Anti-Fascism in Britain [2 ed.] 2016019657, 9781138926493, 9781138926509, 9781315680583

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Anti-Fascism in Britain [2 ed.]
 2016019657, 9781138926493, 9781138926509, 9781315680583

Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright page
Table of Contents
List of abbreviations
1. The origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35
2. Opposition to British fascism 1936–45
3. ‘Never again!’: anti-fascism 1946–66
4. ‘The National Front is a Nazi front!’: opposition to the National Front 1967–79
5. Fighting fascism in the eighties and nineties
6. Opposing fascism in the twenty-first century

Citation preview

Nigel Copsey has led the way in opening up the field of British anti-fascism studies, defining the empirical and conceptual parameters for the elucidation of protest and resistance to extremism over the course of the twentieth century. This lucidly written and meticulously researched second edition of his ground breaking study is very welcome and timely. Dr Julie V. Gottlieb, University of Sheffield, UK Anti-Fascism in Britain is an important book, widening our understanding of a subject that remains pertinent today. Professor Matthew Worley, University of Reading, UK

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Anti-fascism has long been one of the most active and dynamic areas of radical protest and direct action. Yet it is an area of struggle and popular resistance that remains largely unexplored by historians, sociologists and political scientists. Fully revised and updated from its earlier edition, this book continues to provide the definitive account of anti-fascism in Britain from its roots in the 1930s opposition to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists, to the street demonstrations and online campaigns of the twenty-first century. The author draws on an impressive range of sources including official government, police and security services records, the writings and recollections of activists themselves, and the publications and propaganda of anti-fascist groups and their opponents. The book traces the ideological, tactical and organisational evolution of anti-fascist groups and explores their often complicated relationships with the mainstream and radical left, as well as assessing their effectiveness in combating the extreme right. Nigel Copsey is Professor of Modern History at Teesside University, UK and co-director of the Centre for Fascist, Anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist Studies.

ROUTLEDGE STUDIES IN FASCISM AND THE FAR RIGHT Series editors: Nigel Copsey, Teesside University and Graham Macklin, Teesside University

This book series examines fascist, far right and right-wing politics within a historical context. Fascism falls within the far right but the far right also extends to so-called ‘radical-right populism’. Boundaries are not fixed and it is important to recognise points of convergence and exchange with the mainstream right. The series will include books with a broad thematic or biographical focus suitable for students, teachers and general readers. These will be available in hardback, paperback and e-book. The series will also include books aimed largely at subject specialists which will appear in hardback and e-book format only. Titles include: Cultures of Post-War British Fascism Edited by Nigel Copsey and John E. Richardson France and Fascism February 1934 and the dynamics of political crisis Brian Jenkins and Chris Millington Searching for Lord Haw-Haw The political lives of William Joyce Colin Holmes Farming, Fascism and Ecology A life of Jorian Jenks Philip M. Coupland Fascist in the Family The tragedy of John Beckett M.P. Francis Beckett

What Did You Do During The War? The last throes of the British pro-Nazi Right 1940–45 Richard Griffiths Anti-Fascism in Britain (Second edition) Nigel Copsey Right-Wing Terrorism in the 21st Century The ‘National Socialist Underground’ and the history of terror from the Far-Right in Germany Daniel Koehler



Nigel Copsey




Second edition published 2017 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2017 Nigel Copsey The right of Nigel Copsey to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. First edition published by Macmillan Press Ltd 2000 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Names: Copsey, Nigel, 1967- author. Title: Anti-fascism in Britain / Nigel Copsey. Description: 2nd edition. | New York, NY : Routledge, 2016. | Series: Routledge studies in fascism and the far right | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2016019657 | ISBN 9781138926493 (hardback) | ISBN 9781138926509 (pbk.) | ISBN 9781315680583 (e-book) Subjects: LCSH: Great Britain--Politics and government--20th century. | Great Britain--Politics and government--21st century. | Anti-fascist movements-Great Britain--History--20th century. | Anti-fascist movements-Great Britain--History--21st century. | Fascism--Great Britain--History-20th century. | Fascism–Great Britain--History--21st century. Classification: LCC DA566.7 .C64 2016 | DDC 320.53/30941--dc23 LC record available at ISBN: 978-1-138-92649-3 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-138-92650-9 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-68058-3 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo by Taylor & Francis Books

For my father, Bill Copsey

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Acknowledgements List of abbreviations Introduction

x xi xiv


The origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35



Opposition to British fascism 1936–45



‘Never again!’: anti-fascism 1946–66



‘The National Front is a Nazi front!’: opposition to the National Front 1967–79



Fighting fascism in the eighties and nineties



Opposing fascism in the twenty-first century







I would like to express my appreciation to the following for their assistance both with the original project and this second edition: the late Morris Beckman, Jenny Bourne, Alex Carter, Janet Dack, Ultán Gillen, the late Monty Kolsky, Graham Macklin, Henry Morris, David Renton, Len Rolnick, David Turner, Mike Whine and Lewis Young. I am indebted to my former colleague Graham Ford for reading the draft manuscript and for his critical comments. His willingness to give his time so generously was much appreciated. I would also like to thank other former and current colleagues within the History section at Teesside University for providing me with both financial support and relief from teaching commitments. A special thanks must go to former colleague Geoff Watkins whose practical help proved invaluable in enabling me to finish the original edition of the book; and to Margaret Hems for organising teaching relief in relation to completion of this second edition. My thanks are also extended to Steve Hall and Simon Winlow (also a long-suffering Sunderland fan) for some illuminating Wednesday-morning banter. I am also indebted to Craig Fowlie at Routledge for offering me the opportunity to revisit this book, and to his editorial assistant, Emma Chappell. More generally, I would give thanks to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull, the British Library, London Metropolitan University Library, London School of Economics Library, the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University, the People’s History Museum Manchester, University of Sheffield Library, the Wiener Library, and the Working Class Movement Library Salford for granting me access to their collections. I would like to thank those people close to me for all their support and encouragement over the years, namely Maureen and the late Bill Copsey, my brother Rick, and David (Dave) Bailey. A really special thanks must go to Ali, Joe and Ben.



Anti-Fascist Action anti-fascist committees Anti-Fascist League Anti-Fascist Network Annual General Meeting Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism Anti-Nazi League Anti-Racist Alliance All London Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee Association of University Teachers British Broadcasting Corporation British Democratic Party British Fascisti, British Fascists British Movement British National Party Board of Deputies of British Jews British Union of Fascists (and National Socialists) Campaign Against Racism and Fascism Campaign Against Racism in the Media constituency Labour Party Communist International Communist Party Archives Communist Party of Great Britain Community Security Trust Communication Workers’ Union English Defence League

xii Abbreviations


European Economic Community Fire Brigades’ Union Greater London Assembly Greater London Council HOPE not Hate International Labour Defence Independent Labour Party International Marxist Group International Socialists Independent Television Indian Workers’ Association Independent Working Class Association Jewish Aid Committee of Britain Jewish Chronicle Jewish Defence Committee Jewish People’s Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Jewish Socialists’ Group London Area Council of the Board of Deputies Labour Friends of Searchlight Love Music Hate Racism London Socialist Alliance Member of the European Parliament Member of Parliament Manchester Union of Jewish Ex-Servicemen National Assembly Against Racism National Anti-Fascist League National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education National Council for Civil Liberties National Front Newham Monitoring Project North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party) National Socialist Movement National Union for Combating Fascismo National Union of Journalists New Party youth movement National Union of Students National Unemployed Workers’ Movement New World Fellowship Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies People’s Defence Force Polytechnic of North London

Abbreviations xiii


Public Order Act Red Action Rock Against Racism Revolutionary Communist Party Socialist Workers’ Party Trades Advisory Council Transport and General Workers’ Union The National Archives Trades Union Congress Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association Unite Against Fascism United Campaign Against Racism UK Independence Party Workers’ Revolutionary Party Young Communist League Yellow Star Movement


This book is the second revised edition of Anti-Fascism in Britain, the original edition having been published over 15 years ago.1 Anti-Fascism in Britain was the first book to chart the broad history of British anti-fascism as a continuous phenomenon from the 1920s to the present day. What struck me, at this time, was that a voluminous body of scholarly literature existed on the protagonists of British fascism, yet very little attention had been directed towards its antagonists. It was in response to this unfortunate imbalance that Anti-Fascism in Britain was first conceived. This second edition offers a welcome opportunity to reprise this history, to present an even fuller picture, and to bring the chronology up to date. All the earlier chapters have been revised for this new edition, and a sixth chapter has been added that captures opposition to the electoral emergence of the British National Party after the turn of millennium. The intention with the first volume was to provide an accessible and critical analysis of the longue durée of British anti-fascism. This second edition is approached in the same spirit. The book is unapologetically detailed, and offers its readers a comprehensive full-length account. All the same, it remains incomplete. Even allowing for indepth study, it has not been possible to cover every activist group, nor has it been possible to discuss anti-fascism with regard to some distinct types (for example, anti-fascism as experienced by feminists, pacifists, literary writers or anti-fascist exiles).2 In view of that, this is not a study of anti-fascism in Britain in its totality. Nonetheless, it does engage with its complex trajectory at length, and it does so applying a broad and multifaceted approach. Our starting point is the 1920s. The account opens in 1923, over a decade before the most celebrated episode of popular anti-fascism in British political history – the ‘Battle of Cable Street’. From beginnings with which many will be unfamiliar, this book then charts the course of anti-fascism throughout the twentieth century and concludes in the second decade of this century. The first two chapters have a

Introduction xv

pre-1945 agenda and relate the origins and development of anti-fascism from the initial responses to the precursors of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, through the early origins of opposition to Mosley’s Blackshirts, before proceeding to Cable Street and beyond. The third chapter starts with attempts to prevent the resurrection of home-grown fascism in the period from 1945 to 1950 before moving on to explore under-researched responses to a renewal of fascist activity in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the fourth chapter, opposition to the National Front between 1967 and 1979 is investigated. It was in the 1970s when the Anti-Nazi League emerged, which for many, decades on, still offers the model for how best to organise against fascism. In the fifth chapter we move on to examine the forms that the continuing fight against fascism took in the 1980s and 1990s. Finally, the sixth chapter extends the chronological scope into the present day and focuses specifically on how anti-fascists responded to the challenge presented by the British National Party, the most electorally successful far-right party in British political history. Although the historical literature on Britain’s anti-fascists has certainly grown appreciably since the publication of this book’s original edition, the rate of growth still lags behind scholarly study of Britain’s fascists. Nonetheless, we do know far more today about anti-fascism than ever before. During the past 15 years or so, the field of ‘anti-fascist studies’ has expanded with important scholarly contributions from Keith Hodgson (2010) and Daniel Tilles (2015), which examined anti-fascism in terms of left-wing and Jewish responses, respectively.3 Varieties of Anti-Fascism, a volume that I co-edited with Andrzej Olechnowicz, published in 2010, considered the multifaceted nature of the British anti-fascist experience in the inter-war period.4 Those seeking an informative discussion of historians and the study of anti-fascism in Britain should turn to the chapter in that volume by Andrzej Olechnowicz.5 Then there is the continuing literature published by past and present anti-fascist activists, including: David Renton’s engaging study of the original AntiNazi League (2006); Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey’s lively account of Anti-Fascist Action (2003), now displaced by Sean Birchall’s ‘official’ history (2010); and longer-term studies of physical force anti-fascism by Dave Hann (2013) and M. Testa (2015).6 Further incremental additions to the field have come through activist accounts, journal articles and book chapters.7 The function of the historian is not merely to fill gaps in existing literature. There must be a rationale for why anti-fascism is historically important. On this point it is the scale of popular participation in anti-fascist activity that first and foremost makes anti-fascism historically significant. In cumulative terms, from the 1920s to the present day, the figure extends to hundreds of thousands of people. It is an undeniable fact that anti-fascism has impacted on many ordinary lives and this alone makes anti-fascism worth considering in its own right. To reinforce this point, we should never lose sight of the fact that in relative terms, far more people supported the anti-fascist cause than ever supported fascist organisations. The membership of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, the largest fascist organisation in Britain, peaked at fewer than 50,000 in 1934; that same year, possibly between 100,000 and 150,000 people attended a rally against Mosley in London’s

xvi Introduction

Hyde Park (newspaper estimates were that Mosley’s contingent was outnumbered by around 20:1). In more recent times, where the membership of the National Front reached 17,500 at the very most, the Anti-Nazi League, formed to oppose the Front in 1977, could boast support in excess of 40,000 members within the first year of its existence. The British National Party’s membership supposedly peaked at over 14,000 in May 2010; in that year one anti-fascist campaign group claimed a supporter base of over 200,000.8 Numerical significance aside, a further aspect to anti-fascism’s historical importance is the part it has played in the failure of British fascism. Naturally anti-fascist groups are keen to stress their decisive role, and usually to the exclusion of all other factors. Thus we are faced with (self-congratulatory) statements from anti-fascist groups such as ‘[m]ass mobilisations like Cable Street stopped Mosley’ and the presence of the Anti-Nazi League on the streets ‘meant it proved impossible to turn out Front members. Recruitment slumped and their vote collapsed’.9 However, even if antifascist activists overstate their case, accounts from disinterested historians do usually accord anti-fascism a place in their multi-causal explanations of why British fascism failed. For instance, in his study of Mosley’s fascism, D.S. Lewis identified three groups of reasons that prevented its success, one of which was anti-fascist opposition.10 As for the decline of the National Front, Richard Thurlow believed that this ‘was partially due to the successful undermining of it by the Anti-Nazi League’.11 It has to be said, however, that some historians divest anti-fascist opposition of any telling impact on its adversary. Roger Griffin has taken a dim view of anti-fascism’s significance, arguing that revolutionary ideology only appeals to a small minority in modern pluralistic societies and so ‘[w]hat marginalizes fascism, then, is the irreducible pluralism of modern society, and not the strength of liberalism as such, let alone the concerted opposition of anti-fascists’.12 From our extended perspective we find ourselves in a position to re-examine how far anti-fascism was of consequence in the political marginalisation of British fascism, though this does not mean to say that fascism will occupy the centre of attention. Throughout, anti-fascism retains the focus and, accordingly, the scope, strategy, organisation and operation of anti-fascism form the other major concerns of this book. It is through these concerns that linear traditions of anti-fascism emerge and, as we shall see, the overarching feature in this regard has been the historic divide between radical or militant anti-fascism with its emphasis on physical confrontation, and ‘legal’ forms of anti-fascism – a tactical division that has consistently influenced relations not only between but also within those forces actively engaged in opposing British fascism. What exactly is anti-fascism? Though admittedly not as problematic to define as fascism, we must nevertheless proceed with caution. There is a stumbling block, and this relates to how far the term ‘anti-fascism’ should stretch. If we take antifascism to mean simply opposition to fascism, then should it include responses by the state, by the media, or even responses by those on the conservative non-fascist right? In his book on fascism, anti-fascism and Britain in the 1940s, which was published alongside the original edition of this volume, David Renton opted to restrict

Introduction xvii

usage of the term ‘anti-fascist’ to ‘activists, people who objected to the rise of fascism, who hated the doctrines of fascism and did something to stop their growth’.13 Renton put the emphasis on activism and what followed from this is his additional defining feature – organisation – where ‘[a]lmost every anti-fascist shared the belief that fascism could not be beaten by individuals, but only by an anti-fascist group or campaign.’14 It is thus activism and organisation that separate anti-fascists from ‘non-fascists’. The latter term he reserved for those who may have found fascist ideas ‘objectionable’ but who did nothing actively to stop fascism. The approach adopted in the following study departs from Renton. Here, antifascism is defined as a thought, an attitude or feeling of hostility towards fascist ideology and its propagators which may or may not be acted upon. Anti-fascism can assume myriad forms, and its sources vary. In the preface to Varieties of Anti-Fascism, I wrote: Of course, on one level, anti-fascism demands very little when it comes to its definition. At its most straightforward anti-fascism may simply be defined as opposition to fascism as an ideology and to the propagators of that ideology (whether a political party, group, movement, individual, or government).15 So is there a true anti-fascism? My thoughts are that we cannot delimit ‘true’ anti-fascism according to academic definitions of who the anti-fascism is directed at. The voice of historical actors is critical here. The definition of fascism must rest solely with the anti-fascist, regardless of whether or not they assess/define fascism correctly […] opposition refers not only to the act of opposing (the hostile action) but also to the state of being in opposition (the hostile attitude). As a result, anti-fascism can take both active and passive forms.16 For sure, anti-fascism is not the sole preserve of the left, whether Marxist or nonMarxist. Put simply, people oppose fascism for a variety of reasons, whether political or humanitarian. What all anti-fascists have in common is an anti-fascist ‘minimum’ – a shared belief that fascism is antithetical to Enlightenment concepts of humanity and society.17 Regardless of their ideological orientation, be it communist, socialdemocratic, liberal or conservative, all anti-fascists oppose fascism on the basis that fascism is a negation of human dignity and natural rights. Although this gives us a harder furrow to plough, our approach to anti-fascism is more flexible and far-reaching. In the end, this leaves us with an impression of anti-fascism as a veritable mosaic, a truly variegated phenomenon that when pieced together offers a richly textured picture of a relatively neglected and yet important part of modern British history.

Notes 1 N. Copsey, Anti-Fascism in Britain, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000. 2 For more on these different anti-fascisms, see N. Copsey and A. Olechnowicz (eds), Varieties of Anti-Fascism: Britain in the Inter-War Period, Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010.

xviii Introduction

3 K. Hodgson, Fighting Fascism: The British Left and the Rise of Fascism, 1919–39, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010; D. Tilles, British Fascist Antisemitism and Jewish Responses, 1932–40, London: Bloomsbury, 2015. 4 Copsey and Olechnowicz (eds), Varieties of Anti-Fascism. 5 See A. Olechnowicz, ‘Introduction: Historians and the Study of Anti-Fascism in Britain’, in Copsey and Olecnowicz (eds), Varieties of Anti-Fascism, pp. 1–27. 6 See D. Renton, When We Touched the Sky: The Anti-Nazi League, 1977–1981, Cheltenham: New Clarion Press, 2006; D. Hann and S. Tilzey, No Retreat: The Secret War Between Britain’s Anti-Fascists and the Far Right, Lytham: Milo Books, 2003; S. Birchall, Beating the Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action, London: Freedom Press, 2010; D. Hann, Physical Resistance: Or, A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism, Winchester: Zero Books, 2013; and M. Testa, Militant Anti-Fascism: A Hundred Years of Resistance, Edinburgh: A.K. Press, 2015. 7 See for example (the following list is not exhaustive): K. Bullstreet, Bash the Fash: AntiFascist Recollections, 1984–93, London: Kate Sharpley Library, 2001; M. Lux, Anti-Fascist, London: Phoenix Press, 2006; N. Lowles (ed.), From Cable Street to Oldham: Seventy Years of Community Resistance, London: Searchlight, 2007; T. Greenstein, The Fight Against Fascism in Brighton and the South Coast, Brighton: Brighton History Workshop, Pamphlet no. 1, 2011; N. Lowles, HOPE: The Story of the Campaign that Helped Defeat the BNP, London: HOPE not Hate, 2014; N. Copsey and D. Tilles, ‘Uniting a Divided Community? Re-appraising Jewish Responses to British Fascist Antisemitism, 1932–39’, Holocaust Studies, Special Issue: Fascism and the Jews: Italy and Britain, 2009, vol. 15, 163–87, and reprinted as a chapter in D. Tilles and S. Garau (eds), Fascism and the Jews: Italy and Britain, London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2011, pp. 180–206; N. Copsey, ‘Communists and the Inter-War Struggle in the United States and Britain’, Labour History Review, 2011, vol. 76, no. 3, 184–206; chapters by Thurlow, Macklin, Gottlieb, Mates, Renton and Copsey in N. Copsey and D. Renton (eds), British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005; N. Copsey, ‘From Direct Action to Community Action: The Changing Dynamics of Anti-fascist Opposition’, in N. Copsey and G. Macklin (eds), British National Party: Contemporary Perspectives, Abingdon: Routledge, 2011, pp. 123–41; M. Hayes, ‘Red Action: Left-wing Pariah’, in E. Smith and M. Worley (eds), Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014, pp. 229–46; and D. Renton, ‘Anti-fascism in Britain, 1997–2012’, in Smith and Worley (eds), Against the Grain, pp. 247–63. 8 The figure of 200,000 plus is given in 2013/10/Hope-not-Hate-evidence.pdf (last viewed 8 March 2016). 9 C. Bambery, Killing the Nazi Menace, London: Socialist Workers’ Party, 1992, p. 29 and p. 34. 10 See D.S. Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur: Mosley, Fascism and British Society, 1931–81, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987, esp. ch. 5. 11 R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain, 2nd rev. edn, London: I.B. Tauris, 1998, p. 256. 12 R. Griffin, ‘British Fascism: The Ugly Duckling’, in M. Cronin (ed.), The Failure of British Fascism, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996, p. 162. 13 D. Renton, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000, p. 71. 14 Ibid., p. 72. 15 N. Copsey, ‘Preface: Towards a New Anti-Fascist “Minimum”’, in Copsey and Olechnowicz (eds) Varieties of Anti-Fascism, p. xiv. 16 Ibid., pp. xiv–xv. 17 For further discussion of my anti-fascist minimum and the relationship between anti-fascism and ideology, see ibid., pp. xviii.


I The roots of Britain’s anti-fascist tradition can be traced back to 7 October 1923, when Communists disrupted the inaugural meeting of the British Fascisti (BF). This rally of Britain’s first fascist organisation, attended by some 500 people, ended in ‘pandemonium’. Two further meetings, both held in November 1923 in London’s Hammersmith, were also disrupted.1 The very birth of British fascism had encountered opposition – this before the hostility that was directed towards Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s. Until recently, antagonism towards the BUF’s precursors had passed historians by,2 given that Britain’s early fascist organisations had been written off as ‘irrelevancies’, unimportant in both ideological and organisational terms. Even though there were no mass anti-fascist mobilisations on the scale of those that would take place in the 1930s, the antecedents of this later mass opposition originate in the previous decade. The formation of the British Fascisti in May 1923 (acknowledged by the Daily Herald on 30 August 1923) gave rise to some concern that British fascists might reproduce the violence of their Italian counterparts. Italian Fascism had started out as a tiny movement in 1919 (the BF had just 15 adherents at the time of the Herald’s report), but had grown exponentially in a short space of time, facilitated by the anti-communism of the Italian political establishment. By early 1924 the BF had expanded to some 2,000 members (many of whom had dual membership with the Conservative Party). By the time the BF held a national rally in Trafalgar Square in late 1924, it could muster 1,800 activists in central London, with the security services guesstimating a total strength of around 30,0003 (helped no doubt by the absence of any membership or mandatory subscription fee). Threateningly, the BF’s ‘enrolment oath’ carried the open-ended pledge ‘to render every service in my power to the British Fascisti in their struggle against all treacherous and revolutionary movements

2 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

now working for the destruction of the Throne and the Empire’.4 For those left-wing militants disrupting the earliest meetings of the BF, the founding of an Italian-style fascist organisation (the imitative name ‘Fascisti’ making the link with Mussolini’s movement explicit) had to be resisted, for a more mature form of fascismo might be turned loose on British workers if left unchecked. However, since mainstream opinion paid modest attention to Italian Fascism, the founding of a domestic equivalent was largely ignored. Italy was a minor ‘Mediterranean land’ after all, and Fascism came across as specifically and stereotypically Italian (‘theatrical’ and ‘dramatic’). Although inclined towards lawless brutality, a point made repeatedly by the Rome correspondent of the Daily Herald and by Guglielmo Salvadori in the New Statesman, Fascism was praised for saving Italy from the anarchy of the left. Conservative opinion applauded Mussolini for restoring ‘order’ and this evaluation was even echoed in the Labour press, which had acclaimed Italian Fascism for a ‘bloodless revolution’. Despite Italian Fascism’s venomous assault on the left, Labour declared that ‘we must welcome Fascism halfway’ and concluded that left-wing militancy had brought about Italian Fascism by engendering disorder and political confusion.5 Labour was keen to stress democratic, legalistic credentials and was anxious to dissociate itself from the ‘irresponsible’ revolutionary agitation of ‘continental’ socialism. The effect was that initial opposition to the first growths of domestic fascism did not attract widespread interest or enthusiasm. Nonetheless, left-wing militants alive to a potential fascist threat in Britain quickly saw the need for specific anti-fascist organisations (possibly a response to the Fascisti gaining the upper hand in initial confrontations).6 One early anti-fascist initiative came in January 1924 when a defensive ‘anti-fascisti’ organisation known as the People’s Defence Force (PDF) was launched. From the 1917 Club in Soho, London, the PDF issued a statement on 26 January 1924. This maintained that the ‘existence of a militant body calling itself the British Fascisti obviously inspired by the example of the Italian reactionaries […] calls for a corresponding force pledged to resist any interference with the due operation of the constitution’. The PDF cast itself as a non-aggressive, legalistic organisation and even commended the police as a model to all its members. Declaring itself formally independent but aligned to the ‘workers’ movement’, it pledged to ‘keep a watchful eye on the activities of the Fascisti’ and ‘resist any attempt to break up meetings’.7 Special Branch reported that it was not known whether this defence group was officially connected with the Communist movement although key personnel appeared to be closely linked. One of the organisers, H. Martin, was Secretary of the London District Council of the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee.8 Another, H. Johnstone, was identified as the probable organiser of the West London branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).9 Alongside the PDF, a second anti-fascist organisation emerged, known as the National Union for Combating Fascismo (NUCF).10 This was based not in London but, curiously, in a bleak Yorkshire village near Hebden Bridge. Formed by poet and writer Ethel Carnie Holdsworth and her spouse Alfred, the NUCF published an anti-fascist newspaper, The Clear Light, which claimed a circulation of

