Celebrating anti-fascist resistance

Anti-Fascist Action has organised a series of events to commemorate the Battle of Cable Street and the Spanish Civil War. Here Andy Richards gives AFA’s views on how to fight fascism today

The Battle of Cable Street and the Spanish Civil War, although having very different outcomes, both share one thing in common - they demonstrate the necessity of militant opposition to fascism.

At Cable Street over a quarter of a million people blocked the route of Mosley’s march and, although some fascists were attacked on their way to their assembly point, the battle only really started when the police were sent in to clear a path for the fascists.

For AFA the lesson is simple. The government would not stop the fascists; the police assisted them, and anti-fascists had to stop them themselves. This was not a peaceful protest and there was not a ‘lollipop’ in sight, but it worked.

In Spain the struggle was more intense and the fascist forces had to be met with military opposition. Once again anti-fascist resistance was left to working class militants, and we salute the courage and commitment of the men and women who joined the International Brigades to support the fight against Franco.

In both cases the state was part of the problem, not the solution, and militant resistance the only way to win. The fact that the Spanish struggle was lost takes nothing away from the key point that anti-fascists today must remember, that we are commemorating the bravery of people who literally fought the fascists. There are many on the left of British politics today who lay claim to the traditions of 1936, while pursuing a pacifist or pro-state agenda. It is complete hypocrisy to praise the anti-fascist resistance of 60 years ago and yet condemn the often illegal or violent actions of militant anti-fascists today.

AFA has been in existence for 11 years and remains the only militant anti-fascist organisation in existence today, with 36 branches throughout England, Scotland and Wales, organised democratically and controlled by the activists.

Since the Anti-Nazi League was closed down by the Socialist Workers Party in 1981, there had been no national organisation to coordinate anti-fascist opposition, despite the increasing number of racist attacks and ongoing targeting of leftwing activities. AFA was formed in 1985 to coordinate the isolated groups of anti-fascists that were still active and draw in new people. Initially the alliance of ‘liberals’ and ‘militants’ in AFA achieved results - certainly anti-fascism was put back on the public agenda.

By 1989 AFA started to define itself as the militant wing of the anti-fascist movement. We moved away from protest actions and calls for the government and police to lead the fight against fascism. We made it clear that we were not fighting fascism to defend the status quo, but because fascism is reactionary, ultra-conservative and anti-working class. AFA’s objective was to clear the fascists out of working class areas and create the space for a progressive alternative to be built. Armed with this new strategy, AFA started to grow rapidly.

However 1992 also saw the arrival of the ‘left’ into the anti-fascist arena with the launch of the ANL, Youth against Racism in Europe and the Anti-Racist Alliance. Despite having abandoned anti-fascism for over 10 years, these groups now decided they would ‘lead’ the movement. Their access to large amounts of money and sections of the media allowed them to ‘flood the market’ for a while, but in traditional ‘leftwing’ style, once the money and the recruits dry up, they jump onto another bandwagon. They have done considerable damage though, for, where AFA challenged the traditional ‘leftwing’ stereotype (both politically and physically), they have simply presented soft targets and soft politics with ANL activities getting ‘turned over’ by the fascists on an almost weekly basis.

Their support for Labour in places like East London where Labour has presided over the area’s decline for years, while not promoting any challenge from the left, has merely helped the BNP present themselves as the ‘radical’ alternative. Their intervention during the Isle of Dogs by-election, shoring up the Labour vote, was a betrayal of the local working class of breathtaking proportions. As Derek Beackon was ousted and Labour restored, it was sickening to watch ANL members popping champagne corks from behind the safety of police crash-barriers while the vote for the BNP has actually increased 30%!

Meanwhile, with AFA keeping the heat on, the inability of the BNP to stage public events without severe disruption has led them to declare there would be: “no more marches, meetings, punch-ups ...” (Spearhead 1994). However, there is no room for complacency, as the change of tactics by the BNP has simply presented AFA with a new challenge, for if the fascists have withdrawn from the physical arena, new forces need to be created to challenge them politically.

The space that AFA has made has not been filled and if it is not filled by the left, it will be filled, by the right. This problem will only be accentuated by the election of a Labour government and the disillusion that will emerge as the ‘socialist alternative’ is quickly discredited, hot on the heels of the misery of 17 years of Tory rule. With this in mind AFA members have been conducting a series of discussions aimed at preparing the organisation to adapt to changing conditions. Although AFA will be remaining entirely independent, a significant core of AFA members have steadily been joining the Independent Working Class Association.

The approaching period will present a challenge to everyone on the left. We are determined AFA will not be found wanting.