Issue 16 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine.
Fighting Talk 16 (March 1997)
- In The Area - AFA news from around the UK
- Obituary: Charlie Goodman
- Levelling The Score - football
- Interview with Red Attitude (Manchester United anti-fascist zine)
- A View From Valhalla - review of the history of Combat 18
- Anti-Fascist strategy - the 1997 election and after
- Behind Enemy Lines - BNP/NF roundup
- Anti-Fascist History - Oxford
The Strange Story of Combat 18 – Dan Woinsaker
Over the past 4 years Dan Woinsaker has kept his eyes and ears open to keep readers informed of developments in the Nazi music scene, and the most significant thing in Britain was Combat 18's takeover of Blood & Honour. As C18 tears itself apart this will undoubtedly have an effect on the future of B&H and so we have asked Dan W. to have a look at the strange story of C18.
Anti-Fascist Action received an unusual New Year's gift this year - a letter bomb. It was one of ten sent to targets in Britain by a Danish Nazi terror group which has links with the British Nazi group C18. The media covered the story but replaced the identity of the real targets - anti-fascists - with high-profile personalities in mixed race couples such as Frank Bruno, Sharon Davies, etc. Once again accurate reporting goes out the window when C18 are involved.
And then in early March the papers ran a new scare about the threat of Nazi letter bombs being sent to high profile public figures. Coming so soon after the January bombs this means either C18 are so thoroughly infiltrated by the State that their every move is known (and C18 either don't care or don't know!) or these deliberately misleading stories are in fact promoted in the media to serve another purpose.
There is a lot of speculation as to who set up C18 and why, but despite that, the organisation has operated since 1992. In the early 1990s the British National Party (BNP) launched a high profile campaign in London's East End around the slogan 'Rights For Whites'. In those days the BNP still had marches and public meetings which had to be defended, and AFA soon noticed the emergence of an organised group of fascist stewards. AFA responded to the challenge of the BNP forcefully, and the fascists were seen off on several occasions. This new fascist outfit was soon to become the 'dreaded' C18 - Combat Adolf Hitler.
At first C18 had a working relationship with the BNP, supporting their events, but they increasingly started to identify themselves as a separate group. They circulated a lot of 'leaderless resistance' literature which encouraged fascists to follow the methods of the American Nazi terror group The Order, as opposed to the respectable, 'electoral' road of the BNP. They argued that a racist attack was worth far more than a racist leaflet, especially when it was publicly claimed by C18 to create the impression of organisation and planning. They hoped to provoke random retaliation on whites from the victims of the attacks, which in turn would start a `race war'.
It is possible that C18 was set up by British Intelligence as a 'honey trap' -to attract and identify the potentially most violent fascists and monitor their links with similar Nazi 'terror' groups around the world. It is also true that since the end of the Cold War MI5 are keen to identify 'terrorist' threats to maintain -and expand- their influence.
Whatever the reason, by the end of 1992 C18 was producing its own propaganda, including magazines with 'hit lists' of their opponents. They did attack a few soft targets, a couple of left-wing bookshops and community centres, and were fond of leaving threatening messages on people's answerphones, but from the very outset they were promising more than they could deliver.
By 1993 the BNP had withdrawn from the 'public arena' due to physical pressure from AFA, but the new standard bearers of street-level fascism were proving almost as elusive. Probably the first possibility of contact between AFA and C18 came at the massive (but pointless) Unity Demo in October 93. C18 were located in a pub waiting to attack people dispersing from the march, but when approached by AFA they wouldn't leave the pub until the police arrived. This all seemed very familiar - rather than some new 'terror' group.
In January 1994 they made their most ambitious move to date, trying to put on an Ian Stuart Memorial gig in London. Remembering what happened at the Battle of Waterloo less than 2 years previously this was obviously meant to be a show of strength. Unfortunately for them it all went horribly wrong; they lost their original venue in Becontree, got attacked in a pub in Bow by AFA, finally got some of their people to another pub in Waterloo where they were sniped by AFA, battered by the Old Bill, and ended up rowing with their German 'comrades' who couldn't believe how bad it all was. And the gig never happened.
The next time C18 hit the headlines was after the trouble at the Ireland v. England game in Dublin, February 1995. The media built up C18 into an overnight international conspiracy, giving them publicity worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. To claim that an organisation with the dismal track record outlined above was capable of staging a major disturbance to wreck the 'Peace Process' was complete dishonesty and obviously part of a different agenda.
