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Post-Dover: 5 Reflections on Antifascism Today

by Novara Reporters

Last weekend saw one of the most ugly fascist street mobilisations since the 1980s. Assorted fascists and neo-Nazis descended on Dover from across the country to capitalise on the European border crisis, only to be outnumbered and humiliated by antifascists.

While some were held at a motorway services in Kent, many more made it to the seaside down where groups ranging from the National Front to National Action and the Scottish Defence League intended to hold a ‘unity demo’. One of our reporters reflects on the day:

1. The violence was extreme.

Yesterday was one of the most violent demonstrations I’ve ever been on. Normally ‘violence’ on a demo means cops pushing people – horrible as that is – and a few broken windows. Yesterday, it meant a near constant barrage of bricks throughout the entire afternoon, and wooden poles being broken over heads.

The antifascist protesters were not just passive victims of an attack on a bus and some missiles being thrown – we took to the streets to disrupt neo-Nazis. And we did a good job.

We don’t need to apologise for that. For every act of self-defence in Dover, antifascists prevented greater acts of violence against those in our communities who are the targets of fascists.

We should confidently make the case for a militant antifascist movement. The local young people who taunted the fash from on top of telephone boxes and joined in with the rest of us didn’t need an evasive answer to the question of violence. They needed to see that what we were doing was effective.

Beating the fascists on the streets means confidently mobilising to get them out of our communities. There can be no illusions about what that entails.

We have to also recognise the other aspect of yesterday’s violence: the Nazis were very much up for a fight. Reports from those antifascists detained at a service station are now suggesting that the same coach load of fascists that attacked their coach and daubed a bloody swastika on the side were found to be carrying a bag full of knives when searched by police. The extreme nature of their ideology was also matched by an extreme set of tactics.

2. The neo-Nazism was explicit.

Yesterday’s demo pulled together the hardcore of those who have emerged out of the collapse of the English Defence League (like the various Infidel groups, South East Alliance, and the English Volunteer Force), older fascist formations like the National Front, and the bizarre/embarrassing National Action Nazi boy scouts. These were not people new to far right politics.

The extent to which this new formation differs from the EDL was made obvious, however, by one moment after the initial round of confrontations was over. The antifascist demonstration had moved into the town centre when, over the heads of a line of riot cops, I saw 40-odd men throwing Nazi salutes and shouting ‘Seig heil’ on a UK high street. The largest flag flying above the demo was not a Union Jack or St George’s Cross – it was a Nazi red and black Iron Cross. The ideological commitment to explicit neo-Nazism was unavoidable, and shocking.

Many more EDL-type supporters actually left the demo relatively early, including failed PEGIDA leader Timothy Scott. It’s difficult to tell if this was because they didn’t have the stomach for the confrontation, didn’t approve of explicit Nazism or were just fighting amongst themselves. A demo of 150 barely hung on to half of that number at their rally, with the rest all giving up or paying no attention. Despite the ‘unity’ branding, there are still some very real fractures within the far right.

3. Who protects the fascists?

The police, through the application of stop and search powers, detained a few coachloads of antifascists in Maidstone service station after their bus was attacked and prevented them from joining the demo in Dover. Without doubt, this changed the balance of power on the day. With more bodies, the fascists’ march would not have gone ahead, and the defeat they suffered would have been even more comprehensive. The police did the fascists a serious favour by preventing the antifascist mobilisation reaching full strength.

Kent police also hold the remarkable distinction of being the most incompetent public order force I’ve ever seen. Their total lack of co-ordination and strategy meant that again and again huge groups of fascists and antifascists were allowed to have a kick off, with the police intervening only once one side or the other had been forced to retreat. Police lines were frequently given contradictory orders that left cops with their backs exposed and being pelted with bricks from behind. In one notable instance, a cop in riot gear misheard an order and began a slightly pathetic lone baton charge.

There were also occasions where the police forced antifascists into kettles and held them there whilst they were bombarded with rocks. Without any means of self-defence or escape, the police forced protesters to endure serious attacks that resulted in serious injuries. The colossal idiocy of such a strategy suggests that, actually, this could be another instance of police pro-fascist bias.

4. Unite Against Fascism is dead, long live the Anti-Fascist Network.

In terms of the counter-mobilisation against the fascists yesterday, it was a very new fusion of organisational strength. The local mobilisation was all done by Kent Anti-Racism Network (KARN), and the national mobilisation by the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN). Unite Against Fascism (UAF), a Socialist Workers Party front-group, played literally no role beyond distributing about 20 of their ubiquitous placards.

KARN did an exceptional job building support in trade union branches, local electoral party branches, and local towns. But the major difference was the attitude of the national organisers. The UAF march into oblivion in Liverpool perhaps sealed their fate as a new irrelevance, and now the AFN have a position as the prime national organisers of antifascism.

This means, evidently, a huge change in the way in which antifascism is done. Big, militant demos will attempt to block the route of the fascists and defend communities against fascist violence. They won’t be forced to listen to bad guitar music and speeches from trade union officials.

But unless AFN can do a similar job of accessing the kinds of resources and money that UAF relied upon, antifascist struggle will become seriously under-resourced. A big task lies ahead for the AFN: the need to retain the focus on street politics that has made them so effective, but combine it with strong relations to existing left institutions and the ability to mobilise local ‘fluffy’ resistance as well as the militant leftist core.

5. Labour and social movements.

Finally, yesterday also presented another strange instance of the new synthesis of the Corbyn-era Labour party and social movements.

At the moment the Labour party doesn’t seem to have worked out a way of producing this synthesis beyond sending top table speakers to demonstrations. Be it John McDonnell at the November student demo, or Dianne Abbot at the weekend, they seem unable to play a role beyond turning up, expressing support, and getting out as soon as possible. Shadow cabinet ministers talking to demonstrations is not a meaningful combination of the different parts of a political ecology; it’s a stale mode of top-down politics.

In the absence of Momentum’s promised social movement focus it seems difficult to imagine, however, what else Labour could do. However, there needs to be some way of improving the connections between social movements and the Labour party, or else Corbyn’s project is going to face some very serious challenges.

Photo: RT Ruptly/YouTube

Another report can be read here.

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Published 1st February 2016

This work by Novara Media is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

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