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‘Together we can take on racism and the right,’ say activists at 1,400-strong conference

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As forces of reaction grow across the world and right wing governments ramp up Islamophobia and scapegoating, the 1,400-strong Stand Up To Racism conference last week was a welcome relief—and a chance to set priorities for the year ahead. Socialist Worker reports
Issue 2627
Speakers stressed the need for unity in action to take on the the threat of fascism and racism
Speakers stressed the need for unity in action to take on the the threat of fascism and racism (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Anti-racists from across Europe vowed to step up the fight against the far right and racism at the Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) international conference in central London last Saturday.

It brought together activists from across Europe, the US and Latin America. Around 1,400 people attended meetings and workshops throughout the day.

Themes included defeating the far right, building solidarity with refugees and defending migrants’ rights. And there were some debates about the best way to take on the fascists and the myth that Muslim “culture” is behind sexual abuse (see below).

Yet among the discussions, speakers stressed the need for unity in action to take on the the threat of fascism and racism.

Labour shadow home secretary Diane Abbott threw her support behind SUTR’s mobilisations against the far right. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we don’t need a new organisation,” she said. “We need unity.”

The conference came against the backdrop of mainstream politicians ramping up racism against Muslims, migrants and refugees. Alarmingly this state-sponsored racism is fuelling the rapid growth of fascist and racist forces at the ballot box and on the streets.

Petros Constantinou from Greek anti-racist organisation Keerfa told the conference the movement had to take on both threats. “The fascists are not unstoppable,” he said. “We have a movement that is powerful.

“We cannot stop them by giving in to racism, because that’s the ground on which they grow.”

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Cornelia Kerth from the Union of the Persecutees of the Nazi Regime/Federation of Anti-fascists in Germany was part of a panel on responding to the international far right.

She talked about how mainstream politicians laid the ground for the far right AfD party’s breakthrough in the Bavarian regional elections recently. “The CSU party in Bavaria tried to copy the propaganda of the right wing AfD,” she said.

Kerth said this means there needs to be several responses. “One is confronting the AfD whenever they appear in public, but we also encourage people to confront racism every day in every place,” she explained.

“It’s a mass movement to reach people who ask, how can I intervene against racism every day.”

The far right hasn’t just mobilised large numbers on the streets and achieved electoral breakthroughs—in some countries it is in government.

Austria is ruled by a Tory/Nazi coalition government—with the fascist FPO party in charge of key ministries. And in Hungary prime minister Viktor Orban’s racist Fidesz party has lurched further to the right to outdo the fascist Jobbik.

Ismahane Chouder from International Forum against Islamophobia and for Civil Rights

Ismahane Chouder from International Forum against Islamophobia and for Civil Rights (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Orban’s increasingly authoritarian government openly pushes antisemitic conspiracy theories about US banker George Soros.

Sandor Szoke, a Roma civil rights campaigner from Hungary, described the difficulties of organising under Orban. “We don’t have free and fair elections any more,” he explained. “We don’t have free media.

He added, “One thing we need is international help and international light on what’s happening in Hungary.”

The far right’s international rise is alarming, but their victory is not inevitable if we build a movement.

Kerth talked about how Aufstehen Gegen Rassismus (Stand Up Against Racism) alongside other organisations had opposed the AfD.

“One day before the Bavarian election, we had 250,000 people out in Berlin and no one had expected that,” she said to loud applause. “Whenever the AfD hold a congress, there are demonstrations.”

Scapegoating of Muslims is both the sharp end of state-sponsored racism and one of the main mobilising focuses for the far right. Debates about how to respond were reflected at a 200-strong workshop on Islamophobia where there was standing room only.

A French Muslim woman spoke brilliantly from the floor. To huge applause, she said, “I’m a feminist but in France many other feminists think their job is to liberate me.

“I say to them, ‘Thank you, but I’m going to liberate myself’.”

A debate opened up when a woman from the floor described herself as a former officer with the British state’s Prevent strategy.

She said she couldn’t understand the panel speakers’ hostility to the “anti-terror strategy” and said that she had “saved” a Muslim family planning to travel to the Middle East.

A young Yemeni woman challenged her immediately.

Islamophobia is the glue that binds together the resurgent British far right around Nazi Tommy Robinson.

His supporters mobilised 15,000 thugs on Whitehall in June—the biggest outdoor mobilisation organised by fascists in Britain.