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 3

5,000.11 The NUCF saw itself as a ‘specialized branch of the Socialist Movement’ but declared no intention of building a numerically large counter-movement. Its policy was ‘not to present an organised opposition to the holding of B.F. meetings’.12 Although ‘revolutionary socialist’, it was non-violent: ‘The advocacy of violence is reactionary. It plays into the hands of the enemy. It diverts the masses from the very weapon they are historically fitted to wield – their industrial organisations.’13 The NUCF recognised that the ‘B.F. are as much entitled as anyone else to air their views in public, and as much entitled to a fair and generous hearing’. Rather than break up fascist meetings, the purpose of the NUCF was ‘to watch the activities of the B.F. and similar organisations in their own Districts, and to report periodically to H.Q. In other words, the N.U.C.F. will became Labour’s C.I.D. [Criminal Investigations Department]’.14 The NUCF circularised all divisional and borough Labour parties in the country to warn of the fascist threat. The problem was that their intelligence relied on what the BF itself claimed, including a grossly inflated membership claim of 250,000 in 1925. It also rounded on Labour papers for making ‘only jokes about Mussolini and the beginning of the Fascist movement in this country. But it is pantomime which, if the Fascist Movement be not broken, will turn into dark comedy as far as Labour is concerned’.15 There is a tale of BF members, posing as Communists from Manchester, making threats against the editor of The Clear Light and the newspaper’s printer in 1925.16 However, it is doubtful that the organisation’s existence seriously troubled the BF’s London HQ. Although some NUCF branches were established outside Yorkshire, in Manchester and Burnley for example, and there was a corresponding address listed for the organising secretary (E. Burton Dancy) in Chiswick, in West London, and also a Scottish organiser in Edinburgh, it remained a largely local and provincial affair and soon folded. Even allowing for the initiation of these two early anti-fascist organisations, and minor confrontations between left-wing militants and British fascists during 1923–4, majority opinion on the left was not unduly concerned by British fascism. The British Fascisti, formed by Rotha Lintorn-Orman, 28-year-old granddaughter of Field Marshall Sir Lintorn Simmons, was more an object of ridicule than dread. The BF was generally regarded as a something of a joke: an adult extension of the Scout movement rather than a well-oiled repressive machine; an eccentric and amateurish pressure group whose public activities were largely innocuous. That the British Fascisti displayed a badge with the initials ‘B.F.’ – ‘Bloody Fools’ – only added to this impression. Even on the far left this caricature of British fascism was widely received. The Marxist ‘Plebs League’ dismissed the BF as ‘a glorified Boys’ Brigade’ and proceeded to ridicule it as a ‘laughingstock’, an unsophisticated caricature of the Italian fascist movement.17 Rather than devote itself systematically to Italianstyle anti-communist violence, the British Fascisti appeared more concerned about the party’s name (subsequently changed to the English-sounding ‘British Fascists’ in 1924 – presumably to offset negative associations with Italian Fascism). During the 1924 election there were reports of the British Fascists even offering to steward Labour Party meetings. The offer was rebuffed.18

4 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

On the other hand there were hardliners in the organisation, like future Lord Haw-Haw, William Joyce (the BF’s Chelsea District Officer), who were more combative and organised themselves into a physical force section intent on heckling and breaking up Communist Party meetings.19 There were also reports of raids on the Glasgow office of the Sunday Worker in 1925 in which local fascists were implicated. For those few on the militant left who had taken the threat of fascism seriously, the kidnapping of Harry Pollitt, a leading figure in the Communist Party, by a group of British Fascists in March 1925 finally brought some vindication. Where previously, concerns about domestic fascism had been restricted to a minority of activists, the kidnapping of Pollitt from a train at Edgehill, Liverpool, prompted the highest echelons of the CPGB to focus attention on the possible dangers of fascist provocation in Britain. Disturbed by incipient fascist activity, the Political Bureau of the CPGB urged the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress (TUC) to launch an enquiry into the strength of the fascist movement and suggest possible anti-fascist counter-measures. Yet these warnings were met with derision from within the mainstream left, which judged the Communist Party unnecessarily alarmist. The Labour Party interpreted the kidnapping of Pollitt as nothing more sinister than a publicity-seeking stunt. All the more so because BF activities ordinarily revolved around political meetings and relatively innocuous social and leisure pursuits, such as dances, dinners and whist drives. The four fascists charged with kidnapping Pollitt were acquitted following (spurious) claims that they merely wanted to take Pollitt away for a weekend in North Wales, but where as this acquittal met with Labour Party silence, the CPGB continued to sound the alarm. In July 1925 the CPGB’s leading theoretician, Rajani Palme Dutt, called for urgent preparations against fascism. He stressed that the prevailing tendency to ‘laugh at the Fascists in this country’ was ‘stupid’. British fascism was not an ‘isolated freak phenomenon’, according to Palme Dutt, but part of a wider and deeper social movement rooted in the petty bourgeoisie and unorganised proletariat. Ominously, for Palme Dutt, fascism was developing in two directions: ‘guerrilla escapades’ against the left (i.e. the Pollitt incident) and ‘strikebreaking’ preparations. He predicted that this development would continue, warning that given its potential support base, fascism constituted a significant threat to the entire labour movement. Moreover, for Palme Dutt, the Pollitt case confirmed the close connection between the state and fascism, and it was now clear that the working class could not put its trust in the state for protection. Rather than rely on ‘bourgeois legality’, Palme Dutt called on the working class to organise against the fascist danger. He suggested ‘publicity and exposure of fascist movements and plans of the enemy; and secondly, local defence organisations of the workers to prevent disturbance’.20 Palme Dutt’s warning was given further prescience when, shortly afterwards, the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS) was established. The OMS, launched towards the end of September 1925, was ostensibly a ‘non-political’ organisation sponsored by the Government to ensure the delivery of essential supplies in the event of a general strike. Yet the CPGB interpreted it as ‘the most definite

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 5

step towards organised Fascism yet made in this country’.21 The Communist Party accused the OMS of being violently anti-working class, a ‘strike-breaking’ organisation with direct links to the Government. Hence it was denounced as a ‘fascist-type’ operation. However, this view of the OMS was not widely shared. Despite a belief that ‘fascists’ were ‘more or less associated with Conservative politics’, the official Labour leadership passively accepted the OMS.22 Faith was retained in official assurances that the OMS was neither ‘political’ nor ‘aggressive’ and that it had no connection to the British Fascists. Labour leaders were further reassured when the Government refused the offer made by the British Fascists to assist the OMS.23 In any case, soon afterwards the BF split. Many conservative ‘loyalists’ left the movement whilst the residue, having failed to become an approved ally of the state, rapidly disappeared into obscurity.24 With the Labour Party and TUC rejecting the Communist Party’s analysis of the fascist danger inherent in the OMS, the CPGB acted unilaterally and created an anti-fascist ‘Workers’ Defence Corps’, activated during the General Strike in May 1926.25 Then following the General Strike, there were calls for the revival of a workers’ defence organisation, a move encouraged by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (Comintern), which had met in Moscow between November and December 1926. This directed the CPGB to work towards ‘the preparation of the workers to repel a new development of Fascism’.26 Efforts were made thereafter to revive the Defence Corps which now became known as the ‘Labour League of Ex-Servicemen’. It was envisaged that a key function of this organisation would be defensive response to fascist provocation.27 According to Home Office files, however, the Labour League of Ex-Servicemen remained a skeleton organisation. Despite boasts of over 100 sections across the country, it was never numerically significant. In December 1927 Home Office sources claimed that the League’s total membership in London was only 300, with a mere third described as active members.28 Although set up during the General Strike to defend workers from the OMS and the British Fascists, the Workers’ Defence Corps had also pledged to defend workers from other ‘fascist’ organisations, such as the ‘National Fascisti’. An offshoot from the BF, the National Fascisti was formed in 1924 when it was estimated to have had just 60 members (the President and second-in-command were Jews). Inclined more towards street activism, the offshoot being more radical and violent than its parent organisation, the National Fascisti was vehemently anti-communist: Communism and Bolshevism is the creed of wild beasts […] Wild beasts cannot be met with bare hands or gloves, they require more forceful and stronger weapons. So to work Fascisti, let us band together and pitch this hell’s spawn into the sea, and Britain will be all the sweeter and cleaner by their removal.29 The result was sporadic disturbances and crude, ad hoc anti-fascist retaliation: a National Fascisti meeting in Hyde Park in February 1926 was interrupted by a

6 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

crowd of 60–70 left-wing militants; a National Fascisti meeting held at Marble Arch in November 1926 was sabotaged by Communists who rushed the platform; and in January 1927, following attempts by National Fascisti activists to disrupt a meeting in Trafalgar Square, where 1,500 people had gathered to protest against a refusal to grant an amnesty to those imprisoned during the General Strike, some 150–200 Communists were reported to have chased after a group of Fascisti in retaliation. Communists had taken offence at the Fascisti demonstrating from the tops of passing buses and in order to avoid a fracas, police arrested the organiser of the Paddington branch of the CPGB.30 Low-key disorder was the usual response to National Fascisti provocation. One notable exception to this was reaction to the hijacking of a Daily Herald delivery van at gunpoint by four National Fascisti activists in October 1925. This episode momentarily widened interest in British fascism and gave rise to broader opposition. Following an exposé of the National Fascisti in the Daily Herald, a van containing some 8,000 copies of the pro-Labour newspaper was hijacked en route to London’s Euston Station and then ‘driven furiously’ until it crashed into the railings of a church, whereupon it was deserted.31 The National Fascisti claimed that it wanted to draw attention to the Daily Herald’s ‘subversive nature’ and delay circulation. The fact that the hijackers were merely charged with a breach of the peace and not larceny was met with consternation on the left, taken as clear evidence of the Government’s ‘class’ prejudice. The Daily Herald received hundreds of supporting letters calling for a firmer anti-fascist line by the Government. Labour (and Liberal) MPs subsequently pressed Tory Home Secretary Joynson-Hicks for an explanation, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) held a series of protest meetings, and the Secretary of the TUC, Walter Citrine, sent a letter of protest to Joynson-Hicks, which spoke of a ‘disquieting feeling’ arising within the trade unions that the authorities were not dealing firmly enough with fascists.32 Since fascist provocation had hitherto been carried out solely against Communists, the Labour Party had remained silent. Following the Daily Herald incident, concerns over domestic fascism mounted within mainstream Labour Party circles, but this development should not be overstated. More noticeable was the way that mainstream left (and Liberal) opinion appeared disturbed primarily by Conservative political prejudices interfering with the impartial administration of justice, especially since the Daily Herald case followed on from the acquittal of the fascists involved in the kidnapping of Pollitt. As far as the official Labour leadership was concerned, judicial leniency towards fascism was far more significant than these provocative displays which, after all, hardly invited comparison with Italian Fascism. By the late 1920s British fascism was floundering. The British Fascists and the National Fascisti were no longer capable of sustaining opposition. The National Fascisti quickly disappeared from public view following a damaging internal rift in March 1927 over alleged misappropriation of funds; the British Fascists also effectively collapsed by the late 1920s. Home Office figures suggest that the BF’s following had fallen to a mere 300–400 members.33 Robert Benewick has argued that the ‘influence of the British Fascists and the National Fascisti on public order, policy

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 7

and opinion, was negligible […] The political forces on neither the right nor the left took them seriously’.34 Benewick’s standard conclusion does carry validity: the mainstream right generally viewed fascism as an eccentric foreign import of little real consequence, and excluding a fleeting concern following the Daily Herald case, this view of British fascism was also shared by the mainstream left. It is worth emphasising, however, that the extremist wing of the labour movement paid fascism considerably more attention, a consequence of events in Italy where fascism had been interpreted by the CPGB as a violent and lawless anti-working-class phenomenon. Prior to 1925, a narrow circle of left-wing radicals actively opposed the British Fascists. Meetings were disrupted and attempts were made to create specific antifascist organisations. Following the kidnapping of Pollitt and with the formation of the OMS, the leadership of the communist left did begin to take British ‘fascism’ seriously. The CPGB leadership focused on the dangers of fascism in 1925 and through the means of a Workers’ Defence Corps greater effort was directed towards establishing fully fledged anti-fascist organisations. However, the fact that these organisations did not develop into substantive national movements with mass support, and the fact that oppositional confrontations with the British Fascists and the National Fascisti remained sporadic and small-scale, demonstrates that anti-fascism in the 1920s failed to achieve national significance. The extent of anti-fascism in the 1920s was merely proportional to the political insignificance of domestic fascism. Nonetheless, it remains an important consideration that home-grown fascism did not go unchallenged in the 1920s.

II If anti-fascism was born in the 1920s, it was in the 1930s when it truly came of age. The well-documented mass mobilisation of between 100,000 and 300,000 people against a planned march by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists through the East End of London on 4 October 1936, is frequently celebrated as one of the most dramatic mass mobilisations in Britain’s modern political history. The ‘Battle of Cable Street’ left an enduring mark on the history of anti-fascism, assuming legendary status as a particularly impressive illustration of popular, spontaneous anti-fascist opposition. However, this depiction is unfortunate as it tempts historians to focus on Cable Street as the principal event in the inter-war period, without giving due consideration to preceding events. By focusing on Cable Street, anti-fascism does not appear to possess any developmental dynamic in its own right. The emphasis on the ‘popular’ and the ‘spontaneous’ obscures anti-fascism’s organisational features; neglects the causal factors in the strengths and weaknesses of different anti-fascist organisations; fails to draw out different anti-fascist analyses and strategic positions; in short, it downplays the structure and complexity of anti-fascist opposition. Furthermore, because Cable Street was such a ‘spectacular’ event, its contribution to the failure of British fascism is typically exaggerated. Even amongst those historians who avoid preoccupation with Cable Street and discuss the

8 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

importance of earlier anti-fascist opposition, a number have fallen into the additional trap of either viewing events from a skewed ‘metropolitan’ perspective which focuses on incidents in London and neglects local dimensions, or viewing events from a local perspective without reference to other parts of Britain. Mosley’s biographer, Robert Skidelsky, was right to open his account of antifascist/fascist confrontations before the founding of the BUF in October 1932. Ignoring the 1920s, Skidelsky argues that the formative period of anti-fascist opposition was 1930–1 with the CPGB identifying Mosley as a ‘potential’ or ‘incipient fascist’.35 His New Party36 meetings were subject to frequent disruption and it was common for opponents to accuse Mosley of ‘fascism’. Since it was the CPGB’s paper, the Daily Worker, that was labelling the New Party ‘fascist’ it would seem safe to suppose that these hecklers were Communists. Yet Mosley’s acrimonious departure from the Labour Party in 1931 engendered considerable hostility within Labour’s ranks too and it is clear that significant opposition also came from Labour Party supporters. This animosity expressed itself most clearly at the Ashton-underLyne by-election in April 1931, contested by the New Party and previously a safe Labour seat. Labour anger was exacerbated when the Conservative Party candidate won the seat, a victory which Labour supporters felt had resulted from a split in the working-class vote caused by the intervention of Mosley’s New Party. John Strachey,37 later to become a leading anti-fascist, but at the time a key figure in the New Party, famously remarked that it was at this point, with the incensed crowd expressing its anger, that Mosley embraced fascism: The crowd was violently hostile to Mosley and the New party. It roared at him, and, as he stood facing it, he said to me, ‘That is the crowd that has prevented anyone doing anything in England since the war’. At that moment British Fascism was born.38 Mosley reacted to his antagonists with an activist youth movement (NUPA) with semi-fascist trappings before moving towards outright fascism in the wake of the abysmal failure of the New Party in the October 1931 general election. Tellingly, this campaign had been marked by a hardening of Communist-inspired opposition. The fiercest confrontation occurred on 18 October 1931 at Birmingham’s Rag Market when a section in the 15,000 crowd, wielding chairs and chair legs, charged Mosley’s platform. Notwithstanding some oversimplification in Strachey’s comments, it is certainly ironic that ‘anti-fascism’ may well have played a role in Mosley’s turn towards fascism, but we should bear in mind that more than anti-fascism, Labour’s anger was driven first and foremost by feelings of betrayal.39 If the left’s opposition to Mosley and the New Party had been driven entirely by ‘anti-fascism’ then one would expect a far more animated response from the labour movement when the unequivocally fascist BUF was formed in October 1932. Yet according to BUF sources, between October 1932 and March 1933 less than 3 per cent of BUF meetings resulted in disorder.40 Between the New Party’s farcical failure at the polls in October 1931 and the formation of the BUF a year later,

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 9

Labour Party opposition to Mosley, born more from betrayal than anti-fascism, subsided. Active Labour Party hostility was not sustained into the first few months of the BUF, but Mosley certainly did encounter isolated opposition from small groups of Communists who were responsible for the more visible interruptions of BUF meetings in London in late 1932.41 Although isolated, this violent opposition occasioned some concern in the CPGB’s Central Committee. Reservations about the desirability of combative anti-fascism were expressed amongst the CPGB leadership. Belligerent tactics had backfired on the party when Communists and fascists had engaged in a gang fight at a BUF meeting in London’s St Pancras. Workers in the audience had apparently left the meeting with the impression that Communists had deliberately provoked violence.42 When comparing the New Party phase with the very opening BUF phase one can identify a downward trend in conflict between Mosley and left-wing opponents. Yet this trend did begin to reverse with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 and the victory at the polls in March of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP, or Nazi Party). This focused the attention of the left on the British Union of Fascists, allowing anti-fascism to gather greater momentum. By violently attacking the German Social Democratic Party, Communist Party and trade unions, Nazism inflamed emotions on the left and in due course, ‘[t]ransnational passions were thus inevitably concentrated on national movements’, as Skidelsky observed.43 In early March 1933 – the NSDAP had just won 43.9 per cent of the vote in the Reichstag elections – the Communist Party, with some 5,400 members, approached the Labour Party, trade unions and Co-operative Party with a proposal for joint activity in a ‘united front’ against fascism. Moscow directed national communist parties to seek co-operation with social-democratic parties in the fight against fascism, the clear consequence of events in Germany where the victory of Hitler had demonstrated the futility of left-wing sectarianism. It also reflected the fact that the German Communist Party, locked into the Comintern’s ‘class against class’ doctrine, had denounced Social Democracy as reformist capitalism and had castigated Social Democrats as ‘class enemies’ or ‘social fascists’. The resulting Communist–Social Democrat disunity had allowed room for the Nazis to seize power and subject the left to immediate persecution. The ‘class against class’ principle had been adopted by the British Communist Party in 1928 but its adoption had generated considerable division within the CPGB’s ranks.44 Consequently, when the call came in March 1933 for a ‘united front’ there was little disagreement amongst the CPGB, especially given the gravity of the situation in Germany. At the same time the Communist Party engaged in shows of anti-fascist opposition. On 12 March 1933, at a BUF meeting in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, the local branch of the CPGB distributed an anti-fascist manifesto entitled ‘Unity against Fascist Reaction’, which was addressed to all members of the Labour Party, trade unions, Co-ops and the ILP. Communists disrupted Mosley’s meeting by chanting in unison, ‘Up with Russia! Down with Mosley!’ and by singing the ‘Red Flag’.45 The objective was to impede the speaker’s audibility, thereby preventing the BUF

10 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

from getting its message across. As a tactic it had ample potential. Opponents acting in groups could disrupt even the largest meetings but the BUF reacted quickly by creating a ‘Fascist Defence Force’, comprising strong-arm stewards who would eject offenders, frequently leading to violent disturbances. This Defence Force was activated at Manchester and not surprisingly fighting ensued. The Manchester Guardian (13 March 1933) reported that the ‘centre gangway was filled with people fighting’. The clash at Manchester Free Trade Hall was hailed by the CPGB as a victory over the BUF and undoubtedly provided inspiration for small groups of Communists to lay siege to a BUF branch office in Walworth Road in London for over a fortnight in March 1933. On 28 March, an organised raid damaged fixtures and fittings and, according to BUF sources, an attempt was made to set fire to the staircase.46 The CPGB’s call for the united front won support from the ILP. The ILP, which had disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 1932, was twice the size of the Communist Party in 1933, with some 11,000 members.47 These two groups comprised the militant wing of the labour movement, but if the CPGB was staunchly revolutionary, a more pragmatic ILP contained a spectrum of opinion from revolutionary to reformist. The leadership of the ILP, centred on Fenner Brockway and James Maxton, was deeply critical of Moscow’s control over the Communist International and was uneasy about collaboration with the CPGB. Nevertheless, the ILP decided to co-operate in anti-fascist activities and accepted the CPGB’s invitation for joint action despite further fears that the Communists were intent on hijacking its membership. The ILP looked for support on the Labour Party left and hoped to convince the Socialist League (established in 1932 by those opposed to disaffiliation from the Labour Party) to join with them in the ‘united front’.48 However, the Labour Party (and the affiliated Socialist League), TUC and Co-operative Party all rejected the CPGB’s proposals. Labour point-blank refused a deputation from the CPGB and ILP. The National Joint Council, which represented the Labour Party, the TUC and the Parliamentary Labour Party, published the reasons for its rebuttal in Democracy versus Dictatorship issued on 24 March 1933. In this manifesto Labour argued that it was fear of communist dictatorship that led to the rise of fascism. Therefore, radical action by the left, of the type proposed by the CPGB, would only encourage fascist reaction. This manifesto not only incriminated communism for being responsible for fascism, but also accused communism of dictatorship. It maintained that since both communism and fascism obliterated parliamentary democracy, communism was commensurate with fascism. In contrast, the Labour Party was constitutional, it stood for the defence of democracy and freedom, therefore it could not possibly countenance co-operation with the Communist Party. Besides, the Communists had previously attacked the Labour Party and TUC, especially during the ‘class against class’ phase, and the CPGB’s disruptive tactics had hardly fostered an atmosphere of mutual respect and co-operation. The Labour Party had little to gain from collaboration with the CPGB, given that ‘the sheer disparity of size between the Labour Party and the T.U.C. on the one hand, and five or six thousand Communists on the other, made the idea of a “united front” between these organisations seem ludicrous’.49

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 11

Instead of militant action, the anti-fascist policy of the Labour Party stressed moderation. It maintained that the British state was deeply democratic boasting a liberal-democratic tradition that would in normal circumstances act as a barrier against fascism. However, in the event of economic collapse, the political system could be undermined and if, in this situation, the Labour Party joined forces with the Communists in militant action against fascism, there was a real danger of a fascist upsurge. Thus, the Labour Party warned against working-class militancy, hoped for economic recovery, and anchored its anti-fascism to the democratic state. The result of this analysis was that the Labour Party’s anti-fascist policy developed from 1934 onwards in a ‘twin-track’ direction. In the first place, stress was placed on educating workers to the dangers of fascism (and communism). Second, there were calls for the democratic state to legislate against fascism, which ultimately culminated in Labour Party support for the Public Order Act in 1936.50 The Labour Party’s discouragement of anti-fascist militancy was intended to send a message to any potential backers of fascism that Labour did not constitute an ultra-left threat. Labour’s attachment to constitutionalism also ensured that the existing liberal-democratic consensus was not challenged from within the mainstream. Thus, political space for the illiberal and anti-democratic ideology of the British Union of Fascists was restricted. In this way, the anti-fascist policy of the Labour Party contributed to the marginalisation of British fascism by reinforcing the prevailing consensus behind political moderation and parliamentary traditions. As Roger Griffin has explained, where liberal democracy enjoys general acceptance, ‘viable’ space for radically alternative ideologies is necessarily restricted.51 The situation in inter-war Italy and Germany was entirely different. Here, socio-economic crisis shattered a very weak liberal consensus and this opened up space for extremist ideologies whilst also making political violence by fascists more socially acceptable. The CPGB, however, mistakenly assumed that the situation in Britain in 1933 replicated that in Germany before the Nazi acquisition of power. Accordingly, it wrongly attacked Labour’s position as analogous to the German Social Democratic position which, it claimed, had facilitated the Nazi victory by rejecting the possibility of mass action. The CPGB’s reply to Labour’s anti-fascist policy took the form of a scathing pamphlet, Democracy and Fascism, authored by Rajani Palme Dutt. Refusing to accept that communism could take the blame for fascism, Palme Dutt returned the charge. Rounding on the Labour Party, he denigrated its attitude. According to Palme Dutt, Labour’s position was a mirror image of the policy of the German Social Democrats, a recipe for disaster and for the victory of fascism: The line of the Labour Party is the line of German Social Democracy, the line of bidding the workers trust in capitalist ‘democracy’, which has led to the disaster of the working class in Germany and the victory of Fascism. This same line will lead to the victory of Fascism in Britain, if the workers do not correct it in time. The workers must be warned in time of the lying and hypocritical character of the Labour Party’s propaganda of ‘democracy’ in the abstract,

