Anti-fascism? This is ponderous. Ponderous, f’n ponderous.

See also : casey kasem.

Someone calling themselves Brian has posted a comment regarding an account by Gordon Crawford (SDL World Pub Tour Continues, Though Cowards Flinch, February 20, 2010) of the recent SDL rally in Edinburgh, describing it — and, presumably, some of the other commentary prompted by Crawford’s post — as “a familiar piece of anti-SWP rhetoric”.

For those of you coming in late, the SWP is the ‘Socialist Workers Party’, a neo-Trotskyist political party (one with the largest membership on the extra-parliamentary left), and the main organisational force behind the UK anti-fascist network ‘Unite Against Fascism’ (UAF). Brian’s comment is noteworthy insofar as it encapsulates the SWP’s approach to working with other groups, as well as the thinking which underlies it.

What a familiar piece of anti-SWP rhetoric. The Anti-[F]ascist [A]lliances [of Edinburgh and Glasgow] can congratulate themselves for being brave and stout and standing up to fascists. But politics takes place on other plains other than just the street and at some point you’ll have to grow up and realise that sympathy for these thugs can grow faster than the ranks of reds willing to kick their heads in. I’m all for direct confrontation with these worthless pricks – but only a mass movement can break them in the long run. The task at hand therefore is not to try to [siphon] off the most courageous fighters (who inevitably will be – mostly, though not all – young strong men) but to give confidence to everyone who turns up to the rally to be part of the blockade, giving everyone a role.

To do this the EAFA and GAFA will have to recognise the ways in which Scotland United have made this difficult. Their umbrella organisation out-manoeuvred UAF which remains the largest grouping capable of confronting fascism in Britain. Both UAF and the Anti-Fascist [A]lliance[s] have forces that are too small to overrule the crap policies, classless politics and poor tactics of Scotland United. But no mass base will be built by humiliating these people by complaining that they did not march to confront the fascists. They lack the political understanding and confidence to do so. And questioning their commitment to the cause of anti-fascism is despicable and immature. As an SWP and UAF activist it is infuriating to have my comrades on the left make accusations that we are too cowardly somehow to put into practice our stated principles on fighting fascism. The question is not whether to confront the fascists – it’s how? and with what forces? It is particularly offensive when only a few years ago when I was in the SSP I was told we didn’t need an anti-fascist campaign as the SSP would take care of things. Unfortunately that was not the case. Broad left-unity was more important than squads of fighters.

Lastly I’d ask comrades to consider one vitally important question. If the SWP is not actually against fighting fascism, directly confronting thugs on the streets – why did we on several occasions call demonstrations against Nazis in defiance of UAF, when we failed to convince a majority within the UAF branches to march?

The author of this article and others in the anarchist/far left sections cannot conceive of this as they are much more comfortable in the certainties of separatism, than the challenges of unity.

Obviously, Brian’s comments concern a number of distinct, but overlapping subjects, from the concrete and local — what happened on February 20? — to the more abstract and general — how can fascism (in the UK) be defeated?

February 20

The SWP’s version of the events of February 20 is provided by Viv Smith in Scottish Defence League driven out of Edinburgh (Socialist Worker, February 21, 2010).

On the one hand, unlike Brian, Smith’s account makes no reference to the ‘Edinburgh Anti-Fascist Alliance’ (EAFA). (But then, it should be noted, neither does Socialist Worker as a whole, in reference to either Edinburgh or Glasgow.) On the other hand, Smith credits UAF — by way of fellow SWP member Eileen Boyle — with ensuring that the SDL “were holed up inside a pub at the bottom of the Royal Mile”. And yet, as all other, independent accounts confirm, the fact that the SDL was forced to confine itself to Jenny Ha’s was not the result of any concerted effort by UAF. On the contrary: SWP member Weyman Bennett — who chairs UAF and is its leading spokesperson — urged those who assembled in Edinburgh, and who were contemplating joining EAFA in confronting the SDL at their pub, to not do so, and to instead join others who were rallying under the banner of ‘Scotland United’.

In other words, Smith’s account is both false and misleading.

