Fighting fascism and Tommy Robinson in Britain

by Dave Gilchrist

Sunday 9th of December saw ten thousand people take to the streets in a welcome return to a united anti-fascist and anti-racist mobilisation. The demonstration successfully outnumbered the fascist and racist ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march of UKIP and ‘Tommy Robinson’. This is especially welcome as the fascists have significantly outnumbered antifascists on a number of occasions since the summer.

The history of the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement in Britain is generally one of success.

From the heady days of the Anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism in the 1970’s which broke the back of the National Front, a fascist party that was set to become the third electoral force in British politics, to the more recent success of the ANL’s successor, Unite Against Fascism, which was instrumental in reducing the fascist British National Party from a having several MEP’s and hundreds of elected local councilors to its present irrelevance.

In the past decade UAF and other anti fascist forces waged a long battle against the English Defence League, an attempt by a a former BNP member Stephen Yaxley-Lennon who goes under the name of ‘Tommy Robinson’ to set up a fascist street movement. This ended at a number of key mobilisations in the London Borough of Walthamstow and in the east end of London in Tower Hamlets where the the EDL were broken and prevented from marching on their intended targets. ‘Tommy Robinson’ subsequently left the EDL.

Other more populist right wing forces mobilising around the question of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, led to the growth of United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP. This growth of a right wing but democratic organisation, ie that is one that sought to operate within the boundaries of a parliamentary democracy was met by the UAF’s twin organisation, Stand Up To Racism.

It came as shock then, to most of the left, that in June a Stand Up to Racism group of a few hundred valiantly stood alone against around fifteen thousand nazis and racists mobilised by ‘Tommy Robinson’ and a new force, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance or DFLA, the largest fascist mobilisation in Britain ever.

The DFLA, an organisation of football hooligans had emerged earlier in the year. They had at first mobilised on a wide basis around a number of bombings that had occurred in Britin but soon hardened up into a racist movement with significant fascist participation.

Tommy Robinson’ has a huge online following and receives substantial financial support from his followers and, it is emerging, from American and other overseas right wing actors. He was recently imprisoned for contempt of court, allegedly reporting outside a court case of some people charged with child abuse. The right then mobilised around ‘Free Tommy’ producing large mobilisations in Westminster in central London, symbolically outside Downing Street the residence of the British prime Minister and a few hundred yards from Parliament. In June whilst ‘Tommy’ was still in prison they pulled off the huge 15,000 demo.

This rang alarm bells for many in the trade union movement and the left and other social movements and UAF and Stand Up To Racism were able to organise an anti racist demonstration of 30000 in response to the growth of the right.

Tommy’ had allegedly spent his time in prison ‘thinking’ and coming up with a new strategy. UKIP have gone into severe decline since the referendum on Brexit and have moved sharply to the right under the new leader Gerard Batten. He has invited ‘Tommy’ to join UKIP, Batten sees new recruitment from the street movements and a hardening of UKIP’s membership. From Tommy’s point of view the possibility of election may seem attractive. Both have the success of the AfD in mind.

The 9 December demonstration ‘Brexit Betrayal’ was an attempt to capitalise on the chaos surrounding the British Government’s Brexit negotiations. In response a hard fought unity was forged between SUTR, women’s groups and Momentum – a left formation in the Labour Party, which saw a significant turn out, outnumbering the fascists.

Some elements wanted this counter demo to be a pro remain demonstration but this was successfully argued against on the basis that whether people were for leave or remain it was essential to unite against the fascists and that it would be a disaster to seem to hand the lead of the leave side over to ‘Tommy’. The demonstration saw speeches from several trades union leaders and from members of the Labour Party Executive.

Various fascist appeared along the route of the march but were quickly seen off by demonstrators and stewards.  UKIP and ‘Tommy’s’ plans did not work out either and they failed to mobilise the expected numbers with only between three and five thousand turning up.

The anti fascist mobilisation has for the moment dealt a blow to ‘Tommy’ and UKIP but the fluid and changing situation in British politics may mean that they will be presented with opportunities for a comeback. It is essential to maintain the unity shown on the 9 December. The lessons of the disaster resulting from the split between German socialists confronting the rise of Hitler is ever in our mind.

Dave Gilchrist is the manager of Bookmarks Bookshop, the socialist bookshop in London.
In the summer of this year the bookshop suffered an attack by some fascists and right wingers who were members of UKIP.