Interview with Dave Hann

Street Voice Interview
I had a phone call last summer from Dave Hann asking to interview me on my experiences in the anti-fascist movement in Brighton. It was for a book that he was in the process of writing. I was happy to see Dave and talk about my own experiences opposing the National Front and fascism in Brighton. I was active in Anti-Fascist Action from 1986 till about 1992 and was on its Executive for about three years, but to the best of my knowledge we hadn’t met before.

All I knew of Dave was from a book ‘No Retreat’ [Milo Books, 2003] that he co-wrote with Steve Tilzey. Dave had been Chief Steward in AFA’s Steward Group in AFA’s Northern Network and what I had read of his had impressed me, as well as filling in a number of gaping holes in my memory. The period after 1979 in Brighton had been one where the National Front, after ditching its electoral pretensions, had embarked on a policy of attacking left-wing groups and meetings, particular anything to do with Ireland and the Troops Out Movement.

In Brighton the Anti-Nazi League had been reformed in 1980 to meet the threat, but unlike its later reincarnations under the SWP’’ control, the ANL in Brighton had been dedicated to physically as well as politically defeating the NF on the streets. For some 3 years we battled it out in Brighton, opposing 3 NF demonstrations through the town, their regular paper-sale at the football ground and ensuring that they were unable to harry or attack socialist or left-wing meetings. Brighton had been the stopping off point for their international contacts, people such as the Italian Fascist Robert Fiore. 19A Madeira Place had been their base and their leader in Brighton a UDA member, Steve Brady. Brighton was also the home of the leadership of Britain’s fascists – from John Tyndall of the BNP (or the New National Front then) to people like the publisher for the international neo-Nazi scene Anthony Hancock to the deputy leader of the NF and the author of ‘Did 6 Million Really Die’ Richard Verall (Harwood).

Dave’s experiences in AFA tended to be from the mid-80’s onwards against the BNP and Combat 18, whereas the main threat in Brighton had occurred in the early 80’s. Dave was a member of the main group in AFA, Red Action, whose leaders had been expelled in the 1970’s from the SWP for ‘squaddism’. This was at a time of growing violence from the NF and British Movement when it was recognised that fascist terror couldn’t be allowed to go unopposed and that the Left had to get organised.

In No Retreat Dave describes the battle against the fascists in the North of England, where the rise of mass unemployment under Margaret Thatcher and the decline of traditional working class industries such as the mines and docks, and of strong and militant trade unionism, had left youth in particular prey to the simple racist message of the fascists. Despite considerable police harassment, which resulted in a number of anti-fascist militants being jailed, the AFA Steward Group that Dave led was directly responsibility for the BNP foresaking the marches, demonstrations and pickets, with the ensuing violence that resulted, in favour of the electoral strategy of today’s BNP.

Dave’s account of what happened is a riveting read although it begs almost as many questions as it answers. Questions such as how the anti-fascist movement needs to adapt to meet the new BNP tactics, whether or not the BNP is still a neo-Nazi party and the bigger question of building a socialist and left movement which can take on board the social and class issues that the fascists feed upon. At a time when we are poised for a new Conservative government, poised to make savage cuts, these are not idle questions. We have a New Labour Party that has been captured for neo-liberalism and trade unions who are a shadow of their previous selves coupled with the antics and self-indulgence of a myriad of far-left sects.
Equally pertinent are the lessons to be drawn from what happened to AFA. Although Dave only mentions it in passing, one of the key problems within AFA became Red Action itself. A number of anti-fascist militants told me that they had been physically threatened by a RA determined on taking over AFA. Even more disturbing was the arrest and conviction of a senior member of AFA and Red Action for having taken part in the bombing of Harrods. It is difficult to imagine a more fundamental political mistake. Most people in AFA were supporters of Irish Republicanism and wanted to see the troops withdraw from Ireland. It was inevitable, given the close links between the Loyalists and the fascists that Irish Republicanism and the anti-fascist movement in this country were natural allies. But that did not mean therefore that AFA should take up any particular position on Ireland, especially when it came to supporting the military war of the IRA. I know at first hand that comrades left AFA as a result of this.

Dave was ostracised and criticised by RA, but never openly. In his book he gives some details of this. Instead of debating any differences, they were dealt with in a factional and bureaucratic manner. RA had decided to wind up AFA and form an Independent Working Class Association which won 3 council seats in Oxford and gained a respectable level of support in Hackney and Islington elections but has now virtually disappeared off the radar. In the process the IWCA moved rapidly to the right and its first councillor and leader in Oxford supported the Iraq War!

Dave and I spent a pleasant afternoon discussing various issues, although I was mainly the one answering the questions. I had many questions of my own to ask but I decided to leave it to another day. It was therefore a great shock when I learnt that Dave had been suffering from cancer and barely 3 weeks later he suddenly died at the young age of 48. Dave really was one of the unsung heroes of the anti-fascist movement that took over mine and so many others peoples lives for years. Anti-fascism was a cause worth devoting a major part of one’s life to as we were determined to prevent a repetition of what had happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

In Brighton Dave was active in community campaigns such as one to stop Tesco opening a superstore in London Road. He was also actively involved in football having spent much time on the terraces of Man Utd.

Dave leaves a partner, Louise, who has also been part of the anti-racist movement and an active socialist, for many years as well as three children, a son aged 14 and two girls aged 19 and 11 as well as a young woman, Jessica, with a previous partner. It is a testimony to Louise’s commitment that very shortly after Dave’s death she was on the streets of Saltdean helping organise the defence of the Deghayes family, a member of whom, Omar, had been freed after a big public campaign from Guantanamo prison. We wish them all well. Below is an interview that Dave Hann conducted with an indie music online publication called Street Voices.

Rest in Peace Comrade. You Deserve It. Tony Greenstein

Street Voice: First off how did you feel your first book ‘No Retreat’ went down?

Dave: I think its gone down really well. Its been nearly five years since the book was first published, and its still selling a few dozen copies every month. Funnily enough I was flicking through Mark E. Smith’s biography the other day in a bookshop, and No Retreat gets a favourable mention in it.

I think the most positive thing that has come out of it has been the letters and emails I get from anti-fascists in countries like Serbia, Poland and Russia, where the fascists are fairly rampant, saying how much the book has inspired them.

Street Voice: You obviously got a lot of criticism off both the far left and far right so how did you go about dealing with it?

Dave: I obviously expected criticism from the far-right. After all, a book detailing the cowardice, and lack of street-fighting prowess of the master race was hardly going to be a favourite bed-time read for your typical fascist. I’ve really enjoyed watching them whinge and moan about the book on Internet forums and discussion pages. The criticism from Red Action was also expected, because of the manner in which we parted company. The pure bitterness and bile of the criticism took me aback a bit, but in the end it just made me more determined to carry on writing. What was disappointing was the small number of so-called anti-fascists (London Class War mostly) who joined in the attack on me and Steve without ever taking the trouble to find out our side of the argument. I think anonymous slanders and personal abuse on Internet forums from people I’ve never met is cowardly, repellent and sinister. It says more about them than I ever could. These people would claim to be working towards building a fairer society, but if this behaviour is typical, then whatever they built would be little different from anything the BNP envisage.

Street Voice: It’s also fair to say there were some independent folk who thought you glamorised the violence so any opinion on this?

Dave: Funnily enough, Mensi complained that the violence in the book was understated!! In other words he felt it didn’t portray the real levels of violence that actually occurred. I think the violence of anti-fascists should be put into context however. Fascists in Britain have been responsible over the years for the murders of Black and Asian people, the stabbing and maiming of political opponents, and the fire-bombing and nail-bombing of left-wing bookshops, gay pubs, etc etc. On the other hand, anti-fascists rarely went out tooled-up, and if they did they were usually armed with a blunt instrument rather than a blade. I think you have to have been under attack by fascist gangs to understand why non-violence could never work under those circumstances.

Street Voice: You’re currently writing your second book which covers the history of Anti Fascism so can you give our readers any information about it?

