Saturday, 28 August 2010

EDL fail to ignite race war in Bradford, but Hope not Hate and UAF fail to impress

Much to my chagrin, I wasn't able to be in Bradford today. However, thankfully, many others were - and they were able to ensure that the English Defence League didn't get the all out riot that their members were spoiling for.

The event had the potential to be carnage. Not least with Hope not Hate and others not only crying out for the intervention of the state, but actively discouraging others from turning up and doing anything at all.

The argument for this active negligence was predicated on strawmen;
The UAF plan to hold a counter protest against the EDL. However how successful have UAF counter protests been so far? There have been many activists arrested for going too far at their demos and knowing that in 2001 the ANL were blamed as much as the National front for their counter demo whipping up tension in Bradford it will only take one spark to create the same dynamics that could cause a repeat. Luckily the police have positioned them well apart from each other, but since the EDL have been known to tear through barriers and barricades elsewhere is this going to be enough?
The main problem with this line of reasoning is that it equates UAF with the entire antifascist movement. It is not. (I'll come to UAF's "counter protest" momentarily.)

In fact, in Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Birmingham, the EDL were effectively demobilised as a result of being outnumbered by militant antifascist counter mobilisations. This left them unable to do very much at all and sent them packing with their tails between their legs.

It is when the antifascist presence has been small to non-existent, such as in Stoke, that the EDL are able to go on the kind of violent rampage that people feared in Bradford.

As such, Hope not Hate's message to antifascists "stay away" was a potentially dangerous one.

Unite Against Fascism, at least, saw the need for a physical presence opposed to the EDL. But, in a "unity event" which billed as "not a counter protest" but "a peaceful celebration of diversity," they kind of missed the point. You cannot effectively oppose violent fascists whilst avoiding them.

As I argued before the event, the only serious response to a potentially violent fascist street movement such as the EDL is physical opposition by a militant and self-organised working class.

Fortunately, I wasn't the only person making this argument and, on the day, it appears that that's what we got.

Members of Liverpool Antifascists, along with other comrades from the Stop Racism and Fascism Network, travelled up today to support the direct counter-demonstration called by Bradford United Against Racism. By all accounts, their efforts were succesful.

The police had around 500 EDL members kettled in Bradford Urban Gardens, in the city centre. However, about 30 of them climbed over the 8-ft tall temporary barricade in order to throw stones, missiles, and a smoke bomb at the police. Several times, members of the EDL also managed to escape from the main block by forcing themselves through the police barricades.

With UAF's event taking place half a mile away, and the even more absurd "Be Bradford – Peaceful Together" over a mile away, the mainstream antifascist movement had no response.

However, Bradford United Against Racism and the SRF Network gathered in opposition beyond the police lines. When EDL members broke free, they found themselves forced back into the police kettle as a result of being outnumbered by antifascists.

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. 

Attempts to attack a local mosque were also beaten back, and 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 Lib Dem councillors. But trade unionists and socialists who did not even join the counter-demonstration once it began should be deeply ashamed of themselves.
Clearly, a quite different story will be told by other antifascist groups.

UAF has, at the time of writing, not yet published coverage of the day. But Nick Lowles, on the Hope not Hate blog, has written it up as a victory for state bans and impotent police vigils. The vital direct opposition from hundreds of antifascists goes unmentioned.

As the AWL argue, this is why we need "to challenge UAF and Hope Not Hate’s stranglehold over anti-fascist activity, particularly in the labour movement." It is divisive and destructive.

This does not mean that SRF should emerge as the new antifascist monopoly. It certainly deosn't mean the AWL should replace the SWP as the Trots steering the single-issue front group. The strength of the SRF is in its decentralised and openly democratic nature, and it has to stay that way.

But, as long as UAF and HnH dominate the antifascist skyline, the movement will continue to decline. We already knew how ineffective and unconvincing their watered down politics were. But, in shirking all responsibility for the actions of the EDL by refusing to confront them and (in HnH's case) encouraging people to not turn up at all, they have actively betrayed those they claim to stand up for.

The EDL have now been ferried out of Bradford, without major incident or a repeat of the 2001 riots. But, with a larger fascist presence it could have been a very different story. Indeed, if several hundred locals and antifascists hadn't defied UAF and HnH it would have been a different story.

The time is long overdue for the antifascist movement to pull itself together. As we saw in Bradford today, working class militancy is the only way forward.