Everything Old is New Again

In this post, I’m going to take a close look at the recent call by Searchlight’s Nick Lowles and Paul Meszaros for a brave new anti-fascism.  My main focus is going to be in two areas.  Is this genuinely a new approach?  And is it worthwhile for anti-fascists to sign up to this?  Largely, I’m not going to be getting into the current state of the UK antifascist movement and where we can go from here.  That will have to wait for another day.

It should be noted that this article springs out of debates surrounding two recent EDL demonstrations, Leicester and Bradford.  On Leicester, three accounts are worth looking at.  As always, Andy Newman is a good indicator of current Searchlight thinking.  (It’s fair to say that Socialist Unity seems to be considered a useful outlet for ‘independent’ pro Searchlight articles by the Searchlight team.  To the point where an article defending links between Matthew Collins and Terry Fitzpatrick by Andy Newman was removed shortly after publication.  I think it’s reasonable to assume that wasn’t removed on Andy’s say so, because he wouldn’t have put it up in the first place if he’d thought it was out of line.  Sadly, I didn’t take a screenshot and I suspect Andy isn’t going to be keen on giving out copies.  You could always ask though).  The UAF put out a pretty standard UAF statement.  And there’s a view from an individual militant anti-fascist on Indymedia.

Some observations about Searchlight and their position on Leicester.

It’s noticeable they heavily downgraded the “local support” rhetoric they were throwing around in relation to Bradford.  This, realistically, is because they actually don’t have the same local roots.  In Bradford, they do have a reasonably active HnH group and support from local trade union bureaucrats etc. However, in Leicester, they don’t have that. The only groups openly supporting their position were the local council (overall, some councillors pledged support to the UAF demo) and the old bill.  In fact, the vast bulk of (sadly rather uncoordinated) resistance to the EDL was carried out by local youths, outside the UAF kettle.  In those circumstances, it makes sense that Searchlight decided that they gave less of a fuck about what locals thought.

Linked to that, it should be noted that Searchlight strategy only applies to those outside of Searchlight.  The Searchlight team are open about the fact that they were in Leicester on the day.  This is something their article acknowledges at all and is a very telling omission.  I think Searchlight should tell us.  If it is wrong for locals to leave their houses when the EDL are in town, why are Searchlight operatives held to a different principle?

It’s also the case that Searchlight have subtly changed their arguments.  With Bradford, they were forcefully arguing that their position was based on local conditions, specifically the previous riots.  By Leicester, this had been extended into a general principle that counter-demonstrations were not the right tactic in most cases.  Again, I’d be intrigued to hear their explanation for this apparent ideological shift.

We have to understand Searchlight’s view here in context.  Despite the rather naive shock of some SWP commentators, this isn’t a new development.  Searchlight have always had a close working relationship with the state, especially the various branches of law enforcement and the security services, even if their openness on this issue depends on their audience.  It’s a matter of public record by now.  Therefore, them helping to put across the view of the police and the council in this matter isn’t some kind of strange anomaly, it’s a completely logical development considering their previous political record.  Especially when you consider that the militant antifascist movement is weaker now then it has been at any point since the Second World War.  Therefore, it’s natural that Searchlight are reflecting the state agenda more noticeably then in previous years.

You can agree or disagree with them on that, but it’s hardly a surprise.  More important is if Searchlight’s tactics have been a success on their own terms.  The article in question suggests so.

Our Bradford campaign was a huge success. Our petition, signed by 11,000 local people, six per cent of all adults in the city, in just three weeks, was pivotal in providing the strength in the city that was noted by both the police and the Home Secretary in making the ban.

But that is contradicted by what Hope Not Hate Yorkshire were saying in July. An organiser (it should be noted in passing, that Paul Meszaros, one of the authors of this article, is a prominent member of HnH Yorkshire) had this to say at the time:

But more importantly, we are not considering counter-demonstrations because we are confident that we can build such a huge campaign, involving so many people, that the EDL will not be coming to Bradford in late August.

It is self-evident that analysis was entirely incorrect.  Nick Lowles went further in August.