Shortly after Dublin, C18 organised 100 stewards for a Ulster Volunteer Force march through Central London, and despite AFA's credible record of dealing with fascists, Searchlight magazine decided that "because of the danger of serious violence Searchlight did not Inform anti-fascist groups of the march”. The following year, this the necessary information in place, AFA was able to successfully confront the Loyalists and their C18 supporters as they assembled for their march.
The damage done to C18's credibility at their failure to protect the London UVF march came just two weeks after another C18-backed UVF march in Bolton was stopped by AFA. With C18 getting turned over in Wigan a couple of months earlier, once again AFA, the frontline of anti-fascist resistance, had completely exposed their media-created reputation.
C18 have actively built links with the Ulster Loyalists, collecting money for their prisoners and putting on a couple of Blood and Honour gigs in the north of Ireland. Their support has obviously met with some approval, for example a letter last year in the C18-controlled Blood and Honour magazine states, "We the Loyalist prisoners on East Belfast UDA wing H-Block 2, are dedicated to keeping Ulster British and white ... Hail the UFF & C18".
On the football front C18 placed a lot of emphasis on recruiting from the football firms, "Getting all the football fans, or firms, mobs, whatever and getting them all behind a Nationalist cause as one, that's when we start to progress" was C18's publicly stated aim. In reality, once again, they have achieved very little.
Obviously encouraged by all the glowing tributes after the Dublin trouble, Euro 96 was being forecast as one long hot summer of fascist violence. Despite the media's build up, C18 either lack ambition or ability, because they failed to organise any political activity off the back of the European Championship. Because C18 actually do very little they have to keep their supporters onside by inventing incidents.
According to C18 when Man United played Chelsea in October 95 "two neighbouring public houses were packed to the roof with neo-Nazi Chelsea supporters ...in view of the promise of Man Utd's lefty rabble showing up. Who true to form didn't." Absolute nonsense! So if it’s not the media or the State building them up then C18 have a nice little line in fantasy journalism to keep the myth going. That only leaves AFA, as anti-fascist militant activists with our feet on the ground, to assess the real size of the threat and work out a counter strategy accordingly.
Probably the key area of their work, and it would seem their downfall, has been the successful takeover of the Nazi music organisation Blood and Honour. The B&H founder Ian Stuart died in a car crash in September 93 and almost immediately C18 took control. The music fanzines connected to B&H were brought under their political control and most importantly the finances were taken over.
It is now claimed that C18 fuhrer Charlie Sargent nicked £80,000 and his right-hand man Will Browning pocketed £40,000. Whatever the exact figure there is no doubt that the opportunity to nick large sums of money was high on the agenda for a number of leading figures in C18. This certainly didn't go unnoticed by fellow fascists. The British Hammerskins described C18's brand of National Socialism as "nothing more than blatant capitalism!" and C18 successfully ripped off plenty of people - from bootlegging Skrewdriver albums in America and selling them as imports, to robbing over £10,000 worth of CDs from Viking Sounds in Holland.
Once B&H had been brought under control, the National Socialist Alliance was created in 1994 to unite a number of small, openly-Nazi groups like the KKK, British-Movement, B&H, etc. all under C18's guiding hand. At the same time international links were established with like-minded groups in Europe and North America, and a virtual C18 monopoly existed in the Nazi music scene. For a short period their political influence and income was considerable, but inevitably their stranglehold didn't last long, and by 1996 the discontent they had created by ripping people off and attacking fellow fascists could no longer be kept under control and erupted into open rebellion.
Once the influential Resistance and Nordland magazines came out against C18 the floodgates opened, and one of the most popular quotes circulating the Far Right is from David Lane, often quoted as an inspiration by C18 who is now serving life for his part in the American Nazi terror group The Order. He says "the leadership of C18 are obviously Zionist agents or they are so ignorant and dangerous that they might as well be. It can no longer be tolerated. At the appropriate time the enemy amongst us will face a night of the long knives."
At the same time the BNP moved into open opposition with Tyndall writing a five-page attack on C18 in Spearhead, the BNP magazine. An anonymous pamphlet (in fact it came from the BNP) was also widely circulated posing the question, “whether Charlie and Steve Sargent are MI5 agents or just poisonous shit-stirrers and completely fucking stupid can be argued about".
C18 are in serious disarray having lost control of the Nazi music scene, massive corruption exposed, and with three leaders getting jailed at the Old Bailey for race hate offences in March, the situation looks potentially terminal. Never one to miss a trick, Nick Griffin, a former NF leader and previous opponent of Tyndall, is now gaining influence in the BNP and openly arguing that the C18 elements should be readmitted "Woe betide the nationalist movement that imagines it can do without the street activists". Seeing as how the BNP are embarking on the biggest fascist electoral campaign since the 1970s it would seem logical that they would want protecting on the streets, and in some parts of the country it seems C18 are once again working with the BNP.
