighting inside and outside the hall, and fascist buses bricked on their way out, the meeting wasn't a success.

After 1935, BUF activity petered out in the North East, the fascists being mainly confined to London from then on. Undoubtedly, without the level of opposition they faced, the outcome would have been different. Despite considerable efforts, the BUF attempt to break into the working class in the North East failed.
The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War kept anti-fascists busy raising money for food and medicine to aid the fight against Franco, and over 100 anti-fascists from the North East fought in Spain with the International Brigade, 24 were killed.

The information in this article is taken from In Excited Times: The People Against the Blackshirts, by Nigel Todd. Published by Bewick Press. The book is only 120 pages long so it is an easy read, but it is full of information, well researched and well illustrated. As militant anti-fascists a bit more on the AFL would have been useful, but all the same, a recommended read.

Fighting Talk 11 (May 1995)

Issue 11 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine



Fighting Talk 12 (November 1995)

Issue 12 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Filling The vacuum - London AFA

1995 document by some people within Anti-Fascist Action following the BNP's decision to abandon the streets. The document led to the creation of the Independent Working Class Association.

In November 1990, at a public meeting in east London, AFA declared that the "working class is the natural constituency of socialism, not fascism. Racism and socialism are incompatible. One only exists at the expense of the other. The success of the Far-Right is due to the fact that the Left are not seen as a credible option. AFA are committed to creating the space in which one (a credible alternative} can develop."

Three years later, addressing a meeting in south-east London, an AFA spokesperson returned to the theme: "While the initial aim must be to root out the organised racists/fascists ­the motive force behind the attacks - and throw down a challenge to those that provide them with facilities, the long-term solution must be to create communities of resistance. By creating some space, perhaps in time a real working class alternative to the lying bullshit that now passes for politics in this country can emerge. The entire Left has failed the working class, black and white alike, though many prefer to believe that the working class has failed the Left. We are here today, not only because they (the Left) are bad socialists but more specifically because they are bad anti­fascists".

In 1994 in a widely distributed expose of the Anti-Nazi League [Don't Believe the Hype], AFA was even more specific. “The BNP can be stopped and on many occasions up and down the country AFA has physically stopped them. However we are not blind to the fact that the fight is political, and accept that the resurgence of support for the Far-Right is a symptom of a deeper malaise. We do not see it as our job to campaign for Labour. It is not AFA's role to argue that change is not needed. The function of anti-fascism is not to see the electoral threat from the Far-Right beaten back so that Labour and the middle-class Left can, as happened between 1982-92, turn their backs on both the social causes and their own collaboration in the political betrayal that gave rise to the NF and the BNP in the first place.”

The ambition of militant anti-fascism is not simply to see the Far-Right defeated and removed from working class areas: the ultimate solution is to see them replaced there. The BNP's attack on Labour is from the Right and is racist, ultra-conservative and anti-working class, Our primary role is to guarantee that a successful challenge to Labour comes only from the Left. Furthermore, and purely from an anti-fascist point of view, as the best insurance against any nazi renaissance, it would be the duty of militants to offer protection and encouragement to any genuine [anti-­Labour] working class revolt.

When AFA was relaunched in London in September 1989 it was accepted that while AFA was still organised around the single issue of anti-fascism, "AFA propaganda must contain a class message" in order "to negate the efforts by the fascists to present AFA as a bunch of middle-class outsiders, part and parcel of the Establishment, working in the long-term interests of the status quo".

Much has changed since 1989, not least the fact that AFA is now a national organisation with over forty branches organised in four main regions each with the physical ability to forcefully implement AFA's founding statement on the streets. In addition other organisations such as the ANL, ARA and YRE have jumped on - and off - the bandwagon. The early nineties also saw the return to electoral prominence of the Far-Right not just in Britain but throughout Europe. The success of AFA on the streets also led to the birth of the wannabe paramilitary grouping C18.

In another tribute to AFA's militant strategy the BNP declared in April 1994 that there would be "no more marches, meetings, punch-ups " A year on, this declaration must now be regarded as a serious change of strategy, something other than a temporary electoral ploy or an effort to court respectability. There appear to be at least two crucial reasons for the change of strategy. One, undoubtedly, is that since their resur­gence to national prominence, AFA have fought the BNP to a standstill. In 1991 Scotland was regarded by the BNP leadership as its highest growth area and the area with possibly the greatest potential. Today the BNP no longer visibly exists. Literally beaten into the ground by anti-fascist militants.

In the North West the BNP organisation and morale has all but been destroyed. A similar pattern is emerging in the Midlands. In the South East the fascists have been constantly harassed. Apart from the east and possibly south east they are practically invisible in London.

In many of these areas the politics of the BNP undoubtedly have a resonance, but they are unable to take advantage of the latent support due to the logistical problems caused by the constant possibility of attack and their own profile as 'a party of strength'. One way to resolve the problem would be to recruit, but they cannot have open recruitment for fear of infiltration. In addition the fear of physical violence means that they are unable to bring their more articulate middle class supporters onto the streets for fear of losing them entirely.

The situation in Europe would also have played an influence. Here the fascists, particularly in Austria and Italy, have recognised that with the demise of the support for the communist parties there is no need for a visibly menacing counter threat. If there is no physical danger, fascists do not need to hide behind a sinister private army. The battle for control of the streets need not be fought if control is not being contested. If the end can be achieved without the traditional means there is no need for the rough stuff. In Britain, with the absence of any tangible political threat to their adopted working class constituency the argument for a physical force movement to contest the streets becomes not only void but instead represents a serious impediment to their own political ambitions - only!

Since their meteoric climb in 1990 in not one area of the country, despite significant sympathy on the ground, have they for more than one day at a time been able to control the streets; Bermondsey, Bloody Sunday and the Isle of Dogs being the exceptions. More often than not in regard to the large set pieces they have been humiliated. And even when they have won, the victory has gained them nothing except a confirmation of what already sustains them; that Labour and the Left are increasingly alien to working class people. So in a sense for them simply to continue with the strategy of "marches, meetings, punch ups" only provides an enemy that has already lost the fundamental arguments - Labour/ANL/Trotskyism, etc. (or in the case of AFA which has failed to put an argument) - with a legitimate political excuse/focus, ie: anti-BNP. The BNP policy of open swaggering aggression also affords an organisation like AFA a legitimate opportunity to answer in kind, and in doing so physically destroy the BNP's political prospects by crippling its infra-structure. With AFA having no polltical prospects of its own they are on a hiding to nothing.

It takes two to tango, so what of AFA's reason for being if the BNP decide that they don't want to play anymore? Certainly in London, AFA has only been able to seriously damage the Far-Right once recently. If this is a permanent change of plan there is a serious danger that AFA, without the physical challenge for which it was designed, will itself begin to lose direction and begin to atrophy.

The flip side of the coin is that C18, who have no electoral ambitions either, don't do anything but 'play'. The ideal solution for both the State and the Far-Right would be for AFA to get locked into a clandestine gang war with C18, thereby allowing the State to select candidates of their own choosing for periods of lengthy incarceration. That done, the now entirely legal BNP could go about their lawful business like their European counter­parts, articulating 'genuine racial concerns' unhindered.

Furthermore, if the BNP operation is made entirely legal and if AFA physically opposes them, then our operation is de facto illegal. The BNP then might reasonably expect, in return for their collaboration with the forces of law and order, that the tactic of summary arrest be employed against AFA on a consistent basis. Circumstances are changing and AFA needs to adapt.

Fascism is the vanguard of reaction. It is at once the manifestation, the contributory cause and principle beneficiary of society's decomposition. Unlike the rest of the anti-racist Left, AFA's emphasis has always been on the political danger represented by fascism, while others such as Searchlight and the ANL have laid the emphasis on their violent and criminal tendencies. In addition they refuse or are unwilling to recognise that anti-fascism is by definition a rearguard action and that fascism is the consequence, rather than the cause, of the Left's failure. Inevitably the strategies adopted to combat fascism carry with them the germs of the strategies that caused fascism, invariably leading to compound failure. So while it cannot be denied that the ANL's media campaign focused public attention on the problem, it also proved to be a distraction in regard to the solution.

One of AFA's strengths in its formative years was its limited platform; the 'single issue'. This concentration weeded out or repelled the sectarians, the 'tough talkers' and the dilettantes. However, during the Isle of Dogs campaign, the 'single issue' exposed AFA's limitations. AFA had to nothing to say on the principle business.

AFA has long recognised that once the Far-Right is allowed to mobilise, is allowed to set the agenda, and has passed a certain point, they begin to control their own destinies - and their opponent's. Once that point is reached it would be useless and possibly counter-productive to rely upon a purely anti-fascist stance, primarily because people look to politics for solutions. It might be clear what you stand against, though their understanding of what you stand for will effectively determine their overall response.

As the activities of the ANL on the Isle of Dogs demonstrated (despite blanket canvassing the BNP vote actually rose by 30%), an anti-fascist message on its own would find little favour with working class people, even those repelled by the BNP, if they suspected that it was simply a spoiling tactic, carried out by allies of the local Labour establishment in an effort to maintain the status quo. AFA has never fought to maintain the status quo, but, even at their most effective, anti­fascist militants can never hope to achieve anything more than to maintain that vacuum. There is little doubt that the vacuum has been successfully maintained but now, in the absence of any other suitable candidates, it is incumbent on the anti-fascist militants to help fill the vacuum themselves.

The working class is increasingly alienated from Labour, the BNP's strategy can is entirely reliant upon this alienation: 'they really hate Labour' etc. The total ineptitude and the tangible contempt that exists in some areas between Labour and its former constituency has locally and nationally begat the BNP. And fascism begat anti-fascism. In straight­forward language, it is the politics of the Labour Party that has created the BNP. So by acting as campaign managers for Labour, the ANL are are prostituting anti-fascism, and instead of being identified with a radical, pro-working class position, anti-fascism is seen to be defending the status quo, thereby practi­cally forcing people who want change to vote BNP, out of sheer desperation. They are literally driving people into the arms of the fascists. Up to now it is entirely due to the cutting edge of AFA that the passive support has remained just that. But it is unrealistic to expect that vacuum to be maintained indefinitely.

Nor as working class militant anti-fascists can we stand on the sidelines, wringing our hands hopelessly. We have to take a stand. And we have to take that stand against Labour. Not simply in a theoretical sense, but in an organisational sense. It is vital that the working class on the estates, seriously alienated from Labour, are provided with an alternative to the BNP. The election of a Labour government will be a massive shot in the arm for the Far-Right. It is also very possible that in the subsequent local elections the Isle of Dogs scenario could be repeated on a national scale, and all our\good work in the last decade would be undone at a stroke.

What is needed is a new organisation. In all probability the impetus of the Clause Four controversy will cause a realignment on the Left that will give it birth. It is not being suggested that AFA disband and become this organisation. It is as vital as ever, that AFA maintains its own structures and agenda. Nor is it being suggested that AFA create this new organisation. This would hardly be possible in any case. What must be recognised is that it will happen with or without AFA. AFA contains the best working class militants in the country. It is absolutely vital that in order to shape the organisation in its own image, AFA is in from the very beginning. To shape it in AFA's own image would mean stipulating from the outset a) a democratic structure, built from the bottom up rather than from the top down; b) rather than appeal to a mythical 'labour movement' the strategy requires an orientation to, and an accommodation of, the working class proper; c) non-sectarian. This does not mean being forced to work with everybody; it means working alongside others towards a common goal, but making no apology for a refusal to collaborate on any project for which you have no enthusiasm, or with those with whom you fundamentally disagree.

In any case it must be obvious that to stand aloof would be an unmitigated disaster. That would allow the middle classes once again to set the agenda. AFA has been dealing with the consequences of their agenda for over a decade. It would be criminally negligent to allow our adversaries to fill the space we have created and maintained in that time. This is an opportunity to add a string to AFA's bow. It will be a complement to, rather than a deviation from, vigorous anti-fascist activity.

Even on a limited tactical basis the benefits of an independent working class organisation operating alongside AFA would be immediate and widespread. AFA could, for the first time, campaign for something instead of merely campaigning against something - and campaign legally.

AFA could be pro-active as well as reactive. There would be no breathing space for the likes of the BNP. And, for as much as an embryonic association might welcome AFA's physical presence, the situation demands that AFA avails itself of a wider political platform than was hitherto considered either necessary or available. For the first time since the thirties militant anti-fascism would be associated with solutions rather than simply violent actions and threats.' For the first time, too, involved with setting the agenda rather than clearing up the political mess left by someone else's.

Ultimately the challenge for AFA is not only to destroy the BNP in working class areas but to replace them there. So the political message, to have resonance, will have to be deeper and more comprehensive. A straight forward anti­fascist parable, a simple refutation of the 'radical' in nationalism will, on its own, prove unsatisfactory.

If AFA's efforts are to culminate in victory we must seek to replace them, but to replace them we must not only out­violence them, we must also out radicalise them.

[original note which accompanied the article:] This article is a strategy document that was endorsed by London AFA in May 1995. It is currently being discussed by other AFA groups around the country, and has already been agreed by the Midlands Region and the Northern Network. Discussions are taking place with other organisations with regard to setting up an independent working class organisation.
Text from Class against Class

Fighting Talk 13 (March 1996)

Issue 13 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Stoned by the Mersey: Opposing the Blackshirts in Liverpool

History article from issue 13 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.

In the early 1930's the British Union of Fascists tried to become a force on Merseyside – organising several mass rallies as well as smaller local events. As the opposition grew, however, it was only police intervention that prevented a full scale rout. Oswald Mosley's last public appearance in Liverpool ended with him in hospital.

Fascism was backed by sections of the establishment in Liverpool from an early date. In 1928, in her official capacity as Tory Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Margaret Beaven visited Mussolini in Italy, and was photographed with him giving the fascist salute. A huge row broke out in the June City Council meeting when she revealed she had invited him back to Liverpool - but the Labour Party's opposition prevented this talking place.

It wasn't until 1933, when the British Union of Fascists (BUF) began to take their politics around the country, that Liverpool was directly confronted by organised fascism. In November of that year the BUF held the first of its rallies at the Stadium - a popular boxing hall in the city centre. William Joyce (later Lord Haw Haw of Nazi fame in the Second World War) was the main speaker. Despite this obvious provocation, the Left seems to have more or less ignored it.

By October 1934, however, when the BUF held their second rally at the Stadium, a local Anti-Fascist Committee had been formed - of Communist and Independent Labour Party members, local branches of the National Unemployed Workers Movement, and some members of the Labour Party. In opposition to the rally, the AFC planned a march from just outside the town centre (Islington Square), through town and past the Stadium. The police banned the march, but not the fascist rally.

Despite this, several hundred demonstrators turned up. But the police blocked attempts at marching, then dispersed the crowd. All streets to the Stadium were blocked by police, and no-one without a ticket was allowed near. This police action wasn't totally successful: during the rally there were frequent interruptions and twenty people were thrown out.

In 1935 there were no major fascist mobilisations but there were smaller meetings, where fascist armoured vans doubled as speaker's platforms. At one such meeting in Bootle (north of Liverpool) in June, a crowd of five hundred gathered at Church View. When a Blackshirt was seen to strike a 'half-caste' child, stones were thrown and fighting broke out – during which a woman, Frances Evans, collapsed and died. The crowd chased the van to the fascist headquarters on Strand Road, where every window was put in.

In October 1936 - one week after Cable Street - the BUF got police permission for a military style march from the Adelphi Hotel (near Lime St. Railway Station) to the Stadium. Three hundred Blackshirts assembled in full uniform. By this time the opposition had hardened. A huge crowd had gathered along Lime Street. Fighting broke out when a fascist armoured van knocked over an elderly man and mounted police were sent in. Mosley had originally intended to take the fascist salute at Lime Street and lead the march. The strength of opposition prevented this. In the event he went to the Stadium by car, arriving twenty minutes late.

All along the march route the fascists were attacked by a constant hail of bricks. At least one fascist was knocked out and had to be carried. Many attempts were made to break into the column. At Lime Street, St. John's Lane, Whitechapel, Exchange Street East, and at the Stadium anti-fascists tried to stop the march. The strong force of police prevented this, though two coppers were on the ground at one point. Police also secured the area around the Stadium, dispersing the gathering crowd after individual Blackshirts were booed. After the meeting the coaches carrying the departing fascists were attacked with bricks and bottles. Twelve anti-fascists were arrested - two were jailed for two months, the rest fined.

In October 1937 - a week after mass opposition to fascism erupted in Bermondsey - Mosley came to speak in Walton (north Liverpool) on some vacant land near the Queen's Drive. An hour before Mosley was due to speak the Communist Party had already organised a public meeting on the same piece of ground. By the time the fascist armoured van arrived, the police had to clear a way through a hostile crowd of 10,000.

When an electrician started to erect a microphone on the van roof, cries of 'Down with Mosley' and 'We don't want fascism here' changed to volleys of bricks and stones - smashing the van's -Windscreen. G.C. Balfour - the district BUF treasurer - got up to speak and was hospitalised after being hit by a stone. Mosley arrived soon after by car and climbed onto the van. After giving the fascist salute, and before he'd spoken, he was also dropped, by a stone hitting his left temple. Lying on the van roof, he was hit again, on the back of the head, and knocked unconscious. Mounted police immediately moved in and attacked the crowd, clearing the area.

Mosley was taken to Walton Hospital. The rumour was that he was unconscious for thirty minutes and needed three stitches. He was kept in for five days. Fourteen people were arrested and several fined.

This was the last public appearance of Mosley in Merseyside. His wounding marked the end of fascist activity in the area. The policy of No Platform had become a reality - and Mersey-side anti-fascists are proud that it remains in force to the present day.

The BNP last stood in Liverpool in the 1983 General Election in Walton and polled 343 votes. The leaders claim they were driven underground by left wing extremists in the mid-80s.
Liverpool Echo October 1993

Much of this information comes from Genuinely Seeking Work: Mass Unemployment on Merseyside in the 1930s by members of Merseyside Socialist Research Group.

Fighting Talk 14 (July 1996)

Issue 14 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Arditi del Popolo - The First Anti-Fascists

The rise to power of Mussolini and the Fascists in Italy, from 1919 to 1922, provides us with important lessons, not just about Fascism but also about the tactics & organisation necessary to fight it. Equally the critical role of the wider working class struggle is thrown into sharp focus. We believe the lessons are clear enough that they emerge simply from relating the story...

Article from Fighting Talk #14 (1996).

The first "Combat Group" (Fascio di Combattimento) was founded on 23rd March 1919 by 118 assorted war veterans (especially the "Arditi" or shock assault troops); Futurists and ex-Leftists like Mussolini himself, who had "gone nationalist" during the war. Their programme had many "socialistic" and "syndicalistic" elements. At its birth Fascism was thus able to present itself as a radical, revolutionary movement to sweep away the status quo by any means necessary.

But by 1921 there should have been no illusions. Mussolini's organisation would have collapsed by the summer of 1920 had its potential for anti-working class direct action not been recognised. It was the landowners of northern and central Italy who welcomed the formation of squads of urban blackshirts to go out into the countryside and smash the peasant leagues and Left organisations. Soon money and support was flowing in from urban industrialists as well.

This Fascist movement was mostly middle or lower middle class: ex-officers and NCOs; white collar workers, students and the self-employed in the towns; the sons of tenant farmers, small land owners and estate managers in the countryside (ever been to a pub on a Young Farmers night?). Furthermore the police and military both turned a blind eye and provided covert assistance, encouraging ex-officers to join and train the squads; lending them vehicles and weapons and, if necessary, intervening to save their bacon (no pun intended).

The decisive involvement and support of these bourgeois elements has a simple explanation. Fascism in Italy was a "preventive counter-revolution". The Fascist squads were used to stop a working class revolution taking place and to wipe out all the reformist gains of the unions and the parliamentary movement. The rural and urban capitalists, and those who felt under threat from rising working class power, were badly scared by the events of 1919 and 1920 - the so-called "two red years". These years were marked by the cost-of-living riots, strikes, land seizures and factory occupations.

With the mass factory occupations in September 1920 a defining moment was reached. Things had gone so far that turning back was not a real option. As Errico Malatesta predicted: "If we do not carry on to the end, we will pay with tears of blood for the fear we now instil in the bourgeoisie". But there was a loss of nerve, not among those occupying the factories, but among the leaders of the Socialist Party (PSI) and the CGL union. Instead of expanding the industrial struggle and linking it directly with the various community and rural struggles, they negotiated a deal and ordered their members back to work. And at the moment that the momentum was lost the rattled bourgeoisie were given their moment for revenge. The fascist squads were to be the instrument of that revenge.

So in one sense Fascism's success began with the failure of the working class to consolidate and press forward. And much of the blame for that must fall on the reformist Left. As usual the bosses showed a far greater grasp of the fundamentals of class warfare. As soon as they had the chance to put the boot in they didn't distinguish between the "reasonable" trade unionists and socialists, who had settled for concessions in terms of hours, wages and conditions and the "extremists" calling for the smashing of capitalism.

And so from the autumn of 1920 Fascism's reign of terror began - at first in rural areas then, with increasing confidence, in the industrialised cities of the North. The favoured tactic was for squads to target individuals or to concentrate squads together and then launch punitive raids, spreading general terror and inflicting specific damage on "red" targets, particularly organisational buildings. Piece by piece the structure of the socialists; unions and peasant leagues was shredded. And yet it was demonstrated on numerous occasions that the fascists could be beaten - that when it came to it they were no match for determined and organised resistance.

The problem was that the Socialist Party, as the largest Left grouping, had one foot under the table with the capitalist state. So they consistently called on the state to deal with Fascism. And of course, because they placed themselves within the frame of legalism, state power and "democracy", they had to condemn all violence as illegal including that of anti-fascists. This "fatal combination of revolutionary rhetoric and reformist practice" actively hindered the development of mass working class resistance. And the potential for such resistance was by no means an illusion.

In Livorno, for example, a town in which the Socialist Party had got over 51% of the vote in the 1919 elections and which had a strong anarchist presence, there was continuous unrest throughout 1920. There were strikes in January and April and then again in May, following a riot by anarchists and football supporters in Viareggio, which resulted in such widespread rioting in Livorno that 1000 Carabinieri and Royal Guards had to be brought in to control the streets. During the factory occupations in September the workers only reluctantly agreed to withdraw after pressure from the FIOM union.

The first significant Fascist incursion was on the 10th November when Fascists and soldiers tried to seize the town hall, following the example of successful disruptions of socialist councils elsewhere. However, as news of the raid spread, power workers turned out the lights and the working class districts mobilised en masse to march into the centre and reclaim it. Then again on the 16th February 1921 the Fascists attempted to break a strike by operating the trams. But they met mass resistance, with one tram load being attacked by over 400 people.

Street fighting in March 1921 resulted in the death of one local Fascist. In response, the Fascists mounted a revenge raid on the Borgo dei Cappuccini, a working class area with a very militant history. Suffice to say the Blackshirts had to run for it when the entire neighbourhood mobilised against them. Again, on April 13th (1921), during the elections, they led an attack on one of the Camero del Lavoro (union centre). This was responded to by strike action on the 14th and the surrounding of a Fascist squad in the Barriera Garibaldi. Police, Carabinieri and Royal Guard were unable to restore order, so the army had to be sent in, with the strike and street fighting continuing on throughout the next day (15th). On the 17th May another Fascist attempt to take the streets was defeated by a mass mobilisation.

As can be seen the general militancy of the working class in the industrial towns remained high. Moreover, militant socialists, communists, anarchists and republicans were organising together in anti-fascist groupings with a clear strategy of taking the Fascists on at their own game. Thus in April in Livorno a Comitato di Difensa Proletaria (Workers Defence Committee) was formed, uniting the four political groups, the centres of the CGL and USI unions; the railway workers union and the LSS (Lega Studentesca Sovversiva ). The same month also saw a related anti-fascist organisation spreading rapidly and spontaneously through militant working class areas. Known as the "Arditi del Popolo" the organisation originated in Rome and was set up by demobbed soldiers. It was to provide a direct working class response to the armed Blackshirt gangs. These "Arditi" developed from the tradition of mass resistance / insurrection and were, in effect, an armed militia of the "Workers Defence Committees" etc. But let us immediately put this into context, for the success of this militia in towns like Livorno depended on:

"...their organic connection with the mass movement ... demonstrated by their ability to melt back rapidly into the crowds in working class areas when pursued by the Fascists and the security forces, and the back up they received as a relatively small number of armed men, from the large number of men and women who were willing to throw anything that came to hand out of the windows of their dwellings on to the Fascists in the street below, or giving such practical assistance ... as helping to block the streets".

Nationally the Arditi del Popolo movement was marked by its autonomous structure, i.e. the independence of its local sections. In some areas groups were defined in terms of locality or workplace; in others by political affiliation (e.g. communist, anarchist etc.). In just one region we see them with some 300 militants at Pisa; 500 at Piombino and 800 at Livorno - and these are just the "shock troops" of the wider class resistance.

In Piombino the Arditi del Popolo "battalion" first saw action on July 19th 1921 after an assassination attempt on a socialist. The fascists meeting place was attacked and fascists rounded up from their homes and work places. When the Royal Guard intervened to prevent this they too were overwhelmed and disarmed. The workers held the streets for several days before the forces of law and order could regain control.

However, events at Sarzana in the same month drew particular attention to the resistance being mounted by the Arditi . The fascists had mounted a punitive expedition against the town on June 12th 1921 but had met with such determined resistance that they had to surrender and their leader Renato Ticci was put in custody, for his own safety, by the local authorities. Consequently several fascist gangs assembled to try and free him and teach the people of Sarzana a lesson.

However, on 21st July, when 500 fascists arrived at the railway station they had the unusual (for them) experience of being fired on by a detachment of a dozen Carabinieri and soldiers. As if this unexpected turn of events wasn't bad enough they then came under armed attack from the Arditi, supported by other Sarzana workers, who had not gone to work that morning in anticipation of the attack. As their casualties mounted the fascists were forced to flee into the countryside. But they were not safe even here, with the Arditi on their heels and the peasants of the area taking an active role in their pursuit and capture. Over 20 fascists were killed, although unofficial sources put the figure much higher. The fascist "chief of staff" for this expedition later commented:

"The squadre, so long accustomed to defeating an enemy who nearly always ran away or offered feeble resistance, could not, and did not know how to, defend themselves".

Even Mussolini was worried by this willingness to take the fascists on and win. But once again, just as a defining moment was reached in the struggle, the Left caved in. Whilst thousands of socialist militants were involved in fighting the Fascists, the official organs of the Socialist Party were busy denouncing or hindering the Arditi del Popolo. Worse still they had been trying to arrange a truce with the Fascists since March 1921! Their predicament was clear - they were being methodically wiped out, especially in the rural areas. Yet a non-aggression treaty was no answer since by this time Fascism could clearly be seen as a class enemy, in the pay of the bosses, implacably hostile to even reformist socialism. But a "Pact of Pacification" was duly signed on August 2nd and, as a condition of that pact, the Socialist Party and the CGL disowned the Arditi del Popolo and ordered their members to withdraw from its ranks!

A second blow was not long in coming, care of the Italian Communist Party (a distinct entity from the start of 1921). The party leadership was at first equivocal about the Arditi del Popolo, despite the fact that many rank and file communist militants had involved themselves enthusiastically. Now the PCI called into question the class credentials of the movement and instructed their members to have nothing to do with it and to form their own "pure" communist squads behind which the working class should unite. Pure absurdity since that class had already spontaneously evolved its own broad organisations of defence, which the PCI was now undermining. Suffice it to quote Gramsci:

"(the) tactic ... corresponded to the need to prevent the party members from being controlled by a leadership that was not the party leadership".

In effect these acts of class treachery fatally weakened the movement, reducing it to some 5,000 militants, mostly anarchists / anarcho-syndicalists. Not that resistance was going to end just because some wanted to stick their heads in the sand or play political games. But with the parliamentary Socialist Party busy condemning militant and armed resistance, the forces of the state, already in clear collusion with the fascists, could take an even more proactive role.

So, in Piombino, following the death of a local anarchist on September 3rd in a fire fight with Royal Guards and Fascists, the authorities launched a series of raids during the night, arresting and detaining some 200 comrades. The fascists immediately seized their opportunity and attacked and burned the Socialist Party offices. However, their advance was checked by an anarchist patrol, who were soon reinforced by groups of workers. And, as in Sarzanza a few months earlier, the fascists had no choice but to surrender to the police in order to escape a severe dose of working class justice.

The Fascists did not try to take Piombino again until April 25th 1922. Yet again they were beaten back by the Arditi. Indeed it was not until the 12th June that they were able to make a definitive assault, with the support of Royal Guards from Pisa. Even so it took a day and a half of heavy fighting before they were able to storm the offices of the USI and the printing press of the anarchist paper Il Martello and thus complete their conquest of the town.

Nationally the coup de grace came with the calling of a general strike against Fascism, the "strike for legality" of 31st July to 2nd August 1922. Although action was demanded by the rank and file, the strike was presented by the reformist leadership as a demand for parliament to defend constitutional liberties. As with all such demands the presumption was that liberal democracy was anything other than a convenient facade. In reality the opportunity to build real resistance had already been thrown away. The rural areas were lost and although workers in the major industrial cities responded the will to resist had been all but broken. The Fascists made sure to assist. Public service and railway workers remained at their posts - with fascist pistols trained on them.

With the collapse of the strike the Fascists attacked, massing their numbers to deal with the last outposts of resistance. Livorno succumbed to a force of 2,000 armed squadristi moving in from the surrounding region. The working class districts no longer had the energy or organisation to sustain the kind of street fighting they had maintained throughout 1921. As Mussolini was to boast, in "48 hours of systematic, war-like violence" the industrial towns of northern Italy were taken.

We can but salute those who fought to the end - the socialists and communists of Turin and the anarchists / Arditi del Popolo in Parma, where for five days a couple of hundred armed militants supported by the local community faced down and totally humiliated thousands of fascists, led by Italo Balbo. In the end the fascists had to withdraw and the army was sent in to finish off this last bastion of resistance.

It is not for us to say what might have been. The story speaks for itself. From the experience of the first anti-fascists let us learn: working class communities showed that the fascists could be beaten. The most effective form of anti-fascist organisation was a national "united front" of autonomous sections which found its consensus in the undiluted militancy of direct physical resistance and which drew its real strength from a revolutionary class consciousness and from deep roots in local communities and their ongoing struggle - for which anti-fascism was neither a substitute nor an optional extra.

When Fascists and soldiers tried to seize the town hall, power workers turned out the lights and the working class districts mobilised en masse to march into the centre to reclaim it.

Fighting Talk 15 (November 1996)

Issue 15 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.

Special issue on the Spanish Civil War / Revolution.



Another Spain

AFA introduction to a series of articles on the Spanish Civil War in its magazine Fighting Talk #15 (1996)

The courage and commitment of the men and women who went to Spain to fight with the International Brigades is well known, and in an interview with a member of the Connolly Column we get an idea of what inspired the thousands of volunteers, who came from fifty two countries. Over 2,000 volunteers left Britain to fight fascism in Spain, over 500 were killed.

Despite the important military role the International Brigades played in the actual war, they were not the driving force. There wouldn't have been a civil war if the armed workers' militias hadn't resisted the military coup in the first place. The militias, like AFA, were not fighting the fascists to maintain the status quo - they had their own radical agenda. The article The People Armed is all about this revolutionary movement and shows what the militants were fighting for, rather than just what they were fighting against.

