The call by anti-fascists to stop the racist English Defence League (EDL) from marching in Bolton on 20 March and Dudley on 4 April is sparking a debate.
Everyone in the movement wants the broadest possible unity in the fight against fascism. But there are some who question whether it is correct to physically prevent the EDL from taking to the streets.
So what tactics are needed to stop the rise of the racist right?
An example of what can happen if we fail to stop these rallies was seen in Stoke last month.
Several hundred EDL supporters went on a rampage through the city. They smashed the windows of Asian homes and business, and shouted racist abuse at local people.
We cannot allow this to happen again.
Many “respectable politicians” argue that they too abhor the EDL, but that we should not confront them as it plays into their hands.
The EDL is planning its next demonstration in Bolton. Brian Iddon MP, supported by the council and police, has told people to stay at home.
But as Asian people in Stoke found out, not only does this strategy fail to provide a defence against a rioting racist mob, it also allows the confidence of the Nazis to increase.
Historically, fascism uses a twin-track strategy of electoral politics combined with street violence.
Hitler saw street mobilisations as vital. He said, “Mass demonstrations must burn into the little man’s soul the proud conviction that, though a little worm, he is nevertheless part of a great dragon.”
In the 1930s, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists won over a section of the political establishment while also cultivating a street-fighting wing, the January Club.
He hoped his brawlers would further convince the ruling class that he was a serious force.
The National Front arose in the 1970s, targeting black and Asian people. They polled high in elections and again took to the streets in a bid to terrify their opponents.
History also shows that we cannot rely on the state to stop the right, and that the police are never impartial.
Where were they in Stoke when the thugs were off the leash? They were confiscating anti-fascist banners, but allowing the EDL to make Nazi salutes.
But history also provides us with examples of how militant anti-fascist resistance has successfully driven the Nazis from the streets.
In the 1930s the Communist Party took up the task of knocking Oswald Mosley back.
It was central to organising the battle of Cable Street, where thousands stopped the fascists from marching through east London.
In Lewisham in 1977 the Socialist Workers Party—along with thousands of black people and trade unionists—organised to fight back against the National Front.
Then, as now, some in the movement argued against confrontation, organising a separate march that took people away from the fascists.
But in both cases the strategy of confrontation was proved correct, as stopping the Nazis from marching served to demoralise their supporters—splitting hardened fascists from their softer followers.
Today, BNP Nazi Nick Griffin may wish to publicly distance himself from the EDL, but their attempts to launch race riots are benefiting his party.
They make the BNP look more credible and spread fear among all those who oppose racism.
Faced with this onslaught, we must build a broad united front against fascism—one that is prepared again to confront the racists on the streets.
Every trade unionist, community group, church, mosque, school and university that we win to defending Bolton will be a blow to the BNP and their thuggish friends.
When the EDL rioted in Stoke they dared to shout the anti-capitalist slogan, “Whose streets? Our streets!”
We have to take our streets back.