12 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

which covers in reality betrayal of the working class, servitude to capitalism, and, finally, surrender to Fascism.52 Palme Dutt implored all militant workers in every trade union branch and local Labour Party to agitate for joint action and disregard the instructions of the Labour leadership, and, in due course, the Communist Party’s appeal to the rank and file within the labour movement met considerable sympathy. Although Labour leaders rejected joint action, such was the fervency of reaction to Hitler’s accession to power and subsequent persecution of the German left, that there was unofficial co-operation between both militant and moderate wings of the labour movement in the fight against domestic fascism. This co-operation occurred at grassroots level either through loose association or through support for various local united front committees. For all the rivalry, the distrust and antagonism between the Labour Party and the Communist Party, the emotive issue of fascism fostered significant degrees of collaboration at local level. As anti-fascism gathered pace from early 1933, Labour Party members began to participate in anti-fascist activities, frequently acting on their own initiative in the absence of an active lead from either the Labour Party or the TUC. Local studies of anti-fascism corroborate this point. David Renton details the creation of the anti-fascist Oxford Council of Action in May 1933. Albeit short-lived, this was a broad-based group, with around 100 members representing some 40 organisations, including the local Labour Party and trade unions. In a similar study of the Medway Towns, David Turner notes the launching of a local Anti-Fascist Campaign Committee in May 1933 which had the support of leading figures in the Chatham Labour Party, as well as support from the ILP and CPGB (though co-operation with the radical left in this particular united front did trigger factional conflict leading to its eventual rejection by the local Labour Party). According to Todd’s local study of anti-fascism, despite the Labour Party’s official line, a number of Labour councillors in Sunderland supported an anti-fascist united front committee, formed in 1933 by the Communist Party, ILP and the militant National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM).53 The Young Communist League often found local Labour League of Youth branches willing to co-operate in joint anti-fascist activity. Dylan Murphy’s local study, for example, found that in Leeds at least three League of Youth branches came out in support of a united front during 1933.54 Since the mainstay of anti-fascism was localised united front action, such action was strongest in large urban, industrial areas with the most vigorous and inclusive left-wing traditions. It should not be forgotten, however, that the anti-fascist opposition also embraced support from non-left elements, as Frederic Mullally notes ‘though it suited Mosley to label them all “Reds”, they were made up of Communists, Socialists, trade unionists, Liberals and – to their credit – a sprinkling of honest anti-fascist Tories’. With the emphasis falling on local activity, the general organisational character of anti-fascism was loose-knit and ill-defined. Again according to Mullally, it was therefore obvious that:

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 13

such an opposition completely lacked organisation or an integrated plan of action; it was made up of far-sighted individuals who were alive to the menace of fascism right from the start and who had the courage to demonstrate their faith whenever a Blackshirt meeting was held in their districts.55 In reality, despite wide involvement in various locally based initiatives, anti-fascist activity by Labour Party members in 1933 was at its most visible in opposition to Hitler’s Germany. The Labour Party leadership had given official backing to such activity with a call to boycott German goods. The National Joint Council organised protests against Hitler in London in the spring of 1933. It also published Down with Fascism, a pamphlet written by Joseph Compton, then Chairman of Labour’s National Executive Committee. However, one association, the Relief Committee for the Victims of German Fascism, was giving Labour cause for concern because of its links with the Communist Party and the Comintern. At its first conference in May 1933, a Labour peer, Lord Marley, was in the chair and a number of high-profile Labour Party members were on the platform, such as Ellen Wilkinson and Dorothy Woodman. The platform was shared with leading Communist and ILP speakers, which was also the case at further meetings, attracting audiences of some 2,500 and 4,000. The Communist Party had taken a leading role in the campaign to assist the victims of Nazism through its ancillary organisation, International Labour Defence (ILD), and was now focusing its efforts on the Relief Committee (an organisation sponsored by the Comintern’s Willi Meunzenberg). This moved the Labour Party to publish The Communist Solar System in September 1933, which was a list of proscribed Communist ‘auxiliary’ organisations. The list included the Relief Committee for the Victims of German Fascism, to the obvious annoyance of Labour Party supporters such as Ellen Wilkinson who criticised the Labour leadership for having no regard for the anti-fascist feelings of its rank and file.56 In theory, the Labour Party reserved the right to expel any member who belonged to, supported or even appeared as a speaker at any meetings of Communist ‘auxiliary’ organisations; in practice, the authority of the Labour Party over its members was more a ‘moral’ authority that came to depend largely upon persuasion rather than compulsion. With the Labour Party refusing to offer a strong lead for anti-fascism, the radical left established itself at the forefront of physical opposition to the British Union of Fascists. From March 1933, confrontations between left-wing militants and the BUF showed signs of increasing frequency, especially in London, although this trend was denied by the BUF, which insisted that opposition in the ‘old New Party days’ was much more pronounced.57 Arrests were made at a BUF march through the West End on 14 May 1933. Disturbances occurred at BUF meetings at Edmonton in May and June 1933; there was disorder at Deptford and East Ham in July; Acton, Kilburn, Deptford, St John’s Wood and Wood Green in October, with further disturbances at Wood Green in November 1933. The BUF’s own paper, The Blackshirt (17 April 1933) reported that four members of the BUF were attacked following an anti-fascist demonstration in Trafalgar Square, and also reported violence at meetings in Brixton and Battersea.58

14 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

Yet other disturbances point to the existence of specific Jewish opposition that interestingly predates the BUF’s turn towards militant anti-Semitism in the mid1930s. The Daily Worker (2 May 1933) reported a disturbance in Piccadilly Circus when cinema crowds, with a significant Jewish element, ‘jostled’ BUF paper sellers on to the steps of the Eros statue. Surrounded by a large crowd, missiles were thrown and fighting ensued. A further disturbance occurred a week later in similar circumstances in Coventry Street, when a crowd of around 200 people witnessed a fracas between Jews and 12 BUF members selling papers.59 These confrontations between Jews and BUF news vendors appear to have been largely spontaneous responses, undoubtedly induced by Jewish persecution in Germany. Angered by events in Germany, these Jews did not distinguish between the BUF’s brand of fascism which at the time harboured anti-Semitism, and Hitler’s variety which propagated it to the extreme.60 The proportion of Jews involved in these disturbances that were Communist Party supporters is impossible to determine, but there was certainly an overlap with the militant left: the ILD later held protest meetings in the East End in support of those arrested in connection with these disturbances. This demonstrated the eagerness of the Communist Party to arouse anti-fascist feeling amongst the Jewish population in the East End and confirms the existence of anti-fascist attitudes in this area long before the BUF’s penetration in the mid-1930s. Unlike the 1920s, when confrontations between fascists and anti-fascists were mostly restricted to London, conflict between Mosley’s BUF and anti-fascist opposition quickly extended beyond London into provincial areas. Events in Manchester have been mentioned, but other notable clashes occurred in Stocktonon-Tees in September 1933, and in Oxford in November 1933. According to one former BUF member, the small branch in Stockton-on-Tees faced considerable hostility from the local Communist Party in 1933, with individual members attacked and meetings disrupted. The BUF bussed activists in from Manchester and Tyneside, to march alongside the Teesside contingent in a show of force to Stockton’s Market Square on 10 September 1933. As the BUF’s speakers addressed the meeting, they were continually heckled and booed by a group of left-wing militants, leading the Defence Force to weigh into the crowd, resulting in serious hand-to-hand fighting. One BUF activist sustained a serious eye injury; it was claimed that another was struck from behind with an iron bar.61 The meeting was closed by police, the fascists were escorted to buses followed by an angry crowd of some 1,000 demonstrators, a far larger number than the initial anti-fascist antagonists.62 This incident is an early illustration of the willingness of Blackshirts to engage in violence – their physical prowess was important to them; they were, after all, virile and muscular new ‘fascist’ men (or at least they saw themselves in these terms). As one ‘Lady Blackshirt’ wrote, As a looker-on, but not a participant during the fracas between Fascist and Communist at Stockton-on-Tees, I am proud of the clean and manly way the

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 15

blackshirts put the Communists to rout […] Fairplay for Mosley’s Blackshirts, a clean, manly organisation against the riff-raff of so-called Communism.63 Yet, as later events at Olympia in June 1934 would confirm, the BUF’s use of physical force played directly into the hands of anti-fascists. So even if this violence was instigated more frequently by anti-fascists than fascists, that the BUF’s lack of restraint carried the potential to broaden hostility was recognised at an early stage by anti-fascists who looked to use fascist violence as a way of denying the BUF political and social respectability. With this in mind, anti-fascists could deliberately overstate the extent of BUF violence. Stephen Cullen64 has argued that one such occasion was the response to Mosley’s meeting at Oxford Town Hall in November 1933. At a protest meeting called by prominent Oxford dons to expose the violence used by the Blackshirts at Oxford Town Hall, anti-fascists alleged that fascist stewards thrust fingers up noses wearing gloves with metal rings and knuckledusters. There were also, as David Shermer notes, stories ‘told of needles being driven into the testicles of hecklers and of castor oil being forced down recalcitrant throats’.65 As Cullen points out however, a local police report in the Home Office files makes no mention of any fascist stewards wearing knuckledusters and where this report remained private, the anti-fascist version of events was heard publicly in a crowded meeting and was reported in the press. Not surprisingly, the adverse publicity that this generated did not do much to enhance the BUF’s local reputation.

III Despite the flurry of negative publicity surrounding the incidents in Oxford and elsewhere, in January 1934 the BUF secured the support of Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail and other Rothermere papers, such as the Sunday Pictorial, Sunday Dispatch, Evening News (and rarely commented upon, the Daily Mirror66). Rothermere had already praised both Mussolini and Hitler for their strident anti-communism and youthful dynamism. What he saw in Mosley was a radical Conservatism which he hoped would break the grip of ‘Old Gang’ politicians and infuse Britain with fasciststyle vitality. Rothermere’s influential backing allowed the BUF’s membership to increase substantially to 17–18,000 by the beginning of February 1934, rising towards 50,000 by June 1934.67 The infamous ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’ article in the Daily Mail on 15 January 1934 opened the campaign. The ‘average Daily Mail reader is a potential Blackshirt ready made’, the Spectator quipped.68 To capitalise on Rothermere’s support, the BUF instructed branch organisers to write letters of support to the Daily Mail (the letters would have to give the impression that they had been written by members of the public and not BUF members). The idea was to furnish Rothermere with the impression that most of the country was fascist and that he would thenceforth assist the BUF ‘even more energetically’.69 The Evening News offered 500 seats at Mosley’s rally at the Royal Albert Hall in April 1934 as prizes to readers in a Blackshirt competition; the Sunday Dispatch even ran a beauty contest for Blackshirt women.

16 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

Rothermere’s fulsome support for the BUF afforded united front anti-fascism further impetus. That it also coincided with the violent suppression of Social Democrats in Vienna by the ‘Austro-fascist’ Dollfuss regime, and the extreme right-wing riots in Paris that would lead to reconciliation between the Socialists and Communists in France, was significant too. Sensing their moment, the Communist Party and Independent Labour Party renewed attempts to establish a united front with Labour in February 1934, but once again advances were rejected. Labour Party Secretary Arthur Henderson did meet with the ILP’s Brockway and Maxton, but the exclusion of the Communist Party from the united front was, for Labour, non-negotiable. Whilst willing to provide humanitarian relief for workers in Austria, the Labour Party leadership remained steadfastly opposed to direct action against fascism in Britain. So without organisational backing from the Labour Party leadership, anti-fascist opposition lacked structural cohesion. The official line of the Labour Party leadership, as David Lewis observed, meant that ‘the united front was prevented from expressing itself as a nation-wide campaign’, leaving by default a loose patchwork of local anti-fascist organisations.70 Within this organisational mosaic, anti-fascism became focused on the British Anti-War Movement, especially in Communist Party circles in London. The British Anti-War Movement, the British branch of the World Committee Against War and Fascism, was a Communist Party ‘satellite’ organisation. It had been included in Labour’s list of proscribed organisations and thus considered out of bounds. In March 1934, in renaming its monthly bulletin ‘Fight War and Fascism’, the British Anti-War Movement drew on a perceived convergence between antifascism and pacifism. Its aim was to fight war and fascism simultaneously, interpreting fascism as the means by which the ruling class in the capitalist state subjugates the working class through militaristic organisation. Significantly, the Chairman of the British Anti-War Movement was John Strachey. Since his break with Mosley, Strachey had gravitated towards Communist circles, having authored a polemical work, The Menace of Fascism, which had gone on to sell close to 5,000 copies.71 Having penned this work in order to maximise opposition to the Labour Party’s refusal to form a broad united front, Strachey opined that Labour’s policy, ‘if it is followed to the end by the British workers, must lead them, with a positively mathematical inevitability, to their defeat, ruin and massacre’.72 From his leading position in the British Anti-War Movement, Strachey looked towards steering an emerging antifascist movement which had, by the spring of 1934, already widened to include industry-specific groups as well as non-left groups. In response to Rothermere’s support for fascism, the pro-Communist Printing and Allied Trades Anti-Fascist Movement was established at a meeting in Kingsway Hall in London in March 1934 with over 500 volunteers signing membership forms. This group – the first group of organised workers in the country to start their own anti-fascist movement – included machine-minders from the Daily Mail and Evening News. It pledged itself to the defence of all printing workers who refused to print or handle fascist propaganda.73 Other workplace anti-fascist groups

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 17

were established too, including groups from the London Transport Workers, Distributive Workers, and King’s Cross Railwaymen. There was also anti-fascist organisation that stretched beyond the Communist milieu. Two notable anti-fascist groups active in London during 1934 were the Green Shirts and New World Fellowship. The first of these followed the economic doctrine of Social Credit pioneered by Clifford Hugh Douglas.74 His most enthusiastic followers in Britain were led by John Hargrave, who formed the Green Shirts in 1932 as the ‘militant’ wing of Social Credit. At the opening of the National Headquarters in London in July 1932, Hargrave had positioned the Green Shirts in opposition to fascism (and communism). This anti-fascist stance was substantiated as early as January 1933 when disorder followed a fascist meeting in Crouch End in London after Mosley refused to reply to dogged questioning by a Green Shirt activist. In April 1933 some 80 Green Shirts had participated in an anti-fascist demonstration in Hyde Park; in June 1933 a group of Green Shirts had demonstrated outside BUF offices in London’s Regent Street, only to be dispersed by police. In February 1934, at a time when the Green Shirts claimed 2–3,000 followers,75 the BUF had taken matters into their own hands when two Green Shirts chalked antifascist slogans on the shutters of the BUF’s office at Grosvenor Place in London, and were subsequently ‘arrested’ by BUF members and subjected to a violent assault.76 New World Fellowship (NWF), an organisation originally formed in 1932, protested outside Mosley’s first large meeting at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 22 April 1934. NWF activists had attempted to distribute anti-fascist leaflets but had been dispersed by police.77 The NWF opposed fascism on the basis that it constituted a threat to democracy. It published a weekly, Green Band, which it referred to as the ‘only militant organ of anti-fascism’. In truth, the NWF was far from militant: it objected to physical force anti-fascism – a key part of its anti-fascist strategy was for the NWF to meet fascists in debate. It was non-sectarian and its constitution declared that no party politics of any kind would be discussed at any of its meetings or on any official occasion. The problem, however, was that the BUF showed little interest in debating with opponents.78 During a six-month period in 1934 when the NWF was at its most active, it claimed to have held nearly 60 meetings in London and other large cities, addressed approximately 15,000 people on a weekly basis, and distributed over 1 million leaflets and booklets.79 The NWF supported the idea of a united front against fascism, but only under the banner of the New World Fellowship. Significantly, at Mosley’s Royal Albert Hall meeting in April 1934 – attended by 8–9,000 people – it had been noted by the far left that despite the presence of small groups of left-wing militants, opposition to Mosley had been low key and noticeably ineffectual. Anti-fascists dressed in black shirts had managed to slip past stewards and distribute a pamphlet, British Fascism Explained, but there was no visible opposition inside the hall and given the relative meagreness of the opposition outside, a need for greater organisation and planning of anti-fascist activities in London was now manifestly clear. This was accepted by the London Communist Party which resolved to organise much more effectively against Mosley’s next

18 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

showpiece meeting, to take place at Olympia (with a seating capacity of 15,000) on 7 June 1934. In the months preceding Olympia, major centres of anti-fascist activity outside London were Edinburgh, Bristol, Plymouth and Newcastle upon Tyne. The BUF press reported that a hostile crowd had broken up a fascist meeting at the Mound in Edinburgh in February 1934.80 Disturbances involving Communists were recorded outside a BUF meeting at Colston Hall in Bristol on 28 March 1934. Fighting was also occurring on a weekly basis at BUF meetings in Plymouth, where around 30 Communists were leading militant anti-fascism.81 At Plymouth Corn Exchange on 26 April, around 100 joined in a mass brawl with chairs being used as weapons. This had come in the wake of a BUF meeting on 16 April where, according to Home Office sources, a ‘rowdy communist element’ had been present.82 Indeed, as early as February 1933, there had been considerable heckling of BUF speakers in the Market Square at Plymouth.83 However, by far the most significant events, involving substantial numbers of people, occurred in Newcastle. Events in Newcastle demonstrate that although anti-fascism lacked broad organisational structure, ‘united front’ activities could find more distinctive anti-fascist form and additionally encourage wide public participation. The events in Newcastle have been documented in a local study by Nigel Todd84 and therefore only require a brief summary. In May 1934, a united front Anti-Fascist League (AFL) was established on Tyneside which immediately recruited some 200 members. These anti-fascists were also known locally as ‘Grey Shirts’ and drew their support in the main from the ILP and the Communist Party.85 On 13 May 1934, local BUF organiser and former Labour MP for Gateshead, John Beckett,86 was confronted by a large hostile crowd at an open-air meeting in Newcastle where Beckett was lambasted for his ‘treachery’. Apparently inspired by the AFL, the crowd rushed the BUF platform. Indignant anti-fascists then lay siege to the BUF’s local headquarters, attacking it with missiles. The next day, Beckett attempted to address a meeting at Gateshead Town Hall but was subjected to anti-fascist heckling. Outside, he faced yet another antagonistic crowd, but this time it was estimated that it had grown to an imposing 10,000 people. Beckett was subsequently escorted back to the local headquarters by mounted police where once again the BUF’s local offices were subjected to a hostile siege. Todd identifies these anti-fascist counter-demonstrations as the ‘turning point’ in the local fortunes of the BUF on Tyneside. Beckett bid a hasty retreat to London, Mosley postponed an open-air rally on the Town Moor, and the local BUF was forced to shift activities away from Newcastle and Gateshead towards other areas in a fruitless search for new recruits. Parallel to events in Newcastle, the Communist Party in London became actively engaged in preparations for Olympia. According to a Special Branch report, two or three leading members of the CPGB had made a ‘tour of inspection’ of Olympia’s surrounding neighbourhood in order to familiarise themselves with the layout. It noted that the CPGB had a prearranged plan to sit groups in different parts of the hall, with each group shouting slogans in turn. The report concluded

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 19

that the Communist Party was ‘making every effort to bring off a spectacular coup against the fascists’ and that, in part, this was intended ‘to counteract the loss of prestige the Party has suffered in recent by-elections’. A further report noted that, in addition to making frequent announcements in the Daily Worker, the London District Secretariat had sent out a circular to all ‘street and factory cells’, had issued an invitation to the trade unions, Labour Party and Independent Labour Party to co-operate in the proposed counter-demonstration, and had distributed leaflets. Furthermore, the Young Communist League (YCL) distributed a pamphlet, Ten Points against Fascism, and issued special invitations to the Labour League of Youth and the ILP Guild of Youth.87 Unsurprisingly, the Labour Party and the London Trades Council snubbed the invitations, but local Labour Leagues of Youth pledged support in defiance of the Labour Party leadership. This refusal to conform to the strictures of the Labour Party’s anti-fascist policy was not as surprising as it first seems, given that the Labour Party’s League of Youth had been the target of considerable Communist ‘entryism’ since 1933 (a group of League of Youth activists had already distributed anti-fascist leaflets outside Mosley’s meeting at the Royal Albert Hall). Aside from the League of Youth, support for the Olympia mobilisation also came from the ILP, the ILP Guild of Youth, furnishing trade unionists, busmen, the catering branch of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, building workers, and the Printing and Allied Trades Anti-Fascist Movement.88 The CPGB was especially active amongst the Jewish community in London’s East End and on 7 June, the largest contingent numbering some 150 gathered at a pre-Olympia meeting point in Stepney Green, led by Ted Bramley, Secretary of the London Communist Party. The other rendezvous points were Mornington Crescent, Battersea Park Road and Harrow Road. Contingents from these four meeting places descended on Olympia and were joined by Communists and other anti-fascists who made their way independently (the Daily Worker published instructions and a map on how to get to Olympia). A Special Branch report noted that by 7.45 pm, around 1,000 people had gathered outside, with slogans being shouted and anti-fascist literature distributed. It also noted that a motor car was being used by Communist leaders in order to direct operations.89 Inside Olympia, several hundred anti-fascists were scattered amongst a capacity audience, many of whom had forged tickets. As Mosley began to speak, he encountered heckling; he paused, the spotlight shone on the offenders. Hopelessly outnumbered by fascist stewards – the BUF had as many as 1,000 stewards in the hall – hecklers were then forcefully ejected. Legislation dating from 1908 allowed the organisers of public meetings to use their own stewards to ensure order and they could deploy ‘reasonable force’ in doing so, but with no fewer than 24 loudspeakers, was it really necessary for Mosley repeatedly to stop the proceedings? According to Tory MP Geoffrey Lloyd, Mosley’s ‘tactics were calculated to exaggerate the effect of the most trivial interruption and provide an apparent excuse for the violence of the Blackshirts’.90 The historian Martin Pugh believes that the most likely explanation for the disorder was the size of the venue and the systematic nature of the interruption – not ordinary

20 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

heckling – which left stewards frustrated. As a result they resorted to violence.91 Special Branch reported that those ejected received particularly fierce treatment by Blackshirts in the foyer. One BUF activist recalled being responsible for opening the street doors ‘so that the Reds could be thrown out. As the struggle went on and tempers rose, “thrown” was the operative word’.92 Crowds outside, subjected to charges by mounted police, witnessed anti-fascists being ejected through the doors, many were bleeding, clothes were torn, some victims were said to be verging on collapse. It was further reported that one doctor had seen between 50 and 70 victims.93 The House of Commons was later informed that 14 people had been treated by hospitals (one Blackshirt); 36 people had been arrested.94 Mosley had invited many prominent people to Olympia; an impressive gathering of the great and the good: no fewer than 150 MPs were there; the press also turned out in force. The evening’s dramatic events were all set to make front-page headlines. As the official historian of the BUF, Richard Reynell Bellamy, put it, ‘[n]ext day Britain resounded to indignant voices denouncing the fascist atrocities’.95 Mosley claimed victory over the ‘Reds’: it was ‘another milestone in the fascist advance’.96 However, leading politicians, establishment figures and the press (with the notable exception of the Rothermere stable) were generally shocked at the ferocity of the stewards. Notwithstanding a vocal minority from the Conservative right who had some sympathy with Blackshirt methods, the outcry over Olympia confirmed the extent to which, even in the depths of economic depression, the British establishment remained attached to liberal-democratic procedures and values. Olympia was widely interpreted as a great success for anti-fascism despite Labour Party claims that the Communist Party had damaged the anti-fascist cause and had given Mosley unnecessary publicity. A troubled Walter Citrine declared in an urgent memorandum that the National Joint Council should make it clear that it ‘repudiates the organised interruption indulged in by the Communists’.97 Although the BUF experienced an overnight surge in recruitment (presumably by those attracted to the prospect of violence), it is clear that by revealing the BUF’s sinister side, the longer-term effect was to alienate potential support from within the establishment in particular and from within society in general. It is commonly held that events at Olympia led Rothermere to drop his backing for British fascism, thereby breaking the BUF’s base of support, leaving Mosley isolated and beyond the pale. For sure, Rothermere’s decision to withdraw his endorsement of the BUF in July 1934 was a decisive factor in reversing the fortunes of British fascism. However, Olympia did not sever this relationship. Even following the violent scenes at Olympia, the Daily Mail remained unapologetic: The crime of the Blackshirts, it appeared on maturer investigation, was that they had protected themselves in very difficult circumstances […] There was no other course if free speech was to be maintained and the right of public meeting. The Red hooligans have not the faintest claim to public sympathy.98 Mosley would later make it known that it was withdrawal of Jewish advertising revenue that caused Rothermere to break with the BUF (Rothermere claimed that

