The May 6 “free speech” rally by various parts of the far-right should be a wake-up call to the left, labour and antifascist movement.
4,000 racists were able to gather in Whitehall following the life ban from Twitter of Tommy Robinson, former EDL leader and probably the UK far-rights most well known figure.
The main counter protest organised by the SWP fronts Stand up to Racism and Unite Against Fascism was probably only 200 strong. The demo found itself attacked early on by members of Democratic Football Lads Alliance. Without the police presence it is likely the far-right would have been able to drive the protest off the street.
The difference with this rally, compared to those of the EDL in the past, or those of smaller fascist organisations like the National Front or National Action, was the level of respectability this was accorded. The demonstration was backed by Arron Banks, the chief financier of Leave.EU, and was addressed by UKIP leader Gerard Batten.
Alongside the more established sections of the British far-right were supporters of Generation Identity and the Alt-right. A number of young people were there with Kekistan flags, Don’t Tread on Me t-shirts and Trump, “Make America Great Again” hats.
Robinson is reported as saying,”The people of this country have been silenced for 20-30 years with the tag of racists. They have managed to silence people so that they are too scared to speak up when they see things that are wrong.
“They now realise that that tag is dead: no one cares anymore with being labelled racists”.
The near-destruction of UKIP in the local elections means they are now looking for a new base to build on. As has been common on the far-right, when a movement is in decline it goes further to the right. Gerard Batten claimed that an “alliance of the far left and big international business” was behind “political correctness” was promoting a “globalist system controlled by an elite”. The UKIP leadership has tried to avoid antisemitic tropes but it seems now that such talk is deemed acceptable. Milo Yiannopolous used the platform to attack feminists, while “counter-jihad” and For Britain leader Anne Marie Waters used the platform to rant against both Islam and “cultural Marxism.”
The counter protest, as well as being low on numbers, was low on strategy and ideas. Boxed in about 30 metres from the main protest, we could do little about the march. Self-indulgent chants of “Nazi scum off our streets” and “Shoot yourself like Adolf Hitler” will have little impact in defeating the far-right politically.
UAF at one time could command very large demonstrations with broad support, including from Lib-Dems. This demonstration was almost solely made up of the left, and was very heavily dominated by members of the SWP. The lack of support should be a concern for the left in general, even those like us who are highly critical of the SWP’s continued popular frontism.
Anti-fascists need to have serious conversations about how we can respond to the growing far-right street movement, both politically and in the streets.