Conventional history tends to be very black and white - there was a civil war, it lasted from 1936-1939, the fascists won, and that was the end of it. This isn't true. After the compromisers had sent the International Brigades home, and the war was lost, the people who had started the resistance to the fascists in the first place, the militant working class movement, carried on the fight. Despite the mass arrests, mass executions (over 200,000), and mass exodus of refugees, the Resistance fought on. This story is largely unknown but the two articles - The Rattle of the Thompson Gun and Forgotten Heroes - throw some light on this period. The reason this section of the magazine has been called Another Spain is partly because it shows what the militants were fighting for and also because it investigates some aspects of the struggle that aren't widely known.

The capitalist crisis that gripped Europe in the 1920s and 30s saw strong working class movements threaten the established order in many countries - and fascism was unleashed as the cutting edge of counter-revolution. In Italy fascism was firmly entrenched after Mussolini took power in 1922; by 1933 Hitler's Nazis controlled Germany; in Britain Mosley's Blackshirts were attacking Jewish immigrants and the Left; in Ireland the Blueshirts represented the ultimate reaction. In Spain the situation was no different, and 60 years ago the struggle between the forces of Left and Right erupted into open warfare.

In 1931 the Spanish king was forced to stand down and retreat into exile, and a republic was established. The next five years saw the balance of power swing between the conservative reactionaries of the Spanish establishment and the progressive working class movement. In 1934 a working class uprising in Asturias was only defeated after the bloody intervention of the Spanish army.

In February 1936 the Popular Front (made up of liberal and left-wing elements) was elected to govern Spain, which led to an increase of activity by working class militants and poor peasants. The rulers of Spain could see their power (and property) slipping away and on the 17th July a group of extreme right-wing Nationalist generals made their move, starting with a military rising in Morocco which spread immediately to the mainland. Working class militants armed themselves and the military coup was smashed in Barcelona and Madrid, although the generals' troops did seize large areas.

Initially the Nationalists put much emphasis on capturing the capital Madrid, but after failing to break through at the battles of Jarama (Feb.'37) and Guadalajara (March '37) Franco moved on to other priorities, launching his northern offensive against Asturias and the Basque country. This included the infamous destruction of Guernica in April '37 by German planes. The Republican army launched attacks on the Aragon Front in May 1937 to try and deflect Nationalist troops from their successful campaign in the north, but this failed and by August 1937 the Nationalists had conquered northern Spain and the Basque country. The Nationalists' air and artillery superiority, supplied by Hitler and Mussolini, was proving unstoppable, and by April 1938 Franco's forces reached the Mediterranean coast near Valencia, splitting the remaining Republican controlled area in half.

The last major military initiative by the Republican forces was at the battle of the Ebro (July - Nov.'38) but the Nationalist counter-attack was successful. In a failed attempt to get the German and Italian support withdrawn, the Republican government ordered the International Brigades to disband, and they left in November 1938. In January 1939 Barcelona fell, followed by Madrid in March. The Spanish Republican army unconditionally surrendered to Franco's fascist forces on 1st April 1939.

Throughout the war the role played by the international powers influenced the eventual outcome. If the war is seen as one between democracy and fascism, the western 'democracies' were noticeable by their absence. The Conservative government in Britain, with Labour support, was committed to a policy of non-intervention, as were the French, so in other words while Franco received massive military aid from Germany and Italy the anti-fascist forces were starved of weapons. The reason is clear. The British and French governments feared a 'Red Spain' and wanted the strong Spanish working class movement smashed, and were determined to avoid confrontation with the fascist powers.

Italy and Germany exploited the situation fully, by the end of July 1936 Italian planes had already been supplied. In December '36 3,000 Italian Blackshirts arrived in Spain, and the number of Italian troops soon rose to 50,000. Hitler sent communications equipment, anti-aircraft guns, infantry, tanks, tank instructors and the most effective air group - the Condor Legion. Mexico and the Soviet Union were the only foreign source of arms to the Spanish Republic, but Stalin's international manoeuvrings meant that by 1938 Soviet supplies started to dry up in line with the moves towards a German - Soviet non-aggression pact. For political reasons a lot of Soviet aid was withheld from the anarchists and the POUM, and the lack of military equipment is well illustrated by the fact that in the final Catalan offensive the anti-fascist forces only had 37,000 assorted rifles between them.

Apart from the militant anti-fascists of the Spanish working class and their supporters virtually everyone else was satisfied with the outcome of the war. Britain and France had managed to avoid getting drawn into a conflict with the Fascist Axis, who had gained valuable experience in perfecting the techniques of modern warfare, and capitalism was safely restored on the Spanish peninsula. The way the Spanish revolution was first isolated and then smashed leaves us with important lessons to be learnt today.

Mick O'Riordan: The Connolly Column

Mick O'Riordan was a young member of the Communist Party of Ireland when he went to Spain with the International Brigade. Here he describes the background which saw Irish fascists and anti-fascists mobilising around the events in Spain.

Article from Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine #15 (1996)

In Ireland the reaction to the Spanish war was to greet it as a crusade for religion. In 1934 we had the beginning of the Blueshirt movement1, which took a great grip in the political life of the country. They were eventually defeated not by the government but by the Republican Movement, the Communist Party and other progressive groups who fought for possession of the streets and therefore dented the so-called militancy of the Blueshirts. They were completely in accord with the fascist movements throughout Europe. When the Spanish war broke out in 1936 they immediately began to resurrect themselves and issued a call for volunteers to fight for Franco. O'Duffy was the leader of the Blueshirts, and an ex-Police chief who had been sacked by the De Valera government. He raised the cry for people to become involved in the crusade for religion in Spain. The initial appeal was greeted with 5,000 applications. Eventually only 700-800 went to Spain. The leadership of the Blueshirts was composed of ex-officers of the old Free State army and were the core of fascism in Ireland and of the Irish assistance for Franco.

I was born in Cork city2, my parents came from the Cork/Kerry border area. I was involved in Fianna Eireann, which was the youth branch of the Republican Movement. At one stage the man in charge of the Fianna was Frank Ryan, who later led the first Irish contingent of volunteers to Spain in 1936. I was involved from an early age in the question of resistance to the Blueshirts. Cork was a county which was dominated by whether you were a Blueshirt or an anti-Blueshirt, this was as a result of the question of Free State versus Republican ideology. When the Spanish War broke out I was 18 and I was immediately interested in the parallels with the war in Spain and with O'Duffy's Blueshirts. On the matter of creating a crusade for Spain there was another organisation called the Irish Christian Front. This used to have huge rallies; they never talked about fascism or blueshirtism, they always talked about Christ the King and the so-called horrible outrages against nuns and priests, church burnings, etc, in Spain. At the big meetings, when they had raised people to a certain degree of hysteria, they used to salute. It was not the salute the fascists used, but they raised their crossed hands over their heads in the form of a cross. That was clerical fascism, although not officially part of the catholic theology. They held many meetings and formed a pogrom-type atmosphere.

The Communist Party was refounded in 1933 in Connolly House, which was burned to the ground by a pogrom incited against it. Religion was always used against anyone with left wing or communist ideas, they were regarded as a stereotype of the devil in all senses, physically, morally and intellectually. That was the atmosphere and when O'Duffy decided to organise a group for Spain there was reaction from the Communist Party first of all and from people in the Republican Congress, which was composed of left Irish Republicans. It was from these ranks that Frank Ryan came and took over the leadership of the first group to go to Spain.

They went quietly enough but they released a manifesto which stated what their reasons were for going:

'The Irish contingent is a demonstration of revolutionary Ireland's solidarity with the gallant Spanish workers and peasants in their fight for freedom against Fascism. It aims to redeem Irish honour besmirched by the intervention of Irish fascism on the side of the Spanish fascist rebels. It is to aid the revolutionary movements in Ireland to defeat the fascist menace at home, and finally, and not least, to establish the closest fraternal bonds of kinship between the Republican democracies of Ireland and Spain'.

The attitudes of the Church would make your blood boil and your hair stand on your head. It was real incitement, as I look back on it it was frightening in many respects, like the Salem witchunts - rumour mongering, admonitions from the altar. When the nazis landed in Portugal at Lisbon they were greeted by the Dominican prior of the Irish church, Fr. Paul O'Sullivan. He delivered the following address which was circulated by the Blueshirts at the time to guarantee their religious credentials:

'Never have we heard, even in the dark days of Nero, never even among the most barbarous hordes, that innocent children were cut to pieces, the bodies of the dead exhumed, insulted and profaned, you are going to fight these monsters who are more like demons let lose from Hell than mortal men. More fierce, more depraved, more godless, than Turks or Moslems'. This is interesting because one of the initial forces who fought for Franco were the Army of Africa, which was composed of Muslims and it was a contradiction that they were the people who were 'saving christianity'.

There were 145 Irish (anti-fascist) Volunteers, they were going from December 1936 until the last battle on the Ebro front in 1938, when we were repatriated by the Spanish government. 63 were killed in various battles. The first main battle in which a large number of Irishmen were killed was the Battle of Jarama in 1937. Nineteen of our peope were killed, a large number of the International volunteers were killed, in this fierce battle. The first group that went to Spain were called the James Connolly Section. They were with the 15th Brigade which was composed of English speaking people. After the first battles there were so few left there was no basis for the Connolly Column but the name was still retained and we are known as the Connolly Column. We named ourselves after Connolly because of adherence to his ideology and because he was a man who bore arms in defence of the working people.

Today, 60 years after the first International Brigades came to Madrid, there are only five left of the Irish who went to support the Spanish struggle. Time has taken its toll.

For reasons of space we are unable to publish the whole interview. A full transcript is available by sending an S.A.E. to the AFA (Ireland) address.

Libcom note: A more complete version of this interview is available on the Ireland and the Spanish Civil War site.

The People Armed: The Role of Women in the Spanish Revolution

Article from Fighting Talk #15 (1996).

The events of 1936 - 1939 brought massive upheavals to the daily lives of Spanish people. Working class women, in particular, participated in and witnessed great changes as the old order of Church and domestic culture were swept away by social revolution and war. Thousands of ordinary women were propelled by necessity into revolutionary events, from front line fighting and organising community defence to collectivising and running farmland and factories. When the revolution was crushed in 1939, the memories and bonds formed in the revolutionary period sustained them through long years of the Fascist dictatorship, in prison, exile, or continuing the struggle in the resistance movements.

Much has been written about the war and the political organisations during this period. References to ordinary women and their activities are scarce. We have used first-hand and eye witness accounts as much as possible because these stories are best told by those who lived them.

The July Uprising

Workers, unions, and working class communities were swift to react to the Fascist's attempted coup on 17/18 July 1936. Men and women in Barcelona slept in union halls during the week before the uprising, expecting a call to arms. In Catalonia, Madrid, and Asturias, men and women both young and old stormed the armouries to grab the weapons that the government had refused to provide them with. Cristina Piera entered the armoury at San Andreas at dawn on the 19th with her son and his friends in the FIJL (libertarian youth organisation) and was caught up in the excitement :

"I woke up in the morning and heard that people were in the armoury... so I went there...everybody went... I took a pistol and two ramrods (for rifles) what I could carry. They had gunpowder there too... Even me, with the little I knew, and could do, I was there. People took arms and ammunition, and I took what I could."

Enriqueta Rovira, a young woman of 20, jumped the first train back to Barcelona when she heard the news :

"Most of the action was in the centre of Barcelona. I had a pistol... and I was prepared to use it. But they soon said no... I didn't know how to use it and there were companeros without arms. So they sent me - and all the women, all families - to build barricades. We also took care of provisions. Women in each barrio (district) organised that, to make sure that there would be food for the men... Everyone did something."

Women were at a disadvantage in having no experience of weapons handling. In the heat of the battle and with limited arms it was only logical that guns went to those who already knew how to use them. But in building the barricades women continued to play a vital role. A group of five or six militant women set about fortifying one of the city's most elegant buildings,

"...when the (CNT) companeros returned - victorious, of course - (from storming the military barracks at Atarazanas, at the foot of the Ramblas) and saw how beautiful it was, they took it over as the casa CNT-FAI."

(Soledad Estorach). Other women took to the rooftops with loudspeakers, calling on the soldiers to take off their uniforms (!) and join the people.

The Fascist uprising was crushed in Barcelona, but the workers knew that this was only the beginning. While the government urged people to stay at home rather than actively defend the city and rely upon the notorious Guardia Civil (who later used their rifle butts to disperse demonstrations of Barcelona women against rising food prices), Miguel Garcia and others were involved in efforts to organise a people's army:

"...But by this time every man and woman in Barcelona knew that we had stormed the heavens. The generals would never forgive us for what we had done. We had humiliated and defeated the Army, we - an 'unorganised, indisciplined rabble.' We had altered the course of history. If Fascism won, we knew that we would not be spared. Mothers trembled for their small children. When the news came from the South that the invading rebels were using Moorish troops to put whole towns to the sword, many of these women, even elderly ones, struggled and fought to obtain a rifle so that they could take part in the defence of their homes. Indomitable, inscrutable, they sat together in pairs, chatting among cronies, with a rifle across their lap, ready for Franco and his Moors 'and if Hitler comes, him too'."

Garcia goes on to describe how old scores were settled as women discovered new freedoms :

"In Barcelona, down in the slum quarters of the Barrio Chino, the whores were carried away by the general enthusiasm. They made short work of the ponces and pistoleros who had preyed upon them for so long. 'Away with this life, we will fight on the side of the people!' they cried. It was a great joke to the foreign journalists, who regarded the unfortunate women as less than human and anything they did ridiculous of itself.... In fact, they volunteered to fight in the front lines. Later, this proved an embarrassment. Gradually their units were disbanded...!"

Some say that they inflicted more damage than enemy bullets at the front line, as companeros succumbed to a variety of interesting diseases!

While some women headed for the front with the newly formed militia columns, others were widely involved in the social revolution back home, requisitioning buildings for communal eating halls, schools, or hospitals, or collecting and distributing food and other supplies. Women took manufactured goods to barter with farmers in rural areas in exchange for food. Taxis and trams were repainted with revolutionary insignia as communities brought local services back under their control.

"The feelings we had then were very special. It was very beautiful. There was a feeling of - how shall I say it? - of power, not in the sense of domination, but in the sense of things being under our control, if under anyone's. Of possibility. A feeling that we could together really do something." (Enriqueta Rovira)

"We took the first steps... towards emancipation... we couldn't take the 'giant steps' because of the war and the exile, which cut our struggle short... Our children have to be the pacesetters for the future... But our memories, such beautiful memories, of that struggle so hard and so pure... (Azucena Barba).

Other commentators noted the self-assurance of Barcelona women in August 1936, previously unusual for Spanish women in public. There were also conspicuous changes in Madrid. Young working class women took to the streets in their hundreds, collecting money for the war effort, enjoying their new found liberty to walk up and down the streets, talking without inhibitions to passers by, foreigners, and militia men. This contrasts strongly with accounts of nationalist areas. For example, in Vigo, under nationalist occupation, it was unusual to even see a woman out on the streets.

In the Front Line

Despite traditional disadvantages women continued to take part in actual combat against the Fascists. Mujeres Libres supported them in Madrid by setting up a shooting range and target practice for women "disposed to defend the capital" while the Catalonia group's "War Sports" section offered: "preliminary preparation for women so that, if it should be necessary, they could intervene effectively, even on the battlefield." It was.

Armed women were always most noticeable in urban defence, when the Fascists threatened cities like Madrid. But during the first year of the war women also served as front line combatants with the militia columns, in addition to nursing and, in the usual militia system, working alongside the rural population to ensure a common food supply. Their bravery at the front cannot be overstated because, if captured alive, they inevitably faced rape, mutilation and death. It was only after the battle of Guadalajara, in May 1937, that women were asked to leave the front, as the government demanded incorporation of the militia into regular army units.

Donald Renton, an English volunteer with the International Brigades in Figueras in November 1936 recalls the impact of seeing militia women:

"While we had often talked about the role to be played by women in the general struggle, there for the first time we saw the militia women, comrades who like ourselves were either going to have or already had had, first line experience in the battle against the fascist enemy. These were wonderful comrades, people who had - so far as I was concerned at least - a very, very powerful inspirational effect on arriving inside Spain itself."

Foreign women also served in the international sections of the columns. Abel Paz refers to four women "nurses" in the "International Group" of the Durruti Column. They were captured by Moors in a fierce encounter at Perdiguera. As prisoners of the fascists they were as good as dead:

"Georgette, militant of the Revue Anarchiste, Gertrude, a young German woman of the POUM who liked to fight with the anarchists, and two young girls whose names haven't been recorded in the war chronicles. Durruti was very close to all of them....and he was deeply moved by these deaths. The death of Georgette, who was a sort of mascot of the Column, filled the militiamen with rage, particularly the "Sons of Night". She had carried out many surprise attacks on the enemy rearguard with the latter. They vowed to avenge her and during a number of nights made fierce attacks against the Francoists."

The "Sons of the Night" were a specialised group operating behind enemy lines - women were not just at the front as nurses.

In the defence of Madrid in early November 1936, women were also prominent in the fighting. The Women's Battalion fought before Segovia Bridge. At Gestafe, in the centre of the Northern Front, women were under fire all morning and were among the last to leave. Fighting with the Italians of the International Column in Madrid was a 16 year old girl from Ciudad Real, who had joined up after her father and brother were killed. She had the same duties as the men, shared their way of life, and was said to be a crack shot. Back in Madrid itself, women were organising in defence of the city, building barricades, providing communication services, and organising, through local committees, the distribution of food and ammunition to the barricades and throughout the city. Collective meals, crèches, and laundry facilities were set up.

Women also played a major role in anti-aircraft observation and surveillance of suspected fascist sympathisers. An International Brigade volunteer, Walter Gregory, who fought in Madrid in July 1937 recalls that:

"A frequent sight in the area of Las Cibeles was of the Women's Militia coming on and off duty. In twos and threes they would make their way down the Gran Via which ultimately led to the University City and the Madrid front line. The Gran Via was too often shelled to be used by vehicles, nor would the women have risked marching down its length in formation. In small groups and chattering away to each other, they looked very like women the world over, and only their dishevelled khaki uniforms after several nights in the trenches marked them out as being something special. These brave girls were such a common sight that they did not attract comment, nor did they appear to want to. Yet Madrid remained the only place in Spain where I saw women in the front line, although it must be remembered that the first British subject killed in the war was Felicia Brown, who died on the Aragon Front as early as 25/8/1936."

Felicia was caught by machine gun fire while attempting to blow up a Fascist munitions train.

During the bitter battle at Jarama in 1937, another International Brigader Tom Clarke, described the courage of a small group of Spanish women:

"I remember there was a bit of a retreat. There was a rumour went round... and they started retreating. We'd gone back a bit, and some of them were actually running. And here we came across three women who were sitting behind a machine gun just past where we were, Spanish women. I saw them looking at us. I don't know whether it shamed us or what. But these women - they sat there... We sort of stabilised the line."

They were certainly an eye-opener for foreign men! Borkenau describes a lone militia woman serving with a POUM column:

"She was not from Barcelona, but a native of Galicia (who had)... followed her lover to the Front. She was very good looking but no special attention was given to her by the militia men, for all of them knew that she was bound to her lover by a link which is regarded among the revolutionaries as equal to marriage. Every single militia man, however, was visibly proud of her for the courage she seems to have displayed in staying in an advanced position under fire with only two companions. 'Was it an unpleasant experience?' I asked. 'No, solo me da el enthusiasmo' (to me it is only inspiring ) replied the girl with shining eyes, and from her whole bearing I believed her. There was nothing awkward about her position among the men. One of them, who was playing an accordion, started la Cucaracha, and she immediately began the movements of the dance, the others joining in the song. When this interlude was over, she was again just a comrade amongst them."

By late December 1937 there were still women serving in the militias, but their numbers were diminishing fast. Orwell noticed that, by this time, (male) attitudes towards women had changed, citing an example of militia men having to be kept out of the way while women were doing weapons drill, because they tended to laugh at the women and put them off. However, if women were becoming less active on the front line, this was not the case elsewhere.

Mujeres Libres

There were a number of womens' journals and groups in revolutionary Spain, including Anarchist, Socialist, and Communist organisations, which also had their own women's and youth sections. Because of the information available concerning its role, this article concentrates on the activities of the anarchist Mujeres Libres.

In the years prior to the revolution, women active in the anarcho-syndicalist movement had begun organising and meeting, preparing the groundwork for Mujeres Libres (Free Women) - a local, regional, and national network of women which grew to over 20,000 strong. It played a vital role, not only in the war against Fascism, but in building the foundations of the new libertarian society which its members hoped to create.

Anarchist women had been actively organising and promoting a women's network since 1934. Despite their involvement with and commitment to the existing networks of unions, ateneos (storefront schools / cultural centres), and youth groups, women were finding themselves always in a minority and without the full equality and respect which they demanded from their (male) comrades.

In late 1934 a group of Barcelona women met to overcome these problems and encourage greater activism among existing CNT women:

"What would happen is that women would come once, maybe even join. But they would never be seen again. So many companeras came to the conclusion that it might be a good idea to start a separate group for these women...we got concerned about all the women we were losing... In 1935, we sent out a call to all women in the libertarian movement." (Soledad Estorach)

. They organised guarderias volantes (flying day-care centres), offering childcare to women wanting to serve as union delegates and attend evening meetings.

Meanwhile, Madrid women, calling themselves Mujeres Libres, were trying to develop women's' social consciences, skills, and creative abilities. Towards the end of 1936, the two groups merged as Agrupacion Mujeres Libres. The initiative was met with enthusiasm but there was also scepticism. Was this a "separatist" group? Would they encourage women to see liberation in terms of access to education and professional jobs, like middle-class Spanish "feminists"? Far from it.

"The intention that underlay our activities was much broader: to serve a doctrine, not a party, to empower women to make of themselves individuals capable of contributing to the structuring of the future society, individuals who have learned to be self-determining, not to follow blindly the dictates of any organisation".

(Federacion National (M.L.) Barcelona 1938)

Responding to some middle class American feminists' attempts to claim Mujeres Libres as their political ancestors, or to criticise them for failing to achieve "sexual equality", Suceso Portales, (a CNT and FIJL activist who joined Mujeres Libres in central Spain in 1936), states their position:

"We are not - and we were not then - feminists. We were not fighting against men. We did not want to substitute a feminist hierarchy for a masculine one. It’s necessary to work, struggle together because if we don't, we'll never have a social revolution. But we needed our own organisation to struggle for ourselves."

These were women who had as their goal a complete social and political revolution. Their means of achieving this was to ensure that women were included and preparing to be included at every step. By July 1936, a network of anarchist women activists had been established for some time, ready and able to participate in the July events, and encourage other women to take part in creating the new society.

Secciones de Trabajo

Mujeres Libres ran training programmes for new workers in co-operation with the local unions. Their Secciones de Trabajo developed apprenticeship programmes, bringing women into traditionally male factories and workplaces, improving skills and participation, and equalising pay levels to increase women's independence.

"The secciones de trabajo (labour sections) were probably the most important activities. We started in that area immediately, because it was essential to get women out of the home. Eventually there were Mujeres Libres groups in almost all the factories." (Soledad Estorach)

Labour sections were organised specific to trades or industries at local, regional, and national levels, with the co-operation of the relevant CNT unions. From July 1936 onwards, women rushed to fill new factory jobs in the chemical and metallurgical industries. By September 1936 Mujeres Libres had 7 labour Sections. In Madrid and Barcelona women ran much of the public transport system. Pura Prez Arcos described her elation at being one of the first group of women licensed to drive trams in Barcelona :

"They (the Transport Workers Union) took people on as apprentices, mechanics, and drivers, and really taught us what to do. If you could only have seen the faces of the passengers (when women began serving as drivers), I think the companeros on transport, who were so kind and co-operative towards us, really got a kick out of that".

In the Aragon collectives the first delegates to the village committees were women. Here women were running the villages on a day to day basis anyway, since the village men were often away tending the flocks (no change there then!).

The secciones also set up childcare facilities at workplaces, arguing that the responsibility for children belonged to the community as a whole. They encouraged this as a widespread practice and produced booklets explaining how to set these up in other areas.

In Catalonia union organisations collectivised virtually all production, drawing on a long history of workers' organisation and struggle. Industries and workplaces were reorganised to reflect the needs of the people who worked in them. Recreation centres for workers and their families were built by timber and construction workers; churches were requisitioned to provide day-care centres and schools for children. The mostly female textile industries were collectivised, abolishing piecework, while the CNT was active in organising homeworkers, bringing them back into the factories to receive a daily wage.


However, years of tradition and inexperience of workplace or political activism would not disappear overnight. Mujeres Libres saw one of its major tasks as developing women's confidence and skills to speak at meetings, take full part in discussions and debates in village committees, factories, etc., and put themselves forward as delegates.

Programmes developed and implemented included basic literacy and numeracy, mechanics, business, sewing, agriculture, childcare , health, typing, languages, history, union organisation, general culture, and economics. Mujeres Libres set up farm schools for women who had left rural areas to enter domestic service in the cities, to enable them, if they wanted to, to return to their villages and participate in collectivised farming. They operated on both a city-wide basis, and in individual districts, running day and night classes for all age groups, also encouraging women who studied to take their new skills with them to hospitals, battlefronts, and other areas and pass these on to others. Members also set up libertarian schools and universities in buildings requisitioned from or abandoned by the Church and bourgeoisie.

Family & Healthcare

Responsibility for nursing, healthcare, and child education had traditionally been held by the Church. Mujeres Libres were committed to bringing these back into community control, developing libertarian practices, and distributing information about contraception, pregnancy, child development, and parenting through their journals and a range of pamphlets. Their attempts to meet health care needs and educate women for motherhood went beyond the written word. Within the first days of the revolution, Terrassa activists set up a nurses' school and an emergency medical clinic to treat those injured in the fighting, later creating Terrassa's first maternity clinic. Barcelona MLs ran a lying-in hospital with birth and postnatal care for women and babies, and its own health education programmes.

Sexual Equality

Spanish anarchists - both men and women - had promoted sexual liberation for many years prior to the revolution. Now they were active in distributing information on sex and sexuality, contraception, sexual freedom, and the replacement of legal and religious marriages with "free love" - voluntary relationships which could be terminated at will by either partner. Legal marriage ceremonies continued on many collectives, because people enjoyed it as a festive occasion. Comrades went through the procedures, later destroying the documentary proof as part of the celebration!

The revolution enabled thousands to experience some degree of liberation in their personal relationships. Women felt able to refuse offers of marriage without causing offence to male friends or their families. It was a time of openness and experimentation. The double standard, of course, did not disappear, let alone vanish overnight. Many men used "free love" as a license to extend their sexual conquests, while more puritanical elements labelled women who openly enjoyed their sex lives with several partners as "mujeres liebres" (rabbits)!

Modern feminist criticism of Spanish womens' "lack" of achievement in these areas ignores both the traditional stranglehold of the Church and the fact that people were effectively running their communities and fighting a war on several fronts. The women involved felt justly proud that they were in charge of supplying food and clothing to barricades and battlefields, and caring for the sick and wounded. "Traditional" as these roles were, they were vital to the continuation of the war and revolution.


Consciousness raising and support for these activities was spread by means of literature, including booklets, the "Mujeres Libres" journal, exhibitions, posters, and cross-country tours, especially to rural areas. There are many accounts of urban companeras visiting rural collectives and exchanging ideas, information, etc. (and vice versa). Produced entirely by and for women, the paper Mujeres Libres grew to national circulation and, by all accounts, was popular with both rural and urban working class women. Each issue encouraged its readers to develop a libertarian vision, and to participate fully in the events around them; the paper consistently spelled out the "revolution and war" position of the movement.

Nationalist Repression

The nationalists were well aware of the opposition they faced from women. General Quiepo de Llano, in his radio broadcasts from Seville, raved against and threatened the "wives of anarchists and communists". As they consolidated their power, the Fascists wasted no time in reversing the liberalisation of divorce and introducing strict dress codes for women - including the banning of bare legs! The Repression, of course, was much more terrible, with up to a third of Spain's population ending up behind bars, and countless men, women, and children massacred in fascist reprisals. In 1945, there were still eight jails for women political prisoners in Madrid alone. A Falange newspaper reports a baptism ceremony in Madrid in 1940 for 280 children born in prison. Many Spanish women fled to the French refugee camps, where they pooled food and established communal kitchens. Others joined the Resistance.

In their struggle against fascism and for a radical political and social alternative the "Free Women" of Spain provide an example that is still relevant today:

"To be an anti-fascist is too little; one is an anti-fascist because one is already something else. We have an affirmation to set up against this negation...the rational organisation of life on the basis of work, equality, and social justice. If it weren't for this, anti-fascism would be, for us, a meaningless word."
Mujeres Libres issue #5, 1936.

To be an anti-fascist is too little; one is an anti-fascist because one is already something else... we affirm the rational organisation of life on the basis of work, equality, and social justice. If it weren't for this, anti-fascism would be, for us, a meaningless word.
Mujeres Libres issue #5, 1936

1939-1945: Spanish Resistance in France

An account of the activity of Spanish anarchist and anti-fascist exiles in the Resistance in Nazi-occupied France. Tens of thousands were forced to flee Spain following fascist victory in the Civil War.

Forgotten Heroes

"How many lands have my feet trod and my eyes seen! What terrible scenes of desolation of death I witnessed in those years of continual war. Adverse circumstances had made us, anti-militarists, the most battle hardened soldiers of the Allied armies" - Murillo de la Cruz

There are many myths and controversies concerning the French Resistance during the Second World War. The "official" line, from the point of view of the Gaullists, ascribes great significance to the radio appeal broadcast by Charles de Gaulle on June 18th 1940, calling on the French people to continue the fight against the Germans. But for at least one major component of the Resistance movement the armed struggle against Fascism began not on June 18th 1940 but on July 17th 1936. It is a little known fact that over 60,000 Spanish exiles fought alongside the French Resistance, in addition to thousands of others who served in the regular forces of the Free French army. This article pays tribute to the forgotten heroes of the Spanish Resistance - in addition to the thousands who continued armed struggle against Franco in Spain - and explores the wider origins and development of the French Resistance (pictured above are members of the Maquis in La Tresorerie).

Defeat, Exile and Internment
Fascist victories in Spain led to several waves of refugees crossing the French border. By June 1938 some 40-45,000 refugees had crossed and an alarmed French government ordered the border to be closed. However, with the fall of Catalonia in January 1939 a human tide flowed northwards. Behind them came the retreating Republican Army covered by a rearguard composed of the 26th Division (Durruti Column) and elements of the Army of the Ebro. The right wing press in France went into near hysteria with banner headlines proclaiming, "Will the Army of Riot Reorganise Itself in France?" and "Close our Borders to the Armed Bands of the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) and the POUM (a small socialist party which opposed the Stalinists)". However, with the town of Figueras about to fall to Franco, the French Left and humanitarian sensibilities prevailed and the border was opened to admit hundreds of thousands of civilians and combatants into France.

The population of the Pyrenees-Orientales Department more than doubled due to the influx of Spaniards. French troops in the area had already been reinforced and further reinforcements were brought in as the 26th Division reached the border. As one of its members, Antonio Herrero, recalled,"...we were considered the most dangerous of the refugees". Sections of the French establishment clearly feared that the "Reds" and "Anarchists" would bring social revolution to France.

