Why liberal ‘anti-fascism’ is a mistake, Part 3

[Go to Part 1 | Part 2]

4. It bolsters the far right’s attempts to portray themselves as victims

Those on the far right love to think of themselves as victims of an establishment conspiracy to deprive them of their free speech and undermine them. To some extent, this is true, largely due to the sporadic adoption of a liberal anti-extremism by mainstream society. The tendency of liberal anti-fascists to give a platform to mainstream politicians and establishment figures (see Part 2 of this article), to leave physical confrontation of fascists to the police (see Part 1) and to lobby for the mainstream media and organisations to deny the far right a platform mean that it is extremely difficult to find mainstream voices explicitly supporting the BNP or the EDL.

However, it is not necessary to dig too much deeper to find establishment support for the kind of policies these groups would like to see implemented. Strict immigration controls, racial and religious profiling, greater police powers and patriarchal family values all receive some degree of support within the mainstream. Indeed, anti-fascism often turns into a game of labels rather than an examination of the content of politics. Tory and Labour MPs get away with saying and doing all kinds of authoritarian and reactionary things that Tommy Robinson or Nick Griffin could never, because anti-fascism can often become fixated on membership of certain organisations, rather than the ideological confrontation of a particular kind of politics.

Indeed, far from being rebels, the EDL often seem to act as guard dogs for the establishment: supporting the monarchy, the armed forces and British rule over the Falklands,attacking striking workers, student protesters, Irish republicans and the left. At times the EDL’s politics seems to flow directly from the pages of the right wing tabloids – hardly the voice of an oppressed minority! Indeed, the EDL were notoriously championed by the Daily Star.

As the examples of other European countries (e.g. Austria, Italy, Greece) demonstrate, these populist nationalists can easily become the establishment without shedding their fascist core. They can then start using the resources and authority of the state to build up their movements and carry out attacks on minorities and the left. Thanks to their contorted worldview they can happily integrate into the state in this way and still complain about what a victimised minority they are.

Increasingly, the far right is appropriating the language of genuine struggles against domination, e.g. anti-racism and anti-colonial and indigenous struggles, and using it for their own aim of continued European/white domination of the political, economic and cultural spheres. Anti-fascists need to confront this fake victimhood wherever it crops up and consistently challenge the fascists with the reality of the power relations involved.

5. It weakens anti-fascism on the streets

As Anti-Fascist Action famously stated, their aim was to confront fascism ideologically and physically. This is a message that has been lost in recent decades, as the Socialist Workers Party-controlled UAF has come to dominate anti-fascism’s street presence. Despite all of their rhetoric about smashing fascism, UAF rarely even try to confront fascist marches and demonstrations. Instead, they prefer to keep mainstream politicians, community leaders and trade unions on board by meekly conforming with the police’s instructions. They and the allied Love Music Hate Racism organise celebrations of multiculturalism that are often well out of the way of the fascists, giving the police plenty of space to control both crowds. Often the actual confrontation is left to the local communities themselves who are usually heavily outnumbered by better kitted out riot police.

Whilst it can certainly be argued that, due to the rise of police surveillance and evidence gathering capabilities, the days of AFA are long gone, the opportunity to physically resist fascist mobilisations is definitely not. This does not, despite the stereotype, have to mean going out for a fight with the fash (although we should always be prepared for that), but rather physically preventing them from going where they want. Anti-fascists can take heart from the successful blockade of a Nazi march in Dresden in 2010, and, more close to home, the successful blockade of a BNP meeting in Kimberley in 2007. Both actions relied mainly on the presence of large numbers of anti-fascists who refused to collaborate with the police and blocked the fascists from getting past.

As the BNP disintegrates and the much hyped British Freedom is turning out to be a big disappointment, the far right’s stormtroopers are hoping to go back to the streets again to assert themselves. It is vital for our struggle to prevent them from doing that. That doesn’t mean leaving it to the police to sort out or getting the government to ban them. It means defending our communities from these fascist intruders, by whatever tactics are most effective.


5 Responses to “Why liberal ‘anti-fascism’ is a mistake, Part 3”

  • East Midlands Anti-Fascists Says:

    @Donny
    “What you’ve done here is cherry-pick what you believe to be liberal opinion and then criticize those liberal positions that you have the least-bad arguments against”

    It’s not what I believe to be liberal opinion – these *are* classic liberal political positions. They support a strong state against “extremist” minorities.

    “but it would take a substantial essay to address every single point, item by item.”

    That’s a cop out. If you have criticisms then let’s hear them.