The latest twist is that the falling out at the top of C18 has turned to violence and a leading C18 member has been charged with murdering a member of the "rival faction"! Despite these serious setbacks to C18 there has always been a physical force element on the extreme-right, whatever it calls itself, and sometimes it is diplomatic or tactical to separate the different ‘wings' of the movement. Another option is that a more political element might take control of C18 now that the corruption of its leaders has been exposed and with the added opportunity of them being in jail. So were the New Year letter bombs a sign of things to come or another failed attempt to restore some credibility to the name of C18?
One thing is certain, those who deliberately exaggerate the threat posed by C18 are hostile to the anti-fascist movement. The media portray C18 as larger than life characters, to be feared, unstoppable, and when they do mention the anti-fascist opposition it is only as victims. As the C18 slogan goes “let them hate as long as they fear”. No mention of AFA's successes against C18. And while the middle classes may find these stories shocking, there are disillusioned working class people, abandoned by Labour, who may be impressed.
Certainly the fascists appreciate the stories because the reprint them word for word in magazines as evidence of their growing influence. As an AFA spokesperson said after the second World In Action C18 spectacular, "Black propaganda that can be exploited by its target is of dubious value, and nine times out of ten counter-productive."
Behind all the publicity lies the real purpose of promoting C18, and that is the call for more police and MI5 powers to deal with the problem. The successes of militant anti-fascists must be written out of history, the fascist threat must be exaggerated, and then the only thing that stands between us and a fully blown 'race war' are the suitably strengthened forces of 'law and order'.
And once the State, which is moving rapidly to the Right itself, increases repression against the Extreme Right, how long before that attention is then transferred onto groups on the Left?
The role of Searchlight has been significant and completely at odds with AFA's strategy. As the source of most of -the information that appears in the media about C18, Searchlight have played a key role in promoting C18 as more influential than it is, and have often argued that anti-fascist movement is incapable of dealing with them.
The actual evidence completely contradicts this, but Searchlight have insisted that MI5 must lead the fight against C18. To suggest that MI5 and C18 are 'natural adversaries' is curious - partly because it is extremely likely that MI5 are actively involved in the running of C18, and also when you look at how the British intelligence agencies have armed and controlled the Loyalist death squads in the north of Ireland - it is far more likely that MI5 would use Cl 8 to further their own reactionary agenda than actually destroy them. Whatever the outcome, AFA will continue to fight the fascists both politically and physically, but it has to be said that the deliberate misreporting of C18 has worked against anti-fascist militants on the ground and only served to strengthen the hand of the State.
The Big Picture: Combat 18 - Fantasy Fascism?
Anti-Fascist Action aricle about the neo-Nazi group Combat 18, from issue 16 of Fighting Talk.
As an anti-fascist organisation targeted in the recent C18 letter bombing campaign, there is a responsibility on us to try and bring some clarity to the debate. First, the media seem to be working on the assumption that C18's every move must be scrutinised because (a) they are an aberration in an otherwise progressive multi-cultural state, or (b) here is a group so fanatical that they represent a threat to society and only the courts can stop them. The reality is that they are neither.
In recent months the papers in particular have had cause to comment on the failure of the case brought by the Lawrence family and the de facto apartheid revealed by it in parts of south-east London; the C18 letter bomb campaign; the outburst by David Evans MP and the public display of solidarity shown to him by the Daily Telegraph, Garry Bushell, Richard Littlejohn, among others; the dropping of the BNP candidate in support of Alan Clark who they believe adequately reflects their views; the reactionary opinions expressed at a middle class dinner party by rank and file Tories with one of their number favouring a "benevolent dictatorship"; and finally the jailing of three C18 activists for incitement and the "anger" and "depression" of anti-fascists at the lenient sentences.
As the list clearly shows, fascism can come in many forms. Not every fascist wears a flight jacket. The rhetoric of Tory Cabinet members, MPs, and the rank and file can, in unguarded or candid moments, be indistinguishable from the rhetoric of openly fascist organisations. More seriously the Runnymede Trust estimates that there are in the region of 130,000 racist attacks annually. For the most part these attacks will have been carried out by people who are not associated with the Tory Party, would never vote Tory, or perhaps have never even bothered to vote. In other words, support for violent Right-wing solutions is not limited to the issue of race, has cross-class support and extends far beyond the membership of either the Tory party, BNP, or C18.
Indeed in many sections of society Right-wing sentiments are widespread and almost instinctive. A recent survey by Scantel in November 1996 in face to face interviews with 1,600 16 to 24 year olds in eight European countries found that "the young Britons were by far the most racist in Europe comparing unfavourably with other European nations, including those where the popularity of Extreme Right factions has caused concern". (Guardian, 6/2/97).