Whilst the refugees were now safe from Franco's army, they were by no means to be allowed their liberty. Instead they were confined in concentration camps on the beaches at Argeles-sur-mer, St.Cyprien and Barcares, penned in by stakes and barbed wire. French police hunted for those who escaped confinement. Inside the camps, shelter, supplies and medical care were virtually non-existent. Strict military discipline prevailed, with frequent roll calls, patrols and constant surveillance. Distribution of left wing papers was forbidden (but not right wing newspapers). Moreover, those identified as "criminals" or "radicals" were taken to separate prison camps, such as the fortress of Collioure and the camp at Le Vernet. Here, Communists and Anarchists were held as prisoners under a regime of hardlabour. Those who experienced these camps later recalled that, although they were not places of mass extermination, in many other respects they were every bit as bad as the German concentration camps.

The French government tried to encourage repatriation, both voluntarily and by threats. But by December 1939 there were still at least 250,000 Spaniards in the camps. Building work meant an improvement in conditions, though health, sanitation and food supplies were still dismal. The Spaniards organised themselves collectively as best they could through the main political groupings.

Blitzkrieg and Vichy France
With a general European war looming and recognising the vast pool of industrial and agricultural skills confined on the beaches, the Spanish exiles were given the option to leave the camps from April 1939. But this was on the condition that they either obtained an individual work contract with local farmers/ employers or enlisted in "workers companies" (labour battalions), the Foreign Legion or the regular French Army. Although the first option was the most desirable, around 15,000 joined the Foreign Legion, including elements of the 26th Division (Durruti Column) who were offered a choice between this and forced repatriation.

Thus many Spanish exiles found themselves at the sharp end of Hitler's Blitzkrieg in 1940. Over 6,000 died in battle before the Armistice and 14,000 were taken prisoner. Spaniards captured by the Nazis were not treated as prisoners of war but sent straight to concentration camps, primarily Mauthausen. Of 12,000 sent to that place of murder only 2,000 survived until liberation. Other Spaniards in the French army found themselves serving in Norway, as part of the expeditionary force to Narvik and Trondheim. They distinguished themselves by their bravery, but at a heavy price. Of 1,200 only 300 survived.

Following the German military triumph in Paris, 14th June 1940, the country was split into occupied and unoccupied zones. The latter, comprising central and southern France and the Mediterranean coast, was governed directly by the Vichy Government of Marshal Petain. At first many French people saw Petain as a national saviour, rescuing the country from the humiliation of total defeat. But the Vichy regime not only pursued a policy of co-existence and collaboration with the Nazis but had many of the trappings of a Fascist state itself. Petain's so-called "National Revolution" operated under the slogan "Work, Family, Fatherland" and pursued nationalist and authoritarian policies.

In August 1940 all trade union organisations were dissolved in favour of the "organic" corporate structures of employers and employees favoured by Fascism. The model for these policies could be easily seen in Italy, Spain (cordial relations with Franco were quickly established) and Portugal and, as in those countries, support for the National Revolution came mostly from the upper and middle class, from small industrialists and financiers, local business and landed property and from high status professions. Such supporters were quickly installed at every level of the administration. Peasant and family life was idealised, as was the Catholic Church as a model of moral life, communal values and obedience. Youth camps and Corps were set up. And, of course, lists were drawn up of Communists, Socialists etc. - some for immediate arrest, others to be arrested at the first sign of any threat to public order.

The Vichy regime was to actively collaborate in choosing hostages and recruiting labour for the Germans, arresting resisters and deporting Jews. The SS and Gestapo swiftly made contacts with French anti-Semites and Fascists, gathering information on Jews and the Left. No single Fascist style party ever emerged, partly because Hitler didn't want any basis for a resurgent French nationalism. But members of the P.P.F. Fascist party went to fight (and die) on the Russian front, and were also used internally as paramilitary units against the Resistance.

But the most important formation was to be the Milice - formed in January 1943 (from the veterans association Legion des Anciens Combattants) by Joseph Darnard, Vichy minister in charge of all internal forces of law and order. The Milice, a paramilitary vanguard of the "National Revolution", became a 150,000 strong force, acting as an auxiliary to the SS and Gestapo and characterised by Vichy-style Fascism. By 1944 they were the only French force the Germans could rely on. Most surviving Miliciens were summarily executed by the Resistance just before or just after liberation. They deserved it.

Many French people awoke only slowly to the real nature and ideology of the Nazi occupation and its Vichy sidekicks. Apart from a demonstration in Paris, 11th November 1940, and an impressive Communist led miners strike in the North East in May 1941, there was very little public confrontation with the Germans in the first 2 years after defeat.

De Gaulle's famous radio broadcast was to be only one of several starting points of resistance. In fact, until 1942 de Gaulle was by no means a major player. Although Churchill backed him, the Americans seemed more interested in winning over French Vichy commanders in Algeria. De Gaulle was not even informed of Allied plans for Operation Torch, the landing in Algeria. He had to shift some in order to consolidate his position. To do this he sought increasing links with the internal Resistance during 1942 and had to recognise both the diversity and independence of resistance groups and the importance of the Communists as established facts.

The French Communist Party had been stunned by the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin in August 1939, and was then declared illegal under the Vichy regime. This meant that organisationally they played little role in the first stirrings of the Resistance, although individual grassroots militants were involved from the outset, as in the miners' strike. Only after the invasion of Russia was the CP able to regroup - but it quickly became a main player in terms of the politics, organisation and tactics of the Resistance.

In its first roots the Resistance grew from the bottom up. "Early resistance was almost entirely a matter of secret initiatives by individuals and small groups...". The first act of resistance was often graffiti, for example that reversing the German declaration that 10 Frenchmen would be shot for every German assassinated ("One Frenchman Murdered - Ten Germans will Die!") or simply turning around or removing signposts to confuse the enemy. Equally important, once a group formed, was the production and circulation of clandestine pamphlets and newspapers. This propaganda built up a solidarity of attitude uniting the individual acts of resistance.

These small groups of like minded individuals gradually evolved into the wider movements of sabotage and armed struggle and the more diffuse networks which ran escape routes and gathered intelligence on German dispositions. In the North they suffered severe repression from the Gestapo, but in the South the movements took on a more expansive character. This was partly due to geographical factors and partly due to the zone not being under direct German control prior to November 1942. However, there was one other vital factor - the Spanish.

The Vichy regime wanted to make use of the vast amount of Spanish labour available in the South, so they established the Travailleurs Etrangers(T.E.) - basically forced labour corps of between 2-5,000 men. By the end of 1940 over 220,000 Spaniards were engaged in forced labour for French and German enterprises in France. But for the Vichy authorities the revolutionary working class history of the Spaniards posed a problem - the labour corps would provide a natural organisational focus for those intent on rebuilding their movement. And they were right - for the political organisations of the Spanish exiles were soon consolidating their position within the T.E., despite attempts by the Vichy police to identify and weed out Communists, Anarchists and "anti-nationals".

The presence of this vast body of exiles, many of them hardened anti-Fascist fighters, cannot be underestimated. "Resistance was the natural state of the Spanish exiles in France. For them the French dilemma over loyalty to Petain was non-existent...". They were continuing a war that had begun behind the barricades in Barcelona, had already fought German and Italian troops in their own country, and were now about to do the same in France. As much, if not more so, than British agents of the Special Operations Executive it was the Spaniards who instructed their French comrades in armed struggle.

As Serge Ravanel of the French Resistance in the Toulouse area acknowledged: "During the War of Spain our comrades had acquired the knowledge that we did not possess; they knew how to make bombs; they knew how to set ambushes; they had a profound knowledge of the technique of guerrilla war". In addition to this expertise it was said of the Spaniards that their bravery was unequalled in combat and that there was no question of treason or desertion.

Within the Travailleurs Etrangers low level sabotage, the universal symbol of working class defiance, rapidly became the norm. In one incident 50 French mechanics suspected to be engaged in monkey wrenching were replaced by Spaniards. The level of inexplicable vehicle failure increased as the Spanish pleaded ignorance of the rudiments of motor mechanics. Such incidents as this were part of a wider and growing movement of sabotage, a movement that rapidly progressed to dynamiting of industrial installations and railways; grenade attacks on German military parades, canteens and barracks, not to mention individual assassinations.

In a typical progression, Spanish anarchists in the Massif Central organised resistance in the T.E. corps working on a huge dam (Barage de l'Aigle). From sabotaging roads and tunnels the group eventually grew into an armed resistance battalion 150-200 strong, named after the dam.

By 1942 the Resistance was firmly established, as any final illusions about the Nazis disappeared - with the SS increasingly in control in Paris; decrees demanding workers for German factories; the beginning of the deportation of Jews to the death camps and, in November, German military occupation of the Vichy zone. These events strengthened the motivation to resist and ensured a mood of protest and revolt among the French working class as a whole.

By the end of the year the independent and local Resistance movements had begun to co-ordinate more closely. Previously the only movement covering both zones was the Communist led Front National established in May 1941. Its armed wing was the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans Francais. Other groups combined to form Mouvements Unis de Las Resistance (MUR), whose armed wing was the Armee Secrete. The MUR recognised de Gaulle as leader but the Communists retained their independence. Both groups formed part of the Comite National de la Resistance (CNR).

It was through the CNR and MUR that de Gaulle was able to cement his position inside France. Arms supplies from London and Algiers went to groups which recognised his leadership and accepted a degree of tactical control from the British SOE. The guerrillas of the FTPF were left to arm themselves with weapons captured from the Germans or by intercepting Allied supply drops intended for the Armee Secrete. Alongside political differences, there was a difference over tactics. The Armee Secrete argued that the Resistance should hold itself in readiness to support an Allied landing. The FTPF argued for an immediate campaign of harassment, sabotage and ambush of German troops. They also wanted to assassinate individual German officers, a tactic de Gaulle rejected.

The Spaniards, primarily active in the South and South-East, organised themselves, although some individuals fought in French units. Spanish formations were recognised as an independent but integral part of the French Resistance within the CNR The main grouping was the Communist led Union Nacional Espanola (UNE) formed in November 1942. In 1944 its name changed to Agrupacion Guerrillera Espanola. A second organisation, the Alianza Democratica Espanola, rejecting Communist control, was formed by the Anarchists (CNT/FAI); Socialists (UGT/PSOE); Left and Independent republicans and Basque and Catalan nationalists.

The Maquis
The critical moment of expansion for the Resistance came in 1943 with an influx of new recruits fleeing forced labour. In June 1942 a decree had been issued requiring French workers for German factories. This was extended in February 1943 with the setting up of the Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO) to meet the ever increasing numbers demanded by the German labour ministry. The STO was resisted by individual evasion, strikes and even angry crowds freeing arrested workers from the French police. It also proved the vital ingredient in the formation of armed groups in the countryside, the Maquis.

Between April and December 1943, 150,000 workers were on the run from the STO, and by June 1944 this had swelled to more than 300,000. The Resistance movement encouraged non compliance and supplied shelter, supplies and arms to the evaders who took to the hills and countryside. The Maquis were supported by the rural population - alienated by constant requisitions of produce and the imposition of the STO on agricultural labourers. This swelling of guerrilla strength in the countryside throughout 1943 inaugurated a new and more ferocious phase of armed struggle, which in the conflict between the Milice and the Maquis increasingly took the form of a civil war.

Whilst the long term plan was to prepare a national insurrection in support of the expected Allied landings, there was disagreement over the best tactics to employ in the meantime. Some favoured massing in large formations, in effect local insurrections. Others argued for small mobile units of 20-30 men as the only viable tactic. The latter was undoubtedly the right policy. On three occasions when the Resistance in the South did mass for conventional warfare, on the Plateau of Glieres; at Vercors and at Mont Mouchet they were both heavily outnumbered and outgunned by the Germans. Spaniards participated in these actions, but had warned against them - knowing full well from the war against Franco that lightly armed troops could not engage in conventional warfare without armour, artillery and air support.

Despite these setbacks resistance in the 18 months before D-Day inflicted massive damage on infrastructure and tied down German troops across France. The Resistance could far more easily neutralise railways, industrial sites and power stations than Allied air power, and their intelligence networks, at first lightly regarded by the British, were of decisive importance. Between June 1943 and May 1944 nearly 2,000 locomotives were destroyed. In October 1943 alone, over 3,000 attacks were recorded on the railways, 427 resulting in heavy damage, with 132 trains derailed. In the South West such sabotage was so effective that by June 6th 1944 it took 3 days to travel from Paris to Toulouse!

Whilst the guerrillas were less numerous in the North, between April and September 1943 some 500 resistance efforts were recorded, 278 against railways and other infrastructure, killing 950 Germans and injuring 1,890.In Normandy and Brittany, Spaniards blew up electrical transformers, a railway station and switching yard and part of an airfield. Spanish resistance fighters in Paris assassinated General von Schaumberg, commandant of Greater Paris and General von Ritter who was responsible for the recruitment of forced labour.

The effectiveness of the guerrilla campaign was to lead Eisenhower to comment that the Resistance effort around D-Day was worth a full 15 regular army divisions. Likewise Maquis support of the northern drive of the American 7th army was estimated as worth 4 or 5 divisions of regular troops. It should also be remembered that Allied troops never entered the South of the country. The whole area west of the Rhone and South of the Loire rivers was liberated by the national insurrection of the Maquis, as also was Brittany, save for the Atlantic ports with their strong German garrisons.

In the Department of L'Ariege the 14th Spanish Corps of Guerrillas (reformed April 1942) played a key role in evicting the Germans. Between June 6th and August 1944 they attacked German convoys and liberated several villages before taking Foix, the Nazi HQ in the area. A strong German column attempted a counter attack but were caught in an ambush. Despite their logistical superiority they were pinned down by machine gun fire and 1,200 surrendered. A key role was played by a solitary machine gunner who held his post raking the Germans with bullets. One resistance fighter recollects this man, "firing like a crazy one", and adds, as if by way of explanation, "...but he was a Spaniard, a guerrillero". Allied observers of the engagement commented that the Spaniards were "uniquely perfect guerrillas".

Other examples of the Spanish contribution include the Anarchist Llibertad battalion which liberated Cahors and other towns and the participation of 6,000 Spanish guerrillas in the liberation of Toulouse. One notable encounter occurred as the Germans attempted to withdraw through the Gardarea, following the fall of Marseilles. A group of 32 Spaniards and 4 Frenchmen tackled a German column (consisting of 1,300 men in 60 lorries, with 6 tanks and 2 self propelled guns), at La Madeiline, on August 22, 1944. The Maquis blew up the road and rail bridges and positioned themselves on surrounding hills with machine guns. The battle raged from 3pm till noon the next day. Three Maquis were wounded, 110 Germans killed, 200 wounded and the rest surrendered. The German commander committed suicide!

Over 4,000 Spaniards took part in the Maquis uprising in Paris that began on August 21st 1944. Photographs show them armed and crouched behind barricades in scenes one could easily mistake for the street fighting in Barcelona in July 1936. Before long they were supported by regular troops from the Normandy beach-heads. The first units to enter Paris and reach the Hotel de Ville were from the 9th Tank Company of the French 2nd Armoured Division. But the lead half tracks bore the names of Spanish battlefields -"Guadalajara"; "Teruel"; "Madrid" and "Ebro". They were manned by Spaniards, of whom there were 3,200 serving in the 2nd Armoured. Many of these were veterans of the 26th Division (Durruti Column) who had entered the French army from the prison camps in 1939 and gone on to fight in North Africa.

Captain Raymond Dronne, commander of the 9th Company, remembers that the Spanish anarchists were "both difficult and easy to command". In accordance with their libertarian principles " was necessary that they accept for themselves the authority of their officers ... They wished to understand the reason for that which was asked of them". However, "...when they granted their confidence it was total and complete". "They were almost all anti-militarists, but they were magnificent soldiers, valiant and experienced. If they had embraced our cause spontaneously and voluntarily it was [because] it was the cause of liberty. Truly they were fighters for liberty".

The 9th Company featured prominently in the victory parade through Paris with its tanks drawn up at the Arc de Triomphe. They went on to see action on the Moselle and were the first to enter Strasbourg, supported by American infantry. Their campaign ended in Germany at Berchtesgaden, Hitler's "Eagles Nest". Having fought from the streets of Barcelona, across the battlefields of Spain, North Africa and France they stood as victors in the final bolt hole of the Nazi scum.

Liberation saw a brief period of euphoria, with the Resistance bridging the vacuum of power in the South - dealing with collaborators and remnants of the Milice; setting up local committees to administer supplies and re-establishing communities on a more equal footing. Ordinary men and women were momentarily in charge of their own history. But this was not to last. De Gaulle and his allies had no desire to see Southern France controlled by revolutionary elements. The Maquisards represented a threat because "an army of guerrillas is always a revolutionary army." De Gaulle feared for revolution in Toulouse where 6,000 Spanish guerrillas were "...still imbued with the revolutionary spirit they had brought from beyond the Pyrenees" .To deal with this explosive situation the Maquis were offered the choice of disarming or joining the regular French forces for the attack on German garrisons in the Atlantic ports. This would show America that there was a regular national army and no need for Allied occupation, and it would also remove the armed bands whilst a smooth transference to Gaullist power took place. This was easily achieved because de Gaulle had cemented his position in key sections of the Resistance by control of the arms supply.

In all 25,000 Spaniards had died in the camps or fighting in armed units. With the German surrender in 1945 the Spaniards believed, understandably, that the Allies would turn their attention to Franco and that, without German and Italian support, he would be swiftly crushed. In fact many had been fighting all along in anticipation of returning to Spain for some unfinished business. Anti-fascist guerrilla activity had continued in Spain throughout the war. Meanwhile, exiles in Algeria and France had been preparing for a return - stockpiling arms "borrowed" from American depots. Likewise, as the French 2nd Armoured Division advanced north from Paris, its 9th Company was secretly joined by six members of the Durruti Column who had been with the Resistance in Paris. Whilst fighting alongside their old comrades in the 9th Company they hid arms and ammunition from the battlefields in secret caches. These were later collected and taken to Spain.

1945 saw Franco very much alone, condemned by Britain, Russia and the USA and excluded from the United Nations. The British Labour government, prior to their election in 1945, had promised a quick resolution to the Spanish question. But sadly history proved that the British were not to be trusted. The Labour government, despite its promises, used delaying tactics in the United Nations to stop effective action, arguing that it was purely an internal matter of the Spanish people and that they had no wish to "permit or encourage civil war in that country". Economic blockade and international isolation would have finished Franco off within months - but Britain and US would not support this; despite protestations from other countries who favoured, if necessary, armed intervention. For the British and Americans, as in 1936-1939, the real problem was not Franco but the possibility of a "Red" revolution of the Spanish working class. This attitude solidified as the Cold War developed. A gradual rehabilitation of Franco took place, ending in full recognition and incorporation into the United Nations in 1955. Fascist Spain took its place at the table of the not so new world order.

Even in 1945, whilst some continued to believe that diplomacy would restore the Republican government, many militants opted to renew the armed struggle. Between 1944 and 1950 approximately 15,000 guerrillas fought in Spain, bringing half the country into a state of war. But, despite strikes in Barcelona and the Basque areas, involving over 250,000 people, the population as a whole, wearied by war and repression, were not prepared to rise, or had placed their faith in the diplomacy of Western "democracies". The guerrillas were left to fight alone and inadequately armed against Franco's impressive police and military apparatus, which was always well supplied with intelligence on guerrilla movements from the other side of the French border. It was an unequal struggle. As Juan Molina lamented: "The prisons consumed a generation of fighters, defeated this time irremediably ... All strength in life has its limits and this limit was amply exceeded by the Resistance, in almost inhuman endurance. But it had to succumb".

These working class militants, who bore arms for ten or even twenty years against fascism and capitalism, deserve far more than just remembrance, though even that has been denied them. The struggle for which they gave their lives has not ended - it falls to us to continue that struggle and keep alight the flame of their resistance.

Edited by libcom from Fighting Talk, No. 15.

* Article originally written in 1996

Armed resistance to Franco, 1939-1965 - Antonio Téllez

An account by Antonio Téllez of the underground guerrilla armed struggle of anarchists and anti-fascists against General Franco's regime following the Civil War.

The rattle of the Thompson gun
The guerrilla struggle against Francoism actually arose in the days following the army revolt against the Spanish Republic on 18 July 1936. Across the country, workers launched a revolution and took up arms against the armed forces. In areas which fell immediately to the mutinous army, a bloody repression was promptly set in motion and this obliged many anti-fascists to take to the hills to save their skins. This was repeated over nearly three years of civil war as areas were conquered, one after another, by the Francoist army and it extended to virtually the entirety of the Peninsula after the Republican troops surrendered in the Centre-Levante zone on 31 March 1939.

Very little has been written about the scale of the armed struggle against Franco following the civil war. It was and still is known to few. A thick blanket of silence has been drawn over the fighters, for a variety of reasons. According to Franco's personal friend Civil Guard Lieutenant-General Camilo Alonso Vega - who was in charge of the anti-guerrilla campaign for twelve years - banditry (the term the Francoists always used to describe the guerrilla activity) was of "great significance" in Spain, in that it "disrupted communications, demoralised folk, wrecked our economy, shattered our unity and discredited us in the eyes of the outside world”.

Only days before those words were uttered General Franco himself had excused the blanket silence imposed on reports of armed opposition and the efforts mounted to stop it, when he had stated that "the Civil Guard's sacrifices in the years following the Second World War were made selflessly and in silence, because, for political and security reasons it was inappropriate to publicise the locations, the clashes, casualty figures or names of those who fell in performance of their duty, in a heroic and unspoken sacrifice."

This cover-up has continued right up until our own day. In a Spanish Television (TVE) programme entitled Guerrilla Warfare and broadcast in 1984, General Manuel Prieto Lopez cynically referred to the anti-Francoist fighters as bandits and killers. Not that this should come as any surprise - during the period described as the political transition to democracy (November 1975 to October 1982) all political forces, high financiers, industrialists, the military and church authorities decided that references to the past were inappropriate and that the protracted blood-letting of the Franco era should be consigned to oblivion. That consensus holds firm today*, and historians eager to lift that veil run up against insurmountable obstacles when they try to examine State, Civil Guard or Police archives.

We have no reliable breakdown of the overall figures for guerrillas or for the casualties sustained by or inflicted upon the security forces and Army. If we are to have some grasp of what this unequal struggle against the Dictatorship was like, our only option is to turn to figures made public in 1968 - a one-off it seems - according to which the Civil Guard sustained 628 casualties (258 deaths) between 1943 and 1952: some 5,548 bandits were wiped out in 2,000 skirmishes, many of which amounted to full-scale battles. The figures for this eradication are as follows: killed - 2,166; captured or surrendered - 3,382; arrested as liaisons, accessories or for aiding and abetting - 19,407. An embarrassed silence shrouds the earlier years between 1939 and 1942, when units from the regular army, the Foreign Legion and the Regulars, with artillery support attempted to wipe out the guerrillas. The aforementioned figures given for Civil Guard casualties at the guerrillas' hands can be discounted. If we compare the lists of deceased Civil Guards during these years where no cause of death is listed, with peace-time death-rates, we find a surplus of deaths which are (assuming they were the results of illness or accident) inexplicable and arrive at what is unquestionably a figure closer to the truth: some 1,000 deaths on active service.

The escalation of guerrilla activity began in 1943, when the widespread belief that the Third Reich had victory in its grasp was starting to fade, following the bloody rout of the German Army's elite divisions at Stalingrad. As the tide of the Second World War turned, the anti-Franco guerrillas, as might have been expected, bounced back in terms of morale and dynamism, and from 1944 onwards flourished to a considerable extent. Its heyday was in 1946-1947. After that, partly as a consequence of international policy which sought a rapprochement with Franco, a decline set in that ended with the demise of guerrilla activity in 1952. In Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and other cities, urban guerrilla activity persisted for a decade or so longer.

After 1944, guerrillas operating inside Spain received considerable reinforcements from their exiled countrymen who had played an active part in the liberation of France and the French Resistance. These were well-trained and experienced men equipped with up-to-date weaponry and easy to use high explosive substances such as plastique. Most of them were drawn from France and a smaller number from across the seas in North Africa. Communist leaders charged with politicising guerrilla activity came in from the Americas via Lisbon and Vigo. The Communists who took it for granted that the war-cry of "Taking Spain back!" would be the signal for a general popular uprising against the Franco regime made a great song and dance about this comparatively massive aid.

Some 3,000 guerrillas organised in France with the very same weaponry they had used in their fight against the Nazis, mounted two main attacks across the Pyrenees in 1944. The first incursion was into Navarre on 3 and 7 October: the second came via Catalonia, the object being to establish abridge-head in the Vall d'Aran and install a provisional Republican government. It was also taken for granted that, confronted by such a fait accompli, the Allies would be prompted to step in to bring down Franco. These incursions were easily repulsed - having been heralded in advance - for the Spanish government had taken all appropriate measures. Even so, there were lots of guerrillas who refused to return to their bases and opted instead to infiltrate into the interior in small groups. There they reinforced existing guerrilla bands and set up new ones where none existed.

The weapons they brought in were a lot more effective and better suited to guerrilla fighting. The most commonplace weapon was the British Sten gun, or the German M.P. 38. Both were rapid-fire weapons and used 9mm ammunition which was the most plentiful sort. American weapons like the Colt pistol flooded in, as did (in lesser numbers) Thompson sub-machineguns, a heavier but highly effective weapon. One burst of Thompson gunfire in the hills was reminiscent of an artillery salvo. The fighters entering Spain also brought with them a tried and tested morale forged in victories scored against the Nazis and in the staunch belief that Franco could not survive the downfall of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. They also had organisational experience behind them and solid ideological convictions, anarchist, socialist or communist, qualities that would quickly transform the guerrilla phenomenon as they afforded increased cohesiveness to countless scattered guerrilla bands.

The main areas of guerrilla activity were those whose geographical features made defence and survival most likely i.e.: mountain ranges and areas which provided adequate cover. For example in Andalusia there were guerrilla bands aplenty, some of them over 100-strong. In Asturias, the guerrillas displayed tremendous enterprise, not unconnected with a deep-rooted political consciousness: the revolution by the Asturias miners in October 1934 had not been all that long ago. In many areas, guerrilla activity was intermittent and random as guerrilla bands moved around for a number of reasons, such as the encroachments of counter-insurgency forces.

The style and nature of the guerrilla struggle varied with the terrain and the resources of the individuals and groups involved. Activities included the bombing of strategic objectives, attentats (political assassinations), the movement of arms, the protection of individuals and groups involved in underground political activity; bank robberies and forgery to fund the struggle and destabilise the economy; as well as some more spectacular actions: rescue missions to free captured comrades, open fire-fights with fascist forces; and even an attempt to bomb Franco from the air! (Three men in a light aircraft came within a hair's breadth of dropping incendiary and fragmentation bombs on the General and his Aides during a Regatta in 1948).

An example that sums up the mentality and spirit of the guerrilla movement of the time is provided by a small team of Anarchist guerrillas, led by the veteran fighter Francisco Sabate Llopart (El Quico). On their return to Spain after the end of the Second World War one of their first missions was the 'expropriation' of money and valuables in a series of aggravated robberies of local big-businessmen. On completion of 'business', those 'visited' would be left a note like the following one, left at the home of a wealthy big-store owner, Manuel Garriga:

"We are not robbers, we are libertarian resistance fighters. What we have just taken will help in a small way to feed the orphaned and starving children of those anti-fascists who you and your kind have shot. We are people who have never and will never beg for what is ours. So long as we have the strength to do so we shall fight for for the freedom of the Spanish working class. As for you, Garriga, although you are a murderer and a thief, we have spared you, because we as libertarians appreciate the value of human life, something which you never have, nor are likely to, understand."

A small example of how, despite the loss of the war, and despite the ruthlessness of the fascist repression, those involved in the resistance still managed to maintain their politics, their humanity, and their self-respect.

The armed opposition to Franco was no longer a serious problem after 1949 and, as we have said, it petered out around 1952. Aside from the severe blows dealt by the Civil Guard and the Army, the absence of a logistical system capable of keeping the fighters equipped, and, above all else, the fact that the opposition political parties had chosen to gamble upon diplomacy as a substitute for weapons, made it impossible for the resistance's offensive activity to continue.

Another highly significant element in the winding-up of the guerrilla struggle was the arrival on the scene in 1947 of superbly trained and schooled security force personnel in the shape of "counter-guerrilla bands", dressed and armed in the guerrillas' own style and sowing confusion and terror on their home ground. These "counter-gangs" even carried out savage killings that were ascribed to the guerrillas proper, the aim being to bring them into disrepute and strip them of popular support. Then again, the infiltration of police plants into the guerrilla bands was extraordinarily effective and made it possible to dismantle some of the more important groupings.

In Asturias, in 1948, around 30 socialist guerrillas boarded a French fishing smack which had arrived specifically to collect them and deliver them to St Jean de Luz in France. In Levante, the last remaining guerrillas in the area, around two dozen survivors, made it out to France in 1952. In Andalusia, a few bands survived until the end of 1952, but their leaders - like the anarcho-syndicalist, Bernabe Lopez Calle (1889-1949) - had already perished in combat. A few managed to escape to Gibraltar or North Africa, but, for the most part, they were wiped out in armed clashes: others were executed by the garrotte vil (death by strangulation) or firing squads: those who escaped that fate served prison terms sometimes in excess of 20 years.

In 1953, the United States signed a military and economic assistance treaty with Franco. Two years later, Franco's Spain was welcomed into the United Nations. However, even though all was lost, a few die-hards refused to give up the fight: in Cantabria, the last two guerrillas, Juan Fernandez Ayala (Juanin) and Franciscxo Bedoya Gutierrez (El Bedoya) met their deaths in April and in December of 1957 respectively. In Catalonia, Ramon Vila Capdevila (Caraquemada), the last anarchist guerrilla, was gunned down by the Civil Guard in August 1963. But the honour of being the last guerrilla has to go to Jose Castro Veiga (El Piloto) who died, without ever having laid down his arms, in the province of Lugo (Galicia), March 1965.

There are a number of reasons for the failure of the Guerrilla campaign against Franco, and although open guerrilla warfare had all but ended in the 50's, the movement against Franco continued, as did underground political activity, until the regime's eventual collapse. What the guerrillas had wanted to achieve was open insurrection against Franco. What they show us today, through their ambition and their sacrifice, is that the brutal repression of the progressive working class after the Civil War did not go unchallenged. The full story of the guerrilla struggle, as Tellez states in this article, is still being uncovered. All we can do today is salute the men and women of the resistance who gave their lives, not only in the defence of their class, but for a future where the social structures that create the Francos, are buried along with them.

Edited by libcom from an article in Fighting Talk, issue 15.

* Article originally written by Antonio Téllez in 1996

1939-1965 Armed resistance to Franco.pdf49.53 KB
What the guerrillas had wanted to achieve was open insurrection against Franco. What they show us today, through their ambition and their sacrifice, is that the brutal repression of the progressive working class after the Civil War did not go unchallenged.
Anti-Fascist Action

Fighting Talk 16 (March 1997)

Issue 16 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



The Strange Story of Combat 18 – Dan Woinsaker

Over the past 4 years Dan Woinsaker has kept his eyes and ears open to keep readers informed of developments in the Nazi music scene, and the most significant thing in Britain was Combat 18's takeover of Blood & Honour. As C18 tears itself apart this will undoubtedly have an effect on the future of B&H and so we have asked Dan W. to have a look at the strange story of C18.

