Complete archive of UK group Anti Fascist Action's journal Fighting Talk, published between September 1991 and April 1999, in PDF format.
Fighting Talk magazine - Anti Fascist Action
Fighting Talk 1 (Sept 1991)
Issue 1 of Fighting Talk magazine by Anti-Fascist Action.
Fighting Talk 2 (Spring 1992)
Issue 2 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
- Editorial: Unity In Action
- AFA In Action
- The Anti Nazi League
- Book Review: Out of the Ghetto by Joe Jacobs
- Legacy Of The Pink Triangle
- Cable Street Beat: Music
- Debacle In Bermondsey
- Relaunching The National Network
- AFA In The Trade Unions
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.
Fighting Talk 3 (Summer 1992)
Issue 3 of Anti-Fascist Actions's Fighting Talk Magazine.
- Editorial: The Fascists In The Elections
- Fighting Fascism In The Nineties
- Right Target Wrong Ammo? (National Union of Students)
- Cable Street Beat: Return of Blood & Honour
- AFA International
- Racism: Criticism of Anti Racist Alliance
- Racism: Tory Asylum Bill
- Review: Commentary on AFA TV appearance
- AFA In The Trade Unions
Fighting Talk 4 (1992/3)
Issue 4 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
- Editorial: Bloody Sunday - Who's Kidding Who?
- Loyalism and Fascism
- News: Mansfield / Blaggers ITA / Rochdale / Edinburgh
- AFA and the Police
- A View From Valhalla (overview of fascist publications
- Murder in South London and Still No Unity
- St Andrew's Day Massacre (Glasgow)
- A "Perfick" Day In Kent
- BNP Election Success: Time For Action
- Music Reviews
- Book Review: 43 Group by Morris Beckman
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.
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.
Fighting Talk 5 (1993)
Issue 5 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
- AFA Statement on Searchlight
- Hemel Nitrate (NF meeting in Hemel Hempstead)
- Fascism And The Media (inc World In Action on Combat 18)
- German Football Fans Fight Back
- Review: Germany Calling: A Short History of British Fascism by Ross Bradshaw
- News: Unity Carnival / Edinburgh / Soho
- A Right Result (4 BNP members on trial for racist violence in Hertfordshire)
- Drummond Street 4: Attacked, Arrested, Acquitted
- A View From Valhalla (round up of fascist publications)
- No Sell Out - Blaggers ITA (on signing to EMI)
- Letters: An ex-62 Group activist writes
- Turning The Tide in East Midlands
- Battle of Ball Grove (BNP election failure in Pendle)
- John Cato
- NF In Devon
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
- BNP Beaten In Burnley
- The Unity Article (ARA, YNL and ANL)
- Gone To The Dogs? (BNP election win on the Isle of Dogs)
- Police Protect The... (ANL and the police on Brick Lane)
- Interview with German militant anti-fascists
- The BNP/Rangers connection
- Kent: One Safe Nazi, One Dead Sikh
- Southampton: On Morse's Case (
- Bath: Getting Ready To Clean Up
- Fascism And The Unions
- A View From Valhalla (overview of fascist publications)
- Ian Stuart Donaldson death notice
- The Blueshirts (Ireland's Fascists)
- Film Review: Romper Stomper
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.
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.
“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.
Fighting Talk 7 (1994)
Issue 7 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
- Waterloo Sunset
- Let's Get Physical
- To Ban Or Not To Ban (the case against state bans on fascists)
- International Solidarity: Building Links
- Germany Calling: Column by Autonome Antifa (M)
- Organising Resistance (analysis of tactics used by YRE/ANL etc in South East London)
- A View From Valhalla (overview of fascist publications)
- The Good Old Days: The Roots of AFA In Manchester
- World In Action: Violence With Violence (review of TV programme about anti-fascism)
- Freedom of Movement (dance music benefits for AFA)
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.
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.
- Local Elections: The Unpalatable Truth
- AFA In The North West: Out For The Count (BNP in Rochdale)
- Too Much Pressure: South Manchester BNP Destroyed
- AFA In Scotland: No Remorse concert / shops selling nazi memorabilia / Settler Watch
- AFA In The East Midlands: Attack on Mushroom Books / Notts Unity march
- Militant Anti-Fascism in Canada
- Germany Calling: Recent activity by Autonomen Antifa (M)
- No Platform For Tories? (Fascist entryism)
- Ignorance Is Strength? (Anti-Nazi League)
- A View From Valhalla (overview of fascist publications)
- St George's Day Bash (Birmingham BNP turned over)
- The Red Orchestra: Anti-Nazi espionage during the second World War
- Film Review: Schindler's List
Fighting Talk 9 (1994)
Issue 9 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine. A football special.
