Thousands joined forces to oppose the racist Democratic Football Lads Alliance - a violent crew of Islamophobes, fascists and Tommy Robinson fans. Now we need to build an indivisible mass movement against the far right
"This is a cause and a struggle that needs to mobilise all of us - every one of us - across society. The time has come to rise up against the far right, in Britain but also internationally."
So said one of the speakers at the rally of thousands of anti-racists and anti-fascists on Whitehall today, where the far right DFLA attempted to congregate after marching from Park Lane.
Trade unionists, Labour and Momentum groups and commentator Owen Jones joined supporters of Stand Up to Racism and anti-fascist organisations in the counter-demonstration of at least 2,000, which outnumbered the far right grouping by a significant margin - the latter managing around 1,000.
This is a particularly welcome development, given the ratio has been the other way round on a number of mobilisations by the DFLA and supporters of Tommy Robinson this year, where the threat of violent attacks on outnumbered counter-protesters and the left has been all too real.
On 14 July RMT union senior assistant general secretary Steve Hedley was brutally attacked (with his head cut open by a glass) along with colleagues outside a pub by fascists - eventually managing to ward them off - after they joined a counter-demonstration to the far right pro-Trump march, which was outnumbered 3-to-1 on the wrong side. Not long after on 5 August, Bookmarks left wing bookshop was attacked by a fascistic pro-Trump contingent who intimidated staff, refused to leave and threatened to tear up materials.
Today, the far right marchers got violent again - "trying to push through police escorts and fighting with officers" and "threatening a policeman and screaming 'I’ll kill you'", according to the Guardian - although they were generally divided from anti-fascist protesters by riot police.
Shoulder to shoulder
Speakers on the counter-demonstration today included Labour MP Emma Dent Coad and representatives from organisations such as RMT, NEU, Unite and GMB unions, CND, Momentum, Toufik Kacini of Muslim Welfare House Mosque, David Rosenberg of Jewish Socialist Group and Lindsey German, convenor of Stop the War Coalition, whose speech is available in the video below.
Importantly also, Jeremy Corbyn sent a solidarity message in coordination with Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, who helped to organise the event:
“Congratulations on today’s demonstration standing up against racism and far-right extremism.
“We’re in solidarity with all those around the world standing up to oppose racism and to support the diversity of our communities. We’re proud to walk in the traditions of anti-racism campaigners and activists. Your fight is our fight.”
Also heard at the rally, Alex Kenny, Chair of NUT Education & Equalities Committee said importantly “Our duty is to stand shoulder to shoulder with every Muslim in this country”, and Artin Giles of London Young Labour insisted, “Now with the far right marching today, getting bolder in our society and being platformed by our media, we must act immediately”.
Throughout speakers emphasised the importance of a truly massive anti-fascist, anti-racist demobnstration on the front foot (when the far right are yet to call a march) on the November 17th called by Stand Up to Racism and supported by Diane Abbott and John McDonnell.
This will need to be a mobilisation many many times the size of the today from our side, and a truly national scale one, to face up to the threat posed by a well-resourced far right - spearheaded by Tommy Robinson and his mass platform - which is keen to seize on the crisis around Brexit, the surge of its forces across Europe and any sign of weakness from the left.
Stop this wave
It is important to remember that the wave of racist and far right protest this year - across the country - has been of a scale not seen in decades. When the 'Free Tommy Robinson' demonstration on June 9 brought out 15,000 for an overtly Islamophobic protest and march that featured crowds of Nazi saluters, an array of international far right politicians and fascists running the police off the streets, this was the warning shot for the left and all those who oppose the menace of the far right.
Since then, we have seen continued headlining demonisation of Muslims and migrants by populist right figures such as US President Trump and Tory Boris Johnson as well as horrifying scenes of the far right on the march and hunting migrants in eastern German and further the mainstream media rise of alt right figureheads like Tommy Robinson and Steve Bannon. This is not to mention the fairly terrifying rise of the fascist Bolsonaro in Brazil, who looks likely to claim the Presidency at the end of this month after winning a landslide in the first round.
On an immediate and concrete level this has added fuel to the rise of street attacks on Muslims, amidst a deepening of Islamophobia in society, inculcated by the west's War on Terror and domestic hostile environments for minorities and supercharged by Trumpism. And we have seen a marked increased in the last year of the far right to target and attack the left on the streets, here, in the US and Europe.
The huge national anti-Trump demonstration in London (replicated in Scotland and around the country) on the weekend of his visit in July show that a mass unified coalition of forces from the left and across the working class can be brought together in the UK to reclaim the streets and popular mobilisation from the right.
In Berlin today, over 200,000 anti-fascist protesters also demonstrated that this is possible without the hallmark of the world's no.1 racist in town, as they opposed the rise of the far right AfD party and its violent fascist associates in what is to current appearances more dangerous situation than in the UK.
The slogan of that demonstration "Indivisible", and another historic one "No Pasaran!" (They shall not pass) hailed on London's demonstration, tell us a lot about what the whole of the left must urgently learn in the next month here.
In order to put a movement on the streets that monumentally eclipses and overwhelms the combined forces of the far right (which is what is necessary) in the UK we must unify all those who oppose reaction, racism and the right in an impartible and implacable social mobilisation - building this at the base throughout the working class - that will not rest until it has driven this enemy off the streets entirely and out of public life.
Images and videos from today's protests
And in Berlin...
Jack Sherwood has been an organiser in the People's Assembly and Stop the War.
Based in Bristol, he coordinated the largest demonstrations and public meetings in the city 2014-2019: against austerity, in support of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of Labour, over the Junior Doctors' struggle and against the British bombing of Syria.
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