Anti-Fascist Action received an unusual New Year's gift this year - a letter bomb. It was one of ten sent to targets in Britain by a Danish Nazi terror group which has links with the British Nazi group C18. The media covered the story but replaced the identity of the real targets - anti-fascists - with high-profile personalities in mixed race couples such as Frank Bruno, Sharon Davies, etc. Once again accurate reporting goes out the window when C18 are involved.

And then in early March the papers ran a new scare about the threat of Nazi letter bombs being sent to high profile public figures. Coming so soon after the January bombs this means either C18 are so thoroughly infiltrated by the State that their every move is known (and C18 either don't care or don't know!) or these deliberately misleading stories are in fact promoted in the media to serve another purpose.

There is a lot of speculation as to who set up C18 and why, but despite that, the organisation has operated since 1992. In the early 1990s the British National Party (BNP) launched a high profile campaign in London's East End around the slogan 'Rights For Whites'. In those days the BNP still had marches and public meetings which had to be defended, and AFA soon noticed the emergence of an organised group of fascist stewards. AFA responded to the challenge of the BNP forcefully, and the fascists were seen off on several occasions. This new fascist outfit was soon to become the 'dreaded' C18 - Combat Adolf Hitler.

At first C18 had a working relationship with the BNP, supporting their events, but they increasingly started to identify themselves as a separate group. They circulated a lot of 'leaderless resistance' literature which encouraged fascists to follow the methods of the American Nazi terror group The Order, as opposed to the respectable, 'electoral' road of the BNP. They argued that a racist attack was worth far more than a racist leaflet, especially when it was publicly claimed by C18 to create the impression of organisation and planning. They hoped to provoke random retaliation on whites from the victims of the attacks, which in turn would start a `race war'.

It is possible that C18 was set up by British Intelligence as a 'honey trap' -to attract and identify the potentially most violent fascists and monitor their links with similar Nazi 'terror' groups around the world. It is also true that since the end of the Cold War MI5 are keen to identify 'terrorist' threats to maintain -and expand- their influence.

Whatever the reason, by the end of 1992 C18 was producing its own propaganda, including magazines with 'hit lists' of their opponents. They did attack a few soft targets, a couple of left-wing bookshops and community centres, and were fond of leaving threatening messages on people's answerphones, but from the very outset they were promising more than they could deliver.

By 1993 the BNP had withdrawn from the 'public arena' due to physical pressure from AFA, but the new standard bearers of street-level fascism were proving almost as elusive. Probably the first possibility of contact between AFA and C18 came at the massive (but pointless) Unity Demo in October 93. C18 were located in a pub waiting to attack people dispersing from the march, but when approached by AFA they wouldn't leave the pub until the police arrived. This all seemed very familiar - rather than some new 'terror' group.

In January 1994 they made their most ambitious move to date, trying to put on an Ian Stuart Memorial gig in London. Remembering what happened at the Battle of Waterloo less than 2 years previously this was obviously meant to be a show of strength. Unfortunately for them it all went horribly wrong; they lost their original venue in Becontree, got attacked in a pub in Bow by AFA, finally got some of their people to another pub in Waterloo where they were sniped by AFA, battered by the Old Bill, and ended up rowing with their German 'comrades' who couldn't believe how bad it all was. And the gig never happened.

The next time C18 hit the headlines was after the trouble at the Ireland v. England game in Dublin, February 1995. The media built up C18 into an overnight international conspiracy, giving them publicity worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. To claim that an organisation with the dismal track record outlined above was capable of staging a major disturbance to wreck the 'Peace Process' was complete dishonesty and obviously part of a different agenda.

Shortly after Dublin, C18 organised 100 stewards for a Ulster Volunteer Force march through Central London, and despite AFA's credible record of dealing with fascists, Searchlight magazine decided that "because of the danger of serious violence Searchlight did not Inform anti-fascist groups of the march”. The following year, this the necessary information in place, AFA was able to successfully confront the Loyalists and their C18 supporters as they assembled for their march.

The damage done to C18's credibility at their failure to protect the London UVF march came just two weeks after another C18-backed UVF march in Bolton was stopped by AFA. With C18 getting turned over in Wigan a couple of months earlier, once again AFA, the frontline of anti-fascist resistance, had completely exposed their media-created reputation.

C18 have actively built links with the Ulster Loyalists, collecting money for their prisoners and putting on a couple of Blood and Honour gigs in the north of Ireland. Their support has obviously met with some approval, for example a letter last year in the C18-controlled Blood and Honour magazine states, "We the Loyalist prisoners on East Belfast UDA wing H-Block 2, are dedicated to keeping Ulster British and white ... Hail the UFF & C18".

On the football front C18 placed a lot of emphasis on recruiting from the football firms, "Getting all the football fans, or firms, mobs, whatever and getting them all behind a Nationalist cause as one, that's when we start to progress" was C18's publicly stated aim. In reality, once again, they have achieved very little.

Obviously encouraged by all the glowing tributes after the Dublin trouble, Euro 96 was being forecast as one long hot summer of fascist violence. Despite the media's build up, C18 either lack ambition or ability, because they failed to organise any political activity off the back of the European Championship. Because C18 actually do very little they have to keep their supporters onside by inventing incidents.

According to C18 when Man United played Chelsea in October 95 "two neighbouring public houses were packed to the roof with neo-Nazi Chelsea supporters view of the promise of Man Utd's lefty rabble showing up. Who true to form didn't." Absolute nonsense! So if it’s not the media or the State building them up then C18 have a nice little line in fantasy journalism to keep the myth going. That only leaves AFA, as anti-fascist militant activists with our feet on the ground, to assess the real size of the threat and work out a counter strategy accordingly.

Probably the key area of their work, and it would seem their downfall, has been the successful takeover of the Nazi music organisation Blood and Honour. The B&H founder Ian Stuart died in a car crash in September 93 and almost immediately C18 took control. The music fanzines connected to B&H were brought under their political control and most importantly the finances were taken over.

It is now claimed that C18 fuhrer Charlie Sargent nicked £80,000 and his right-hand man Will Browning pocketed £40,000. Whatever the exact figure there is no doubt that the opportunity to nick large sums of money was high on the agenda for a number of leading figures in C18. This certainly didn't go unnoticed by fellow fascists. The British Hammerskins described C18's brand of National Socialism as "nothing more than blatant capitalism!" and C18 successfully ripped off plenty of people - from bootlegging Skrewdriver albums in America and selling them as imports, to robbing over £10,000 worth of CDs from Viking Sounds in Holland.

Once B&H had been brought under control, the National Socialist Alliance was created in 1994 to unite a number of small, openly-Nazi groups like the KKK, British-Movement, B&H, etc. all under C18's guiding hand. At the same time international links were established with like-minded groups in Europe and North America, and a virtual C18 monopoly existed in the Nazi music scene. For a short period their political influence and income was considerable, but inevitably their stranglehold didn't last long, and by 1996 the discontent they had created by ripping people off and attacking fellow fascists could no longer be kept under control and erupted into open rebellion.

Once the influential Resistance and Nordland magazines came out against C18 the floodgates opened, and one of the most popular quotes circulating the Far Right is from David Lane, often quoted as an inspiration by C18 who is now serving life for his part in the American Nazi terror group The Order. He says "the leadership of C18 are obviously Zionist agents or they are so ignorant and dangerous that they might as well be. It can no longer be tolerated. At the appropriate time the enemy amongst us will face a night of the long knives."

At the same time the BNP moved into open opposition with Tyndall writing a five-page attack on C18 in Spearhead, the BNP magazine. An anonymous pamphlet (in fact it came from the BNP) was also widely circulated posing the question, “whether Charlie and Steve Sargent are MI5 agents or just poisonous shit-stirrers and completely fucking stupid can be argued about".

C18 are in serious disarray having lost control of the Nazi music scene, massive corruption exposed, and with three leaders getting jailed at the Old Bailey for race hate offences in March, the situation looks potentially terminal. Never one to miss a trick, Nick Griffin, a former NF leader and previous opponent of Tyndall, is now gaining influence in the BNP and openly arguing that the C18 elements should be readmitted "Woe betide the nationalist movement that imagines it can do without the street activists". Seeing as how the BNP are embarking on the biggest fascist electoral campaign since the 1970s it would seem logical that they would want protecting on the streets, and in some parts of the country it seems C18 are once again working with the BNP.

The latest twist is that the falling out at the top of C18 has turned to violence and a leading C18 member has been charged with murdering a member of the "rival faction"! Despite these serious setbacks to C18 there has always been a physical force element on the extreme-right, whatever it calls itself, and sometimes it is diplomatic or tactical to separate the different ‘wings' of the movement. Another option is that a more political element might take control of C18 now that the corruption of its leaders has been exposed and with the added opportunity of them being in jail. So were the New Year letter bombs a sign of things to come or another failed attempt to restore some credibility to the name of C18?

One thing is certain, those who deliberately exaggerate the threat posed by C18 are hostile to the anti-fascist movement. The media portray C18 as larger than life characters, to be feared, unstoppable, and when they do mention the anti-fascist opposition it is only as victims. As the C18 slogan goes “let them hate as long as they fear”. No mention of AFA's successes against C18. And while the middle classes may find these stories shocking, there are disillusioned working class people, abandoned by Labour, who may be impressed.

Certainly the fascists appreciate the stories because the reprint them word for word in magazines as evidence of their growing influence. As an AFA spokesperson said after the second World In Action C18 spectacular, "Black propaganda that can be exploited by its target is of dubious value, and nine times out of ten counter-productive."

Behind all the publicity lies the real purpose of promoting C18, and that is the call for more police and MI5 powers to deal with the problem. The successes of militant anti-fascists must be written out of history, the fascist threat must be exaggerated, and then the only thing that stands between us and a fully blown 'race war' are the suitably strengthened forces of 'law and order'.

And once the State, which is moving rapidly to the Right itself, increases repression against the Extreme Right, how long before that attention is then transferred onto groups on the Left?

The role of Searchlight has been significant and completely at odds with AFA's strategy. As the source of most of -the information that appears in the media about C18, Searchlight have played a key role in promoting C18 as more influential than it is, and have often argued that anti-fascist movement is incapable of dealing with them.

The actual evidence completely contradicts this, but Searchlight have insisted that MI5 must lead the fight against C18. To suggest that MI5 and C18 are 'natural adversaries' is curious - partly because it is extremely likely that MI5 are actively involved in the running of C18, and also when you look at how the British intelligence agencies have armed and controlled the Loyalist death squads in the north of Ireland - it is far more likely that MI5 would use Cl 8 to further their own reactionary agenda than actually destroy them. Whatever the outcome, AFA will continue to fight the fascists both politically and physically, but it has to be said that the deliberate misreporting of C18 has worked against anti-fascist militants on the ground and only served to strengthen the hand of the State.

The Big Picture: Combat 18 - Fantasy Fascism?

Anti-Fascist Action aricle about the neo-Nazi group Combat 18, from issue 16 of Fighting Talk.

As an anti-fascist organisation targeted in the recent C18 letter bombing campaign, there is a responsibility on us to try and bring some clarity to the debate. First, the media seem to be working on the assumption that C18's every move must be scrutinised because (a) they are an aberration in an otherwise progressive multi-cultural state, or (b) here is a group so fanatical that they represent a threat to society and only the courts can stop them. The reality is that they are neither.

In recent months the papers in particular have had cause to comment on the failure of the case brought by the Lawrence family and the de facto apartheid revealed by it in parts of south-east London; the C18 letter bomb campaign; the outburst by David Evans MP and the public display of solidarity shown to him by the Daily Telegraph, Garry Bushell, Richard Littlejohn, among others; the dropping of the BNP candidate in support of Alan Clark who they believe adequately reflects their views; the reactionary opinions expressed at a middle class dinner party by rank and file Tories with one of their number favouring a "benevolent dictatorship"; and finally the jailing of three C18 activists for incitement and the "anger" and "depression" of anti-fascists at the lenient sentences.

As the list clearly shows, fascism can come in many forms. Not every fascist wears a flight jacket. The rhetoric of Tory Cabinet members, MPs, and the rank and file can, in unguarded or candid moments, be indistinguishable from the rhetoric of openly fascist organisations. More seriously the Runnymede Trust estimates that there are in the region of 130,000 racist attacks annually. For the most part these attacks will have been carried out by people who are not associated with the Tory Party, would never vote Tory, or perhaps have never even bothered to vote. In other words, support for violent Right-wing solutions is not limited to the issue of race, has cross-class support and extends far beyond the membership of either the Tory party, BNP, or C18.

Indeed in many sections of society Right-wing sentiments are widespread and almost instinctive. A recent survey by Scantel in November 1996 in face to face interviews with 1,600 16 to 24 year olds in eight European countries found that "the young Britons were by far the most racist in Europe comparing unfavourably with other European nations, including those where the popularity of Extreme Right factions has caused concern". (Guardian, 6/2/97).

C18 are not the cause of this problem, more a reflection of its depth. On the other hand C18 are seen to be in the vanguard of reaction in this country and because of that must, and have been, directly and physically confronted when and where possible. Ignoring them or refusing to match violence with violence plays into their hands and as a by-product serves to embolden the more cautious or timorous Right-wingers. Only in that sense would militant anti-fascists regard them as significant.

Notwithstanding the fact that the C18 group came into existence as a direct result of an AFA offensive against the BNP in the early 1990s, it is recognised in militant anti-fascist circles that they are essentially a propaganda group who have done very little. Instead they choose to rely for their public notoriety on the media. Their celebrity is not as a result of them being "talented self-propagandists". The reality is that the media are spoon fed all the 'sexy' stories by the same organisation, who on the back of the hysteria generated (still) hope to goad/ manipulate the security services and courts into proscribing the group.

That is why they were given the credit, quite falsely, for the riot at Lansdowne Rd. However, what all the talk of a "C18 conspiracy" obscured at the time was that the riot was spontaneous and the majority of the crowd, to one degree or another, share similar politics to them anyway. After all "No surrender to the IRA" (with tacit support for the UVF/ UFF death squads) is practically the English supporters national anthem.

All the signs are that on May 1st Labour will be elected. For the first time in almost twenty years, a Labour government will provide a focus for the thwarted aspirations and rage of the Far-Right who will screech their outrage at the slightest deviation from Labour's own agenda for rolling back the Welfare State. This orchestrated anguish, combined with real attacks by a 'socialist' government on the constituency most badly mauled by the Tories (the working class), may well let the authentic fascist genie out of the bottle.

The really "depressing" thing is not only that the backlash will manifest itself politically, and the Far-Right will be the main beneficiaries, but that some anti-fascists will continue to bemoan the fact that the police, courts, and Establishment parties refuse to do their job for them, when history and the current situation in Europe demonstrates that their commitment to democracy is at best unreliable.

Apart from loudly advertising their own, and by implication anti-fascist, impotence the real danger is that when this strategy inevitably fails (as it is doing in France) there is no 'Plan B' that does not involve some sort of capitulation. As the situation in Austria, France and Italy shows it is perfectly possible to have a clear understanding of the nature of fascism and yet embrace an inadequate strategy for resisting it.

Anti-Fascist Strategy: One Step Beyond

Anti-Fascist Action strategy article in the lead up to Labour being elected in 1997. From Fighting Talk issue 16.

When a Far-Right political party in Central Europe wins 27.6% of the vote in free and fair nationwide elections it should be clear that the time for complacency has gone - and gone for good. Particularly when it is widely acknowledged that much of the support comes from formerly socialist working class voters.

Compounding the problem is that right now most European governments are committed to introducing austerity budgets in order to comply with the demands of the common currency. Logic dictates that it is the weakest economies that are required to impose the most stringent cutbacks. Britain is acknowledged as one of the more fragile economies. And we all know that Labour, firm favourites in May, are totally committed to the European and monetary union. We also know that to offset the cuts Labour will not raise taxes. That means that the brunt will have to be borne by the bottom 40%.

The last time so many governments committed themselves so comprehensively to financial orthodoxy was by pegging exchange rates to the gold standard in the late 1920s and early 1930s. As then, the political chaos and social devastation that ensued was literally designed for a party with a Far-Right agenda. Here responsibility for the mayhem will of course be laid at the feet of the 'socialist' government. Labour's history anyway has been to swing sharply to the Right once in government.

So from day one the pressure will be on. Labour's every move will be scrutinised for the slightest hint of progressive reform. The smallest deviation from Labour's quite candid agenda of reactionary reform will be jumped on by a bitter and vengeful Tory press. That Labour, elected on a Right-wing programme, will almost immediately be driven even further to the Right is a safe bet. Equally certain is that total working class alienation will be swift. Unless we really believe that Britain as an island race and as such is above such developments, then we have to accept that the conditions outlined are a ready-made opportunity for the Far-Right to impact directly on the political mainstream with the same devastating effect as in Austria, France, Italy, Belgium, etc.


What can we do? Well, let's first examine what we must not do. For seventeen years the, cry of the conservative Left has been "Get the Tories out!" The real message is "Get Labour in!". Once Labour are elected, the same unity will then be demanded to "Keep the Tories out!" And so on...

As the deteriorating situation in Europe has demonstrated, this strategy is a proven disaster. Primarily because it forces the very people who want change, the bottom 40%, the natural constituency of the Left, directly into the arms of the radical Right. (Even The Times columnist William Rees Mogg complains that "there are too many fascists in Europe nowadays".)

Remember it was under a Socialist government that Le Pen made the breakthrough in France. Now one French anti-fascist magazine complains that "everywhere you turn you see them". Even more significantly the FN is now the biggest working class party in France, and in Austria more than one in two blue collar workers voted for the Freedom Party in October 1996.

It is worth remembering as well that it was under the last Labour government that the NF briefly threatened to become the 'third' party ahead of the Liberals. Today it is this working class constituency, already badly mauled by the Tories, that Labour is determined to cut further adrift. So predicting the outcome could not possibly be more straightforward. And while the call for 'unity' between Left and Right - the ‘Anybody But Fascists’ strategy - has an attractive simplicity, it is in reality a siren call on to the rocks.


As the BNP explain in their magazine Spearhead, the central aim of standing in elections is not to win votes:

"the central aim is to win the vital period is six months after the election. This is the crucial time in which the follow ups must be turned into recruits, the recruits into activists and the best of the activists identified for further education and training...any other proposal is, for the foreseeable future, a time-wasting fantasy."

The BNP are working hard to stand 50 candidates in the forthcoming election which would entitle them to a Party Political Broadcast, but they would also get election leaflets delivered to two million homes - free. If in the follow up only one in 250 is convinced and joins that is 8,000 new members. Given political conditions generally that is not at all implausible. Worse than that, no matter how well they do in the immediate term, the fact is that the situation for them can only improve as Labour gets into its stride. On top of that the orthodox Left is in meltdown throughout Europe.

In all countries, to one degree or another, the agenda is driven by Right-wing and radical Right-wing ideas. So without a doubt this is the biggest challenge we have ever faced. This was also the challenge previously faced by our European counterparts in the 80s and early 90s, who chose to fight the resurgent Right with orthodox tactics, employing with a particular counter-productive skill the ABF strategy. The logic of that strategy ultimately demands unity between anti-fascists and elements of the State. The consequence is that when the fascists address working class issues, their radical credentials are established by the propaganda of the opposition. Obviously this is no longer a viable strategy, so what then is to be done?


If the crucial growth period for them is six months after the election, then that too is the crucial period for us. The problem is, if we cannot prevent them handing out propaganda, then we cannot prevent them following up recruiting afterwards either. The only way to remain effective is to be in a position where we can recruit ourselves. We can only negate their growth by growing in influence ourselves, in tandem with them. For this to happen we must mimic their campaign. We must shadow them all the way.

The best, indeed the only guarantee against the Far-Right entering the mainstream is not a strong anti-fascist movement, but a strong working class movement. The Far-Right have re-invented themselves throughout Europe and we, the Left, must do the same. To begin we must at least try to match their ambition. This must be done first of all to avoid being side-lined as has happened elsewhere, like in France.

And if, because of the circumstances, we cannot actually prevent them attempting to enter the mainstream, we can still deny them their just reward for doing so by working to enter the mainstream ourselves. In brief, we must not only attempt to match them physically but we must do so politically. That is to say we must mimic their ambition, their tactics and their campaign. In other words we too must mount an election style campaign - but without candidates. We have to win the battle for working class hearts and minds. For militant anti-fascism this is a quantum leap, but if we are serious than this is what we must do.


From 1989, when AFA was relaunched, it was understood that its strategy was designed as a means to an end. The objective was to create space for a progressive alternative to the Far Right to develop in working class areas. AFA has created the political space for an independent working class organisation to be built, which will in the changed conditions prove to be a lifeline for militant anti-fascism. So to claim that militant anti-fascism and working class independence are peas in a pod is almost to understate the relationship.

Equally, to state that the formerly Socialist parties rather than the Christian Democrats or Tories lay the foundation for the fascist renaissance in Europe is a pattern that is also undeniable. During the 90s, London East End Labour councils in particular, despite offering the Tory government as mitigation for their own failures, still managed, even with the most Right-wing government since the war, to create a virus known as the BNP.

With Labour in government, as well as running the majority of councils, the intensity of polarisation in working class areas between pro and anti-Labour can only be imagined. In such an atmosphere the pro-Labour position will quickly become politically untenable. And for anti-fascism to attach itself to it would make anti-fascism untenable as well. Any suggestion of supporting or collaborating with Labour even inadvertently would be political suicide in the eyes of a working class audience anywhere.


In the early 90s AFA declared its objective was to create the space fora political alternative to Labour in working class areas to emerge. In doing so it set itself the target of ensuring that a credible challenge to Labour came only from the Left.

Circumstances beyond our control are conspiring against this 'Plan A'. The background scenery is in the process of being shifted. The likely outcome being that it will be Labour rather than the Tories who will be the new hate figures nationally. This will change the political fortunes of everyone overnight. By far the most dramatic impact will be on the opportunity for growth of the Far Right. With the Tories in government Labour at a local level could blame them for everything. The electorate took their revenge with Tory representation being almost wiped out completely in whole swathes of the country.

With Labour in government the Tory alibi that served them so well will automatically vanish. In addition there will be expectation among voters that many of the cuts will be reversed. When the precise opposite happens there will be a real feeling of betrayal and a vicious backlash against Labour. Equally certain, particularly in working class areas, the political beneficiaries will not be the previous party of government. So the Far Right will expect, as they have already done successfully elsewhere in Europe, to don, as if by right, the cloak of the genuinely radical grassroots opposition.

We can still stop them if we take on board a couple of simple facts. One, the old policy of containment is already obsolete. Two while the election of Labour represents a real opportunity for progressive elements to get their feet under the working class table for the first time in a quarter of a century – that is to say the chance to step forward politically - for militant anti-fascism it means the reverse.

Our ability to consistently and physically impose ourselves on events will be significantly retarded because the BNP have abandoned the old strategy of "march and grow" in favour of a "hearts and minds" approach. We must accept that the police have improved their intelligence on AFA and how we work, which coupled with the new powers that they have under the Criminal Justice Act means it is much harder for AFA to physically confront the fascists.

Adding to that the mounting social pressure triggered by a Labour government means we will no longer be able to hold the political vacuum. That is to say, we will no longer be physically able to ensure that the challenge to Labour comes only from the Left. Consequently, the role of militant anti-fascism is now to ensure that the political challenge does not come only from the Right. This must be our objective. This must be 'Plan B'.

While the call for 'unity' between Left and Right the Anybody But Fascists strategy - has an attractive simplicity, it is in reality a siren call on to the rocks.

Brief Encounters: A History of Anti-Fascism in Oxford

From Fighting Talk issue 16.

Oxford cannot claim to have ever been a major venue in the war against fascism in Britain. It has, however, been the scene of a handful of crushing defeats for a Far Right who still dream of establishing a foothold in the city. Today they are forced to accept that for them, as a constituency, it is way beyond the pale. Here we look back at the various faces of fascism and anti-fascism in Oxford over the last 70 years and the struggle between the two.

Firstly the geography of Oxford should be clarified, as most people are under the impression that it is nothing more than a student town. To some extent they are not wrong. It is true that the University looms large over the city, but Oxford also has another side.

Lying mainly to the east, industrial Oxford is home to large working class communities, such as the estates of Barton, Littlemore, Rose Hill, Florence Park and the largest of them all, Blackbird Leys. For decades these estates have supplied the main chunk of the workforce for the once thriving car plants at Cowley. Since the 1950's, Blackbird Leys in particular has housed alongside thousands of indigenous people, large numbers from the Caribbean, Ireland, Scotland and Poland. The Florence Park estate, originally built in the 1930's, to accommodate families from depression hit South Wales and North East England, today borders well established Asian communities.

Many of the inhabitants of these estates played an active role in the industrial struggles at Cowley and its related industries throughout the decades. These areas have also been the bedrock of anti-fascist Oxford.

The first anti-fascists in Oxford however, predate the City's current multicultural identity. The tradition of militant working class anti-fascism in Oxford stretches back to the 1930's. In complete contrast the Far Right has repeatedly found support amongst the university and its rich friends.

The first fascist organisation in Oxford was to set the agenda back in 1926 when it opposed the General Strike. This organisation called itself The Oxford and University District of British Fascists. They were followed five years later by Oswald Mosley's New Party. Mosley stated himself that "…the young men who are gathering around us are Oxford students and graduates".

The New Party also had the support of William Morris, Chairman of the Oxford Conservative Association and founder of Oxford's largest employer, Morris Motors. Morris' fierce anti-semitism was matched only by his hatred of trade unions: Mosley's party was funded by William Morris to the tune of £85,000 in its first two years.

Later, when Mosley's British Union of Fascists turned its attention to Oxford it also concentrated on the university. Its first public meeting in 1933, was in fact described in the local press as 'a meeting of the University Fascist Association'. The BUF seemed determined to sign up as many Hooray Henrys and Henriettas as possible; recruiting members of the University Italian clubs, the rowing club at Oriel College and amongst women undergraduates at Lady Margaret Hall. In this decade the University also played host to the Imperial League of British Fascists and even had its own National Socialist club.

What follows is a brief outline of the first wave of fascism in Oxford.

The first anti-fascists appeared in the town in 1933 calling themselves the Red Shirts, (in opposition to the BUF's Blackshirts). They were based at the independent, trade union-sponsored, workers' college, Ruskin.

The Red Shirts were the driving force behind the ‘Oxford Council of Action Against War and Fascism', set up on the eve of Mosley's first visit on November 3rd 1933 at the Carfax Assembly Rooms. This organisation was supported by the Engineers Union, the Bus Workers T & G branch and the National Union of Railwaymen. Other organisations to give support were the Communist and Labour Parties and the National Unemployed Workers Movement (which was later also targetted by the BUF).

Despite the intimidation of the 150 imported Blackshirt stewards on the night, the working class movement managed to kick off a fierce punch up, which brought the meeting to a close. The next time Mosley came to Oxford in 1936 the anti-fascist movement was much stronger. The simple reason being that Oxford's working class had itself become stronger, through a series of successful strikes. The most important of these was a strike for union recognition at Pressed Steel and Morris Motors. The support given in this dispute by the local Communist Party branch helped them become the largest party group in the country. From this period Oxford could seriously claim to be a union town.

The second Mosley meeting at Carfax, was 25th May 1936, (five months before Cable Street). Mosley later complained of "the worst scenes of hooliganism he had experienced during the hundreds of meetings he had addressed up and down the country”. The meeting was a thousand strong (although it has been estimated that only a quarter of those present supported the BUF). Most of the anti-fascists in attendance were Morris workers, busmen and other trade unionists.

On the night, the assembly rooms were decked with Union Jacks in preparation for Mosley, who, flanked by his black-shirted bodyguards stepped onto the platform to the strains of the Nazi Anthem ‘The Horst Wessel Song'. The fascist leader addressed the packed meeting, the first five rows of which contained the local gentry, including factory owners, Tory councillors and at least one magistrate.

At one point in the meeting a frustrated Mosley replied pompously to the heckling crowd "I know you Ruskin fellows with your stage guardsmen accents". Shortly afterwards BUF stewards turned on a member of the audience. With this, all hell broke loose and the local anti-fascists steamed into the somewhat startled blackshirts, the favoured weapons being fists and metal chairs.

When it was all over the fascists knew what it felt like to be on the end of a good kicking. Four were hospitalised with broken heads while many more went home battered and bruised. Mosley, true to form, took the opportunity afforded by the mayhem and sneaked out the back door, only to find that the cars and coaches that had transported the BUF to Oxford had also been well and truly trashed.

Afterwards hundreds of anti-fascists spilled out onto the streets, - many singing the Internationale, to celebrate their victory. The BUF in Oxford were never to recover from this battering. However Oxford's radical working class was kept busy, regardless of the fact that they had destroyed the local BUF branch. Their attention turned to Spain and the war against Franco.

Anti-fascists in Spain were given support from the Spanish Aid Committee in Oxford, who organised accommodation locally for refugee children, held factory meetings and collections and were involved in an illegal initiative which had factory workers converting Harley Davidson motorbikes, donated by supporters in the USA, into sten gun carriers which were then smuggled over to the Spanish comrades.

The second wave of fascism came in the mid 1970's - early 80's. In 1974 the fascists tried to hold two public meetings in Oxford in an attempt to rally support for the National Front's only ever candidate in the city. This candidate was 21 year old Pembroke College undergraduate, Ian Anderson. Headington Middle School was where the first of these meetings was held, on October 2nd.

Within minutes of its opening, thirty members of the Oxford Anti-Fascist Committee, another group with strong trade union support, burst in. They tore down the Front's Union Jack emblem, overturned the speakers table and threw Anderson out on his arse. Comically only five people were in attendance, two of whom, a local vicar and his daughter, had come to argue against the NF!

A couple of days later the Front held a larger meeting in the Town Hall. A hundred anti-fascists turned up and stopped the meeting, forcing the hapless Anderson from the stage and occupying it themselves. A speech was then made, declaring that Oxford believes no platform should be given to fascists.

The police presence in the town on the night was heavy, with a number of arrests being made. Special attention was paid to the Oxford Union, where the Monday Club held a meeting on South Africa behind heavy fortifications. A few months earlier a meeting at the Union on immigration by the Monday Club was smashed up and its Vice Chairman Harold Soref was forced to flee over a six foot wall out the back, leaving in his wake crashing glass, flying chairs and a pursuing mob. To its own surprise, the Far Right this time were not even safe in the university.

The October elections round up in the Oxford Mail paints a pathetic figure of Ian Anderson...

"The campaign suffered another major setback this week: Mr Anderson's car failed the MoT test, which has made getting about the constituency difficult. There are other problems too. The windows of the rented committee rooms in St Clements are shuttered and boarded against breakages and inside there is no lighting or heating. But the faithful few work on by paraffin lamp and oil stove. By day he keeps a lonely vigil, licking envelopes and replacing posters. At night he calculates that a poster an hour is removed or defaced from outside the committee rooms and he and one or two supporters have even taken to sleeping on camp beds at the rooms to guard their supply of posters and leaflets, the one commodity the NF have in plentiful supply".

The General Election saw Anderson receive only 1% of the vote, causing the NF to weigh up the chance of a miracle change in their political fortune against the obvious health risks involved in carrying on their recruitment drive. They wisely chose to pack their bags.

