Rhetoric, stunts, and divisions

Chris Brandler assesses the left’s mobilisation in Manchester against the English Defence League

The English Defence League managed to pull in around 700 supporters from across the country for its October 10 demonstration in Manchester. They appear to be an odd mix of politically disorientated, white, male workers, football firm hooligans, the sincerely crazy, and hard-core members of tiny far-right and fascist grouplets. Here and there stiff-arm salutes were thrown up.

Opposing them in a counter-demonstration, organised by Unite Against Fascism, were around 1,500 anti-fascists, made up of the left, trade unionists (including Manchester TUC, plus RMT and NUJ branches), LGBT organisations and Hope Not Hate. It was a good turnout considering the police had been doing everything they could to scare anti-racists off and had appealed to the mosque to stop Muslim youth coming out onto the streets. The police and ‘community leaders’ did not want to see a repeat of Harrow or Birmingham.

There were 48 arrests overall, with many coming from the counter-demonstration. The police attacked the anti-EDL forces, causing several injuries, including a broken arm and deep flesh punctures after a police dog went out of control. Whipped up into a frenzy, the dog was biting not only demonstrators on both sides, but other dogs and the police themselves.

There were poorly organised, half-hearted attempts to break police lines to get to the EDL. Socialist Workers Party national secretary Martin Smith corralled (unarmed) young comrades to march against police lines that were three-deep. The lines never broke, of course, but this was a cynical gesture to give the SWP’s class-collaborationist UAF politics a veneer of activist radicalism.

After the UAF demo ended, there were sporadic clashes with the police, with small groups of protesters from both sides trying to get at each other. During one incident two confused EDL supporters started hitting one another - perhaps an indication of their general level of intelligence. When the EDL and anti-fascists did clash, it was 60 anti-fascists against a group of 16 EDL supporters, which ended in the EDL supporters taking a battering and having to be saved by the police.

The left has either claimed a massive victory (SWP and Communist Party of Britain) or called the mobilisation a defeat (Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Workers Power and Permanent Revolution). It was neither. There were some positives. The workers’ movement managed to organise through the unions and left groups enough to constitute a viable counter-demonstration and harass the EDL. Not only did the UAF outnumber the EDL two to one, but we also had a lively and young group of supporters, with many people coming to a demonstration for the first time.

The negative side was expressed not in the fact that we did not break police lines and beat up more EDLers, but that the event was a continuation of the same bankrupt strategy the left has been following for years. In the run-up the SWP, under the guise of UAF, talked up the possibility of getting the EDL march banned by the state. They pleaded with councillors and self-appointed ‘community leaders’ to put pressure on the local authority. As in Birmingham, their pleas fell on deaf ears. It was then decided to ask permission to hold a counter-demonstration, which was granted. Yet the SWP sold it as a call to “occupy Piccadilly Gardens”. The first of many attempts to cover its liberal and class-collaborative approach with radical rhetoric.

During the organising meeting members of the Revolutionary Communist Group asked if there could be speakers from the left at the official rally. They were flatly refused, as platform space was to be reserved for local MPs and religious leaders. We cannot have people talking about the working class or socialism at an anti-fascist rally, can we?

In response individuals from a number of groups, including Permanent Revolution and Green Left, plus an assortment of anarchists, established their own organising committee under the name of Manchester Socialist Forum. Instead of going along with the dictates of UAF, they organised their own contingent with their own literature to march at a different time.

What united both of the organising groups, however, was their complete and utter failure to raise socialist politics. MSF, despite its name, refused to print leaflets that stressed working class politics, concentrating instead on ‘bash the fash’ militancy. Communist Students members and other comrades argued for the demonstration to be organised along clear socialist lines. Apparently keeping on board a couple of anarchists and liberals was more important. So we had two rival organising groups, two rival starting times and two rival leaflets putting forward the same bankrupt politics and strategy.

The next big encounter with the EDL will be in Leeds on October 31. It is important to mobilise the workers’ movement and youth to come out and build a lively counter-demonstration. Manchester CS will be looking to work as widely as possible with others in the movement and on campus. Manchester CS will be producing its own literature explaining how the far right can be stopped and why the approach of UAF and its left rivals have failed.

It is clear that the left needs a new approach. Our priority has to be the formation of a Marxist workers’ party that can take on the bourgeois state and all its parties. What we need is a political alternative to fight the system that spawns the far right - which must be opposed not just with our fists, but with something far more powerful: our ideas.