Here’s how the UAF promoted the events of February 20:

Stop the Scottish Defence League in Edinburgh this Saturday 20 February

The Scottish Defence League is going to try and bring its anti-Muslim bigotry and race hate to Edinburgh this Saturday. UAF is supporting mass demonstrations to stop them.

Meet at 10am at Mound Precinct (at the foot of The Mound) for a UAF street meeting and leafleting session. A student feeder march from Edinburgh University is assembling at 10am in Bristol Square. The Scotland United rally and march against the SDL starts at 11.30am at the nearby Princes Street Gardens bandstand.

Unite Against Fascism

The second aspect of Brian’s comment I wish to remark upon is its characterisation of the Anti-Fascist Alliances as being, in essence, a collection of immature young men.

Being neither a member of or especially familiar with either group, I’m unable to determine whether or not this assessment is correct. Still, I’m very familiar with the patronising tone, as well as the assertion that the kinds of issues he raises — such as the different capacities individuals bring to anti-fascism, or the idea that anti-fascism is a long-term project with many different facets — haven’t, in fact, been given any consideration by such groups (that is, groups opposed to ‘fascism’ but pursuing this opposition in ways which don’t necessarily meet with the approval of the putative leaders of this opposition). On my reading, having little to gain, and quite a lot to lose, by failing to take such matters seriously, groups such as the EAFA but also — and most especially, given the context — the earlier UK ‘alliance’ known as ‘Anti-Fascist Action’, paid serious attention to such matters. Indeed, in its publications (such as Fighting Talk), AFA took note of the BNP’s turn towards respectability — shedding boots for suits — many years before the UAF’s precursor in the ANL did.

The questions Brian asks are, of course, entirely appropriate. If fascism should be confronted, how should this be accomplished? By whom and in what manner? The SWP has chosen to confront fascism by way of UAF (and also Love Music Hate Racism/LHMR), in which they are united with a range of Labour politicians, leaders of trade unions, and a range of other VIPs, as well as various, otherwise unremarkable members of the general public.

The UAF’s ‘Founding Statement’ is a slightly odd document. While the rally to launch UAF took place five years earlier, in 2004, its most recent revision appears to have been produced sometime prior to the June 2009 EU elections. The situation in mid-2009 is described as follows:

The BNP now has 55 councillors across Britain and in May 2008 gained a seat on the London Assembly, polling 130,174 votes — 5.33%.

The BNP is poised to field candidates in the June 2009 European Parliamentary and local government elections, in what they hope will be the biggest electoral assault ever mounted by the far right in this country. The collapse of UKIP and the current economic crisis mean that there is a real danger that the BNP may gain seats onto the European parliament in these elections. This would represent a major electoral breakthrough for the BNP and would allow them huge resources, influence, greater respectability, and the ability to work with other far right and fascist parties in Europe.

The BNP did field candidates in the EU election, and two of them, both veteran fascists, were successful: Andrew Brons and Nick Griffin. In other words, according to UAF, the danger has been realised, the BNP has experienced a real electoral breakthrough and it now has access to “huge resources, influence, greater respectability, and the ability to work with other far right and fascist parties in Europe”. This is despite the best efforts of “the largest grouping capable of confronting fascism in Britain”.

But what is the nature of this threat, and how might this ‘breakthrough’ be explained? According to UAF, the BNP is attracting votes “on the basis of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers”. Apparently, there has been an upsurge in the number of racists, Islamophobes, anti-Semites, homophobes and xenophobes in the UK, and many of them are now expressing their irrational prejudices by voting BNP. Further:

The BNP stands for the expulsion of Black and Asian people from this country, the destruction of the trade unions, the promotion of violence and hatred and the elimination of basic democratic rights… We believe that this dangerous situation requires a strong and united response from all those dedicated to freedom and democracy. We must combine our forces and unite in a broad and common front against this common threat.

