THE REACTION of the press and mainstream politicians to the magnificent anti-Nazi demonstration, however, was a disgrace. They did not condemn the Nazis or heavy policing, but blamed all the violence on the anti-fascists. Labour Party leaders made disgusting statements.
Michael Foot, then deputy leader of the Labour Party, said, ‘You don’t stop the Nazis by throwing bottles or bashing the police. The most ineffective way of fighting the fascists is to behave like them.’ Bob Chamberlain, the West Midlands organiser for the Labour Party, called the SWP ‘red fascists’.
But despite the hostile barrage from politicians and press, the Battle of Lewisham launched the start of a mass campaign to smash the NF. It showed ordinary people that with united action the Nazis could be beaten back. Dave Widgery described the impact: ‘The black community, who had successfully defended their patch, had had a glimpse of a white anti-racist feeling which was much bigger and more militant than the liberal community-relations tea parties might suggest. Every little racist was made smaller. Many people who had reservations about direct action found themselves regretting they had not been there too.’
The Anti Nazi League (ANL) was set up shortly after Lewisham. The ANL combined physically confronting the Nazis wherever they raised their head, with powerful propaganda exposing the NF as the heirs of Adolf Hitler. It produced hundreds of thousands of badges and leaflets against the Nazis. A declaration against the NF was signed by hundreds of well known people-from musicians to MPs, trade union leaders to footballers.
There was a flourishing of local anti-Nazi groups in workplaces, colleges and schools around Britain. The same young people targeted by the Nazis as potential supporters were drawn into a movement that fought the fascists. In schools across Britain it became popular to wear anti-Nazi badges. The ANL, along with bands and musicians in Rock Against Racism, also organised three hugely successful carnivals with the top punk and new wave bands of the day.
The first carnival was in April 1978. Some 80,000 people marched from central London through the East End, to join thousands more at a carnival in Victoria Park. The carnival helped transform the atmosphere in the Nazis’ stronghold area of east London and throughout the rest of Britain.
By the general election in 1979 the Nazis’ vote had fallen to just 1.3 percent. And in the 1981 Greater London Council elections, the Nazis got just 2.1 percent of the vote compared to 5.7 percent in 1977. The NF’s national organiser, Martin Webster, admitted in 1981, ‘The sheer presence of the ANL had made it impossible to get NF members on the streets, had dashed recruitment and cut away at their vote.’
Today we once again face the threat of the Nazis, as people feel totally let down by a Labour government that seems to offer them nothing. The Nazi BNP got three councillors elected in Burnley in May and hopes to grow by feeding off people’s disillusion. The experience of the 1970s shows that with a mass campaign that exposes and confronts the Nazis we can kick them back to the sewers they came from.
For more information on the Anti Nazi League phone 020 7924 0333 or go to www.anl.org.uk
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