Thursday, 18 August 2011

Fascism rears its ugly head

Europe in the 1930s was afflicted with economic depression, massively high unemployment and fascist gangs on the streets. Today in Europe all these things are back although history never repeats itself exactly. Then, the political leaders encouraged fascist gangs to beat trade unionists and socialists off the streets and to help whip up racist hysteria to create scapegoats to divert attention away from their own failure to deal with economic crisis. In the end the politicians handed them power in two key countries: Italy and Germany. In Britain, Oswald Mosely's British Union of Fascists carried out its violent activities until they were stopped at the 'Battle of Cable Street' when "over 100,000 anti-Fascists of English, Irish, Jewish and Somali (amongst others) descent successfully prevented the fascists from marching through London's East End".

Today, there seems to be a concerted effort on the part of a section, or perhaps more than one section, of society to use recent events as an excuse to push forward a fascist agenda, this time using not anti-semitism but Islamophobia.

Of course New Labour used Islamophobia for much of their thirteen years in office to divert attention away from their own failings and to justify both their participation in US President George W. Bush's 'War on Terror' and their own attack on civil liberties. In 2006, Jack Straw caused a furore when he claimed muslim women wearing veils were to blame for Islamophobia. Now the Tory-led government is continuing and extending that strategy. On 5 February 2011 David Cameron made a speech attacking multiculturalism on the same day the 'English Defence League' (EDL) marched in Luton.

The British National Party (BNP) may be in disarray after disastrous election results, followed by further leaks and splits and an embarrassing leadership contest, but the EDL appears to be picking up more support. The EDL's activities have been followed by the Socialist Worker newspaper since its inception which states here,
"More and more the EDL behaves like a classic fascist organisation. It is trying to control the streets, intimidate opposition and terrorise Muslims. It has organised a series of violent demonstrations since its creation two years ago. EDL supporters have physically attacked mosques and Muslims’ homes, and more recently anti-racist meetings, trade union demonstrations and a Hindu temple. Nazis make up the core of the EDL leadership—despite its strenuous denials."
This is not just happening in Britain. Across Europe, fascist parties are becoming more popular. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ racist Freedom Party (PVV) is now the third largest in parliament with 24 seats. Islamophobia is central to Wilders’ electoral success. The Front Nationale in France has three seats in the European parliament and 118 seats on regional councils. Sweden’s fascist SD was elected to parliament for the first time in September last year with 20 seats. Hungary’s openly fascist Jobbik Party (“The Movement for a Better Hungary”) has a paramilitary wing. It has three MEPs. Jobbik cemented its position as Hungary’s third largest party in last year’s parliamentary elections when it secured 47 seats and 12.8 percent of the vote. Across eastern Europe we are witnessing the terrifying rise of Nazi skinheads and ultra-nationalists who attack minorities and anti-racists.

Only a few weeks ago Anders Behring Breivik carried out an atrocity which killed 76 people in Norway. Young people attending an event organised by Labour Youth were shot dead on the island of Utoya near the Norwegian capital Oslo when a man dressed in a police uniform opened fire. A car bomb killed seven people earlier the same day outside Norway’s main government building in central Oslo. Members of the ruling Labour Party were the targets in both cases.

Initially some of the media speculated that the attack had been carried out by Islamic fundamentalists. The Sun in particular claimed that it had been carried out by a Norwegian "homegrown al-Qaeda convert". In fact the massacre was carried out by Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian, Christian fascist with links to the EDL.

The leader of the EDL, one Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was then allowed to appear on the BBC's Newsnight programme, supposedly to answer claims about the links between Breivik and the EDL. In fact Jeremy Paxman, despite his reputation as a tough interviewer, allowed him to lie and misrepresent his position as well as allowing him to spew his hatred about muslims and to threaten that a similar attack could happen in Britain within five years. As writer and political commentator Richard Seymour has said, the BBC are helping to make the EDL's ideas seem normal, mainstream.
"This thug, this violent racist at the head of a gang of violent racists and Nazis, is being normalised. His ideas are being communicated to mass audiences without serious rebuttal or challenge, and are thus being normalised - and this is happening in a situation where the EDL and the BNP and all the thugs in their periphery should be languishing in utter disgrace."
During the recent riots in England, there were reports of racists using the unrest as an opportunity to carry out violent racist attacks. As the Guardian's Paul Lewis reported from the Hertford Road in North Enfield,
"It was only a minor skirmish, but a potentially bad sign for community relations. Police, who have flooded the streets, were quickly on the scene when about 70 men started chasing local youths. I wouldn't mention their ethnicity, but it seemed to be relevant. The men were white - in their 30s and 40s - and shouting that they wanted to get the "blacks" and "pakis". Lots of them seemed drunk. One man being held back by police shouted: "They're rats, they mugged my Auntie the other night."
"Jay Bradley, 30, a witness, told me: "What happened here? What I just saw - everyone from this area aren't gonna have any looting. What I saw was a couple of ethnic lads, if you can call them that, black lads, and they chased them away. A lot of it is alcohol - I don't think the kids were doing anything. They were just on bikes and in masks. But no-one around here is going to stand for any looting. What are we supposed to do. The Co-op is closed and we're running out of food.""
Whether or not these men were EDL members or supporters cannot be proven, although the BNP had traditionally had support in Enfield until a campaign against them in 2004 and although they avoided the borough in 2006, they stood a candidate in the area in 2010, but there seems little doubt the EDL "tried to take advantage of the looting".

In response to the riots themselves, amongst the reactionary backlash and incredibly harsh sentences comes an incredible outburst from well-know reactionary TV historian and cheerleader for the monarchy David Starkey. Starkey, on the BBC's Newsnight programme, began by defending Enoch Powell, went on to claim that many white people have become 'black' and then tried to demonstrate this by reading some 'West Indian patois'. Once again, the BBC allowed him to get away with what he was saying largely unchallenged. Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP has suggested on Twitter that he feels he could not have said it better himself. Seymour argues that either he was trying to insult those of whom he was speaking and give succour to the racists or he was trying to start a moral panic in which the boundaries of acceptability could be altered in a radical way. Either way, his outburst is clearly unacceptable and has resulted in hundreds of complaints and a huge discussion on Twitter.

One thing is sure, the EDL must be stopped. Now, in an apparent echo of the 'Battle of Cable Street', the EDL are planning to march through East London once again. The march through Tower Hamlets is designed to stoke racial tensions in an area of great ethnic diversity. The EDL tried to march there in June last year but cancelled their march at the last minute, describing it as a "suicide mission". An anti-EDL protest, organised by Unite Aganist Fascism (UAF) and East End United, went ahead drawing 5000 people. This time it seems the EDL march will go ahead. The anti-EDL march, again organised by UAF and East End United to "celebrate diversity and oppose the racist English Defence League in Tower Hamlets on 3 September", has been backed by two national unions, the CWU and the PCS as well as local union branches and community groups. Socialist Worker is reporting a large turnout is expected with over 30 coaches already booked.

The lesson from the 1930s is that fascism will only be thwarted by the mass mobilisation of working people. It was the working class that stopped the BUF in the 1930s and it is the working class that will stop the EDL today. There is no point calling on the government to ban the EDL. State bans do not work. Where the government have banned EDL marches, they have allowed them to have 'static protests' instead. Anti-EDL marches are then also banned allowing the police to attack the anti-fascists. The police also 'escort' the EDL to their assembly point, allowing them to march through towns chanting fascist slogans. A ban will not remove the social conditions racist ideas come from. That can only be achieved through a united, mass movement for change. They shall not pass.

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