Unite against Fascism (UAF), the SWP-run anti-fascist coalition backed by several unions, called their first national demonstration in a long time on Saturday 21 June in central London. But the demonstration, organised at only just over a month's notice, was very small, with less than 3,000 people.
This low figure demonstrates that it is not possible to magically create a mass campaign against fascism when there has been little or no prior meaningful activity, apart from very limited and sporadic leafleting around election time. It is simply not possible to cold start a mass movement even after the shock, to many, of the election to the Greater London Assembly (GLA) of the BNP's Richard Barnbrook.
It furthermore demonstrates that the comparative success of the Love Music, Hate Racism festival on April 27th does not easily translate into a political commitment to actively campaign against the BNP.
The SWP in a fairly parlous state at present and there has been an almost complete absence of any serious local UAF campaigns. Not surprisingly therefore, where coaches were organised from outside London, they were half empty.
The UAF is in part a victim of the illusions it peddles about the success of the ANL in the late 70s. The ANL’s size then was not primarily the result of carnivals but the product of confidence after a series of successful mass mobilisations against the National Front. The most successful of these was the “Battle of Lewisham” demonstration of August 1977. The ANL rode on the wave of confidence and militancy created by those demonstrations. But since then the SWP and others have spread the myth that the ANL beat back the NF.
To their credit the SWP in the mid-70s did take a serious part in demonstrations such as Lewisham, but what do we find the SWP doing today? Apart from its small size the UAF demo was characterized by an amazing imbalance between rhetoric and proposed activity.
Speakers and banners repeated the mantra “Smash the BNP” but not one mention was made of any specific “Smash the BNP” activity. In fact the one major action planned against the BNP, a picket and rally against its annual Red White and Blue (RWB) Festival in Derbyshire on August 16th, did not even get a mention from UAF’s speaker Weyman Bennett. Prior requests for speaking rights from Notts Stop the BNP's RWB Festival Campaign had been totally ignored by Bennett.
In fact had leafleters from the AWL, Socialist Party and Notts Stop the BNP campaign not been there, and had we not been able to speak to PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka about the anti-RWB action, it would not have been acknowledged at all.
Serwotka, who gave by far the best speech at the end of the march, called for trade union and working class action against the BNP and for national support for the picket of the BNP's RWB festival.
The SWP’s report on the march omits to mention Mark's call for action against the RWB festival, even though UAF, after substantial pushing from activists in Notts and Derby, nominally support such action.
It is clear that the SWP, after many years of doing little or nothing are now going to prioritise anti-BNP work. They, through the UAF, called the 21 June demo and they have produced a new pamphlet on anti-BNP work.
After the collapse of their RESPECT electoral alliance with George Galloway and soft Islamists, and a subsequent poor performance standing as the Left List, the SWP is throwing more weight behind a UAF campaign that they dominate. This is a return to their behaviour prior to 2000, when anti-fascist leafleting was the SWP’s antidote to their embarrassment at not having any serious strategy for elections.
The constant use of the “Smash the BNP“ slogan doesn't translate into militant tactics. They may use such tactics if necessary, but necessity will be judged not by the demands of effectively countering the BNP but rather maintaining credibility with their union sponsors whilst seeking competitive advantage for SWP/UAF over other anti-fascist organisations.
In the East Midlands area the SWP is very weak and even weaker from the point of view of anti-fascist activity. It appears that they would rather have no serious anti-BNP mobilisation than one not under their control that might win credibility for other anti-fascist organisations.
Other problems for the SWP result from their desire to maintain UAF as a popular front and keep religious, particularly Islamic, organisations on board. The SWP has made great effort to suck up to these organisations but judging from the turnout on 21 June this tactic has proven remarkably unsuccessful.
The popular-frontist approach of UAF means that its literature makes no attempt to undermine the BNP's most important electoral ploy, pretending to be the voice of a disenfranchised (white) working class and feeding off anger at Labour's pro-rich and pro-capitalist orientation. Simple calls on people not to vote Nazi will no longer wash as credible whilst no alternative means are proposed to give a voice to non-racist working class anger.
So a campaign with little politics and unsubstantiated threats to “Smash the BNP” may not only give the BNP publicity but also give their more violent wing the desire and confidence to smash the left before the left smashes them.
UAF may move from this grossly sectarian and irresponsible attitude. Certainly there were a lot of embarrassed SWP faces on Saturday. But the anti-fascist movement cannot wait for a rethink from UAF that may never happen. We need to recreate working class orientated anti-fascist campaign, both nationally and in the localities. Those campaigns clearly have to relate to widespread concern about the BNP's growth but also have to link blocking this growth with positive action in defence of working class people.