    “if we selectively train the spotlight on the mistakes of militant anti-fascism, the litany of fuck-ups we’d find is hardly impressive either.”

    I quite agree but I wouldn’t say those were inherent to the political standpoint of militant anti-fascism, whereas the mistakes of liberal anti-fascism I’ve pointed out are.

    “that was a battle for hearts and minds, not a battle for control of the streets, although you’d be surprised how many liberal anti-fascists are involved in BOTH”

    I made it quite clear in the article that I was aiming at the organisations and leadership rather than rank and file anti-fascists.

    “The main priority between 2008 and 2010 was keeping Antifa OUT of the picture”

    Whose main priority? Why do you concentrate on Antifa England, one of the weakest examples of militant anti-fascism in recent times, rather than levelling criticism at AFA or the Antifa movements in Europe. Are you guilty of the same cherry-picking that you claim I am?

    “Everyone knows UAF are an SWP front, and everyone knows the SWP are a revolutionary socialist, Trotskyist group.”

    I think it’s slightly more complicated than that. UAF, as I’ve mentioned, has a lot of alliances with conservative Muslims and mainstream politicians. And as you admit, it’s a front. It’s basically a very watered down and more “acceptable” (i.e. liberal) version of the SWP’s politics. The SWP may have its roots in revolutionary politics but it is a very long way from its roots. They sound like rather wet social democrats these days.

    I look forward to seeing your detailed point by point rebuttal of what I’ve written.

  • Donny Says:

    One point of detail I will pick you up on however is your mis-describing UAF as representative of “liberal” opinion – that perception is an article of faith in certain activist circles, but it’s typical militant laziness and about as clever as believing the BNP when they pretend they aren’t Nazis. Everyone knows UAF are an SWP front, and everyone knows the SWP are a revolutionary socialist, Trotskyist group. REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALISM IS NOT LIBERALISM, END OF

    And to ever suggest that they are is just plain false

  • Donny Says:

    This article is an absolute propaganda classic. What you’ve done here is cherry-pick what you believe to be liberal opinion and then criticize those liberal positions that you have the least-bad arguments against; and when I say “propaganda classic” what I mean is that you’re using basically the same rhetorical technique (albeit with different arguments) that’s habitually used by the far-right. That’s not to say that you don’t make SOME good points…

    …but it would take a substantial essay to address every single point, item by item. By way of an example what I can say however is that if we selectively train the spotlight on the mistakes of militant anti-fascism, the litany of fuck-ups we’d find is hardly impressive either.

    Antifa were for instance almost completely irrelevant to the the campaign which took the BNP from the near million votes they got in 2008 to the sorry state they find themselves in now – that was a battle for hearts and minds, not a battle for control of the streets, although you’d be surprised how many liberal anti-fascists are involved in BOTH. The main priority between 2008 and 2010 was keeping Antifa OUT of the picture, to stop them maiming a BNP activist and giving the far-right a huge media coup and PR victory in the process. As for militant Anti-Fascism’s relationship with Irish Republicanism, that was a PR catastrophe that many militants seem desperate to repeat. The list goes on….

  • East Midlands Anti-Fascists Says:

    Hi Dave. It might be worth you reading parts 1 and 2 of the series where we do indeed criticise Hope Not Hate. In my opinion, of the mainstream anti-fascist orgs only UAF make any attempt to mobilise in the street and they do it badly. That’s why they were criticised here. The problem is not the activists who turn up but the organisers who sell them out. Take for example the recent Leicester EDL demo when the UAF big men talked up how they were going to defy the police and keep the fascists out of town but in the end settled for their police-approved march on the other side of the city, leaving the militant anti-fascists to defy the police on their own. A typical UAF cock-up that suggests the leaders are more interested in their own rhetoric than doing something useful.

    You say we should be uniting against the real enemy but the real enemy is the state and the police as well as the wannabe fascists. So-called anti-fascists who can’t see that are always going to be a problem for the movement. There’s no point looking for unity with people whose strategy is fundamentally opposed to our aims.

    I recommend checking out the Anti-fascist Network (see our links) for an example of how we can work together without compromising to liberalism.

  • dave Says:

    I find it hard to believe you can critisize UAF in this post but not Hope Not Hate. UAF have always mobilised against the fascists, they’ve not always got it right, but who the f**k does? HNH however have at best promoted apathy and at worst have actually organised AGAINST anti-fascist demonstrations. Stop talking s**t – we should be uniting against the real enemy – the fascists, not taking pot shots against decent antis who always turn out on the day (whether they be UAF or anyone else).

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