On what looks set to be their biggest racist provocation to date, the anti-Muslim English Defence League plan to march through Tower Hamlets, East London. The impact of such a march and the dangers it presents are significant. The EDL are not planning a ‘peaceful’ demonstration in this part of London. They are seeking opportunities to disrupt the community and attack local Muslims. Many of the people mobilised by the EDL will be hoping for violent confrontation with those standing in self-defence and others standing in solidarity with them.
This, if anything, is the predictable pattern of EDL demonstrations.
So, the calls to “ban the EDL march” have a certain surface logic: ‘ban the march, stop the danger’. In fact, banning the EDL march will do no good.
The most recent example is the banning of a planned EDL march through Telford on 13 August. The Home Secretary, Teresa May, banned the march but the EDL staged a static protest in its place. The ‘ban’ did not stop the EDL from congregating nor did it stop confrontations between the racists and their opponents. Several arrests were made.
When the EDL was banned from marching in Bradford, their members were bussed into town and forced into a fenced-off park. These tactics did nothing to stop ‘disorder’. Not only did members of the EDL throw rocks, stones and gas canisters out of their ‘pen’ but a number of them broke out of the enclosure. This advance was only stopped by the quick responses of the local community and anti-racists, who used physical force to repel them.
The Wellington area of Telford and the city of Bradford are very different places to inner city Tower Hamlets. Wellington and Bradford can be ‘policed’ to such an extent that the risk of violence is diminished. This is not so in large, inner city areas.
One last example: the EDL were permitted a static demonstration in the centre of Manchester in October 2009. What happened? The police erected a steel fence around part of Piccadilly Gardens in the centre of the city. However, rather than being ‘bussed in’ to the protest site, members of the EDL marched from various parts of the city centre (from their assembly points in local pubs). The EDL marched regardless.
Asking the state to ban the EDL from marching does nothing to prevent disorder and the risk of racist violence. In inner-city areas, a ban is particularly ineffective. If the EDL wants to march through Tower Hamlets, the police will not stop them. In fact, there is a risk of more than one march to the ‘static protest’ point.
The fact that ‘banning’ the EDL march sounds like a common sense response to the threat posed by the EDL will no doubt encourage a large number of people to take up the call. Already a coalition of Tower Hamlets councillors, the mayor, Unite Against Fascism, ‘One Tower Hamlets’, Unite, CWU, NUT, Citizens UK and the ‘Canary Wharf Group PLC’ have issued a statement in the national press calling for the march to be banned. The call has been signed by figures from the labour and trade union movement along with a group of priests, rabbis and representatives from the Muslim community.
The ‘Hope not hate’ campaign has separately issued a web-petition calling for the banning of the march.
So, the forces of ‘official’ anti-fascism and anti-racism have raised the call.
But what are these ‘official’ forces and what sort of anti-fascism and anti-racism do they offer? The coalition headed by Mayor Lutfur Rahman (One Community) looks reasonable enough at first glance: Labour leaders of several inner city councils, trade unions, local community groups and anti-fascist organisations. But hang on ... what’s the ‘Canary Wharf Group PLC’ doing on this list? What’s their interest in banning the EDL march?
No doubt, CEO George Iacobescu is a sincere anti-racist. No doubt, the ‘Canary Wharf Group PLC’ is a multi-ethnic, multicultural employer. Also of no doubt is that the ‘Canary Wharf Group PLC’ and its CEO would like to see the banning of all demonstrations in and around that palace of unbridled, corrupt and feral capitalism.
Rahman’s coalition – aided and abetted by the Socialist Workers Party – is a popular front: a cross-class, politically unprincipled and ultimately destructive political formation. Set against the ‘Hope not hate’ initiative (which at least has the merit of political consistency) the call from ‘One Community’ is a mish-mash, mingle-mangled affair.
What conclusions can we reasonably suppose One Community and the forces gathered around it will draw if the march is banned and if, as seems likely, the EDL still march through Tower Hamlets? More ‘common sense’ no doubt.
The political basis for the formation of a popular front is a left that is either hostile to (as with the Stalinists during World War II) or lacks confidence in independent working class mobilisations. Politically incoherent sections of the left seek alliances with ‘progressives’ (religious figures, media personalities etc...) and sections of the bourgeoisie on the basis of agreement on a specific issue or discrete set of issues.
If violence breaks out despite the proscription of a march; if EDL members hold numerous parades into their ‘static’ demonstration zone; if they break out of the ‘static’ zone and run rampage around Tower Hamlets, then what can we expect the forces arrayed in One Community to demand? With the probable exception of the SWP and the trade union leaders, we could expect the ‘progressives’ – religious or otherwise – and the friendly CEO to call for a ban on all political demonstrations in the area.
Is this a price worth paying to ‘ensure’ that Tower Hamlets is never again subjected to racist violence? Should we rely on the state to protect life and property in the name of anti-racism? Clearly not.
Why? Because no matter how numerous or well-equipped the forces of the state may be, we know one or two things about them. First, we know from very recent experience that ‘public order policing’ is very ineffective at preventing violence. Second, because all of our experience suggests that the police are not an anti-racist force: they are consistently anti-anti-racist.
Finally, arguments about the effectiveness of police tactics are not the major concern here. The argument against banning the EDL march does not rely on the likely failure of such a response. It relies on ‘good sense’ based upon a concrete understanding of society.
We are fundamentally opposed to the granting of any powers to the state to regulate, infringe upon or prevent political activity – including the rights of a multi-ethnic working class community to defend itself.
At best, the state would be an inconsistent arbiter. In reality, the state and its personnel have a very high level of class consciousness. They know that our class is their main enemy and they will use any powers at their disposal against our organisations.
If the left demands that the state becomes the judge of what is and what is not acceptable political activity, then we become a left that has lost its head. This is particularly clear at the moment when the overriding ‘popular’ dynamic in the aftermath of the riots flows in favour of ‘law and order’. There is already mass popular sentiment in favour of policing powers and for granting new powers to deal with ‘trouble makers’.
One effect of calling for a ban on the EDL march will be to reinforce this mood, a mood that would so easily group racists, anti-racists, violent thugs and those who defend themselves into one unruly ‘mob’. The left should have none of this and we should be sharp in our retaliation.
Against the calls to ban the EDL march, the growing ‘law and order’ tendency and the untrustworthy powers of the state our movement should organise for working class self-defence. Even if the state does ban the march, such a defence will be necessary. Mass, organised self-defence is possible now: no civil peace against the racists.
Against those who would make our movement dependent on the state, its laws and the police we should fight for independent working class action. This is a fight to re-make and reinvigorate the labour movement as a whole. It is the fight for a workers government. It is a fight that could take some time to complete, but within which small victories can be achieved in short order.
Against the tired, cynical and opportunistic sections of the left whose only innovation is to recycle the popular front we say: break with this Stalinist politics, break with your leaders, learn the lessons of history and join the fight for socialism.