Hate: My Life in the British Far-Right (Biteback, 2011) is exactly what it says on the tin: a 300-plus page account by Matthew Collins of his involvement in the British far right during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Like David Greason’s I was a teenage fascist, which documents Greason’s participation in the Australian far right a decade earlier, Collins got stuck-in early, and initial chapters detail how Collins negotiated his teenage anxieties by becoming a violent little fascist.
Rather than, say, by forming a band.
While Greason–whom Collins acknowledges as an inspiration–participated in the formation of ‘National Action’ (one of ‘Australia First Party’ leader Dr James Saleam‘s former political vehicles), Collins joined the ‘National Front’–then under the leadership of now dead nutzi Ian Anderson (1953–2011)–and, like any other good litle nazi, helped distro both bucket-loads of nutzi agit-prop and other political slop while treating the left and other enemies to lashings of politically-motivated (and psychologically deeply satisfying) violence. Collins spent roughly six years of his life weaving a drunken path through the NF and–occasionally–the BNP, and was lucky enough to be present at the formation of ‘Combat 18’ by “an overweight, knife-carrying, drug-peddling lout” named Charlie Sargent, who in 1998 was eventually–and inevitably–jailed for murder. As Jeremy Jones notes, “the individuals at the heart of the book are dysfunctional, pathetic, morally bankrupt and highly self-delusional”. Or as Malatesta puts it: “Collins sees the far right scene as a tedious heavy drinking club enlivened by occasions of violence, full of lonely deviants who deserve each other[‘s] company, trying desperately to convince themselves that their political programme is not a waste of time”.
So, on one level, the book is a litany of meetings and beatings: meetings with various far-right luminaries–Anderson, Richard Edmonds, Tony ‘The Mad Bomber’ Lecomber, Eddie Whicker, Terry Blackham, Phil ‘The Thug’ Edwards (aka Stuart Russell) [sic]–and accounts of numerous beatings dished out to his racial (Asian, black, Jewish) and political (leftist) foes. Of course, Collins also includes brief descriptions of the assaults to which he and his comrades were subjected by dastardly ‘reds’.
Among all the ultra-violence, the key turning-point for Collins in his career as a fascist bully occurred on June 29, 1989, when he joined a BNP assault on a meeting at Welling Library, a room “packed with women, most of them Asian…”, of whom seventeen required hospitalisation courtesy of the BNP’s flying visit. (Note that one reviewer who, apart from being a member of the ‘New Communist Party of Britain’, happens to have much in common with Collins, writes that “according to accounts from the anti-fascists… the battle of Welling… was not as one-sided as Matthew’s recollection.”) The attack on the “little old ladies” of Welling is just one in a book filled with violent stories, details of the various, rather grubby political machinations of the BNP, NF, British Movement and sundry other fascist groupuscules, and many literal as well as political references to wanking. Why this particular event should have been the one to turn Collins away from the far right isn’t really explained, but it could be that in the bloodied faces of these ladies he spied his mother’s: the book is dedicated to her and intended partly as an apology.
As noted, Hate also includes a few references to the anti-fascist opposition: apart from Searchlight, militant antifa belonging to ‘Anti-Fascist Action’ and the “ïnfamous” ‘Red Action’, described (pp.33–34) as being rather unlike social workers and rather more like a “bunch of blokes with angry faces”, generally happy to have a full and frank discussion with the likes of the NF. The SWP’s ‘Anti Nazi League’ also gets a guernsey, tho’ it “seemed to do little more than provide more young, wide-eyed victims for Sargent and his gang’s appetite for violence against the left” (p.273). The book more-or-less ends with Collins’ appearance on an episode of
BBC ITV current affairs TV show ‘World in Action’, broadcast in April 1993 and detailing the violence organised by Sargent’s C18.
Collins writes (p.242) that the initial impetus for C18’s formation was the disruption in 1991 of a meeting at Kensington Library of old-skool nutzis belonging to the ‘League of St George’; in White Noise: inside the international nazi skinhead scene (Searchlight, 1998) Nick Lowles and Steve Silver claim C18 was formed following the disruption of a Skrewdriver gig in 1992. Of the gig, Collins claims (p.287) “that C18 deliberately let the boneheads get done over at Waterloo so that they could run Blood and Honour themselves”. Which seems reasonable, as at the time the network/label was something of a cash-cow, and Sargent’s
struggle to deal drugs and violence status as an aspiring small businessman could only have been helped by assisting young patriots relieve themselves of their meagre incomes by selling them Nazi tat.
