Thursday, 10 October 2013

Examining the UAF

The UAF is the SWP’s flagship front a anti racist and anti fascist organisation which has been around on many demonstrations against the far right for some time now I thought it might be useful to look at its pro’s and con’s and what we do need as a anti fascist movement as far right idea are on the rise right across Europe today and will at some point gain more support here in Britain once again. In the week Tommy Robinson’s high profile resignation from the EDL the UAF have been prominent in opposing the EDL for sometime now and do a lot of good but also do a lot of damage to the movement too I would suggest. Since the last time the EDL was in Tower Hamlets in 2011 many things have changed. They suffered a general decline in their fortunes and early this year we were all getting ready to write their epitaph. Then everything changed in May when the EDL managed to swiftly exploit the murder of a British army soldier in London. Suddenly there were 2000 of them on demos again, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon was being interviewed on TV all the time, their Facebook likes went from under 24,000 to over 100,000 within a day and they seemed to have leapfrogged further ahead than they ever were before. The last few months have in general been a frightening time when the far-right has looked like they were winning. More recently, the effect of their exploitation of Lee Rigby’s death seems to be wearing off a little, but the support and sympathisers that they have gained in this period will not go away so easily, even if they are not always willing to turn out on the streets. In addition, since May, there has been a huge spike in anti-Muslim attacks both on people and mosques, including nailbomb and firebomb attacks. Many of these attacks have been directly linked to the EDL through EDL graffiti left at the scene or EDL members convicted for the attacks. Even without these direct links it is clear that a general rise in far-right activity creates a climate where such attacks happen. It feels like the clock is rapidly rolling back to the racist murders of the early ‘90s associated with an increase in support for the BNP (of which Stephen Lawrence was to become the most high profile victim), or possibly to the murderous violence of the late ‘70s rise of the NF, which claimed the life of Altab Ali among others. The EDL have not been alone in this effort to drag us back into the racist violence of the past. A whole alphabet soup of splinter groups to the right of the EDL now hold their own marches and rallies across the country, mostly in limited numbers, but making up for that in more overt traditional racism than the EDL is willing to openly espouse. The rise of UKIP and the phenomenon of ‘Woolwich Strong’ both indicated a large passive basis of support for nationalistic, racist and anti-immigrant politics. And all along official state racism has been providing the grounding context for this, slowly shifting the middle ground of politics to the right with its normalising of ‘go home’ rhetoric. The government not-so-subtly borrowed the idea of the BNP’s ‘truth truck’, turning it into the UK Border Agency’s notorious ‘racist van’ and has introduced squads of Border Agency staff illegally stopping and demanding papers from foreign-looking people on the street like we were living in pass-law era South Africa. There has been a general failure to adequately deal with the change represented by the rise of the EDL in the last 4 years. The anti-fascist and anti-racist movements have been found wanting in the swift change from combating the electoral politics of the BNP to the sudden re-emergence of far-right street gangs with the EDL. The ‘official’ anti-fascist movement represented by Hope Not Hate and UAF, for all the good work they do, are hamstrung by their close ties to the authorities – they are not willing to risk breaking the law in order to effectively confront the fascists on the streets. Politically they are tied to Labour politicians, union bureaucrats and conservative religious leaders which means their proclaimed politics can only be a fairly shallow liberal celebration of ‘multicultural Britain’, which is fine as far as it goes, but leaves them struggling to combat the EDL either ideologically or physically. Additionally anti-fascism has been hit by the fall-out from the SWP’s ‘Comrade Delta’ scandal. For those that haven’t been following all the Trot gossip – the SWP is Britain’s largest far-left group and the main driving force behind UAF, but earlier this year the party was thrown into disarray by allegations of rape and sexual abuse against a senior party member. As a consequence of the party leadership’s flawed handling of this, significant numbers of SWP members have left the party and there are many disaffected Swappies in the ranks. The effect of this on UAF is hard to precisely judge for those not involved themselves, but it certainly seems to have had an impact on their organisational capacity. The UAF have always been good in getting ood numbers out for anti racist and anti fascist demonstrations and this has been a positive thing. Big numbers opposing the racists on the street is a sign of strength of feeling but simply isn’t enough in my opinion. The point is not to get complacent. If they seem to be in some slight period of decline, that’s the time for us to organise. Better to redouble our efforts when they are in decline and try and finish them off, rather than relax and wait for the next opportunity for them to blame something on Muslims and increase their support. And if this does happen then we need to be ready to confront it, rather than being taken by surprise. Certainly UAF are not all bad and do act as a beacon for drawing in support on demonstrations for example In Tower Hamlets, UAF held a rally in the park and did not brave the police to go and confront the EDL directly. That is not the worst thing in the world. I am sure we all believe in using a diversity of tactics in combating fascism, including those that are non-confrontational. If UAF had not organised a rally, we would have had to have done it ourselves to give an option to people who did not want to risk arrest or confrontation. I disagree with much that UAF do and how they do it but we would be really screwed if they didn’t exist. They have opposed the EDL across the country and sometimes been the only ones to do so so you have to hand it to them for that. I just think an open democratic debate on tactics and strategy is needed for future attempts to oppose the far right. The EDL are eminently beatable. They are not huge. They have a lot of fair weather support that fizzles away to nothing when conditions do not favour them. They had dwindled down to next to nothing before Rigby’s death. The far-right has been chased off the streets before – they can be again.

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