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.

Submitted by Fozzie on March 6, 2019

"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.



5 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ed on March 6, 2019

Thanks for this! Do you think you could switch the title and author names round though? i.e. rather than what it is now, do 'Let's Get Physical - Sid Martell'



5 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fozzie on March 6, 2019


Thanks for this! Do you think you could switch the title and author names round though? i.e. rather than what it is now, do 'Let's Get Physical - Sid Martell'


Yep, no problem. I did wonder about that.