Monday, 20 September 2010

Why having a pint with the EDL might not be a completely crazy idea

Yesterday, I reposted a report by Liverpool Antifascists on the English Defence League's brief and fruitless appearance in Liverpool. No longer feeling too tired to do so, I would like to articulate the thoughts I had about this particular event.

Once we knew that the EDL were contained in the Baltic Fleet, I headed to Slater's Bar with several comrades who - like me - had been marching all day. We needed to put our feet up and wet our lips. This also provided the opportunity for some discussion on the particular EDL brand of fascism. What follows is largely informed by that discussion.

The problem with the EDL, as opposed to more traditional fascists like the BNP or National Front, is that it is tricky to define. As I wrote over at Property is Theft, it is a fascist organisation,in the broader history of such movements, and its activities are certainly underpinned by a traditional fascist agenda.

But it is also not a homogenous organisation. Whilst the EDL may be fascist, with a leadership drawn from the ranks of the far-right, the majority of its ordinary members and supporters are not neo-Nazis.

The organisation is far from short of seig-heiling morons. But it also contains loyalists, civic nationalists, football hooligans just looking for a barney, and - most importantly - working class people looking for an outlet for their anger and a target for their grievances.

The problem is, in general, that much of the left has utterly detached itself from class struggle and made itself irrelevant, even oppositional, to such grievances. Thus the EDL, like the BNP et al, can twist them and distract from the real issue by offering a scapegoat.

This is why, while thousands marched in opposition to a cuts agenda threatening to devestate working class communities, they came out to protest a perceived "refusal to tackle the threat of Islamic Extremism."

It is also why the EDL's Merseyside Division have - without any acknowledgment that they are creating a lie - posted to their wall a picture of local trade union leader Alec McFadden. The signs he is holding, advertising the march against the cuts doctored to replace "cuts" with "troops." There can be no clearer proof that they exist to distract from genuine issues based in class by waving patriotic totems.

The problem is that responding to such propaganda, reinforced by a deep anger looking for a release, is hard to counter. You can reach the general public with leafletting, and as in Bradford provide a physical barrier to attempts at violence. But how do you reach those drawn into this web of bullshit?

To my mind, the fact that the EDL begin and end their events by congregating in pubs is something we have to sieze upon. Not by complaining to the landlord, but by going in for a pint.

The best way to make people think about the beliefs they hold is, quite simply, to challenge them. This is what I tried to do on Saturday by getting in the face of BNP members and arguing the toss. When it's ideas - rather than force - you want to challenge, you can't beat the word of mouth.

As one comrade suggested, there would be the potential for an antifascist "Philosophy in Pubs" to become a bar-room brawl. But this is something that could be taken into account based on the numbers present, on both sides, and how you approach the EDL. Obviously, if you don't want your head kicked in you don't stroll over and make a crack about their mums.

What I'm suggesting isn't a "solution" to the EDL. We will not convince the hardcore goons to turn over a new leaf. There will still be a need for physical opposition when they hold a demo.

But if we want to offer a way out for those who aren't hardcore fascists, or who simply haven't been offered any other viable alternative to the status quo, then there are far worse approaches to take than having a pint with them.