Dave: The book is provisionally entitled, ‘A Cause Worth Fighting For,’ and it details the history of anti-fascism in Britain from the perspective of the people who were actually on the streets opposing the fascists. It goes right back to very first anti-fascists in the 1920’s, and finishes at the turn of the century with the demise of AFA. Its all based on oral interviews with people who took part in the various battles at Cable Street, Olympia, Balls Pond Road, Red Lion Square, Lewisham, Waterloo, etc etc. A lot of the stuff in the book is brand new research, and I’ve uncovered some really interesting stuff on obscure anti-fascist groups like the New World Fellowship, the Blue and White League, and the Yellow Star Movement. The book has been an absolute pleasure to write and research, and I’ve met some wonderful people whilst writing it.

Street Voice: Have you a publishing date for the book yet?

Dave: Not as yet. Its very nearly finished, and I’m hoping that it will hit the bookshelves some time next year

Street Voice: Being as you wrote ‘No Retreat’ with your mate Steve Tilzey I would have thought you two would have been up for doing another together? Is this something he didn’t want to do or did you
feel you wanted to write this book on your own?

Dave: Steve wasn’t really up for it. It was hard enough to get him to write his bit for No Retreat, and he actually lived through everything he wrote about then. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to persuade him to spend a few days researching some obscure anti-fascist group in a library or whatever, and then get him write up his findings and send them to me. The book would have to be printed on waterproof paper, because we’d all be submerged under rising sea levels by the time it finally came out. Steve would be the first to admit that he’s not really a writer, but he has helped out with a couple of little things here and there.

Street Voice: The BNP have been keeping themselves busy but there’s been almost no opposition to them. Do you think it’s time for AFA to be re-launched to bring Anti-Fascists together as one again?

Dave: We have been faced with this problem before in Britain, during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s for instance. The forces of anti-fascism were very thin on the ground, but as the fascist threat increased, so did the opposition, eventually culminating in the launch of RAR and the ANL, so there is still hope that something can be got off the ground. The difference between then and now of course is that a lot of the old communities based around the docks, the steel yards, the mines, factories etc, are broken up, and the traditional ties that bound these communities to the trade unions, the Labour Party and the left are gone. The Labour Party has abandoned them, the left are too busy with their endless cycle of marches, meetings and paper sales, and this leaves them easy prey for the fascists. This process boosts the BNP, while at the same time undercuts the supply of anti-fascist recruits AFA has had its day. When Red Action dismantled AFA and formed the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA), they threw the baby out with the bath water, and this allowed the fascists the space to grow. Sadly, it is only now, a decade later, that they are beginning to realise their fatal mistake.

Street Voice: OK I know we have Antifa but that’s largely anarchist based and probably wouldn’t appeal to the average person on the street so who else is there?

Dave: There is no single organisation doing it at the moment. Just a few small grouplets doing bits and pieces of worthwhile stuff. Some of the community-based work done by IWCA for instance, if it was combined with militant anti-fascism, and taken on board by some of the larger left groups would shake the situation up a bit. I think the IWCA has reached the limits of what can be done with a small number of dedicated, but somewhat paranoid and intolerant individuals, but their politics should not be discounted as readily as their personalities.

Street Voice: While I like to remain positive about Antifa it’s hard to take them seriously at times when their members and the likes of Watmougth and Wigan Mike just threaten each other on the likes of Indymedia?

Dave: Antifa seems to be making the same mistakes as some of the least politicised elements of AFA. For instance I’ve seen several “Antifa Hooligans” and “Antifa – Fighting the Fascists – What else ya gonna do on a Saturday” stickers around town recently, that make you shake your head in disbelief at their sheer stupidity and lack of political message. Can anyone tell me what the point of these stickers is? Do they think the general public will see these stickers and go, “Oh ok, I won’t bother going to Asda this afternoon, I’ll join a crew of anarchists and get in punch ups with fascists instead.” From the outside, Antifa (like a lot of anarchist groups), looks like a small clique of like-minded individuals, who all know each other, are roughly the same age, all dress the same, and have the same lifestyles and musical tastes, etc. There appears to be no attempt whatsoever to broaden their appeal to the general public as a whole. I could be wrong, but I’ve not seen them attack the BNP on a
political level in working class communities, or attempt to offer their own solutions to the problems faced in those areas. There seems to be far too much emphasis on ambushing some of the smaller Nazi and bonehead groups, who, while they might prove occasionally troublesome, do not offer anywhere the same margin of threat as the BNP.

Street Voice: Would you agree there’s no longer a Socialist alternative for working class folk any more on the streets of Britian?

Dave: I’d agree that there is no socialist alternative in Britain at the moment, and sadly I think things will get worse before they get better. This directly impacts on anti-fascism, as in the past, socialists have formed the backbone of many anti-fascist movements. I believe we will have to come to a situation in the future where desperation forces whatever disparate forces are left to unite on some commonly agreed platform, before we can start to move forward again. Hopefully the bitter struggles and disappointments in between will have burnt off the careerists, the egoists, the sectarians and the weirdos.

Street Voice: Can you see the BNP getting a couple of seats in parliament if there’s no real opposition to them?

Dave: That’s a very real possibility. Remember, its not so long ago that people would have said you were mad if you’d told them that the BNP would have 50 plus councillors. I think we’re more likely to see an MEP, or a couple of MEPs first however. The economic downturn will only exacerbate the problem, although it might also open up opportunities for the left if they can stop their infighting for long enough to take advantage of them.

Street Voice: Did you hear that Simon Shephard from C18 is claiming political asylum in the U.S.A. since being found guilty of race hate charges in the UK? What did you make of that?

Dave: I didn’t hear about that. Its typical of the contradictions that lay at the very heart of fascist politics however.

Street Voice: Personally I think it’s a cop out with American and British Govts bailing out some of the banks so why do you think people just sit back and accept shit like that?

Dave: People feel disenfranchised from the political system. They see very little difference between the main political parties, who are all in the pocket of the major capitalists, and they feel powerless to effect change, which is exactly what the Govt wants. They see over a million people march through London in an effort to stop their country going to war, which you think might have given any government pause to contemplate, but their voices are completely ignored and the war goes ahead regardless. People feel their voices aren’t being heard. So at the one end you get low polling returns as people despair at the system, and at the other end you get people voting for the BNP, some for racist reasons, but others because they are seen as not being part of the establishment.

Street Voice: Moving from politics do you still get down FC United?

Dave: As often as I can, which is not as often as I’d like.

Street Voice: How are they doing as a football club?

Dave: After three consecutive promotions, they appear to have hit a plateau this season. Crowds are holding up reasonably well though, but the Development Fund, which was started in order so that the club can buy/build their own ground still needs your pennies. Incidentally, a couple of seasons ago, the BNP tried to muscle in on the club, but they were sent packing by anti-fascist FC fans and ordinary supporters. The final straw came when the entire Cemetery End started chanting “You can stick your BNP up your arse,” at them. The whole club has been built by ordinary working class people, and just shows what can be achieved when people have a sense of purpose and a commonly identified goal.

Street Voice: Apart from your job and writing your book what else does Dave Hann like to do?

Dave: Well I used to coach a youth football team until last season, which was reasonably successful (the boys won a couple of trophies and once went a whole season undefeated), but that has come to a close now, although I’m still involved with my son’s new team. I’m also involved in a couple of local campaigns, one to stop a massive Tesco’s redevelopment in town, which will put dozens of small shops out of business. These days, if I see a campaign that I agree with, I’ll help out in whatever way I can, no matter who initiates it. Apart from that, I like to do absolutely nowt. Lazy git that I am.

Street Voice: Anything you’d like to add?

Dave: know this interview has tended towards pessimism, but people need to stop picking pointless arguments on Internet forums, and get out there and start looking at ways to unite around a common goal. Undercutting the BNP’s potential base of support, by forcing them out of the areas where they have become embedded, and presenting people with a viable socialist alternative would be a good place to start.