C18 are not the cause of this problem, more a reflection of its depth. On the other hand C18 are seen to be in the vanguard of reaction in this country and because of that must, and have been, directly and physically confronted when and where possible. Ignoring them or refusing to match violence with violence plays into their hands and as a by-product serves to embolden the more cautious or timorous Right-wingers. Only in that sense would militant anti-fascists regard them as significant.
Notwithstanding the fact that the C18 group came into existence as a direct result of an AFA offensive against the BNP in the early 1990s, it is recognised in militant anti-fascist circles that they are essentially a propaganda group who have done very little. Instead they choose to rely for their public notoriety on the media. Their celebrity is not as a result of them being "talented self-propagandists". The reality is that the media are spoon fed all the 'sexy' stories by the same organisation, who on the back of the hysteria generated (still) hope to goad/ manipulate the security services and courts into proscribing the group.
That is why they were given the credit, quite falsely, for the riot at Lansdowne Rd. However, what all the talk of a "C18 conspiracy" obscured at the time was that the riot was spontaneous and the majority of the crowd, to one degree or another, share similar politics to them anyway. After all "No surrender to the IRA" (with tacit support for the UVF/ UFF death squads) is practically the English supporters national anthem.
All the signs are that on May 1st Labour will be elected. For the first time in almost twenty years, a Labour government will provide a focus for the thwarted aspirations and rage of the Far-Right who will screech their outrage at the slightest deviation from Labour's own agenda for rolling back the Welfare State. This orchestrated anguish, combined with real attacks by a 'socialist' government on the constituency most badly mauled by the Tories (the working class), may well let the authentic fascist genie out of the bottle.
The really "depressing" thing is not only that the backlash will manifest itself politically, and the Far-Right will be the main beneficiaries, but that some anti-fascists will continue to bemoan the fact that the police, courts, and Establishment parties refuse to do their job for them, when history and the current situation in Europe demonstrates that their commitment to democracy is at best unreliable.
Apart from loudly advertising their own, and by implication anti-fascist, impotence the real danger is that when this strategy inevitably fails (as it is doing in France) there is no 'Plan B' that does not involve some sort of capitulation. As the situation in Austria, France and Italy shows it is perfectly possible to have a clear understanding of the nature of fascism and yet embrace an inadequate strategy for resisting it.
Anti-Fascist Strategy: One Step Beyond
Anti-Fascist Action strategy article in the lead up to Labour being elected in 1997. From Fighting Talk issue 16.
When a Far-Right political party in Central Europe wins 27.6% of the vote in free and fair nationwide elections it should be clear that the time for complacency has gone - and gone for good. Particularly when it is widely acknowledged that much of the support comes from formerly socialist working class voters.
Compounding the problem is that right now most European governments are committed to introducing austerity budgets in order to comply with the demands of the common currency. Logic dictates that it is the weakest economies that are required to impose the most stringent cutbacks. Britain is acknowledged as one of the more fragile economies. And we all know that Labour, firm favourites in May, are totally committed to the European and monetary union. We also know that to offset the cuts Labour will not raise taxes. That means that the brunt will have to be borne by the bottom 40%.
The last time so many governments committed themselves so comprehensively to financial orthodoxy was by pegging exchange rates to the gold standard in the late 1920s and early 1930s. As then, the political chaos and social devastation that ensued was literally designed for a party with a Far-Right agenda. Here responsibility for the mayhem will of course be laid at the feet of the 'socialist' government. Labour's history anyway has been to swing sharply to the Right once in government.
So from day one the pressure will be on. Labour's every move will be scrutinised for the slightest hint of progressive reform. The smallest deviation from Labour's quite candid agenda of reactionary reform will be jumped on by a bitter and vengeful Tory press. That Labour, elected on a Right-wing programme, will almost immediately be driven even further to the Right is a safe bet. Equally certain is that total working class alienation will be swift. Unless we really believe that Britain as an island race and as such is above such developments, then we have to accept that the conditions outlined are a ready-made opportunity for the Far-Right to impact directly on the political mainstream with the same devastating effect as in Austria, France, Italy, Belgium, etc.
ABF - ANYONE BUT FASCISTS
What can we do? Well, let's first examine what we must not do. For seventeen years the, cry of the conservative Left has been "Get the Tories out!" The real message is "Get Labour in!". Once Labour are elected, the same unity will then be demanded to "Keep the Tories out!" And so on...
