By Mark Osborn
Everybody knows that the Anti-Nazi League is run by the Socialist Workers’ Party, and entirely controlled by it.
The ANL of the late 70s was also controlled by the SWP. Nevertheless, it was a much broader affair than the reborn, post-1992, ANL.
SWP control means that the ANL exists first to serve the SWP and act as a source of recruits. It exists secondly — a poor second, sometimes — to fight racism and fascism.
It will only fight racism and fascism in ways that do not cut across SWP plans. ANL anti-racist activity is conceived of exclusively as demonstrations and ritual confrontations — and not at all as an activity that also tries to rouse the labour movement to fight the conditions that breed racism.
Using the broadest and vaguest idea of anti-racism, the SWP is willing to unite with Tory and Liberal politicians who make noise against “Nazis” but will do nothing against the conditions — in East London and Oldham for example — which allow the Nazis to gain support.
The poverty of ANL anti-fascism was underlined by the events of 1993-4 in Millwall, east London.
In September 1993 the BNP fascist Derek Beakcon won a council by-election in Millwall. The background was a terrible local housing shortage which had been presided over by a right-wing Labour council and, then, a Liberal administration. Local white and black people felt let down by the mainstream parties, and some white workers had begun to look for a BNP, racist solution — homes for whites, at the expense of local Asian workers.
The BNP was beaten in the Millwall council elections of 1994 (Beakcon was defeated despite increasing his vote). In the run-up to the election most of the socialist left canvassed for Labour (the local ward party was left-led and the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets ran on a special programme which promised the provision of 1,000 new homes).
The ANL-SWP, however, simply said “Don’t vote Nazi”, and they refused to canvass for Labour. This was particularly dangerous in an area where there were only three parties which could win the seat — the Liberals, Labour or the BNP. “Don’t vote Nazi” meant the SWP didn’t care if anti-Nazis voted Liberal or Labour!
To make such an elementary mistake is to have failed to understand the basic, socialist anti-fascist policy: we must mobilise the labour movement to stop the Nazis (and the 1994-Labour Party, based on the unions, was clearly to be supported against both the capitalist Liberal Democrats and the BNP!).
An anti-racist campaign organised like this can have only a very limited usefulness (except for the SWP). It can often play a very harmful role.
The old, 1970s ANL did a great deal of damage to black-white relations precisely because its prime concern was not fighting racism and fascism, but building the SWP. It is a story that should not be forgotten.
The ANL held very successful rock concerts, to which tens of thousands of young people came. Such a concert was the big ANL event in October 1978.
Back in 1978 the National Front, which was very powerful, announced that it would “march” on the Bengali community in Brick Lane, in east London, during the time set for the carnival. Despite appeals from many individuals and groups — including people living in the area where the fascists planned to march — the SWP-ANL leaders refused to alter their plans. Their party in Brockwell Park was to go ahead while, across London, the fascists would be left to confront the East End Asian community.
The rock carnival with big name bands would draw vast crowds of youth — potential SWPers! That was the name of the game the SWP-ANL leaders were playing. Defending Brick Lane could not be allowed to interfere with that.
The Anti-Nazi League revealed itself as a campaign run by people not primarily concerned with its supposed goals at all, but with the “hidden agenda” of the SWP.
The carnival went ahead and the fascists marched on Brick Lane, to be met by local people and leftists called to the defence of Brick Lane — by Socialist Organiser [forerunner of Workers’ Liberty] and others.
Large numbers of black activists were thereby alienated from and poisoned against the “white left” by the SWP-ANL’s performance. The ANL went into a decline and was soon wound up. The SWP turned to something else.
The new ANL, re-launched in the early 90s as an SWP party front organisation, should be trusted as far as those responsible for the grim fiasco of the old ANL deserve to be trusted. They are the same people.