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Red Pepper Interview with Michael and Gary – Jan 2012

Red Pepper Interview with Michael and Gary – Jan 2012

On its 75th anniversary, much attention was given to the Battle of Cable Street, where Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts were prevented from marching through the predominantly Jewish working class East End of London. But Cable Street itself was the culmination of a wider tradition of direct physical confrontation with fascists both at the time and throughout most of the 20th century. We are happy to praise those who made a stand in the 1930s. But what of those who literally fought the fascists more recently, in the shape of the British Movement, the National Front or the pre-Griffin British National Party? The publication of Beating the Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (Freedom Press) has re-asserted the importance of this disparaged and neglected tradition. Michael Calderbankspoke with Gary and Andy, longstanding members of Red Action who helped to initiate AFA, about their controversial new book.

Michael: Maybe we could begin by talking about the history of physical confrontation with the fascists in Britain?

Andy: Well, if you’re a Jew living in the 1930s or a working class Communist then it’s in your face, you’re dealing with Blackshirts who are on your street corner. It’s something you’ve got to react to and deal with in the here and now. You’ve also got people looking at the wider strategic picture – what was going in Spain was very real, what was going on in Italy and Germany was very real – and people with foresight understood that if you don’t put something in place to prevent that then you’re going to be in trouble yourselves. After the war, when it was totally clear what fascism could lead to, you had the ’43 group which, although it had CP members in its ranks, was largely an apolitical purely paramilitary body who would go round attacking the fascists. They were tough people, physically aggressive who had often served in the armed forces, many from Jewish backgrounds, who had seen a lot in their few years – these are young people – if you’ve been through that and don’t understand it, you’re never going to understand it. So people who have gone through that, seen it in the cinemas, or even in your own family over in Europe – and then you’re just going out and minding your own business, and you see some geezer on a soapbox talkin’ about the same stuff, it’s gotta be obvious to you, yeah?

Gary: There’s an example when a group of Jewish lads went past Mosley’s secretary [Jeffrey Hamm] after the war speaking up at Jack Straw’s Castle [near Hampstead Heath], and they were incredulous. I’m mean, here was the same old Jew-baiting going on after the war as you had before the war – with everything that had gone on! So they gave ’em a good shoeing and found: ‘these fuckers are everywhere!’ I mean, y’know, it’s ridiculous, we’re not havin’ it. There was a huge strain of anti-Semitism in the British establishment that Mosley hoped to profit from but never did. And so when Jews who had just got back from the war met fascists on the street they weren’t gonna petition the council to get see if they could do something! They were just gonna get on and do it themselves.

Andy: When people’s whole family lines have been wiped out and turned to ashes, what are you gonna do with people like that, try and debate with them in that situation?

Gary: And they wouldn’t wouldn’t debate with you either, that’s the point. If you went up to them and said, ‘excuse me, I’m a member of the Jewish faith and could you…’ [laughs] they’re not gonna argue the point, you’d be hit be a cosh. But, you might not be out looking for any trouble particular, but they’re there. And that situation doesn’t go away, it’s like that later on. You’ve gone to the football or something and you’re standing next to some guy who gets a bottle smashed over his head, a black kid who they’ve chased down, do you stand back and say ‘right we’ll get onto the council to do something!’?

Andy: It’d depend what kind of circles you moved in to. I mean I don’t want to generalise too much, but many of the people involved on the left at the time would have come up through a university background and lived in this sealed kind of world from what I could tell. But I didn’t know, I didn’t come from a political background. Everywhere I went I met these people, they were in your face. And Britain at the time was a violent and anarchic sort of place in some ways. I mean you’d go out round the pubs on a Friday night, have a disagreement, or you’ve gone to the football or a gig or something, and you run in to these geezers with all sorts of badges, handing out leaflets, maybe taking the band off the stage and attacking the band! I’ve seen that happen! It’s not like you’d read in some textbooks about what should or shouldn’t be done, it was an instinctive thing. These people are bullies, they’re not people who can debate with. It’s not alien if you come from that kind of background.

Gary: Yes, and the left has to understand that as soon as they appear, it’s because your own side has been making mistakes. Fascists won’t appear in very small numbers, they’ll wait until it’s right for them. I mean they look at it strategically as well, they’ll take it onto a physical level when they think there’s something for them to gain. So it’s not a matter of waiting until they attack our people – we’ve got an investment in smashing up their meetings, their paper sales and the rest of it. You don’t want to wait until they’re some kind of respectable opposition. If it gets that far, you’ve already lost.

Michael: And at what stage, after the war, had the left started to fail in your view to such an extent that you started to see a fascist threat beginning to make its presence felt on the street?

Gary: Well, most of our people come into it from outside politics, with a completely fresh look, with no political hinterland at all. So there was a lot of cynicism from our side towards the existing organised left from a very early stage. I mean we supportedemotionally and intellectually the basis for the whole left concept, and there was some stuff happening from on the picket lines (which was where I was recruited) and on things like the right-to-work marches, but even in the mid-Seventies it wasn’t clear cut and we certainly weren’t winning. There was a real lack of leadership across the board, not just on the revolutionary left but across the entire labour movement. And at the same time as you had the start of the neoliberal stuff, you’d get the fascists upset at over-reaching in ’79 thinking – let’s not hang about let’s go for it now. The whole Anti Nazi League Mark I was a huge success for the left and beat back the first wave of the National Front electorally. There was incredible resentment about that, and they lose a bit of what discipline they might have had. They could just attack anyone now. So, as Andy was saying, you could retreat into your sealed world. Or you could stay where you were and stand your ground. And they were – the arenas then football, gigs, street sales, their meetings, our meetings and the rest of it…

Andy: They were an extremely violent group of people. So if you’re looking to organise, you’re thinking, what streets can I walk round, what pubs you can go in talk to people, where can I talk about stuff on the football or at a gig? All that’s contested territory. Are these aren’t the kind of people who believe in freedom of speech, and I don’t mean that in a metaphorical way, I mean literally! You’d get a glass smashed in your face. To me it’d become obvious. When their election campaign failed, there was people there who wanted revenge. And so all this territory needed to be fought for.

Michael: Reading the book, as we said in our review, some of the violence described is not exactly for the faint-hearted. And many people reading the book might be thinking, isn’t there a danger of becoming just like them, being brought down to their level? What would you say to those who say, when you end up like two groups of thugs who are as bad as the other, you don’t win the wider public around? Gary: Well, it wasn’t always a pretty business, there’s no denying that, but it’s not a path we’ve just chosen for ourselves. They’re the point of aggression, the tip of the spear. If you approach them you’ve got to be prepared for violence to be done to you. And if you know that in advance, if you’re going to contest the territory you’re duty bound to prepare to do violence to them it’s as simple as that. In terms of complaints, we didn’t get much complaints from the Jewish stallholders when the NF paper sale got scatttered from Chapel Market [Islington], in fact the police couldn’t get a [single] witness to testify. But the pub landlord in King’s Cross, the who was making literally a thousand pound [a week] from opening his pub to bonehead gigs for his mates like Ian Stewart [Donaldson, lead singer of fascist band Skrewdriver] was going to complain when the place – course he was. He wasn’t interested in blacks or homosexuals getting attacked – which they did after the pub closed – he was after making money. He was raking it in! But when AFA marched through Bethnal Green, and into Whitechapel, it was like a siege had been lifted. Little Asian kids running about in the street – that was there
attitude to us!

Michael: Actually, reading the book, it struck me that – judging from the state’s reaction – that’s what they feared most. When it looked like it might have been possible to link up between white working class communities and black or Asian areas…

Gary: …on a political basis, yes. The state was concerned but the left weren’t, what does that tell you? I mean the left wasn’t trying to do what we were doing, not on an organised basis. But the state thought there’s a germ here that might develop. Not good, not from their perspective. So did they say, we’ll just see if we can put someone in and steer it a bit? No! They smashed it straight away, that was their approach. It’s quite a useful little anecdote. ‘You can do that there… up to a point…but you can’t do it here. No way.’

