Building to Confront Fascism - Part 2: Taking Fascists at Their Word

Image: far-right politician Anne Marie Waters speaks at the Football Lads Alliance demonstration in Birmingham, March 24th 2018.

So words, in and of themselves, do not mean much, and taking the “fascists at their word” means even less unless we are willing to interrogate what words concretely denote, to ask what forces, institutions, and projects, whether political, social or economic, are attacked or promoted when certain words are uttered.
— Ishay Landa, The Apprentice's Sorcerer: Liberal Tradition and Fascism, pg 7

The Football Lads Alliance was a group started June 2017 by former football Hooligan John Meighan in response to the Manchester and London Terrorist attacks. They had several high profile demonstrations in cities around the country, which drew thousands of supporters. Key to the group's strategy shortly after its formation was to take great pains to emphasise its supposed political neutrality, with Meighan stating ‘Politically, we’re not left, we’re not right, we’re centre middle and representing everyone against all forms of extremism. Our aim is to counteract what’s happening on our streets, to raise the profile of that to the Government, to say we’ve had enough.’ What they hoped to see from the government was left equally vague: “They need to maybe look at changing the laws, putting in more control measures, what are they going to do with the information? And that’s where we’ll look to put in petitions to force their hand”

At the time, many leftists didn’t see much to fault about this, believing the ‘working class’ nature of people who turned up to FLA demonstrations meant that the FLA as an organisation needed to be reached out to in some way, rather than combatting the group as part of a strategy of defending the working class from predatory groups such as the FLA. Even worse, some ‘leftists’ even concurred that there was a need to avoid “all forms of extremism” (echoing the views of right-wing gobshite Brendan O’Neil in the Spectator). Such positions betrayed a lack of historical consciousness into how fascist groups define and propagate themselves, and even more embarrassingly, a lack of any interest in understanding the real dynamics of this group, who was involved, and what they were really promoting. Early on, the group worked with people like ‘Big’ Phil Campion, who argued that “People need to be rounded up.” in an interview with far-right website ‘Westmonster’ for the FLA march in October 2017 which drew tens of thousands of people, and drew support from EDL founder Tommy Robinson. On that March, Meighan proudly stated in his speech that we need to “take our country back” - another staple of far-right rhetoric. As the group developed, it increasingly drew closer to nakedly far-right elements, allowing Anne Marie Waters, ex-UKIP founder of the far-right, anti-Muslim party ‘For Britain’ to speak at their March 2018 demo in Birmingham, which also featured right-wing iconography borrowed from the US and other countries in a kind of display of fascist internationalism. An investigation by The Guardian into the FLA’s secret Facebook group, published before their March 2018 demo, showed that their private group was full of support for violent threats against black politicians, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and support for far-right groups and individuals such as Tommy Robinson. The group was shut down after a the Royal British Legion refused to accept a donation from the organisation’s founder (from profits made from an ‘inappropriate use of the poppy’) citing fact that ‘a small number [!] of FLA supporters have expressed views and opinions that are not compatible with the values of The Royal British Legion’. A splinter group with open far-right sympathies, the ‘Democratic Football Lads Alliance’, has subsequently been formed.

The absence of a principled left response to a group that was unashamedly militarist, in favour of state surveillance and repression, and who worked with and drew support from far-right individuals from its founding onwards meant that the SWP front ‘Stand Up to Racism’ was the only group to respond, albeit in a milquetoast, unconfrontational manner that most have come to expect from the SWP and its fronts. In their own press release before the FLA demo, SUtR stated:

Because the FLA is still forming as a movement, there is confusion on the left about how to respond. Some choose to ignore it because it isn’t just made up of fascists — but that was true of the EDL in its early days.

And just because a movement isn’t fascist, that doesn’t mean it’s not a racist threat... We have to expose the racism at the core of the FLA — and take on the broader racism in society that’s given them an opportunity to get a hearing.

SUtR planned to stand up to the FLA on the day was by calling “a leafleting event in central London on the day the FLA marches.” Presumably newspapers were also to be sold.

