'A Good Deal of Disorder' or The Anarchists & Anti-Fascism In The UK.

Author:Testa, M.
Position:Essay
 
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AT LEAST 10 HURT AT CHAOTIC, BLOODY NEO-NAZI RALLY AT CAPITOL

At least five people were stabbed; more than 100 police officers responded Injuries, violent acts reported on both sides of altercation Protesters included left-wing anarchists, who clashed with skinheads A protester against white supremacy members recalls the violence at the State Capitol on Sunday, June 26, 2016. Anti-Fascist and fascist groups clashed in several areas on the grounds of the State Capitol resulting in at least 10 people injured--five being stabbed--and the closing of surrounding streets as more than 100 police in riot gear raced to subdue the violence. (1) INTRODUCTION

'This time the anarchists have taken a much more aggressive stance to wreak havoc on the city'. (2) On 26 June, 2016, in Sacramento, California, there was a violent altercation during a counter-demonstration held by anarchists, black bloc militants, and liberal anti-fascists against a neo-Nazi gang which resulted in several people being stabbed and others hospitalised. There had been violence between the two sides previously but on this occasion the Sacramento police chief reported that 'the anarchists have taken a much more aggressive stance to wreak havoc on the city'. (3) Others were critical of the police for allowing the violence to escalate: a member of a lawyer's group monitoring the situation said it was a 'free for all' and that 'the police didn't step in really' (4) which a news report corroborated by claiming that 'law enforcement did little to stop the violence'. (5) Members of the press were confronted by some protestors, probably anarchists, for filming activists, knowing that police use footage and images from mainstream and social media as evidence in court cases that can lead to heavy fines or imprisonment (which the presence of masked and anonymous black bloc militants would also imply). (6)

The reactions of the police chief, the lawyer's group member and news media reveal latent misconceptions: the police underestimated the anarchists' potential for organisation and their violent response to the presence of neo-Nazis on the street; the liberal lawyer overestimated the will of the police to keep provocative fascists in check and diffuse an inflamed situation; and the news reporters were surprised that anarchists were not too keen on being photographed or appearing on TV the next day. Furthermore, that the mainstream press gang, who attended a large majority of potentially explosive demonstrations, thought they were exempt from repercussions for possibly incriminating anti-fascists is as ludicrous as their claim to be objective.

According to an American socialist website, fascist groups should not be confronted on the streets by 'anarchistic groups' because 'violent confrontations between small groups cannot address the fundamental social antagonisms in capitalist society and ultimately play into the hands of the state'. (7) It failed to explain how passively letting neo-Nazis demonstrate in local communities can address these 'fundamental social antagonisms'.

These are universal misconceptions, as common in the USA as in the UK: the fact that anarchists use violence to meet violence automatically alienates reformists and liberals, neither of whom are likely to physically oppose fascists, and who will seek police protection, while hoping for a positive representation in mainstream capitalist media whose presence is often guaranteed during these mobilisations.

No matter what country or continent, anarchists ideologically oppose any reliance on the police to keep fascism in check and 'by any means necessary' is often employed to stop neo-Nazis encroaching on their communities. Anarchist collusion with liberals and reformists can be frustrating or fractious; and the hope of the mainstream press writing anything supportive or sympathetic about militant anti-fascism is deemed pointless.

This article makes a short comparative study between UK anarchist groups and their relative emphasis on anti-fascist activities, and the role anti-fascism plays within the UK far left. Historically, relations between UK anarchists and the far left have been shaky and we will look at the contemporary activities of 'official' anti-fascist groups such as Searchlight, Unite Against Fascism (UAF), and Hope Not Hate (HnH) before looking at the anarchist initiative, Anti-Fascist Network (AFN), then make some concluding remarks on the changing role of the far right, both on the street and the parliamentary level, and what anarchists can do about it.

ANARCHIST ANTI-FASCISM IN THE UK

Different anarchists will focus on fascist provocation differently, especially in relation to political violence, and although every anarchist has cause to worry about increased fascist activity within or against their communities and workplaces, their response will vary. All anarchists reject hierarchical structures of power, exploitation of one by another, inequality in all its forms, and the militarism and nationalism of totalitarian systems, as well as the various forms of Western liberalism and 'parliamentary democracy', but the manifestos of individual anarchist organisations in the UK itemise their priorities and illustrate their position regarding the political struggle against the far right. The most active anarchist groups are Solidarity Federation (SolFed), the Anarchist Federation (AFED), and 'the working class action group' Class War'. (8)

SolFed are anarcho-syndicalists affiliated to the International Workers Association (IWA) and previously known as Direct Action Movement (DAM) who played a key part in the formation and promotion of the militant Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) from 1985 to the late 1990s. On their website, SolFed reposted the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN) publicity for the 2016 AFN conference (9) and a link to the December, 2009 issue of Direct Action magazine that featured a cover story on the BNP.

A former member of London DAM produced one of the first accounts of AFA's militant style of anti-fascism called 'Bash The Fash' (2001) under the pseudonym 'K. Bullstreet' which also had a list of 'Survival Rules' that included advice like 'Never talk to the police', 'do one serious thing then get right away', and 'Keep yourself fit and sober' (K. Bullstreet, 2001, 26). DAM, along with Northern Class War and other anarchists groups, were very much involved in AFA's Northern Network that covered Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and other main towns and cities. In the 1980s, Liverpool DAM organised with other anarchists around the Mutual Aid Centre, a large squat in the middle of the city, (10) and later, an ex-member of Liverpool AFA produced a pamphlet entitled 'Anti-Fascist Action--An Anarchist Perspective' which gives an idea about structure and culture of the Northern anti-fascist militants. It says that Red Action were strongest in London and Manchester (they were also strong in Glasgow) whereas the Northern Network was 'mainly organised by anarchists--sometimes in the DAM, sometimes not' and that 'apart from the regional groups of the DAM and Class War, there were also the Northern Anarchist Network' and that 'there were overlaps between different anarchist and activist scenes (Liverpool AFA, 2007, 6). SolFed's current manifesto rejects 'the state collaborationist strategy of groups such as Unite Against Fascism in favour of a class struggle approach to fighting the scourge of street-based racism and/or neo-fascism' and Solfed will only 'carry out anti-fascist activity with others through specifically class-struggle anti-fascist groups' (11) such as Anti-Fascist Network.

The Anarchist Federation (AFed) were originally the Anarchist-Communist Federation (ACF) and their website gives a class based analysis of racism as part of a system of oppression supporting 'working class struggles against racism, genocide, ethnocide and political and economic colonialism' and rejecting 'all forms of nationalism, as this only serves to redefine divisions in the international working class'. (12)

AFed published their online report about the disastrous attempt in 2015 by neo-Nazis to march through Liverpool, (13) linked to the AFN's article on the same (14) and also published a booklet Against Nationalism (2009) which puts the origins of nationalism into a broad historical context and analyses its role as a form of imperialism. (15)

Class War, the 'working class action group', have always been about provocation and their publicity generating activities first appealed to many activists and disenfranchised punks from the Anarcho-punk scene in the 1980s. At its peak, the Class War newspaper, Britain's Unruliest Tabloid, was the most popular anarchist publication in the UK with 15-20,000 copies being sold at anarchist meetings, demonstrations, and gigs. Like Solfed and AFed, Class War advance a class based analysis of socio-political problems like racism. Class War joined Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) at its inception in 1985 and despite attempts by the state influenced Searchlight organisation to smear them as we shall see presently (Birchall, 2010, 113-115) continued to battle fascism on the streets of the UK throughout the '80s and '90s.

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