Andy: I think we were conscious that we didn’t want to get trapped in a siege mentality. Us looking after ‘our’ areas, the fash looking after ‘theirs’, the wars, us looking for them, them looking for us, we always wanted to break out of that. When RA [Red Action] helped to form AFA we tried to grow it as wide as possible within reason, and eventually when people tried to take politics back into the community, via the IWCA [Independent Working Class Association], that was our effort, we did what we always wanted to do, to go to working class communities and try to grow a political movement there. I mean we can argue the toss about how successful that was, but that would be a different debate. I’d never say it was entirely successful but I don’t think it was a total failure either. We got some things very right, but you’d have to look at the time and the context, what we’re up against, but that was us trying to put our vision of political organisation in working class communities into effect. And that was always our intention. We never thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could fight an ongoing war with a load of other people’.

Michael: I mean there would be that accusation, that you’d ended up participating in a sub-culture, that you’d have your sales, they’d have theirs, you’d have your bands, they’d have their bands, etc.

Gary: Well, let’s look at the alternative. They have their subculture, you have nothing. They have their sales, you don’t. They have their bands, you’ve got nobody. Then they have the football fans, and you have nobody. And they have the working class estates and you’ve got nobody….

Andy: And the thing is, in Islington with the IWCA, we always knew there’d be people with racist ideas on the estates, of course there are. We’re living in the real world. But the one thing we knew is that we didn’t have to keep looking over our shoulder, we could meet the people from the tenants’ association in the local pub and talk about how to organise against plans to sell off social housing in the borough. So we needed that space to get on with doing what we wanted to do. I’d reject that idea that we got sucked into looking forward to the next confrontation with the fash, that was never our vision. Never. Now, if you’re gonna ask me were there elements drawn to AFA who did get off a bit on the excitement or hanging around on the fringes, possibly. But every movement
gets that. And there weren’t that many if you ask me. Certainly not amongst what I would call the leadership. That was never how we tried to shape the organisation, never how we sold it to people.

Michael: Without going into the various anarchist critiques – and in part for obvious reasons like you need people around you that you totally rely on and won’t leave you in the lurch – it sounds like you had a pretty centralised model going on, with a definite core…

Andy: Actually AFA was very democratic, when compared with say the ANL. On the street if wasn’t – couldn’t be. But as a broader organisation it was very democratic in the way it operated, on political campaign work etc. Similarly with Red Action. We’re a democratic organisation but when it came to the streets it couldn’t be and everyone understood that. We had it opposite to the rest of the left from what we could see. We thought when it came to politics you should be democratic and open, but they couldn’t take that, they had very tight control. But on the streets they’d say [in mocking tone], ‘let’s involve as many people as possible and everyone can come along to an open organising meeting’, and we’d say ‘that’s ludicrous, who do you know is sitting there!’ [laughter]. I’d say they’d got that the wrong way round.

Michael: I’m sure you’ve heard all this before, but the Leninist groups would say ‘you are basically trying to substitute yourselves for the organised working class, setting yourselves up as a small urban guerilla army to be the noble defenders of the class instead of mobilizing those larger sections of society…’

Andy: That’s just projection by them. No-one leafleted more working class council estates in East London than us. We organised all the carnivals [between the end of the ANL Mark I and the relaunched version], it was us that organised an exhibition that we invited schoolkids along to, there was this whole side of organising. Admittedly, that doesn’t perhaps get as much prominence in the book. But there was a large amount of campaigning, and a lot of efforts made to reach out to movers and shakers among the black or Asian youth…

Michael: …at which point the state came in to stop it. Do you think there were intelligence agents operating inside AFA?

Gary: Undoubtedly they’d have tried. The problem was for them the ‘split-screen’ structure. You could say what you want in the organising meeting and try to steer it round. But on the streets it was top-down. They’d latch on but you could shake ’em off.

Michael: So you could spot who they were?

Andy: Sometimes. Who knows? Listen, if they could penetrate the IRA they could penetrate us. But do we think they managed to effectively push us off course? No, no. I
think we done what we wanted when we wanted to do it. We made decisions when we wanted to make them.

Gary: Yes, there’s no evidence of that looking back with hindsight. I mean as you can tell from the book there’s people there with a huge question mark over them. But in terms of the way things got done, no. Being hierarchical like that you couldn’t slot somebody into a middle-manager type of position. But we were also democratic. It was asymmetrical so it worked really well. If it had been asymmetrical the other way around, as Andy said, we wouldn’t have lasted out a weekend.

Andy: We’d have ended up in the same jail together!

Michael: And people did occasionally get jail terms…

Gary: But as the book explains, we’d go out of our way to avoid that at all costs. Out of fidelity to the volunteers if you like. I mean we needed people – we had people who worked full time but they were on the dole, they didn’t get paid. And you’re dealing with a finite number. So you had to maintain morale. And also, even simple convictions could – in time – lead to jail.

Andy: We were mindful, we learnt a lot from Ireland, right, that’s a simple fact. And we learnt that if someone has been left adrift by the leadership having done something and copped time for it, and it seems like no-one gives a [toss] about them, how easy is it for the Old Bill to turn that individual. You’ve got to look after your people, do right by ’em, on the street, in custody…

Gary: There was this one time in Hammersmith with Martin Webster [leading NF activist] and when they fled his arse was still hanging out literally of an open door, and one black kid dragged an NFer out, and he [the NFer] got left behind on his own. Ended up in hospital without even a bunch of grapes! I thought that was terrible PR.

Andy: Never looked after their people. But it’s a dog eat dog world for them.

Gary: They’d stand and fight individually, but they’d never look after each other. For us that was verboten. No-one got put in that position, in as much as you could.

Andy: We even went out of our way to help some people on the left avoid getting caught out by their own stupidity. We were doing surveillance around the time of the ANL relaunch in the East End, and they were gonna go out leafleting, and we knew that there were some well-known faces in the area. And we went down the ANL and said, ‘this is not good right, we’ve seen certain people’, and they said, ‘nah, don’t be stupid’. And people ended up in hospital. We said alright then, nothing we can do here, and got back in the car and [drove] off. And as we’re driving down the road, the ambulances are already passing! And one of the guys who got injured quite badly came over to AFA straight after that.

Gary: The left often only really wanted to get involved when they thought it was in their interests to do so – and often they made a mess of things that had already been achieved.

Andy: Yes, when AFA organised the first major national march against the BNP in the East End – and it was really big, considering we were mainly based in Central London – it came on the radio and this woman came on and said it had been organised by the newly relaunched ANL! Seriously, they’d done all the organising!

Andy: That’s why I never take it really seriously when people moan ‘oh why didn’t AFA work with other people’ and all that. We did, we tried. The amount of time our people went to talk to them and try to get them involved, and say ‘yes, OK, we’ll give you two places on the committee as long as it does’t ease anyone else out’ and make it as broad as possible. And we were relatively successful. At one stage there were anarchists there – the Direct Action Movement – along with dogmatic Trotskyists, people like Workers Power, and they were all co-operating. Things weren’t always smooth. But it went along, and it showed that we were able to show a level of political maturity that’s rare on the left. Were the SWP prepared to come in on the same footing as us? Nah. They couldn’t deal with that. But we had CP people involved, even individuals from the local Labour party.

Gary: Including at the rough end of it! Cos we’d go out in a group of 30 or 40 people and we’d have like 15 stewards there on the ground, while the rest could go up to the flats and do the political work, leafleting and what have you. So not everyone was expected to do the fighting, but there’d be people who wanted to campaign with us and supported what we were doing.

Michael: And were women involved, or was it all blokes? Gary: There were women at every level, every level. But particularly in the intelligence work. They’d go into pubs that fellas hadn’t got the balls to walk into! They’d give you a whole run down of who was in there, what they were up to…

Andy: We tried using a geezer once, and all you got was ‘there’s fuckin’ loads of ’em, but we could have ’em, we could do this and that’. Obviously working class women knew the score, got themselves dolled up – look the part – and engaged them in conversation and found out real stuff you wanted to know: who were the real movers and shakers, what were relations like between the fash and landlord and bar staff; how are the locals treating them, will the hangers on bolt, that sort of thing. Women would get that information, because they’d have far less of an ego. And that’s why in West Germany when the police were fighting the Red Army Faction they said, ‘shoot the women first’. The women were so effective, because they were colder and more logical and systematic in their thinking.

Gary: If they were ever rumbled – when they walked into a pub in jeans and jacket, maybe a little bit of eye-liner – if the fash did think they were after information, they’d
assume they were police. As long as they could hold their nerve they could get themselves out.

Andy: And horny fash can give up loads of information, rendez-vous points and all sorts to our people! (laughter) That’s a fact. Human nature. But you need to be seriously talented people to do that kind of work – to tell us exactly what we need to know. And they were treated at all times as equals. The left would sometimes say ‘any women involved are all like gangster’s molls’, all this insulting, patronising [rubbish]. The women didn’t feel like that. It was just that the roles were different, a lot of the time their skills were better used elsewhere. But not all the time. Sometimes they were involved on the street, and that’s a fact.

Michael: Clearly the nature of the far right threat has changed a lot since those days, with the changes to the BNP under the leadership of Nick Griffin. In the introduction of the book your talking at a point when the the BNP on are a high, after the European elections. Since then after the General Election it appears that – as an organisation – they don’t seem to be in a position to go much further. So what threat do you see them posing today?

Gary: What you said there was important, ‘as an organisation’ – it doesn’t take away from the support they’ve shown they can establish. I think with the BNP it’s partly that they never had the experience of high political office, didn’t have the opportunity. To begin with they didn’t have the middle class types, they were having to fight for the same survival thing which we drew them into, they were all on the streets even Griffin. They were stuck in waiting rooms on stations on Stockport and all that – they never had the chance to step out of the scenario. Next thing, they’re MEPs, they’ve dozens of councillors. Where have they done the planning for that? They’re used to planning Blood and Honour gigs in backrooms of pubs in Deptford. Suddenly they’re elevated. Not equipped – first thing. Second thing – they’ve felt the long arm of the state, no question. Inside, everywhere, every which way – diced and sliced – and at at the same time the key component was to decapitate the organisation, which they’ve failed to do, which was a key [state] objective. The BNP might limp along, but the die has been cast, right, in the sense that the radical alternative will come from the far right within the constituencies we’ve identified. The left has not done anything to address that – at all – in thirty years. They’d no appetite do that, less appetite to do it now, even. There’s nothing on the left that could organise it on a national level. They’ve tried it – Socialist Alliance, Scottish Socialist Party, Respect and all that – they’ve nearly all fallen at the first hurdle, some of ’em didn’t even get to the first hurdle! What does it tell you about Respect – talk about enclaves or sub-groups and insulating yourself! That kind of mindset was partly what we were fighting against, that you could retreat from your core constituency and fight somewhere else on identity grounds. We saw it coming. We said in 2001 that the BNP would prove that – in contrast to the left – they did have traction, could mobilise support in white working class communities. And in 2002, boom!
Where would the far right be if they had a free run at it for the last 30 years? Imagine if they never had to fight a war of attrition and could have brought in all the people with the organisational skills, the media skills and all that in? They’ve had none of that, the BNP leadership. They never got the head-space because AFA weren’t going to give it to ’em. But imagine if they had a clear 30-year run like they got in France and a number other European countries where they’ve basically been unchallenged – with a free run, imagine where we’d be? If all the AFA stuff, all that ingenuity and effort, had been applied behind the BNP instead of against them!

Michael: There’s another account of what cut across the rise of the BNP which I’m sure you won’t like at all, namely that Searchlight and their allies in Barking and Dagenham managed to mobilise the existing community groups, trade unions, faith groups etc along with all the residual support that exists for the Labour party in order to unseat every single one of their councillors.

Andy: They had all those resources and completed a full circle – you had the state, so-called anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, religious groups and what have you – to reinstate the status quo. The status quo is back. Labour rules. Why did people vote BNP in the first place?

Gary: And also the BNP vote went up didn’t it? That’s the future you’re looking at. Not that they’ve been unseated for now because Labour’s woken up. Take the Isle of Dogs. We saw the portents were obvious a long way out. The ANL knocked out [Derek] Beacon…

Andy: …and they were actually popping champagne corks that night, the ANL. His vote went up!

Gary: That was the future – we could see it then; they [the BNP] could see it then. Like Barking and Dagenham it was just a technical knock out.

Andy: I mean Margaret Hodge, what does she stand for?! She’s fine now. Everything’s sorted. She’s back in power, they’ve got all their councillors in – nothing to worry about. Thank you very much. So people have joined ‘respectable’ anti-fascism, the church, the local Labour party, the state, the police, the trade unions, using all the wealth, the resources, the intelligence to take back that seat that was needed. Now, I don’t want the BNP to win in Barking and Dagenham or anywhere else. But don’t let anyone try to kid themselves that that’s any kind of victory for what I would call working class politics. Cos it ain’t.

Gary: If it was the IWCA or the Socialist Party or something like it that had stopped the BNP in Barking and Dagenham that would be a different matter. Really something to celebrate, right? Not to bring it back to where it was originally.

Update 17

I haven’t done an update since October. So here is a round up of what’s changed since!

Three new academic articles have been uploaded

1. Contesting the ‘authentic’ community: Far-right spatial strategy and everyday responses in an era of crisis (Ince, 2011)

This article discusses AFA and the IWCA’s strategy in displacing and replacing the far-right as the radical alternative.

The idea that voting alone will eliminate far-right and fascist politics is fundamentally flawed. Politics takes place in the hearts and minds of people; in their streets, communities and homes. The struggle against the far right is in part a struggle over the spatial articulation of and claims to authenticity in differing understandings of working class values. Authenticity, I argue, is primarily a politico discursive tool to which competing politics lay claim, perching on the ill-defined border between reality and artifice.

2. The Politics and Culture of FC St. Pauli: from leftism, through antiestablishment, to commercialization (Petra Daniel & Christos Kassimeris, 2013)

Transforming football stadia to political arenas is an old phenomenon, particularly, when clubs boasting a glorious past are involved. FC St. Pauli has certainly been instrumental to developments in its immediate environment though not so much for its success on the pitch, as for the socio-political views that its fans have been projecting ever since the mid-1980s. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to contextualize the same fan (and club) ideological background that has attracted worldwide attention in the light of the game’s contemporary transformation.

3. ‘The birthplace of Italian communism’: political identity and action amongst livorno fans (Doidge, 2013)

Since the 1980s, there has been a shift to the right on the curve of Italian stadiums. Livorno stands apart as one of the few Italian clubs to maintain a resolute Communist identity. They draw on a variety of Communist images and this helps define their actions. Through political protest, charity and matchday choreographies, Livorno fans reflect and resist specific aspects of football in a globalized world.

New Posts

Visit the La Zineteca: Punk and Ska Fanzine Library, issues of Leeds United anti-fascist fanzines are now available here, The Big Issue revealed evidence of police infiltration of AFA, read what Class War had to say on Red Action and the IWCA and visit the fantastic anti-fascist resource blog called Lewisham ’77.

I have also posted two Red Action articles: Time to Dump Multi-Culturalism and Red Action on Multiculturalism.

Liverpool based Cairde na hEireann have published a report on anti-Irish racism in 2012. I found a great article on Celtic Fans Against Fascism  read it here and, lastly, I found an interesting article on Red Action and it’s support of the militant Irish Republican movement.

New Book

In the time since the last update an invaluable new resource for those wishing to learn about militant anti-fascism has been published. Largely an oral account, Physical Resistance by Dave Hann is now available. My thoughts on the book are also viewable here.

Your Archivist

Lastly, since October we have received 35,000 more views taking the archives total page views to 85,000; from New Zealand to Mozambique to Chile to Kazakhstan to Ireland and Canada.

The Archive has also received generous donations and with these funds I am looking to move to a much better, custom website in the near future.

Yours,

The Archivist.

Class War on Red Action and the IWCA in 1997

THE PARTY’S OVER: THE STATE OF THE LEFT IN 1997

Red Action

In 1981-82 a number of working class members of the SWP left, or were expelled, to set up a new group, Red Action. The pamphlet they produced explaining why they left and what the new group would be is an important one in the relationship of the Left to the working class. It documents clearly the failings of the SWP, especially howit alienates the majority of working class people who come into its orbit. Red Action portrays itself (very convincingly) as being a non-sectarian, non-dogmatic organisation well aware of the failings of the authoritarian left.

However, Red Action has also proved itself to be very much a bastard child of the SWP when it comes to how it relates to other left groups. It is also an excellent example of the double standards that much of the Left have. When it comes to this group the advice should be ignore what they say, and look very closely at what they do.

We have already mentioned the idea of the ‘siege mentality’. With Red Action the siege mentality reaches a new height which they articulate with headlines like ‘No-one likes us, we don’t care’. This may very well be true, but since every edition of Red Action is obsessed with slagging off the Left and anarchists it can hardly be surprising. This siege mentality is not confined to its paper: years of ‘squadist’ organising (they have spent the last 15 years in a never-ending battle with the far-right) have not made for an open and democratic structure. This is fine if you’re a ‘crew’ fighting fascists, but different rules apply when it comes to organising openly and working with other groups.

Violence is a strong part of their culture, both internally and externally. A typical example of this is their Glasgow organiser who threatened a Class War Celtic supporter with a knife for the heinous crime of selling a Celtic fanzine on what he considered his turf. It is very difficult to reconcile this type of behaviour with their more recent attempts to ‘celebrate the political independence of the working class’. Their organiser’s violent sectarian behaviour has been the subject of at least one document circulating around the Left, and he has recently tried to explain this by referring to a dispute within anti-fascist groups, but his sectarian behaviour goes back years before this and remains a problem.

This example is far from unique within Red Action, which is logical when you consider the content of their paper – when it comes to anarchists in particular, it has taken sectarianism to absurd and obsessive levels. To be fair to Red Action members some have been embarrassed by their paper’s attitude, but the best they can come up with is to explain that ‘London’ produce the paper and it’s not their views. But what sort of organisation has a membership so witlessly unable to influence what its own paper says? One that is still much closer to the SWP in organisation and practice than they like to think, particularly when it comes to the matter of leaders and followers. Perhaps when Counter-Information described them as ‘Leninist bootboys’, they weren’t a million miles from the truth.

Another feature of Red Action is that they are unable to accept, in any circumstances, that they may be wrong. They will argue they are right, and everyone else isn’t, till the cows come home. Their favourite quote is how the Left is about as dangerous as a pond full of ducks. True, but for ‘the Left’ read ‘everyone but Red Action’ – their breathtakingly arrogant attitude is ‘if only everyone else were like us ‘ Red Action also do a nice turn in hypocrisy. They’ve been slinging lies, smears and disinformation towards everyone else for many years, but they get very self-righteous and hot under the collar when the finger’s pointed at them (see the editorial in RA#73 for details).

We could go on and on here, but there’s little point: most people who’ve come into contact with this group know what they’re like. Red Action, no doubt, will do their usual hatchet job in reply. Red Action have made their bed, now they must lie in it almost certainly alone.

IWCA

As the rest of the Left prove that change for them means no change at all, we should at least consider those who are presenting something a little different. One organisation worthy of note is the recently formed Independent Working Class Association, which came into existence in October 1995, with invites going out to all left groups to attend initial meetings. The IWCA’s Declaration of Independence espouses sound, down-to-earth ideas on political organisation, it emphasises community and working class involvement and stresses the need for a radical alternative to Labour. The basic principle behind the IWCA was not what the working class can do for the IWCA, but what the working class can do for itself: this notion that ideas do not have to be given to people ready-packed in an ideology is itself a refreshing and positive step.

With its aim of working class power in working class areas, the IWCA’s politics on the surface seem to fit in well with Class War’s, and appear to have been taken in part from our own 1993 political statement Childhood’s End. But Class War’s response has been mixed – some groups and individuals did attend the initial meetings, while others didn’t. Over the years we’d seen several unlikely alliances come and go on the left, and there seemed no guarantee that this one would be any different – especially since its main sponsor was Red Action.

Our attitude to Red Action has been made clear above, so we won’t repeat ourselves here. Red Action had treated the anarchist movement with contempt for many years, so it seemed at best ironic (and at worst cynical and manipulative) that they seemed to be ‘targeting’ anarchist groups for involvement in the IWCA.

There has also been unease over Red Action using their dominant position within Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) to push the IWCA strongly upon AFA – particularly after years of Red Action opposing any broadening of AFA’s limited brief. The danger is that if the IWCA splinters, then AFA’s effectiveness could be compromised. In fact suspicions about the IWCA’s independence and Red Action’s agenda have already meant that some left and anarchist groups have withdrawn.

Were the cynics right? Well, not exactly. Various IWCA projects are up and running: in Newtown in Birmingham, for example, the anti-mugging initiative set up by the IWCA has formed the basis for a residents’ association which is anti-police and anti-council, and is led by neither Red Action nor the IWCA. This is exactly the push for working class power that local Class War groups have been promoting for years. Perhaps the IWCA can evolve into a truly independent group that will enable working class militants to work together. Only time will tell.

 

Source and full article can be viewed here.

Physical Resistance: Thoughts and Reply to Renton

Part 1

Unfortunately I am thousands of miles from my copies of Beating the Fascists, No Retreat and Anti-Fascism in Britain which I think would be extremely useful in a full and detailed review of Physical Resistance. I am having to make do with my computerised notes of Beating the Fascists, sadly I chose only to word process my notes after reading No Retreat and Anti-Fascism in Britain. Following reading Dave Renton’s review of Physical Resistance I decided to write down a few of my thoughts of the book and his review. My focus will be on the latter chapters as this is the period where I have mostly researched. I welcome any response and correction.

Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism has given those interested in the study of in militant anti-fascism a wealth of important and interesting events which have laid undiscovered, exciting long oral accounts of former activists and a number of questions to attempt to answer. These long oral and written accounts are woven with Hann’s narrative. Sadly Dave Hann died before he could finish his work but his long term partner, who also writes the introduction, has stepped in and finished the book well with the circumstance. However, as Renton points out there are points in the book which are under-analysed and leave the reader asking for more detail.

Firstly, Renton’s review; I believe it contained a number of factual errors. One such error is the statement of Hann being in the Red Action leadership, my research and interview with former Red Action members (and subsequent communication) did not give Hann as a national figure in Red Action but he was key to Anti-Fascist Action and Red Action organising in Manchester. Renton, disingenuously, says that Beating the Fascists finishes when it reaches the Battle of Waterloo in 1992. In fact, BtF continues for a further 100 pages which includes, amongst other events: the 1993 Welling demonstration, the conflict with Combat 18, the BNP declaration of “no more meetings, no more marches, no more punch ups”, ‘Operation Zero Tolerance’ and the development of the Independent Working Class Association.  Furthermore, Renton comments that AFA decayed following the Battle of Waterloo, however, issue 3 of Fighting Talk (June 1992), the Journal of AFA, lists 22 branches by issue 12 (November 1995) the number of branches peaked at 38 until it began to fall.

Renton also says that Hann is a “little self-serving” due to almost all interviews being with militant anti-fascists. Perhaps the subtitle “A Hundred of Militant Anti-Fascism” would have been more apt, but, I think Renton does Hann a disservice. As Renton points out Hann gives kudos to the ANL and other non-militant successes and, even, gives the UAF laurels for the BNPs 2010 local election defeat.  I think Renton’s short dismissal of BtF and AFA in this review opens him up to the charge of self-servicing his anti-squaddism.