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 21

the break was in part due to BUF’s adoption of anti-Semitism). Violent events in Germany, where the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ on 30 June had established a clear link between ‘foreign’ methods of violence and the BUF, may have been a factor too. For the security services, the break with Mosley was entirely ‘a matter of business, no doubt’ – circulation was in decline.99 As a consequence of Olympia, the Communist Party became more widely recognised as the leading force in the struggle against Mosley’s BUF. It brought significant financial rewards. In June 1934, Joseph Maggs, a director of United Dairies, donated £1,000 to the CPGB for its anti-fascist work.100 The CPGB looked towards forming a ‘United Anti-Fascist League’ with the YCL, ILP, Labour League of Youth and the Green Shirts in preparation for Mosley’s next scheduled meeting at White City on 5 August 1934. It was planned to bring transport and catering workers out on strike in order to prevent the transportation of fascists to the meeting and to stop refreshments from reaching the venue. However, Mosley’s meeting was cancelled with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Trenchard, foreseeing even more serious disorder than Olympia as White City could potentially hold 80–90,000 people.101 The Metropolitan Police had requested the Chairman of the White City Board to demand a bond from Mosley to cover possible damage costs but this was deliberately set so high that Mosley was forced to cancel the booking. As the idea of the United Anti-Fascist League was being proposed, an ‘Anti-Fascist Special’ was published by the CPGB which claimed that nuclei of a United Front Anti-Fascist Movement already existed in the British Anti-War Movement.102 This claim, which points to a rather confused organisational strategy, was also made by the Secretary of the British Anti-War Movement, Neil Hunter, in an article in the Daily Worker on 19 June 1934. In the aftermath of Olympia, various attempts were made by the Communist Party to give anti-fascism more organisational coherence but although the CPGB had emerged from Olympia as the leader of anti-fascism, organisation still remained vague and unco-ordinated. The Anti-Fascist Printers declared that they had 800 members ready to affiliate to a national anti-fascist movement should one be formed, and some groups were still active, such as New World Fellowship.103 If the organisational basis of anti-fascism remained uncertain, the exposure of fascism at Olympia was the catalyst for a surge in anti-fascist feeling throughout London and elsewhere. In the days following Olympia, a BUF meeting in Hackney was abandoned; BUF meetings were also stopped at Edmonton, Southall, Hammersmith and St Pancras, and two fascists had to be escorted ignominiously from Finsbury Park by park keepers when surrounded by a hostile crowd. In June 1934, confrontations between fascists and anti-fascists also occurred at meetings at Regents Park, Notting Dale, Woolwich and Lewisham.104 Outside London, the BUF experienced a particularly vigorous anti-fascist challenge in Plymouth and Glasgow, indicating the presence, as in Newcastle, of strong local cultures of antifascism. In Glasgow, a crowd of 2,000 anti-fascists lay siege to the local BUF office and 13 fascists were reportedly trapped inside.105 In Plymouth, anti-fascist activity was sustained over the course of several days with local Communists and the

22 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

NUWM the driving force behind these activities. The immediate spark was a BUF meeting on 12 June and the arrest of a leading anti-fascist. When the anti-fascist was subsequently released, it was reported that he led a procession of 1,000 workers through the streets. The following day, an antagonistic crowd, reported to number some 2,000 processed to the BUF’s offices in Lockyer Street. Although later dispersed by police, anti-fascist activities continued into a third day when there was a ‘barrage of heckling’ at a BUF meeting, with anti-fascists throwing missiles.106 Given the wave of anti-fascist feeling after Olympia, even fascists in rural middle-class areas were not immune to the occasional missile attack: in Melksham in Wiltshire, on 21 June, a car was overturned and stones, eggs and fruit were thrown by anti-fascists at an unfortunate group of Blackshirts.107 Anti-fascist demonstrations also followed in June 1934 in Leicester and Swansea, but there were no reports of disorder. At Leicester, where leading BUF figure A.K. Chesterton addressed a meeting at Oriental Hall, a counter-procession of anti-fascists brought a donkey along dressed in a blackshirt.108 The largest counter-demonstration in the immediate aftermath of Olympia occurred during Mosley’s visit to Sheffield City Hall on 28 June. This was organised by the CPGB and the ILP, under the auspices of the ‘Sheffield United Action Committee’ and set out to be the ‘mightiest working-class demonstration ever known in Sheffield’, attracting a crowd variously estimated at between 5,000 and 15,000. Anti-fascists ‘paraded’ the streets with banners reading ‘Down with Mosley’, ‘Fight Fascism and War Now!’, and distributing pamphlets urging people to demonstrate against ‘Mosley and his thugs’. Increasingly conscious of Labour Party claims that the radical left was overly fond of causing disturbances, the focus of CPGB and ILP activity was on peaceful demonstration outside the hall, where speakers ‘talked solidly’ for over three hours.109 The examples of Leicester, Swansea and Sheffield suggest that after Olympia, especially where ‘mass action’ was planned, the CPGB was keen to present itself as nonviolent, responsible and law-abiding. Prior to Olympia, Pollitt had remarked to the CPGB’s Central Committee that it would be fatal for the Communist Party if opposition to Mosley was regarded by workers ‘as being in the nature of a brawl and not a real political struggle’.110 Whilst Pollitt had spoken defiantly in July 1934 that ‘[t]here can never be any question of free speech for Mosley, there can never be any toleration for Fascism’,111 the idea was to break the anti-CPGB rhetoric of Labour leaders who repeatedly accused Communists of encouraging disorder. The object was to further extend the united front to the rank and file of the Labour Party and trade unions, and ultimately attract disaffected leftists into the Communist Party or, at the very least, into one of the CPGB’s satellite organisations.

IV In order to assist this strategy and consolidate non-Communist involvement in anti-fascist activities, a meeting was held on 25 July 1934 at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square in London. This meeting resulted in the launch of the ‘Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities’. The meeting, attended by some 50 people,

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 23

appears to have been instigated by the British Anti-War Movement with John Strachey delivering the keynote speech. Strachey drew specific attention to the anti-fascist work of the British Anti-War Movement which had, only three days earlier, organised a large anti-fascist rally in Victoria Park in East London, distinguished by the contribution of the Artists’ International which had prepared effigies of fascist dictators, much to the delight of the crowds.112 Strachey identified a spontaneous movement against fascism emerging in diverse industries and trade unions in London, from printers, busmen, railway workers, shop assistants through to workers in Spitalfields Market. Strachey argued that this movement needed coherence and that it should direct all its efforts towards breaking down the refusal of the Labour Party, TUC and Co-operative Party to form a united front against fascism. He considered that the ideal way of achieving this was through a massive counter-demonstration against Mosley’s proposed rally in Hyde Park, scheduled for 9 September 1934. Thus, the central task of the Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities, born essentially as an offshoot from the British Anti-War Movement, was to wreck the Labour Party’s refusal to co-operate in united front anti-fascist activity through appeals to various anti-fascist trade union groups, industry-specific groups and disaffected leftists in local Labour Party branches and Co-operative Guilds.113 Strachey was elected Secretary, with, amongst others, D.N. Pritt (a left-wing lawyer), W. Gallacher (elected CPGB MP for West Fife in 1935), W. Elliot (Men’s Co-op Guild), H. Adams (Building Trade Workers) and Professor H. Levy agreeing to serve on the initial Committee. In due course, they were joined by Lord Marley, James Maxton, Fenner Brockway, Ellen Wilkinson, Dorothy Woodman, Harry Pollitt, and Leah Manning (President of the National Union of Teachers).114 Meanwhile, a further spin-off from the British Anti-War Movement targeted youth. Following a national youth congress held in Sheffield on 4 and 5 August 1934, the Youth Front Against Fascism and War was established. An internal CPGB memorandum dated 13 August reveals how central the Hyde Park counter-demonstration was to the CPGB’s strategy of breaking the Labour Party’s ban on the united front. It states that the ‘whole energy’ of the CPGB must be put into preparations for Hyde Park over the next four weeks, the united front with Labour organisations being the ‘central task running through all the preparations … If we are not able to get TU branches, Trades Councils and Labour Parties to participate we shall have failed in our main task’.115 With the CPGB interpreting Olympia as a great success for anti-fascism, the main priority now was to direct popular anti-fascist feeling, aroused in the wake of Olympia, towards victory over the ‘reformist’ Labour Party. In a somewhat disingenuous letter to the London Labour Party, the Co-ordinating Committee maintained that the workers would inevitably turn out in force against Mosley in Hyde Park if left to their own devices, therefore it had decided to organise and co-ordinate the Hyde Park demonstration in order to safeguard the workers from BUF violence. Clearly the Co-ordinating Committee was trying to convey the impression of responsible behaviour, answering a legitimate call to protect workers from the ‘calculated

24 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

brutality’ of the Blackshirts and ensure that ‘peace can be kept on September 9th’. Pointing to the success of Olympia, ‘which everyone now admits was the greatest setback which Fascism has had in this country’, the Co-ordinating Committee maintained that if ‘the co-operation of all London working class organisations is secured, the Fascist Rally can be drowned in a sea of working class activity’. The Co-ordinating Committee also stated that it would press the London trade unions to consider the use of one-day strikes on the days of fascist demonstrations, following the example of workers in Madrid and Paris.116 On 15 August, a copy of this letter was published in the Daily Worker. Predictably, the Labour Party, TUC and Co-operative Party once again rejected the proposals. The official Labour leadership understood the more underhand intentions behind the Hyde Park counter-demonstration and besides, by August 1934 the Labour Party’s interest in British fascism had waned as a result of the withdrawal of Rothermere’s support for the BUF. In a circular from the National Council of Labour (formerly the National Joint Council), signed by Walter Citrine and Labour Secretary Arthur Henderson, it was made clear that most of the signatories to the Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities ‘are either known as Communists, or are associated in one form or another with Communist activities’. Unconvinced by the Co-ordinating Committee’s stress on orderly conduct, the circular concluded that the Hyde Park proposals would ‘inevitably’ lead to widespread disorder and this type of activity ‘would merely be playing the game of those who desire to see a restriction, if not the abolition of the rights of public meeting and freedom of speech’.117 Yet it would be unwise to decry Labour’s passive response to the Hyde Park proposals as indicative of aloof complacency towards British fascism. In early 1934, the National Council of Labour forwarded a serious plan of action to counter fascism, concerned that youth was being led astray by the generous publicity provided by Rothermere. First, a national educative campaign was planned, which would involve meetings, demonstrations, supply of notes for speakers, leaflet and pamphlet distribution. Through explicit reference to the disastrous effects of fascism in other countries, these leaflets and pamphlets would continually expose BUF policy and its anti-working-class character.118 Second, alongside this educative campaign, an investigation was to be pursued into the legal status of fascist organisations, and whether new legislation should be enacted in order to safeguard democracy. As part of this campaign, a deputation on behalf of the National Council of Labour visited the Home Secretary, Sir John Gilmour, on 26 June. At the meeting, the dangers of allowing the ‘militarisation’ of politics were ‘impressed’ on Gilmour, who responded that the Government was determined not to tolerate disorder and was engaging in a review of existing legislation. The Labour Party also sent out a questionnaire to its local district parties on 12 June 1934 in order to ascertain the nature and extent of BUF activities, relations with other political parties and local press reaction. However, given Rothermere’s break with Mosley, the semi-positive response of the Government, the findings of its own questionnaire (which hardly forecast an impending fascist takeover) and the end of economic depression, the

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 25

urgency behind Labour’s anti-fascist campaign abated. By August 1934 the National Council of Labour was satisfied that public opinion had turned against fascism and that without the support of Rothermere, the BUF was left with ‘hollow teeth’. Nevertheless, it still warned the party against complacency119 – the charge that Labour was far too complacent was the typical broadside of Labour’s ‘United Grunters’.120 On the radical left, Communist Party preparations for Hyde Park carried on regardless of Labour’s response. These preparations were classified by Special Branch as follows: appeals for support; propaganda in the Party press which had, since 15 August, promoted the Hyde Park counter-demonstration in virtually every issue of the Daily Worker; circulation of literature; instructions to groups and members; public meetings; and propaganda from a motor van. It was also reported that from a secret source (possibly Moscow), the Communist Party had received further financial contributions – £2,000 was donated towards financing anti-fascist activity, especially activity connected with 9 September.121 However, these early arrangements were not going according to plan: news of the proposed protest was met with silence from the mainstream press. A train entering King’s Cross Station with the words ‘March Against Fascism on September 9’ painted on the boiler in large letters failed to attract press coverage, as did the delivery of crates to numerous factories with the same call written on the sides. The CPGB claimed that this press silence was intentional, orchestrated by the National Press Association, an organisation of the large newspaper proprietors which controlled all newspaper trains and which refused to allow these trains to be used by the Daily Worker. Frustrated by the paucity of media coverage, the CPGB worked relentlessly to overcome the purported ‘press ban’ through an innovative publicity campaign, which appears to have been largely directed by an ad hoc group based around the CPGB’s propaganda chief, Bert Williams.122 On 3 September the front page of the Daily Express reported that three antifascists interrupted a BBC outside broadcast and succeeded in calling on London workers to demonstrate against fascism on 9 September. This was followed by further attempted broadcasts from what the Daily Mirror termed ‘microphone bandits’ – one such ‘bandit’ having seized the microphone at Romano’s restaurant in the Strand where dance music was being broadcast on a powerful new transmitter. Thousands of anti-fascist leaflets were dropped onto a busy Oxford Street from the roof of Selfridges on 3 September and leaflets were also thrown down from buses and from other buildings over the course of the next six days. These included leaflets issued by the London District Committee of the CPGB, the Young Communist League and the Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities.123 As many as 1 million leaflets may have been distributed.124 Walls and pavements were also chalked, but audacious anti-fascists also dared to elect Nelson’s Column as the place to paint a call for ‘workers to do their duty’ in large letters. Other ostentatious deeds included the unrolling of a banner from the roof of the BBC’s Broadcasting House at midday on 7 September, which remained in position for over half an hour before it was removed. Additional banners were unfurled from the top of the Law Courts and Transport House.125 Not surprisingly, these various publicity-seeking

26 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

measures, with their emphasis on the unorthodox and sensational, attracted requisite press coverage and ultimately proved very effective in publicising the Hyde Park counter-demonstration. On the day, as with Olympia, contingents of anti-fascists assembled at various points in London. Some 1,300 gathered at the junction of Edgware Road and Marylebone Place to form the North and North-West London contingent. Various local Communist Party branches were represented here, but there was also support from the Portsmouth Workers’ Movement, the Leicester and Sheffield Youth Anti-War Council, the YCL, ILP, Transport and General Workers’ Union, the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association, local branches of the NUWM, the Artists’ International and the King’s Cross Co-operative Society. An estimated 1,000 met at Stepney Green and were led by Harry Pollitt. Some 50 banners were carried by this East London contingent which represented local CPGB branches and various trade union bodies, such as the Hackney Electricians. Special Branch noted this East London contingent seemed well supported by the local Jewish community. The CPGB had made a special appeal to East London Jews, widely distributing a leaflet in Yiddish which implored Jews in England to ‘take a lesson from what has happened in Germany and not wait’126 (further evidence that ahead of the BUF’s turn towards hard-line anti-Semitism the CPGB had recruited Jewish elements in the East End). Elsewhere, the West, South-West and South-East London contingents, numbering approximately 2,700, gathered near Exhibition Road. Once again various local CPGB, NUWM branches and trade unions were represented. Finally, a group of some 300 anti-fascists from the Printers’, Busmen’s and Railwaymen’s Anti-Fascist Groups met separately at Lambeth Palace Road. Thus, according to Special Branch estimates, approximately 5,000 organised antifascists marched to Hyde Park.127 Again acting in open defiance of the Labour Party leadership, these marchers were also joined by 30 sections of the Labour Party’s League of Youth.128 On arrival at Hyde Park, the four processions of anti-fascists met a vast crowd, estimated from a very conservative 60,000 by Special Branch through to between 100,000 and 150,000 according to various newspapers. The size of this crowd (100 anti-fascists for every fascist had been the target) indicated the extent to which popular anti-fascist feeling amongst Londoners had been mobilised by the events at Olympia and by the Communist Party’s unorthodox publicity campaign. Explicit instructions on the anti-fascist side were issued to avoid violence and make for the four anti-fascist platforms, but large numbers uninterested in the speakers left the anti-fascist platforms and congregated around the fascists as they marched into Hyde Park behind Mosley. There was much booing, heckling and ridicule from anti-fascists but there was no serious disorder despite fears that the propaganda which had appeared in the Daily Worker and in the various leaflets was ‘violently phrased’ and could be interpreted as incitement to violence.129 The Co-ordinating Committee had sent out recommendations that the emphasis should be on restraint: well-timed and well-informed questions and interjections rather than shouting down BUF speakers as soon as they spoke. According to a Special Branch

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 27

report, the ‘demeanour of the majority of the persons’ in this crowd ‘was distinctly hostile to the fascist speakers’, yet the report qualifies this point with the observation that ‘many thousands were present merely out of curiosity or in anticipation of seeing a clash between the two factions, or with police’. This was apparent ‘by the little interest taken in the objects of the proceedings and the manner in which large numbers rushed to the scene of any unusual activity’.130 Notwithstanding these observations, the CPGB evidently succeeded in mobilising unprecedented numbers of Londoners to Hyde Park, leading Harry Pollitt to later describe the Hyde Park anti-fascist demonstration as ‘the biggest breakthrough ever made against the ban on the United Front imposed by the Labour leaders’.131 Unsurprisingly the Labour Party minimised its importance. The next day the Daily Herald declared that ‘the Mosley fiasco was mainly owing to splendid police organisation and the good sense of London workers, who observed the direction of the TUC and took no part in the counter-demonstration’. Angered by this version of events, one Communist organiser recollects that the Daily Herald was publicly burnt in Brighton by local Communists and the ashes returned to the Daily Herald offices in a large envelope.132

V The scale of the anti-fascist mobilisation in Hyde Park was the opportunity to launch a national anti-fascist organisation, and indeed, membership forms for the (British) Anti-War and Anti-Fascist Movement were distributed on the day. One idea had been to hold a major follow-up meeting at the Royal Albert Hall where a national organisation could be launched with the CPGB ‘right in the middle’, ‘giving the drive’. Another plan, proposed by Strachey, had been to secure the election of militant delegates to an all-London conference on fascism that had been called by the London Labour Party and London Trades Council on 22 September 1934. Strachey thought that this might offer the platform from which a national anti-fascist movement could be launched, but Communists were deemed ineligible to attend. In any case, Strachey later warned against this initiative, insisting that if a national organisation were launched before the rank and file of the labour movement fully understood the nature of fascism, then a divide between informed anti-fascists and misinformed sections of the working class would result. The CPGB protested that the Labour Party ‘would have us believe that Mosleyism is Fascism, that at its best it is a foreign importation entirely unsuited to the British climate, an importation that will wither away if it is ignored’.133 For Strachey and the CPGB, this perspective was naive, indifferent to fascism being more than a case of Mosley and the Blackshirts. According to the Communist Party’s ‘class’ analysis, fascism was the ‘open dictatorship of capital’ – its source was the capitalist system and in particular, finance capital. By late 1934, the CPGB’s theoretical position had hardened to an ‘ultra-leftist’ critique: finance capital backed the National Government as the main weapon of ‘fascisation’. The capitalist class used the existing state to enforce antiworking-class legislation (for example, Incitement to Disaffection Bill), but also

28 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

backed Mosley as a ‘subsidiary weapon’ to be used against the working class if the force of the National Government proved insufficient in time of crisis. Thus fascism had a ‘twofold’ character and this character implied that the struggle against fascism could not rely on the state or ‘bourgeois democracy’ to defend the working class. For Strachey and the CPGB, the Labour Party’s analysis which encouraged workers to trust ‘bourgeois democracy’ and which subsequently pointed to the weakness of Mosley in Hyde Park in order to reject the need for special anti-fascist activities, was seriously flawed: It is essential to make clear to the workers this twofold character of the Fascist offensive, at once through the official State machine and through the open Fascist forces […] The understanding of this necessarily destroys the ‘democratic’ illusion, the illusion of the possibility of the legal bourgeois democratic opposition to Fascism.134 Accordingly, the only way to oppose and defeat fascism was through proletarian revolution. Strachey therefore insisted that following Hyde Park, the anti-fascist struggle should concentrate on liberating workers from the reformist chains of the Labour Party’s narrow interpretation of fascism, inculcating revolutionary zeal and broadening the appeal of the Communist Party. This demanded ‘untiring and unceasing work in every Trade Union branch, in every Labour Party, and in every Co-operative Guild’.135 However, this did not imply an end to ‘mass action’ because ‘by far the most effective method of converting workers to our point of view is by example rather than precept’. Strachey concluded that this strategy would encourage the development of anti-fascist organisations at local level, leaving the Co-ordinating Committee at the centre to ‘maintain contact and give general direction and cohesion to all these organisations as they come into being’.136 Thus, the continuation of the Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities relied on the sustained growth of militant anti-fascist movements ‘from below’, but without local-level organisations providing the necessary momentum, the Co-ordinating Committee faced stagnation over the long term. The success of the CPGB’s strategy therefore required incisive penetration of the labour movement, but Labour leaders quickly took measures to resist Communist influence. In October 1934 the TUC issued a Black Circular which pressured trade unions to exclude militants from office and forbade trades councils from accepting militants as delegates – only 18 out of 381 trade councils failed to execute this circular. Already in December 1934, it was noted in the CPGB’s monthly that there had been ‘a noticeable slowness to penetrate into working-class organisations’.137 Yet for Strachey and the CPGB, the success of the ‘anti-fascist front’ could only be made certain by fighting ‘fascism’ on all its fronts, and this required broad mobilisation of rank-andfile Labour supporters not only against the BUF but also against the ‘fascisation’ of the National Government, and ultimately the ‘reformism’ of the Labour Party and TUC leadership. Yet the CPGB’s analysis of fascism ran counter to core ideology of the Labour Party, which committed the Party to democratic socialism and

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 29

interpreted the state as a neutral entity. Conversion to the Communist position, which essentially saw anti-fascism in terms of proletarian revolution, would have meant Labourites repudiating both the leadership and the entire consensual basis of Labour ideology. This was an unlikely prospect and although ideological differences between the militant left and the moderate left did not prevent local co-operation in the common fight against Mosley’s fascism, it effectively blocked co-operation with the militant left in what the CPGB perceived as a revolutionary struggle against a wider ‘fascism’. Even though revolutionary mobilisation within working-class organisations proved unattainable, further activities against the British Union of Fascists continued in the wake of Hyde Park as the Communist Party also looked to convert the rank and file of the labour movement through its example. Towards the end of September 1934 the Communist Party orchestrated opposition to a rally held by Mosley at Manchester’s Belle Vue Gardens. Calling on workers to follow the lead of London, an estimated 5,000 anti-fascists responded and opposed around 1,000 Blackshirts. Once again the Daily Worker declared that Mosley had been swamped by a ‘sea of working class activity’, drawing explicit, albeit forced parallels with the much larger mobilisation in Hyde Park. Acting inconsistently with the CPGB’s official line, which stressed police indulgence towards fascism, Maurice Levine, a prominent local Jewish Communist, had called on the Chief Constable of Manchester to ban the BUF’s rally.138 Presumably this approach followed indications that the Chief Constable was hostile to the BUF given that on previous occasions Manchester police had removed Blackshirt stewards from the Free Trade Hall meeting in March 1933 and had imposed a curfew on a BUF meeting in October 1933.139 What Levine’s approach to the authorities reveals is that ideological concerns did not prevent pragmatism and variation in anti-fascist strategy at a local level, even for an organisation like the Communist Party which was so closely attached to its ideology. More in keeping with Hyde Park, however, was the absence of serious disorder at Belle Vue, and this also appears to have been the case at a large BUF meeting held in Plymouth Market Place on 11 October. However, violent disorder had followed Mosley’s visit to Worthing on 9 October despite the CPGB’s attempts to minimise physical confrontations at large BUF meetings.140 In October 1934 the Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities received notification that Mosley intended to hold a further meeting at the Royal Albert Hall. It called a counter-demonstration in Hyde Park but in the event only managed to attract a few thousand at most. Support came from the ILP, various branches of the CPGB, YCL, Labour League of Youth, as well as industry-based anti-fascist groups.141 Joe Jacobs, in his autobiographical account of East End militancy and the rise of fascism, concedes that ‘I don’t remember why this meeting was not opposed in any real strength’.142 Perhaps Jacobs was embarrassed that complacency, born from the perceived success of Hyde Park, had set in. Indeed, discussions about launching a new anti-fascist newspaper in November 1934, inspired by the Co-ordinating Committee, came to nothing. The planned editor, CPGB reporter Claud Cockburn, complained of being overworked and Strachey became

30 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

increasingly frustrated with what he perceived as lacklustre management of the CPGB’s anti-fascist policy. Both Pollitt and Palme Dutt informed Strachey that it was his responsibility to overcome these administrative problems but Strachey replied that he was no ‘leader’, and instead of providing the Co-ordinating Committee with much-needed direction, Strachey took up the invitation to give a lecture tour in the United States and left Britain in December 1934, not returning until mid-April 1935.143 Without Strachey to provide stewardship, the Co-ordinating Committee lost momentum (although it did manage to organise relatively small demonstrations against a meeting held by Mosley at the Royal Albert Hall in March 1935).144 According to the picture gleaned from Home Office sources, the scale of anti-fascist activity declined noticeably during 1935. As Cullen has noted, for the first part of 1935 the CPGB concentrated its efforts on anti-Jubilee activities.145 A contributory factor behind this decline in anti-fascist activity and the CPGB’s corresponding shift in agitation focus, was the departure of Strachey who, prior to his visit to the United States, was insisting that the ‘most urgent task of Communism’ was ‘to save human civilisation from Fascism’.146 A further factor was the failure of the CPGB to develop an offensive struggle against ‘fascism’ on the widest possible front. Anti-fascist counterdemonstrations in 1934 had been primarily defensive, triggered by announced BUF activities. Mobilisations had been particularly significant when a high-profile visit by Mosley was given public notice, sparking the creation of local united front anti-fascist committees. However, once a counter-demonstration had been organised, activity often lapsed. There were exceptions, such as Manchester, which was noted for frequent low-level street confrontations between fascists and anti-fascists, but as a general rule the problem, noted in the CPGB’s monthly, was apathy and lack of direction. It was, as one comrade remarked, a case of ‘now that Mosley has gone there seems to be nothing for us to do’.147 For the CPGB, this inactivity was the direct result of the prevailing ‘reformist’ position which defined fascism solely in terms of the fight against Mosley and the BUF. This ‘reformist’ mode of anti-fascist opposition also meant that levels of antifascist activity mirrored levels of BUF activity, and so as the frequency of BUF activity decreased in 1935, so too did anti-fascism. The adverse publicity that the BUF attracted at Olympia resulting from anti-fascist exposure, combined with the loss of Rothermere’s support, helped undermine the BUF’s membership base which had fallen to a mere 5,000 by October 1935.148 The number of BUF meetings recorded in the Home Office files, tabulated by Cullen, correspondingly fell from 89 in 1934 to 53 in 1935.149 Yet whilst this decline in the BUF’s fortunes did reduce general levels of activity, the BUF remained active in certain regional pockets, such as Lancashire, where from November 1934 to April 1935 a cotton campaign was launched. This was promptly countered by the CPGB which held a series of public meetings and distributed some 10,000 pamphlets entitled ‘Mosley and Lancashire’. Mosley continued to make the occasional high-profile visit to provincial centres, such as Leicester in April 1935. In May 1935 he was forced to close a meeting at Newcastle City Hall when faced with continual heckling from the audience which made it impossible for him to continue. Nonetheless, fascist

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 31

activities generally fell during 1935 as a consequence of the BUF’s contraction and subsequent preoccupation with internal reorganisation. Where meetings were held, often they were low-profile and went unopposed. As Gerald Anderson put it, ‘[i]n general, the BUF efforts were increasingly ignored or passively tolerated, and Mosley could point to few Fascist converts’.150 Tellingly, the BUF failed to contest the 1935 general election and it was not until the autumn before the BUF was fully reactivated in London, where the decisive factor, as Richard Thurlow identified, was ‘the discovery that anti-semitism was a good recruiting tactic in the East End’.151

VI Looking back over the early development of anti-fascism in the 1930s, it is clear that in sharp contrast to the 1920s, anti-fascist activities did engage significant numbers of people. Where in the 1920s a narrow circle of precocious anti-fascists countered Britain’s first fascist organisations, in the early 1930s thousands of people opposed Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Unlike the 1920s, anti-fascism had wider resonance, it had extended into provincial areas as early as 1933 and grew to national significance. It is worth reiterating that the rise of Nazism, the early growth phase of the BUF, and the willingness of the militant left to take the lead in organising opposition through locally based united fronts were the key factors behind this wider development of anti-fascism. Local activities raised anti-fascist consciousness and on a number of occasions encouraged large-scale participation. The refusal of the Labour Party leadership to support direct confrontations with the BUF did not prevent anti-fascist co-operation at local levels, but without the organisational resources of the Labour Party to support the ‘united front’, anti-fascism was deprived of broad structural cohesion. The development of anti-fascism in the early 1930s was therefore loosely defined and variegated. In 1934 the Communist-sponsored Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities attempted to impose coherence from the ‘centre’, but following the Hyde Park counter-demonstration it lost momentum, and as the CPGB’s revolutionary struggle to proselytise the workers against a wider ‘fascism’ met with little tangible success, the activities of the Co-ordinating Committee petered out. Nevertheless, the modus operandi of disruptive tactics employed by anti-fascist activists did succeed both in restricting the BUF’s operations and limiting its capacity to disseminate fascist ideology. Most importantly, these tactics invited the BUF to deploy violence against opponents and this served to discredit fascism, denying the British Union of Fascists political and social respectability at a most critical stage in its formative development. At the same time, Labour’s official refusal to engage in militant anti-fascism reinforced the strength and stability of the prevailing liberal-democratic consensus, hence restricting political space for the BUF. So ironically, although Labour’s anti-fascist policy was attacked by the CPGB, it actually worked in tandem. Labour’s commitment to political moderation and liberalism helped marginalise and delegitimise both the violence and ideology of British fascism. Isolated, and with very little room to manoeuvre, the BUF had no real alternative but to descend into the sewers of anti-Semitism.