This, in our view, is our only option and sole focus. If thousands of EDL supporters manage to get into Bradford then we have already lost.

Therefore, it is the case that the analysis of Hope Not Hate/Searchlight was demonstrably wrong in this case.  Worse, solely judging them by their own stated aims, the campaign they led in Bradford was an utter failure.  While they are claiming a success now, they can only do so by ignoring their previous position on this issue.  Although they’re chosing not to state that’s what they’re doing, two mutually exclusive positions cannot possibly both be right.

So, I’m afraid Searchlight can’t expect people to accept what they have to say as read on these terms.  Because their confidence that they could stop the EDL turning up in Bradford was misplaced, so it’s highly likely that will be the case in the future.

Now I’ve covered the context this Searchlight article exists in, I’m going to move onto the arguments contained in the article.

Searchlight’s position, in my view, is best encapsulated by this extract:

Just as the fascists were able to broaden their appeal and escape the political ghetto, so anti-fascism had to change and this meant reaching out to the mainstream.

While this is later explained as meaning appealing to “ordinary people” (whatever that might be), it’s fair to assume they also mean that we should appeal to the political establishment first and foremost.  That was certainly their approach in Barking, where HnH activists uncritically campaigned for the odious Hodge.  And in both Leicester and Bradford, HnH aimed their work first and foremost at the local council and calling for state bans, as opposed to grassroots opposition.  Their version of community organising seems to be largely based on the traditional approach of getting people to ask their political ‘betters’ to do anti-fascism for them.  They have neither the inclination nor the methodology to build autonomous anti-fascist campaigns.

This is not a new approach, despite claims to the contrary.  Indeed, the ‘anybody but fascists’ sloganeering of HnH is standard across the liberal anti-fascists, whatever their other differences.  UAF have David Cameron on their list of supporters and have UKIP speakers at their demos.  It would be interesting to hear how much more ‘mainstream’ Searchlight think it’s possible to get!  Indeed, there’s a strong argument that the launch of the Anti Nazi League Mk1 was precisely that, a downgrading of physical force anti-fascism in favour of holding rock concerts and working with ‘left’ Labour MPs.  (See “The Anti-Nazi League A Critical Examination 1977-81/2 and 1992-95”  by the Colin Roach Centre on that).  This isn’t a break from ‘how things are done’, this is the dominant tactic on much of the left.

And, it doesn’t have a great record of success.  The “Don’t Vote Nazi” campaign in Barking was a near identical one to the one that unseated Derek Beackon in 1994.  With the benefit of hindsight, Beackon losing his seat hardly damaged the BNP’s prospects for growth…

The article’s references to winning “hearts and minds” through community organising is fascinating however.  It does seem, both from this and previous articles, that Lowles is influenced by the IWCA/Filling the Vacuum analysis in the same way Elastica were influenced by Wire.  With one crucial difference.  Whereas the analysis in question suggests it is the job of anti-fascists to replace the BNP as the ‘radical opposition’ in their target areas, Searchlight change their conclusion to one of propping up the political mainstream, especially the Labour Party.  Indeed Paul Meszaros has previous poured scorn on any suggestion that anti-fascists need to break with the political establishment.

There is also the point that third-party campaigning is limited in what it can achieve. For the BNP to lose an election, another party has to win. Hope not Hate is not an appendage of the Labour Party, but clearly it is often the case that Labour that needs to get more votes than the BNP for the BNP to lose!

Not only is that a de facto acknowledgement that HnH will, at the end of the day, merely act as loyal footsoldiers for the Labour Party (despite disillusionment with the Labour Party being one of the reasons for the BNP’s growth in the first place!), it is clear that he sees anti-fascism as first and foremost a simple matter of electoral campaigning, not tackling the reasons for their support in the first place.

So while Searchlight have the correct diagnosis here

The BNP was building inside communities and tapping into widespread discontent with the political system.

their suggested treatment is not only useless, it’s actively counterproductive.  The BNP are mobilising support from widespread disillusionment with the political establishment and the answer is…  to ally more closely with the very same political parties that Searchlight admit have allowed the BNP to grow!  If the stakes weren’t so high, I’d be laughing.

