A row between members of Norwich SWP and supporters of the Norwich Community Action Group (NCAG) has the potential to damage anti-fascist unity in the city, and undermine working-class solidarity so vital for effective action against the cuts.
Bitter argument developed after NCAG supporters responded to a belated appeal by the SWP for physical support outside a public meeting the SWP had advertised to discuss ‘How to stop the EDL’.
Upwards of thirty EDLers, not all of them white, arrived at the meeting-venue. NCAG supporters were outnumbered, and a dangerous situation could easily have turned violent. In the end police arrived with dogs, and the SWP meeting was cancelled at the advertised venue, though it may have taken place elsewhere. Lack of forethought by the SWP, and their failure to take basic precautions over how to present, advertise and ensure security at their meeting, put NCAG members at significant risk on the night and left them exposed to reprisals.
An account of events posted on the NCAG website made clear the extent of anger felt towards the SWP. It has drawn a long series of comments, some of which are from declared EDLers. The article was also picked up by an EDL-supporting blog. Some SWPers are now claiming that because NCAG has allowed this exchange on their website, and because some NCAG members engaged EDLers in discussion, they are apologists for fascism.
NCAG are within their rights to criticise the SWP’s failure to take the EDL seriously as an organisation capable of mobilising members in local areas to confront the left. Lessons do not seem to have been learned from what happened in Brighton in June, when EDL members disrupted a UAF meeting in the town. Norwich SWP’s meeting about the EDL was advertised openly. The Socialist Worker website even says all are welcome to such meetings. Yet Norwich SWPers know from their own anti-fascist work that fascists are active in parts of the county. A brief look at the EDL website would have told them its ‘East Anglian division’ claims over a hundred members. This figure may well be exaggerated, but the possibility that EDL members might take the ‘All welcome” tag at face-value and arrive at the meeting should have been considered, and planned for well in advance.
The SWP’s characterisation of all EDL members as hardened fascists allows the SWP to dismiss the option in any circumstances of formally debating with EDL members, or even of talking to them. It seems to have provoked some Norwich SWPers into demonising those in NCAG who spoke with EDLers, or who engaged in online debate with them. This in spite of the fact that the same NCAG members turned out in response to the SWP’s late solidarity-appeal and put themselves physically on the line in order to protect an SWP meeting!
The nationalism of EDLer arguments must be countered with those that begin by staking out the common ground between workers on the basis of their shared class-interest. This means understanding and exposing the reactionary role of religion under capitalism, as well as countering racist, sexist and homophobic ideas as divisive of the class. The cross-class approach practised by UAF, and understood to be sanctioned by the SWP, serves to repel rather than inspire layers of the working-class. It aids the fascists who look to organise and mobilise via the EDL.