Another debate came at the workshop on how to build a movement against this threat.

Liane Groves from the Unite union pledged the union’s support for mobilisations against the far right.

But she said it wouldn’t “resonate with people in ordinary workplaces” to just talk about fighting fascism. So she argued that reps could, for instance, point to Labour’s council house building plans as a way to undercut the far right’s focus on military veterans being homeless.

The Tories use racism to divide working class people as they push through austerity.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott (Pic: Guy Smallman)

But Candy Udwin, a PCS union member, argued that focusing on austerity alone wasn’t enough to take on racism.

“We have to show there is an alternative to austerity,” she said. “But we also have to learn the lesson that you have to call a spade a spade.

“We have to take on racism, even if it comes from among our own members.”

Alongside political differences, people were committed to working together to build a mass movement against fascism and racism.

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At the closing rally Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell invoked the Spanish Civil War slogan “No Pasaran”—they shall not pass.

“Today is about us recognising the scale of the threat and what we need to do about it,” he said.

“We needs peaceful, non-violent direct action to ensure ‘No Pasaran’ for the far right.”

SUTR co-convenor Weyman Bennett closed the conference by calling for people to join the national demonstration against racism and fascism on Saturday 17 November. It is a key opportunity to give confidence to our side to take on the fascists and the state-sponsored racism that fuels them.

“I am for defeating the fascists by any means necessary,” he said.

“We have got the seeds of a mass movement and we need an international movement because we face an international threat.”

‘We are seeing the sexualisation of racism—and this is not new’

Tory home secretary Sajid Javid has used the horrific child sexual abuse in Huddersfield to push racism against Muslims.

He tweeted about “sick Asian paedophiles” after a group of men were found guilty of sexually abusing girls as young as 11 in the West Yorkshire town. They were jailed on 120 offences against 15 girls on Friday of last week.

Javid promised that “there will be no no-go areas”—signalling support for racist profiling.

At the SUTR conference Labour MP David Lammy began his speech by attacking Javid. “It is unjust to reprimand an entire community for the evils of a few,” he said, arguing that paedophilia “has no culture—and the home secretary knows that.

“He is pandering to the far right in this country.”

Questions and arguments over the abuse scandals repeatedly came up in workshops at the SUTR conference. Some people were unsure about how to take on the right’s racist slurs about Muslim and Asian “culture” leading to abuse.

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Some speakers said we should take on the far right’s argument by pointing out child sexual abuse by other institutions such as the Catholic Church. Or that the left had to take up the issue of paedophilia in order to undercut the right.

Socialist Worker has been at the forefront of reporting on the sexual abuse scandals where cops and authorities have failed victims.

But simply pointing out a range of abuse scandals can dodge taking on the racists’ argument.

Lindsey German from the Stop the War coalition said, “We are seeing a sexualisation of racism and again this isn’t new. Jews were accused of being sexually predatory, black people have always been accused of being sexually predatory. It is a racist trope used against minorities in order to try and whip up racism against them.”

She pointed out that “90 percent of abusers on the sex offenders’ register are white”.

“This is not a cultural or Asian thing,” German added. “If you look at where most abuse comes from it’s from within the family and home”.

Voices from conference

Muna from Birmingham told Socialist Worker, “I came from Yemen and lived in Sweden for six years and it became obvious that racism is getting worse in Europe

Muna from Birmingham told Socialist Worker, “I came from Yemen and lived in Sweden for six years and it became obvious that racism is getting worse in Europe

The Stand Up To Racism international conference brought together people from across Britain. It included many new to politics—as well as long-standing anti-racist activists from local groups.

The makeup reflected that SUTR is a broad-based united front. It brings together activists from the Socialist Workers Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, the Labour Party, the trade union movement and those of no political affiliation.

Muna from Birmingham told Socialist Worker, “I came from Yemen and lived in Sweden for six years and it became obvious that racism is getting worse in Europe.

“Everyone should be part of stuff like this.”

A growing number of people are horrified about rising levels of racism within society—and SUTR provides an opportunity to do something about it.

Nasir, a Plaid Cymru member from Cardiff, told Socialist Worker, “Racism is something that affects us all.

“That really brought it home.”“It has also affected my daughter. She was walking home wearing a head scarf and someone shouted at her that she’s a jihadi.

He added that he came to SUTR conference because, “It’s time to take action—it won’t go away without that.”

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