Unite Against Fascism must build and strengthen a united movement

The threats from the far right today were identified as a serious issue that the labour movement in this country can no longer ignore at the Unite Against Fascism conference on February 13. The growing confidence of the fascist BNP to project themselves as a serious political force in the forthcoming general and local elections has shown that they have moved away from being just a minority fringe movement.

The rising tide of Islamaphobic, homophobic, anti-semitic and racist attacks, along with the provocative marches by the pogromist EDL across the country has meant the need for greater vigilance and united labour movement responses in solidarity with various community groups, especially the Muslim community.

Griffin’s electoral strategy, accompanied by the campaign to dominate the streets by the various racist and fascist organisations has seen counter actions by numerous anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations over the past several months. No amount of constitutional rule changes for electoral reasons alters the fascist nature of the BNP.

Speaker after speaker at the conference pointed out the urgency for a united response, mobilising forces to reverse these activities by the far right. References to successful past counter-mobilisations, such as Cable Street, Lewisham and Harrow, were reiterated. The anti-working class nature of fascism could not be under estimated.

Whilst it was stated from the floor that the crises of Capitalism and New Labour’s policies provided ammunition for the BNP, the Labour Government got off pretty lightly from the keynote speakers. Former London mayor Ken Livingstone however did make it clear that one does not fight fascism by promoting racist policies aimed at immigrants and asylum seekers. Margaret Hodge, Labour MP for Barking (who the BNP aim to replace) was condemned by many for her recent attacks on migrants and for her populist calls to impose tight racist restrictions on immigrants. The kettling in of the women at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, who have been on hunger strike, is just another example of the denying of basic human rights to asylum seekers by this Government.

These policies only give credence to fascists by suggesting that it is immigrants who are to blame rather than the bosses and the capitalist system bailed out by this government. Public spending cuts, rising unemployment and the recession require a response which puts the blame clearly on those upholding the system and not on its innocent victims.

Livingstone and others also referred to the impact that the illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are having by encouraging the myth that Muslims were the enemy within. Muslims certainly are not nor should they be allowed to be scapegoats for the failures of these wars. We must oppose the demonization of Muslims and the attacks on the right to wear the headscarf. The freedom to practice religion is a right that socialists must uphold and not to compromise on. This goes for all religions.

Others pointed out the international nature of the situation, with references to the far right in Hungary, Austria, France, Switzerland and elsewhere. This requires an international response, which is why we suggest an international conference of anti fascists should be urgently convened to take up this battle on an international level.

Various workshops explored the issues on racism and the role of involving trade unionists, the youth and activists in various aspects of the struggle against fascism. To the credit of the UAF, they had attracted well over 600 people to the conference, with well attended workshops. Love Music Hate Racism, Give Racism the Red Card and other similar activities play a positive role in raising awareness amongst the youth in Britain.

However, what was missing was how to build and strengthen a united movement. The resolution put forward by Brent Trades Council, Cambridge Teachers Association, the Jewish Socialist Group and Socialist Resistance was not formerly taken or discussed as such. Promises by some in the leadership of the UAF that there will be an AGM and acknowledging the issues raised in the resolution was progress. We expect the UAF to arrange this ASAP and look forward to participating in it. An open-door approach needs to be taken to involve other anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations, recognising the autonomy and plurality of the movement.

There was a minority view that bans on the EDL and BNP should be called for but others pointed out that state bans are used against the left and anti-racists instead. Home Secretary Alan Johnson has failed to use existing legislation covering racist incitement etc to deal with the fascists. This is in spite of the attacks in Luton, Manchester and Stoke on the local mosques and Asian community. The tactic of No Platform for fascists can only be implemented by mass mobilisations on the streets, in the communities, on the campuses and in the workplaces, rather than reliance on the police and the State.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown claimed that it was the failure of the Muslim community to deal with their “hotheads”, referring to some of the Muslim youth, that allowed Muslims in Britain to get a bad name. This rather naive sentiment is what you would expect from tabloid journalists who seek to ignore the causes of Islamaphobia and not ask why so many of the youth feel alienated from the political system. She then went on to say that Islamaphobia as a term should be replaced with racism to cover all forms of attacks. Yet we call things by what they are. Attacks on Jews for being Jewish are specifically anti-semitic and a specific type of racism. Homophobia is specific. It is aimed at gay and lesbian people. Islamaphobia is aimed at Muslims.

What the anti-fascist movement needs to do is to be able to respond to all forms of racism and homophobia, recognizing the specifics of these attacks, their causes and our specific responses. It also means recognizing the autonomy of various sections of our society to organize themselves and to defend themselves within a wider inclusive movement. This is a debate that was won in the 70’s and 80’s but has disappeared from the political scene. As the attacks worsen then the anti-fascist and anti-racist movement will once again have to address this question. Abstract calls for unity, like ‘black and white unite and fight’, falls far short of this.

Fascism, as some stated, is not just a British or European phenomena. It is an international phenomena because Capitalism is international. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in India, Jabotinsky and his modern day followers in the Israeli government and many other examples elsewhere reminds us fascism is not about colour but about class politics. The use of the term needs to be far more scientifically applied when analysing this political movement.

It was disappointing to note that the demographic make-up of the participants were mainly white and male. In spite of years of anti-war anti-racist activities, where were the members of the various ethnic communities? Clearly the under representation in itself says much about the need to widen out participation and involvement at all levels in the work of the UAF. Certainly progress is being made but there is more that can be done. This also suggests that the approach of the UAF as well as that of the Left in general needs to take on board these questions.

There is much work to be done, and is being done, by the UAF in opposing the BNP in Dagenham and elsewhere and in building opposition to the EDL where ever it marches and that is to be welcomed. The direction and leadership of the UAF needs to be reviewed and further rooted in the labour movement and wider community, if it is to achieve the successes we are all working towards.

To this end, the UAF needs to convene an AGM to elect a national steering committee. The various other anti-fascist bodies such as Hope Not Hate etc should be invited to participate, as a means of strengthening the links in the movement.

We urge all readers to support the door to door leafleting campaign being carried out in Dagenham to prevent Griffin winning the seat. We call for a vote for Labour in spite of Hodge to ensure that the BNP and their like are well and truly defeated.

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