2018 has seen the far right mobilise tens of thousands of people to London on multiple occasions. These marches have been consistently bigger than any of those ever called by the English Defence League. Called to oppose the imprisonment of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), jihadist terrorism and grooming gangs, these demonstrations represent a high tide mark in the recent history of the UK far right.
Anti-fascists were initially caught off guard. Over time, however, they have got their act together, and opposition to the last few far right marches in central London has been significantly more effective and unified. In October, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) were blocked from marching and confronted in the streets by an anti-fascist coalition – made up of the Anti-Fascist Network, the Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly, and Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism. A demonstration was also held in Parliament Square, led by Momentum and Stand Up To Racism.
Finally, it seems the anti-fascists have got a handle on things. How? By working together in a united front against fascism that out-mobilised the DFLA and disrupted their narrative. Rather than the legitimate voice of football fans and women opposed to rape, they were shown to be a bunch of sad cases.
Now, however, the far right are trying again with a new narrative. On Sunday 9 December, Robinson will be leading a march in central London against what he’s calling ‘The Great Brexit Betrayal’. The march claims to be a show of opposition to the establishment, who have failed to represent the true spirit of the EU referendum result.
This is an attempt to establish far right leadership over a large social block: those people who voted to leave the EU, are unsatisfied with the way negotiations have progressed, and don’t feel that the Brexit process is giving them what they wanted. This (large) section of the 52% of Leave voters are not fascists, but they might fall under fascist leadership if an effective anti-fascist strategy is not pursued. So, this is an extremely dangerous moment.
The one thing we cannot afford to do is panic. Unfortunately, that is exactly what one part of the left appears to have done.
Another Europe is Possible (AEIP) is an ultra-remain campaign group that positions itself as the left wing of the ‘Stop Brexit’ movement. Its support base varies from Alliance for Workers’ Liberty members to Guardian columnist Zoe Williams. AEIP have called for a People’s Vote/Stop Brexit counter-protest to the far right march.
They argue that it’s not enough to simply oppose racism and fascism – we have to specifically oppose Brexit. For them, Brexit is not just a recruiting ground for the far right, it is actually a far right project in its entirety. So, the anti-fascist response has to be to try and stop Brexit.
Whereas the Momentum-backed counter-protest is using the slogan ‘No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain’ without taking a line on Brexit, AEIP are linking together an ultra-remain position with an anti-fascist position. This is a very bad mistake.
It is a mistake because it maps the political division of the Brexit debate (48% Remain, 52% Leave) onto the political division between fascists and anti-fascists (90% anti-fascist, 10% fascist). It gives Robinson exactly what he wants: leadership.
Instead of challenging his attempt to lead Leave voters and splitting the hard core of the far right away from the 52%, it consolidates his position from the other side of a police line. Robinson is a general looking for an army. AEIP’s line, if pursued, will do much to form his battalions for him.
Fascists set up the dividing lines of their movement in a way which attempts to win the majority of people to their cause and isolate anti-fascists. They claim to be legitimate football fans who oppose paedo gangs and jihadis. If we accept those divisions, we’ve already lost. The most effective anti-fascist response is to point out that it is anti-fascists that organise against sexual violence and send volunteers to the Middle East to fight Isis. In October we saw how women and football fans played a particular role in undermining the DFLA’s claim to be normal football fans defending women. The combination of undermining their narrative and out-mobilising them in the streets leads to success.
The AEIP approach is the exact opposite of this. They are accepting the Leave/Remain division which the far right are pushing – and actively identifying themselves with the minority. As a result, they are not only legitimating far right leadership over a section of Leave voters, they are also delegitimising anti-fascists in the eyes of other Leave voters.
The AEIP approach falsely aligns antifascism with ultra-remain pro EU liberalism. The effective anti-fascist approach is totally different. Anti-fascist united fronts should aim to be broad coalitions made up of working class organisations that disrupt and delegitimise the narrative of the fascists and out-mobilise them on the streets. This goal is best achieved with a broad base and narrow politics.
That means anti-fascist fronts should only express the limited politics necessary to defeat the fascists on the day. They should appeal to as many people as possible (regardless of what they think about Brexit). They should recognise that the goal of the front is only to prevent the fascists from taking leadership. We can’t win socialism through anti-fascism. The power to do that lies in workplaces and communities far away from some argy-bargy in Whitehall.
Expressing politics over and above that necessary on the day damages the whole front. It might be effective for promoting your organisation in the short term, but in the long term it is sectarianism that damages the cause of the working class. AEIP should drop their separate mobilisation and endorse the ‘No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain’ counter-protest.
On 9 December, we will stand united. Some of us are Leave, some of us are Remain, but we’re all anti-fascist.