As the deteriorating situation in Europe has demonstrated, this strategy is a proven disaster. Primarily because it forces the very people who want change, the bottom 40%, the natural constituency of the Left, directly into the arms of the radical Right. (Even The Times columnist William Rees Mogg complains that "there are too many fascists in Europe nowadays".)
Remember it was under a Socialist government that Le Pen made the breakthrough in France. Now one French anti-fascist magazine complains that "everywhere you turn you see them". Even more significantly the FN is now the biggest working class party in France, and in Austria more than one in two blue collar workers voted for the Freedom Party in October 1996.
It is worth remembering as well that it was under the last Labour government that the NF briefly threatened to become the 'third' party ahead of the Liberals. Today it is this working class constituency, already badly mauled by the Tories, that Labour is determined to cut further adrift. So predicting the outcome could not possibly be more straightforward. And while the call for 'unity' between Left and Right - the ‘Anybody But Fascists’ strategy - has an attractive simplicity, it is in reality a siren call on to the rocks.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
As the BNP explain in their magazine Spearhead, the central aim of standing in elections is not to win votes:
"the central aim is to win recruits...so the vital period is six months after the election. This is the crucial time in which the follow ups must be turned into recruits, the recruits into activists and the best of the activists identified for further education and training...any other proposal is, for the foreseeable future, a time-wasting fantasy."
The BNP are working hard to stand 50 candidates in the forthcoming election which would entitle them to a Party Political Broadcast, but they would also get election leaflets delivered to two million homes - free. If in the follow up only one in 250 is convinced and joins that is 8,000 new members. Given political conditions generally that is not at all implausible. Worse than that, no matter how well they do in the immediate term, the fact is that the situation for them can only improve as Labour gets into its stride. On top of that the orthodox Left is in meltdown throughout Europe.
In all countries, to one degree or another, the agenda is driven by Right-wing and radical Right-wing ideas. So without a doubt this is the biggest challenge we have ever faced. This was also the challenge previously faced by our European counterparts in the 80s and early 90s, who chose to fight the resurgent Right with orthodox tactics, employing with a particular counter-productive skill the ABF strategy. The logic of that strategy ultimately demands unity between anti-fascists and elements of the State. The consequence is that when the fascists address working class issues, their radical credentials are established by the propaganda of the opposition. Obviously this is no longer a viable strategy, so what then is to be done?
If the crucial growth period for them is six months after the election, then that too is the crucial period for us. The problem is, if we cannot prevent them handing out propaganda, then we cannot prevent them following up recruiting afterwards either. The only way to remain effective is to be in a position where we can recruit ourselves. We can only negate their growth by growing in influence ourselves, in tandem with them. For this to happen we must mimic their campaign. We must shadow them all the way.
The best, indeed the only guarantee against the Far-Right entering the mainstream is not a strong anti-fascist movement, but a strong working class movement. The Far-Right have re-invented themselves throughout Europe and we, the Left, must do the same. To begin we must at least try to match their ambition. This must be done first of all to avoid being side-lined as has happened elsewhere, like in France.
And if, because of the circumstances, we cannot actually prevent them attempting to enter the mainstream, we can still deny them their just reward for doing so by working to enter the mainstream ourselves. In brief, we must not only attempt to match them physically but we must do so politically. That is to say we must mimic their ambition, their tactics and their campaign. In other words we too must mount an election style campaign - but without candidates. We have to win the battle for working class hearts and minds. For militant anti-fascism this is a quantum leap, but if we are serious than this is what we must do.
MEANS TO AN END
From 1989, when AFA was relaunched, it was understood that its strategy was designed as a means to an end. The objective was to create space for a progressive alternative to the Far Right to develop in working class areas. AFA has created the political space for an independent working class organisation to be built, which will in the changed conditions prove to be a lifeline for militant anti-fascism. So to claim that militant anti-fascism and working class independence are peas in a pod is almost to understate the relationship.
Equally, to state that the formerly Socialist parties rather than the Christian Democrats or Tories lay the foundation for the fascist renaissance in Europe is a pattern that is also undeniable. During the 90s, London East End Labour councils in particular, despite offering the Tory government as mitigation for their own failures, still managed, even with the most Right-wing government since the war, to create a virus known as the BNP.
With Labour in government, as well as running the majority of councils, the intensity of polarisation in working class areas between pro and anti-Labour can only be imagined. In such an atmosphere the pro-Labour position will quickly become politically untenable. And for anti-fascism to attach itself to it would make anti-fascism untenable as well. Any suggestion of supporting or collaborating with Labour even inadvertently would be political suicide in the eyes of a working class audience anywhere.
In the early 90s AFA declared its objective was to create the space fora political alternative to Labour in working class areas to emerge. In doing so it set itself the target of ensuring that a credible challenge to Labour came only from the Left.
Circumstances beyond our control are conspiring against this 'Plan A'. The background scenery is in the process of being shifted. The likely outcome being that it will be Labour rather than the Tories who will be the new hate figures nationally. This will change the political fortunes of everyone overnight. By far the most dramatic impact will be on the opportunity for growth of the Far Right. With the Tories in government Labour at a local level could blame them for everything. The electorate took their revenge with Tory representation being almost wiped out completely in whole swathes of the country.
With Labour in government the Tory alibi that served them so well will automatically vanish. In addition there will be expectation among voters that many of the cuts will be reversed. When the precise opposite happens there will be a real feeling of betrayal and a vicious backlash against Labour. Equally certain, particularly in working class areas, the political beneficiaries will not be the previous party of government. So the Far Right will expect, as they have already done successfully elsewhere in Europe, to don, as if by right, the cloak of the genuinely radical grassroots opposition.
We can still stop them if we take on board a couple of simple facts. One, the old policy of containment is already obsolete. Two while the election of Labour represents a real opportunity for progressive elements to get their feet under the working class table for the first time in a quarter of a century – that is to say the chance to step forward politically - for militant anti-fascism it means the reverse.
Our ability to consistently and physically impose ourselves on events will be significantly retarded because the BNP have abandoned the old strategy of "march and grow" in favour of a "hearts and minds" approach. We must accept that the police have improved their intelligence on AFA and how we work, which coupled with the new powers that they have under the Criminal Justice Act means it is much harder for AFA to physically confront the fascists.
Adding to that the mounting social pressure triggered by a Labour government means we will no longer be able to hold the political vacuum. That is to say, we will no longer be physically able to ensure that the challenge to Labour comes only from the Left. Consequently, the role of militant anti-fascism is now to ensure that the political challenge does not come only from the Right. This must be our objective. This must be 'Plan B'.
Brief Encounters: A History of Anti-Fascism in Oxford
From Fighting Talk issue 16.
Oxford cannot claim to have ever been a major venue in the war against fascism in Britain. It has, however, been the scene of a handful of crushing defeats for a Far Right who still dream of establishing a foothold in the city. Today they are forced to accept that for them, as a constituency, it is way beyond the pale. Here we look back at the various faces of fascism and anti-fascism in Oxford over the last 70 years and the struggle between the two.
Firstly the geography of Oxford should be clarified, as most people are under the impression that it is nothing more than a student town. To some extent they are not wrong. It is true that the University looms large over the city, but Oxford also has another side.
Lying mainly to the east, industrial Oxford is home to large working class communities, such as the estates of Barton, Littlemore, Rose Hill, Florence Park and the largest of them all, Blackbird Leys. For decades these estates have supplied the main chunk of the workforce for the once thriving car plants at Cowley. Since the 1950's, Blackbird Leys in particular has housed alongside thousands of indigenous people, large numbers from the Caribbean, Ireland, Scotland and Poland. The Florence Park estate, originally built in the 1930's, to accommodate families from depression hit South Wales and North East England, today borders well established Asian communities.
Many of the inhabitants of these estates played an active role in the industrial struggles at Cowley and its related industries throughout the decades. These areas have also been the bedrock of anti-fascist Oxford.
The first anti-fascists in Oxford however, predate the City's current multicultural identity. The tradition of militant working class anti-fascism in Oxford stretches back to the 1930's. In complete contrast the Far Right has repeatedly found support amongst the university and its rich friends.
The first fascist organisation in Oxford was to set the agenda back in 1926 when it opposed the General Strike. This organisation called itself The Oxford and University District of British Fascists. They were followed five years later by Oswald Mosley's New Party. Mosley stated himself that "…the young men who are gathering around us are Oxford students and graduates".
The New Party also had the support of William Morris, Chairman of the Oxford Conservative Association and founder of Oxford's largest employer, Morris Motors. Morris' fierce anti-semitism was matched only by his hatred of trade unions: Mosley's party was funded by William Morris to the tune of £85,000 in its first two years.
Later, when Mosley's British Union of Fascists turned its attention to Oxford it also concentrated on the university. Its first public meeting in 1933, was in fact described in the local press as 'a meeting of the University Fascist Association'. The BUF seemed determined to sign up as many Hooray Henrys and Henriettas as possible; recruiting members of the University Italian clubs, the rowing club at Oriel College and amongst women undergraduates at Lady Margaret Hall. In this decade the University also played host to the Imperial League of British Fascists and even had its own National Socialist club.
What follows is a brief outline of the first wave of fascism in Oxford.
