Earlier this month, it looked as if UKIP had taken the mantle of the prominent far right group in Britain with its considerable upsurge in the local elections, with the right-wing of the Tories clamouring to use the rise of UKIP to push for more stringent anti-EU and anti-immigration measures. I wrote this in the week following, about how UKIP presented a problem for the left and the anti-fascist/anti-racist movements in Britain as it was different from the fascist groups that the left and the anti-fascists had dealt with in the past. The relative success of UKIP made it look as though the supporters of the British National Party and the English Defence League were willing to abandon these traditional fascist groups to throw their weight behind UKIP as a more ‘respectable’ far right vehicle.
However the attack on the streets of Woolwich has shifted the political terrain yet again. UKIP, as a purely political party, have little to offer. The Tories, particularly Prime Minister Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May, have offered the traditional ‘law and order’ agenda. And it has been the EDL which have mobilised and embraced a populist wave of anti-Muslim racism. Several different agencies have calculated, as reported in The Guardian, that attacks on Muslims have risen sharply in the last week. According to a graphic at the bottom of the webpage, 54 percent of the perpetrators of these attacks have sympathies with the far right, predominantly the EDL and BNP.
So the EDL have now called for a national demonstration to be held in Woolwich this Saturday (1 June). The left and the anti-fascist movement should be out in force for this, with Unite Against Fascism calling for a counter-demonstration (see post here at Socialist Unity). Mobilisations such as this are uncomplicated for the left and the anti-fascist movement – the EDL are about trying to ‘control the streets’ and a mass physical presence by anti-fascists can prevent this. The role of the police in allowing/not allowing the EDL the physical space to ‘demonstrate’ is the only element open to some doubt – although precedent would show that the police would try to kettle the anti-fascist counter-demonstration and allow the EDL to hold a small static demonstration before escorting them back to their buses/trains.
But the return of the EDL has thrown some discussion of what threat the far right (in all its guises) poses in 2013 and how the left should react to it. Two of the more interesting pieces have come from the IS Network. Richard Seymour has written at Lenin’s Tomb about the prospects of anti-fascism and anti-racism in the wake of an attempt to counter a EDL demonstration at Downing Street this Monday. Jamie Allinson has contributed another piece at the IS Network blog on the immediate tasks of the anti-fascist left after Monday’s demonstration. I think both pieces have some things worthwhile to say, and I am too far removed from what is going to really contribute to the debate, but I would like to see the discussion really branch out to how can the left deal with both the EDL and UKIP (obviously not in the same way).
And for those looking for the historical precedents in the British anti-fascist movement, historian David Renton has been posting chapters from his 2006 book When We Touched the Sky: The Anti-Nazi League 1977-1981 on his blog, Lives Running. The first post looked at the crucial ‘Battle of Lewisham’ in August 1977 when the National Front was first routed by anti-fascists, while the second and third respectively have looked at the rise of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism.