Hundreds of anti-fascist protesters blocked the English Defence League from having a free run of Bradford today, taking on and battering the most militant racists – despite no support from Hope Not Hate, Unite Against Fascism or the leadership of the local labour movement. We proved that it was right to counter-demonstrate against the EDL.
Hope Not Hate, Bradford TUC and the city council held a cultural festival miles outside the city centre – attended by less than a hundred and fifty people and described by one visitor as “more councillors than human beings”. (The police threw left-wingers out because it was “not supposed to be a political event!”) Five hundred UAF and SWP members gathered in Exchange Square, to listen to hip hop and hear speeches urging “respect” for the police and praising Tory Home Secretary Theresa May for banning the EDL’s attempts to march. Meanwhile many hundreds of people, a mix of leftists (mostly unaffiliated - the only two visible groups were the AWL and Workers Power) and self-organised youth, mostly Asian, rallied and counter-demonstrated, without police permission, metres from the EDL protest.
There were far fewer EDLers than the racists had predicted – about eight hundred, not the many thousands they boasted they would have. They shouted chants including "Allah is a paedo" and "We love the floods" (a reference to the disaster in Pakistan).
When a group of one or two hundred broke out from the EDL demonstration to rampage around the city, they got a nasty shock. Most of the counter-demonstration chased them through town before trapping some of them in Forster Square railway station and giving a few a good kicking.
We received reports that attempts to attack a local mosque were also beaten back, and that some of the EDL coaches were stoned and had their tyres slashed.
Even as it was, with the dominant forces in the labour and anti-fascist movements working with community and religious leaders to prevent a counter-demo, we gave the racists a seriously hard time. We don’t care about the imams, police and Blairite councillors. But trade unionists and socialists who did not even join the counter-demonstration once it began should be deeply ashamed of themselves.
In contrast, supporters of the Stop Racism and Fascism network, including AWL members, argued for a counter-demonstration in the city centre from the very start. Bradford United Against Racism went door-to-door, mainly in Asian areas of the city, working to get people out. We are not pretending that the protest was organised by us; but we do feel proud that we argued for it and played a full role in it on the day. Ironically, the ban on marching praised by UAF speakers was also the reason why many Stop Racism and Fascism activists were stopped from leafleting by police, in some instances being threatened with arrest.
Events in Bradford demonstrated vividly the necessity of challenging UAF and Hope Not Hate’s stranglehold over anti-fascist activity, particularly in the labour movement. Both campaigns have once again shown themselves to be profoundly inadequate – in their lack of class politics and their advocacy of reliance on the police. As an absolute minimum, we need to insist that it is right to counter-demonstrate against militant racists and fascists - just as right as it was in the 1930s and 1970s. We would urge trade unionists and local anti-fascist campaigners to back and get involved in Stop Racism and Fascism.
Part of this is building links with workers and youth Asian and Muslim communities at the sharp end of the fascist and racist threat. The demonstration in Bradford today was largely an amalgam of distinct elements: the only common chant was “Black and white, unite and fight – smash the EDL” (and sometimes only the second part); most of the Asian youth did not take up leftist chants, and chauvinistic comments against EDL members and sexist chants including against female police officers were heard repeatedly. The fact that hundreds of youth defied self-appointed community leaders to challenge the EDL on the streets is positive. But the left, which is largely white, has to stop treating Asian people as an ‘other’ that can only be organised on the basis of religion or communalism, and make the arguments for working-class unity and anti-capitalist struggle.
Don’t let the SWP lie about what happened!
Predictably, the bourgeois media is reporting clashes between the EDL and... UAF. We expect such ignorance from them. But we should not allow UAF itself, or the SWP, to lie about what happened on the day. We raise this because they have done so, many times, in the past.
There were, at most, a dozen SWPers on the counter-demonstration – and not on the front-line – while hundreds obeyed the police - or more to the point the central committee - and stayed in the square. Comrades, ask yourself why your organisation behaves like this – and then ask your organisers and leaders!
It looks as if, rather than attempting to claim that they were behind the counter-demonstration (as the bourgeois media is claiming), UAF/SWP are blurring over the cracks by saying, essentially: "Our event was great, but well done to the 'locals' and 'by-passers' who took on the EDL instead."
Even if this was the whole truth, it would still be a condemnation of UAF and the SWP leaving local people to fight the EDL without their support. But in fact it also deliberately ignores the fact that many left activists, from Bradford and outside, did participate in the counter-demonstration (and in fact had called for it from the start).
SWP and UAF comrades who really want to fight the fascists and racists must begin to question and challenge their organisations' leaders.