This is the crux of why Searchlight are wrong and dangerously so.

People don’t vote for the BNP because they see them as part of the mainstream.  They vote for them because they see them as outside of that.  And for antifascists to respond by tying ourselves to the mainstream plays right into their hands, by handing them the role of the ‘only alternative’ by default.

Finally, I’m going to examine Searchlight’s rejection of physical force anti-fascism.  In particular with the EDL, as the ‘hearts and minds’ argument is less the case there.  The EDL are a reasonably stagnant political force and their main tactic is the traditional far right one of controlling the streets.  So, if previously effective tactics will no longer work, Searchlight need to explain why.  And they haven’t.  They say:

While some on the hard left claimed that only by taking to the streets could we defend the Muslim community, we believed that stopping the march – which the EDL wanted to go through a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood – did far more to protect communities then being kettled behind police lines and shouting slogans.

I have previously shown that “stopping the march” was not what Searchlight falsely claimed they were going to do, until after the event.  That aside, this is a false dichotomy.  In both Bradford and Leicester, it is a statement of fact to say that there was militant antifascist activity, including from a sizeable number of locals, that took place outside the kettle.  Further more, this comment from Searchlight is a bold lie:

Contrary to bravado, No Platform for the EDL was never an option, or even attempted, so our approach was clearly the most constructive and productive use of resources.

If, as Searchlight seem to be doing, you assume that physical force anti-fascism is the same thing as attempting to implement No Platform, attempts were undoubtably made.  Searchlight just decided that they would rather work with the great and good, as opposed to locals trying to defend their communities.  Besides, this is nothing new

Anti-fascism was perhaps unsurprisingly also a marginal pursuit, with the exception of a few years in the 1970s, the main aim of which was to keep the fascist gangs isolated and afraid. During the late 1940s with the 43 Group, the 1960s with 62 Group, the 1970s with the Anti Nazi League, and the 1980s and 1990s with Anti-Fascist Action, the fight against fascism was street-based and violent, and went largely unnoticed by the general public. It was a policy of No Platform.

From Labour Party councillors who pay tribute to the International Brigades while condemning militant anti-fascists in the here and now, to SWP members praising the 43 group, the idea that militant anti-fascism was right, but not in the current day has always been with us.  It allows people to pay lip service to the concept at no risk to themselves.

And, if all of those groups were right to use violence (and they were) what’s changed?  At what point do you draw the line and say that militant anti-fascism is no longer acceptable and that tried and tested tactics are no longer useful to consider?

If Searchlight want to disown militant anti-fascists entirely, that’s fine.  Frankly, for many of us, the feeling is entirely mutual.  But I’m afraid you don’t get to claim our tradition as your own while you reject it at the same time.

To draw this to a close, I will say more on this next comment at some point.  The collapse of AFA has left a certain gap in the anti-fascist market, which I think is one of the factors that has allowed the EDL to grow.  There is a desperate need for grass-roots, democratic, community based militant anti-fascist organisation.

But, as they have made clear, Searchlight are not part of that process.  They’re apart from it.  And they have no role to play.

Stick to campaigning for New Labour.

Fucking Magnets

I know, I know.  Making fun of the Insane Clown Posse is not exactly challenging.  But…  This is awesome beyond belief.  Or possibly motherfucking belief.

Read it all.  Honestly.  It will be the best decision of your life.  A few of my favourite extracts.

I’ve come to Milwaukee because ICP have just released their most audacious Christian song to date: Miracles. In it, they list God’s wonders that delight them each day:

Hot lava, snow, rain and fog,

Long neck giraffes, and pet cats and dogs

Fuckin’ rainbows after it rains

There’s enough miracles here to blow your brains.

The song climaxes with them railing against the very concept of science:

Fuckin’ magnets, how do they work?

And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist

Y’all motherfuckers lying and getting me pissed.

“A college professor took two days out of her fucking life to specifically attack us,” says Violent J. “Oh yeah, she had it all figured out.”

