On the 13th of October, the far-right Democratic Football Lad’s Alliance (DFLA) attempted to march through London. In response, two counter-demonstrations formed at around midday to shut them down. The DFLA failed to draw anywhere near the same amount of support as in their previous marches. This was the first time in a while that anti-fascists had the far right outnumbered in London, and eye witness reports suggest that many of the fascists dropped away to visit the pubs instead of sticking with the disorganised demo.
One counter-demonstration, organised by Stand Up to Racism (SUtR) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF), marched from Old Palace Yard and set up at Whitehall, close to the main build-up of DFLA protestors. The location of the demo meant that the DFLA could not march to Parliament Square, which had been agreed with the police beforehand. Meanwhile, the Unity Demo, organised by a wide network of anti-fascist groups including the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN), the Women’s Strike Assembly (WSA) and Plan C, paced a route from Portland Place through to Trafalgar Square that effectively blocked the DFLA’s intended movement.
On the day, there was an immense police presence. At least a dozen vans were used in controlling the anti-fascists, while a helicopter circled above throughout. The intense concentration of police served primarily to keep the anti-fascist protesters apart from the DFLA, but it also prevented the two anti-fascist demos from converging. Had this not been the case, the DFLA would have been confronted by a single block of up to 3000 demonstrators.
As it was, the SUtR/UAF protest activity was focused around Whitehall and featured a series of speakers from trade unions, the Labour party and Momentum, and prominent campaigners from Stop the War and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The protest drew well over 1000 people (as many as 2000 according to organisers), including many from trade unions, although this fell during the course of the day. The composition of the crowd was diverse, with the age balance influenced by the involvement of Momentum and Young Labour.
The crowd was kept well away from the DFLA by the cops, although later on in the day Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism (FLAF) prevented a group of DFLA supporters from attacking the protesters. FLAF had marched along with the Unity Demo before separating off to head towards Whitehall, and had also fended off an attack by the far right on their way.
While the SUtR/UAF protest was static, the anti-fascist Unity Demo of over 1000 people, led by a feminist bloc, was on the move throughout the entire afternoon, making it highly visible to the public. A taut line of protesters linked together with flags held a consistent boundary throughout the protest to prevent incursions. The march kept up its energy with flags held high, flares lit, and an array of chants both new and old, to the extreme disgruntlement of DFLA supporters. Though the police intervened to prevent most instances of direct contact with the DFLA, they were unable to stop the roaring chants of ‘No pasarán!’ and ‘London is anti-fascist!’ from reaching their targets when groups of the DFLA got close. The demo succeeded in blocking a large group of DFLA supporters on Pall Mall and were also up close to them in Trafalgar Square, separated only by a police line. Nazi salutes were thrown, and a few scuffles broke out with the cops as the fascists attempted to break their lines.
In addition to its disciplined and confrontational tactics, the Unity Demo was able to demonstrate a clear commitment to feminist and anti-racist politics which contributed significantly towards making it an inclusive and encouraging social environment in which to oppose fascism. Women and non-binary protesters led the march, and banners, chants and leaflets handed out to the public centred pro-refugee and feminist messages which tore apart the DFLA’s political platform and their laughable claim that they are defending women and children from sexual abuse. Some protesters wore bright green face coverings demanding ‘aborto legal’ in solidarity with the reproductive rights movement in Argentina, and as the demonstration approached the Brazilian embassy, Latinx women were in particularly strong force at the front, chanting slogans against the far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro.
A lot of groundwork went into making the Unity Demo an inclusive and safe event. Childcare was provided behind the scenes, enabling those with caring responsibilities to take part. The Queer Care network trained several people in first aid and mental health concerns. The ‘social reproduction’ team handed out snacks along with arrest cards. In advance of the demo Women’s Strike Assembly had held public meetings across the country to build up people’s confidence and discuss the history of feminist anti-racism. Thanks to these measures and the coalition-building that went on in the weeks in the run up to October 13th, militant anti-fascism is overcoming the limitations of only pursuing black-bloc squaddist tactics and is becoming a diverse and accessible movement attracting new people to anti-fascism. As a composite of many different groups, the Unity Demo was enlivened by dialogue, the type generated through a contact of different perspectives, unified in collective action.
The terrain of anti-fascist organising shifts constantly – the far right’s formations are always changing and predicting events on the ground ahead of time is hard. The DFLA demo on Saturday had no direct involvement from Tommy Robinson, who has moved away from the DFLA, so the left should be prepared for the possibility that the next far-right mobilisation might see much higher numbers. The left will be in a better position the more we build a mass anti-fascist movement rooted in communities and workplaces, connected to wider anti-racist struggles against structural and state racism, and capable of a range of tactics including mass confrontation. This time round, the combined anti-fascist demonstrations outnumbered and outmanoeuvred the far right. Let’s make sure that keeps happening.
First Published by RS21: