How should we respond to the racist English Defence League’s (EDL) threat to march in Bradford?
The EDL targets the Muslim community. Every time it has marched, its members have attacked Asian people, their homes and places of worship.
Nick Lowles, the editor of anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, states that he opposes any kind of anti-EDL protest in Bradford.
Under the disgraceful headline “Don’t give them a riot”, he writes in the Morning Star newspaper that demanding the EDL march is banned “is our only option and sole focus”.
The idea that anti-racists should not organise protests when fascists and racists take to the streets is a fundamental break with the traditions of our movement.
Lowles claims: “Most progressive organisations in Bradford oppose a counter-demonstration.”
But many in the city would refute this. Last week a wide range of trade unionists, community and faith leaders and the local MP attended a city-wide Unite Against Fascism (UAF) public meeting (see right).
They produced a statement calling on everyone to join a counter-protest.
But let’s imagine, for a moment, a situation where a community was scared to make a stand against fascism, or cowed by the threats from the police.
Even then, I for one, could not sit idly by. An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Lowles claims, “No EDL protest has ever been stopped by a counter-protest.”
Before we answer that allegation, let’s turn the question around. In the last year the EDL has organised 29 national protests. Almost all were challenged by local counter-demonstrations organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
We have seen what happens when this is not the case. In Luton in March last year—the EDL’s first march—there was no counter-protest. And in Stoke in January this year, the counter-protest was very small.
The results were all too predictable—we witnessed some of the worst attacks on minority communities since the 1970s.
Try telling the EDL supporters who attempted to march in Birmingham in September last year that our counter-protests don’t work. In the aftermath, one EDL member wrote on a blog: “We were defeated… chased out of the city by Asians running with their white friends.”
Likewise when UAF and United East End organised a counter-protest against the EDL in Tower Hamlets, the EDL’s leader said it would be “suicide” for them to go ahead—and called their march off.
And we must not forget that counter-mobilisations blocked the EDL in Harrow, Newport, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
What makes the article in the Morning Star even more depressing is this is a newspaper that proclaims to be “close to the Communist Party”.
This is the same party that in the 1930s led a series of protests, most famously at Cable Street, against Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.
The party’s unofficial biographer, Noreen Branson, wrote, “To the left the lesson was clear… so long as there was no opposition, Mosley’s movement went from strength to strength.”
Wise words indeed!
The policy of UAF is to support local groups who have called on the authorities to ban racist and fascist protests. But the Socialist Workers Party argues there are limitations and dangers in this strategy.
It is a fact that to date, apart from one EDL protest in Luton, the authorities have refused to ban any EDL demonstration. By just relying on the authorities to ban racist demonstrations, you in effect demobilise the building of any counter-protest.
Most importantly it is dangerous to rely on the police and the state to act as a bulwark against fascism.
This is the same police force that killed Blair Peach when he was protesting against the Nazi National Front in Southall in 1979.
And it is the same force that protects and clears the way for the EDL—as it has for fascists throughout history.
Fascism cannot simply be banned out of existence. It needs to be countered politically, ideologically—and physically.
No anti-racist wants to see a riot in Bradford. It just won’t do to claim that a UAF counter demonstration “could well provoke a riot”.
It is the racists who provoke violence.
To take one example, UAF was not responsible for the trouble that occurred at the anti-EDL rally in Bolton in March 2010.
Yasmin Qureshi, MP for Bolton South East, told a local newspaper: “I did not see or hear any activity amongst the protesters that I would have described as violent disorder, though there were some police officers who, in my view, were being heavy-handed in some cases.
“I supported the aims of the protest against the English Defence League in Bolton and I was there.”
We cannot allow the media to present anti-racists and the Asian community as the problem. Our job is to stand shoulder to shoulder with those under attack.
In the aftermath of the racist rampage through Stoke, one leading EDL member wrote, “Next time we march we want to see the Muslims cowering behind their net curtains.”
I can think of no better reason to join the UAF counter-protest in Bradford on 28 August.
Martin Smith is the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party