One of the ICP road crew locates the video on his iPhone, and it is indeed withering: “The [Miracles] video is not only dumb, but enthusiastically dumb, endorsing a ferocious breed of ignorance that can only be described as militant. The entire song is practically a tribute to not knowing things.”

“Fuck you, man,” says Violent J. “Shut the fuck up.”

Suddenly he glances at me. The woman in the video is bespectacled and nerdy. I am bespectacled and nerdy. Might I have a similar motive?

“I don’t know how magnets work,” I say, to put him at his ease.

“Well,” Violent J says, “science is… we don’t really… that’s like…” He pauses. Then he waves his hands as if to say, “OK, an analogy”: “If you’re trying to fuck a girl, but her mom’s home, fuck her mom! You understand? You want to fuck the girl, but her mom’s home? Fuck the mom. See?”

“I really don’t want to say. There’s one lyric…” He trails off, suddenly looking really sad beneath the clown make-up. “Just dumb lyrics. I said one lyric one time that I hate. I may have been feeling really down that day. I said something, I live with that every day. I don’t want to point it out.”

Can’t.  Breathe.  Laughing.  Too Hard.  Although, all that said…

He shoots me a defiant look and says, “You know Miracles? Let me tell you, if Alanis Morissette had done that fucking song everyone would have called it fucking genius.”

Admit it.  He’s right here, isn’t he?

Indecent as Fuck

The same people who are murdered slowly in the mechanized slaughterhouses of work are also arguing, singing, drinking, dancing, making love, holding the streets, picking up weapons and inventing a new poetry.

(Raoul Vaneigem)

A Call to Arms

It is time for the real Indecent Left to make itself known.  To reclaim the mantle back from its usurpers and wear it proudly.  To throw it back in the face of our so called betters, to rub it in their noses and laugh at their shrill outrage.

For we are the dreamers, the irresponsible, the warrior poets, the work shy, the Robin Hoods, the ungrateful poor, the lumpen, the ungovernable, the indecent.   And we will burn down your pretty palaces and dance between the flames.

Taking Indeceny Back

Those that the Decents claim are the Indecent Left are anything but.  The Cobweb Left are not Indecents and never shall they be so.  They have neither the joy, nor the idealism.  Much like their supposed Decent enemies, they are respectable and grey.  Their political activity is carefully planned in order not to startle the horses.  They would impose order on the glorious chaos of the working class.  They argue over their slice of the cake, while we occupy the bakery.  Their planned world is merely one of bigger cages and longer chains.  They have precisely nothing to do with us.

Decency is a Slow Death

Who wants to be decent anyway?  The Merriam -Webster  (I use an American dictionary to show off my  internationalist credentials and to  distance myself from tiresome kneejerk anti Americanism.  But mostly because it’s free) tells us that to be decent is “conforming to standards of propriety, good taste, or morality.  Could anything be worse?  Decents are Victorian moralists, who pride themselves on conformity.  They are the kind of people who, in a past era, would have covered up the legs of pianos because they thought they looked like cocks.  This is not something to aspire to.  I refuse to live to their standards, when my own are so much higher.

Utopia or Bust!

In  a world where mediocrity is the order of the day.  Where those who rule over every aspect of our lives are petty and spiteful.  Where they would rather see the poor starve then give away even a crust of bread.  In that world, my friends, utopian dreaming is the only answer.  Why would we want to fight for anything else?  Why would we build a new world that is like this one, only slightly less so?   Fighting for a dream and losing is more worthwhile than successfully fighting for a nightmare.  The journey is the destination.  And we are pragmatists, not realists.

Hedonism is not a Dirty Word

Pleasure is, in and of itself, a worthwhile and noble goal.  While hedonism needs to be tempered with utilitarianism (our goal is pleasure for all, not the elite few), the fight for pleasure is as important as the more worldly fights.  A new world which we do not enjoy is not a step forward.   And every worker has the soul of a poet.