- Out On The Right Wing: A History of Fascists at Football
- Back In Europe - Anti-Fascist football fans' conference, Dusseldorf
- Celtic Anti-Fascists
- Football fanzines
- Fascism and Democracy
- A View From Valhalla (overview of fascist publications)
- Germany Calling - police clampdown in Gottingen
- Portugal 1974
Fighting Talk 10 (January 1995)
Issue 10 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
- In The Area: AFA Round Up
- The Battle Of Waterloo
- War On The Terraces? - the changing face of football
- Red Hot And Blue - the juvenile ramblings of the Revolutionary Conservative Caucus
- Germany Calling - more arrests as the state offensive increases
- The Acid Test - AFA replies to its critics
- A View From Valhalla (overview of fascist publications)
- War And Resistance - An AFA member's views on the Bosnian conflict
- Behind Enemy Lines (overview of fascist publications)
- History - Trouble On The Tyne: Blackshirts in the North East
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
- In The Area: AFA Round Up
- Levelling The Score - Football
- Playing To The Cameras - Media storm about Combat 18's mythical presence at Dublin football match
- 'Outing' The Fascists
- Behind Enemy Lines - review of BNP and NF publications
- A View From Valhalla - overview of neo-nazi skinhead publications
- A War Against Fascism? (on World War 2)
- A Family Affair - Collusion between Nazis and Europe's ruling class
- Staying Behind - NATO's terror network (GLADIO etc)
- Germany Calling - Autonome Anitfa (M) on World War 2.
- Eternal War On The Hitler Youth - Edelweiss Pirates
Fighting Talk 12 (November 1995)
Issue 12 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
- In The Area: AFA Round Up
- Levelling The Score - football
- Hot BAFF - German anti-fascist football fans
- Blood Sweat and Tears - Celtic Anti-Fascists visit Birmingham
- 10 Years On - a decade of AFA
- A View From Valhalla (overview of nazi-skinhead scene)
- Filling The Vacuum - classic/infamous London AFA strategy document
- Behind Enemy Lines - overview of NF/BNP publications
- Germany Calling - Autonome Antifa (M) update
- History: 1936 Olympics, Berlin vs Barcelona
- Film Review: Land And Freedom
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.
- In The Area: AFA news from around the country
- Germany Calling: State clampdown on Autonome Antifa (M)
- Levelling The Score: football
- The New Frontier - An in depth look at US neo-nazi Resistance Records
- A View From Valhalla (overview of UK neo-nazi scene)
- The Emperor's New Clothes - the nation myth
- Where Are They Now - ANL, YRE, ARA - goodbye or just Au Revoir?
- Behind Enemy Lines (round up of far right publications)
- Anti-Fascism in 1930s Liverpool
- Interview with The Oppressed / Roddy Moreno
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.
- In The Area: AFA new from around the UK.
- Levelling The Score: football
- Oranges And Lemons: Loyalism And Fascism
- A View From Valhalla (neo-nazi round up and gossip)
- Strategic Attack Initiative: anti-fascism in the USA and Canada
- The Nature Of The Beast: fascism and conservatism
- Behind Enemy Lines (far right publications overview)
- The First Anti-Fascists: 1920s Italy.
- Obituary: Albert Meltzer
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.
Fighting Talk 15 (November 1996)
Issue 15 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
Special issue on the Spanish Civil War / Revolution.
- In The Area - AFA news from around the UK
- No Middle Ground - speech from AFA rally.
- Obituary - Mickey Fenn
- Levelling The Score - football
- A View From Valhalla (Blood & Honour and Combat 18 roundup)
- Behind Enemy Lines (BNP/NF overview)
- Another Spain...
- The Connolly Column - International Brigades veteran Mick O'Riordan
- The People Armed - The role of women in the Spanish Revolution
- Forgotten Heroes - The Spanish contribution to WWII resistance
- The Rattle Of The Thompson Gun - post-war resistance to Franco.
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. http://irelandscw.com/ibvol-MoRInterview3.htm
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.
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) [/quote]
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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
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
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
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 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
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
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 "...it 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