Stop the National Front

On Saturday April 7 around 50 supporters of the fascist National Front marched, under heavy police protection, around the streets of Bermondsey in south London. They were opposed by a counter-demonstration of more than 500-strong, called by the Anti-Nazi League and Southwark Trades Council, which was heavily built and attended by local supporters of the Socialist Alliance, as well as other socialists, trade unionists and anti-racist militants.

For their own self-serving reasons, even Blairites such as Trevor Phillips and the leader of Southwark council, Stephanie Elsy, made a point of opposing the NF march, undoubtedly to try to channel popular anti-fascist outrage into support for Blair's anti-working class government. However, Southwark SA made a substantial political intervention, with the prospective candidate for Dulwich and West Norwood, Brian Kelly, addressing the rally, as well as our chair, Nick Wrack.

Even as Phillips delivered anti-racist homilies, his government's cops were trying to imprison the demonstrators in a 'pen' of metal barriers with the lie that this was for our "own protection". But the crowd were having none of this, and the police pen stood empty as hundreds of demonstrators occupied the middle of the road, pressing up against the police lines that protected the NF supporters, who were outnumbered by more than 10 to one.

Despite the presence of as many cops as there were demonstrators, the police lines were briefly breached as the fascists were escorted out of the station towards the centre of Bermondsey. There followed an inconclusive attempt by many demonstrators to catch the NF marchers in the later stages, but the cops made it impossible to stop them on this occasion.

It appears that the NF has Bermondsey in its sights for a possible candidacy in the general election, and for that reason is threatening to march again this Saturday (April 14). A counter-demonstration has again been called by the Anti-Nazi League and Southwark Trades Council. This would appear to be politically important to the NF - it may well consider that last week's march was not an unqualified success, but that it gained sufficient resonance nevertheless to make it worth trying to repeat the effort and wrong-foot the left and labour movement forces that mobilised against it last week to lay the basis for a subsequent election campaign.

A fascist candidacy in Bermondsey is not something Southwark Socialist Alliance can deal with on its own. In electoral terms, we have our hands full already fighting two campaigns in the borough. A third is beyond our means - we had decided against Bermondsey, mainly on the grounds that it has a Liberal MP who was not a prime target for our attack on New Labour, though it was always a possibility that there could be some kind of fascist intervention, given Bermondsey's history. It would be wrong to call for a popular-frontist 'Don't vote Nazi' campaign, implicitly calling for a vote to New Labour (let alone to the slimy Liberal Democrat, Simon Hughes), but the SA on a London level has to put an effort into fighting any fascist candidacy.

Such a fight would undoubtedly lay the basis for a real SA in Bermondsey, which has been historically a significant area for NF intervention, to a very large measure because of the prolonged neglect and contempt for the working class by both old and New Labour, allowing many 'native' working class people to feel that they have simply been left to rot on run-down council estates.

These are issues that must not be left to the far right - and calling for a vote for Labour in such conditions simply hands over to the fascists the mantle of the 'radical opposition'. In this regard, it is wrong, and counterproductive, that the Anti-Nazi League should wrap itself in the banner of liberal 'racial harmony' in its leaflet mobilising against the threat of another NF march. Quoting the police's official anti-racist statement after last week's march, "regretting" that the fascists organised a march "specifically designed to incite racial intolerance", the comrades ask, "In that case why are [the police] allowing Nazi thugs to march on our streets?"

Calling - implicitly - for the Blair government and the anti-working class cops to ban the fascists in this way may seem like smart tactics to some, who believe that workers have to go through a 'stage' of being won to old Labour reformism before they can be won to revolutionary socialism. But, if anything, it reinforces the divisions in the working class that the fascists seek to exploit, making us look like camp-followers of the 'anti-racist' ideology of the government and state that in reality is extending its privatisations and cuts in services even as it pontificates about the evils of prejudice and bigotry among the lower orders. In practice, the Bermondsey demonstrators showed a creditable impulse towards independent class action - it is time the ideas that the left propagates was brought into line with that.

It should be noted that there is evidence on the ground that the base of support for far-right politics has declined considerably in Bermondsey from what it was, but there is evidently still enough resonance for the NF to consider it has an opportunity to make some headway.

Thus it is doubly important that a substantial labour movement-centred counter-demonstration should confront it this week, in preparation for future battles that will need to be waged on a wider level - in Bermondsey and other places that the fascists consider to be potential bases to push their reactionary filth.

Ian Donovan