The first anti-fascists appeared in the town in 1933 calling themselves the Red Shirts, (in opposition to the BUF's Blackshirts). They were based at the independent, trade union-sponsored, workers' college, Ruskin.
The Red Shirts were the driving force behind the ‘Oxford Council of Action Against War and Fascism', set up on the eve of Mosley's first visit on November 3rd 1933 at the Carfax Assembly Rooms. This organisation was supported by the Engineers Union, the Bus Workers T & G branch and the National Union of Railwaymen. Other organisations to give support were the Communist and Labour Parties and the National Unemployed Workers Movement (which was later also targetted by the BUF).
Despite the intimidation of the 150 imported Blackshirt stewards on the night, the working class movement managed to kick off a fierce punch up, which brought the meeting to a close. The next time Mosley came to Oxford in 1936 the anti-fascist movement was much stronger. The simple reason being that Oxford's working class had itself become stronger, through a series of successful strikes. The most important of these was a strike for union recognition at Pressed Steel and Morris Motors. The support given in this dispute by the local Communist Party branch helped them become the largest party group in the country. From this period Oxford could seriously claim to be a union town.
The second Mosley meeting at Carfax, was 25th May 1936, (five months before Cable Street). Mosley later complained of "the worst scenes of hooliganism he had experienced during the hundreds of meetings he had addressed up and down the country”. The meeting was a thousand strong (although it has been estimated that only a quarter of those present supported the BUF). Most of the anti-fascists in attendance were Morris workers, busmen and other trade unionists.
On the night, the assembly rooms were decked with Union Jacks in preparation for Mosley, who, flanked by his black-shirted bodyguards stepped onto the platform to the strains of the Nazi Anthem ‘The Horst Wessel Song'. The fascist leader addressed the packed meeting, the first five rows of which contained the local gentry, including factory owners, Tory councillors and at least one magistrate.
At one point in the meeting a frustrated Mosley replied pompously to the heckling crowd "I know you Ruskin fellows with your stage guardsmen accents". Shortly afterwards BUF stewards turned on a member of the audience. With this, all hell broke loose and the local anti-fascists steamed into the somewhat startled blackshirts, the favoured weapons being fists and metal chairs.
When it was all over the fascists knew what it felt like to be on the end of a good kicking. Four were hospitalised with broken heads while many more went home battered and bruised. Mosley, true to form, took the opportunity afforded by the mayhem and sneaked out the back door, only to find that the cars and coaches that had transported the BUF to Oxford had also been well and truly trashed.
Afterwards hundreds of anti-fascists spilled out onto the streets, - many singing the Internationale, to celebrate their victory. The BUF in Oxford were never to recover from this battering. However Oxford's radical working class was kept busy, regardless of the fact that they had destroyed the local BUF branch. Their attention turned to Spain and the war against Franco.
Anti-fascists in Spain were given support from the Spanish Aid Committee in Oxford, who organised accommodation locally for refugee children, held factory meetings and collections and were involved in an illegal initiative which had factory workers converting Harley Davidson motorbikes, donated by supporters in the USA, into sten gun carriers which were then smuggled over to the Spanish comrades.
The second wave of fascism came in the mid 1970's - early 80's. In 1974 the fascists tried to hold two public meetings in Oxford in an attempt to rally support for the National Front's only ever candidate in the city. This candidate was 21 year old Pembroke College undergraduate, Ian Anderson. Headington Middle School was where the first of these meetings was held, on October 2nd.
Within minutes of its opening, thirty members of the Oxford Anti-Fascist Committee, another group with strong trade union support, burst in. They tore down the Front's Union Jack emblem, overturned the speakers table and threw Anderson out on his arse. Comically only five people were in attendance, two of whom, a local vicar and his daughter, had come to argue against the NF!
A couple of days later the Front held a larger meeting in the Town Hall. A hundred anti-fascists turned up and stopped the meeting, forcing the hapless Anderson from the stage and occupying it themselves. A speech was then made, declaring that Oxford believes no platform should be given to fascists.
The police presence in the town on the night was heavy, with a number of arrests being made. Special attention was paid to the Oxford Union, where the Monday Club held a meeting on South Africa behind heavy fortifications. A few months earlier a meeting at the Union on immigration by the Monday Club was smashed up and its Vice Chairman Harold Soref was forced to flee over a six foot wall out the back, leaving in his wake crashing glass, flying chairs and a pursuing mob. To its own surprise, the Far Right this time were not even safe in the university.
The October elections round up in the Oxford Mail paints a pathetic figure of Ian Anderson...