The National Front returned to the Town Hall in May 1975 to hold a meeting on the Common Market. It had to be protected from a 600-strong demonstration organised by the Oxford Anti-Fascist Committee by 250 police. The demonstrators failed to break through the six deep police cordon, but did manage to take out a number of fascists as they made their way to the hall. The NF deputy chairman John Tyndall (now British National Party fuhrer) had to run the gauntlet of kicks and punches as he was jostled into the hall.

Four arrests were made and two policemen were hospitalised. When the meeting eventually got under way Martin Webster, NF organiser, told the audience of around 100 that it was the second time he had travelled to Oxford and had to contend with a riot outside . When Tyndall addressed the meeting he explained the party's attitude towards the organised working class: "I believe that most of the problems of this country could be put right in a week if you put about 10,000 people in jail starting with those that are disrupting industry”.

He also spoke on race; "If we are not racist and proud of it then our country will be destroyed”. Over 100 marched to a counter-meeting in St Giles, to hear the Chairman of the Anti-Fascist Committee declare that "On the strength of tonight it's clear that nowhere in Oxford will fascism be allowed to go unhampered”.

The next time the Far Right came to town it was in the guise of the British Movement. Originally they had threatened an 'anti-IRA march', (this being the year of the hunger strikes), as they obviously felt that the usual anti-Black/Asian rhetoric would not strike a chord in Oxford. When they realised that this attempt to win recruits by trying to appeal to perceived popular sentiment wouldn't wash, they publicly cancelled their plans.

Around 40 BM activists turned up anyway, apparently hoping the opposition had been thrown off the scent. A counter-demonstration was hastily organised by the ad hoc 'Oxford Committee Against the Nazi March' which included the Anti Nazi League, (Mark 1). Around 400 people marched down the High Street to oppose the BM. At the same time a smaller group of around 100, dominated by a strong contingent from the Blackbird Leys estate, including many black youth and another similar size group containing some of the founding members of AFA, set off to find the fascists. About 30 members of the BM had been spotted in the Old Gatehouse pub near the rail station. Anti-fascists arrived, smashed through the locked door of the pub and set about their business. BM bootboys who failed to find refuge in either the upstairs rooms, or the cellar of the Gatehouse soon learned that once again the boots were on the other feet.

After a successfully completed operation the anti-fascists made their getaway, leaving behind a bloodied and thoroughly devastated British Movement, (and a well turned over public house!). 'The Oxford Times' interviewed a BM activist from Peterborough who had witnessed the scenes at the Gatehouse. He bleated that Oxford was chosen "because it is a Red stronghold and we wanted to circulate leaflets to put our side". The leaflets did not even leave the box, and were abandoned at the rail station in the BM's haste to leave town.

It was to be another decade before the fascists showed their faces in Oxford again. In 1993 Ian Anderson returned with a little gang, to test the water with a National Front paper sale in the town centre. Unfortunately they didn't hang around long enough for anti-fascists to catch up with them, though one or two members of the public did challenge them, resulting in scuffles, which encouraged a swift departure. The following week anti-fascists were out in force, but the Front played safe and stayed at home.

Since 1981 the Far Right have only been able to carry out operations of the hit and run variety, using activists from outside of the city to attack soft targets on the middle class Left. These attacks (which can be counted on one hand), are made possible because the groups that have been victimised, continually ignore their own propaganda about the need to "Smash the Nazi's" etc. and hold meetings and events without the adequate security arrangements. AFA on the other hand is not in the business of handing victories over to the class enemy. Anything organised by AFA, they leave well alone.

Oxford AFA is aware that it inherits the proud tradition of working class opposition to fascism in the city. We also accept, as did our predecessors, the necessity of both physical and ideological struggle against the Far Right, and act accordingly. The fact that many in Oxford see fascism (however incorrectly) as a problem of the past, is a testimony to the success of the city's anti-fascists in removing it from the streets.

Fighting Talk 17 (Sept 1997)

Issue 17 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Left Luggage: AFA on the conservative left

From issue 17 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine (1997)

In Fighting Talk we often refer to the "conservative Left" as an obstacle to both militant anti-fascism and filling the political vacuum in working class areas. Here we look at the failure of the Left and the reasons why they are a "conservative" force....


New Labour, New Britain. After eighteen years of Tory rule, during which the prospect of a Labour government was held out as our best hope, the election result should have had us all singing in the streets...

Never mind the fact that Labour did absolutely nothing to defend us during those years. Look at the Poll Tax. During the biggest movement of resistance against government the mainland has seen for years, where was Labour? With support in opinion polls at an all-time high did they have the courage or the will to openly support non-payment, to bring the country to a standstill and the government to its knees?

No, what we were told till we were sick of hearing it was "Vote Labour" in the 1992 election. Meanwhile, Labour councils dragged thousands of people through the courts and sent in the bailiffs. At a moment of intense class struggle, Labour showed clearly which side they were on. And for those who actually believed the cavalry would ride over the hill on polling day - it just didn't happen. In fact, throughout this period, most people's experience of the so-called "opposition" was simple: they only ever appeared at election time, leaving us afterwards to fend for ourselves or get shafted by Labour councils over housing, education and facilities. And continually telling people that it was all the fault of the wicked Tories just made the point sharper - what use were Labour?

Now Labour has won power by becoming even more acceptable to business and the middle class. Notice how their new MPs mostly come from a common background in local government, as councillors or council employees. It is the triumph of the professional managers, the bureaucrats and the spineless - the same people who just did what they were told under the Tories. To expect any real change from this lot is like pissing in the wind.


So if Labour is basically an anti-working class organisation - what about the rest of the Left, particularly the Leninists and Trotskyists? They harp on about class and, in their own minds, represent the cutting edge of class struggle. The trouble is - they just can't deliver. Which wouldn't matter if they weren't seen as the public face of "revolutionary" socialism etc. So, far from being an irrelevance which we can ignore, they are a stumbling block to advancing the struggle in this country. They alienate working class support; burn out or disillusion useful militants and are the best advert for revolution the ruling class could ever hope for. And as a result any radical "Left" politics gets tarred with the same brush.

If we look at the two largest groups on the Leninist Left, the Socialist Workers Party and Militant Labour / the Socialist Party we can see why they are both a failure and a threat.

The Socialist Workers Party remain one of the most visible groups on the Left. During the recent election their posters proclaimed 'VOTE LABOUR WITHOUT ILLUSIONS" or 'VOTE LABOUR BUT DON'T TRUST BLAIR". Whilst many people did just that, for the "vanguard" of the class to advocate giving a mandate to an anti-working class government (just because it’s going to be less brutal than the previous lot) is laughable - except it isn't funny because it won't be the S.W.P. that pays the price, it'll be all of us.

Now the election is over a new set of posters have appeared to deface our communities, proclaiming "WE DIDN'T VOTE FOR THIS". Sorry, but you did vote for it and encouraged others to do the same. If the SWP. are trying to say this is all some horrible mistake, it won't wash because New Labour are doing exactly what they said they would do.

Look at the SWP's strategy for change. Calling on the government, the police and the TUC to support the struggle is a complete dead end because none of those organisations have any interest at all in advancing that struggle. Their agenda is to subjugate or divert into harmless channels the pent-up anger of the people at the bottom of the heap. Asking them for anything can only mean one thing - that their right to govern and control us has been accepted. This is bollocks and the fact that so-called "revolutionaries" come out with it is the most damning indictment of their political programme.

To be fair the SWP have no choice. Their politics point in no other direction and their membership is almost entirely middle class, drawn from students and white-collar workers (often in local government). This raises a huge credibility gap which, alongside the hopeless drivel they continue to spout, has only one effect - it alienates working class people. This creates a vicious circle - the SWP have to keep banging on about making Labour or the TUC do this or that because they haven't got the support to do it themselves.

Tactics depend on strategy. If you haven't got a credible strategy you can't have any worthwhile tactics. So the SWP excel in making the biggest noise and achieving nothing. Anti-fascists will be only too aware of the antics of the SWP's Anti Nazi League in this department. The ANL has now closed its London office, but no doubt we'll see an even more hysterical relaunch if the Far Right makes another breakthrough in local elections.
The same pattern has been repeated in all campaigns the SWP have been involved in, parachuting in as the "vanguard" and bailing out just as fast when no quick opportunity to recruit members presents itself. But then they identify the Party with the class struggle (as its natural leadership), with names on recruiting lists (disguised as petitions) and newspaper sales more important than the objective advancement of class interests. This also means that they can't conceive of the struggle happening without them or happening in ways that don't fit the rigid mould of their politics.

Again, none of this would matter except that, as a well organised and centralised machine that jumps on every issue going, the SWP get in the way. As such they are part of the problem and not part of the solution. We have to expose them, strip away their bogus credentials and get rid of them If we don't, they will continue to wreck any chance we have of moving on.


The other main outfit of the Leninist Left, Militant Tendency, Militant Labour or the Socialist Party - has more credibility than the SWP in terms of its membership (and, at least in Scotland, decent work against bailiffs during the Poll Tax). But they are saddled with much of the same political baggage as the SWP In this case they were actually part of the Labour Party, seeking to take over the political machine. But they got chewed up and spat out. Worse still, their involvement in local Labour councils, as in Liverpool, meant that when the crunch came they were the fall guys, dragging the reputation of the Left even further down.

Whilst they were prepared to resist national government, their strategy of controlling local government through the Labour Party was doomed from the start. All the Tories had to do was stop the money and Militant councillors ended up being held responsible for the collapse of local services and jobs. They had nothing to offer as an alternative because taking over the bureaucracy had taken the place of any real strategy for working class resistance and self-defence. Some revolution comrades!

The first lesson for local government bureaucrats (of whatever persuasion) is that their power base comes from the money they control. That's why they wouldn't support non-payment of Poll Tax and why right now they will accept cuts on local authority spending imposed by their own party in national government. Militant thought they could change the rules of the game. All they managed to do was saw off the branch on which they were sitting. Sad, but then they shouldn't have been sitting on it in the first place.

Militant haves yet to learn the lesson. Whilst they have popular support in a couple of local areas and have broken with Labour to the extent of standing against them in elections the problem remains - are they aiming for control via the existing structure of government or, alternatively, to advance a revolution. They still think the two aims are the same and so have nothing to offer.

And whilst there are decent rank and file elements within the organisation, their energies are frittered away and many end up frustrated and disillusioned. In this sense, Militant (and the SWP) are like generals in the First World War dispatching the best of a generation to oblivion. You don't win by fighting on ground that your enemy has chosen and, unless you are a traitor or completely stupid, you don't keep on calling for one last push to "glorious" but completely predictable defeat.

The observations apply equally to all the other smaller outfits that comprise the Leninist / Trotskyist Left, most of whom have zero credibility with working class people. They have failed to convince and, by their antics, have generated lithe but suspicion and resentment from the people they have the nerve to claim to represent. If we want to see working class control in working class areas we won't get there by following in the footsteps of these losers or by being in any way identified with them. We have to take a different path, preferably one they are incapable of following or which they can be prevented from obstructing.


What about the revolutionary Left beyond the absurdities of Lenin and Trotsky? It’s a broad field ranging from Marxists to class struggle Anarchists. They won't like being all lumped together but, to be honest, in recent years the only really well known group would be Class War. So we'll just look at them. Unlike the SWP etc., Class War never asked the state for anything and, during the Miners’ Strike and the Poll Tax, the Class War paper reflected the anger and hatred felt by many, making a refreshing break from the usual Lefty bleating.

But the problem was that the strategy of breaking with the Left and returning to independent and authentic class struggle fell down on a tactical level. While this was less evident during the Poll Tax, because of the widespread local resistance, it was clear by the time of the "Communities of Resistance" initiative. This was a good idea but it showed the gap between the propaganda and the reality, between sporadic resistance and sustained resistance in working class communities. Bridging that gap was where the work needed to be done and still needs to be done.

Basically Class War just ended up shouting for maximum resistance, with minimal ability to deliver. Reading the paper you'd think all that was needed was confrontation, hospitalised coppers, riots, riots and more riots. The trouble is, whilst people will fight (and don't need politicos to tell them to) it’s not necessarily their first choice. More like the last option, especially since the State is impressively tooled up and riots often leave the community weakened and divided. People know the score, they want to know if they can win and if there's a good chance of something better coming out of it. Which is why many of the "ordinary" people reading the CW paper saw it all as a bit of a laugh. Sympathetic yes, prepared to go out and do it - not necessarily. In the absence of any real prospect for successful collective resistance, people will just get on with their lives and resist in their own small way. You can't blame them for that.

So the demand for all out class war on the streets became just as hollow as the SWP calling for a General Strike. Playing to the media, stunts, provocations and ritualised street battles against the old bill became a substitute for effective resistance. And in that context CW and the rest often ended up tagging along with the conservative Left on their pointless demos. Like Welling, for example - what was the point? An anti-fascist mobilisation? It inflicted no damage on fascists, despite the fact there were plenty about for those who were prepared to hunt them down, as AFA did. A set piece bathe with the police - the police won (in any sense that matters) on ground they had chosen. And at times it all just descended into parody - like "Class War Hooliganz" during Euro'96. Ridiculous - issuing the challenge when you can't back it up earns nothing but contempt.

Class War drew in or influenced many decent militants, many of whom left because they could see that the gap between propaganda and reality was getting no smaller. Even the ones who stayed have finally come to the conclusion that it’s a dead end and have said so publicly in the last issue of the paper. That's a rare thing on the Left - credit where's its due.

If the SWP and Militant show us complete dead ends, then the lesson to be drawn from CW etc. is that you can't build the roof without the foundations. Idle threats scare no one, they have to be backed up. It’s time people woke up and took stock of the situation. All the useless baggage should be consigned once and for all to the left luggage locker. Then perhaps we can move on. After all what've we got to lose?

Fighting Talk 18 (December 1997)

Issue 18 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine



Fighting Talk 19 (April 1998)

Issue 19 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine



The Battle For Chapel Market

Anti-Fascist Action history article about countering the National Front in Islington in the early 1980s.

From Fighting Talk magazine issue 19.

Chapel Market is a typical London street market, a stone's throw from the now very fashionable Angel, Islington. Twenty years ago it was the scene of regular violent clashes between fascists and anti-fascists, the outcome of which dictated the successful development of militant anti-fascist politics in the capital for the next decade. In the mid-70s members of the Socialist Workers Party and the National Front both held paper sales at Chapel Market, often resulting in clashes. At this time the NF was the biggest fascist party, winning 119,000 votes in the 1977 GLC elections and attracting thousands on to their demonstrations.

Against this background hundreds of independent anti-fascist committees were set up around the country and the SWP launched the Anti Nazi League. Major confrontations against the NF at Wood Green and Lewisham in 1977 put militant anti-fascism in the national spotlight, and the SWP organised 'squads' in the ANL to carry out the physical side of the strategy. This lasted until Thatcher, playing the race card, won the 1979 general election which led to the NF's decline and the disbanding of the squads; the SWP argued that the Tories were now the 'real' enemy’. Physical opposition to the fascists was no longer acceptable.

Islington NF was one of the strongest branches in the whole country at this time, based mainly in the south of the borough where the white working class felt abandoned by the Labour council. Attacks on the SWP paper sale continued as fascist violence increased, a result of the electoral collapse of the NF.

The Young NF paper Bulldog was now printing hit-lists of opponents and in early 1981 in Islington a radical community centre was firebombed and a left-wing bookshop attacked. Regardless of this, the ANL would provide no support for the anti-fascist activists trying to maintain their pitch and challenge the fascists. Support was provided though, from the remnants of the SWP squads who refused to disband and independent anti-fascists who saw the dangers of letting the fascists organise unopposed. The conflict at Chapel Market had lasted over 5 years before it entered its final phase in 1981.

The defining moment came one Sunday in July 1981 when, after several weeks of clashes, the usual NF turnout was supplemented by a 50 strong mob brought up from Brick Lane (the other big NF paper sale). The fascists managed to get into the area without being spotted and launched an attack. The anti-fascists, taken by surprise, were quickly overrun and forced to leave a bit sharpish - suffering two quite bad injuries in the process, one lad getting stabbed. If the NF had given chase the outcome would have been even worse, but anyway, the damage was done and it was obviously time for a serious rethink.

A number of activists met to discuss the situation and felt that as the NF had obviously decided to try and remove anti-fascists from Chapel Market by force, if the anti-fascists didn't respond decisively the NF, encouraged by their victory the week before, would keep coming until the situation became impossible and the NF would win. Offense being the best form of defence, a plan was hatched. At this time Brent NF was. an active branch and the organiser and several activists had taken part in the latest attack at Chapel Market. An activist from the time takes up the story:

"We heard reports that Brent NF had started a paper sale in Kingsbury (north-west London) on Saturday mornings so we decided to have a look with a view to attacking them in reply for the attack at Chapel. Plenty of familiar faces showed up at the Kingsbury sale so we organised a team to travel up there the next week. The point was made, five of them ended up in hospital!"

This was something new for the fascists who were more familiar with being the ones doing the attacking, and the incident at Kingsbury gave warning that the anti-fascists were going on the offensive. Many phones must have rung that night because 100 NF turned up at Chapel Market the next day, including a heavily bandaged Brent NF organiser.

There were several more smaller clashes over the next few weeks as the NF tried to re-establish their paper sale and the anti-fascists maintained their opposition. While Chapel Market was the focal point for activity, there were other incidents in the surrounding area. In October a small group of fascists were spotted at a local anti-fascist benefit gig and ran off when confronted. Outside one of the anti-fascists tripped and was stabbed in the chest as he was getting up. The blade narrowly missed his heart and he only survived due to the presence of a nurse with the anti-fascists.

A prominent local anti-fascist organiser had her house attacked and her son, not involved in politics, was beaten up in the street. This only confirmed that there were some `unpleasant' elements in the NF who, unless they were confronted physically, would control the streets and therefore dominate politically.

The next major incident was in November 1981 when an anti-racist conference was held at Archway, not far from Chapel Market. Anticipating a fascist attack the anti-fascists kept a low profile inside the hall, and sure enough, right on cue (i.e. Sunday afternoon closing time) 30 fascists were escorted up the road by the police. Led by prominent Islington NF members they confidently marched up to the door, unaware of the anti-fascist presence inside.

The door flew open, and as the NF let off smoke bombs a large group of determined anti-fascists appeared through the 'mist' and caused considerable damage to the fascists. For the rest of the winter and into 1982 the anti-fascists mobilised every Sunday morning. The victory at the Archway had given the anti-fascists the advantage and the regular, well stewarded attendance every week showed the fascists there was a new level of commitment and organisation which they couldn't match.

In August 1982 the third major clash took place. One Sunday the anti-fascists arrived to find twenty NF already occupying the sales pitch. As the anti-fascists crossed the road towards them, Ian Anderson (now leader of the National Democrats, then a rising 'star' in the NF) shouted, "Get 'em, lads!" which was promptly met with a firm right-hander that knocked him flying. Another activist takes up the story:

"The fascists took a heavy beating, and Anderson, who was on the ground being beaten with lumps of concrete and a shoe, managed to break free and ran out into the busy street. At this point three 'likely lads' got off a bus over the road and were studying the commotion with a keen interest. While we immediately recognised three late-comers who would be severely chastised later for oversleeping, Anderson could only see three 'white youths' who would surely come to his aid. Running through the traffic and waving his arms wildly he approached the 'aryan warriors' only to discover his mistake too late - suffering his second bad beating of the morning."

Unusually there were no uniformed police at Chapel Market that Sunday. It subsequently turned out that the area was being watched by plain clothes police and 14 anti-fascists were arrested leaving the area. Anderson pointed three people out to the police who were charged with GBH. All three were acquitted, largely because the fascists had no independent witnesses. The NF had been annoying local people for years, and although they had clearly been attacked, no-one was prepared to help them.

After this clash word got back that the NF were recruiting a 'hit squad' to deal with this group of anti-fascists who had inflicted so much damage on them. Eddy Morrison, a well known (drunken) fascist from Leeds who was 'notorious' for glassing a student in a pub, was the person in charge of the 'contract'. Nothing ever came of this, but it does illustrate the effect the confrontational strategy was having on the fascists. Morrison did get to meet anti-fascists in London a year or so afterwards when his National Action Party tried to hold a meeting in Kensington - and yes, they got battered!

The clashes at Kingsbury, Archway and Chapel Market broke the back of the NF paper sale in Islington. The fascists were unable to maintain their presence and by the end of 1982 the sale had collapsed. The last time the fascists were seen in the area was shortly after the 'Anderson affair' when a surveillance team spotted Paul Nash (another NF organiser - and victim of Kingsbury) looking round a corner with a pair of binoculars to see if there were any anti-fascists in the area! It had taken just over a year but the wheel had turned full circle and the NF were beaten.

To make things worse, eight members of Camden & Islington NF were sent down for armed robberies at this time and the branch collapsed. This victory didn't just have a local impact, the collapse of the branch had a domino effect across north London with the NF ceasing to have any organised presence in what had been a strong area for them.

However the story doesn't end here, because in 1983 nazi skinheads started drinking in a pub called The Agricultural on the corner of Chapel Market. The landlord was a fascist sympathiser and soon fascist skins from all over the country, and even overseas, would gather here on Saturday nights. By coincidence Red Action, the main group involved in the battle for Chapel Market, drank in a pub two hundred yards down the road. A low key campaign of harassment was launched against the pub, but escalation was inevitable. The fascists regularly attacked people in nearby streets - black people, gays, and anyone else they didn't like the look of; but never anti-fascists. Then, finally, a Red Action member was attacked outside the pub.

The following week a pub on route from the tube station to The Agricultural was taken over and steps taken to try and draw the fascists out into the open. Fascists were attacked on their way to 'The Aggy' in full view of their 'comrades' outside the pub, in the hope that this would entice them out from the comparative safety of the pub. The fascists wouldn't have it, so the anti-fascists marched up to their pub where they were met with a rousing chorus of an old nazi hymn - which ended abruptly under a hail of bricks and bottles.

The fascists scuttled inside and barricaded the doors (inevitably leaving some poor unfortunates outside!) while the anti-fascists withdrew and waited up the road. As more fascists arrived they ventured out and a large scale battle ensued on Liverpool Road for fifteen minutes. You don't get a hundred people brawling in the street for quarter of an hour without police intervention - they had obviously decided to let it happen.

A few weeks after this, in June 1984, a large group of fascists attacked a GLC 'Jobs for a Change' festival in Jubilee Gardens. Both stages were attacked before anti-fascists got organised and drove them off. Shortly afterwards fascists waiting for medical attention in nearby St. Thomas' Hospital were attacked, and a large group of anti-fascists then travelled to Islington, anticipating that other fascists would regroup at The Agricultural. They did come, and they were attacked, including a German fascist, who having just been attacked in the street by an Irish anti-fascist, ran into the 'The Aggy' shouting "Get them, they're not English!".

Again the pub suffered further damage. A more intense campaign of pressure on the establishment was then instigated, and within a few months the landlord gave up and shut the pub. Finally, Chapel Market had seen the back of the fascists.

The key point about the battle for Chapel Market was that after July 1981 the anti-fascists set the agenda. At a time when the main organisations on the Left had abandoned anti-fascism, despite the increase in race attacks and fascist violence, anti-fascists showed that by going on the offensive, rather than just reacting, it was possible to win.

Fighting Talk 20 (August 1998)

Issue 20 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Race Attacks: Cruel Brittania - Joe Reilly

AFA criticism of liberal anti-racist initiatives in working class communities in London.

From Fighting Talk issue 20, 1998.

On July 22 1998 the killers of Hanish Patel were convicted in Harrow Crown Court. His attackers, fellow pupils in the same school, were convicted of manslaughter and grievous bodily harm respectively. According to evidence given at the trial Hanish had been beaten to death in broad daylight for being a 'stupid Paki.' Coming within days of the end of the Lawrence inquiry the disavowal by police of a 'racial motive' in the attack seems cynically apt.

Despite the incontrovertible evidence in the Lawrence case of the racist motive, even at the inquiry police officers still contended that it was 'simple thuggery'. Little surprise then that 'bullying' was the reason offered by police in the Patel murder. What this means is that despite the public relations disaster suffered by the Metropolitan Police at the hands of the Lawrence inquiry team, it is evident that nothing has changed.

Where a racial element is evident in a crime, police will according to statistics continue to detect it in only one out of three cases where it will subsequently be discovered. Additionally it has been estimated that in regard to racial incidents generally, police figures under report the true facts by a factor of ten. Consequently it is likely that from a police perspective that Hanish, attacked for being a stupid Paki', will not even register in the 3,500 racial incidents that occur in Britain every single day.

A number of recent projects have addressed the problem of racism and race attacks in working class communities from the point of view that existing policy is simply not working: is superficial, inadequate and even counter-productive. Of interest to militant anti-fascists is not merely the confirmation of existing suspicions but also an opportunity to explore precisely how to best deny the Far Right any future possibility of exploiting the issues politically. Essentially this means making sure that militant anti-fascism does not get locked behind defending outdated, discredited or untenable political positions; in essence positions that are not seen as fair and rational from a working class perspective.

Looking at things from precisely this perspective is 'Blood Sweat and Tears', a detailed report on the work the Bede Anti-Racist Project in Bermondsey in south London. The primary targets of the Bede Project were the young working class people living there where levels of social and economic discrimination are high and racist attitudes commonplace:

"Racial violence is nothing new [in Bermondsey]. Nevertheless the 90's have witnessed a marked uprise in the vehemence and frequency...two local youth clubs had been closed down and the neighbourhood youth office was operating with only one full time worker".

From the outset the Bede project recognised that in dealing with working class kids "a PC approach would be disastrous". Undoubtedly such a rational approach was influenced by the working class composition of the Bede team: one was a black East Londoner who had done a bit of time, while another was a white south Londoner who had been active in the NF in the 70's.

So, for instance, in a confrontation between local Bermondsey youth and some Somalis the working class influence was decisive. Challenging the racist attitude and attacks was effective because:

"they knew we were on the case and that it wasn't going totally unnoticed, and that made a difference. That was probably more powerful, us stepping in like that than the police coming probably would just have escalated".

In the contact with the kids, however racist, "consistency and respect" were the key words. They noted that the white youth generally had a strongly developed though "false" sense of injustice - "it’s not fucking fair". While the Bede Project had some personal successes with individual youngsters, converting them from violent racists into equally aggressive anti-racists, the project seemed to accept that without an explanation of why things were like they were, and how to change them permanently and on a national basis; without the ability to replace the race card with a class analysis and hate reversal, the do-gooder aspect and the overall lack of political symmetry can leave no lasting impression on the area as a whole. Racist culture will continue to propagate because of the amount invested in reactionary propaganda, and of the individuals converted many will revert to type.

During the three years it is estimated that of the 200 kids worked with around 15% were turned around. While acknowledging that "in Bermondsey the whole culture is racist. It'll take more than a youth project to change things". When from the Bede perspective the wider world was viewed at all, the encouragement was to protest "legitimately", i.e.. petitions, lobbying, etc. In other words the working class kids were encouraged to plead on bonded knee to the very institutions that have rejected them. Ultimately the cutting of funds for the Bede project itself proved the biggest illustration of that rejection.

This vital aspect, the overall lack of funds, was repeated again and again and was the dominant though subliminal theme. In its own damning conclusion the Bede project was not slow to point the finger, denouncing the whole orthodox, politically anti-racist mindset that pervades much of the voluntary sector as negative, reactionary and counter-productive:

“The feasibility study conducted by Bede House Association in 1992 prior to the project, showed a blanket reluctance among the existing youth and voluntary sector services to work with the young people who were the project's primary target group. Widely regarded as too threatening and dangerous to work with, they had effectively been written off as a lost cause. The intention to bring about changes in their behaviour and views about race, was therefore regarded as idealism."

If to challenge working class attitudes to race is to be regarded as hopeless "idealism" then presumably the orthodox anti-racist position is that racists are born not made. And if by that standard the working class is racist, then it justifies shoring up, empathising with, and vitally, funding only the victims of racism. The perpetrators, and the community that spawned them need punishment not understanding. Compounding the problem is that monies allocated to groups on the basis of race is widely regarded as both prejudiced and profligate. One recorded report from the Southwark News highlighted the fact "that of the £140,000 given to black women's groups between 1992 and 1993, in one off grants, almost a third had been misspent or was unaccounted for."

The Council rebuttal spoke only of "a misunderstanding between how the council thought the money would be spent and how the groups thought it would be spent." Which is merely to confirm in the eyes of the public that of the examples given by the paper, i.e. of people submitting receipts for only £923 out of £6000 allocated (and of the amount actually accounted for £789 of the £923 was spent on groceries) the rebuttal is not substantiated.

Rather than deal with the prima facie case the council attacks the paper for "careless journalism" particularly in the "current climate of increasing racist activity - by implying that black groups are less accountable than others - an implication without evidence." Now there cannot be the slightest quiver of doubt that such an article would feed racism; however to even consider where precisely the ultimate responsibility lies for that state of affairs, i.e.. with the racists or with council policy, would itself be condemned out of hand as racist - by the policy makers!

For all its honesty, throughout 'Blood Sweat and Tears' there is an obvious, though unstated, need for an anti-racism with a broader analysis of society than simply being against something. Otherwise the feeling remains it is only the racists that have rounded philosophical solutions. Ultimately progressive solutions need to be based on more than the moral choice of individuals, but must instead be tied into the collective self-interest of the individuals and neighbourhood as a whole.

it is from this premise that 'Routes of Racism: The Social Basis of Racist Action' tackles the issue of race attacks. Routes of Racism, written by Roger Hewitt:

"is an account of major developmental work with young people in central and southern parts of the Borough of Greenwich in order to extend understanding of the social basis of racist activity and thereby facilitate appropriate and effective strategies and resources to counteract it."

Its objectives and conclusions are more far-reaching, controversial and radical than the Bede study. Primarily because from the outset it was prepared to openly identify anti-racist custom and practice itself, and the mindset of the class who frame it, as a source of many of the problems.

Along with the other reports reviewed it observes that pockets of extreme racism in certain neighbourhoods has not changed or is changing for the worse "if the severity of assault is a measure." Early on it identifies what it regards as "a major theme" which is the widely held perception of "unfairness" by the white working class community, which in contrast to 'Blood Sweat and Tears' the Greenwich report insists "cannot be dismissed as illogical or racist".

This 'unfairness perception' stems from the belief that minority problems are constantly highlighted, but the:
"problems, grievances and perspectives of the white community are ignored by the press, local authority, the schools, the police, the government and so on. This theme is widespread in all age groups and all social classes in Greenwich".

'Routes of Racism' considers it most important that this perspective of "unfairness" is responsible for deflecting attempts to tackle more 'extreme' racism. In that a culture of denial fostered by genuine resentment of being continually ignored creates a situation within which real and extreme racism can flourish.
Importantly, it notes that racist abuse is usually done:

"by people who believe that they are safe, or in a place that guarantees them safety: racist actions are generally performed by groups and rarely by individuals".

Again from a strategical viewpoint it stresses the main agent for the "reproduction of adolescent racism did not seem to be parents - but peer group". Meaning that it is not inherent or taught from birth, but each generation learns from their own experiences, schools in many cases feeding the grievance.

In addition to the anti-racist strategy in Greenwich schools:

"Local government anti-racist policies clearly show a tendency to appear to buy into racialisation a very visible way... and in this creation of difference of difference communities are set against one another."

This analysis of current economic ills was provided by one 15 year old girl:

"I don't like the blacks full stop right. We brought 'em over 'ere for slaves, but now they are getting all the money and taking it off out of our money".