The Hope Not Hate coverage was if anything even worse: writing out of existence the counter-demo, claiming that the EDLers who broke out rampaged around Bradford without opposition (which will be news to the EDLers with broken noses!) and arguing the problem was that the police should have done a better job. (In a later article they switch line and congratulate the police.) This is truly appalling, Stalinist-style rewriting of what happened on the day.
Well, at least Unite Against Fascism can say to Hope Not Hate: "Our ineffectual anti-fascist non-protest was bigger than yours".
Here are a few observations:
My group (I came with Stop Racism and Fascism) met up with Bradford United Against Racism when we got to Bradford. It wasn't obvious what we might do, but we went to Centenary Square, close to but not inside the UAF corral/kettle, and unfurled some small banners with "Stop Racism and Fascism" on them. These were seen by many passers-by. I think this was a more effective display of anti-fascism in the time we were there than being inside the UAF corral, hidden from view of the street - yes, we were "dipersed" (threatened with arrest) after half an hour or so by the police, and we had to keep an eye out for roaming EDL, but I think this was an effective tactic.
I don't know what SWP/UAF think they got from their protest - I didn't go to look at it but I hear it was smaller than the 1,500 the SWP are reporting; people say about 400. Presumably the SWP can get a load of contact names and addresses from it, and perhaps that's enough for them! They can get some more affiliations to UAF. But given they were there for several hours, just listening to bands and speeches about how the EDL must be smashed, I can only think that many SWP members were champing at the bit by the end.
I don't think they left their corral in any numbers all afternoon. There were a few of them at the Midlands Hotel counter-demo later but very few. Could we have found a way to persuade some of them to leave their safe haven and come and join the counter-demo? We should try to. We have got to start addressing the ordinary SWP members who must be fed-up with their group's and UAF strategy/tactics.
After being dispersed by the police, some of us went up to the "Bradford Together" event put on by the council with the help of Hope Not Hate. They held their main event on the Friday evening - a sort of peace vigil - according to reports, they only got 400 to that. The event on Saturday was one of the most pitiful gatherings ever achieved in the cause of anti-fascism. Maybe 150 people there? Like a badly attended village fete. Love and light - but not to everyone, certainly not to anti-fascists! We spread our Stop Racism and Fascism banner on the ground while we planned our next move. I went to leaflet the stalls. After five minutes a woman with a blue flower painted on her cheek asked me whether I had permission to leaflet; some people had been removed earlier for leafleting (SWP, I think).
Then the police came and told us to go. They said it was them, the police, asking us to leave, not the organisers of the event (but the organisers of the event would be happy for us to leave as well, I'm sure). They said it was under section blah-blah which said no one could hand out anything that might offend anyone or inflame the situation. So they returned us to the streets of Bradford... with our inflammatory material.
EDL: on our way up the hill to this event, we had passed the 1 in 12 anarchist centre, now under the control of the police. We also passed a pub called the Boy and Barrel. It was full of EDL and the police were trying to keep them in the pub and the street next to it.
When we came back to the centre of town there were a hundred or so people gathered by the Midlands Hotel watching the EDL at their demo, blocked off by several lines of police. This was a sort of spontaneous counter-demonstration; with a mixture of people, some white anti-fascists, some white locals, some Asian young men, some of them in organised groups, probably, but most not, I would say. A few more people arrived. Down the bottom, the EDL were trying to break out. Some of the Asian men, emboldened, shouted "Nazi scum, up your bum!" (I think). There were enough earnest lefties around to turn this into "Nazi scum, off our streets". The police, mounted on horses, pushed us up the street a little way, it wasn't clear whether police tactics would be to keep us at bay or charge us at some point. People debated what to do: let's stand our ground! Retreat! A couple of young Asian men said to me: they are going to charge and they will arrest us and we'll be put in prison - were they actually remembering what happened at Bradford in 2001, or was this something they had been frightened with by the "community leaders" who had spent the period up to Saturday warning people to stay away?
With more numbers - where was UAF?! - there would not have been so much uncertainty - most people there were up for having a go at the EDL, or at least standing our ground and not being pushed back by the police, but uncertain whether we had the numbers. At this point a small knot of excited anti-fascists bowled up - I'm told it was Revo and Leeds SWP branch (breaking SWP ranks?) - charged to the front and started frightening the horses with their chants and jostling of the police line. There's a time and place for this sort of thing, but people should gauge what is going on before they do it, and this lot didn't seem to.
Then, off in the distance, down the hill, the EDL broke out of the far side of their pen and most of the now quite large crowd round me ran off after them - although they were clearly going to have to run a long way to catch them. I've heard reports saying that people thought the EDL were heading for an Asian area, and so they ran because they were concerned to defend it.