Be that as it may, in Melbourne local nutzis will be commemorating Ian Stuart’s entry into Valhalla in a coupla weeks. By the same token, word on the virtual street is that a tiny handful of members of the Australian iteration of C18 are organising their own commemoration in Sydney, along with members and supporters of nutzi groupuscule ‘Volksfront’. A key supporter (and travelling businessman) Welf Herfurth has recently had a collection of his essays titled A Life in the Political Wilderness issued by a fascist publisher in Portugal; a (former) WA police officer, Robert David Critchley, is still apparently facing charges for providing infos to the group in Perth.
One of the more curious aspects of Collins’ book is the account (p.120ff) he gives of the involvement of a certain ‘Mr X’ in the British far right, elsewhere reported to be hack journalist (previously immortalised by Crass) Garry Bushell. Revelations of Bushell’s alleged involvement in the NF were featured in the February 1991 issue of Searchlight (No.188) in a front page article titled ‘Gotcha: Front’s Chum on The Sun‘, for which Bushell sued and eventually won a settlement of £1,009–but no apology (p.216).
Collins’ disillusionment with fascist politics eventually brought him into contact with Searchlight, for which he agreed to become an informant. His role as an informant lasted up until his appearance on ‘World’, which in turn placed him on a C18 hit-list and shortly thereafter forced him to leave the country. After leaving the far right, Collins travelled to Australia (St. Kilda, Melbourne, to be exact), returning to England a decade later to rejoin the fight against his former comrades. Currently, Collins is helping ‘Hope Not Hate’, “Searchlight‘s campaign to counter racism and fascism”. In the concluding chapter on the ‘Aftermath’ of his hateful career he writes (pp.309–316):
The changes and modernisation of the BNP was a thoroughly Griffin piece of work. Labour and the left described him as all kinds of things, opportunist among them. That he may have been and be, but he built a fascist party right under their noses on the very council estates that the left were abandoning faster than their ideology. Labour’s ongoing dislocation from the working class, in particular in England, was happening during a quite benign economic climate. The far left want us to believe that the national growth of the extreme right was solely due to a difficult economic climate, but how did that explain gains in Burnley, Bradford and Barking and Dagenham for the BNP? Probably the dirty word, class…
How identity politics replaced class politics in those ten absent years I spent in Australia is breathtaking… But the explosion of identity politics from groups like the English Defence League, and the seeming inability of many to understand it as well as counter it effectively, is the most worrying thing we face right now. Because they are working class, because they are overwhelmingly white and from the football terraces, it’s almost as if no one wants to tackle their message head-on. And it is the Muslim community that faces their threat, daily.
On the whole, Collins’ book is a worthy addition to the small but growing body of literature on fascist politics of the era. Otherwise : Collins is interviewed by Richard Coles on ‘Saturday Live’ on BBC4 (9:48–24:09) | The Biblio File: The Right’s Wrongs, Review by Jeremy Jones, AIJAC, September 26, 2011 | How loyalists got out of step with fascism, Henry McDonald, Belfast Telegraph, September 15, 2011 | Book review: Hate, Ruth Smeeth, Progress, September 9, 2011 | Back from the Front: Inside the mind of a reformed UK far-right extremist, The Independent, August 9, 2011 | Rock Against Racism‘s thirtieth anniversary, Rebecca Taylor, Time Out London, March 25, 2008 | I was a fascist boot-boy, Andrew Orme, The Independent, March 10, 2004 | One man’s war against his demons, Rosie Boycott, The Observer, March 10, 2002 | Growing up in London’s Deep South, Matthews Collins, Searchlight, September 1998.
See also : AFA zine Fighting Talk (rar file comprising #1–21) | Beating the Fascists (The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action, Sean Birchall, Freedom Press, 2010) | Dave Hann (October 3, 2009) | Fightdemback interview with Dave Hann, co-author No Retreat (July 11, 2006).