Which again, raises all sorts of other questions. Thus:

The BNP is clearly hostile to Islam, and to the presence of non-Whites in the UK, and yet the hardline which the party has pursued for most of its history has been somewhat attenuated in recent years. And so while the recent decision to re-write the party’s Constitution so as to allow non-Whites to join may be almost entirely symbolic, it does signal a further movement towards political pragmatism; a re-alignment of the kind Nick Griffin spoke of at a meeting of the American Friends of the BNP in April 2000. Further, while the party is obviously pre-occupied with matters of Race & Nation, it also addresses other issues, and an audience which is often deeply alienated from the kinds of mainstream political forces which are happy to lend their support to UAF.

In any case, the obvious question raised by any campaign which implores the electorate ‘don’t vote for the BNP’ is ‘vote for who?’

For its part, the SWP has provided a variety of answers, the rapidity with which they’ve been offered seeming to accelerate over time. First, and for most of its history, the SWP encouraged a vote for Labour (albeit ‘without illusions’). Then, in 1999, the SWP urged voters to support the ‘Socialist Alliance’ (of which it was a member). After leaving SA, the SWP campaigned for ‘RESPECT’ from 2004. After the party split from RESPECT, it urged a vote for the ‘Left List’ (2007). Unfortunately, when directly pitted against the BNP’s Richard Barnbrook in 2008, SWP/Left List candidate Lindsay German got a mere 16,796 votes; less than a quarter of Barnbrook’s total of 69,710.

Following this debacle, the ‘Left List’ became the ‘Left Alternative’ which, having achieved little more than demonstrating the SWP’s isolation, was a platform abandoned shortly thereafter. In February 2010, however, the party joined the ‘Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition’ (TUSC) (from the people who brought you No2EU). The political program of the TUSC is basically Old Skool social democracy, sometimes referred to, not always accurately, as Fabianism. Or in other words, Labour (if it had a left-wing).

See also : 2010 The year ahead, Hope Not Hate, “Nick Lowles assesses the BNP’s chances in the forthcoming elections”. | “A dose of libertarianism would enhance our democracy” — and if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle. (October 20, 2009).


Bash the Fash (June 12, 2008) | Unite Against Fascism is a weird mob (August 1, 2008) | BNP’s RWB vs SWP’s UAF (August 21, 2008) | We are not moralists but Marxists // “Morrissey? Top bloke. Not a racist bone in his body.” (January 3, 2009) | Stop Islamisation of Harrow (in Defence of England)! (September 12, 2009) | Fighting Fascism Is A Task For Us All (Antifa Statement) (November 8, 2009) | Liverpool Antifascists | Bristol Antifa.


About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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One Response to Anti-fascism? This is ponderous. Ponderous, f’n ponderous.

  1. @ndy says:

    [ This is Google’s cache of ]

    The SWP leadership is not splitting from Respect
    8pm Monday 29 October 2007

    This evening a shocking email has been sent from Respect’s National Office without consultation under the headline “SWP leadership splitting from Respect”.

    I want to make it absolutely clear, as I have on a number of other previous occasions the SWP is not and has no intention of splitting from Respect.

    I have just spoken to John Rees and he categorically denies making any of the statements attributed to him in the latest email.

    Four Respect Councillors have withdrawn from the whip. But they have made it clear that they still belong to the organisation and stand by its original aims. They have withdrawn from the whip because they are opposed to the direction Respect seems to be heading in and they are disgusted with the bullying and intimidation they have been facing inside the Respect Tower Hamlets councillors’ group.

    George Galloway and his supporters have made it clear that they do not want to have a Respect conference in less than three weeks time. Instead of allowing the Respect membership to decide the way forward, they are trying to ratchet up the pressure and make it appear that it is the SWP that wants to split from Respect.

    I repeat the SWP has not split from Respect. I want to make it 100 percent clear that the SWP will not be bullied or blackmailed out of the coalition and nor will we just walk away from Respect. We were part of its foundation and have put as much work into the project as anyone or any other group.

    The recent statements being sent out by Linda Smith and George Galloway are increasingly hysterical and are designed to confuse and disorientate Respect members and supporters who are opposed to the witch-hunt.

    There should be a big health warning from any statement coming out from Linda Smith and George Galloway.

    Comrades should feel free to forward this email on to their local groups — so our position is clear.

    In solidarity,

    Martin Smith, SWP National Secretary.

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