Her rationale being that if we, the working class, have nothing then it can only be because they, the blacks, are getting a large percentage of what would normally be doled out to us. No hint, or suspicion on her part that if the working class are being badly done by, maybe this is how the working class were always treated.

The study notes that in dealing with ethnic cultures the emphasis is on "each minority culture is celebrated as being unitary". In other words the inference is that within minority communities, unlike their white English counterparts there is neither distinct class interests, or class conflict. Not only absolutely inaccurate but this celebration of diversity often results in a "stereotypical ethnicity" in which even the "ethnic minority pupils cannot identify".

More insidiously the denial of any similarities with the indigenous social structures (a working class, middle class, etc.) results in a complete lack of empathy and an inability to comprehend how such societies might function. A rational conclusion might be that if this is how African or Indian societies are run it can only mean that they are 'different'. While being different might justify them celebrating their own culture in their adopted country it must also feed the resentment and confusion of the white working class children who recognise that this espousal of cultural variety "includes all cultures but their own."

Of course it is not the case that this approach is exclusive to schools. Instead it carries over into the adult world and is reflected in council policy on a national basis. And because the entire multi-racial policy is superficial, simplistic and lacks credibility, it is without any tangible return except in providing raw material for the propagandists of the Far Right.

According to the research conducted in 1995 the British National Party were found to have an important symbolic significance for local kids even when they didn't have a physical presence in the community:

“If the BNP didn't exist we'd probably have a black government. If we didn't have them we have nothing...we wouldn't have nobody sticking up for the whites."

It is evident from where this youngster stands `whites' and working class are interchangeable. As a consequence of its research 'Routes of Racism' concludes:

"new approaches are needed based on how young whites actually conceive of their world rather than on moral and political agendas imposed from outside."

What is clear throughout, is through failing to address the factor of class the anti-racist initiatives, whether well intentioned or cynical, inevitably leaves race as the prime motivator. The implied obligation for black and white alike, being that you identify with people of your own race first. Or only. One consequence of the strategy is that individuals are encouraged or indeed forced to think along nationalist lines politically. “What do we get out of it?” Meaning my tribe rather than my class.

Alternatively, if you identify along racial lines from the stand-point of a race or culture other than your own, see it from the other point of view, from an anti-racist perspective, such a sentiment immediately registers as mealy-mouthed, weak, or ambiguous. To actually act on such a principle means thereafter to be regarded as a renegade whose views will always be suspect. Moreover it is the anti-racist lobby itself which sets out the terms for this inter-racial conflict. In doing so they make no apology for identifying solely with the interests of Blacks and Asians. As they are the victims of racism, they need the defending. The white community as aggressors, as the enemy, they need only to be defeated. Crushed. Their racism is tied up with Britain's imperial past and must be eradicated and so on.

Any sympathy or acknowledgment of bias against them would set back the multi-cultural experiment by a generation. Instead this bias toward creating a black middle class, a middle class designed to be effortlessly assimilated into white society should be applauded and funded runs the argument.

On the other hand they, the whites, cannot ever be rewarded for their contemptible racism, in itself genetic. They are a lost cause. Essentially, it would appear that the middle class legislators see the working class as a people to be pacified first, and then through coercion drill into them, if possible, 'an understanding and an adoption of our superior habits and customs'.

This is why the policy of lots of stick and no carrot has apparent widespread approval in these circles. That this racialisation is often as marked within the Asian and black communities is of course never addressed.

"The fundamental error of morally based anti-racist policies is that they assume that a complicated set of human relations made up of many strands, including class, gender, age, size and race can be slotted into a white versus black pigeon hole. The other things are assumed or not dealt with. This simple model assumes that there is a uniform access to power by all whites, and a uniform denial of access to power to all blacks. Clearly this is not the case. We do not believe that an effective anti-racist policy can exist unless the other issues are dealt with, in particular class and race."

This was the conclusion of 'Murder in the Playground', an inquiry led by Ian McDonald QC into the murder of Ahmed lbqual in Burnage School in 1986. It is poignant that in an era of escalating racial incidents this report both comprehensively challenges the orthodox mindset and... has been totally ignored. Ten years later 'Routes of Racism' concludes:

"We believe that unless anti-racism becomes re-focused and open to new ways of implementation, it is likely that racism will continue to be supported however indirectly from this source. With regard to white adults, and to the routes racism takes through adult talk, we believe that it is here in particular that anti-racism needs to re-focus its theories, policies and practices."

Any anti-racist initiative sponsored by the political establishment, and handed down from above, that fails to acknowledge the social basis of race hatred must be regarded with suspicion, as it is always in the interests of the Establishment to see us fighting each other as an alternative to fighting them. In Britain in 1998, the gap between rich and poor continues to be the highest since records began.

Millions in this country are surviving on crumbs and it is contrary to human nature to expect them to share them. If Establishment anti-racist strategists really wanted integration to work smoothly, the working class communities that play host to immigrants would be rewarded with extra resources rather than as things stand, be penalised by having to share the existing and woefully inadequate provisions. Clearly the existing approach merely pits the most impoverished against the most wretched. Given the body of evidence that exists, for the Establishment to persist in addressing the symptom rather than the cause, raises the question as to whether their efforts can be regarded as a sincere attempt to resolve the epidemic of racial violence or might instead be a strategy to perpetuate it.

No hint, or suspicion on her part that if the working class are being badly done by, maybe this is how the working class were always treated.

The Beat Goes On: A History of Cable Street Beat - Kate Wesprin

A history of Cable Street Beat, the musical wing of Anti-Fascist Action, from Fighting Talk magazine. This article was digitised as part of the collection at

We are pleased to announce the arrival of our newest column 'The Beat Goes On' which is supplied by Cable Street Beat and looks at the wonderful world of music from an anti-fascist perspective. To get the ball rolling Kate Wesprin outlines the history of AFA's music wing, Cable Street Beat.

Cable Street Beat (CSB), the anti-fascist music organisation was originally formed in 1988. There were two main reasons why it was felt important to create CSB. Firstly it was seen as a good way to get a militant anti-fascist message across to a wider audience and secondly, the threat posed by the fascists in respect of the way that they were organising in music, while at the same time attacking gigs, was something that could not go unchecked.

n the 1970s Rock Against Racism was formed due to a number of comments made by prominent musicians. David Bowie had sparked things off by saying that what the country needed was a fascist regime. Later Eric Clapton added to this view by claiming that there were too many immigrants — he thought Enoch Powell had been right.

Ever since the days of punk there had been trouble with fascists at gigs. Trouble again emerged with the arrival of the NF's White Noise Club and later Blood and Honour in the mid-80s. Anti¬fascists had to address the situation. As one early activist who was involved in CSB told me:

"the fascists had built up a movement that was getting a lot of young people involved, mainly skinheads, and what was recognised was that an organisation was needed to get people involved in militant anti-fascism, kind of a left-wing version of Blood and Honour."

What really kicked CSB into action were three incidents during the mid-1980s. The fascists were looking to impose themselves on the wider music scene. They sent a clear message to anti-fascists that certain types of music would not be free to play without the threat of violence. In particular they attacked three gigs, the Pogues, Desmond Dekker and the Angelic Upstarts. Three strands of fascism were apparent in these actions, anti-Irish, anti-Black and anti-socialist.

In response to this CSB and AFA began to organise themselves. They started oil gradually, organising three or four small gigs the first of which was The Blaggers and The Neurotics in The White Horse, Brixton. Coupled with this was the Cable Street Beat Review, an independent voice for militant anti-fascists. It was in a magazine format and although there were only five issues it later developed into Fighting Talk.

Cable Street Beat went from strength to strength; the first big event was a resounding success. The Men They Couldn't Hang played a sell-out gig at Camden's Electric Ballroom, proving that there was support for politics in music especially considering that it was on a Tuesday evening. Before the gig there was a press conference which members of all the bands attended. This was significant in itself, it showed that the bands were prepared to speak out in favour of militant anti-fascism, which in turn led to an increase in coverage in both the music press and on the radio.

The gig was held on the anniversary of the battle of Cable Street. During the gig a veteran of that battle spoke — he got the biggest applause of the whole evening, proving that politics and music could work together encouraging people to get involved and voice their opinions.

Next came the Dance and Defend Tour which took anti-fascist politics all over the country, including London, Brighton, Hatfield, Harlow, and Manchester. The money raised helped pay off the fines of activists arrested during clashes at the Remembrance Sunday NF march.

A great victory came when CSB put on The Angelic Upstarts at the George Robey, Finsbury Park, on 21st January 1989. Previously in May 1988 the band had played in the Astoria. Fascists had caused trouble at the gig and prevented the band from finishing their set. After this they had threatened that the band would never be allowed to play in London again. Militant anti-fascists were adamant that this would not be the case. Once the gig was announced the fascists again repeated the threat claiming that they would be down to carry their threat through. On the night of the gig:

"four dubious individuals turned up, I think really that they wanted to go home, however they were told that they would stay and watch the gig and if their right arms got above shoulder height that they would be pulled off and raffled, once they'd seen the gig they could go home to their mates and let them know what they were up against."

In a review of the gig afterwards it was stated that "They left by all accounts, in subdued mood."

At the same time the fascists were trying to go mainstream, renting premises in Carnaby Street to sell their merchandise. On the day of the Upstarts gig anti¬fascists had picketed the shop:

"the clean up against the sale of Nazi memorabilia in shops around Carnaby Street took off with a vengeance last weekend. More than 200 people joined one anti-fascist picket... the day ended with a march through Carnaby Street itself, which prompted two crop-headed members of the master race to strut from a local pub, only to flee when their courage deserted them. One sought sanctuary in the women's changing room of a nearby boutique."

The fascists tried to step up their campaign when on May 27th 1989 Blood and Honour planned to hold a major international gig in London. Originally they had booked Camden Town Hall under a false name but this was uncovered and stopped by AFA. In response B&H leader Ian Stuart declared that the gig would go ahead no matter what. Even to the point that he promised to refund the ticket money should it not. With a capacity of 1,200 and tickets costing £10 this was quite a considerable sum of money. However AFA got wind of the redirection point and were able to take control of it over an hour before the fascists arrived. Lively skirmishes ensued between anti-fascists and the largely foreign groups of skinheads that were foolish enough to turn up at the redirection point:

"a group of AFA jumped on the tube, getting off at Bond Street, they flew out of the station, straight into the fascists who then got battered. Three young black women who were standing across, the road started clapping and cheering, these fascists had been walking up and a down Oxford Street all day, knocking into people and generally being obnoxious. That same night persons unknown went through the door of the fascist shop in Carnaby Street with a couple of sledgehammers and wrecked a lot of stock. The fascists couldn’t keep it going and the shop owners flung them out.”

It was at this point that the fascists realised that it would not be possible for them to operate openly. They waited three years before they tried again, when with support from the British National Party, they publicly announced another gig redirection point - Waterloo! This has been discussed in many issues of Fighting Talk, and therefore needs little comment, except to say that they have remained very secretive ever since!

CSB organised three Unity Carnivals, the first in 1991. These events highlighted the ability of music and politics to work together, complimenting each other. It was felt at this point that anti-fascists should set the agenda, challenging fascists in their "own" areas:

"the Unity Carnival was part of an ongoing strategy to challenge the BNP in East London with their 'Rights for Whites' campaign. The BNP were having public meetings and marches, clashes ensued which were effective, however it was felt important to take anti-fascist politics to a wider audience. The Unity Carnival was successful in achieving this goal. About 10,000 people attended"

The second Unity Carnival, also on Hackney Downs, provided the ideal opportunity to involve people in direct action. It was at this event that much of support that was to appear at Waterloo two weeks later was found.

The next carnival followed in Newcastle in 1993. The Shamen headlined. Just before the band were to go on someone noticed that the AFA banner had been taken down:

"So the Blaggers and Fundamental preceded to mount the stage and rehang it. After the gig words were exchanged and a few blows. AFA and CSB were determined that the matter should not be left without comment. Letters were written to and published by the music press with the result that a certain amount of money was donated back to the organisations involved in organising the event. The Shamen did not provide their services for free and were obliged to play in front of the banner and there seems little point expecting to play a political event, and then trying to erase the message."

It is important to briefly mention the work of Freedom of Movement. A number of DJs were eager to organize raves to promote the anti-fascist political message. Although it was successful for about a year, producing the “This Is Fascism” double CD and a number of very well attended raves around the country, when FOM began to lose contact with AFA it began to drift.

Having said this it is now time to look to the future and the relaunch of Cable Street Beat. I asked some of those involved previously about the things that were learnt the first time round and their opinions on what Cable Street Beat should be doing in the future:

"All the lessons that have been learnt over the years mean that we can now set something up that will last. You need to keep anti-fascism on the agenda, to keep banging away at the music press, to make people realise that it is not some passing trend, that the problem hasn't gone away. Bands that support AFA must be asked to make a certain level of commitment and there are many ways in which they can help. For example, putting the AFA address on their album sleeves, taking merchandise on their stalls, right through to playing benefits. The fascist bands have always given much greater support to their organisations than we have ever got, after all if you think about it, it doesn't take much to help."

In the South of France, where Le Pen's FN control 4 towns, one of the first targets they have attacked is youth culture. We have been warned!

CSBFT20.pdf274.61 KB
Four dubious individuals turned up... they were told that they could stay and watch the gig and if their right arms got above shoulder height that they would be pulled off and raffled.

Fighting Talk 21 (April 1999)

Issue 21 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Race Attacks: Time For Action

In December 1998 Anti-Fascist Action was invited to participate in a seminar on race attacks, held in east London. Along with youth and community workers, academics and local campaigns, the meeting was very constructive and illustrated the growing concern that official anti-racist strategies are not working. The following article was AFA's opening contribution to the discussion.

Our involvement here revolves around a number of long standing concerns:

(a) that race attacks are at an all-time high and rising (up another 6% nationally in British Crime Survey figures this year),

(b) that the Far Right are positioning themselves to take full advantage of Labour's abandonment of the working class,

(c) that current race strategies aid and abet in dividing society on racial lines,

(d) the British National Party's change of strategy puts their destiny in their own hands.

Today we live in a country whose citizens believe it to be scrupulously fair but where one in three openly admit to being racist, where the level and intensity of race attacks has been likened to political terrorism, and whose youth has been judged the most reactionary in Western Europe, a country where the disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities that die in police custody has been condemned by the United Nations and where electoral support for the Far Right (despite standing less candidates) has risen by over 1000%.

Add to this the reality of Social Democrats attacking their former constituency and the orthodox Left collapsing of its own accord, and you have, we believe, all the trace elements required of a doomsday scenario.

Prior to the Lawrence inquiry, each of these facts might on its own have been regarded an aberration, rather than as part of a general rightward drift. Prior to the Lawrence inquiry, the commonly held assumptions were that racism and fascism were all but extinct in this country at least, and we had multiculturalism to thank for it. Unlike others in Europe, we in Britain had addressed the problem with sufficient vigour, resulting in a society at ease with itself, ran the argument.

Sections of the liberal media even sought to lecture, and draw comparison with our European neighbours France, Germany, Italy and Austria where the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. If nothing else the Lawrence inquiry has hopefully shattered that smug complacency. All available studies and statistics show that racism is very much alive. Race attacks, probably the most reliable barometer are on a par with Germany where the Far Right are again marching in their tens of thousands and have just recently entered regional government.

When addressing the issue of, race attacks the Home Offices suggested that the new legislation “would send message to the likes of Combat 18”. In a way that comment shows badly the Establishment and their advisers have got it wrong. The suspects in the Lawrence case, as in the vast majority of cases are not card-carrying members of Far Right parties.

The Far Right are not a cause in the rise of race attacks, but do hope – and are determined to be the main political beneficiaries. These days more symptom than cause, it was in fact an attack on a white youth, John Stoner, in the early 1990s that encouraged the British National Party to raise the cry of ‘Rights For Whites’ and from the same platform it became in a short space of time the pre-eminent fascist party.

The BNP now regularly condemn race attacks, from a white viewpoint of course, but also generally; making political capital from linking the growth to the reality of races living cheek by jowl. The prospect of legislation that would seek to discriminate on sentencing on issues related to race, as proposed by the government, will have them rubbing their hands in glee, as confirmation of an `institutional unfairness' against the white working class. Next time round when the battle cry 'Rights for Whites' is raised it may well resonate not only in Bethnal Green, but in the political mainstream as has already happened elsewhere in Europe.

Additionally no matter how well shaped, further legislation cannot hope to deal positively with the problem. Race attacks are at heart politically motivated. As militant anti-fascists we firmly believe the issue needs to be urgently addressed but it will take anti-racist policy itself to be redefined to do so effectively.

As for the question of 'unfairness' this is more than a perception. Indeed it often appears that councils go out of their way to suggest a greater degree of bias at a policy level than might actually be the case. Prior to the Lawrence murder, another black youth, Rolan Adams, was stabbed to death in the same area of south-east London. The trigger that time was the deliberate closing of a local youth club used predominantly by white kids, and the simultaneous opening of another nearby designed intentionally to be used predominantly by black kids. Rolan was killed coming from there.

Undaunted, only months later Camden Council closed a 'white youth club' and simultaneously opened one intended for the exclusive use of Asian youth. The combination saw racial tension instantly increase one hundred-fold. On both occasions the BNP responded to the invitation to intervene. Once again the tension eventually led to murder, this time of a white kid Richard Everitt.

In both examples, it was the Labour councils rather than the Far Right who quite deliberately racialised the situation. The latter merely sought to interpret and exploit the opportunity. And it was of course the responsibility of anti-fascism to clear up the mess.

A month ago, on Nov 17th (199B), in a reference to an independent inquiry into the running of Tower Hamlets, an Evening Standard editorial commented:

"Amongst the welter of serious allegations, racism is the most disturbing. It takes some doing to be suspected of being anti-Bengali by the Bengali residents and anti-white by the whites, but the council seems to have managed it. No doubt it will claim that it is the councillors' attempts to be even handed that have led to the criticisms from both sides, but the form of the complaints suggests that it is more a matter of bias - or worse - in one direction or the other."

Once again council policy, in the name of anti-racism presumably, appears to be pro-actively engaged in pitting communities against each other. From this and other evidence, it is now our belief that the flaw is systemic. While the damage to inter-community relationships and the cause of anti-racism/anti-fascism is often irreparable.

Fascists are made not born, and in all of this the Far Right are positioning themselves in formally socialist terrain as champions of the underdog. For them of course the dogs are all the one colour. That they succeeded in getting just under 10,000 votes in just three constituencies in this part of east London in May 1997 shows a resonance for their ideas not electorally evident since the mid 1970's. That in May next year they expect to have between 6 to 10 million leaflets delivered free door to door, courtesy of putting up candidates to the tune of £50,000 shows the extent of their ambition.

This new-found confidence is a result of both a continuing deterioration among the Left generally, and is complemented by their abandonment in 1994 of the 'marches, meetings, punch ups' strategy in vogue since the 1970's. The upshot is that by and large their political destiny is for the first time in their own hands, in that their strategy now is not to seek out conflict with their opponents, but to take strenuous steps to avoid it.

The incentive for British fascism to jettison the once cherished profile of a 'party of strength' was two-fold. First, their wish to emulate the success of the Euro-Nationalist strategy on the continent, which in effect means `putting votes before principles in order to attain the power to put principles into practice'. Second, a recognition that in the largely clandestine war of attrition between Left and Right they were the heavy losers. In political terms they found themselves in a hatchet fight without a hatchet.

In that the most serious damage on a national level, particularly between 1990 and 1994, was not only to public image or their ability to recruit, but to their infrastructure; their cadre. Inevitably targets for the opposition, and invariably `head first in' they were all too often carried feet first out, and eventually lost to the Party.

Recently a leading strategist explained the mindset:

"Since the opposition actively seek confrontation, it follows that we must continue with the policy of avoiding it wherever possible, putting our efforts into grassroots campaigning rather than high profile public activities announced long enough in advance to allow our opponents to mobilise against them. If AFA can be 'persuaded' to leave our candidates, canvassers and leafletters alone that is all we need to win".

According to the current BNP leadership, the difference between winning and losing now is assiduously avoiding rather than seeking out confrontation. That this change of strategy is being rigorously implemented means that for the moment militant anti-fascism has been outflanked. It is precisely because it is unable to lay a glove on them that they are gradually building an infrastructure and electoral expertise virtually unhindered. This in time, they believe, will allow them to compete on a level playing field in terms of resources and expertise with the major parties, beginning with selected by-elections.

This ability combined with the other ingredients will, they consider, complete the 'normalisation' of their position within the political mainstream. All importantly, mainstream success is dependent not so much on their ability to painstakingly create an audience, but to draw instead from the vast reservoir of reaction whose existence is acknowledged by both sides, but is so far largely untapped. As we see it the counter-strategy designed specifically to drain off this reservoir must be two pronged.

Race attacks are the sea in which the Far Right swim. It is self-evident that the ad-hoc race attacker of today, given the opportunity, will become the organised fascist of tomorrow. Consequently we consider that the cutting edge of an effective counter-strategy at this juncture would be a broad-based and national anti-race attacks campaign, designed both to politically highlight the hidden epidemic, and reverse the isolation between victim and perpetrator at a grassroots level. Clearly, this process of 'draining off' can only be successful if, and when, other government sponsored race initatives are encouraged to consider how they might inadvertently be 'feeding in'.

Since the early 1960s across Europe, by appropriating the arguments of the Left, fascism has astutely been exploiting the right to maintain racial and cultural differences, to the extent that the concept of race as the only, or primary, dynamic in a multi-cultural society cannot any longer be left unchallenged. The political situation demands that in the name of anti-racism that premise is confronted head on, and now is the time to do it.
Otherwise, as Machiavelli noted:

"political disorders can be quickly healed if seen in advance, when for lack of a diagnosis they are allowed to grow in such a way that everyone can recognise them, remedies are too late."

Race Attacks: Not Black And White

When Michael Mansfield QC announced the setting up of a Civil Rights Movement after the Stephen Lawrence enquiry it presented anti-fascists with a challenge. If the Far Right could capitalise on the growing level of race attacks it would give them a major boost and so any movement set up to deal with the issue will have an impact, one way or the other, on the anti-fascist movement. AFA has been discussing the possibility of launching a new initiative around race attacks for some time (see previous article), and the new Civil Rights Movement has forced the pace.

Below we reprint a copy of the leaflet London AFA distributed at the founding conference.

In Britain the Far Right have been forced, through physical confrontation, onto the margins of society. As we all know, conditions are very different in the rest of Europe. Here the absence of an electoral profile for the Far Right has allowed government, media, race relations and political circles to regard race attacks as no more than another form of anti-social behaviour. The Stephen Lawrence inquiry has highlighted the limitations of the analysis and calls for a more fundamental review of racism in society. Race attacks are at an all-time high. Estimates based on British Crime Survey figures, put racially motivated incidents at between 2,500 and 3,000 a week and rising. The recent Joseph Rowntree report suggests that this figure needs to be adjusted upwards due to even greater levels of under-reporting than previously feared. Moreover, it is clear that racist violence has been on a steadily rising curve since 1982.


It should be noted with concern that Britain now has a race attack record on par with Germany, where membership of the Far Right is numbered in tens of thousands, and where fascist parties recently entered regional government. In the past the growth in racial incidents may often have had a relationship to Far Right activity in the area. Today, it is quite incorrect to lay the blame for race attacks with the relevant fringe groups such as Combat 18.

The British National Party have sought to break their forced isolation by shifting towards more electoral models, learning from their European counterparts. With their call for 'Rights For Whites' they have presented themselves as the champions of the white working class feeding off the racialisation of working class community problems. This tactical retreat by the BNP has taken them out of the headlines. They are much less visible to those who don't live in their target communities and their new direction is less newsworthy. In the BNP's own words from 1994: "No more meetings, marches, punch-ups".

Between 1982 and 1998 despite having stood fewer candidates, the Far Right's number of votes rose by roughly one thousand per cent. Now the BNP, which claims a thirty five per cent growth in membership in 1998 alone, intends to distribute recruitment propaganda to an estimated twenty million people as part of its European election campaign in June 1999.

So while the BNP are working hard to position themselves to benefit from the current racial tensions they remain as much symptom as cause.


Despite good intentions, current equal opportunities practice contributes to the deepening racist climate in the country. The orthodox equal opportunity approach is individually focused and morally based. It sees racism as an individual problem or set of flawed personal beliefs. Crucially, it falsely assumes that there is a uniform access to power by all whites and uniform denial of access to power to all blacks. The resulting strategies: anti-racist training, education for young people and advertising campaigns have been rigorously applied. The clear problem is that despite being reached by this model, people's views are not being altered for the better. Instead, many only learn to express racist views where they feel 'safe'.

This doesn't bridge the divides within society, it just builds a wall of silence. The fact that banning racist language in the home is even being discussed is a clear indication that orthodox equal opportunities models have failed to marshal widespread support.

A failure in anti-racist training and education fails all in society. It presents simplistic and patronising identities of many black people (what has been described as the "samosas, saris and steel drum" approach) while many white people are left feeling that a celebration of cultural diversity means any culture other than their own. This situation has been exacerbated by the significant cuts in youth and community services which have resulted in reduced activities and opportunities, particularly in inner city areas. This all allows the BNP to step in and offer a racist identity to the 'cultureless' white working class. So much for fostering better community relations!

The main problem with the orthodox approach is that it over simplifies the problem and divides local communities into 'perpetrators' and 'victims'. This portrays white people, particularly the working class, as inherently racist; resulting in policy that all too often racialises very real social problems: housing, education, access to council services, lack of meaningful political representation, etc.

The genuine grievances about social inequalities, which the white working class share with many of their black working class counterparts, are dismissed through a fear of pandering to the 'perpetrator' community. In a society where the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, a policy of redistributing the limited resources available to working class communities on ethnic grounds, can only set the most impoverished against each other.

Racists are not born, they are made. Race attacks are the extreme outcome of this process. Race attacks have become part of a systematic attempt in some areas to make them, or to keep them, 'white'.

As such this race attack epidemic has more in common with political terrorism than street crime. In all areas of policy and practice the government is calling for work to be evidence-based. The vigorous application of orthodox equal opportunities through the Town Halls, should have loosened the grip of racism on each successive generation. On the contrary, according to research in South East London, racist attitudes in school children are more extreme than those held by their parents.

In any other field, such a systematic failure would have led to a questioning of both policy and practice. The race relations industry prevents the necessary debate on its work by accusing its critics of racism. It is vital that such a response must not be allowed to dominate the future Civil Rights Movement.


Despite the total failure of the criminal justice system to respond effectively to the murder of Stephen Lawrence, it has been argued that legislation is the solution. There is already a substantial lack of confidence in the police among ethnic minorities. This is based on the dismal clear up rates for racially motivated crime, compounded by the police's ability to only detect a racial element in one in three crimes where a racial motive is later identified. Against this background the notion of 'additional sentences' is simply a distraction: yet again being focused on the individual rather than tackling a wider political problem. Other than providing mouth-watering propaganda for right-wing extremists, it can expect to have no tangible effect.


• Orthodox models of equal opportunities racialise social problems in such a way as to set communities against each other.
• Equal opportunities models which assume that there is a uniform access to power by all whites and a uniform denial of access to power to all blacks must be rejected.
• Anti-racist strategies that are not broadly accepted as reasonable and rational by working class communities (both black and white) are counterproductive and deflect attempts to tackle extreme racism.
• The impact of systematic cuts in youth and community provision and its relationship with the rise of racial tension should be seen as a straightforward case of cause and effect.
• The race attack epidemic is a symptom of a wider problem and cannot be solved by additional legislation.
• Race attackers are made not born.
• Organised and systematic racial violence must be addressed from a political rather than criminal perspective.


1. As a matter of urgency the isolation of the victims of race attacks must be reversed through a pro-active, grass roots strategy.

2. All deaths in police custody to be investigated by an independent and accountable body.

3. The Civil Rights Movement should initiate an independent review of current equal opportunities policy and practice in order to support the adoption of an evidence-based approach.

The History & Development of AFA Strategy

From issue 21 of Fighting Talk magazine, 1999.

From the day Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) was founded fourteen years ago, we have always been best known for the use of physical force against fascists on the streets. While being rightly proud of this record the present situation requires that militant anti-fascists develop a political strategy that is just as effective as the physical one has been in the past.

There has never been a blueprint for militant anti-fascism, either political or physical, and AFA has had to develop its own strategies. As the general political situation changes anti-fascists need to move with the times. In Britain, where the main fascist threat comes from the British National Party (BNP) who have withdrawn from 'street activities', there is a danger that if anti-fascists don't follow the fascists in to the political mainstream then we will be outflanked.

Some anti-fascists think that adopting a political strategy means the physical side of the struggle has been abandoned, but the key to AFA's future success lies in our original founding statement which commits the organisation to "physical and ideological opposition to the fascists". The physical side of the strategy has been implemented so successfully that the fascists were forced to withdraw from the streets in 1994 - now is the time to develop and implement a political strategy with the same level of enthusiasm and commitment.
To understand the position we are now in it is helpful to look at the history of AFA as it has developed over the years.

1977 - 1985 The beginnings...

Although AFA was formed in the summer of 1985 the roots of the organisation can be traced back to the anti-fascist squads in the late 1970s. The squads were the physical force wing of the Anti Nazi League (ANL) which had been launched in 1977 to counter the growing threat of the National Front (NF).

The NF had made inroads into the white working class, and in 1974 they set up the NF Trade Unionists Association and were actively involved in a number of industrial disputes. This growing support among the white working class led to increased opposition from the Left and the Trade Union movement and when the National Party (a split from the NF) won two council seats in Blackburn, in May 1976, it was clearly time to turn the growing anti-fascist protests into something more dynamic.

By 1977 organised opposition to the NF reached new heights, in particular at Lewisham in south London where an NF march came under heavy and sustained physical attack from several thousand anti-fascists.

Shortly after this the Anti Nazi League was formed by the SWP arid every fascist activity was now opposed.
The ANL strategy combined imaginative propaganda and physical opposition. Popular bands, sporting celebrities and other individuals with a high profile were used to endorse the anti-fascist message, making sure it had a wider appeal than the usual left-wing campaign. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets were dished out, badges sold, stickers and posters put up. The message was simple but effective; the NF=Nazis.

In the 70s this message was still effective, bearing in mind that the Second World War had only ended 30 years previously, and Britain was very much out of step with the rest of Europe where the Far Right were small and isolated and could only dream of reaching the level of support that the NF had. Indeed the French FN sent activists over to Britain to study the methods of the NF which they have subsequently put to good use.

The propaganda on its own would never have been enough, and the ANL squads provided the necessary physical opposition. The previous years had seen the NF pursue a traditional fascist strategy of trying to control the streets. Left-wing paper sales were attacked, public meetings smashed up and demonstrations harassed.

Between 1977 and the general election in 1979 the ANL squads systematically turned the situation around - attacking fascist paper sales, meetings and marches. The damage that was done to the NF at Lewisham was methodically reproduced around the country. The middle classes would no longer turn out in public, women and old people found it increasingly dangerous to attend activities and anti-fascist successes in the street battles drove away many more. The tide had turned and the fascists were starting to become isolated.

Many original members of AFA learnt their 'trade' during this period and saw how the effective combination of mass propaganda, carnivals, stunts, and physical confrontation could be However the political situation was about to change dramatically as the Tories won the 1979 general election, playing the race card as Thatcher talked about understanding people's fears of being "swamped" by an alien culture; the NF vote collapsed.

