Are the Nazis crawling out of the sewer? Recent weeks have seen marches by a number of small fascist groups.
They come as politicians and the media push racism against Muslims and migrants.
Racist rhetoric from the top opens up a space in which fascists can organise—recent National Front marches were called around the slogan “refugees not welcome”.
So it can seem like fascists are on the rise again. Yet the fragmented nature of the groups is a sign of their weakness, not their strength.
A few hundred ageing skinheads in a car park is a far cry from the thousands-strong marches the English Defence League (EDL) was able to hold a few years ago.
Or when the British National Party (BNP) had two MEPs, more than 50 councillors and was seriously contending to win a MP.
Both of those organisations were blocked by sustained and broad-based opposition from anti-fascists.
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) was central to the campaign for a mass anti-fascist vote to stop the BNP at the 2010 general election. Its campaign brought together people from trade unions and political parties, as well as faith and community groups.
That was coupled with mass protests. A UAF protest in 2009 severely disrupted the BNP’s Red White and Blue festival. And UAF protesters laid siege to the BBC studios when leader Nick Griffin was invited onto Question Time.
The result was that in 2010 the BNP failed to make a breakthrough and lost most of the council seats it was defending. It descended into infighting, haemorrhaging members, and splits.
Griffin left the BNP in 2014 after he was booted out of the European Parliament following UAF’s Griffin Must Go campaign. Last month the BNP barely managed to re-register as a party.
Just as it began its decline, the EDL organised to pull wider layers of racists around a hard core of Nazis with violent street protests.
A demonstration in 2010 saw hundreds of EDL thugs go on the rampage through Stoke-on-Trent. But mass counter-demonstrations organised by UAF defeated them—with crushing blows delivered in Tower Hamlets and Walthamstow in east London in 2011 and 2012.
While the fascists had to rely on national mobilisations, anti-fascists put down roots and mobilised thousands from the local area.
The EDL also began to splinter into smaller groups. Its less committed supporters began to stay at home. In 2013 Tommy Robinson and co-leader Kevin Carroll quit.
The pressure of mass anti-fascist activity drove a wedge between the hardcore Nazis in the BNP and EDL and the supporters they were drawing around them.
The fragmented groups of today are all that’s left.
Anti-fascists shouldn’t be complacent. Fascist groups can grow quickly in an atmosphere of racist scapegoating pushed by the Tories and the media.
So it’s important that locally rooted UAF groups exist to oppose Nazis wherever they march, as anti-fascists in Dewsbury did earlier this month.
But it’s central to build a mass turnout for the Stand up to Racism national demonstrations on Saturday 19 March. A successful mobilisation will make it far easier to beat the fascists.
We need to cut off the racism from the top—and deprive the Nazis in the gutter of the oxygen that can breathe new life back into them.