Today saw the biggest response yet to the emergent far right. Jack Sherwood reports on a hopeful day of protest and the tasks ahead for the left
Up to 15,000 people turned out for the national Unity demo against Fascism and Racism today in London: an ethnically mixed, largely working-class crowd, with a number of trades unions represented, anti-racist groups coming from around the country, many local Labour banners and important specific groups such as the striking Birmingham care workers and Brazilians against Fascism (with some great Samba drumming, as below).
The mood was animated and upbeat, but speeches also met the temper of the challenge from a global and increasingly well organised far right, with the quite immediate dangers it poses to minorities and the labour movement as a whole. Some speeches also mentioned the need for a mass working class movement to concretely oppose and defeat neoliberalism's devastating socioeconomic policies - notably austerity - that create the conditions of despair and destitution in which the radical right can seriously advance.
The Labour shadow cabinet was represented by a substantial message of solidarity from Diane Abbott, which was read aloud.
Jewish socialist David Rosenberg highlighted in his speech the UK Tory government’s uncritical partnership with a Polish government which colluded with fascist groups as co-hosts for a march of 200,000 last weekend on the hundredth anniversary of the country’s independence. Several thousand counter-protesters marched in spite of this - whose courage he applauded.
To put today’s action in context, it was a more promising anti-fascist, anti-racist assembly - with some real level of national mobilisation - than almost all others during this turbulent year, and certainly something to build upon. The exception to this would be the massive and very broad anti-Trump protests over the summer in London and around the country that showed what can be possible, albeit with the particular impetus of the most loathed and outrage-inducing President in US history.
Importantly too, the only counter-mobilisation by the far right was a tiny, straggling group of fascist types who attempted to provoke protesters from behind a cordon set along one pavement at the final rally; they were quickly shepherded off by police as a crowd of hundreds of anti-fascists began to converge, chanting "there are many many more of us than you."
Nonetheless, on several occasions this year the far right forces of Tommy Robinson (backed by the international Alt-right) and the Democratic Football Lads Alliance have brought many thousands of their supporters to the streets (up to 15,000), usually outnumbering anti-fascists, which has resulted in violence aimed at both police and trade union counter-demonstrators. It has become a threat which we cannot afford to ignore or underplay.
There is still a great deal of work to be done and arguments to be had throughout the labour movement and progressive activism to build an anti-racist and anti-fascist movement of the necessary scale and political significance for the dangerous time in which we find ourselves; one which proves an immovable, indomitable and unignorable repulsive force to drive the far right back into obscurity.
There are still many hundreds of thousands of people who consider themselves anti-racists and anti-fascists who need to be brought together in this movement, and prominent local and national organisations that need to be decisively persuaded that there is no way they can sit this one out. That anti-racism and anti-fascism, and "never again" and "they shall not pass", have to mean something in very concrete activity and mobilisation on the streets: more than simply words of outrage in response to increasingly prevalent violent attacks, poisonous rhetoric from Trump to Tommy Robinson and the ongoing major state racism in this country (from the Windrush scandal to Yarls Wood to Prevent).
Simply words of defiance or solidarity are nowhere near enough to make the kind of decisive mass political interventions that help turn the tide against the mainstreaming of an increasingly merciless reaction.
As Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS Union, put it today, we need to demonstrate clearly as a mass movement that “fascism, misogyny, racism belong in the gutter and will never be respectable”.
Finally, let’s make a clear case (as many did today) that the fight against the divisive forces of the far right and the racism operating at all levels – from street corner to law enforcement to the Palace of Westminster – goes hand in hand with our struggle to defeat the social regression of neoliberalism and austerity as we seek to unify opposition to the toil and hardship of exploitation and oppression against the real enemy of the ruling class.
This fight to overcome reactionary division is also an essential partner to the task of building a combative and solidarity-bound labour movement capable of regaining ground across social and economic territory from increasingly crisis-ridden capital; of organising a working class confident enough to become collectively convinced that it is all of us together, not the failed masters of the political establishment, who should take control of our society and economy to provide for all our needs and liberate our bountiful human potential. Namely, socialism.
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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