32 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

Notes 1 See The National Archives (TNA) CAB 24/162/153, 433 and 577. 2 For coverage of early responses to domestic and continental fascism, see K. Hodgson, Fighting Fascism: The British Left and the Rise of Fascism 1919–39, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010. 3 See TNA KV 3/57: Activities of British Fascist Organisations in the UK (excluding the BUF), ‘The British Fascisti Movement’. 4 TNA KV3/57: ‘British Fascisti Enrolment Oath’. 5 See R. Bosworth, ‘The British Press, the Conservatives, and Mussolini, 1920–34’, Journal of Contemporary History, 1970, vol. 5, 163–81; and R. Palme Dutt, ‘Notes of the Month’, Labour Monthly, vol. 7, 7 July 1925, 390. 6 This has been suggested by J. Hope in a footnote to ‘Fascism and the State in Britain: The Case of the British Fascists, 1923–31’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 1993, vol. 39, no. 3, 367–80. 7 TNA CAB 30/69/220: New Scotland Yard Special Branch Reports on Revolutionary Organisations in the United Kingdom, Report no. 241, 31 January 1924. 8 The National Unemployed Workers’ Committee was a Communist ancillary organisation. Formed in 1921, it became the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement in 1929. 9 TNA CAB 30/69/220: New Scotland Yard Special Branch Reports on Revolutionary Organisations in the United Kingdom, Report no. 241, 31 January 1924. 10 See TNA CAB 30/69/220. New Scotland Yard Special Branch Reports on Revolutionary Organisations in the United Kingdom, Report no. 270, 4 September 1924. 11 The Clear Light, June 1924. 12 ‘National Union for Combating Fascismo: A Statement of Objects’, The Clear Light, November 1924. 13 See ‘Our Position as Revolutionary Socialists’, The Clear Light, February 1925. 14 ‘National Union for Combating Fascismo: A Statement of Objects’. 15 ‘The Fascisti’, The Clear Light, February 1924. 16 See ‘Ours Fascistically and How’, The Clear Light, April–May 1925. 17 The Plebs League originated at Ruskin College, Oxford. Its function was to popularise Marxist education within the labour movement. See The Plebs League, Fascism: Its History and Significance, London: Plebs, 1924, p. 34. 18 TNA KV 3/57: ‘The British Fascist Movement’. 19 William Joyce joined the British Fascisti in December 1923. On Joyce’s involvement with the British Fascisti, see C. Holmes, Searching for Lord Haw-Haw: The Political Lives of William Joyce, Abingdon: Routledge, 2016. 20 R. Palme Dutt, ‘Notes of the Month’, Labour Monthly, 7 July 1925, 395. 21 T. Bell, British Communist Party: A Short History, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1937, pp. 107–8. 22 Described as such by Herbert Morrison in a letter to the Prime Minister, see Daily Herald, 10 November 1925. 23 For a fuller discussion, see R.C. Maguire, ‘“The Fascists … are … to be depended upon”. The British Government, Fascists and Strike-breaking during 1925 and 1926’, in N. Copsey and D. Renton (eds), British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp. 6–26. 24 According to BF sources many fascists did co-operate with the OMS as ‘British Fascists’ during the General Strike, see TNA HO 144/19069/34–5. 25 TNA HO 144/13864/31–2. 26 TNA HO 144/13864/31–2. 27 TNA HO 144/13864/31–2, 43–4 and 47–9. 28 TNA HO 144/13864/81–5. 29 F.G. Portsmouth in The Fascist Gazette, 8 November 1926. 30 TNA HO 144/19069/85, 9, 19 and 81.

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 33

31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

51 52 53

54 55 56 57 58 59 60

The Daily Herald, 21 October 1925. The Daily Herald, 7 and 11 November 1925. TNA HO 144/16069/211–12. Also see Labour Monthly, vol. 7, 7 July 1925, 385. R. Benewick, The Fascist Movement in Britain, London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1972, p. 38. See R. Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, London: Macmillan, 1981, pp. 355–7. On the New Party, see M. Worley, Oswald Mosley and the New Party, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. John Strachey had resigned from the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1931. He was later to return to the Labour Party and was adopted Labour candidate for Dundee in 1943 and served in the Labour administration of 1945–51. J. Strachey, The Menace of Fascism, New York: Covici Friede, 1933, p. 157. See N. Copsey, ‘Opposition to the New Party: An Incipient Anti-Fascism or a Defence Against “Mosleyitis”?’, Contemporary British History, 2009, vol. 23, no. 4, 461–75. The Blackshirt, 18 March 1933, no. 3. Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, p. 353. See N. Copsey, ‘Communists and the Inter-War Anti-Fascist Struggle in the United States and Britain’, Labour History Review, 2011, vol. 76, 184–206. Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, p. 358. On the CPGB in the 1920s, see M. Worley, Class Against Class: The Communist Party in Britain Between the Wars, London: I.B. Tauris, 2002. The Blackshirt, 18 March 1933. The Blackshirt, 17 April 1933. H. Pelling, The British Communist Party: A Historical Profile, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1975, p.77. See P. Corthorn, In Shadow of the Dictators: The British Left in the 1930s, London: I.B. Tauris, 2006, p. 28. Pelling, The British Communist Party, p. 76. For more discussion of the Labour Party’s policy on British fascism, see M. Newman, ‘Democracy versus Dictatorship: Labour’s Role in the Struggle against British Fascism, 1933–1936’, History Workshop, 1978, no. 5, 67–88. Also see N. Copsey, ‘“Every time they made a Communist, they made a Fascist”: The Labour Party and Popular Anti-Fascism in the 1930s’, in N. Copsey and A. Olechnowicz (eds), Varieties of Anti-Fascism: Britain in the Inter-War Period, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, pp. 52–72. See R. Griffin, ‘British Fascism: The Ugly Duckling’, in M. Cronin (ed.), The Failure of British Fascism, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996, pp. 141–165. R. Palme Dutt, Democracy and Fascism, London: Communist Party of Great Britain, 1933, p. 7. D. Renton, Red Shirts and Black: Fascists and Anti-Fascists in Oxford in the 1930s, Oxford: Ruskin College Library Occasional Publications, 1996, no. 5, 21; D. Turner, Fascism and Anti-Fascism in the Medway Towns 1927–40, Kent: Kent Anti-Fascist Action Committee, 1993, pp. 18–9; and N. Todd, In Excited Times: The People Against the Blackshirts, Whitley Bay: Bewick Press, 1995, p. 14. See D. Murphy, ‘The West Yorkshire Communist Party and the Struggle for the United Front against Fascism during 1933’, North West Labour History, 1988/90, no. 23, 29–39. F. Mullally, Fascism Inside England, London: Claud Morris, 1946, p. 30. See N. Branson, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain 1927–41, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1985, pp. 115–7. The Fascist Week, 2–8 March 1934. For reports of disorders during 1933, see TNA PRO HO 45/25386/25–7. Also seeThe Blackshirt, 1–7 July 1933. See TNA MEPO 2/3069/91. See W.F. Mandle, Anti-Semitism and the British Union of Fascists, London: Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd, 1968, pp. 2–6.

34 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

61 J. Hamm, Mosley’s Blackshirts: The Inside Story of the British Union of Fascists, London: Black House Publishing, 2012, p. 81; and The Blackshirt, 16–22 September 1933. 62 TNA HO 144/19070/5; TNA HO 144/19070/8–10. 63 See The Blackshirt, 30 September–6 October 1933, no. 23, 4. 64 S. Cullen, ‘Political Violence: The Case of the British Union of Fascists’, Journal of Contemporary History, 1993, vol. 28, 245–67. Also see TNA HO 144/19070/29. 65 D. Shermer, Blackshirts in Britain, New York: Ballantine Books, 1971, p. 58. 66 See Daily Mirror, 22 January 1934. 67 On the role of the Daily Mail as a ‘recruiting agent’ for British fascism, see R. Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933–39, London: Constable, 1980, p. 107. 68 The Spectator, 19 January 1934, 6. 69 Labour Research Department Archive, London Metropolitan University: LRD Report on the Development of the British Union of Fascists (1934). 70 D.S. Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987, p. 134. 71 H. Thomas, John Strachey, London: Eyre Methuen, 1973, p. 130. 72 Strachey, Menace of Fascism, p. 236, emphasis in the original. 73 Printing and Allied Trades Anti-Fascist Movement, Printers and the Fascist Menace, London: Printing and Allied Trades Anti-Fascist Movement, 1934. 74 Douglas argued that economic depression could be overcome by increasing mass purchasing power through the creation of public credit (‘social credit’). 75 Figures given in the Daily Express, 21 February 1934. On the background to the Green Shirts, see J.L. Finlay, ‘John Hargrave, the Green Shirts, and Social Credit’, Journal of Contemporary History, 1970, vol. 5, 53–71. Also see M. Drakeford, Social Movements and their Supporters: The Green Shirts in England, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997. 76 See TNA HO 144/19070/239–41; and Drakeford, Social Movements and their Supporters, pp. 123–4, 142 and 154. 77 See The Blackshirt, 16 November 1934; and TNA HO 144/20140/117 and 135–38. 78 See ‘Fascists Afraid to Meet Us in Debate’, Green Band, 8 September 1934, vol. 2, no. 49. 79 See Jewish Chronicle, 2 November 1934, 6. 80 The Fascist Week, 23 February–1 March 1934. 81 See T. Gray, Blackshirts in Devon, Exeter: The Mint Press, 2006. 82 TNA HO 144/20140/267–8, 20143/393, 390 and 389. 83 TNA HO 144/19070/16–8. 84 See Todd, In Excited Times, esp. pp. 54–9. 85 ‘The struggle against Fascism in the Thirties’, Bulletin of the North East Labour History Society, 1984, no. 18, 22. 86 John Beckett had been Labour MP for Gateshead (1924–9) before becoming a Labour MP for Peckham (1929–31). For more on Beckett, see F. Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause: The Tragedy of John Beckett, MP, London: London House, 1999. This biography has been recently updated as F. Beckett, Fascist in the Family: The Tragedy of John Beckett MP, Abingdon: Routledge, 2016. 87 TNA HO 144/20140/58–9 and 376–7. 88 See I. Montagu, Blackshirt Brutality: The Story of Olympia, London: Workers’ Bookshop Ltd, 1934, p. 8. 89 TNA HO 144/20140/29–34. 90 See Vindicator, Fascists at Olympia: A Record of Eye-Witnesses and Victims, London: Victor Gollancz, 1934, p. 10. 91 See M. Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts! Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, London: Jonathan Cape, 2005, p. 159. 92 Hamm, Mosley’s Blackshirts, p. 40. 93 R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain, 2nd rev. edn, London: I.B. Tauris, 1998, p. 71.

Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35 35

94 G.D. Anderson, Fascists, Communists and the National Government: Civil Liberties in Great Britain 1931–1937, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1983, p. 106. 95 R. Bellamy, We Marched with Mosley: The Authorised History of the British Union of Fascists, London: Black House Publishing, 2013, p. 71. 96 Mosley quoted in Anderson, Fascists, Communists and the National Government, p. 104. 97 See Labour Research Department Archive, London Metropolitan University: W. Citrine, ‘The Fascist Rowdyism at Olympia’ memorandum, 1934, p. 5. 98 Daily Mail, 12 June 1934. 99 See S. Dorrill, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism, London: Penguin Viking, 2006, p. 309. 100 TNA HO 144/20141/85. The family base of Maggs was Melksham in Wiltshire where Blackshirts had been subjected to local hostility. 101 TNA HO 45/25386/279–89. 102 See Anti-Fascist Special (1934) p. 3. 103 See Fight, July 1934 and August 1934. On meetings of the New World Fellowship during 1934, see TNA HO 144/20143/363, 364, 366, 372 and 382. 104 See Fight, July 1934; and TNA HO 144/20143/378 and 374. 105 H. Maitles, ‘Fascism in the 1930s: The West of Scotland in the British Context’, Scottish Labour History Society Journal, 1992, vol. 27, 7–22. 106 TNA HO 144/20143/379–80. 107 TNA HO 144/ 20143/376. 108 See Leicester Evening Mail, 15 June 1934. 109 TNA HO 144/20141/38, 46–8 and 238. 110 See Copsey, ‘Communists and the Inter-War Anti-Fascist Struggle in the United States and Britain’, 198. 111 See TNA HO 25383/386. 112 Fight, August 1934. 113 Daily Worker, 27 July 1934. 114 TNA HO 45/25388/400–404 and 25383/685. 115 TNA HO 45/25383/421–3. 116 People’s History Museum Archive, Manchester: ID/CI/24/9i and ii. 117 People’s History Museum Archive, Manchester: ID/CI/24/12i and ii. 118 For instance, one pamphlet produced by the Labour Research Department in 1934 entitled ‘Who Backs Mosley?’ portrayed Mosley as a ‘Toff’, an aristocratic enemy of the working class. 119 See Trades Union Congress, United Against Fascism! 1934, pp. 25–8. 120 The Labour Organiser, August 1934, no. 158. 121 TNA HO 45/25383/442–7. 122 N. Branson, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain 1927–41, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1985, p. 123. 123 For a selection of these leaflets, see TNA HO 45/25383/569, 570 and 575–77. 124 J. Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, London: Janet Simon, 1978, p. 145. 125 See CPGB, Drowned in a Sea of Working-Class Activity – September 9th, 1934; and TNA HO 45/25383/602–17. 126 Translation of ‘An Appeal to the Jewish Population of London’, TNA HO 45/25383. 127 TNA HO 45/25383/602–17. 128 Fight, September 1934. 129 See The New Statesman and Nation, 8 September 1934, pp. 283–5. 130 See TNA HO 45/25383/602–17. 131 Quoted in M. Power, The Struggle Against Fascism and War in Britain 1931–39, History Group of the Communist Party, Our History Pamphlet, n.d., no. 70, 16. 132 E. Trory, Between the Wars: Recollections of a Communist Organiser, Brighton: Crabtree Press, 1974, p. 46. 133 G. Allison, ‘The Next Steps in the Fight Against Fascism’, Labour Monthly, December 1934, vol. 16, p. 730.

36 Origins and development of anti-fascism 1923–35

134 From resolution of the Central Committee of the CPGB, August 1934, quoted in J. Strachey, ‘The Prospects of the Anti-Fascist Struggle’, Labour Monthly, October 1934, vol. 16, p. 609. 135 Strachey, ‘The Prospects of the Anti-Fascist Struggle’, pp. 610–11. 136 Ibid., p. 611. 137 G. Allison, ‘The Next Steps in the Fight Against Fascism’, p. 732. 138 See N. Barrett, ‘A Bright Shining Star: The CPGB and Anti-Fascist Activism in the 1930s’, Science and Society, 1997, vol. 61, no. 1, 10–26. 139 See S. Gewirtz, ‘Anti-Fascist Activity in Manchester’s Jewish Community in the 1930s’, Manchester Region History Review, 1990, vol. 4, no. 1, 17–27. 140 TNA HO 144/20143/41 and 353. 141 TNA HO 144/20143/49–50 and 68–9. 142 Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, p. 146. 143 See Thomas, John Strachey, pp. 139–40. 144 TNA HO 20143/332. 145 See S. Cullen, ‘Political Violence: The Case of the British Union of Fascists’, footnote 22, 266. 146 M. Newman, John Strachey, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, p. 52. 147 Quoted in Labour Monthly, December 1934, vol. 16, p. 732. 148 See G.C. Webber, ‘Patterns of Membership and Support for the British Union of Fascists’, Journal of Contemporary History, 1984, vol. 19, 575–606. 149 See S. Cullen, ‘Political Violence: The Case of the British Union of Fascists’, 249. These figures appear to be largely derived from meetings held in the Metropolitan Police District. As Cullen notes, provincial meetings were only recorded if there was serious disorder or if they were on a large scale. 150 Anderson, Fascists, Communists and the National Government, p. 134. 151 R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918–1985, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, p. 126.


I The foregrounding of militant anti-Semitism from 1935 onwards marked a turning point in the fortunes of British fascism and correspondingly heralded a second wave of popular anti-fascist activity, which peaked at the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ on 4 October 1936. This legendary episode should be situated in a chronology of antifascism which recognises that events at Cable Street proceeded from a relative decline in anti-fascist activity during 1935. The perception that Cable Street was the dramatic climax of an uninterrupted sequence of ascending conflicts between fascists and anti-fascists starting in 1932 and culminating in October 1936 may be widely shared but it has little foundation in fact. It should be additionally noted that any satisfactory chronology must recognise that anti-fascist responses from early 1936 became increasingly defined in terms of opposition to anti-Semitism. The greater prominence afforded to anti-Semitism by the BUF led to more substantive involvement by the Jewish community in anti-fascist activity and thereby widened the popular base of anti-fascist opposition. It is common knowledge that the BUF’s campaign against Jewry was focused on the East End of London where the Jewish community was estimated to number over 100,000 in a national Jewish population of some 330,000. Around 43 per cent of London’s Jews resided in Stepney, 15 per cent in Bethnal Green, and 6 per cent in Shoreditch. Combining a generous supply of street-corner meetings with increasing levels of anti-Semitic abuse, intimidation, harassment and violence, the BUF’s campaign began in Bethnal Green in late 1935 before widening out to other East End districts during 1936. In addition to Jew-baiting from the soapbox, Blackshirts would parade through East End markets on Sundays, shout insults and implore locals not to buy produce from Jewish traders. Jews would be followed into back streets and physically assaulted. Many Jews feared going out at night.

38 Opposition to British fascism 1936–45

Green Street, Bethnal Green, was particularly notorious as the place to avoid for it housed the local BUF headquarters. In July 1936 George Lansbury, Labour MP for Bow and Bromley, spoke of the ‘real terror of the Jewish population’ in London’s East End.1 This departure procured significant numbers of fresh recruits for British fascism in an area already infused with an anti-Semitic tradition originating in hostility to the migration of large numbers of Jews to East London from Eastern Europe between 1870 and 1914. To capitalise on its East End campaign, and attract wider national interest, Mosley announced a high-profile meeting would take place at the Royal Albert Hall on 22 March 1936. Following a lull in both fascist and antifascist activity during 1935, this announcement reanimated the Communist Party. Alarmed by the political advantage that the BUF was gaining from its East End campaign, the CPGB resolved to bring Mosley’s progress to an abrupt end and so pressed for a mass demonstration. This was presented as an opportunity to repeat the Hyde Park ‘victory’ of September 1934 and following its example, the Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities was resurrected, albeit temporarily. Returning to political activity, John Strachey once more assumed the mantle of anti-fascist figurehead and under the auspices of the Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities issued a circular calling for a demonstration outside the Royal Albert Hall. In line with the Hyde Park counter-demonstration, Strachey’s call was publicised in the Daily Worker and was joined by an appeal from the CPGB for all working-class organisations in London to offer their full support. As many as 250,000 leaflets were distributed. The leaflets were mainly targeted at East London’s Jews, with local events linked to the repression of Jews in Germany. Informed by its class analysis, the CPGB attacked anti-Semitism on socio-political rather than racial grounds, insisting that anti-Semitism was an instrument used to scapegoat the ills of capitalist society. The Communist Party castigated Mosley for following the example of Hitler who, according to the CPGB, was turning the Jew into a scapegoat for capitalism. Gisela Lebzelter has argued that by analysing antiSemitism in this way, as a socio-political problem specific to capitalist societies, the Communist Party was ‘in fact less concerned about the lot of unfortunate Jews than about the principle involved’.2 Nonetheless, by stressing that it was leading the active opposition against fascist-related anti-Semitism, the CPGB succeeded in drawing into the Communist movement working-class East London Jews offended by the passivity of both the local Labour Party and the leaders of Anglo-Jewry. Although sections of the East End Labour Party were undoubtedly sympathetic to anti-fascism, Irish Catholics dominated the local hierarchy and tended to be more concerned about atheistic communism than fascism (especially following the attacks on churches in Republican Spain). In 1934 Stepney Labour Party had more than 3,000 members but it has been suggested that in ‘the Labour movement in Stepney there was more anti-Semitism than anywhere else’.3 Tellingly, one prominent Stepney Labour Party member had privately revealed that of the 69 Labour councillors in the borough, just ‘four of five’ were ‘Socialist’.4 As for the leaders of

Opposition to British fascism 1936–45 39

Anglo-Jewry, represented by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), and supported by the Jewish Chronicle (JC), they advised Jews to avoid anti-fascist demonstrations, urging them to maintain a low profile in order not to publicise Mosley or give substance to the claims of anti-Semitic propaganda that Jews were pro-communist. The BoD was persuaded that British traditions of liberalism and tolerance would resist anti-Semitism.5 Yet to many working-class Jews in the East End, the (well-to-do) Board was indifferent and distant – less than 12 per cent of London’s BoD deputies lived in Stepney. The Communist Party, on the other hand, dominated locally by Jewish leaders, appeared more pro-active and in touch with everyday concerns. However, this does not mean that Jews flocked to join the local party: membership of Stepney Communist Party, a little more than 100 in 1934, increased to only 230 members in 1936.6 That said, the CPGB’s strident opposition to fascism undoubtedly appealed to East End Jews. The impression of contemporaries was that Jews were attracted to the CPGB not because of communist ideology but because the Communist Party appeared to be the only organisation willing to fight fascist-related anti-Semitism.7 Even if few Jews actually joined the party, many voted for it: the CPGB captured a local council seat in Stepney in 1937; in 1945 it won the parliamentary seat of Stepney (Mile End).8 In the approach to Mosley’s Royal Albert Hall meeting, the Daily Worker reported that London’s East End was being chalked and whitewashed every night. The Young Communist League and Labour Party’s League of Youth were leading the mobilisation on the ground. The Daily Worker also reported that a protest letter had been sent to the management at the Royal Albert Hall, signed by a number of leading literary figures, including Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells.9 Yet in spite of their protestations, the Royal Albert Hall meeting received the goahead from the Corporation of the Royal Albert Hall, the body responsible for the Royal Albert Hall’s management. A crowd reported by the Daily Worker to number 10,000 attempted to assemble outside the Royal Albert Hall but the police had cordoned off the hall in line with a directive issued by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Philip Game. This had stated that no counter-demonstration should be allowed to take place within half a mile of the Royal Albert Hall.10 Consequently the crowd was dispersed by foot and mounted police. One section of the crowd was directed towards Hyde Park, another to nearby Thurloe Square where an impromptu, tightly packed meeting took place chaired from the roof of a van by John Strachey. In Thurloe Square the crowd reportedly numbered 3–5,000 and was, without apparent warning, subject to repeated police baton charges forcing its dispersal. The police alleged that the Thurloe Square anti-fascist meeting was ‘provocative’, ‘disorderly’ and fell within the declared exclusion zone. This was contested by the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL). Having set up its own commission of inquiry, the NCCL concluded that the baton charges were unprovoked and listed some 46 complaints of police brutality against anti-fascists. The fact that the NCCL amassed some 113 witness statements that contested the police version of events suggests that Home Secretary Sir John Simon’s insistence that the police did not use undue force was somewhat disingenuous.11