The reticence on the part of most of the left to form a coherent strategy to confront the group allowed SUtR to position themselves as leading the struggle against the FLA. By allowing a liberal protest group to dominate in such a way, the action which could be taken in the future was substantially limited, and other groups who are willing to take a more militant stance were already on the back foot.

Now that the true fascist and far-right nature of the movement has crystalised into the DFLA, groups are developing strategies to combat it. The group Football Lads and Lasses against Fascism (FLAF) has sought to highlight and unite anti-fascist trends amongst football supporters, and the feminist group Women's Strike Assembly UK is organising a feminist/anti-fascist counter demonstration to DFLA’s mobilisation on 13th October.

The type of attitude which takes fascists at their word can be see in a recent editorial, the labour movement daily newspaper the Morning Star. The Star argued - with regards to the recent support Tommy Robinson has received due to his incarceration for contempt of court - that

it should be a major concern for the labour movement and the left that the hardcore racists and fascists in Britain are proving capable of turning out working-class people in their thousands.

Simply denouncing everyone who turns up at a far-right event as “nazis” or “racist scum” achieves nothing, other than driving more working-class people into the camp of the real, organised and dangerous fascists.

Branding support for Brexit as automatically “racist” divides the anti-racist movement as well as being idiotically inaccurate, especially when detailed polling indicates that anti-capitalist opinion is equally divided on the issue.

This individualistic notion that ‘not everyone who goes to a fascist event is a fascist’ is utterly irrelevant when fighting fascism en masse. Whether individuals in their hearts are good working class people or not is of no importance. Fascism isn’t about the hearts of individuals, it is a strategy for taking state power to save a moribund bourgeoisie when capital is experiencing a terminal crisis. We must ask “what forces, institutions, and projects, whether political, social or economic, are attacked or promoted when certain words are uttered’ and most importantly, what class is leading this, and who stands to benefit.

Whether some individuals are racist or not when turning up to a Tommy Robinson Rally is irrelevant. The aim of the movement is to increase repression and surveillance of oppressed communities, and increase border violence - including detention and deportations, to portray Islam and Muslims as inherently linked to sexual violence. Violence against the left, women, and other oppressed peoples on the streets increases as a result.

Tragically, the Morning Star, a widely-read left-wing news source, chooses instead to publish analysis which looks past the facts of groups like the FLA, lumping in critical analysis of such groups with “liberal hand-wringing”. Since the Morning Star and other smaller left-wing news sources eschew the analysis we consider crucial, it is important for us to challenge some of the arguments laid out in this piece from a strategic and tactical standpoint as we move forward.

The piece asserts that we need to combat the perception among “ordinary people” that we are “we are soft on Isis and Islamist extremism”. It goes on to hold up the example of the heroic Kurdish liberation movement in Syria as the proper response one should deliver to persons concerned with “Islamist extremism” in Britain. We have already published a response to the perceived “coddling” of Islamism by leftists in the form of a piece by a dual US-Turkish citizen who writes for the Marxist internet magazine from Turkey known as Abstrakt, with whom we are in constant dialogue about just such issues. The piece attacks the assumption, shared by the actual Islamist coddling Trotskyites and “social” Islamophobes that the task of socialists in countries like Britain is to organise “ordinary” working class people, that is, white non-muslims. But putting this point aside, how are we to discuss the idea of political Islam vs. fascism from the perspective of white British people in Britain, not those fighting in Syria, a majority Muslim country?