Turning to the book itself, as I earlier commented I thought the book is under-analytical in places. One such area is the collapse of the National Front following the 1979 general election. A conclusion to whether Hann thought the ANL or Thatcher’s hard talk against immigration was the primary or most important cause for the NF’s demise is not offered. Another section where I was hoping for more evidence, detail and conclusion was the 1988 Red Action split; Renton also says most early Red Action members left. Further information and explanation would have been interesting; perhaps Red Action’s archives will shed some light onto this period. Similarly, the AFA split between Red Action and the anarchist elements is light on details and analysis.

One question I asked during my undergraduate dissertation research was on the divisions between AFA members, particularly women. One of Hann’s interviewees provides a glimpse of a division; that between “hit men” and “foot soldiers”. During my research I was convinced that a division between organisers and fighters didn’t exist, the organisers were also got their hands dirty. The division between the “hit men” and “foot soldiers” also, allegedly, manifested socially as well as tactically. Who were the “hit men”? Red Action members or simply the best fighters.

Regarding women, two of Hann’s female interviewees’ tales tell of a gender role divide of duties in AFA which seems to correlate to my results. That’s not to say the duties of ‘spotting’ or checking out a pub for fascists was looked upon as less brave in fact my results showed my interviewees thought these acts required much more courage than the fighting. Although, more investigation into this by Hann would have proved interesting I think, particularly when AFA and militant anti-fascism is often charged with chauvinism and machismo.

An interviewee also speaks about AFA’s support for the IRA. Although Red Action’s strong support for the IRA is openly known and AFA stewarded republican marches against loyalist and fascist attacks, AFA was supposed to be a single issue campaign. For this interviewee the extent of the IRA support was uncomfortable. To what extent AFA as an organisation supported the IRA is not dealt with in depth and it does raise an interesting point as to what people’s experiences of IRA support were within AFA.

Hann also gives an insight into the continuation of militant anti-fascism post-AFA. He accounts both No Platform and Antifa, and, I think, it gives the impression that Hann supported the continuation of a violent street strategy and a rejection of the IWCA’s approach of following the BNP off the streets and into the electoral arena. But his position doesn’t seem clear. Any comparison between the post-AFA movements and AFA is also lacking.

To more general points: I’m surprised no Red Action literature appears in the bibliography, I think it’s a shame footnotes weren’t used in the book, as they are so useful to students of anti-fascism, also, there are few details on AFA in Scotland which is a shame. Lastly, there are a few errors in the writing such as Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association is listed as Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Action and the Kindle version is littered with hyphenated words in the middle of the page which I found annoying.

To conclude, the book is a valuable read for all those interested in the Communist Party’s role in anti-fascism, the British volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, opposition to the British Union of Fascists and the later history of militant anti-fascism. An excellent and unmissable source for students and those interested in British militant anti-fascism.

IWCA Literature

This post will list literature from the Independent Working Class Association.

  • IWCA Letter (1996): this letter is in reply to subscription and support to the IWCA.
  • IWCA Letter (1996): this letter is in reply to interest in joining the IWCA.
  • IWCA Letter (1996): this is a letter regarding a meeting in Glasgow.
  • IWCA Whalley Range leaflet: newsletter discussing the election of New Labour and the local battle against a mobile phone mast.

Also see the IWCA’s Filling the Vacuum document.

Filling the Vacuum

Beyond 1994 AFA faced a quandary: to continue with violence to to pursue another direction. Following defeats on the streets and continuing bad press for violence the leading thinkers within the BNP, such as Tony Lecomber and, later, Nick Griffin, began to push for electoral over street politics. In response to this move from the streets to the electoral arena London AFA produced the Filling the Vacuum document in 1995.

Filling the Vacuum argued for a new organisation to represent the working class, thus, preventing the far-right doing so. This vacuum had been opened following the abandonment of the working class by the Labour Party. This strategy eventually led to the creation of the Independent Working Class Association.

Click here to download: Filling The Vacuum, 1995

Or see below:

In November 1990, at a public meeting in east London, AFA declared that the “working class is the natural constituency of socialism, not fascism. Racism and socialism are incompatible. One only exists at the expense of the other. The success of the Far-Right is due to the fact that the Left are not seen as a credible option. AFA are committed to creating the space in which one (a credible alternative} can develop.”

Three years later, addressing a meeting in south-east London, an AFA spokesperson returned to the theme: “While the initial aim must be to root out the organised racists/fascists ­the motive force behind the attacks – and throw down a challenge to those that provide them with facilities, the long-term solution must be to create communities of resistance. By creating some space, perhaps in time a real working class alternative to the lying bullshit that now passes for politics in this country can emerge. The entire Left has failed the working class, black and white alike, though many prefer to believe that the working class has failed the Left. We are here today, not only because they (the Left) are bad socialists but more specifically because they are bad anti­fascists”.

In 1994 in a widely distributed expose of the Anti-Nazi League [Don’t Believe the Hype], AFA was even more specific. “The BNP can be stopped and on many occasions up and down the country AFA has physically stopped them. However we are not blind to the fact that the fight is political, and accept that the resurgence of support for the Far-Right is a symptom of a deeper malaise. We do not see it as our job to campaign for Labour. It is not AFA’s role to argue that change is not needed. The function of anti-fascism is not to see the electoral threat from the Far-Right beaten back so that Labour and the middle-class Left can, as happened between 1982-92, turn their backs on both the social causes and their own collaboration in the political betrayal that gave rise to the NF and the BNP in the first place.”

The ambition of militant anti-fascism is not simply to see the Far-Right defeated and removed from working class areas: the ultimate solution is to see them replaced there. The BNP’s attack on Labour is from the Right and is racist, ultra-conservative and anti-working class, Our primary role is to guarantee that a successful challenge to Labour comes only from the Left. Furthermore, and purely from an anti-fascist point of view, as the best insurance against any nazi renaissance, it would be the duty of militants to offer protection and encouragement to any genuine [anti-­Labour] working class revolt.

When AFA was relaunched in London in September 1989 it was accepted that while AFA was still organised around the single issue of anti-fascism, “AFA propaganda must contain a class message” in order “to negate the efforts by the fascists to present AFA as a bunch of middle-class outsiders, part and parcel of the Establishment, working in the long-term interests of the status quo”.

Much has changed since 1989, not least the fact that AFA is now a national organisation with over forty branches organised in four main regions each with the physical ability to forcefully implement AFA’s founding statement on the streets. In addition other organisations such as the ANL, ARA and YRE have jumped on – and off – the bandwagon. The early nineties also saw the return to electoral prominence of the Far-Right not just in Britain but throughout Europe. The success of AFA on the streets also led to the birth of the wannabe paramilitary grouping C18.

In another tribute to AFA’s militant strategy the BNP declared in April 1994 that there would be “no more marches, meetings, punch-ups ” A year on, this declaration must now be regarded as a serious change of strategy, something other than a temporary electoral ploy or an effort to court respectability. There appear to be at least two crucial reasons for the change of strategy. One, undoubtedly, is that since their resur­gence to national prominence, AFA have fought the BNP to a standstill. In 1991 Scotland was regarded by the BNP leadership as its highest growth area and the area with possibly the greatest potential. Today the BNP no longer visibly exists. Literally beaten into the ground by anti-fascist militants.

In the North West the BNP organisation and morale has all but been destroyed. A similar pattern is emerging in the Midlands. In the South East the fascists have been constantly harassed. Apart from the east and possibly south east they are practically invisible in London.

In many of these areas the politics of the BNP undoubtedly have a resonance, but they are unable to take advantage of the latent support due to the logistical problems caused by the constant possibility of attack and their own profile as ‘a party of strength’. One way to resolve the problem would be to recruit, but they cannot have open recruitment for fear of infiltration. In addition the fear of physical violence means that they are unable to bring their more articulate middle class supporters onto the streets for fear of losing them entirely.