Boring People is Not a Revolutionary Act

If we are boring, so will our revolution be.  And that is not something that anybody else will support and nor should they.  Think carefully.  If your only topic of conversation is politics, if politics is your only field of interest, if you are not capable of socialising with non politicos, then, frankly gentle reader, you’re a dullard.  Fun is a necessary weapon in our arsenal.  (This does not mean dressing up as fucking clowns.  Stop that.  Now).

This, incidentally, is why this blog is also likely to include posts on music, comics and why playing roleplaying games makes you cool and sexy.

Without Action, You’re Just Posing

And no, blogging is not action.  At best, it’s simply the free exchange of ideas.  But action is something that takes place offline, in the real world.  And without that, all your words are meaningless platitudes.  Theory should always spring from praxis, not vice versa.  However, do not fall into the trap of going to the opposite extreme and taking a silly kneejerk anti theory posture, despite being well versed in theory yourself.  (Yes, Comrade Bone, I’m looking at you).

They Can Have the History.  The Future is Ours

Spain, Russia, Paris?  All merely interesting subjects for an intellectual debate, no more, no less.  The past cannot be changed, the future and the present are all that really matter.  Historical situations can inspire, but they can’t  be transplanted.

Unless you manage to perfect time travel.  In which case, can you drop me off in the 1920’s?  I want to embarrass myself by trying to pull Dorothy Parker.

No Compromises.  No Ceasefires

Our enemies’ enemy is not our friend.  And no incorrect alliances will be tolerated, no matter how temporary.  Experience shows us how that one turns out.  So we will have no truck with reactionary bigots, whether the anti reactionary Western ruling class fucks beloved by the Decents or the reactionary nationalist fucks beloved by the anti imps.  We will support our friends to the full, but we will not prostitute our ideals in the name of practicality.

On Saint Jarvis of Cocker

Decents, stop trying to claim the Jarvis as your own.  You can’t have him.  He’s a New Labour hating, sweary pervert.  It’s even less convincing than Orwell.  We’ll happily give you Northern Uproar, but the Jarvis is ours.

Strange Bedfellows?

I’ve never been one for a drawnout introduction, so I’m going to kick straight off with a project from the wacky world of decency. I’m going to be looking at an online magazine that calls itself The Propagandist. (h/t Bob for drawing it to my attention).

They describe themselves as being aimed at

political junkies, thinking conservatives and the anti-fascist left.

They further clarify that selfdescription by suggesting they are

underground conservatives and revolutionary propagandists are waging a war of words against the resurgent enemies of democracy and modernity.

Would it be churlish to ask whether our brave antifascists actually have any kind of verifiable record of antifascist activity? Possibly. But it does seem rather telling that they’re making these grandiose claims while seemingly having very little interest in actual homegrown fascist movements. There’s very little on the BNP, or the National Alliance or the EDL or any of the traditional far right in their magazine. A potential explanation can be found in their Manifesto. Their rather flowery rhetoric about their enemies suggests that the tactics they will use are a

combination of media scrutiny, public protest, diplomatic pressure, international law enforcement and military force.

Now, apart from the suggestion of public protest (show, don’t tell. Anyone can type a good fight on the Internet) you’ll notice something very interesting about that list. All of it is, at its core, shit that someone else does for you. What kind of revolutionary manifesto is a justification for inaction as opposed to a call to arms?

So, yeah, that’s why they don’t really tackle the issue of the traditional far right in my view. They might get hurt or even arrested. Antifascism is all very well, but not at the cost of a quiet life.

It has to be said that, from an antifascist perspective, the kind of synthesis of right and left they’re attempting doesn’t have a great track record. The idea that the right and left are meaningless distinctions is beloved like by such scum as the National ‘Anarchists’ and the National Bolsheviks. Fascists by another name. (There is an alternative position taken by groups like the IWCA which suggests that the left is so discredited in the working class that calling yourself such or a “socialist” is no longer sensible or meaningful. That’s beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that it isn’t the same thing. What The Propagandist are suggesting is that calls for “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” are the same as calls for “King, God, Country”).

They seem to already be taking steps to accomodate themselves with their new allies. They add to their list of enemies this telling little claim:

Political correctness is strangling free speech.

