Socialist Worker

New musical expression of anti-fascism

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1894

ONE OF the proudest moments of my life was compering the 200,000-strong Anti Nazi League carnival in south London in 1994. It was the perfect combination of politics and music. And, oh boy, did we need it!

Six months earlier Derek Beackon, a Nazi British National Party member, won a council seat on the Isle of Dogs in east London. Even more shocking, in the space of just two years three young black men, including Stephen Lawrence, had been murdered by racists in south east London.

The poison began to seep into some surprising places. Morrissey-every student's favourite singer-started flirting with fascism. Yes, the onetime lead singer of The Smiths, the man who in the 1980s wore outsized blouses, hearing aids and gladioli, chose that precise moment to fuel the fires of racism. He paraded on stage at a Madness concert draped in the Union Jack and released an album, 'Your Arsenal', with two songs that glorified the National Front and right wing football hooligans.

A massive protest campaign broke the back of the Nazis. But over the past few years they have been on the rise again. Last week Love Music Hate Racism put on a Rock Against Racism gig at the Astoria in central London. Over 2,200 people crammed in to hear The Others, Miss Black America, The Buzzcocks and The Libertines.

One old punk standing next to me said it was just like 1977 and, right on cue, Mick Jones from The Clash joined The Libertines on stage for the last four songs. But the crowd didn't just come to hear great music. Just like in the 1970s, this gig fused politics and music together.

It was great to hear Weyman Bennett from Unite Against Fascism, Lee Billingham from Love Music Hate Racism and Hass Mahamdallie from the Anti Nazi League raise the rafters with their speeches exposing the Nazis. One of the biggest cheers of the night went to the striking Scottish nursery workers who spoke about their fight against low pay.

What made Rock Against Racism so brilliant last time round was its ability to build a grassroots musical network and link it up with the powerful protest movement organised by the Anti Nazi League. Today we want to say to every up and coming musician, poet and performance artist, don't wait to be asked-organise your own Unite Against Fascism gigs. As the old saying goes, 'Let a thousand flowers bloom.'

One other strange thing happened that night. Sitting in the balcony was Morrissey-yes, that Morrissey. Like a flash one young Anti Nazi League member asked him to sign the Unite Against Fascism launch statement, which he did. He then signed a Love Music Hate Racism T-shirt and offered to support future anti-fascist gigs. Has Morrissey changed his views or is he just an opportunist? Only time will tell.

But it is worth remembering that in the past the likes of Eric Clapton and David Bowie have dipped their toes into the murky waters of fascism. Both have rejected their past comments, and made financial contributions to the anti-Nazi struggle to boot.

In the 1930s my grandad protested against Mosley and his fascist Blackshirts. He marched to the sounds of Paul Robeson and Woody Guthrie. In the late 1970s I marched against the Nazi National Front. We marched to the sounds of The Clash and Steel Pulse. I marched again in the 1990s. Then Manic Street Preachers were our troubadours.

Today a new generation has to march against the Nazis. This movement has its own musical heroes-Ms Dynamite and The Libertines.

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Sat 27 Mar 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1894
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