After Bradford: an open letter to the SWP Central Committee about anti-fascist activity

Submitted by martin on 5 September, 2010 - 10:19 Author: Charlie Salmon

Comrades: Yet again the racist thugs of the English Defence League were able to stage a major provocation without significant molestation from the organised left and labour movement. Any honest assessment of the events in Bradford on 28 August would demand a serious rethink on your part. The main report on the Socialist Worker website is not only short on honesty but verges on the edge of delusion.

In place of honesty, your comrade Mark L Thomas describes the day as ending in “utter humiliation” for the EDL and claims that credit for that rests ultimately with the efforts of Unite Against Fascism.

Is this really what happened, comrades?

We are well aware that the preparations for a counter-demonstration to the EDL’s long-trailed plans were difficult, not least because of the efforts by other anti-fascists to have a total state ban imposed. We understand the effort and planning required to mount effective action of this type. What we don’t understand is the logic behind your tactics on the day.

Let us give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that the "Bradford Together" jamboree was your last, best hope of securing some sort of presence in the city; that you’d exhausted all other avenues and couldn’t think what else to do. So you made a calculation that the only way to get significant numbers of people together was to abide by police restrictions.

What we cannot then comprehend is why the SWP made no effort to organise those in the "Bradford Together” gathering [your claimed figure of 1500 is, as you know, contested by people who were there; but anyway, some hundreds] into support for those directly confronting the EDL. You must have known of the situation by the Midlands Hotel given the handful of SWP full-timers milling around the scene.

Think for a moment about how the day looked for those who rejected your event and instead chose to congregate in a counter-demonstration closer to the EDL. As you note in the report, this was a multi-racial group of people – the majority of them local Muslims – and included organised socialists and anti-racist activists.

I expect you can guess what the organised activists made of your separate event and reluctance to support the actual counter-demonstration. What do you suppose the vast majority of the crowd – the local people who came out to defend their community – thought of your activities? Puzzlement … disgust … uncomprehending irritation? Probably all three.

What the SWP does and says often reflects, for good or ill, on people's perceptions of the whole of the organised activist left. Our call for you to rethink your anti-racist and anti-fascist strategy is not just point-scoring.

What could you have done to be more effective in Bradford? First and foremost you could have forgone the ‘prestige’ of your own large and self-congratulatory event, organised SWP cadres and arranged for the safe transit of large numbers of willing anti-racists the 400 metres to the actual counter-demonstration. To effect this, your comrades would have been forced to put down their “Smash the EDL” placards, tuck copies of Socialist Worker and recruitment forms in their back-packs and without fuss walk in small numbers at a time around the loose police lines. We know this would have been possible because as soon as one of our comrades found the real counter-demonstration, those organised with Bradford United Against Racism and the Stop Racism and Fascism Network did just this.

The SWP’s failure to take this action makes the placards, front-page headlines, invocations of Martin Luther King and chants of “whose streets” fundamentally redundant – and embarrassingly so. Your ra-ra-revolutionary rhetoric counted for nothing in Bradford. All you succeeded in doing was mis-educating and mis-directing those organised around you. You’d have done less harm by having your faces painted along with ‘Hope not Hate’ a mile up the road.

The effect of your action – or lack of action – was to totally abandon the local community’s response. Your actions marked an abandonment of basic class solidarity. Your decisions on the day represent a rejection of the idea self-defence and unity. When members of the EDL broke out of the police containment area and were repelled by the local community and supporters, the SWP was nowhere to be seen. Had more EDL members escaped or had the police taken a tougher stance towards the counter-demonstrators, your absence would have been even more grievous.

So the first item in your necessary rethink should include the specifics of tactics, priorities and the development of a greater regard for the norms and traditions of our shared socialist tradition. In the hierarchy of ‘what is important’ your own organisational advantage needs to be drastically reprioritised down the scale.

But this is only the half of it. Any serious reorientation on your part would demand theoretical as well as practical modifications. For instance, do you really believe that the English Defence League is a “Nazi” organisation? Does that mean that everyone associated with the EDL is a Hitler-worshiping fascist? If not and if you think that the vast majority of people in and around the EDL are actually a mixture of football hooligans and anti-Muslim racists, why call them “Nazis”? Shouldn’t your slogans and propaganda reflect this reality? What impact do you suppose the chanting of “Nazi scum off our streets” has on the poorly-educated, despondent and dispossessed white working class youth drawn into the EDL?

Simplistically conflating the EDL with the British National Party does more damage than good. They are different phenomena arising from the same specific political situation. British politics is now in flux after more than a decade of New Labour attacks on the working class, ethnic minorities and immigrants. A period of relatively advantageous opportunities for class struggles that never materialised. A time shaped in part by the events of 11 September 2001 and the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Years when divided public opinion and the polarisation in society was used to the overwhelming advantage of the capitalist class, the government that represents them and their cheer-leaders in the right-wing tabloid press.