40 Opposition to British fascism 1936–45

The actions of the police reinforced a common perception on the left that the police were prejudiced in favour of Mosley’s fascists. This view originated partly from the radical left’s ideological analysis of the relationship between fascism and the state, and partly from observing the extent of police protection afforded to fascists – at the 1934 Hyde Park demonstration for instance, 7,000 police had provided a safety cordon for 3,000 fascists. Appalled by allegations of police partiality against anti-fascists, the NCCL led by Ronald Kidd, having originally formed in February 1934 to protest against police treatment of hunger marchers, now anchored itself to the anti-fascist cause. As Janet Clark has pointed out, as ‘the NCCL aligned its activities more firmly with antifascism from mid-1936, the Home Secretary came under increasing pressure to address allegations of biased and ineffective policing of fascist provocation, particularly in the East End of London’.12 However, although the NCCL claimed to be ‘non-political’, it was close to the Communist Party, providing the CPGB with observers to monitor police behaviour at meetings and demonstrations. This connection discredited it in official circles where the NCCL was construed as a front organisation for the CPGB.13 Not surprisingly, the Government refused to cede to pressure for a public enquiry from a perceived Communist-controlled body. This refusal gave credence to the line of collusion between the police and fascism but the CPGB gained little else from the Thurloe Square demonstration. In comparison with the Hyde Park mobilisation of 1934, the numbers involved were disappointing. Despite a Jewish presence, there were still complaints that not enough Jews attended.14 The mainstream press generally ignored the demonstration and consequently there was little exposure of Mosley’s virulent anti-Semitism.15 The demonstration at Thurloe Square also marked the end of the Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities, with John Strachey now directing his energies towards the Left Book Club. Launched in May 1936, Strachey saw this venture as a more effective way of broadening the appeal of communism and raising mass anti-fascist consciousness. The Left Book Club was an idea imported from the United States, suggested to Strachey by the publisher Victor Gollancz. Members could purchase left-wing books cheaply and already by the end of May 1936 the Club could boast 11,500 members, eventually rising to an impressive 60,000 with some 1,200 discussion groups by the end of the 1930s. Unquestionably, the Left Book Club became an important vehicle for promoting anti-fascism. Club members would often use the ‘discussion groups’ to organise concrete political agitation rather than merely discussing abstract ideas raised from current volumes.16 It was not strictly true that Left Book Club members ‘worked off their rebelliousness by plodding through yet another orange covered volume’, as A.J.P. Taylor had once (glibly?) remarked.17 The BUF’s anti-Semitic campaign was not exclusive (the BUF campaigned on other issues too), and it should not be forgotten that its anti-Semitic campaign also targeted provincial cities with sizeable Jewish communities, such as Manchester and Leeds in northern England. In Manchester, the Jewish community numbered 35,000, spatially concentrated on working-class Cheetham Hill, a district to the

Opposition to British fascism 1936–45 41

north of the city centre. As the BUF closed in during the first six months of 1936, anti-fascist opposition was galvanised by the local Communist Party, especially the predominantly Jewish branch of the YCL. Known locally as the ‘Challenge Club’, this had some 150–200 members and was probably the largest YCL branch in the country.18 Employing strong-arm tactics, the YCL continually opposed the BUF’s physical presence in Manchester with Jewish Communists at the forefront of streetlevel confrontations. At Hulme in the summer of 1936, following a meeting addressed by Mosley, there was an attempt to overturn fascist vans and set them on fire. Mosley’s car was stoned and the windows of a fascist club were smashed.19 Communists also came together with other left-wing organisations to form an umbrella ‘united front’ committee known as the North Manchester Co-ordinating Committee Against Fascism in order to organise protest through more formal channels, such as raising petitions against the letting of municipal buildings to fascists. Although dominated by the CPGB, this committee included wider representation from trade unions, the Jewish-based Workers’ Circle and members of Manchester’s Labour Party.20 Fascist activity in Leeds, where the Jewish population numbered 30,000, peaked in September 1936 when a provocative march through the city’s Jewish areas to Holbeck Moor was announced. Local anti-fascists used official channels to try to prevent the march and it was subsequently re-routed. According to a Leeds Police report, the CPGB organised an opposition meeting on Holbeck Moor, which attracted a crowd of 1,000 people (the Board of Deputies refused to supply leaflets to the Labour Party’s League of Youth. As we shall see, at this time the BoD was not opposed to fascism as such, but to anti-Semitism).21 Once the Blackshirts marched across Holbeck Moor, the crowd grew to anything from an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 (Manchester Guardian) through to 50,000 (Daily Worker).22 Mosley’s platform was attacked, stones were thrown and Mosley was struck in the face resulting in a gash underneath an eye. As the Blackshirts left Holbeck Moor, they were ambushed by members of the CPGB, Labour Party and perhaps the ILP, resulting in about 40 fascists receiving injuries. The JC’s local correspondent maintains that Jews heeded appeals to leave the meeting alone; there was no evidence to suggest that Jews were among these offenders.23 Nonetheless, in drawing our attention to these events, David Cesarani reminded us that the BUF’s anti-Semitic campaign was not confined to London. The violence at Holbeck Moor was, in relation to Cable Street, ‘just as nasty in its own way – in fact far more bloody than what occurred in Cable Street’.24 It is also worth emphasising that the BUF ran into opposition in areas where anti-Semitism was not employed as the prime means of enlisting support. In South Wales, the BUF under the local leadership of Tommy Moran singularly failed to win over disaffected miners. The industrial valleys of South Wales proved impervious to the BUF’s appeal as the left was deeply entrenched, this area being one of the few Communist strongholds in Britain.25 In June 1936 the BUF organised a large open-air meeting at Tonypandy in the Rhondda Valley, attracting a hostile crowd of 2,000 people mobilised by an anti-fascist ringing a bell and calling on locals to ‘give the Blackshirts the welcome they deserve’.26 The fascist platform was

42 Opposition to British fascism 1936–45

stoned and the meeting was brought to a swift close with 36 anti-fascists arrested. Similarly in Hull, Mosley’s parade at Corporation Field in July 1936 was subject to a barrage of missiles. A local police report concluded that opposition was ‘very strong’ and ‘apparently organised with the intent of breaking up the meeting’.27 The former BUF branch organiser for Hull, John Charnley, recalls: Newcastle was rough but the roughest and toughest meeting that I ever attended was on the Corporation Field, Hull, in 1936. After this meeting, which I had organised, the police collected bicycle chains, brush staves with 6-inch nails in the end, chair legs wrapped with barbed wire and thick woollen stockings containing broken glass in the heels. We had 27 hospital cases and the Communists had over a hundred. It was at this meeting that a bullet was put through the windscreen of Mosley’s car.28 Although official reports accused the Communists of being responsible for instigating the violence, the press later alleged that the crowd had been attacked by fascists wielding steel-buckled belts.29 Such disparities between official reports and media reports were also apparent following violence that flared at an indoor meeting held by Mosley in 1936 at the Carfax Assembly Rooms in Oxford. This meeting descended into a ‘riot’ following the ejection of an anti-fascist heckler. Skidelsky and Cullen have contended that opposition to this meeting, organised by the Communist Party (but also with local Labour Party support) was determined on fomenting violence and thus anti-fascists were primarily responsible for the resulting disorder. Yet it became for Cullen, ‘something of a propaganda coup’ for anti-fascists with the opposition using the involvement of fascists in the violent altercation to full advantage in order to further blacken the BUF’s image.30 Renton likens the local impact of this meeting to the de-legitimising effect of Olympia, playing ‘an identical role in Oxford to the Olympia meeting in the wider history of British fascism and anti-fascism’.31 These examples all confirm that during 1936 anti-fascist opposition was turning increasingly violent. The geographical spread of disturbances, as Gerry Webber has pointed out, had much to do with the regional strength of anti-fascism – in conservative areas in the south, fascist meetings could still be conducted ‘in an orderly and even gentlemanly fashion’.32 According to Charnley, the severity of the opposition that the BUF experienced in Hull was due to sizeable presence of the Communist Party. With support concentrated in the docks, he believed that the CPGB had more influence in Hull ‘than anywhere else outside London, with the possible exception of Glasgow’.33 The BUF claimed that increasing violence resulted from the realisation on the anti-fascist side that peaceful tactics, such as those deployed at Hyde Park in September 1934 when the BUF was ridiculed, were no longer capable of checking the advance of a reinvigorated fascist movement. The adoption of a more forceful and provocative style of fascism, symbolised by the addition of ‘National Socialists’ to the BUF’s title in 1936,34 reinforced identification with Hitler’s Nazism and radicalised opposition.

Opposition to British fascism 1936–45 43

Another factor was increasing awareness by anti-fascists that violence proved disadvantageous to the fascist cause. Olympia had established that physical confrontations between fascists and anti-fascists served to de-legitimise fascism by denying the BUF respectability. Skidelsky maintains that in this respect, since it favoured anti-fascism, the general context of fascist and anti-fascist violence was allimportant, as ‘it proved all too easy to portray the situation as one in which “single” and “innocent” hecklers were brutally manhandled by fascist “bullies” or in which whole neighbourhoods rose “spontaneously” against deliberate fascist provocations’.35 Finally, the demise of the Co-ordinating Committee for AntiFascist Activities confirmed a lack of central co-ordination over anti-fascist activities and allowed anti-fascist militants relative freedom to implement local strategies determined independently of a Communist Party leadership that remained intent on forging closer links with the rest of the labour movement. The CPGB had revived attempts to secure closer relations with the Labour Party in line with policy emanating from the seventh congress of the Comintern held in August 1935. At this congress, Georgi Dimitrov declared the defeat of fascism to be the overriding objective of Communist parties and this led to a common strategy which, in Communist parlance, became known as the ‘people’s’ or ‘popular front’. The idea behind this ‘popular front’ was an alliance of anti-fascists across all classes, thereby drawing the entire nation, not just the working class, into the revolutionary struggle. The theoretical line established by Dimitrov was that fascism was not synonymous with ‘capitalist democracy’ but was the last stage of capitalism: the substitution of one form of class domination (bourgeois democracy) with another – the open terrorist dictatorship of the ‘most reactionary elements’ of finance capital. Since the NSDAP had come to power, Dimitrov said, over 4,200 anti-fascist workers, peasants, employees, intellectuals – Communists, Social-Democrats and members of opposition Christian organizations had been murdered, 317,800 arrested, 218,600 injured and subjected to torture. In Austria, since the battles of February last year, the ‘Christian’ fascist government has murdered 1,900 revolutionary workers, maimed and injured 10,000 and arrested 40,000. And this summary is far from complete. Words fail me in describing the indignation which seizes us at the thought of the torments which the working people are now undergoing […]36 Given the gravity of the present situation, what followed was that Communists had to ally with all ‘democrats’ – even bourgeois democrats – in the struggle against fascism. France was the example to follow, Dimitrov declared: in July 1935 half a million people had demonstrated in Paris against fascism, ‘not merely a movement of a united working class front; it is the beginning of a wide general front of the people against fascism in France’.37 In Britain, the CPGB argued that since the industrial workers formed the ‘decisive majority’ of the population then an essential precondition of the popular front was establishing working-class unity through a united front which, given the

44 Opposition to British fascism 1936–45

strength of the industrial working class, would then act as an ‘irresistible magnet’ for all other progressive forces.38 Thus, the CPGB had called on its supporters to vote Labour in all but two constituencies in the 1935 general election, and following this approach launched a campaign seeking affiliation to the Labour Party in early 1936 which was supported by the Labour Party’s Socialist League.39 However, with the Labour Party leadership repeating the charge that the rise of fascism abroad had been encouraged by Communist tactics, CPGB leaders were becoming increasingly anxious that anti-fascists should eschew physical confrontations with fascists. The CPGB leadership continued to press for greater trade union activity in the struggle against fascism and this position was frequently restated by Communist Party officials at local levels. As the violent episodes show, though, this strategy was often rejected by militant elements in the rank and file, and since the early development of anti-fascist opposition had relied on local initiatives where activists had considerable autonomy, moves to impose a non-confrontational policy ‘from above’ led in some cases to resentment and division ‘from below’. Phil Piratin, former Communist MP for Stepney, has drawn our attention to tactical divisions within the Stepney branch of the CPGB between those who said ‘[b]ash the fascists whenever you see them’ and those who advocated alternative ways of opposing fascism.40 Piratin held that the way to defeat Mosley was not through physical confrontations. Instead, he proposed workplace or residential initiatives which would serve to ‘cut the ground from the under the fascists’ feet’.41 On the opposite side, the case for combative battles was supported most vociferously by Joe Jacobs, Secretary of the Stepney Branch. Jacobs complained that trade union work was ineffective, it was typically thwarted by Labour’s right-wing moderates and did not produce concrete anti-fascist results. Moreover, residential initiatives demanded access to fascist strongholds and these areas were often impenetrable. Over the short term Jacobs convinced a majority of the Stepney Branch to favour a physical response to fascism and this position was then justified on the grounds of self-defence. Although the example of Stepney is revealing, it would be a mistake to assume that tactical divisions affected all local CPGB branches. In Manchester local Communists engaged an anti-fascist strategy that combined physical opposition, spearheaded by the YCL, with more conventional trade union and united front work without apparent conflict.42 Significantly, intensification of the BUF’s anti-Semitic campaign also intensified divisions within Anglo-Jewry, firing debate in the Jewish Chronicle. In January 1936 the JC noted increasing dissatisfaction with the BoD’s passive position within the Jewish community, especially amongst working-class Jews facing anti-Semitism close at hand. The JC responded to grassroots opinion by running a regular section on ‘Jewish Defence’, reporting anti-Semitic activity and publishing readers’ letters that were deeply critical of the BoD’s perceived inactivity. In one editorial, the JC expressed its exasperation at the lack of any communal response: Gravest and most staggering of all, what are Jews themselves doing in their own protection? Letters pour into the Jewish Chronicle from bewildered readers

Opposition to British fascism 1936–45 45

asking this question. We will give them the answer. The Community is still turning its water-pistol on the fire.43 Facing mounting pressure to ‘stop fiddling, and get down to business’, and concerned that young Jews were being drawn into the arms of extremist anti-fascists, the BoD responded in July 1936 with the announcement that it was establishing a defence co-ordinating committee responsible for directing communal responses to anti-Semitism. The Jewish Chronicle greeted this enthusiastically and called on the community to rally in support of the Board’s new initiative.44 However, this ‘new’ initiative seemed more like an extension of existing defence policy, and it was September 1936 before the first open-air meeting took place (in Hyde Park, not the East End). Neville Laski, President of the Board, remained opposed to violent action against fascism and again repeated the line that Jews should ignore fascist meetings. For Laski, ‘anti-fascism’ amounted to the confrontational politics of the radical left which he believed only served to exacerbate anti-Jewish feeling. Besides, any anti-fascist position would compromise the Board’s traditional policy of political neutrality. Laski refused to accept that fascism and anti-Semitism were integrally connected and even declared at one point to be unconcerned by fascism. The solution to the problem of anti-Semitism was not ‘anti-fascism’ but educating the public through anti-defamatory campaigns. Hence, the primary function of the Co-ordinating Committee (which in 1938 became known as the Jewish Defence Committee) was to add strength to the Board’s existing antidefamation work. At the outset, this involved distribution of pamphlets debunking the charges of anti-Semitic propaganda, such as The Jews in Britain (over 300,000 copies were circulated), and an open-air speaking campaign initially undertaken by teams of speakers from the Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Legion and the Association of Jewish Friendly Societies. Not surprisingly, given the volatility of the situation in the East End, the Board’s conservative message fell on some stony ground. According to Metropolitan Police files, meetings organised by the Board in 1936 tended to attract small audiences. It was noted that at one meeting held in Stepney, ‘a good deal of hostility was shown towards the speakers’.45 Nonetheless, by October 1936 over 40 meetings had taken place at locations that had been previously monopolised by fascists.46

II Notwithstanding divisions within both the left and within Anglo-Jewry, there was a notable rise in active anti-fascist responses as the BUF’s anti-Semitic campaign in East London gathered pace. Anti-fascism was then imparted with additional momentum with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 which ‘crystallized many people’s political ideas into a neat black and white, Fascist versus anti-Fascist position’.47 During June and July 1936, anti-fascist rallies were held in Victoria Park, the BUF’s favourite East End pitch. Violent scenes were recorded as anti-fascists demonstrated against Mosley’s first large East End rally in Victoria Park

46 Opposition to British fascism 1936–45

on 7 June. Special Branch put the numbers present at 1,500 although some London newspapers went as high as 50,000. This counter-demonstration was organised by the East London Section of the CPGB, joined by a contingent of Green Shirts.48 A further demonstration against fascism was held in Victoria Park on 12 July, but this time it was organised by the Labour Party under the auspices of the trades councils of North and East London. Chanie Rosenberg noted that this was not related to a BUF rally and was therefore a largely symbolic and ‘tame affair’.49 More significant than these planned demonstrations were everyday ‘street-corner’ meetings which would often result in physical confrontation between fascists and anti-fascists. In the period August to October 1936, it was reported that East London police attended an average of 600 political meetings a month. Special Branch estimates suggest that anti-fascists in the London area disrupted at least 60 per cent of BUF meetings during August 1936.50 In Hackney, for instance, frequent clashes between fascists and anti-fascists occurred throughout the summer, especially at Ridley Road, John Campbell Road, Stamford Hill, Lower Clapton Road, Mare Street and Reading Lane.51 Yet it is worth bearing in mind that the BUF did not meet with significant levels of physical opposition in every East London district. The BUF claimed 4,000 members in Bethnal Green, with the fascists particularly well implanted in areas around Green Street and Essian Street.52 Such was the strength of the fascist presence in its ‘fiefdom’ of Bethnal Green that anti-fascists found it largely inaccessible.53 A Metropolitan Police report confirms that the majority of anti-fascist activity in East London during the summer of 1936 was undertaken by the CPGB, YCL or NUWM. However, the widening of anti-fascist opposition was also noted, with other organisations springing up.54 One of these was the British Union of Democrats, a group that consisted of both Jews and non-Jews. Like the New World Fellowship before it, this group advocated a non-violent response to fascism. Another was the Legion of Blue and White Shirts. It likened the BUF to the ‘Black Plague’ and was more sympathetic to physical force anti-fascism.55 In September 1936 Laski dismissed these initiatives as ‘Jewish mushroom organisations’ – organisations that had sprung up in the past six months which he described as little more than unscrupulous money-making ‘rackets’.56 One organisation, the Jewish People’s Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism (JPC), stood on firmer ground, however. An offshoot from the Jewish Labour Council,57 the JPC was established at a delegate conference in July 1936, attended by some 179 delegates representing 86 organisations, from trade unions, local Workers’ Circle branches through to synagogues and ex-servicemen’s organisations. Of working-class origin, the JPC condemned the Board as ‘bourgeois’ and ‘obsolete’, unresponsive to the needs of working-class Jews. It was particularly disparaging of the Board’s separation of fascism and anti-Semitism, and insisted that since antiSemitism was being used by fascist movements instrumentally in order to achieve power, anti-Semitism could not be isolated from fascism. Thus, a sine qua non of the fight against anti-Semitism was anti-fascism: ‘Anti-Semitism in Britain cannot be separated from its political necessity to the Fascist movement. Anti-Semitism is

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being made both a rallying cry and a smoke-screen, thus hiding from the British people the true purpose of Fascism’, the JPC’s statement of policy declared.58 Nonetheless, the JPC still considered it necessary to ensure some co-operation and co-ordination with the Board in view of the BoD’s decision to organise a general campaign against anti-Semitism.59 It put forward three proposals: first, to place itself under the control of the Board’s co-ordinating committee (rejected on the basis that the Board could not accept any organisation that was opposed to fascism); second, to exchange speakers and to organise meetings whereby there would be no clash of arrangements (refused); and third, to distribute materials issued by the Co-ordinating Committee. But ‘EVEN THIS WAS REFUSED!’ the line of the JPC was that it did ‘not wish to usurp the function of the Board of Deputies. We are concerned only with fighting Fascism and anti-Semitism. If the Board of Deputies is prepared to wage this struggle we are content […] Fascism, the inspirer of anti-Semitism, must be combated!’60 In spite of its popular underpinnings, at first Laski maintained that the Board would have nothing to do with the JPC because it was explicitly ‘anti-fascist’ as well as being a suspected tool of the Communist Party, which the Board supposed was ‘exploiting the natural resentment of the Jews against fascist attacks for political purposes’.61 On the face of it, the suspicions of Laski and the Board were well-grounded. A substantial element of the JPC’s leadership comprised Communist Party members, such as Jack Pierce and Julius Jacobs, and the CPGB also provided the JPC with much-needed logistical support. Moreover, the East London Communist Party held a series of meetings to discuss the founding of the JPC, but one historian remains convinced that the JPC ‘conducted its anti-fascist campaign independently of the Communist Party’.62 Though close to the CPGB, little concrete evidence exists to verify claims that the JPC was a CPGB front organisation – the Jewish People’s Council never affiliated to the Communist Party. Nonetheless, The activities of the JPC infuriated the Board to such an extent that the Board appealed to Jewish organisations to boycott it, and to the BBC and The Times to desist from giving it publicity. For good measure the Board wrote to the Home Office claiming that the JPC had no support from responsible Jews.63 Though nominally independent, CPGB resources enabled the JPC’s anti-fascist campaign to assume wide dimensions: thousands of leaflets were distributed exposing the fascist motives of the propagators of anti-Semitism and countering anti-Semitic defamation; an anti-fascist monthly – Vigilance – was published; indoor and outdoor meetings were held; calls were made for active involvement in public demonstrations against fascism; there was co-operation with other anti-fascist organisations, especially the NCCL, in an attempt to construct a popular front of both Jews and non-Jews in the fight against fascism; deputations were sent to local Mayors to protest at cases of Jew baiting and fascist activities; and pressure for a ban on the wearing of political uniforms and for the passing of a Racial Incitement Act was organised. Most impressively, the JPC gathered a petition of 77,000 signatures

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in just 48 hours, calling for a ban on the planned march by the BUF through East London on 4 October 1936.64 Closely associated with the JPC (and CPGB) was the Ex-Servicemen’s Movement Against Fascism, formed in July 1936 and claiming over 1,000 members. Whilst the executive was evenly divided between Jews and non-Jews, the vast majority of members were Jewish, including its Chairman Alexander Harris. The Ex-Servicemen’s Movement claimed to have support from all religious denominations as well as from Conservatives, Liberals, Labourites and Communists. It committed itself to the defence of democratic government and pledged to ‘destroy the evil of Fascism’.65 This organisation was described in a Metropolitan Police report as ‘probably one of the largest movements outside the CPGB, on the side of the anti-fascists’, and though it claimed to be ‘non-partisan’ and ‘non-sectarian’, the report notes that the ‘prime movers in this organisation are Jews and it is an established fact that most of them are in close contact with the Communist Party’.66 By August 1936, aside from its East London branch, it claimed branches in Southend-on-Sea and Bristol. Convening a large anti-fascist meeting and procession through East London’s Victoria Park, Home Office sources estimated that 3,000 people were in attendance, with the procession being joined by contingents from the YCL and Green Shirts.67 By the autumn of 1936, an active Communist-Jewish anti-fascist bloc had been established in East London from a plurality of groups, including the East London Communist Party, YCL and NUWM, the JPC, the Ex-Servicemen’s Movement Against Fascism, the British Union of Democrats, the Legion of Blue and White Shirts, and the Green Shirts. This alliance comprised the anti-fascist movement in East London. It was led by the Communist Party, and held together by opposition to the passive line of the Labour Party and the leaders of the Anglo-Jewry.68 Nominally outside this anti-fascist alliance stood the BoD’s Co-ordinating Committee, the Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Legion (which later became known as the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen) and the Association of Jewish Friendly Societies which campaigned against anti-Semitism and hence countered BUF propaganda, but refused to formally classify themselves as ‘anti-fascist’, with speakers specifically instructed not to be drawn into ‘political controversy’.69 Additionally, one should not forget the contribution made by individuals not tied to any anti-fascist organisation, such as Father Groser, an Anglican priest who, by addressing crowds at fascist meetings along with a number of helpers, tried to counter Blackshirt activity in his East End parish.70 The solidity of this East London anti-fascist alliance was put to the test by the announcement, made on 26 September 1936, that the BUF, to celebrate its fourth anniversary, would march through the East End on 4 October. First efforts by antifascists were directed towards pressing the authorities to impose a ban on the march. On 29 September the Mayor of Stepney, Helena Roberts, sent a letter to the Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, requesting that the march be prevented. This was followed by a deputation of East London Mayors who visited the Home Office on 1 October. The next day, the aforementioned Jewish People’s Council’s petition was handed to the Home Office by a further deputation led by James Hall,