The NF split into 3 smaller organisations and entered a period of reorganisation, but anti-fascists remained active. The first problem to be dealt with was the closing down of the ANL, the only active anti-fascist organisation. The ANL's main sponsors, the SWP, had themselves entered a period of reorganisation and started to close down all the campaigns they had launched which had succeeded in drawing in significant numbers of working class people, like the ANL.

With regard to the ANL, the SWP's argument was that now that the NF vote had collapsed and the organisation disintegrated, the Tories were the real enemy. The squads were to be disbanded and the organisers, many of them SWP full-timers, were withdrawn. The only problem was that many of the activists refused to go. Although the NF was in decline the fascists were still active, and now that their electoral prospects had disappeared there was a new intensity to their violent attacks on the 'opposition'. Apart from attacking political opponents they also maintained high profile paper sales at places like Brick Lane and Chapel Market (in London), held demonstrations, recruited among the disillusioned young working class at football grounds and around the punk/Oi/ska music scene. As well as maintaining this high level of activity they provided the political justification and motivation for the rapidly increasing level of racist attacks.

This provided the 'squadists' with the necessary reasons for keeping up the momentum that had been built in the anti-fascist movement. The fascist gangs could be confronted and beaten and the squads were able to attract working class support. The importance of challenging the racists and fascists in working class areas should not be underestimated, and when the middle class leadership of the ANL/SWP, with absolutely no understanding of the situation on the ground, decided to expel the `squadists' in 1981, the future became much clearer. The so-called 'squadists' were never just `streetfighters' and had always had wider political ambitions - and becoming independent of the conservative Left started the process of challenging the traditional left-wing blueprint of how to achieve progressive social change which now sees AFA in the forefront of a new attempt to build a genuine, independent working class movement.

The early 1980s was a period of intense anti-fascist activity, without the media coverage of the late 70s and involving smaller numbers. Nevertheless, the battle for the streets was still being fought. The ANL still existed in name up to 1982, but the occasional activity they called would simply be a protest march on the other side of town from the fascists. While this sort of non-confrontational activity had no effect on the fascists, it also failed to attract anyone else to the anti-fascist movement.

Increasingly, independent groups of anti-fascists were taking the initiative, with solid bases in Manchester, Hatfield and London. In Manchester eight anti-fascists were jailed in 1981 for taking a firm line on fascist intimidation while in London a year-long campaign saw the NF driven off their prestigious sales pitch at Chapel Market (see Fighting Talk 19 for the full story). Hatfield, a small town north of London, was an example of how anti-fascists, based in the community, could win popular support for their views and when the ska band Madness played there in 1980 a large contingent of fascist skinheads who had travelled up from London were severely beaten by the locals who turned out in force.

At this time there were also high profile campaigns in support of young Asians in Bradford and Newham who had been arrested for defending themselves and their communities from racist attacks. Although there was no national co-ordination there was militant opposition to the racists and fascists. This increased level of militancy inevitably led to growing police interest in those responsible, causing further problems for anti-fascists who were in danger of being isolated and picked off.

While militant anti-fascists were having increased success on the streets there was no political strategy running along-side that would have allowed them to fill the political vacuum that was being created with the removal of the fascists. Getting rid of the fascists seemed sufficient. After the 'squadists' were expelled from the SWP in 1981 a decision was taken to form a new organisation in order to stay politically active. This group was Red Action and was the link between the anti-fascist activists in Manchester, London and Hatfield. Militant anti-fascism was consistently promoted in the Red Action paper and not surprisingly it was Red Action who, out of practical necessity, were soon to initiate the launching of a new, national anti-fascist organisation.

1985 - 1989 AFA's Early Years

As the fascists started to reorganise (the British National Party was launched in 1982) and with racist attacks increasing, it became clear that anti-fascism needed to be put back on a wider agenda and a new national organisation was required. One incident in particular led to its formation.

In 1984 the Greater London Council organised a large open-air rally and concert as part of their campaign against unemployment. Halfway through a group of 70 or 80 fascists appeared and attacked the audience and the bands on stage. Initially taken by surprise anti-fascists quickly reorganised and drove the fascists off. A retaliatory attack was launched on a fascist pub that evening to make up for the earlier lack of preparedness. The point was that the fascists were getting bolder, attacking large left-wing activities in broad daylight, and Red Action decided this had to be dealt with.

A leaflet was drawn up and circulated to anyone interested and as a result of this discussions took place with a variety of groups about launching a new anti-fascist organisation. A conference was called in the summer of 1985 and attended by 300 people representing a wide range of groups. The militants, represented by groups like Red Action and the East London Direct Action Movement, made a crucial mistake at this conference because although it was their initiative, acting on information received that the fascists would attack the meeting, they spent the whole meeting outside on stewarding duties. This meant that from the very outset the political orientation was being dictated by others.

Political naivety played a part as well, the militants wrongly assuming that regardless of what was decided in meetings everything could be rectified on the streets, and when the fascists were themselves ambushed after the meeting this seemed to underline the point. Despite this error, which wouldn't be resolved until the relaunch in 1989, the new organisation quickly set about achieving some important results.

The first activity took place in November 1985 when AFA took over the assembly point for the annual NF Remembrance Day parade. These parades were an important part of the fascists' activities attracting several thousand at their height, providing an annual focal point for their supporters and frequently gaining media coverage. On this occasion the fascist stewards were unable to remove AFA and the NF march had to assemble elsewhere and was delayed for an hour. Not that dramatic but a signal of intent for the future.

It is worth looking at the Remembrance Day marches over the next few years because they illustrate the differences within AFA. Although the larger left-wing organisations did not join AFA (eg. SWP, Militant, Communist Party, etc.) it was made up of some smaller socialist and anarchist groups, various groups active within the race relations lobby like the Newham Monitoring Project and the Refugee Forum, Searchlight, and non-aligned individuals. It ranged from militant anti-fascists who had seen the effect of physical confrontation on the fascists to groups who wanted to put pressure on the government to change various laws and fund particular projects.

Initially the contrasting agendas worked together and when AFA called a National Demonstration on Remembrance Day 1986 over 2,000 people responded, making it the biggest anti-fascist mobilisation since the 70s. It made the front page of the Daily Mail on the Monday morning which was a significant step in putting anti-fascism back on the agenda. The struggle between fascists and anti-fascists, fought on the streets around the country since the collapse of the ANL, had been almost completely ignored up to this point.

The following year another march was called, basically because the previous one had been so successful and after the NF march a large contingent of fascists would make their way to Trafalgar Square to attack the Non-Stop Anti-Apartheid picket outside South Africa House. The AFA march was a way of getting a large number of anti-fascists into the area to confront the NF, which was successfully achieved.

By 1988 there was an argument about a third march; around the question of what was the point of having the march. The march was getting smaller, the media had lost interest, and it was becoming an annual event with no discussion about its effectiveness. The militants were keen to oppose the NF on Remembrance Day but felt a march wasn't the best the interests of 'unity' the militants-went along with the march again, and scored another notable success against the fascists afterwards.

By 1989 the Remembrance Day march caused a split. The liberals called a march which attracted less than 300 (compared to 2,000 in 1986) while the militants took over the fascists' assembly point and controlled much of the surrounding area. A number of fascists were prevented from reaching their march and the NF were seriously delayed. Such was the pressure they were under, coupled with the defeats they had suffered in Trafalgar Square over the previous 2 years, that for the first time the NF didn't try to attack the anti-apartheid picket afterwards, presumably relieved just to get out of the area in one piece.

For the militants this episode highlighted a key component of anti-fascism - to be effective. There is no blueprint but any mobilisation must have a specific purpose. While the liberal agenda called for protests against fascist violence, for more police involvement, and for the State to deal with the problem of a growing Far Right, the militants were developing a strategy that would stop the fascists being able to operate openly and challenge them in the constituency they had most success in - the white working class. Rather than appealing to the victims of fascism the militant strategy was aimed at the potential recruits.

The first four years of AFA's existence weren't negative, the decline of the NF Remembrance Day parade being one example of AFA's success. In 1986 an NF march in Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk was so thoroughly disrupted that the then NF leader Nick Griffin (now a senior BNP figure) actually stopped holding demonstrations altogether.

Another area of fascist activity was the NF's White Noise Club, set up to promote fascist bands, but 'financial mismanagement' soon saw the bands break away from the NF to set up their own Blood and Honour organisation (B&H). By 1988 they had established themselves in London's West End, getting two shops just off Carnaby Street to stock their merchandise and using local pubs as meeting places. At this time the European situation was changing rapidly with the Far Right gaining support in many countries. In Europe the fascist skinhead scene was an integral part of these moves and many European delegations arrived in Carnaby Street to meet Skrewdriver and B&H supremo Ian Stuart.

AFA set up Cable Street Beat (CSB) in 1988 to address the problem of B&H and of fascists attacking gigs by bands they considered a problem - the Pogues (Irish), Desmond Dekker (black) and the Upstarts (socialist). Some high profile gigs were organised and got national media coverage which allowed AFA/CSB to highlight the growing problem of fascism at home and abroad, and to promote a strategy to deal with it - no platform.

The key date in the campaign against B&H was 27th May 1989. The fascists had booked Camden Town Hall for a thousand strong rally, which at £10 a head would raise a fair bit of money. AFA discovered the venue and got it banned, despite opposition from Searchlight who wanted to monitor the event, and called a counter-demonstration at the fascists redirection point, Speakers Corner. Hundreds of fascists were attacked and chased off and never made it to the rearranged gig in Kent, and later that evening one of the fascist shops was attacked and ransacked. So on one day B&H's boast of being in control was cruelly exposed to an international audience and the last of their shops was forced to close down. Shortly afterwards lan Stuart moved to the Midlands. Their efforts to operate openly and move into the mainstream had been defeated.-

The other important point about 27th May was the hundreds of anti-fascists who rallied to AFA's call to confront the boneheads. This highlighted another internal problem which was having an organisation but no structure that could accommodate activists. AFA had been 'run' by individuals who represented only themselves. This meant that in London, for example, half a dozen individuals could outvote the two Red Action delegates who represented 100+ stewards!

Apart from the lack of democracy there were other hostile agendas at work, and at the very first national conference in 1986 a Searchlight-led anti-anarchist smear campaign was launched which led to Class War being suspended and all the other anarchist groups and Red Action walking out in solidarity. Red Action returned later to prevent the initiative being lost altogether. The following year there was an attempt to get Red Action expelled on a host of trumped up charges. These were defeated but clearly signalled that there was a fight on for the future direction and effectiveness of anti-fascism.

The 1987 conference also saw a proposed name change for the organisation, from AFA to Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Action (ARAFA). The significance of this was that it was an attempt to change AFA from having a very practical, sometimes physical, strategy designed to fight fascism that was meeting with growing success to a more conservative lobbying group, grant-funded and establishment friendly. This strategy is still familiar today, one of putting race above class. This move was also defeated.

By 1989 these internal disagreements had come to a head over the Remembrance Day march and the good response to the May 27th mobilisation showed there was a receptive audience for militant anti-fascism.

London AFA called a conference and relaunched itself around the original founding statement with the additional point that we were not fighting fascism to maintain the status quo but from a pro-working class position. On this basis the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement (DAM) rejoined (after the Class War walkout) along with the Trotskyist Workers Power. The liberals withdrew.

So with Red Action, the DAM, Workers Power and non-aligned individuals AFA started to reorganise. Branches were set up to accommodate activists and a structure implemented that meant AFA was run from the bottom up; in other words controlled by the activists. AFA was now democratic and had an agreed strategy.

While the Left spent most of the 80s failing to 'kick out the Tories' the militants in AFA recognised that it was the Far Right who had the potential to recruit in the white working class. The first step in trying to build any progressive working class movement was to remove the fascist influence from these areas. Only then, once the space was created, could the Left fill the vacuum. The Left's failure to prevent the fascists from physically dominating them meant that anti-fascism assumed a key role.

The early AFA years had succeeded in getting anti-fascism onto a wider agenda and as the Far Right started to grow in this country and especially Europe it was an important achievement. This period had also shown that it was not possible to have an effective anti-fascist organisation with two contradictory strategies. The liberal anti-fascist strategy is ‘Anyone But Fascists’ (ABF), as seen on the Isle of Dogs where a Labour council's corruption and indifference to the local working class population led to the situation where the Far Right, in the absence of any credible left-wing alternative, was able to get a councillor elected in 1993 (the BNP's Derek Beackon).

The ABF response was to campaign vigorously for the Labour Party in the next election, which succeeded in unseating the BNP, but leaves the situation unresolved with Labour back in power who were responsible for the problem in the first place. The militant strategy is more ambitious: create an independent working class alternative to Labour and the BNP.

Although this example is more recent, it summarises the contradictions that existed in the 1985-89 period. It is often wrongly assumed that the difference between liberals and militants is simply about the use of physical force, but in AFA's case it was a political difference.

With three national organisations on board it was now planned to expand AFA's field of operations. Although there were other AFA groups around the country the only group outside London organised around a militant strategy was in Manchester. Of the other groups the two best known were Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association (funded by the local council) and Leeds, both active but following a Searchlight pro-State agenda.

1990 onwards

Almost as soon as AFA had been relaunched the BNP initiated their Rights Far Whites campaign (RFW) in 1990. Starting in London's East End when a white boy was stabbed by Asians, it soon spread around the country and focused on the bad conditions experienced by an abandoned white working class. The BNP started to work in local areas, dealing with local issues, and by August 1990 they won 25% of the white vote in a local election in the East End. While the electoral strategy showed a level of support for the Far Right, because the BNP held public election rallies and meetings it allowed AFA to play havoc with their organisation on the ground.

In September 1990 3 AFA activists were jailed for a total of 11 years for an attack on a prominent fascist skinhead; clearly meant as a deterrent. The level of fascist violence against AFA was also increasing, with a bomb being thrown into an AFA public meeting in east London in November 1990. (No one was injured.)

The BNP had completely overtaken the NF as the dominant fascist party now and their activities started to cover the whole country. In Scotland they became active focusing on support for Ulster Loyalism rather than the traditional anti-black racism south of the border.

As the temperature increased it was obvious the rest of the Left would become involved. Left-wing paper sales, especially the SWP, were being regularly attacked throughout the country and as the fascists continued to pick up support the Left would suffer if AFA was seen to be the only organised opposition. Initially AFA's attitude was to approach these groups with a view to co-operation. Although there was no intention of surrendering AFA's independence or strategy it was felt the increased forces available to these groups could, if working to an agreed plan, increase the pressure on the fascists and help to stop the State picking off the militants. AFA's approaches were rejected out of hand by the entire Left.

Despite this, 1991 saw AFA's most ambitious campaign to date being launched in east London, which had been made a national priority by the BNP. 60,000 leaflets were distributed on the estates, work was done with schools and community groups, the Unity Carnival attracted 10,000 people, the fascist paper sale at Brick Lane was put under pressure, the BNP were forced out of local sympathetic pubs and in November 1991 a 4,000-strong AFA demonstration marched through Bethnal Green - the supposed BNP heartland - completely unopposed. Young white Eastenders had seen the 'lefty' stereotype challenged and the BNP turned over, and contact was made with groups of young Asians. As 1991 drew to a close the situation looked promising, but all that was about to change.

The Left did get involved, but not with AFA, and having withdrawn from anti-fascist politics since the 1970s they now launched their own anti-fascist [organisations]. Instead of filling the political vacuum they simply tried to duplicate what AFA was doing. The SWP relaunched the ANL, Militant set up Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE), and the Labour Party, Communist Party and black careerists established the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA).

April 1992 saw the national relaunching of AFA which was now vigorously pursuing the strategy particularly in Scotland and the North West. The BNP were very active around Rochdale, Oldham, and Burnley, towns just outside Manchester's fascist - free zone. The success of AFA in disrupting the BNP's efforts can be seen by the response of the police who arrested two AFA organisers the night before a planned activity in Rochdale. They were released without charge once the day was over.

The level of confrontation was very high during this period, which included the now famous Battle of Waterloo in September 1992. B&H and the BNP were working fairly closely together at this time and had hoped a successful gig (pre-gig interviews were arranged with the Press on Waterloo Station) would enable B&H to operate openly with all the political and financial advantages this would have created for the fascists. The anti-fascist victory once again put paid to their plans.

AFA had deliberately adopted the single issue approach because when it was relaunched in 1989 around a pro-working class position the political composition of the organisation ranged from Trotskyist to Anarchist, Stalinist to Social Democrat. To keep the necessary unity on the streets for the important battles at the time there had to be an agreement that AFA's role was to create the space for a progressive working class organisation to fill; it wasn't AFA's job to fill it. By the time the BNP had won a council seat in 1993 it was becoming increasingly clear that no one was willing or able to fill the vacuum. This was underlined by the Left's support for Labour in the subsequent election 6 months later which saw the fascists lose their seat. The wheel had turned full circle, the Left had capitulated.

Although the BNP lost their council seat they actually increased their vote by 30%. This continuing electoral success led to a radical change in policy by the BNP, and in April 1994 they called what in effect was a ‘cease-fire'. They issued a statement saying that there would be "no more meetings, marches, or punch ups." They would now concentrate on a Euro-Nationalist electoral strategy, hoping to emulate the success of the French FN.

The intensity of this period proved too much for some of the groups in AFA. For some the physical demands proved to be too much, but politically it was becoming clear that AFA would have to break with the traditional Left and this also caused problems. It was Labour's indifference to the white working class that allowed the BNP to appear as the radical alternative, and yet most of the Left wouldn't break with Labour. Those that did had absolutely no credibility; to illustrate this point the Communist Party of Great Britain (formerly the Leninist) got 1/10th of the BNP's vote when they stood in Tower Hamlets in the 1992 general election.

The situation in London was slightly different from the rest of the country, partly because the BNP felt they could build on the political base they already had without the public activities, and partly because AFA was more established. The battle on the streets continued elsewhere for about a year. After B&H got smashed in London on May 27th 1989, Ian Stuart moved to the Midlands to run the B&H operation from there because the fascists were relatively strong.

By 1994 the tide had turned and both east and west Midlands were being fiercely contested with AFA setting its own agenda. In the North West the experienced BNP organiser 'retired' at the beginning of 1995 due to the continual pressure from AFA and later that year the BNP's public activities ceased in Scotland and the Midlands. To some it may seem that the war had been won, but the reality was that the conflict was simply moving into a new arena.

The BNP's change of strategy inevitably meant that AFA needed to adapt to the new situation, but the emergence of Combat 18 (C18) kept the prospect of street confrontation alive. Although it is now clear that C18 were set up by the State, primarily to examine links with Loyalist paramilitaries, there was also an attempt to divert AFA away from addressing the major political issue of the BNP's growth by getting involved in 'gang warfare' with C18. Although they had previously existed as the BNP's stewards group from the outset they were promoted by Searchlight and the media as something new and extremely dangerous.

Something didn't add up. C18 published hit lists and bomb manuals that broke every law possible and yet they were allowed to continue. It was clear the State were pulling the strings and it was also clear that Searchlight and their supporters were heavily involved.

AFA helped discredit the myth of C18 on the ground, in particular by disrupting the Ian Stuart Memorial concert in 1994 and a UVF march in Central London in 1996, but the role of Searchlight in promoting them showed a greater allegiance to the State's agenda than the anti-fascist movement.

As pressure on the street forced the BNP to make political adjustments, by 1994 AFA was also making changes. AFA recognised it was a three-cornered fight against the fascists, the State and the conservative Left. The damage that groups like the ANL did to anti-fascism has already been mentioned, but when they started claiming responsibility in their propaganda for AFA victories like Waterloo it was felt they must be publicly attacked. A 4-page leaflet called 'Don't believe the hype' was produced to answer their lies and expose their strategy as being counterproductive.

From this point on AFA was quite prepared to attack the conservative Left. In the past AFA had been reluctant to get involved in what were seen as being internal arguments, but the result of this was that AFA was either written out of history or completely misrepresented. When John Tyndall (BNP leader) stood in an east London by-election in the summer of 1994 AFA produced a leaflet which took 'anti-fascism' as far as it could go. It described the BNP as being ultra-conservative and showed their policies as being to the right of the Tories.

In an area where people don't vote Tory this was the best propaganda AFA could produce, and yet it was becoming increasingly clear that AFA was fighting the fascists with one hand tied behind its back. No progressive working class forces were moving in to fill the political vacuum that existed in working class areas aid just being 'anti' BNP was not enough. On top of that the police actually prevented AFA from distributing this leaflet while the BNP were allowed to canvass door to door. Militant anti-fascism was being criminalised.

As the BNP's public activities petered out, where there were clashes the police came down hard on AFA. An AFA mobilisation in Kirkby in the Midlands (April 95) was attacked with extreme force by riot police, one activist's leg being broken in 5 places. In Edinburgh shortly afterwards a plainclothes police squad attacked a small group of AFA activists and only revealed their identity when they started losing. Ten AFA members were arrested.

More recently public AFA activities have been subjected to heavy policing -suspected activists stopped in the street and photographed, special squads assigned to monitor AFA, coppers on the street armed with mugshots of suspected organisers, AFA groups surrounded on the street and held for hours.

Interestingly, an anti-fascist protest in Central London (May 98) called by the ANL but not supported by AFA, had a very low key police presence; precisely because AFA wasn't there. So although there is very little public fascist activity, when there is, a great deal of time and money is spent by the State to prevent AFA from making an impact.

Politically AFA addressed the problems thrown up by the BNP election successes, particularly in east London, by developing a new strategy. 'Filling The Vacuum' was agreed in May 1995 and still remains the key to the future. Essentially `Filling The Vacuum' recognises the limitations of only being 'anti' fascist and not being 'for' something else. Now it is up to the anti-fascists to take the initiative and fill the vacuum in the absence of anyone else. The alternative is to allow the fascists a free run.

The 'single issue' aspect of AFA, introduced in 1989 to maintain unity as we entered an intense period of street activity, has run its course. Although AFA will always maintain its independence, militant anti-fascists must now see it as their duty to ensure that the vacuum is filled. The election of a Labour government in 1997, with the Tories discredited and divided after 18 years in power, gives the BNP the opportunity to pose as the radical alternative.

The battle for the streets has been replaced by the battle for hearts and minds, and it is in the direct self-interest of militant anti-fascists to get involved. The 'revolutionary programmes' of the Left are not relevant to working class people and the fascists know this. An independent working class movement can fill the vacuum if it addresses the concerns of ordinary people as its priority.

In different parts of the country AFA activists have got involved with, or initiated, campaigns around working class issues. This is the territory that the BNP have chosen to work in, as the Front National has successfully done in France, and this is where the new chapter of anti-fascism begins.

Fighting Talk 22 (October 1999)

Issue 22 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



Flabby Pacifism: review of "Fascism - Theory and Practice" by Dave Renton

Anti-Fascist Action's review of the Socialist Worker Party member Dave Renton's "Fascism - Theory and Practice" published by Pluto Press in 1999. The review appeared in issue 22 of Fighting Talk magazine.

At a time when the Far Right have lust polled over 11 million votes in the European elections in June and the BNP more than doubled their vote in a number of parts of Britain, this book clearly shows the failure of the Socialist Workers Party/Anti-Nazi League (SWP/ANL) to come to terms with modern day fascism.

Much of the book is an academic analysis of what other writers and historians have said on the subject since the 1920s and is written in such a way as to be of little use to active anti-fascists, but when the author (a member of the SWP/ANL) deals with the current period the weakness of the ANL strategy is fully exposed.

It goes without saying that Anti-Fascist Action is written out of history, and gross exaggeration is commonplace, but his comments on the British National Party's election victory on the Isle of Dogs (1993) draws attention to the flawed analysis. He scoffs at the BNP's anticipation of further electoral success, based on the fact that Beackon lost his seat eight months later, without saying anything on the significance of this episode.

Firstly, despite considerable anti-fascist propaganda, Beackon's election showed the limitations of just being 'anti' and the need to put forward a positive alternative; this led to AFA developing the Filling The Vacuum (FTV) strategy.

Secondly, there is no mention of the Left's support for Labour (who won the seat from the BNP) when it was local disillusion with the Labour Council that caused the problem in the first place. This put the SWP/ANL in the position of defending the status quo, of anti-fascists being hostile to the working class desire for change.

Renton writes that "the revival of the Labour Party as an electoral force undermined the BNP and made it harder for (them) to pose as a viable alternative.” In fact it is precisely because of the election of Labour, both locally and nationally, armed with its anti-working class agenda that, in the absence of a genuine working class alternative, allows the BNP to pose as a very "viable alternative".

As he states later on, "if anti-fascists fail to use the language of class against capital, then they will not persuade working class or lower middle class people who are genuinely angry about the world they live in."

So quite how the SWP/ANL manage to resolve the contradiction between their support for Labour and their role as a “revolutionary socialist party fighting for the interests of the working class” remains a puzzle; and by all accounts is starting to split the party.

According to Renton “Beackon lost his seat in May 1994 and since then the BNP have gone into decline." This is absurd. Not only do the SWP/ANL ignore the writing on the wall after the Isle of Dogs election with regards to anti-fascist strategy, but basic reality is denied. Since 1994 the BNP have adopted the Euro-Nationalist strategy, so successful elsewhere, and have steadily built the necessary infrastructure to sustain it.

Even the most basic knowledge of fascism in Britain would reveal that the BNP have grown in numbers, equipment, technical expertise, and the ability to exploit the media. On what basis can you claim the BNP has "gone into decline"?

Further evidence that the SWP/ANL strategy is built on sand is Renton's assertion that despite the growth of the Far Right, there is also a "rebirth of radical forces on the Left''. The evidence in Britain is that the Left is in terminal decline. While it is obviously true “that it would be wrong to see the continuing success of fascism as inevitable" the situation clearly won't improve if the Left continues to follow strategies that have failed so spectacularly for the last 30 years. The Socialist Labour Party, the main 'left of Labour' rival to the fascists in the Euro-elections were beaten in 7 out of 10 regions where they competed. Despite the BNP's recent attempts to attract middle class support, their main base of support is in white working class areas. Until the Left start to represent the needs of these communities the fascists will continue to grow.

The reason Fighting Talk is reviewing this book in some detail is because the "final section proposes a strategy by which it may be possible to drive fascism, once again, beyond the pale". So, what is this strategy?

Renton starts off by arguing that the best way to defeat fascism is through the United Front - a ''strategy of working class unity". When Trotsky developed the theory in the 1930s he argued that the Socialist and Communist parties. should unite to beat the fascists; in those days both parties were mass working class parties.

Nowadays Labour (the equivalent of European Socialist or Social Democratic parties) is not a mass party but a middle class electoral machine, and their standing in working class communities is well illustrated by the fact that they lost all their council seats in the former Labour stronghold of the Rhondda Valley in May's council elections. Unity with Labour only serves lo discredit anti-fascists and helps the BNP appear as a radical alternative.

Similarly the Communist Party has all but disappeared and certainly the SWP are in no position to present themselves as a mass working class party. So the two central components of the United Front strategy, mass working class reformist and revolutionary parties, are missing. Hardly an auspicious start!

And it’s worth pointing out that as far back as April 1990, when the BNP's Rights For Whites campaign was launched, AFA wrote to the SWP inviting them to "join with us to fight fascism". Not only did they not reply, but two years later; having made no effort to fill the political vacuum created by AFA, they relaunched the ANL to try (unsuccessfully} to duplicate the work AFA was already doing. So much for unity.

As for his claim that "the ANL was established as an orthodox United Front”, not only have we shown that the necessary components are missing, but the ANL's cooperation with Searchlight and the Labour Party, who work closely with the police and intelligence agencies, in fact makes it a Popular Front in Marxist definition (i.e. an alliance with 'anti-fascist’ sections of the establishment) - or perhaps better described as an Unpopular Front!

Renton then goes on to say that "where fascism is already seeking to control the streets, the most important thing to do is to confront the fascists". But when SWP paper sales were being targeted and beaten off the streets all across the country in the early 1990s, the official response was to deny the attacks were taking place.

At a time when the BNP leadership was seriously concerned about the damage that AFA was doing to them, these attacks on the SWP were vital morale boosters for a disillusioned membership. Due to AFA implementing a strategy that the SWP/ANL promote but refuse to act on, the BNP have withdrawn from street activities which is why AFA has developed new strategies to keep the pressure on the fascists. The lack of discussion about this important change of strategy, evident since 1994, is another weakness.

Presumably the absence of any BNP marches and rallies allows the ill-informed or superficial anti-fascist to believe they have gone away, which coupled with a lack of involvement with working class communities leads to complacency. He tells us that “where fascist groups are small, isolated and squabbling, it would be a mistake for Marxists, democrats, or socialists to devote their entire energy to hounding down the few remaining fascists”.

Since 1980 the SWP have often tried to reduce militant anti-fascism to some form of gang warfare, having expelled their own squads, and while they deflected criticism of their abandonment of anti-fascism during the 80s by using this sort of smear, it takes on a new meaning in the present situation where the Far Right are growing, but largely ‘invisible'. Just because Searchlight have told them the BNP are in decline doesn't mean it’s true. And in yet another contradictory move, it is in fact the ANL who insist on mobilising against the "few remaining fascists" of the dead-in-the-water National Front while failing to develop a strategy against the real threat posed by the BNP.

This failure to address the political problems facing anti-fascists is matched by their inability to deal with the physical side of the struggle. Masters of the militant slogan (‘Smash the BNP!', 'By Any Means Necessary!' etc.) their confusion is complete when contemplating anything more demanding than lollipop-waving.

Renton advocates a militant No Platform position and urges “anti-fascists to go into areas where fascists seem strongest” but then argues that any “physical confrontation… must be primarily non-violent”. The contradiction is glaringly obvious, and any of the young students sent into the BNP ambush on the ANL's first ever mobilisation (east London 1992) could testify to the serious injuries that are inflicted when security is ignored. It is no consolation for him to add "where fascism poses a significant threat, anti-fascists may have to defend themselves", because if this isn't organised it won't happen.

Significantly, when he describes the success of the original ANL in the 1970s he mentions the leaflets, the badges and the carnivals but not the squads. The success of the ANL was the combination of physical and political opposition, one could not have succeeded without the other. Not only were the squads used to disrupt fascist marches and meetings, sometimes with devastating effect, but when left-wing paper sales got attacked, fascist sales were targeted in retaliation to dissuade the NF from this course of action. And it worked.

In a bad attack of liberalism Renton says “for anti-fascists, violence is not part of their world view" and dismisses militants as “professional anti-fascists". The whole history of anti-fascism, in this country and everywhere else, has involved the use of force - so why should 'revolutionaries' be so keen to distance themselves from it?

Should we be ashamed of the Italian Arditi Del Populo, the German Red Front Fighters League or even the International Brigades? Is it because the middle classes see violence as 'right-wing', are they scared of upsetting their friends in the Labour Party (Peter Hain MP is the Chair), or do they simply not have the members with the stomach for the fight?

Whatever the answer, it has always been a dishonest position, posing 'mass action' against organised physical opposition, when in fact they are complementary tactics. A similar argument was put forward by the leadership of the German Communist Party in the struggle for power with Hitler's Nazis, leading to a militant from the Communist Youth to comment, ''we don't care for the idea that if we are murdered by SA (Brownshirt) men, a small part of the working class will carry out a half hour protest, which only makes the Nazis laugh for having got off so lightly".

