The English Defence League staged one of their largest demonstrations to date in Nottingham city centre on 5 December, drawing up to 500 of their members.
Although smaller contingents of the organisation were scattered across the city centre throughout the day, the group assembled at around 1pm — staging a rally. Union Jacks and “No to Sharia” flags were waved aggressively as members chanted and shouted “we want our country back”.
The sheer size of the demonstration is enough to send alarm bells ringing. This was not a pathetic turnout of bigoted knuckleheads, as occured in Glasgow last month. This was a well-organised demonstration, matching or possibly beating numbers drawn at Leeds and Manchester, and with obvious attempts to further whip up racial hatred.
Activist attempts to directly confront the march to Nottingham Castle were faced with a charged and combative EDL, and were let down by yet another failure from those unwilling to take direct action. Separate mobilisations by Notts Stop the BNP and Unite Against Fascism attracted a total of up to 600 people, but the UAF contingent in particular remained fixed on over-cooperating with the police. A shocking level of obedience within UAF/SWP ranks shattered the possibility of mass militant confrontation.
At the start of the day members of the SWP and loosely affiliated UAF sympathisers were half a mile away from the EDL frontline. Just as they did in Leeds UAF missed the chance, by design, of presenting a useful and effective united front. It opted instead for a march up Friar Lane, stopping off for a bit of music within a loose police kettle, followed by a march back down again.
By the time the EDL had staged their main demonstrations, UAF had been ushered back down to where the main counter-protest had originally begun. Minutes later a large group of the EDL had also made their way back to this place, Market Square. They were confronted by a handful of Asian youths before the police forced a wedge between the two opposing sides. UAF remained static behind their lines, refusing to assist in forcing back the EDL.
Direct action is still key to the method of how we can push back fascist organisations and stop them “claiming ground” in our towns and cities. We’ve seen the EDL consistently direct torment and violence towards Asian communities, we’ve witnessed them generalise about “Muslims = terrorists” and we’ve watched them stage organised, racist demonstrations. A united front has never been more needed.
Those affected by the dangers the EDL present cannot rely on an organisation like the UAF. After seven months of mobilisation against the EDL, it is evident that the “popular front” tactics of UAF and the SWP are unsuccessful. A “keeping class politics out of it” type of movement cannot be accepted in counteracting the rise of the far right.
The return of racist street activism is an issue directly affecting working class communities, and it still very much requires a working-class response. The crisis in our financial system has brought about the return of mass unemployment and has forced more and more people into the depths of disaffection. It didn’t take much to see this would lead to a shift in attitudes and pave the way for reactionary far right activities; we saw it coming back in June when the brand new EDL ran riot through the streets of Luton, as the recession took its hold.
This dilemma is exactly why we must continue to fight for houses, services and jobs, and not simply say “love music hate racism” in the hope that populist rhetoric and music alone will somehow make the deep seated problems go away.
Fascism thrives on capitalism’s failings. If the EDL are to be stopped in their tracks before they continue to grow in size and become an even bigger threat, we must fight and win the argument for protection and expansion of our public services, and confront the methods of racist organisations in the cities, on the streets and outside the mosques.
What we say
We need a different anti-fascist campaign: an open and democratic “united front”, linking up the organisations of workers and the oppressed to confront racism and fascism.
That implies mass mobilisation for physical self defence, but also — and even more importantly — a fight for the working-class politics and social demands necessary to neutralise the fascists’ demagogy and to undermine their rapidly expanding social base.
Nottinghamshire Stop the BNP is discussing calling a conference in the new year, probably on 13 February. We appeal to all serious socialists, trade unionists and antiracist and anti-fascist activists to get in touch with the campaign and take part.