Political Islam in the Middle East plays a different role to that in Britain. Political Islam in Turkey for example, married the cultural religious conservatism of village life with neoliberal economics, with sops in the early days to the liberal middle classes, promising to rid them of the stultifying authoritarianism of state Kemalism, while imposing an authoritarian vision of Islam on all those who did not come from or conform to the social norms of the masses who support such groups. Many Islamist groups in Turkey trace their heritage back to CIA-funded counter-guerrilla groups whose task was to suppress communists, Kurdish nationalists, etc. In Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, political islam played the direct inculcator of US foreign policy, with the aim of breaking down any state resistance to the influx of US capital. Political Islam in the west, however, takes the form of ‘blowback’, where those alienated and oppressed by capital and the imperialist bourgeois state take find an expression for their discontent in the rigid ultra-reactionary, ostensibly ‘anti-western’, politics of jihadism. It is reprehensible, but it is far from the primary force of maintaining the status quo in ‘our’ society unless we are speaking about organising majority-Muslim communities, which most of those railing against it are uninterested in doing. Following Muhsin’s argument linked above, unless Muslim communities see their reflection in socialist politics, we are not practising class conscious anti-fascism but scapegoating Muslims who we exclude from our vision of the proletariat in practice, particularly if we are soft on groups like the FLA.

Diluting the struggle in Rojava to one simply of the struggle against ISIS implies that radical democracy, national liberation outside of the boundaries of the nation state, women’s liberation and leadership, collective control of the means of production, and inter-communal cooperation aren't motivating factors for the working class. This is not the PYD’s analysis of their revolution, nor those of their Marxist-Leninist comrades in arms. This is the US’s analysis of Rojava: a struggle against ISIS which can only be understood on an inversion of ISIS’s terms. For us, as for the Marxist-Leninists in the region, and indeed for the PYD, the Rojava Revolution was something being built before the emergence of ISIS, and one which must be carried forward once ISIS has been stomped out.

Rather than the socialist and egalitarian mass movements of Rojava and the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) in Turkey, socialists begin to sound like the Turkish micro-cult DHKP-C, or the Ba’athists who oppressed the Kurdish people for so many years. If these references are too arcane for some readers, they are a petty bourgeois “socialist” politics of rebel imagery without a real universal emancipatory politics, which defaults to support for the military and the nation-state. Do we want our movement to play the class role - representing the reactionary elements of an underdeveloped working class tailing with the petty bourgeoisie and national capital - or do we want to form a true independent working class politics, embracing, mobilising, and fighting to liberate the entire working class in all its variegated particularities?

The banner pictured in the Morning Star piece proudly proclaims a socialist opposition to paedophilia and child abuse. Surely we are not opposed to these crimes? Obviously we oppose them. But we do not seek an undialectical negation of social ills, but a meaningful overcoming of them through a total grasp of the society which produced them and the formulation of a strategy to change them. The far right, including the D/FLA, do nothing of the sort, they cite the muslim grooming gang, or the establishment elite as the main perpetrator of child abuse. To counter this narrative, we must first name the truth behind child abuse and its cover up: patriarchy and class society, exploitation and oppression, in which we are all complicit as members of the society which produced them. The most shocking thing about the Bradford and Newcastle grooming cases was not the ethnicity or the religion of the perpetrators, but the fact that working class girls were not believed - and in some cases punished by the police who were supposed to protect them. They were seen as not worth defending, because they are the objective face of the exploited and oppressed, the bottom of the social barrel to bourgeois men of every background.

The far right focuses on these cases not because it cares about women, or children - the sheer number of rapists and child abusers among their ranks makes that abundantly clear. As Kate Bradley made clear in her excellent article on feminism and antifascism, ’sexual paranoia is a theme which runs through fascist political discourse up to the present day’. They care about mobilising a reactionary paternalism which “protects” women from “them lot”, while co-signing and covering up the oppression of women by “our lot”. The only meaningful way we can combat this as Marxists is to expose the links between fascist violence, child abuse, and the everyday violence against women - it is to follow the example of the Kurdish movement and see women - working-class women - as the vanguard of the movement for their own liberation. We must build a leadership which reveals the links between the struggles of the oppressed, sees them as common. Without doing this, we actually tail the narrative of the bourgeois media, and its patriarchal paternalism - or worse, we end up giving tacit support for the same solutions called for by the far right. Our denunciations will seem as side notes mentioned in a bar, not the centre of our politics and our difference.

