May 8 2012

Why liberal ‘anti-fascism’ is a mistake, Part 2

[Go to Part 1]

2. It legitimises and strengthens mainstream politics

Unite Against Fascism and Hope Not Hate are constantly putting mainstream politicians on their platforms, leafleting against the BNP alongside mainstream politicians and generally giving the impression that these crooks are an anti-fascist alternative to the far right. Given that respect for the mainstream parties is at an all time low this is extremely unwise. It enables the likes of the BNP to portray themselves as political outsiders, somehow untainted by the corruption of seeking political power, and as underdogs who are nonetheless a credible threat. In reality, of course, the far right is dogged by corruption and nepotism, something that is central to the BNP’s current internal ructions, but this is a point that is much harder to make when your rally features the local Labour MP and you have Gordon Brown endorsing your campaign.

But of course, it is not just for tactical reasons that anti-fascists should not let politicians jump on the bandwagon. The policies of the main parties on policing, immigration control and suppressing working class communities are often authoritarian and racist. It was mainstream parties not the far-right who brought us neoliberalism, anti-union legislation, detention of asylum seekers, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and are now forcing the cuts on us.

In many cases, it is precisely the policies of the mainstream parties which have created the conditions allowing fascism to flourish. Consider for instance the chronic underfunding of council housing over the last 30 years. Before Thatcher came to power, there were never fewer than 75,000 council dwellings built in any year. In 1999, only 84 were built. Combined with “right-to-buy,” the impact on the availability of affordable housing has been inevitable. The upshot of this is that only the most needy are now able to get access to council housing. If you are, for example, a single working-class male you’re likely to find yourself at the bottom of the list. This inevitably fuels resentment and is likely one of the key drivers in the recent growth of the BNP, particularly in areas like Barking and Dagenham.

Even if they were an effective defence against a rising far-right, neither the Conservatives nor Labour have hesitated to adopt hardline policies in order to pander to voters who might otherwise have been tempted to vote for fascists. See, for example, Labour MP Margaret Hodge’s inflammation of fears about migrants taking social housing or David Cameron’s vilification of Muslims on the day of an EDL march. In the absence of any credible party of their own, the only way that the far right’s politics can enter the mainstream is through such an appropriation by the big three, in their attempt to win votes from the ‘white working class’.

By allowing neoliberal politicians of any stripe to ride along for free on their coat-tails, anti-fascists are undoing their own work towards a society free of authoritarianism and social control. There is no point in taking away power from outright fascists only to hand it to neoliberals who are much more capable at repressing the working classes. Our enemy’s enemy is not necessarily our friend.


3. It legitimises and strengthens religious and community leaders

The other kind of person that gets an unwarranted boost by liberal anti-fascist campaigning is the self- or state-appointed community leader. These are people who, either propped up by state patronage or their hierarchical position within community organisations, assume for themselves the role of speaking on behalf of their own community, ethnic or religious group. The promotion of religious leaders is especially problematic, as they bring with them their moral ideas which can often be conservative, homophobic and sexist.  Indeed, militant anti-fascists have protested against the fascism of some extreme religious groups, such as an Islamist conference at the East London Mosque.

However, hierarchical anti-fascist organisations like the Socialist Workers Party front group, Unite Against Fascism, lap up the opportunity to invite community leaders onto their platforms, in an ill-thought out attempt to get the support of the communities themselves. Following the muddled logic of my enemy’s enemy is my friend, this tactic can result in people with extremely conservative and offensive political ideas to speak on anti-fascist platforms. For example, UAF invited the anti-gay leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, to speak at an anti-BNP event, a decision that was defeated by pressure from LGBT campaigners.

