No Retreat

Daithi O’Donnabhain with a review of a book on groups that physically oppose the far right on the streets of the UK. Daithi O’Donnabhain is a regular commenter on TPQ.

This book by two authors covers the organised physical resistance to (some of) the Far right organisations in Britain from 1970's to 1990's. The author of the first part (Tizley) documents the formation of the 'Squadists', under the direction the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and passes the narrative onto second author (Hann) who describes actions primarily under the banner of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA).Their main protagonists were a sequence of extreme Nationalist political groups from the National Front (NF) to the British National Party (BNP) and some with neo-Nazi leanings such as Blood and Honour (B&H) and Combat-18 (C18) and some groups sympathetic to Ulster Loyalism.

AFA's founding statement was written on the back of a beer mat by Mickey O'Farrell and simply stated that they would "oppose fascism both physically and ideologically". And that opposition is rooted in their class interests:

Fascism has been described as a razor in the hands of the bosses, and history shows that the first instinct of fascist leaders and their followers is the protection of the ruling class and its interests.

The physical confrontations detailed in the book are fairly standard, ambushing paper sales in town centers, hiding within Anti Nazi League counter demos to launch attacks, attacking pubs that were hosting their events. And the frequency with which they managed to attack the fascists coaches at red traffic lights was increasingly funny to read. It basically reads as a list of fights: suspiciously all were easily won by the narrators. But for me, other details in the book are key to understanding the efficacy of anti-fascist activities.

Class interests were not just external structures, it was also manifest within the SWP organisation committees, and latterly the London leadership of AFA. At various stages, the physical force aspect spooked the increasingly middle class make up of both AFA and SWP structures, whose attention shifted to mainly liberal issues such as Nuclear Disarmament, student grants, gay rights campaigns like Clause 28 rather than class issues. Both groups increasingly saw the street fighters as thugs not so different from those they were seeking to oppose. And in Leftist tradition, there was also a North/South divide amongst those who preach solidarity.

One incident highlighted how an obsession with the past aesthetic of fascists had blinded AFA to modern forms of the extreme right.  In May 1989 the Blood & Honour group were planning a large concert in Central London, with an initial meeting point in Hyde Park:

...police resources were stretched that day because of thousands of Muslims were also marching Central London on a big demonstration against Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. For a few short hours were more or less had Hyde park and the surrounding areas....

Thousands of book burners, calling for the death of an author who dared to offend theocratic dogma, were allowed to march unopposed. People were too busy looking for the boot that will stomp in the face forever, that they missed the multiple sandals that are just as painful.

Another particularly perspective from the book I didn’t expect to find to was:

One particular bug bear that we were confronted with time and time again by locals was the SWP/ANL poster bearing the legend “Refugees Welcome Here”. The fact that a load of middle class outsiders were flouncing into communities beset with the all the problems associated with extreme poverty, and basically telling the local people that they should accept further strain on the precious few resources available, did more damage to anti-racism than any far right propaganda ever could.

It's quite a brave analysis coming from someone on the Left. But if the author could empathise with this, why not develop it further with arguably less deserving cases than refugees? It leads me to ask: Whose hand was wielding the AFA razor? If you read around AFA and organizations like Searchlight (who report on far right groups, and have active relationships with the police and other government agencies) and acknowledging the positive impact on a countries GDP that immigration has, and that AFA’s role was to violently remove even non-violent opponents to their introduction, were they not, even unwittingly, the controlled opposition, which was as crucial as the Party to the system, in the Orwell’s 1984.

Dave Hann & Steve Tizley, 2003. No Retreat, The Secret War Between Britain's Anti-Facists and the Far Right. Published by Milo Books. ISBN 978-1903854228.

Daithi O’Donnabhain,

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

8 comments to ''No Retreat"

  1. Daithi,

    good to have this. A friend got in touch today to say he enjoyed it and had reviewed it one time for The Blanket.

  2. Thanks AM, I must of missed the Blanket review, I will search it out. It kind of resonates with the latest Mick Hall piece on migrants. Reading it back, the review says as much about me as the actual book.I am kind of torn on whether I approve of the authors approach, they did protect Republican marches against Loyalists attacks,but also denied a voice to some who had nothing to do with violence.

  3. AM, this is the Blanket book review, he definately picked out different parts of the book than me:

  4. Daithi,

    present in many of these ideological perspectives is a one size fits all approach and lacking in them is nuance.

  5. DaithiD,

    there is no one way to review a book!

  6. DaithiD,

    there is no one way to review a book!

  7. ...there is no one way to review a book!...

    AM, interesting. Stand by for my review of a Liam Lynch biography, via performance art with no words, like a mime dance with some sort of jazz interpretation.A Quill first surely.


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