Many people, including some in anti‑fascist groups, have responded to Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous rampage by calling for fascist organisations to be banned. Still more want the authorities to ban their marches.
In many ways this is an understandable reaction to the attacks on the left and black people carried out by the far right.
But banning racist organisations will not end racism and hampers the fight against fascism. In Germany neo-Nazi groups are banned, but that has not stopped fascists organising and carrying out racist attacks.
Socialists should never look to the state to deal with fascists.
This is because of the nature of capitalism. The ruling class prefers their system to run with a “democratic” veneer—a parliament, a nominally free press and so on.
But at times of crisis, when there is a strong working class movement challenging their rule, they will look to other methods.
This is where fascist groups come in. Fascism is a mass movement of the middle class committed to destroying all forms of democracy. It aims to show its usefulness to the ruling class by forming street gangs to terrorise the left.
It can only take power when the ruling class turns to it. This is what happened in Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s.
Today in Britain, many marches by the racist English Defence League (EDL) have been banned. But this has not stopped it from holding “static protests”.
Bans just mean that the police “escort” the thugs to their rallying point. So they get paraded through the streets while chanting racist abuse.
And bans are a dangerous idea because they encourage passivity. They take people off the streets. It means people waiting at home in fear.
If we don’t mobilise, it could leave the EDL marching unopposed. Whenever that has happened the EDL has rioted and attacked Muslims.
When the state gives itself extra repressive powers it will use them against the left.
The government brought in the Public Order Act in 1937 supposedly to counteract the rise of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. It didn’t stop fascism—and was used against left wing and workers’ protests for decades afterwards.
It was the mass, grassroots resistance that confronted the Blackshirts in the streets, such as at Cable Street in 1936, that stopped fascism in Britain.
The police exist to uphold the status quo in society. Because of its role, the police force is institutionally racist and hostile to movements that challenge our rulers. When anti-racists take to the streets the police often respond with repression.
On anti-EDL protests, such as one in Bolton last year, the police arrested, beat and harassed demonstrators. Yet EDL thugs are left free to attack innocent residents and mosques.
We cannot trust the police to stop the EDL or any fascist organisation.
Only a mass movement, rooted in working class communities, has the strength to challenge the EDL ideologically and politically and to drive it off the streets.
The vast majority of ordinary people hate the violence and racism of the EDL, and are horrified by Breivik’s terrorist acts.
Over the last few years, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has organised to protest against the EDL wherever it rears its ugly head, publicly opposing it on the streets.
These actions have brought people together, but they have not smashed the EDL yet. This task is now more urgent than ever.
Incredibly, the EDL has been buoyed by Breivik’s attacks. Its leader, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, appeared on mainstream TV saying that a similar attack will happen in Britain.
He has been allowed to label multiculturalism and Islam as the problem—not the actions of Nazis and the EDL’s friend Breivik.
Muslims are under constant attack from racists, right wing journalists and politicians who want to scapegoat them for the problems in society.
That it is why we have to oppose racism wherever it appears. But we also have to tackle its root cause—the capitalist system.
Banning doesn’t get rid of the conditions that breed racist ideas.
As the economic crisis deepens, the ruling class will continue to try and force the poor to pay—by cutting jobs, services and benefits. And they will use racism to try to divided us so that we do not unite against them.
That is why the solution to racism can only come from people at the bottom of society challenging it.
The unity forged in the battle against racism and cuts can play a crucial role in taking forward the struggle for a world without bigotry and exploitation.