The situation in Europe would also have played an influence. Here the fascists, particularly in Austria and Italy, have recognised that with the demise of the support for the communist parties there is no need for a visibly menacing counter threat. If there is no physical danger, fascists do not need to hide behind a sinister private army. The battle for control of the streets need not be fought if control is not being contested. If the end can be achieved without the traditional means there is no need for the rough stuff. In Britain, with the absence of any tangible political threat to their adopted working class constituency the argument for a physical force movement to contest the streets becomes not only void but instead represents a serious impediment to their own political ambitions – only!

Since their meteoric climb in 1990 in not one area of the country, despite significant sympathy on the ground, have they for more than one day at a time been able to control the streets; Bermondsey, Bloody Sunday and the Isle of Dogs being the exceptions. More often than not in regard to the large set pieces they have been humiliated. And even when they have won, the victory has gained them nothing except a confirmation of what already sustains them; that Labour and the Left are increasingly alien to working class people. So in a sense for them simply to continue with the strategy of “marches, meetings, punch ups” only provides an enemy that has already lost the fundamental arguments – Labour/ANL/Trotskyism, etc. (or in the case of AFA which has failed to put an argument) – with a legitimate political excuse/focus, ie: anti-BNP. The BNP policy of open swaggering aggression also affords an organisation like AFA a legitimate opportunity to answer in kind, and in doing so physically destroy the BNP’s political prospects by crippling its infra-structure. With AFA having no polltical prospects of its own they are on a hiding to nothing.

It takes two to tango, so what of AFA’s reason for being if the BNP decide that they don’t want to play anymore? Certainly in London, AFA has only been able to seriously damage the Far-Right once recently. If this is a permanent change of plan there is a serious danger that AFA, without the physical challenge for which it was designed, will itself begin to lose direction and begin to atrophy.

The flip side of the coin is that C18, who have no electoral ambitions either, don’t do anything but ‘play’. The ideal solution for both the State and the Far-Right would be for AFA to get locked into a clandestine gang war with C18, thereby allowing the State to select candidates of their own choosing for periods of lengthy incarceration. That done, the now entirely legal BNP could go about their lawful business like their European counter­parts, articulating ‘genuine racial concerns’ unhindered.

Furthermore, if the BNP operation is made entirely legal and if AFA physically opposes them, then our operation is de facto illegal. The BNP then might reasonably expect, in return for their collaboration with the forces of law and order, that the tactic of summary arrest be employed against AFA on a consistent basis. Circumstances are changing and AFA needs to adapt.

Fascism is the vanguard of reaction. It is at once the manifestation, the contributory cause and principle beneficiary of society’s decomposition. Unlike the rest of the anti-racist Left, AFA’s emphasis has always been on the political danger represented by fascism, while others such as Searchlight and the ANL have laid the emphasis on their violent and criminal tendencies. In addition they refuse or are unwilling to recognise that anti-fascism is by definition a rearguard action and that fascism is the consequence, rather than the cause, of the Left’s failure. Inevitably the strategies adopted to combat fascism carry with them the germs of the strategies that caused fascism, invariably leading to compound failure. So while it cannot be denied that the ANL’s media campaign focused public attention on the problem, it also proved to be a distraction in regard to the solution.

One of AFA’s strengths in its formative years was its limited platform; the ‘single issue’. This concentration weeded out or repelled the sectarians, the ‘tough talkers’ and the dilettantes. However, during the Isle of Dogs campaign, the ‘single issue’ exposed AFA’s limitations. AFA had to nothing to say on the principle business.

AFA has long recognised that once the Far-Right is allowed to mobilise, is allowed to set the agenda, and has passed a certain point, they begin to control their own destinies – and their opponent’s. Once that point is reached it would be useless and possibly counter-productive to rely upon a purely anti-fascist stance, primarily because people look to politics for solutions. It might be clear what you stand against, though their understanding of what you stand for will effectively determine their overall response.

As the activities of the ANL on the Isle of Dogs demonstrated (despite blanket canvassing the BNP vote actually rose by 30%), an anti-fascist message on its own would find little favour with working class people, even those repelled by the BNP, if they suspected that it was simply a spoiling tactic, carried out by allies of the local Labour establishment in an effort to maintain the status quo. AFA has never fought to maintain the status quo, but, even at their most effective, anti­fascist militants can never hope to achieve anything more than to maintain that vacuum. There is little doubt that the vacuum has been successfully maintained but now, in the absence of any other suitable candidates, it is incumbent on the anti-fascist militants to help fill the vacuum themselves.

The working class is increasingly alienated from Labour, the BNP’s strategy can is entirely reliant upon this alienation: ‘they really hate Labour’ etc. The total ineptitude and the tangible contempt that exists in some areas between Labour and its former constituency has locally and nationally begat the BNP. And fascism begat anti-fascism. In straight­forward language, it is the politics of the Labour Party that has created the BNP. So by acting as campaign managers for Labour, the ANL are are prostituting anti-fascism, and instead of being identified with a radical, pro-working class position, anti-fascism is seen to be defending the status quo, thereby practi­cally forcing people who want change to vote BNP, out of sheer desperation. They are literally driving people into the arms of the fascists. Up to now it is entirely due to the cutting edge of AFA that the passive support has remained just that. But it is unrealistic to expect that vacuum to be maintained indefinitely.

Nor as working class militant anti-fascists can we stand on the sidelines, wringing our hands hopelessly. We have to take a stand. And we have to take that stand against Labour. Not simply in a theoretical sense, but in an organisational sense. It is vital that the working class on the estates, seriously alienated from Labour, are provided with an alternative to the BNP. The election of a Labour government will be a massive shot in the arm for the Far-Right. It is also very possible that in the subsequent local elections the Isle of Dogs scenario could be repeated on a national scale, and all our\good work in the last decade would be undone at a stroke.

What is needed is a new organisation. In all probability the impetus of the Clause Four controversy will cause a realignment on the Left that will give it birth. It is not being suggested that AFA disband and become this organisation. It is as vital as ever, that AFA maintains its own structures and agenda. Nor is it being suggested that AFA create this new organisation. This would hardly be possible in any case. What must be recognised is that it will happen with or without AFA. AFA contains the best working class militants in the country. It is absolutely vital that in order to shape the organisation in its own image, AFA is in from the very beginning. To shape it in AFA’s own image would mean stipulating from the outset a) a democratic structure, built from the bottom up rather than from the top down; b) rather than appeal to a mythical ‘labour movement’ the strategy requires an orientation to, and an accommodation of, the working class proper; c) non-sectarian. This does not mean being forced to work with everybody; it means working alongside others towards a common goal, but making no apology for a refusal to collaborate on any project for which you have no enthusiasm, or with those with whom you fundamentally disagree.

In any case it must be obvious that to stand aloof would be an unmitigated disaster. That would allow the middle classes once again to set the agenda. AFA has been dealing with the consequences of their agenda for over a decade. It would be criminally negligent to allow our adversaries to fill the space we have created and maintained in that time. This is an opportunity to add a string to AFA’s bow. It will be a complement to, rather than a deviation from, vigorous anti-fascist activity.

Even on a limited tactical basis the benefits of an independent working class organisation operating alongside AFA would be immediate and widespread. AFA could, for the first time, campaign for something instead of merely campaigning against something – and campaign legally.

AFA could be pro-active as well as reactive. There would be no breathing space for the likes of the BNP. And, for as much as an embryonic association might welcome AFA’s physical presence, the situation demands that AFA avails itself of a wider political platform than was hitherto considered either necessary or available. For the first time since the thirties militant anti-fascism would be associated with solutions rather than simply violent actions and threats.’ For the first time, too, involved with setting the agenda rather than clearing up the political mess left by someone else’s.

Ultimately the challenge for AFA is not only to destroy the BNP in working class areas but to replace them there. So the political message, to have resonance, will have to be deeper and more comprehensive. A straight forward anti­fascist parable, a simple refutation of the ‘radical’ in nationalism will, on its own, prove unsatisfactory.

If AFA’s efforts are to culminate in victory we must seek to replace them, but to replace them we must not only out­violence them, we must also out radicalise them.