And even Trotsky, the theoretical godfather of the SWP's anti-fascism, insisted that “fighting squads must be created". He stressed that “nothing increases the insolence of the fascists so much as 'flabby pacifism' on the part of the workers organisations" and denounced the "political cowardice" of those who argue "we need mass self-defence and not the militia. But without organised combat detachments, the most heroic masses will be smashed bit by bit by the fascist gangs".

Apart from the obvious necessity of being able to defend your own activities, at present the need for the use of physical force against fascists is minimal. While this may only be temporary, it does call into question the No Platform strategy. Again Renton is found lacking in terms of understanding the current situation.

In the 1970s No Platform was an achievable objective, but in the late 90s, with the BNP withdrawing from public activities, it becomes less relevant. Even when the NF have held an occasional march, never numbering more than 50, the size of the police operation against anti-fascists has prevented any effective confrontation. And despite tampering with the numbers of candidates required to get TV broadcasts and the increase in the cost of standing those candidates, designed to exclude the BNP, the fascists have succeeded in meeting the new targets and gaining a platform. The media are prepared to discuss Euro-Nationalism quite favourably at times, but even so the BNP are developing their use of the Internet and video to ensure their propaganda can't be banned.

His coverage of European events shows the same gap between theory and reality, suggesting mass protests have stopped the growth of fascism. Activists on the ground have a very different view, leading an experienced militant from Hanover to comment “it is bullshit and this Dave Renton knows nothing about fascists and anti-fascists in Germany". He claims that the Far Right are very weak, an absurd assessment, particularly in light of the Deutsche Volks Union entering regional government in Saxony-Anhalt earlier this year, and now Brandenburg as well.

Even if Renton's motive for writing this book was to challenge the views of right-wing historians, it doesn't alter the fact that it proposes a strategy that doesn't work. The SWP/ANL have made no analysis of the changes in British fascist strategy and are sticking to a blueprint drawn up by Trotsky in the 1930s (but never implemented), which largely worked in the 1970s, but is redundant today. His closing comment is that fascism will only be finally defeated when capitalism is overthrown, but with an anti-fascist strategy that makes no impact on the fascists, what chance have they got of overthrowing the capitalist State?

AFA verdict: This is not anti-fascism.

AFA verdict: This is not anti-fascism.

Tackling The Beast In Brum: Fascism and anti-fascism in the West Midlands

An article about the history of anti-fascism in Birmingham and the West Midlands from Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine (issue 22, October 1999)

The West Midlands, heavily populated and industrialised, has long been an important target of the Far Right. In the pre-war years the British Union of Fascists (BUF) attempted to establish themselves in Birmingham. After the war immigration from Asia and the Caribbean became the primary focal point for fascist groups, especially as the boom turned into decline and working class areas took the brunt of the State's divisive social and economic policies.

The effects felt in the communities of Birmingham and the Black Country were acute and were inherited by Anti-Fascist Action from its inception years later. It’s against this backdrop that we investigate a few examples of the opposition to fascism that came from within the same class the Far Right sought to dominate - a tradition that continues to this day. The BUF was launched by ex-Birmingham Labour MP Oswald Mosley in 1932, and soon after opened up its first offices in Stratford Rd, south Birmingham. The BUF quickly gained much interest and support from sections of the media and the establishment. Hitler and Mussolini were being keenly observed and admired by influential figures in the British status quo, hence the growth of the BUF to a viable organisation of government was not inconceivable.

Mosley made an attempt at a breakthrough in Birmingham a year or so later, when the BUF organised a rally in the Rag Market. The meeting was plagued by scenes of disorder, as anti-fascists fought with BUF stewards. Mosley returned to the Birmingham area the following January, when the BUF hosted a large rally at Bingley Hall. Clearly conscious of the Rag Market rout Mosley elected to place no less than 2,000 Blackshirt stewards on duty for the event, drafted in from across the Midlands, Liverpool, Manchester and London. 5,000 people attended in all, but the heavy security presence prevented any serious disorder within the meeting. Outside though there were a number of clashes between anti-fascists and Blackshirts as Mosley left, quelled only by large numbers of police.

The right-wing press reported on Mosley's keynote Bingley speech in favourable detail. Birmingham papers the Mail and Gazette endorsed Mosley, printing what amounted to lengthy policy statements on behalf of the BUF, praising the general organisation of the rally, and presenting overt endorsement of much of what was said from the platform.

Despite considerable press sympathy, including the newspaper Baron Lord Rothermere, Mosley's movement was still struggling to strike a chord with the Midlands working class. Hence in the summer of 1934 G.K. Chesterton was drafted to Birmingham as officer-in-charge of Warwickshire and Staffordshire BUF, in an attempt to shape up and reorganise the local movement.

In May 1935 there was another large Mosley rally at Birmingham town hall. Proceedings were disrupted throughout by crowds of anti-fascists involved in hand to hand clashes with Blackshirt stewards all around the hall. Arthur Mills, BUF organiser for Birmingham, was amongst the injured. Mosley told the press that the disturbance was the most serious he had seen for two years, except that at Olympia. “Members of our movement were violently assaulted by reds in the audience”, he said, and that anti-fascists had come organised for violence. At ten o'clock the meeting was closed down and Mosley made off, flanked by his Blackshirt minders.

Attentions turned to Spain in 1936, and anti-fascists rallied in Birmingham's Bull Ring. 71 volunteers from the industrial Midlands joined up to the international Brigades to fight Franco. Some never came back and many more were injured. Colin Bradsworth was a doctor from Birmingham who became battalion medical officer. His bravery during some of the worst fighting at Jarama was exemplary - ferrying the injured and dying under heavy gunfire until he was shot himself. He still continued dressing and treating the injured, despite his own wounds.

As concern about fascism in Europe grew, there were a number of demonstrations at the town hall, and also in Neville Chamberlain's Edgbaston constituency, against what were seen as the Liberal government's pro-fascist policies. In February 1937 a socialist 'United Front' was set up in Birmingham to promote the defence of working class interests against fascism at home and abroad. The following year Chamberlain, in an unconvincing appeasement speech at Birmingham town hall, vowed to “eat his hat” it war broke out!

During 1940 the BUF tried to set up a new headquarters and bookshop in Grove Lane, Handsworth. In less than a week local women forced its closure - threatening that the shop would be smashed, as would the local organiser. The BUF in Birmingham had become a spent force. After the war there began a huge influx of immigrant labour to Birmingham and the Black Country. Hence during the 50's and 60's racial conflict became the catalyst for resurgent fascist activity. Successive governments manipulated the economy, declared war on the unions and gradually wound much of the traditional industry down.

The result of this overall labour and social policy brought hardship, unemployment and urban decay - and the immigrants who were initially shipped in to do much of the menial low paid work were now resented by many of the white working class, spurred on by the institutionalised racists of the middle classes and the establishment. Even the unions played their part - in the late 50's, for example, Birmingham TGWU leadership objected to immigrant bus workers, on the grounds that white women members would not be safe.

Racial violence in the Black Country was a feature throughout this period. In Dudley the mid-50's were marred by three consecutive nights of some of the worst anti-immigrant violence the Midlands has ever seen. 'Paki bashing' became a sport amongst many white gangs in Wolverhampton, activities further 'legitimised' when Wolverhampton MP Enoch Powell gave his 'rivers of blood' speech in Walsall.

Smethwick too became a national focus during the early 60's, where colour-bars were openly enforced in pubs, clubs and even barbers' shops - leading to the Tories crushing Labour in the 1964 council elections under the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour”, Birmingham Immigration Control Association and the Racial Preservation Society threw all their resources at the areas of Handsworth, Smethwick and West Bromwich, with fascists coming from far afield to whip up racial conflict. Race was rapidly overtaking class as a primary grassroots political focus. The stage was being set for the National Front's forthcoming campaigns right across the West Midlands.

By the mid-70's the National Front were successfully raising their electoral profile. One union had responded to a 1974 appeal to oppose the NF stating:

“Our organisation is not here to protect coloured people but to protect whites from competition for housing and jobs.”

The NF also used the IRA pub bombings of the same year to stir up a wave of animosity and attacks against Birmingham's large Irish community, further bolstering their potential support. For the next five or six years the NF would stand candidates in virtually every election contested in the West Midlands, polling some 8,000 votes in the 1977 County elections in Wolverhampton town alone.

In 1976, 3,000 took part in a counter-demonstration against the NF in Stetchford. The march was called by Asian and black organisations and set out to remain in the immediate area where 1,000 NF were marching. The Trades Council insisted on calling their own march of 300 for the same day which was to be a 'show of strength', in the city centre, safely out of way of the NF. The Labour Party opposed any counter-demonstration against the Front. The gravity of the situation would only be remedied by more urgent tactics.

The following August, three days after heavy violence was inflicted on the National Front at Lewisham, they had another taste of 'red terror' at a by-election meeting due to be addressed by John Tyndall in Birmingham's Ladywood constituency. 120 fascists were besieged in Boulton Road school by a mob of 5-600 anti-fascists, armed with bricks, sticks and bottles, and fierce fighting erupted.

The police came under heavy sustained attack as they did their utmost to protect the NF. Dozens of police were injured. As the meeting closed a crowd of about 300 anti-fascists smashed a police roadblock, and attacked Thornhill Road police station in an attempt to free anti-fascist prisoners. The Times report reflected the new militancy of the protesters:

"A police bus bringing reinforcements from the meeting more than a mile away ran a gauntlet of missiles and had all its windows shattered. Several officers, including a policewoman, were helped out with blood streaming from their faces.”

The NF still took third place out of ten, but Ladywood marked a turning point for all sides.

During the election campaign three Labour Party headquarters had their windows broken, owing to their election agent, Peter Marriner, being forced to resign over allegations that he had previously had extreme right-wing associations (Marriner resurfaced three years later attacking a Bloody Sunday commemoration in Birmingham, as regional organiser for the British Movement!).

The National Front's by-election headquarters in Broad St. were also attacked and ransacked by anti-fascists a few days before the election. At the count there was further trouble, culminating in Anthony Reed Herbert, the NF candidate, getting punched square in the face and having his glasses broken by Raghib Ahsan, the Socialist Unity candidate. Ahsan and other anti-fascists were ejected by police, but he later told the press “I did it and I am proud that I did it. I would do it again if I saw him.”

Reed Herbert announced his resignation from politics less than a week later, unnerved by increasing violence and a glut of telephone and written threats. The jewel in the crown that week though was a shotgun attack on the family antique shop in the East Midlands, in which his brother escaped a bullet in the head by no more than an inch or two. Reed Herbert, like many other Front officials across the country at that time, could not cope with being both outmanoeuvred and out-terrorised by the new strain of uncompromising opposition.

In February 1978 the Young National Front returned to march through the Digbeth area of the city, amidst more scenes of militancy from anti-fascists. Some 400 NF gathered at Digbeth Civic Hall, countered by around 7,000 anti-fascists.

The Birmingham Post described the initial outbreaks of violence:

“The main body moved right, but a group of about 50 realised there was no police force preventing them from moving towards Digbeth. Youths aged between 13 and 18, black and white, many wearing football scarves, ran to a demolition site in Floodgate Street to collect bricks and stones. Bricks, bottles, spark plugs, sticks and broken paving slabs rained down on the police...”

Riots broke out that cost the city in the region of £1,000,000, and although the NF meeting went ahead the siege of Digbeth was another bitter blow to the NF. The Lord Mayor of Birmingham called for the reintroduction of the birch in the aftermath of the rioting. The Trades Council, who had helped organise the counter-demonstration, attempted to distance themselves from the more militant elements, as they did at Stetchford nearly two years earlier. Ironically they again distanced themselves along racial lines, telling the Birmingham Post:

“There were several hundred people. including black and Asian youths, who broke away and became involved in a confrontation situation with the police.”

The inference was that violence was 'beneath' the Left, and the presence of black youth had inflamed the situation. Not surprising then that 18 months previously Bill Jarvis, then head of Birmingham Trades Council, had capitulated to the 'race not class' lobby by calling for a temporary halt to immigration.

At the end of April 1979, the NF held another pre-election rally at Cronehills School, West Bromwich, an area where they'd enjoyed good electoral support in the early seventies. There was fighting inside the venue, between the NF and 150 or so opponents, broken up by a hundred police forcibly entering the hall. Outside youths split away from the Anti-Nazi League march and clashed with some of the 2,000 police present on West Bromwich ringway. Searchlight man Dave Roberts, in the guise of ANL assistant secretary, was on hand to blame the violence on the NF and rogue elements. He commended the police on doing “a very good job”.

The Tories stole the NF's anti-immigration thunder at the '79 election - but fascism didn't entirely disappear. Irish events were systematically attacked throughout the 80's, which in part led to the formation of Midlands AFA as the decade drew to a close.

Not so well documented is the significant role of youth culture - both in aiding the growth of fascism and combating it. There were many clashes at punk and ska gigs, as well as between street gangs. The growing influence and strength of black and Asian youth on the streets played a vital role in helping to stem the tide, outlined in this recollection:

“Around the Black Country there were a number of clashes between skinhead NE supporters and the opposing Rude Boy gangs, which were racially mixed.... The NF came a couple of times to the school distributing 'Bulldog', their youth magazine, to kids on their way home.

The NF made out they were for the whites, but what I ask myself now is who was for the working class? My elder brother became infatuated with the Front. Only a year later he'd buy Socialist Worker and other left-wing papers outside work - like everyone he was looking for a voice, an outlet, not that he would've found much joy there either but, I can see how he thought now in hindsight.

A sister of mine also fancied herself as a skinhead girl, though not in the slightest bit racist, more to do with the kudos of being associated with lads who were seen to be something. It was almost like a Robin Hood scenario, being seen to stand up and reject the establishment - a sense of identity. even if it manifested itself in a reactionary way, such as supporting the NF. But circumstances gelled to provide the NF with support from the worst off.

National Front 'suits' apparently came to the pub at the top of our road to address a NF meeting, comprised mainly of the teenage ‘Oakham Skins', who had by now adopted a reputation for violence, irrespective of the fact that many of the black kids and the Rude Boy elements, including the Asian contingent, were fast becoming the hardest and most feared 'firms' in the area. Further afield, a mile or so away in Tipton, I was told how the NF had suffered heavy casualties when a gang of Brumrnie punks had teamed up with Tipton residents to smash an NF meeting.

Yet the NF's ability to maintain a fearsome reputation was unabated. From the Oakham meeting a group of skinheads left, equipped themselves and burnt down an Asian shop in nearby Netherton, killing one family member. Some of the perpetrators would've been off our estate. A family friend at the bottom end of our road went out with a black bloke and woke up one morning to find her dad's house daubed from top to bottom with painted swastikas and NF graffiti.

The Indian shop at the top of a relative's street in south Birmingham was attacked. Racist street attacks, particularly towards the more vulnerable, seemed commonplace. Retaliation did take place though, with a fair degree of organisation. Ultimately I suppose it came down to who could instil the most fear and get the situation under their control. Looking back now the fascist skins lost it physically, the climate was such that they couldn't operate.”

The NF never really recovered, and on occasions since when they've tried AFA have often been on hand to ensure it stayed that way. Part of a proud tradition of working class militant anti-fascism that continues to the present day. To those who sneer about AFA 'thuggery' and 'squadism' - take a look at those you revere in history, and tell us why it's suddenly different now. “At which point in this continuous tradition of confrontation do you draw the line and say physical opposition is no longer acceptable?”

A booklet A History of Fascism And Anti-Fascism In Birmingham and the Black Country will be available from the WM AFA PO Box in September, price £2.00.

In May 1935 a large BUF rally at Birmingham town hall was disrupted by crowds of anti-fascists involved in hand to hand clashes with Blackshirt stewards all around the hall.

Fighting Talk 23 (February 2000)

Issue 23 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.


FIGHTING_TALK_23-compressed.pdf7.36 MB

October Rally: Is 'Anti-Racism' Working?

In a bold move Anti-Fascist Action organised a debate around the question "Is Anti-Racism Working?" at the annual October Rally. With a wide range of opinion on the panel, the starting point was Roger Hewitt's controversial film challenging liberal anti-racist policies - 'Routes of Racism'. The film suggested that where anti-racist policies were applied clumsily they can lead to young white working class people feeling they were being treated unfairly, and this contributed to the increased level of racism and racist attacks. In other words, anti-racism isn't working.

The panel was made up of Guardian journalist and author Gary Younge, Roger Hewitt, Weyman Bennett from the Anti-Nazi League and Gary O'Shea from AFA. Two other speakers were invited, Kumar Murshid from the National Assembly Against Racism and Lee Jasper from the 1990 Trust, but despite both accepting the invitation neither turned up.

With racist attacks increasing and the Far Right growing all across Europe, the question 'Is Anti-Racism Working?' is far from academic. AFA's argument is that current anti-racist policies are alienating sections of the white working class and these communities are being divided along racial lines, particularly in the allocation of resources. Since the working class have historically proved to be the backbone of resistance to fascism, this division can only help the fascists.

In contrast to AFA's analysis the ANL's message was complacent. Given the growth of fascism and race attacks "we've won the war" was hardly an appropriate opening and the suggestion was it should be very much business as usual; pickets, petitions and marches. Given that they have made no impact on the fascists in this country it was almost comical when they suggested that the growth of the Far Right in Europe was down to the absence of an ANL-type organisation.

In the course of a two hour debate the overwhelming impression was that the ANL's strategy was based on being active, rather than whether the activity made a difference. The ANL highlighted the issue of institutional racism although this was challenged by AFA, arguing that having a certain quota of black police, for example, would not make the police force any better or more accountable. As the AFA speaker said "if everyone was the same colour would injustice end?" The introduction of institutional racism into the debate avoids the key question, which is whether the existing anti-racist policies make things better or worse? Undoubtedly this is a controversial issue and many people are reluctant to discuss it because they're afraid of being labelled 'racist'.

Gary Younge felt that AFA put too much emphasis on class, and in particular the problems that exist in working class communities, arguing that racism exists in the middle class as well. Undoubtedly this is true, but for AFA there is a specific reason to concentrate on what happens in working class communities because this is where the battle will be fought, whether that is a battle for hearts and minds or a battle for the streets.

He also said it was wrong to suggest that working class victims of racial violence had everything in common with the working class perpetrators. Again, clearly true, and while race attackers must be isolated in their communities we have to look at the causes of conflict; in this case it is clear that as more and more resources, in already deprived areas, are allocated on increasingly racial lines this will lead to resentment and hostility. If resources are allocated on the basis of need not colour then a source of conflict can be removed which in turn will lead to a decrease in racial violence. The alternative to this, which was almost inevitably aired, was that racists were born not made and that was that.

All the panel agreed that class and race were connected issues, and one example of how problems can arise was raised by a member of the audience who described a situation in Glasgow where some Kosovan refugees were being housed in a particularly run down estate by the council. The local residents had campaigned for 10 years to get repairs and improvements done but to no avail; yet the flats were done up for the refugees. When the residents complained about the unfairness of the council's behaviour in not doing the repairs before, they were accused of being racist!

As Roger Hewitt pointed out, unless class is brought into the equation and the whole issue of unfairness (real or perceived) addressed, there will in all probability be a racist backlash. The fact that racism exists is undeniable, just as there is class division within races, and unless we deal with the issues in a connected way then race will become the defining factor - a strategy that only benefits racist parties.

With a packed audience and a lively debate, it was a very worthwhile and enjoyable event. AFA would like to thank all the speakers for participating because we believe this issue is vital if we are to prevent a racist backlash in this country.

You only have to look across the Channel to see how the fascists have exploited the alienation of the white working class. As the AFA speaker pointed out, referring to several surveys that identified British youth as being among the most reactionary in Europe, the only reason this country is unique in not having fascists elected is because AFA smashed them off the streets in the early 1990s. This is no time to be complacent - it could happen here.

A Class Analysis? AFA Review of “The Nazis, Capitalism and the Working Class" by Donny Gluckstein

Book review by Tom Cord, from Fighting Talk magazine issue 23 (1999).

In this issue we review a new book by Socialist Workers Party member Donny Gluckstein, 'The Nazis, Capitalism and the Working Class', which is claimed by its SWP publishers to be "a major contribution to the debate about the nature of Nazism and how we can continue to fight the Nazi menace today".

However, though Gluckstein has obviously done a lot of research, he has written a book that is of no use to anyone wanting to understand the nature of the Third Reich nor to those who want to fight fascism in the 21st century. The purpose of the book is to legitimise the SWP's own 'anti-fascist' strategy by selective references to a distorted history of the Third Reich.

Gluckstein's analysis is based closely on that of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, despite the fact that he died 60 years ago and his writings on Germany were based largely on newspaper reports. There are 30 references to Trotsky in the index, a sure sign that there won't be any fresh ideas around.

That is not to say there isn't anything useful in Trotsky's writing but a realisation that 60 years of research has improved our understanding of German fascism. Trotsky's key analysis was that the Nazi party was made up of the petty bourgeoisie, the middle classes, and that it was this layer which was the backbone of fascism, and helped it into power.

In the decades since he first wrote this it has become a truism for the entire Left, that this indeed was the case. Gluckstein himself is more than happy to agree with Trotsky, despite the fact there is now a whole body of research into German fascism that emphasises that Hitler did make significant inroads into working class support.

Gluckstein is so hung up on Trotsky's analysis that he ties himself up in frequent knots, as he desperately tries to convince himself that the 'Great Man' was right. He gets upset at a description of the NSDAP as a "combination of middle class formation ...and working class protest".

Gluckstein doesn't seem to understand that workers do vote for the Tories, do vote for Labour, do vote for the BNP or the FN in France, and, in fact, workers in Germany voted and fought for Hitler. Workers are not immune to the ideas of fascism, as history has shown. How many middle class people does Gluckstein think voted for the BNP's Derek Beackon on the Isle of Dogs in 1993? As the SWP has already decided that only the middle class and the ‘lumpen proletariat' vote for fascism, then that's all there is to say about it. In reality, sizeable numbers of working class people not only voted for Hitler and the Nazis but they also joined them. This is no surprise as the period of the Weimar Republic in Germany, 1919-1933, was one of complete crisis. Massive inflation and high unemployment affected not just the working class but also layers of the middle classes.

Nonetheless, any party that wanted to control the streets and ultimately take power had to get support from the working class. This was just as much the case for the Nazis, as it was for the Communists and the Social Democrats. Therefore right from the start of the NSDAP, the organisation aimed its propaganda at the working classes at the same time as they were wooing big business.

However, there were also Nazis who were genuinely anti-capitalist but nevertheless nationalists. There is no contradiction in this but Gluckstein finds it hard to understand. For the same reasons he ignores the facts that a significant minority of working class people voted for the Nazi party and actually joined them. To prove his point that workers didn't vote for the Nazis, he contests the analysis contained in Jurgen Falter's article, "How likely were workers to vote for the NSDAP?", (from 'The Rise of National Socialism and the Working Classes in Weimar Germany').

Falter maintains that "a particularly marked resistance by workers in general or industrial workers in particular, does not seem to have any empirical foundation". As might be expected, to Gluckstein this is the equivalent of pissing in church but as he says himself, "If Falter is correct, then the thesis of this book would have serious flaws." Exactly! Gluckstein's main objection is that the definition of 'the working class' used by Falter is too broad, but the standard SWP definition, originating with Trotsky, is too narrow. Gluckstein wants to write off all the poorer elements, particularly the unemployed, agricultural workers and those in smaller enterprises, to arrive at a more pristine pure definition of working class that focuses purely on the industrial workers. This serves no purpose other than to convince Gluckstein that all is well with his thesis, as these other elements are not really working class. This is not just intellectual dishonesty but stupidity.

Falter's conclusion is that while the largest group of Nazi voters were undoubtedly middle class, "on a regular basis more than a quarter of National Socialist voters were workers at least as defined by social insurance law" and "workers formed so significant a sub-group that it is impossible to talk of a purely or even a predominantly middle class movement'. This is a sizeable minority and if you include the unemployed and retired along with all working class dependents, this would "represent just under 40% of National Socialist voters." Even if we accept that it is difficult to be absolutely sure about the class composition of voters, we can see that there was a definite tendency for a substantial group of working class people to vote for the Nazis.

This will be even more the case when we look at the membership of the Nazis, incidentally, it is also worth saying that Gluckstein spends 3 pages assessing how the working class voted while Falter's analysis covers 45 pages.

As with the discussion over votes, Gluckstein's arguments over the social composition of the NSDAP come from what he wants to be the case rather than reality. He just cannot accept that workers would join the Nazis. Gluckstein writes, "In an essay entitled `A worker's party or a party without workers'?', Detlev Muhlberger estimates the proportion of workers in the NSDAP to be '40% of members in the period between 1925 and the end of January 1933.' The notion of the NSDAP as a workers' party is ludicrous." Notice that he never disputes this 40% figure.

Gluckstein's thesis suffers all the more when we move from examining the nature of the Nazi party itself to that of the Stormtroopers (SA). Here we find that the percentage of working class members was even higher. Even by Gluckstein's own figures, which cover only the period 1929 — 30th Jan 1933, the percentage was 64%. His response to this is not to admit he has been wrong in saying that the working class weren't involved with the Nazis but to deny its significance. "First of all, fewer than half of the SA actually belonged to the Nazi party. This suggests a lack of commitment to the party's aims and outlook."

Now this is just crap. As their name suggests, Stormtroopers were, well... Storm-troopers, the frontline forces of fascism; the ones who fought, and often died, for fascism. To accuse them of lack of commitment is just plain bizarre. As a matter of fact, you could say that as the SA, prior to its smashing in 1934, was more radical than the parent body - then a greater number of workers were attracted to a more radical version of fascism.
All this is anathema to Gluckstein. He has already decided that workers weren't attracted to Nazism in any substantial way. But while he has his head stuck firmly in the sand it is worth quoting something else from Muhlberger (from `The Rise of National Socialism and the Working Classes in Weimar Germany') that Gluckstein doesn't mention:

"The observation that the Nazi Party was only outmatched by the SPD in terms of its ability to recruit working class members is therefore no exaggeration. In numerical terms there were more workers to be found in the NSDAP by 1932 than in the much smaller Communist Party, even though in the latter they did provide all but 20% of the membership."

Gluckstein has to ignore the fact that workers did join the Nazis and the SA, because he is incapable of explaining it. The simple reason it happened is that because of the failures of the SDP and the Communist Party, workers looked to other alternatives as a way to improve their lot. Neither of these organisations stood for independent working class action.

The SPD, since helping destroy the German revolution in 1919, had continually stabbed the working class in the back whenever it had the chance. The Communist Party, on the other hand, was effectively run from Moscow and though at various times gathered substantial working class support, it always put the interests of Russia first. The Nazis, though, attacked both the communists and the SPD, and the capitalists, and seemed to offer a chance of stability amidst the chaos of crisis. That was why they won working class support.

To conclude, we have to ask ourselves why is the argument that Hitler, and by extension today's fascists, only able to recruit a few misguided working class people so important to Gluckstein and the SWP. Partly this is because Trotsky's analysis emphasises the petty bourgeois nature of fascism and, as Gluckstein says himself, if this is wrong a whole new theory would be needed.

However, there is a more fundamental reason for Gluckstein's reticence to face facts. If even a substantial minority of workers can be won to fascism, then or now, it exposes the fact that fascism was, and still can be, a lot more attractive than the dismal 'revolutionary' alternatives on offer. Then the SWP might just have to face up to the fact that the politics of the entire 'Left' have not only failed but made a large contribution to the rise of fascism themselves.

To learn from the past you have to understand it and this book does neither. Leave well alone.

Gluckstein has to ignore the fact that workers did join the Nazis and the SA, because he is incapable of explaining it.

Fighting Talk 24 (July 2000)

Issue 24 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.



AFA book review: Anti-Fascism in Britain by Nigel Copsey

Review by Dan Marden from issue 24 of Fighting Talk magazine (2000).

Like a breath of fresh air, at last a major work on anti-fascism that acknowledges Anti-Fascist Action's pivotal role in the anti-fascist struggle. After years of being written out of history Nigel Copsey has produced an important book that takes an objective view on events. Although written by an academic, and the cost of nearly £50 will presumably restrict its sales to libraries and colleges, the fact that a comprehensive reference book on anti-fascism presents AFA as a key player cannot be underestimated. At last there is research material available that isn't discredited by a narrow sectarian approach.

Although Copsey is no supporter of AFA, he does not appear partisan to any other particular group either. He is even prepared to question Searchlight's motives, referring to an alleged fascist plot to bomb the Notting Hill Carnival in 1981, he writes:

"there are doubts as to whether such a plot actually existed as no prosecution was ever brought. One commentator has even speculated that the plot was deliberately fabricated by Searchlight."

The book covers the period from the 1920s onwards, and quite rightly points out that the first anti-fascists in Britain came from the militant Left in response to the murderous anti-working class activities of Mussolini's Blackshirts in Italy.

But it is the last chapter, 'Fighting Fascism in the 80s and 90s', that is of most interest to AFA. The fact that there are 35 references to Fighting Talk, which he describes as an "uncompromising magazine", means that AFA's analysis is given due attention. AFA is credited for many successful activities ("BNP election meeting... disrupted by AFA militants'; "...successfully besieged a local public house favoured by BNP activists", etc.), although most of the references refer to events in London and ignore achievements in the rest of the country.

Just as importantly AFA's criticisms of other anti-fascist groups' strategies are presented, providing a crucial service for anti-fascists. For example,

"AFA refused to accept the ARA line that only victims of racist attacks could define the anti-fascist struggle as all sections of the working class were held to be potential victims of fascism."

On the Welling demonstration against the BNP HQ in October 1993 Copsey explains

"AFA held that the proposed march served little purpose as there had already been six marches against the BNP's headquarters and 27 lobbies of the local council to no effect."

He also covers the subsequent World in Action programme which tried to set up AFA, labelling the organisation 'paramilitary' and responsible for the violence at Welling (despite not being there!). Throughout the chapter all the various organisations (ANL, ARA, YRE, CARF, Searchlight, etc.) are examined, but AFA is clearly seen as being something different, and effective.

One of Copsey's main criticisms of AFA relates to east London in the early 90s. Although he mentions a lot of the work AFA did (Weavers Field, Brick Lane, Unity Carnival, National Demonstration Against Racist Attacks) he doesn't pick up on the key point that AFA learnt from this period, culminating in the BNP election victory On the Isle of Dogs. No amount of anti-fascist activity would have altered the outcome of the election - only a political/electoral alternative that proposed a better solution than the BNP's to the genuine concerns that people had could have achieved that. Anti-fascism had reached a dead end.

Copsey does mention the Filling The Vacuum strategy, and describes the ANL's campaign on the Isle of Dogs as "extremely destructive", but comments in his conclusion suggest he hasn't grasped the significance of AFA's political development since then. He states,

"although anti-fascist militancy can undoubtedly disable the street operations of fascist groups, a problem obviously arises when adversaries change tactics and adopt campaigning methods that avoid the possibility of confrontation."

An astute observation, but one that AFA,. uniquely, has been acting on since 1995.

There are one or two factual inaccuracies, but overall 'Anti-Fascism in Britain' is a significant achievement. The fact that Copsey disagrees with AFA, but still places AFA at the heart of the struggle, avoids accusations of political bias and makes the book even more worthwhile. This honest approach is probably the reason why you won't have read a review of this book in certain rival publications!

Even so, Waterloo was still a major victory for AFA not least because it finally substantiated its claim to the radical anti-fascist tradition.

Fighting Talk 25 (May 2001)

The final issue of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.