Weyman Bennett, Stand up to Racism Co-Convenor, looks at the degree to which democratic and multicultural Britain is threatened by the far-right in Britain as racism spikes after the European Union referendum
From Unity, anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine July-August 2016, issue 16. Email UAF to ask for printed copies email@example.com
The far-right sees the referendum decision to leave the European Union (EU) as a chance to grow. Racists have gone on the offensive—in some areas reports of hate crimes have gone up by 50%. And overshadowing everything is the awful murder during the campaign of Labour MP Jo Cox, who fought for people to respect our multicultural society.
This Thomas Mair, the man charged with shooting and stabbing her, said in court that his name was “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. He has been associated with far-right groups.
Racism has been built up through the EU referendum campaign. But we also have years of anti-racist activity that means whenever the right come out there are already local UAF and other local anti-fascist groups prepared to stand up to them.
Wherever the range of small Nazi groups puts their head up they are being challenged by almost-always larger groups of anti-racists (see “Fascists and the far right in Britain in 2016—a short guide” and “What to do if fascists do flash mob demonstrations in your town”).
Most people—including the vast majority of those who voted to leave the EU—are shocked by the racists’ abuse and violence.
A fascist “repatriation” demonstration in Newcastle the day after the result was disgusting, but there were fewer than 40 racists on it. A far larger counter-demonstration held up a banner saying “Refugees welcome here”.
Nazis in Southampton only managed to mobilise 30 people a week later. They had to be escorted out of town by the police. Ranged against them were 1,300 anti-racists on a rapidly organised counter-demo.
The local Eid celebrations had been cancelled through fear of the fascist march. The racists had felt bolder and the anti-racists more fearful. But thousands of Muslims should not have felt they could not come onto the streets.
The soft racist who was convinced that immigrants are in some way responsible for austerity will not automatically line up behind the hard racists. That is why the demonstration against Racism and Austerity in London on Saturday 16th July is so important. The protest called by Stand Up to Racism and the People’s Assembly can isolate the racists.
Hope and despair take flight from the same sky. The worst thing we can do is give in to despair or believe we face an unstoppable tide of racism. As the racist rhetoric grew during the campaign, Stand Up to Racism held a successful “Refugees are Welcome Here—Racism Out of the Referendum” rally in London.
Far-right and fascist groups can be classified into several different types. Classical fascism is the politics of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. They used a twin-track approach of standing in elections and at the same time building mass paramilitary street movements.
Horror at the Holocaust meant that for many years fascists have found it difficult to build such movements under any circumstances. It is a chilling development that organisations such as Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary have grown recently in some parts of Europe.
However, a more common strategy has been euro-fascism. Such organisations have tried to escape pariah status by distancing themselves from their fascist roots. The Front National (FN) in France pioneered the method of dropping the boots and putting on suits—replacing street fighting with electioneering. Its founder Jean Marie Le Pen also dropped some of the cruder forms of racism and biological determinism—but not their core fascist ideas, however they attempted to dress them up.
Now under the leadership of Marine Le Pen the organisation tries to appear ever more outwardly respectable. Jean Marie was expelled last year, but only because he exposed the deep well of Holocaust denial and hatred of the Muslim community at its heart.
The third organisational method is of racist populist parties which are not fascist but use racism as a mobilising factor.
The final method is street-fighting groups—typified by the EDL—that seek to politically dominate the streets against people and groups they consider to be inferior. In Britain all of these groups remain isolated and fragmented—but where they organise they are nasty.
The belief of fascist groups like Britain First (BF) that they can benefit has been misplaced. All the predictions of a breakthrough for the Nazis in the London election were shown up when BF candidate Paul Golding got a derisory vote.
Labour’s Muslim candidate Sadiq Khan won decisively, despite a highly racialised campaign, where Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith all but accused Khan of links to extremism.
Remember it was only in 2009 that the British National Party had two MEPs, a member of the London Assembly and more than 60 local councillors. It had used the euro-fascist method and thought it would go from strength to strength. It was removed from the political scene by anti-fascist campaigning. Unite Against Fascism led a campaign to argue against its lying promises and expose its fascist roots. It lost its seats, lost confidence and broke up.
Some of the fragments were involved in the growth of the EDL, a movement of anti-Muslim racist thugs with fascist and Islamophobic ideologies that was able to mobilise up to 5,000 people. This too was stopped by mass mobilisations on the streets and was stopped by a mass mobilisation notably in Walthamstow and Tower Hamlets in East London.
The fascist movement in Britain has yet to recover. There is no place for complacency given the tragic murder of Jo Cox and the impact on the referendum campaign.
On the last of the last 29 demonstrations from Rotherham to Bristol anti-fascists outnumbered the fascists by 10 or 20 to one. The potential for building mass movements against racism and fascism remains our most potent force.
It’s worth comparing this to the overt racism in the 1960s and 1970s. When Enoch Powell made his “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 he was removed from the Conservative cabinet. It’s a pity that the same has not happened to politicians who have scapegoated migrants in the current government. The fascist National Front claimed 14,000 members in 1976 and did well in local elections. For instance it got 20% of the vote in local elections in Leicester.
People remember the punk movement and a generalised suspicion of authority and the establishment in the 1970s that looks familiar at the moment. But anger at the establishment went in different directions—not all anti-racist. Many early punks flirted with Nazi swastikas and occasionally NF politics.
But anti-racists came together and formed Rock Against Racism and the Anti Nazi League. Through a grassroots movement round the country they pushed the racists back, making that kind of overt racism unacceptable. We need to push a similar alliance of anti-racist artists now from grime artists like Stormzy across to Charlotte Church who has supported the Convoy to Calais.
With the spike in racist attacks after the referendum there is no room for any complacency. We need much bigger, more active, more confident groups.
Everyone should come on the demonstration against racism and austerity called by Stand Up to Racism and the People’s Assembly on Saturday 16th July. What we do on 16th July will be watched across Europe. And join us at the Stand Up to Racism Conference on Saturday 8th October to help make the movement against racism in this country bigger and stronger.