As always with this old straw man, they don’t see fit to explain what the fuck they’re bleating on about the dumb reactionary bastards. *Ahem* I apologise. I have no idea what came over me. I meant to say that they neither clarify what they mean by “political correctness” nor give any examples of how it is “strangling free speech”.

Perhaps they’re annoyed that a Harry’s Place guest poster can’t so much as throw a few racial slurs around, without the PC thugs objecting.

You may think that I’m being overly hostile here and that the suggestion that they would condone racism is merely a rhetorical trick. No. They have a section called

Allied Propagandists

which is their blogroll. Telling name though. It means that these are the people that The Propagandist considers on the same side as them, whatever small political differences may exist. (In the interests of fairness, I should point out that not all of the blogs they list necessarily agree on the claimed allying). But let’s look at one of the allies, which is their chosen descriptor, not mine, The Propagandist is promoting. The charming “Infidel Bloggers Alliance”.  Which you can see at http:// ibloga.blogspot.com/  (Link broken.  I don’t want the Propagandist’s racist mates shitting up my comments).  A quick glance at the blog shows you what they’re about.  No smokescreen about only being against extremist Muslims here, no siree.  It’s Islam itself that the IBA is very clear is the enemy.  It’s true that the Propagandist’s allies seem a bit more moderate then the Gates of Vienna crowd.  But that’s much like describing Jared Taylor as more moderate than David Duke.  Technically correct, but it’s missing the point.   rather.  And IBA lists in its allies Jihad Watch.  The same Jihad Watch that openly supports the English Defense League.

Protip:  If your choice of allies has led to you being only three steps away to a direct connection to a bunch of violent anti Muslim thugs, you aren’t a fucking antifascist.

It is true that some of the people involved in the Propagandist, like Terry Glavin have stated that they are “uncomfortable” with this kind of things.    But that’s really not good enough.  One thing the Decents were very clear on that was that you couldn’t critically support a reactionary group without condoning its politics.  So, for example, it wouldn’t matter if you were “uncomfortable” with Hamas having the Protocols in their charter, if you supported them anyway you were still a fellow traveller of their antisemitism.  That, for me, was the single strongest point the Decents raised.  Even if it was rather quaint that they seemed to be under the impression that they were the first people ever to point that out.

Is there a way to avoid that trap?  I think so, as the Gaza demonstrations showed.  You do what the anarchists did.  You march in your own bloc.  You put out your own propaganda.  And you aggressively distance yourself from the arguments and the groups you disagree with.  So yes, if Terry actively does that with the Propagandist.  Attacks those people who are allying themselves with racists.  Makes it clear that he is utterly opposed to their politics.  At that point his discomfort matters.  Until then, I’m not sure that it will be that reassuring to someone having their head kicked in by the EDL, friends of his friends.  Or, as geek favourites They Might Be Giants put it:

Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.

It’s  also very noticable that these supposed leftists have almost nothing to say about the fight for social justice, against poverty, for working class liberation in their own countries.  Much like the Maoists, liberation is only sexy for them if it happens elsewhere.  They are the very embodiment of Fat Man on a Keyboard’s wonderful descriptor

There are those that are firmly anti-totalitarian but have little or no critique of domestic politics. They have made their peace with the establishment and the legacy of Thatcherism. However dramatic their declarations of human rights, they are Tom Paines abroad but Edmund Burkes at home.

And, y’know, fuck that shit.  There’s a quote from Orwell, that funnily people like  those at The Propagandist never seem to cite, despite their fondness for pretending he was one of them.  Mirrors can be ugly things indeed:

In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy ‘proving’ that Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the ‘mystique’ of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing.

To conclude, there is, and always has been, a genuine anti totalitarian and anti fascist left.  Who have always refused to support bigoted far right movements under the guise of ‘anti imperalism’.  ho have no truck with racists and are out on the streets fighting fascism all over the world.

But don’t kid yourself, propagandists.  You aren’t part of us.  And we’ll deal with you the same way we dealt with the National ‘Anarchist’ filth trying to bring racism into our movement.