We Marxists are fond of claiming Marxism is “the truth”. Well if that is so, we must never shy away from any uncomfortable truth! Chief among those truths that the British Marxist left, such as it is, is afraid to utter is the nakedly obvious one that the working class is riven with tensions and contradictions. This springs ultimately from the uneven development of class forces, and the fact that the bourgeoisie is in possession of the means of ideological production and dictates so much of our means of social reproduction. The task of the vanguard is not to tail this or that section of the working class in unionising action (which can be just as reformist as elections) in the vain hope that eventually a country-wide strike will bring down the state and deliver a fully-formed new society the day after. It is to organise the working class as a political class, on the basis of Marxist theory, which is universal because it can reveal the fundamental universality and unity in all these struggles precisely in their particularity, and vice versa! A vanguard bravely intervenes with criticisms to all, including our own ranks, it must not opportunistically try to paint over reality for cheap points scored on our existing prejudices, themselves inherited from class society. This is what is necessary to lead all of the masses from the front, not to get behind them whilst elements of the bourgeoisie and labour aristocracy stand at the front. This is the formula for true independent working class politics. It is the formula of the the great revolutions of the past, and it will be the formula of those in the future.

You cannot defeat liberal hand-wringing with its conservative inversion. Indeed, you strengthen it by showing those you leave out of your analysis that socialists don’t care about them, leaving only the liberal bourgeoisie to speak for and to them. Only a concrete politics of common liberation built on a materialist and dialectical analysis of society can ever hope to do that.

Ultimately, whilst the idea of reaching out to fascists or potential fascists, seeking to understand their economic difficulties and provide an alternative for the disaffection and rage is a tempting strategy, the focus on the individual hearts and minds of those attending fascist demos can lead to completely underestimating or misreading the aims of a political movement. Our interventions can only come from a place of power, and much like the Brexit debate, we can not intervene as the auxiliaries where another class and class leadership is in power in the movement. If one can sway an individual fascist on a personal level through debate, of course that is to be commended. But if the anti-fascist movement is asked to soften its stance on fascism in the name of fighting fascism… who but the fascists stands to benefit?

We cannot lead ideologically from a place of hegemonic British or English nationalism on the backwards logic that “this is what working class people understand”: in addition to the fact that a huge share of working class people in Britain are the direct victims of these nationalisms, these ideologies are firmly in the command of the ruling classes - from their most liberal and conciliatory to their most repressive and violent. We cannot fight the fascists ideologically except by questioning their core ideological assumptions, and building a movement for real unity and solidarity for all from the ground up.

Fascists can speak to working people’s disaffections, but also to their nationalism, homophobia, sexism, and racism. Their general trend is to lead with the former and then substitute the latter. We must not fall into their trap, but provide an ideological alternative which truly is an alternative, which embraces the ideals of emancipation for all oppressed peoples. Our ideological practice must be based on the old Marxist adage, repeated often from the days of Marx and Engels, that no people can be truly liberated whilst oppressing others.

Providing an ideological alternative is no simple task - it requires an organisation which is able to stand at the head of the masses, consisting of their most advanced elements. This is a conversation we must have, and which we have spilled no shortage of virtual ink on, such as in our piece Better Late Than Never.

We emphatically support the FLAF strategy of organising in areas where fascists are organising with a strong anti-fascist message which seeks to combat rather than incorporate reactionary tendencies. We also support Women’s Strike UK in their efforts to counter the far-right’s focus on ‘Muslim Grooming Gangs’ with an anti-sexist approach against all forms of sexual violence, and highlighting the far-right’s terrible record on grooming, rape, and misogyny and their failure to act on sexual abuse committed by the Catholic Church or international sports teams. Here, we see the development of a discursive counter-strategy which can fight back against the far right on our own terms, broadening the ideological terrain of anti-fascist work.

Providing an ideological alternative is no simple task, if we are to broaden our work and not fall in to the pitfalls of previous attempts to move antifascism away from demo/counter demo model and militant physical confrontation, we need an organisation fit for the task, one that is able to stand at the head of the masses and lead them from within.

- The Lever Editorial Group

To be continued in Part 3: Leninism as anti-fascist method...