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Labour MP for Whitechapel. These various approaches held that the proposed march through an area containing a large Jewish population was deeply provocative and would lead inevitably to large-scale disorder.71 However, the Home Office refused to ban the march because such a course of action might be interpreted as restriction on freedom of speech. It was all too aware of Mosley’s fondness for seeking legal redress and feared negative publicity would result with Mosley claiming that he was a victim of discrimination.72 In the meantime, Joe Jacobs approached Willie Cohen, Secretary of the London YCL, regarding Communist Party preparations. To his dismay he found the Communist Party loath to cancel a planned rally in aid of Spanish workers in Trafalgar Square on 4 October. On 30 September, the Daily Worker instructed workers to attend the main rally in Trafalgar Square and then, only afterwards, proceed to East London to demonstrate against Mosley. In communications from the CPGB’s London District Committee, it was stressed that there should be no disorder and ‘[i]f Mosley decides to march let him’.73 Jacobs feared that if the Communist Party in Stepney followed orders from above and avoided physical confrontation with the BUF then it would be finished as a political force in the East End. With other anti-fascist organisations, such as the Ex-Servicemen’s Movement Against Fascism, determined to oppose Mosley under the Spanish Republicans’ slogan, ‘They shall not pass!’, Jacobs held that the local Communist Party would lose all credibility. In the event, the situation on the ground forced reluctant CPGB leaders into an alteration of policy whereby the YCL meeting was cancelled and eleventh-hour calls were made to organise opposition against Mosley. What emerges from Jacobs’s testimony is that the CPGB leadership calculated that disengaging from the active struggle against Mosley would alienate grassroots support in the East End and would trigger a local crisis of confidence in one of the CPGB’s emerging strongholds. Consequently, on 1 October, the CPGB’s London District Committee issued a bulletin communicating an ‘Urgent Alteration to Sunday’s Plans’,74 and on 2 October the Daily Worker carried the announcement that the demonstration against Mosley should be the largest anti-fascist mobilisation yet seen in Britain. That same day, the CPGB organised a ‘warm-up’ anti-fascist demonstration from Tower Hill to Stepney Green, attended by 2,000 people.75 At an Institute of Contemporary British History seminar on Cable Street, held in the 1990s, Piratin re-opened old wounds and accused Jacobs of exaggerating the conflict between anti-fascist militants in the East End and the London District Committee. Piratin maintained that the London District Committee’s initial reluctance came not from opposition to militant anti-fascism but from other considerations, such as the long-term booking of demonstrations in Trafalgar Square which required police support – if the YCL rally was cancelled then future access would be blocked. There was also concern that cancellation of the YCL’s annual rally would hinder the progress of the YCL, whose membership had increased to over 2,000 by 1935, three times the 1934 figure.76 All the same, this still fails to account for why the London District Committee issued explicit instructions to East End radicals to

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avoid clashes with fascists and why it declared that the ‘They shall not pass’ policy amounted to a ‘harmful stunt’. It was noticeable, moreover, that in relation to other mobilisations against Mosley, publicity in the Daily Worker was comparatively low-key.77 This all suggests that the CPGB’s backing was not unequivocal and confirms the existence of reservations over anti-fascist policy within its leadership circles. According to Fenner Brockway, chief responsibility for publicising the 4 October mobilisation fell on the shoulders of the Independent Labour Party even though ILP branches were relatively weak in the East End.78 Since disaffiliating from the Labour Party, the ILP’s membership had declined rapidly and already by 1935, plagued by debilitating splits, membership had fallen to a mere 4,400. This compared unfavourably with a Communist Party membership that had grown steadily to 11,500 by October 1936. In aggravating divisions between reformists and revolutionaries, ‘united front’ activity with the Communists proved a decisive factor in triggering the ILP’s disintegration. Moderate ILP members disillusioned by CPGB collaboration had turned back to the Labour Party whilst more radical elements, receptive to the CPGB, switched to the Communist Party. Yet despite the ILP’s contraction, it retained influence through the Star newspaper with a circulation still surpassing that of the Daily Worker. On 3 October, the Star ran a front page which appealed to workers to resist Mosley in their thousands by blocking the route of his intended march through East London. Brockway claims that every newsagent shop in the East End displayed an ILP poster calling on workers to stop Mosley.79 ILP leaflets were issued as duplicated sheets and thousands were distributed. A loudspeaker van hired by the ILP toured East London, and a mass meeting was convened by the ILP at Hackney Town Hall to further publicise the call for workers to demonstrate against fascism.80 This call was supported by the Ex-Servicemen’s Movement Against Fascism which issued posters and leaflets calling on all ex-servicemen to oppose Mosley. Meanwhile, the Communist Party printed over the existing leaflets for the Trafalgar Square demonstration with details of a new location at Aldgate, and the YCL distributed leaflets which called on East London youth to ‘bar the roads to fascism’ and ‘block the roads around Aldgate at 2pm’.81 Streets and walls were chalked and whitewashed with slogans such as ‘Bar the road to fascism’, ‘All out on 4 October’ and, of course, ‘They shall not pass’, the symbolically charged slogan inspiring Spanish Republicans in the defence of Madrid against Franco’s forces. Unsurprisingly, the Labour Party spurned the joint call issued by the Communist Party and Independent Labour Party. The Labour Party urged people to ignore the intended demonstration and this position was loyally defended by the Daily Herald. On 1 October 1936, the Daily Herald’s editorial faithfully repeated the Labour Party’s line that if fascism was ignored then it would wither away: the ‘only attraction is the prospect of disturbances. Withdraw that attraction, and fascist meetings would die on the organisers’ hands’. Elsewhere, the liberal News Chronicle called on its readers to boycott the anti-fascist counter-demonstration, declaring that the ‘Communist has no more right to break up a fascist meeting than the fascist has to

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break up a Communist demonstration’.82 The Jewish communal leadership, through the Co-ordinating Committee of the Board of Deputies, also issued advice which subsequently appeared in the form of a prominent notice in the Jewish Chronicle on 2 October, directing Jews to keep away from the demonstration: Urgent Warning It is understood that a large Blackshirt demonstration will be held in East London on Sunday afternoon. Jews are urgently warned to keep away from the route of the Blackshirt march and from their meetings. Jews who, however innocently, become involved in any possible disorders will be actively helping anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting. Unless you want to help the Jew-baiters Keep Away.83 Through its Association of Jewish Youth, the BoD approached Jewish youth clubs in East London, instructing members to stay away from the Aldgate demonstration, and it organised an unscheduled programme of football on 4 October as further distraction.84 On 3 October, Labour Mayors in the East End and a number of rabbis made a final appeal to people to stay away.

III Both in terms of forcing the abandonment of Mosley’s march and in terms of obtaining large-scale popular participation, the anti-fascist mobilisation on 4 October 1936 was undoubtedly successful. The numbers involved, estimated at anything between 100,000 according to police estimates, through to a reported 300,000 in the News Chronicle, were impressive and do underline its significance as a striking example of popular anti-fascism. Romantic accounts by the radical left hold that the entire East End came together in working-class solidarity and inflicted a crushing defeat on Mosley’s forces, driving his movement into a spiral of decline from which it never recovered. Accordingly Cable Street has assumed folklore status as an historic victory for radical anti-fascism and has provided later generations of anti-fascist activists with rich inspiration. Sustaining the myth, Chanie Rosenberg writes: ‘The decisive battle to smash the fascists was the Battle of Cable Street, which has rightly passed into history as a crucial victory for the British working class.’85 Yet it is worth bearing in mind that the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ was not a clash between fascists and anti-fascists, but between anti-fascists and the police. Most importantly, as Leslie Susser has stressed, ‘[i]mpressive as it was, important as it was, the Battle of Cable Street did not, in itself, stop Fascism in the East End’.86 CPGB activists assumed prime responsibility for organising anti-fascist activities on the day. The principal assembly point was Gardiner’s Corner at Aldgate where anti-fascists hoped to gather sufficient numbers to block Mosley’s intended route. An anti-fascist headquarters was established with lines of communication between the ‘front’ and headquarters maintained through cyclists and motor-cyclists.

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Anticipating violence, a number of first-aid posts were also established and, in the event of the fascists managing to get through, groups of anti-fascists were instructed to occupy the pitch at Victoria Park where Mosley intended to hold a rally to mark the end of proceedings. A number of anti-fascist loudspeaker vans also toured the area further encouraging local people to oppose Mosley. Some 6,000 police, including the entire Metropolitan Police Mounted Division, were drafted into the East End and additional police logistical support was provided by radio vans and an aeroplane. By 2.00 pm, a vast crowd, estimated by Piratin to number at least 50,000 people,87 had gathered at Gardiner’s Corner forming a human barricade, with a number of trams deserted by their anti-fascist drivers providing additional obstacles. Meanwhile, anti-fascists erected barricades along Cable Street and it was here that the most dramatic clashes between police and anti-fascists took place as the police attempted in vain to clear the only possible route through to the East End. The police made repeated baton charges on the Cable Street barricade and eventually captured it, only then to be faced with more barricades and further militant opposition. In all, according to Home Office sources, some 79 anti-fascists were arrested.88 Faced with the prospect of serious violence between fascists and antifascists, at 3.40 pm., Sir Philip Game, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, instructed the 3,000 or so fascists who were patiently assembled along Royal Mint Street to abandon the march. They were escorted westwards to the Embankment where they subsequently dispersed. Surprisingly, there was very little fighting between fascists and anti-fascists although one incident, caught by a news cameraman and shown in cinemas across the country, did help create the myth of an epic confrontation. It has been suggested, however, that this news item may have backfired on anti-fascists. Richard Bellamy contended that this incident, which involved Tommy Moran in a brawl with nine anti-fascists, ‘inspired cinema audiences to applaud’. Bellamy further claims that this sympathetic response led to the newsreel being withdrawn.89 Even if Cable Street was the site of the most animated clashes between antifascists and police, the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ was arguably incidental to the main point of activity at Gardiner’s Corner. Certainly doubts remain as to whether the incidents in Cable Street alone convinced Sir Philip Game to call off Mosley’s march. The more decisive factor, identified by Nicholas Deakin90 amongst others, was anticipation of serious disorder given the size and determined nature of the crowd at Gardiner’s Corner. This is supported by Brockway’s account which recalls that following his arrival at Gardiner’s Corner he warned the Home Office by telephone of the possibility of serious disorder if Mosley was allowed to march and subsequently informed the Press Association of his phone call. Once the decision had been made to stop Mosley’s march, Brockway then contacted the Press Association and discovered that instructions had been given to abandon the march half an hour after he had originally telephoned the Home Office. Although Brockway doubts that his warning to the Home Office had anything to do with the decision to call off Mosley’s procession, the Press Association certainly saw it as decisive. In

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official Communist Party histories, Brockway’s actions are never mentioned. Indeed, more generally, as far as the 4 October demonstrations are concerned, the ILP’s contribution is minimised. If Cable Street was merely an ‘aside’, then the events of 4 October 1936 have passed into anti-fascist folklore under an entirely inappropriate name. One anti-fascist veteran, present at Gardiner’s Corner, suggested that we should forget Cable Street altogether and instead call it ‘October 4th’ in the tradition of the peaceful mass action at Hyde Park on 9 September 1934. This designation would give greater prominence to the scale of popular involvement and would underline the extent to which it was a ‘great popular victory’ for anti-fascism.91 Indeed, a key element of the Cable Street myth, identified by Deakin, is the belief that ‘it was the East End as a whole, and not merely the Jewish element that was the ostensible object of his hostility, that threw Mosley back’.92 A constant theme running throughout oral testimony is reference to the exceptional degree of working-class unity where it is stressed that ethnic cleavages between the local Jewish and Irish communities in the East End were suppressed by common hostility towards Mosley. Piratin recollects: Never was there such unity of all sections of the working class as was seen on the barricades of Cable Street. People whose lives were poles apart, though living within a few hundred yards of each other; bearded orthodox Jews and rough-and-ready Irish Catholic dockers […]93 In the same vein, Charlie Goodman recalls: And it was not just a question of Jews being there on 4 October, the most amazing thing was to see a silk-coated religious Orthodox Jew standing next to an Irish docker with a grappling iron – the docker had a grappling iron! This was absolutely unbelievable.94 On closer reflection, however, it becomes clear that the depth of working-class unity within the East End may have been somewhat exaggerated. It is worth bearing in mind that the BUF recruited heavily from the working class in East London, and although the Irish community was generally hostile to British fascism, Irish immigrants and Catholics were particularly attracted to, and over-represented within, the BUF.95 Moreover, the events of 4 October were not an entirely East End affair. Groups of anti-fascists from other parts of London and from outside London came into the area, thereby inflating numbers. Aside from the entire London Communist Party, groups of Jewish ex-servicemen also travelled from Manchester and Leeds.96 The line traditionally advanced by fascists is that Cable Street was not a spontaneous uprising of local people against fascism but was organised by Communists, for the most part imported from outside London. According to the Fascist press: By 1 o’clock, it is no exaggeration to say that anything up to 10,000 imported hooligans had arrived in the vicinity of Aldgate. No effort was made to

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prevent this massing of the dregs of all our industrial cities. They met their natural allies in the thousands of young Jews of East London.97 Equally, the extent of provincial involvement should not be overstated: of the antifascists arrested only one did not come from London. It is also reasonable to assume that an element of those present were not necessarily committed anti-fascists but either there out of curiosity or looking for an opportunity to engage in violence. Nonetheless, putting these qualifications to one side, the presence of thousands of working-class people participating in a mass anti-fascist demonstration cannot be denied. ‘Like a much-loved vintage automobile’, as Marxist historian David Renton has put it, ‘the class model of Cable Street does need some work, but the engine runs, and there is life in the old thing yet’.98 The scale of popular hostility towards fascism and fascist-related anti-Semitism in East London was undoubtedly significant, and since most of the anti-fascist opposition would have comprised traditional Labour Party supporters, the extent of the refusal to submit to the authority of the Labour Party (and leaders of Anglo-Jewry) is also abundantly clear. Following the pattern of Olympia, the most immediate impact of the events of 4 October was a short-term surge in active street demonstrations against fascism, though curiously this was more in evidence outside London. On 11 October, a fascist procession in Liverpool, from Mount Pleasant to Liverpool’s Boxing Stadium, met an angry riposte. Mosley had intended to lead the march from Lime Street but the extent of opposition forced him to travel to the stadium by car, having already been attacked on leaving the Adelphi Hotel by one anti-fascist disguised as a tramp.99 Local anti-fascists attempted to obstruct the march at various points along the route but were resisted by police who subsequently dispersed antifascists from the area around the stadium. Nevertheless, missiles were thrown as fascists made their way from the stadium at the end of the rally and altogether, some 12 anti-fascists were arrested. One anti-fascist heckler, who was set upon by the Defence Force, recalled: ‘All I remember was finding myself halfway back to Bootle on the top of a tramcar, blood all over my face, black eyes, lumps and bumps everywhere.’100 In Bedford, police had to protect Blackshirts from a hostile crowd; in Tunbridge Wells (Kent), fascist speakers were bombarded with eggs, vegetables and tomatoes. In Edinburgh, fascist speakers were ‘barracked’ at the Mound and required a police escort to ensure their safety.101 The BUF faced militant opposition in Edinburgh not only from the left but also from sections of the right, particularly Protestant Action. Although Protestant Action shared the BUF’s antiSemitism, it attacked the BUF for pro-Catholic tendencies as well as Mosley’s long-standing sympathy for Irish nationalism.102 As for the city’s Jewish community, Edinburgh’s Jews tended to heed the advice of communal leaders and so, as Mark Gilfillan noted, there was minimal physical confrontation between BUF members and Edinburgh’s Jews.103 Surprisingly, the impression conveyed in Metropolitan Police reports is that in East London the fascists ‘gained rather than lost prestige’ in the week following Cable Street. Even though 10,000 anti-fascists marched in a victory parade from

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Tower Hill to Victoria Park on 11 October, large crowds were present at BUF meetings in Stepney, Shoreditch, Stoke Newington and Limehouse, where fascist speakers were said to have received an ‘enthusiastic’ reception and opposition was ‘either non-existent or negligible’. Moreover, Mosley succeeded in holding an open-air meeting attended by an estimated 12,000 people in Victoria Park Square on 14 October, which was said to have been ‘enthusiastically received’. A further meeting held by Mosley at Shoreditch also drew a significant and receptive audience. The view of the Metropolitan Police was that attempts by the CPGB to consolidate the ‘tremendous victory over fascism’ had met with a ‘very poor response’.104 The BUF’s John Beckett claimed that within half an hour of the news about the ban on Mosley’s march becoming public, ‘140 new members were enrolled at the Head Office alone’.105 The influx of new members was not just BUF bluster. According to Special Branch reports, the BUF recruited some 2,000 new members in the aftermath of the ‘Cable Street’ events, presumably a reaction to left-wing violence (prior to events the BUF’s London membership was said to be in the region of 2,750).106 Membership of the Bethnal Green North East branch expanded to over 1,000 following the ‘Cable Street’ disturbances and the Limehouse Branch recruited around 800 new members.107 The ‘Battle of Cable Street’ was not a decisive victory. It did not ‘smash the fascists’ nor did it put an immediate end to Mosley’s anti-Semitic campaign. Ominously, on the day of the anti-fascist victory march from Tower Hill to Victoria Park, over 100 youths engaged in a pogrom in the Mile End Road where Jewish shop windows were smashed, a car was set on fire and individual Jews were attacked. One Jew and a seven-year old girl were thrown through a window.108 This anti-Semitic backlash was seen as retaliation for events a week earlier at Cable Street but over the longer term anti-Semitic incidents still persisted. A Metropolitan Police report from April 1937 was of the opinion that the frequency of antiSemitic incidents had been increasing steadily.109 Fascist meetings also continued: 131 fascist meetings were recorded by the Metropolitan Police in London in November 1936.110 Mosley opened the BUF’s campaign for the London County Council elections on 3 February 1937. That month, the BUF held no fewer than 103 meetings (with an average attendance of 135).111 The BUF polled a respectable 23 per cent of the vote in Bethnal Green and 18 per cent overall from the three constituencies of Bethnal Green, Limehouse and Shoreditch. Aside from a confrontation at Hornsey Town Hall, the council election campaign had passed without incident. Over 7,000 had voted fascist, but the register disadvantaged the BUF by only allowing older householders to vote (ratepayers). A significant proportion of fascist support came from disenfranchised youth who, because of the housing shortage in the East End, tended to reside with parents.112 Revealingly, the upsurge in fascist activity that followed Cable Street was even admitted by Joe Jacobs, the leading exponent of physical opposition to fascism. Jacobs also refers to a renewal of tactical debate within the Stepney Branch after ‘Cable Street’ and this may account for the lack of organised disruption of fascist meetings in the aftermath of 4 October.113

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Following the ‘Battle of Cable Street’, the Communist Party leadership was becoming increasingly concerned that physical disruption of fascist meetings would lead the Government to impose public order legislation that may well have an adverse effect on its activities.114 Reflecting this concern, in mid-October 1936, the London District Committee circulated a policy document that outlined a number of proposals for future anti-fascist activities. Conspicuously absent from the proposals was any commitment to the physical struggle against Mosley and this omission provides further evidence of the desire of CPGB leaders to avoid violent confrontations with fascists. Instead of disrupting BUF meetings, the London District Committee called for, inter alia, a petition demanding the banning of uniforms and Mosley’s ‘army’, an anti-fascist newspaper, and mass distribution of anti-fascist literature. It did propose incursions into fascist strongholds such as Bethnal Green, but these were to be very cautious forays with the use of touring loudspeaker vans and the holding of anti-fascist meetings by invitation only, thereby ensuring ‘an audience of good quality’.115 Unquestionably, the CPGB’s concerns over possible public order legislation were well founded with sustained political pressure being applied on the Government to introduce some form of public order legislation in the wake of the events of 4 October 1936. Demands for a legal clampdown on the left were led by the Labour Party. At its annual conference which opened on 5 October, the Labour Party called for legal action by the state in line with its belief that use of the state against fascism was the most effective way of safeguarding democracy and curtailing fascist activities. The response of the Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, indicated that any legislation introduced would have to apply equally to the left as well as to the right, and this prompted the CPGB to send a communication to the Home Secretary calling for Government action to be directed exclusively against Mosley’s fascists, a move by the CPGB that would have been improbable a few years earlier in its ‘ultra-left’ phase. Specifically, the Communist Party called on the Government to prohibit all political uniforms, to close fascist barracks, to dissolve fascist semi-military organisation, to protect the population against all attempts at hooliganism and violence, and to ensure that there was no limitation of (the CPGB’s) democratic rights of agitation and propaganda.116 As anticipated, legislation in the form of a Public Order Act (POA) was quickly introduced and came into effect at the beginning of 1937. However, contrary to the wishes of the militant left, the POA was not exclusively directed against fascism though it did contain clauses which by seeking to criminalise Blackshirt activity, were ostensibly anti-fascist. According to the terms of the Act, political uniforms and quasi-military organisations were banned; police were given powers to re-route marches and could implement a three-month ban on marches in a given area; it was also made an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour in a public place or meeting that would likely lead to a breach of the peace. Although the banning of uniforms and quasimilitary organisations was interpreted favourably as a blow to the BUF, the radical left attacked the POA because, first, it gave the police unprecedented

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powers to ban marches (including Communist ones), and second, it did not make incitement to racial hatred illegal. Despite charges that the Act might be used against the left, criticisms made in particular by the NCCL and the Communist Party, the measures taken against the British Union of Fascists do raise the possibility of ‘anti-fascism’ from the state. For Richard Bellamy, ‘[t]he Public Order act of 1936, which was passed with the blessings of all parties at Westminster, was aimed at British Union alone’.117 The relationship between the state and fascism in inter-war Britain has been most thoroughly researched by Richard Thurlow and it is not my intention to duplicate his material.118 However, based on his research and that of others,119 it is possible to arrive at some summary conclusions regarding the attitude of the state towards fascism in inter-war Britain. From a left-wing perspective, Lewis has argued that the Government used the situation in the East End to introduce public order legislation in order to restrict the activities of the left, in particular militant activity that had been associated with the NUWM’s hunger marches. The suggestion here is that the state used ‘antifascism’ as a cover to introduce a series of repressive and reactionary anti-left measures. Lewis does not go as far as classifying the National Government pro-fascist, but does interpret the POA as more ‘anti-libertarian than anti-fascist’.120 For Lewis, the POA was a reflection of the desire of the conservative right to clamp down on any form of extra-parliamentary activity that threatened the stability of a society founded on class privilege, and concludes that the POA was ‘a high price to pay for a few morsels of anti-fascist legislation’.121 Thurlow offers an alternative (and more convincing) analysis where the response of the state is interpreted within a ‘liberal-democratic’ framework. He sees the role of the state as protecting the liberal-democratic centre from the extremism of both the right and left.122 This perspective allows us to define the state as ‘anti-fascist’. In 1934, prior to Olympia, the then Home Secretary had identified the BUF as the problem – their adoption of a uniform was provocative and it intensified aggressive behaviour by fascists. Therefore, Gilmour wrote, ‘[i]t is only in relation to this organisation that any immediate practical problem exists and, though any legislation would have to be of general application, it would be taken to be, and would in fact be, primarily directed against the British Union of Fascists’.123 According to Thurlow, the state used a variety of methods to try to isolate Mosley before enacting any public order legislation. Following Mosley’s break with Rothermere in 1934, pressure was applied on the media to give Mosley and the Blackshirts the silent treatment. Newspaper editors were instructed not to give British fascism undue publicity, newsreel companies were requested not to film mass demonstrations, and the BBC was pressed not to broadcast extremist views. Thus in the period before the Cable Street disturbances, behind-the-scenes attempts were made to marginalise Mosley’s Blackshirts without introducing formal methods of social control that would unnecessarily limit civil liberties. It was only after Cable Street had threatened a breakdown of public order in East London and with the support of opposition parties, most notably the Labour Party, that the National

