The English Defence League will return to the streets of Luton on 5 February for what they are billing as a “homecoming” demonstration.
The racist riot that sparked the formation of the EDL took place in the city in March 2009, as a response to provocations by a tiny group of right wing clerical fascists at a military parade. Under the banner of “United People of Luton” a small band of hardened football hooligans, organised racists and BNP members orchestrated a 500 strong rampage which attacked Asian businesses and individual bystanders. The EDL has since grown steadily into a major force on the British far-right.
Whilst the EDL consistently fail to live up to their own largely internet-bound hyperbole, they are a not inconsiderable threat. Firstly, because their populist chauvinism and racism resonates within the mainstream of society. Where the tabloid press, right-wing Tories and commentators peddle crass propaganda against Muslims and immigrants, the EDL gives an opening for the physical and active expression of such sentiments.
Second because many hundreds do consistently turn out on their demonstrations. These people are prepared to do more than noisily carry placards and politely listen to inflammatory speeches. They come ready to confront the police, counter-demonstrators, and the local population with racist violence.
Isolated from all other considerations — and given the possibility of a vigorous labour movement wide response — the EDL would be a “manageable” problem. But not only has mainstream, “official” anti-fascism failed to consistently and effectively confront these street racists, we are now faced with a radically shifting and in some respects unpredictable general situation. We are no longer fighting the EDL on the same terms as 2009 or even early 2010.
We are now entering period of sharp class conflict. After months of bubbling anticipation, when the exact shape and speed of reaction to the Tory-Liberal government’s onslaught looked uncertain, an opening salvo has been made by student demonstrators. Whether or not this will be followed by equally militant industrial activity is unclear, but all signs point towards at least some strike action.
All such events polarise sections of society, mobilising large numbers in a fight but forcing others to harden their pro-establishment or right wing views. The shift of significant numbers of people to the right will be eased by sabre-rattling from the Tory right, sending in the police to deal with protestors, and assisted by a ratcheting-up of bigotry by the right-wing press. The EDL could benefit significantly from such tensions.
At the same time the EDL themselves are adjusting in sympathy. Whereas just six months ago the EDL appeared to be nothing more than a violent and opportunistic street gang with no coherent politics or plan, they are now consolidating themselves into a political force.
They have made formal links with leading figures from the American Tea Party movement and recently attended a London seminar on organising political action with Tea Party organisers. The prospect of a more politically savvy but equally violent organisation should be a major concern — all the more so given the parlous state of the British National Party and the base of support they created over ten years of patient work.
There is only one way to prevent the EDL from organising itself into a bigger political force: through mass, militant mobilisations that drive them from the streets and labour movement wide organisation to combat the bigotry, chauvinism and racism from which they feed. The first step in such a campaign will be effective resistance in Luton.
• For more information check the Stop Racism and Fascism Network website: www.srfnetwork.org