"The campaign suffered another major setback this week: Mr Anderson's car failed the MoT test, which has made getting about the constituency difficult. There are other problems too. The windows of the rented committee rooms in St Clements are shuttered and boarded against breakages and inside there is no lighting or heating. But the faithful few work on by paraffin lamp and oil stove. By day he keeps a lonely vigil, licking envelopes and replacing posters. At night he calculates that a poster an hour is removed or defaced from outside the committee rooms and he and one or two supporters have even taken to sleeping on camp beds at the rooms to guard their supply of posters and leaflets, the one commodity the NF have in plentiful supply".
The General Election saw Anderson receive only 1% of the vote, causing the NF to weigh up the chance of a miracle change in their political fortune against the obvious health risks involved in carrying on their recruitment drive. They wisely chose to pack their bags.
The National Front returned to the Town Hall in May 1975 to hold a meeting on the Common Market. It had to be protected from a 600-strong demonstration organised by the Oxford Anti-Fascist Committee by 250 police. The demonstrators failed to break through the six deep police cordon, but did manage to take out a number of fascists as they made their way to the hall. The NF deputy chairman John Tyndall (now British National Party fuhrer) had to run the gauntlet of kicks and punches as he was jostled into the hall.
Four arrests were made and two policemen were hospitalised. When the meeting eventually got under way Martin Webster, NF organiser, told the audience of around 100 that it was the second time he had travelled to Oxford and had to contend with a riot outside . When Tyndall addressed the meeting he explained the party's attitude towards the organised working class: "I believe that most of the problems of this country could be put right in a week if you put about 10,000 people in jail starting with those that are disrupting industry”.
He also spoke on race; "If we are not racist and proud of it then our country will be destroyed”. Over 100 marched to a counter-meeting in St Giles, to hear the Chairman of the Anti-Fascist Committee declare that "On the strength of tonight it's clear that nowhere in Oxford will fascism be allowed to go unhampered”.
The next time the Far Right came to town it was in the guise of the British Movement. Originally they had threatened an 'anti-IRA march', (this being the year of the hunger strikes), as they obviously felt that the usual anti-Black/Asian rhetoric would not strike a chord in Oxford. When they realised that this attempt to win recruits by trying to appeal to perceived popular sentiment wouldn't wash, they publicly cancelled their plans.
Around 40 BM activists turned up anyway, apparently hoping the opposition had been thrown off the scent. A counter-demonstration was hastily organised by the ad hoc 'Oxford Committee Against the Nazi March' which included the Anti Nazi League, (Mark 1). Around 400 people marched down the High Street to oppose the BM. At the same time a smaller group of around 100, dominated by a strong contingent from the Blackbird Leys estate, including many black youth and another similar size group containing some of the founding members of AFA, set off to find the fascists. About 30 members of the BM had been spotted in the Old Gatehouse pub near the rail station. Anti-fascists arrived, smashed through the locked door of the pub and set about their business. BM bootboys who failed to find refuge in either the upstairs rooms, or the cellar of the Gatehouse soon learned that once again the boots were on the other feet.
After a successfully completed operation the anti-fascists made their getaway, leaving behind a bloodied and thoroughly devastated British Movement, (and a well turned over public house!). 'The Oxford Times' interviewed a BM activist from Peterborough who had witnessed the scenes at the Gatehouse. He bleated that Oxford was chosen "because it is a Red stronghold and we wanted to circulate leaflets to put our side". The leaflets did not even leave the box, and were abandoned at the rail station in the BM's haste to leave town.
It was to be another decade before the fascists showed their faces in Oxford again. In 1993 Ian Anderson returned with a little gang, to test the water with a National Front paper sale in the town centre. Unfortunately they didn't hang around long enough for anti-fascists to catch up with them, though one or two members of the public did challenge them, resulting in scuffles, which encouraged a swift departure. The following week anti-fascists were out in force, but the Front played safe and stayed at home.
Since 1981 the Far Right have only been able to carry out operations of the hit and run variety, using activists from outside of the city to attack soft targets on the middle class Left. These attacks (which can be counted on one hand), are made possible because the groups that have been victimised, continually ignore their own propaganda about the need to "Smash the Nazi's" etc. and hold meetings and events without the adequate security arrangements. AFA on the other hand is not in the business of handing victories over to the class enemy. Anything organised by AFA, they leave well alone.
Oxford AFA is aware that it inherits the proud tradition of working class opposition to fascism in the city. We also accept, as did our predecessors, the necessity of both physical and ideological struggle against the Far Right, and act accordingly. The fact that many in Oxford see fascism (however incorrectly) as a problem of the past, is a testimony to the success of the city's anti-fascists in removing it from the streets.