Whilst the EDL manifested and grew from the real and specific anti-Muslim racism generated in this situation, the BNP took advantage of the general withering of working-class political structures and solidarity in large swathes of the country. Where the EDL is incoherent in its ultimate aims and devoid of a tight political line, the BNP – regardless of their current difficulties – has a coherent aim and content.

What connects the EDL and BNP is that both can and must be squashed and driven out of the working class by the class itself. The very real prospects for working class resistance now make this a tangible reality. This means developing a specifically working class campaign – a real united front – against racism and fascism: a campaign based on working class politics and working class organisations to combat reaction in our ranks.

You have already noted this need in the pages of Socialist Worker. We’ll take some credit for shifting opinion within your organisation on this score. However, we fear that when you call for vigorous campaigns on issues like jobs and housing, you really mean that the SWP will do this campaigning and that Unite Against Fascism will make no comment. This would not only be a mistake but a grave error.

When you talk of strengthening anti-racist and anti-fascist work what you really mean is building a bigger and better funded front operation, a snazzier and glossier UAF. Again, this is a mistake that betrays a lack of consistency in your thinking.

Socialists cannot substitute themselves for the entire working class movement, nor can we make the mistake that the trade unions represent the whole of the class. A vigorous campaign within the unions to mobilise them for anti-racism and anti-fascism on their own working class political basis is not just a matter of organising the numbers required for action but a significant political question.

No socialist organisation can therefore opportunistically accommodate themselves to either the majority or a perceived ‘radical’ minority of the union movement. A situation where Unison, the other big unions and the local trades council support one event cannot be alleviated by sponsorship from the PCS and NUT for your own event. A split like this will not be resolved by abstention from serious politics. What you appear to be doing is attempting to square the circle without actually addressing the very real issues. “Don’t tread on any toes” on the one hand, self-delusion on the other.

At the same time, we cannot simply wait for spontaneous movement from above. Socialists should attempt to organise working class campaigns with willing trade union organisations, the layers of activists who agree with this approach, sympathetic political organisations and the sort people who turned out for the counter-demonstration on 28 August.

Such a coordination would not be a substitute for a whole-scale working class movement mobilisation but a serious tool for making this political mobilisation a reality. In its current form, neither the SWP alone nor UAF can achieve this without the sort of serious orientation already developed elsewhere in groups like Notts Stop the BNP and others in the Stop Racism and Fascism Network.

Rethink!

Comradely,

Charlie Salmon

Alliance for Workers’ Liberty

Comments

Submitted by vickim on Sun, 05/09/2010 - 22:54

It's useful, for onself, to articulate the arguments. And it's useful also, hopefully, to those SWP members who are getting fed up with their group's twists and turns, one moment, militant, the next, pacifistic, to set out the arguments.

You mention "denunications and expulsions". The SWP is in some trouble. That's not a source of glee - unless something useful can come from the fragments. Presumably some of the fragments are already thinking along the lines in this letter. It won't have escaped the notice of the people who blocked the road to the BNP festival in Codnor in 2009 that their same leaders who initiated that action, last Saturday in Bradford forced them to remain in a police kettle while the Asian youth and assorted anti-fascists tried to get to grips with the EDL. They will know they could have made an important difference in Bradford and that they didn't.

Bradford was a score draw, I think, when maybe, just maybe, the EDL could have been beaten; it was a score draw partly because the UAF stayed put. The SWP members were disciplined and mostly stayed put as well, although most of them must have been itching to leave. (Someone said they saw SWP's Leeds branch at the Midland Hotel counter-demo.)

I hope we can work with more and more rank and file SWPers, but we're only likely to do that if we treat the SWP with the seriousness it deserves and direct some serious propaganda at it and at them.

It's also not just about the SWP. The SWP is scooping trade union money up into UAF, money that could be spent on working class anti-fascism in our communities. I don't need to point out that this money is hardly accounted for to the generous donors. When SWPers moved affiliation to UAF at my trades council, I tried to get some strings attached: a proper delegate to a proper steering committee, information about how the officers were chosen or could be removed, proper accounts showing what money comes in and how it's spent. I couldn't stop the affiliation, but I did get the strings voted. Not because people thought the UAF was suspect, but because this was all just basic stuff that we would exepct from any organisation.

(I don't believe that the SWPers who opposed my amendments actually thought they were unreasonable; they were just acting out of loyalty to their group.)

We need to make the arguments so that other people in the labour movement will hear them. The UAF shouldn't be allowed to tell stories about its own importance, and go on raking in the cash.

I went to the UAF conference in the spring. It was an utter disgrace by any standards of accountability or democracy, but hardly anyone complained. If you think we can build something by going around the UAF you have to deal with the fact also that the rest of the labour movement, left, socialists, anti-racists have such feeble ambitions for their anti-fascism. It's not just the SWP.

It's not surprising that people have lost confidence in working class anti-fascism; they have lost confidence in the working class full-stop. All this means that we have to get to grips with the UAF and its crap politics (only a notch higher than HNH politics in Bradford).

I agree, I wouldn't spend my whole time arguing with the SWP/UAF, but their status as the labour movement's official anti-fascists means we do have to spend some time orienting to them.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.