I followed after (I'm no athlete); when I got to the bottom of the hill by the train station, I caught the tail-end of the events where the EDL breakout was pushed (or punched) by assorted anti-fascists and Asian young men back into the tender protection of the police. People had a great sense of exhilaration at beating back the EDL. The police pushed people away from the station and most of us went back up the hill. This event was definitely experienced as a victory for our side; but, let's be clear, the EDL weren't run out of town. If the whole of the political establishment - and most of the far-left! - had not spent weeks beforehand demobilising people I think the EDL could have been completely and humiliatingly routed on Saturday. Instead, they will lick their wounds, brood in a corner, and look for a softer target for their next Away Day. We have to learn some hard lessons from this!
Back up the hill, there was a standoff: a line of riot police, big mixed crowd milling about. A few young Asian men wanted to go and have a go at the EDL and would have to go through the police line. They started arguing with some older blokes who looked like they were from the mosque. There was a theatrical feel to it all. The young men knew they were not going to get through the police, and the older men knew they were not really going to try, but they were having a debate about tactics and ideas in the middle of the street. I am sure this reflects the debate about all of this in the Asian community.
I spoke to some of the young men about the day, and the build-up to it. Socialists should work to get more of a hearing in this community, especially for our ideas on tackling fascism/racism militantly. I am sure some people would be hostile, even people who will give us a hearing will think talking about social struggles, etc, has no bearing on the situation, but with some people it will get an echo - and we will learn a lot from having these conversations!
Anti-fascists have got to sit down and discuss the nitty-gritty lessons of events like Saturday: there are discussions about tactics on the day - how to deal with the police and with the EDL; there are discussions to be had about how to get UAF to shift; how to get left unity around what to do; how to join the debates in Muslim communities; etc. I think the Stop Racism and Fascism Network (http://srfnetwork.org/) is the best forum having these discussions, although we have to raise our game. UAF and Hope Not Hate are raking in the trade union pounds and meanwhile doing, effectively, damn-all to stop the EDL. We can't leave this situation.
"you might have seen the big anarchy flag at the front of the crowd. thats who was left when the riot cops appeared."
So we were around to notice your flag but only anarchists were left when the riot cops appeared? How do you work that one out? I don't want to get into any macho bullshit but we were on the frontline all day so can we have less of the "activist-ier than thou" attitude please?
It isn't that UAF are all cowards and local youths/Stop Racism and Fascism/Antifa are all really hard and brave. It's to do with politics - politically what your approach is to anti-fascism.
I'm sure there are lots of people in UAF who would act very courageously under different circumstances. That's not the point. The point is that the leadership of UAF have got wrong political ideas about how you fight fascism. Their political priority is to put on events which will allow them to recruit and keep in with labour movement bureaucrats and religious community elders. Our political priorities are to do with working-class self-organisation, self-defence against fascism, and independent class politics.
It's those politics that determined why we acted the way we did - not because we're big tough macho-men and UAF are wimps. Drop the macho crap - it's philistine, apolitical, elitist and reactionary.
I am at a disadvantage in any dick waving competition, as I don't have one. In any case, can we talk about something more interesting? On the subject of "interesting", if you mean "having no regard to life and limb", I confess, I am rather cautious on that score. I "scarpered to the side of Bank Street" when I thought the mounted police were about to charge up the road, but I didn't leave the scene, and started some discussions with people about what we could do to consolidate our position - this was when the young Asian men said they were getting out of there because they didn't want to be arrested. I suppose what I'm getting at is anti-fascism shouldn't be... a dick waving contest.
Like it said on the SWP's placards on Saturday - though they deliberately were not around to do it - we need to "Smash the EDL". That means mobilising more people - whether simply to block roads and hold the coats, or to do the actual business of "smashing". So the really interesting conversations are: how can we get around the UAF/HNH roadblock? How can we get conversations in the Asian community about their right to self-defence? Any ideas?
UnaBummer (curious name), I could argue you with on several points (and agree with you on many) but this is the one I'll concentrate on: who is going to come out and confront the scummers? Do we have the numbers right now? No? If not, then it comes back to the questions I asked: how do we get around the UAF/HNH roadblock in order to mobilise more people to confront the EDL; how do we help mobilise the communities being targeted by the EDL? Those tasks are going to take organisation, debates in meetings such as union meetings, to get more people to come and do precisely what you say we need to do: organise militant action.
"Maybe once this is over then we can talk about building a nationwide pro-active anti racist structure..."? It's the other way around. We won't defeat the EDL until we do build such a structure, even if it is quite rudimentary.