The promotion of certain Muslim community leaders is especially problematic, given the heavy influence of the state in promoting certain groups and individuals within the Muslim community. Most notoriously, a large amount of funding was given to selected community leaders from the Prevent anti-terrorism pot “to support work that will build the capacity of individuals, organisations and communities to take the lead on tackling violent extremist influences”. Inevitably, one effect of this funding has been to dampen criticism of the government and the ‘War on Terror’, something that might easily be mistaken as “violent extremism” by the spooks and cops who give out the money. Community leaders whose funding is dependent on not rocking the boat will inevitably be drawn towards public support for liberal anti-fascism and more policing rather than the community self-defence that ordinary community members tend to support.

Given the current victimisation of certain communities and groups by the far right, it is extremely important to have all sections of the community involved in anti-fascism. However, militant anti-fascists prefer to work on the grassroots level, rather than with community leaders who are often either self-appointed and unrepresentative or state patsies.

[Go to Part 3]

Apr 30 2012

Why liberal ‘anti-fascism’ is a mistake, Part 1

An important distinction needs to be made between a genuine, militant anti-fascism, and the pseudo anti-fascism of liberal organisations like Unite Against Fascism, Hope Not Hate and Searchlight. The latter ideology also informs websites like EDL News and Expose who often seem to see anti-fascism as a race to see who can report racist comments to the police first. Whilst there is no doubt that some of what these organisations do is useful to the anti-fascist cause, the liberal approach strengthens authoritarian elements of the state and state-sponsored ‘community leaders’ who seek to undermine all threats to their power. It boosts an ideologically filtered anti-extremism that is ultimately opposed to militant anti-fascism and liberatory movements as well. Militant anti-fascists must consistently challenge the statist tactics of some who oppose the far right. Over the next few weeks we will be publishing the reasons why.

1. It takes us closer to a police state

Central to liberal ideology is the idea that the state should have a monopoly on violence. Consequently, liberals favour the idea that the police are the only body that can legitimately ‘smash the fash’ on the streets. They blithely ignore the tendency of the police to ‘facilitate’ the free speech of fascists and to repress anti-fascists as and when it suits their interests. Calls for the state to regulate fascism in this way help the state to concentrate power in the hands of authoritarians and quasi-fascists within its own ranks. It should be easy to see why calling for the state to tackle fascism is extremely counter-productive.

The British police have a long and shameful history of protecting fascists. From the famous Battle of Cable Street (which was a fight between anti-fascists and the Metropolitan Police, who were protecting Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists), to the 1993 demonstration against the BNP bookshop at Welling (brutally attacked by the police), to the fitting up of anti-fascists protesting against a neo-Nazi Blood & Honour gig in 2009, the police have made it their job to ensure that fascists have the freedom to organise. Their aims are fundamentally different to those of anti-fascists.

Anti-fascists who call for the state to ban fascist marches, groups and symbols are playing an extremely dangerous game as such state intervention is frequently also turned against them. For example, Searchlight and other liberal anti-fascists trumpeted Home Secretary Theresa May’s ban on the EDL marching in Tower Hamlets in August last year. However, the Home Office used this opportunity to ban all marches in Tower Hamlets and four other London boroughs for an entire month, which conveniently also banned anti-militarist marches against the DSEI arms fair, East London LGBT Pride and anti-cuts protests. The state will use the cover of banning ‘extremists’ (who are as likely to be people fighting for freedom as fascists or religious militants) to further its own controlling and policing agendas, which are usually fundamentally opposed to the interests of those who want to fight fascism.

There is also evidence of the state using liberal anti-fascist organisations to monitor and control anti-fascists. For example, Searchlight founder and long-time editor, Gerry Gable, was exposed as having links to various state intelligence agencies in the 1980s. Searchlight notoriously infiltrated the Yorkshire branch of Anti-Fascist Action, as detailed in Beating the Fascists, sowing distrust and weakening the organisation. Inevitably, even without intentionally stitching up their comrades, the passing of information about fascist activities to the state by anti-fascists provides an opportunity for the state to monitor what the anti-fascists are up to as well.

For all of these reasons, militant anti-fascists do not trust the state and have sought to build their own movements against fascism, outside of state surveillance and control.

[Go to Part 2 | Part 3]