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Government brought in legal restrictions curbing fascist (and anti-fascist) activities. Thus, rather than being an agent of ‘encroaching fascism’, the state moved cautiously to protect democracy from the extremes, and whilst hostile to left-wing militancy, it was nevertheless anti-fascist. At the forefront of political pressure for a Public Order Bill, the Labour Party greeted the POA as a great victory for anti-fascism. Herbert Morrison was later to declare that the ‘Bill did the trick. It smashed the private army, and I believe commenced the undermining of Fascism in this country’.124 Yet doubts remain as to whether the Public Order Act was such a potent weapon against Mosley’s fascists. By banning processions in the East End, the POA did exert some degree of control over the public order situation there, but fascist meetings continued and their frequency increased.125 In the ten months after the Act came into force, there were 110 fascist marches and 3,094 meetings in London.126 The ban on processions may have impeded fascist recruitment in the East End, but the BUF still held high-profile marches elsewhere in London as well as in provincial areas. Although the POA strengthened the law against the use of insulting words at public meetings, there were many complaints that the police refused to arrest fascists who persisted with anti-Semitic provocation. The loss of the black shirt, as Bellamy explains, ‘was most felt sentimentally […] the spirit, the ardour, and the sense of discipline remained unchanged’.127 It would be wrong, however, to treat the POA too unfairly. The provisions of the POA prohibiting the use of insulting words and behaviour at public meetings did trigger some internal division within the BUF. As anxieties over possible legal action mounted, the BUF adopted a position of compliance: ‘All members on all occasions must obey the law of the land, and in particular they must observe the provisions of the Public Order Act, 1936’, the BUF’s rules and constitution stated.128 Divisions occasioned a period of ‘ideological confusion’ which cost the BUF the support of more radical anti-Semitic elements.129 Leading anti-Semites, such as William Joyce and John Beckett, were cut adrift and forced out of the organisation. The withdrawal of the Italian subsidy – the BUF had received around £100,000 from Mussolini by the end of 1936 – also necessitated a cull of paid officials. Over the short term, if the POA damaged the BUF, like Cable Street, the damage inflicted was not terminal; it certainly did not result in comprehensive defeat. Over the longer term, by impressing on the BUF the need to become more ‘respectable’ – anti-Semitic rhetoric became less crude – it may have helped to revive the BUF. During 1938–9, Mosley experienced something of a recovery, drawing in new recruits from the middle class in areas outside East London by launching a ‘peace campaign’.130 As this campaign ‘reached its climax in 1939’, as Pugh observed, ‘the movement was looking more middle-class and respectable than it had since 1934’.131

IV The provision within the POA for imposing a ban on political processions was first used against the BUF in response to its announcement, made in June 1937, that it intended another march through the East End. Fearing a recurrence of disorder,

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the Government imposed a ban on political processions in East London for six weeks, although the ban was periodically renewed until 1940 when the BUF was disbanded. Since the limitation on political processions was intended to be used in moderation, the authorities accepted an alternative proposal by the BUF to avoid the East End and instead march on 4 July from Kentish Town in North London to Trafalgar Square in central London. Alteration to the route of the march meant that responsibility for organising anti-fascist opposition did not fall on the Communist Party in East London. In any case, by this time the Stepney Branch under the guidance of Piratin was shifting the direction of its anti-fascist work away from physical confrontation towards involvement in rent struggles in fascist neighbourhoods, a move given added persuasiveness by the passage of the POA which, by prohibiting the use of threatening or insulting words and behaviour, restricted anti-fascist activities. Awake to the legal restrictions occasioned by the POA, the CPGB encouraged the local Labour Party in St Pancras to organise opposition to Mosley’s procession. A Special Branch report noted that many members of the CPGB in St Pancras had overlapping membership of the local Labour Party and that acting on instructions from CPGB leaders had been ‘assiduously urging the local Labour Party officials to take the initiative in organising opposition to the fascist march on 4 July’. The St Pancras Labour Party was receptive and gave immediate instructions to print 15,000 leaflets and petition sheets protesting against the proposed assembly of fascists. Two anti-fascist meetings were planned for 4 July – the first to be held at Islip Street, Kentish Town at 3.30 pm, followed by a further meeting at Trafalgar Square at 5.00 pm.132 In the days preceding the proposed march, anti-fascists raised a petition of 3,000 signatures from local residents, presented to the Mayor of St Pancras following a 500-strong march to the Town Hall, organised by the local Labour Party, Co-operative Society and various trade unions. Additional pressure for a ban was exerted through correspondence to the Home Secretary from various trade unions, Highgate Left Book Club and a number of anti-fascists on an individual basis.133 These requests were denied, however, and it was at this point that Communists became exasperated with local Labour Party officials who now withdrew their support for the anti-fascist mobilisation in line with established Labour Party policy. As a result, the CPGB was left to organise the demonstrations without the shelter afforded to it by the St Pancras Labour Party, but as Special Branch noted, the CPGB deemed the POA a ‘serious obstacle’ to effective organisation. In order not to lay itself open to prosecution (and in line with the CPGB’s move to a nonconfrontational position), direct appeals to rally at Trafalgar Square or St Pancras were not published in the Daily Worker.134 Communist Party propaganda ‘emphasised not the ability of the masses to prevent the march, but complained bitterly that the government ought to have banned it’.135 In order to circumvent the POA, CPGB leaders issued word-of-mouth instructions to branch officials but there were complaints that this method of communication had led to confusion over the location of assembly points. A number of leaflets were distributed by the

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Communist Party in St Pancras but these were described by Special Branch as ‘circumscribed’ and this was also the case with a number of sticky-back labels flyposted at various sites, bearing the superscription of the London District Committee. Evidently, the POA handicapped the CPGB’s organisational efforts, the effect of which was to raise concerns that the same level of support from anti-fascists as was seen prior to Cable Street was not forthcoming. In an attempt to counter this, Communist Party volunteers whitewashed and chalked explicit instructions announcing where anti-fascists should mobilise. Some of these were (deliberately?) at odds with the leadership’s policy of avoiding physical confrontation. Slogans such as ‘Smash Fascism – Rally to Islip St July 4th’ and ‘All out July 4th – Stop Mosley – Bar the Way to Fascism’ openly called for physical opposition. Presumably this was why CPGB leaders were careful to issue a statement instructing members not to be led into acts of violence so the Communist Party could not be held liable for any subsequent violence.136 In the event, anti-fascists generally observed official Communist Party instructions. The NCCL counted the un-uniformed fascist contingent at 1,985 (The Times went as high as 6,000).137 Anti-fascist opposition was ‘guarded in tone’ and there was ‘no open incitement to violence’; nonetheless, 27 anti-fascists were still arrested and following the fascist meeting in Trafalgar Square, a number of anti-fascists attempted to surround and assault Mosley in his car under Charing Cross Railway Bridge.138 Compared with 4 October 1936, the numbers mobilised on 4 July 1937 were modest, and here two factors came into play. First, organisational problems inhibited turn-out. Second, the location of the procession which was mainly through central London and not through consciously anti-fascist working-class districts meant that the CPGB failed to secure wider support especially from anti-fascist groups in the East End. According to Home Office figures, a crowd of 5,000 initially gathered in Kentish Town but the route from Kentish Town to Trafalgar Square was said to be ‘thinly lined’ by anti-fascists, except where crowds of 200–300 clustered around main street crossings. In Trafalgar Square itself, 5,000 anti-fascists assembled, with another 2–3,000 people gathered in the surrounding area. There was much heckling and booing from anti-fascists making Mosley’s speech inaudible, but because the march was not physically stopped by anti-fascists, and much to the frustration of the Communist Party, it was acclaimed by the Fascist press as a great success: ‘a triumphant forward stride in the progress of National Socialist revolution’.139 The final BUF march in London to give rise to serious disorder occurred in October 1937. In September the BUF announced its intention to hold a fifth anniversary march through the East End but once again was prohibited under the terms of the POA. An alternative route was proposed from Westminster in central London to Bermondsey in South London. Bermondsey was a Labour stronghold with a significant Catholic Irish population employed in the docks. Although the area contained few Jews, the announcement of the proposed march sparked opposition. A local deputation headed by the Mayor of Bermondsey and the leader of the Bermondsey Trades Council, supported by the local Labour MP for Rotherhithe, the South London organiser of the CPGB and local religious leaders, called on the

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Home Office to request that the march be banned. The response, as in July, was that since the area contained few Jews the march did not constitute an incitement to violence. With the Home Office refusing to ban the procession, the Executive of the London Labour Party attempted to dampen down local hostility and implored all local Labour Party branches to avoid organising a counter-demonstration. A circular was issued which maintained that since fascism abroad thrived on political disorder and that fascism at home badly needed advertisement, ‘the Executive advises Labour Party members and supporters to boycott the whole thing and thus reveal the small numbers and limited importance of Fascism in London’.140 This advice was rejected by Bermondsey Trades Council, which to the obvious displeasure of the London Labour Party called for a massive counter-demonstration, a call supported by both the Communist Party and the ILP.141 Given that Mosley’s march was planned to take place through a working-class area, the determination of Bermondsey Trades Council to counter the march and the embarrassment of the perceived failure of the July demonstration, the CPGB had no real alternative but to support a mass mobilisation of anti-fascist forces. These considerations would appear to explain why on this occasion the CPGB leadership opted to back militant opposition. In marked contrast to July, Communist Party publicity was much more thorough. There were frequent articles in the Daily Worker, numerous meetings took place, there was extensive chalking of anti-fascist slogans and no fewer than 150,000 leaflets were distributed. Still attentive to the possibilities of prosecution under the POA, the CPGB indicated where anti-fascists should assemble without actually openly stating it. This was communicated in the Daily Worker on 30 September when it predicted that opposition ‘would be strongest’ at the junction of Long Lane and Borough High Street.142 Noreen Branson has argued that the scale of the mobilisation of anti-fascists at Bermondsey indicated the depth to which anti-fascist consciousness had penetrated non-Jewish sections of the working class in London.143 Some eyewitness accounts, later recorded in the Daily Worker, claimed that the numbers involved even surpassed those at Cable Street. It has been suggested that as many as 50,000 anti-fascists gathered in the immediate area of Borough Underground station although this number conflicts with the Special Branch estimate of 12,000.144 Imitating Cable Street, anti-fascists erected barricades, a move which once again precipitated serious clashes between anti-fascists and police as the police made repeated baton charges on the barricades in order to clear the route and restore order. Despite the presence of over 2,500 police, Long Lane remained blocked by determined anti-fascists forcing Mosley’s contingent of 3,400 fascists to an alternative meeting place where they were briefly addressed by Mosley in an area secured by a police cordon. Beyond the cordon, anti-fascists gathered and interrupted Mosley’s speech with shouts of ‘They did not pass’! Mosley’s intended meeting place had already been occupied by Sally Schwartz and Tim Walsh of the Federation of Democrats,145 who had ‘jumped the pitch’ and ingeniously entertained a large crowd by staging a local talent show. The anti-fascist mobilisation at Bermondsey has not attracted the same degree of interest as the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ – ‘it had the bloodiness of the Battle of Cable

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Street, but little of the significance’.146 Nonetheless, it has still drawn praise as another successful episode in the history of militant anti-fascism. According to Nigel Todd, for instance, such was the depth of anti-fascist opposition at Bermondsey that ‘the point was made, and the Blackshirts were never again able to mount a large, provocative march through the streets of any British city’.147 A full year after Cable Street, a significant number of anti-fascists had been mobilised at Bermondsey and this continued show of strength by anti-fascist forces must have depleted the BUF’s morale. Yet on 1 May 1938, 2,000 fascists once again marched through Bermondsey and appear to have held a successful rally. Mosley spoke to a sizeable crowd from the top of a loudspeaker van.148 Why was there no opposition? The labour movement had been directed to Hyde Park for an anti-fascist ‘Spain Day’ rally on 1 May 1938, and so ‘[i]t seemed that’, as The Times suggested, ‘the main body of hostility to the British Union were elsewhere yesterday’.149 Branson’s assertion that the anti-fascist opposition at Bermondsey in October 1937 was an entirely local and hence non-Jewish response to fascist provocation also deserves some qualification. A report by Special Branch suggests significant ‘outside’, possibly East End involvement. First, it estimates that 75 per cent of the 2,000 or so anti-fascists who initially assembled near Borough Underground station were Jewish. Second, of the 112 anti-fascists arrested only about 25 had local addresses.150

V Most accounts of opposition to domestic fascism in the inter-war period end with Bermondsey in 1937. With the BUF’s membership down to an estimated 5,800 by January 1938,151 it is usually held that the CPGB regarded the BUF as a ‘spent force’ after Bermondsey.152 In consequence, as the CPGB became preoccupied with events in Spain, organised opposition to British fascism cooled. However, even if the Communist Party’s interest in British fascism generally waned, anti-fascist opposition did continue. In October 1937, anti-fascist militants in Liverpool subjected an open-air meeting held by Mosley to a missile attack in which he was struck and knocked unconscious, resulting in a stay in Walton Hospital. According to Bellamy, Mosley ‘had a very close call. The frontal bone had been penetrated; had the blow been only a fraction further back it would have been fatal’.153 Fourteen anti-fascists were arrested.154 In March 1938, the Left Book Club organised an opposition meeting to Mosley outside Portsmouth’s Coliseum. It was reported in the Daily Worker that a hostile crowd of over 5,000 gathered outside, with Mosley’s car subjected to an anti-fascist attack.155 At Gillingham in April 1938, Mosley’s visit was opposed by local Communists who distributed leaflets calling for a ‘monster demonstration against Fascism’ and succeeded in mobilising ‘thousands’ in a display of anti-fascist hostility.156 More or less continuous opposition to fascism also occurred in areas where Mosley did not visit, such as Aberdeen.157 Fascist activities in Scotland in the latter half of the 1930s were focused on Aberdeen due principally to the tireless commitment and determination of an Aberdeenshire laird, Chambers-Hunter, and his

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sister-in-law. The launch of an intensive campaign by these two BUF activists in the spring of 1936 triggered the formation of a local anti-fascist group comprising in the main CPGB and ILP members. In keeping with the policy of CPGB leaders, the group’s strategy was non-violent disruption of BUF meetings, although in September 1938, an outdoor meeting by fascists in Aberdeen did occasion an aggressive missile attack. Kibblewhite and Rigby contend that in terms of preventing fascist propaganda from being disseminated, anti-fascists in Aberdeen were ‘almost totally successful. When one man who opposed fascism for almost three years was asked about the specific content of Chamber-Hunter’s speeches, he replied: “Well, you see, we never heard his case […]”’.158 Favoured techniques of denying a fascist speaker a hearing in Aberdeen included shouting, whistling, singing, and stamping feet, although more innovative techniques were in evidence elsewhere. In June 1937 at the Mound in Edinburgh, amongst a crowd estimated to number 10,000, anti-fascists passed a hand bell from hand to hand and threw fireworks at the speaker’s van. In June 1938 in Stepney, there was even a case of anti-fascists banging on baths and biscuit tins in order to drown out the voice of a fascist speaker.159 In turning our attention back to the East End, it should be additionally noted that the East London Communist Party sustained its anti-fascist struggle into the late 1930s. Moreover, from June 1937 this struggle entered a new phase, led by Phil Piratin, and Pat Devine, the CPGB’s East End organiser.160 Following the suspension of Joe Jacobs from the Stepney Branch, during the summer of 1938 CPGB members were instructed to hold anti-fascist meetings in the vicinity of fascist meetings rather than trying to prevent fascist speakers from being heard, so some shifted away from aggressive disruption of fascist meetings.161 As an alternative to combative anti-fascism, Piratin encouraged Communists to become involved in grassroots community action and, in particular, housing disputes. The idea was to demonstrate clearly to fascists that the CPGB was the true defender of workingclass interests and thereby break existing allegiances to the BUF. In persuading the Stepney Branch to adopt this strategy, Piratin recalls the seminal case of two BUF families who, when threatened with eviction by a Jewish landlord at Paragon Mansions in Stepney, were ‘won over’ by local Communists in June 1937, leading other tenants to destroy their BUF membership cards ‘voluntarily and in disgust’.162 Encouraged by the success of this venture, local Communists increasingly channelled their anti-fascism into the work of the Stepney Tenants’ Defence League which had been established in the autumn of 1937. This Communist-led organisation, which at its height claimed 7,500 members,163 concentrated its efforts on winning the support of tenants in fascist neighbourhoods in Stepney, such as Duckett Street. Support for fascism in this area eroded to such an extent that Duckett Street residents even assisted in a dispute in a neighbourhood where virtually all the local residents were Jewish.164 In 1938, the example of Stepney was followed by Communists in neighbouring Bethnal Green. Here, Communists became involved in a successful rent strike at Quinn Square where many of the residents were pro-fascist. Reading Piratin’s account one is left with the impression that it

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was this strategy of anti-fascist community action that ultimately neutralised support for fascism in the East End. Aside from the East London Communist Party, the JPC also remained active in the local struggle against fascism, whereas the associated Ex-Servicemen’s Movement Against Fascism had already disbanded in August 1937.165 During 1937–8, the JPC was approached by the Board of Deputies with a view to securing a single defence organisation, albeit operating under the Board’s authority. Pressure had been exerted on the Board by the Association of Jewish Friendly Societies, which had stressed the need for greater unity of effort within the Jewish community. An ‘understanding’ was said to have been reached in April 1938 at a conference held between the JPC and the BoD’s London Area Council (LAC) – the organisation that had taken over the Board’s open-air speaking campaign from the Friendly Societies in 1937. At this conference, it was agreed that one Jewish defence organisation was desirable which should function under the BoD, and that the object of this organisation should be to combat anti-Semitism.166 According to Daniel Tilles, there was ‘a carefully constructed compromise, allowing for opposition to antisemitic, anti-democratic fascism, but not explicitly declaring hostility to any particular ideology or party’.167 Protracted negotiations followed. The JPC refused to yield to the Board’s conditions that, first, the JPC should disband, that second, the JPC would not have any representation on the Board’s Co-ordinating Committee, and that third, the JPC’s opposition to fascism would have to be dropped. Fundamental differences remained, but this did not stop practical collaboration involving exchange of literature and speakers. As Tilles argues, by 1939, despite differences over the substance of defence work, the Board’s primacy was now widely accepted, and so Laski had brought about significant communal convergence.168 In 1939 the JPC agreed to work together with the LAC for an interim period of six months.169 After war was declared, the JPC finally disbanded. Throughout the 1930s, the Board of Deputies had remained opposed to direct action against fascism and had endeavoured to keep the response of the Jewish community focused on anti-defamation. In November 1936 it had set up a network of ‘Vigilance Committees’ throughout Britain in order to monitor local anti-Semitic activity, to oversee the press (and refute anti-Semitic letters if necessary), and to maintain a watchful eye on the activities of the Jewish community in order to prevent ‘anti-social’ behaviour which may have brought Jews into ‘disfavour’.170 This was combined with distribution of leaflets, which approached 2 million by the end of 1938, and an open-air speaking campaign re-launched by the LAC. In 1938 the LAC, with its 30 members, held an impressive 788 meetings at 89 different locations, but a report by a former LAC member casts doubt on the effectiveness of this campaign when he records that ‘at not less than 50% and perhaps 75%’ of these meetings, ‘there had been practically no audience’, and where there was an audience it tended to comprise the same people ‘time and time again’. He concludes that whilst on paper, the Board looks to have presented its case to over 150,000 people in 1938, in reality, it probably did not reach more than 10,000.171 Yet despite a poor response, as well as the financial cost of spending some £2,000 on

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10,000 people, the Board persevered with this campaign and only brought it to a close with the outbreak of war. Additionally, Mosley faced another source of opposition from the mid-1930s. This came from local authorities, typically Labour-controlled, which increasingly refused to allow fascists the use of halls to hold BUF meetings. Towards the end of 1938 the BUF faced almost total exclusion from large halls in Britain’s main cities. In London, in the period 1936–9, the British Union of Fascists encountered severe difficulties in securing indoor meeting places of any size and Mosley attributed this to the Labour majority on London County Council.172 The problems the BUF faced in hiring halls further isolated it from the political mainstream, forcing it to concentrate on street-corner and open-air meetings. These outdoor meetings were then subjected to further restrictions, such as the ban on loudspeakers which was imposed by London County Council. Evidently, the role of local authorities (and hence the Labour Party) in denying the BUF room to propagate its ideology was of significance, and towards the end of the 1930s this form of opposition probably proved more damaging to the BUF than any remaining physical opposition by anti-fascists.173 A further block on the spread of the BUF’s propaganda had come about in November 1937 when the Executive Committee of the National Association of Wholesale Newsagents refused to handle copies of Action, the BUF’s newspaper. This decision was taken without warning or explanation. It was a major blow to the BUF with the Fascist press now no longer freely available at newsagents.174 Despite the denial of venues for fascist meetings, Mosley did manage to secure Earl’s Court for a major indoor event in July 1939. At that time, it was the largest meeting hall in the world, with a capacity of 30,000. Special Branch reported that 11,000 people attended this meeting; the Manchester Guardian estimated more than 20,000; The Times described the hall as being ‘fairly well filled’.175 Yet there was no substantive opposition by anti-fascists.176 A large open-air rally by the BUF in London at the end of August 1939, just days before the outbreak of war, was also ignored by anti-fascists: ‘The few Jews who attempted a show of opposition were soon overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the mass movement of British people and retired to a safe distance.’177 By this time, with political interest entirely immersed in foreign events, militant opposition to Mosley effectively disappeared. The case of violent opposition to fascists in Wilmslow, in November 1939, when two double-decker motorbuses carrying fascists from a meeting were stoned, now proved exceptional.178 By 1939, as Lewis Young has described it, ‘the Popular Front was faltering, and Pollitt’s desire to see the National Government removed at the polls by a broadranging alliance of anti-fascists, socialists and progressives was growing dimmer by the day’.179 The CPGB had tried and failed to bring the Labour Party’s Socialist League into the fold (Labour disbanded it in 1937). The ILP’s relationship with the Communists was breaking down (the ILP was now looking to re-affiliate to Labour). Then, in August 1939, the signing of the Nazi-Soviet (‘Non-Aggression’) pact set the cat amongst the pigeons. The CPGB tried to sell its policy somersault as an anti-fascist act: that it was part of a plan to break up the Anti-Comintern Pact and,

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in so doing, stop the growth of international fascism, but it seemed as if anti-fascism was being unceremoniously dumped just to accommodate Moscow. The effect of the Soviet deal with Nazi Germany, and then the declaration of war, was that the CPGB submitted itself to an about-turn where its hostility to fascism was recast as ‘anti-imperialism’. The war was an ‘imperialist war’ and, as such, it needed to be opposed. As a result, as Keith Hodgson explained, its ‘analysis of fascism reverted almost to that of the third period. Fascism and democracy were again portrayed as alternate manifestations of class rule, with neither side worthy of communist support’.180 This new line provoked division within the CPGB, although it was not, as Hodgson says, ‘universally unpopular’. Even so, some of the more committed anti-fascists, especially those who had fought in Spain, left the party.181 As the CPGB endeavoured to reconfigure itself to the vagaries of Soviet foreign policy, the anti-fascist side of the state re-asserted itself, albeit under exceptional circumstances. This came in the spring of 1940 in response to the end of the ‘phoney war’ and a ‘fifth column’ scare in which the BUF became widely perceived as a threat to national security.182 This scare stirred anti-fascist passions amongst the public, with Mosley physically assaulted (yet again) at a by-election in north Manchester in May 1940. More significantly, the state acted decisively against Mosley’s fascists and smothered its organisation: existing Defence Regulations were amended in order to intern fascists under defence regulation 18B, and along with internment, the BUF was also proscribed and its publications banned. Altogether, some 750 BUF members were interned from a party membership estimated now to number some 8,700. Identification of those interned originated from both the state’s security services which had subjected the BUF to surveillance from late 1933, and from intelligence gathered by the Board of Deputies. Since 1936 the Board had had a ‘mole’ inside the BUF known as ‘Captain A’ or ‘Captain X’, who furnished the Board with weekly intelligence reports. It was not just BUF members who were interned, of course. By the end of August 1940, 1,428 persons had been detained (including the Conservative MP for Peebles, Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay). During the late 1930s the Board had sources within a number of far-right groups and much of the intelligence gathered was passed on to the authorities. For all its opposition to ‘anti-fascism’ per se the Board successfully infiltrated a number of far-right anti-Semitic organisations.183 Even if the state forced the collapse of British fascism in 1940, domestic fascism was not completely eradicated. As the threat of invasion and the fifth columnist scare abated, most internees were released and soon looked towards resuming activities, albeit impeded by the continuing imprisonment of Mosley and other leading fascists. A key factor behind Mosley’s prolonged imprisonment was the make-up of the wartime coalition – its Labour component in particular, was strongly opposed to Mosley’s fascist ideas and believed that Mosley’s release would damage civilian morale. Therefore, it was not until November 1943 that the decision was made to release Mosley. This decision was taken partly on humanitarian grounds of Mosley’s alleged ill health, and partly because the Government wanted to avoid Mosley becoming a martyr for British fascism. Nevertheless, the

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decision to release Mosley met an outburst of popular opposition, orchestrated in the main by the Communist Party which had returned to the anti-fascist fore following the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. The CPGB’s reversion to actively opposing British fascism pre-dates Mosley’s release. In October 1942, the Daily Worker became preoccupied with the British National Party led by ex-BUF member Edward Godfrey. This organisation, created in August 1942, served as a focal point for ex-18B detainees based in London. According to figures provided by the Home Secretary, it only had around 100 members. Yet possibly in order to reassert its anti-fascist credentials, the Communist Party overstated the extent to which the British National Party constituted a serious threat. Douglas Hyde, the Daily Worker’s anti-fascist correspondent, who resigned from the CPGB in 1948, maintains in his autobiography that the CPGB’s antifascist campaign was deliberately re-started ‘for our own political ends’ (although Hyde, who had converted to Catholicism, did have an axe to grind).184 Whatever the case may be, in early 1943 the CPGB’s campaign against the British National Party culminated in a large open-air meeting at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London (a representative from the BoD shared the CPGB platform). This meeting called on the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, to close down the British National Party, and it subsequently disbanded in April 1943. Then, towards the end of 1943, advance notice of Mosley’s impending release reached the CPGB through a sympathiser at the Home Office and this enabled the Communist Party to raise immediate objections. The CPGB organised meetings and two large protest marches, one of which attracted a crowd numbering some 30,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of people signed mass petitions, and strikes in war industries were threatened.185 Protest was also forthcoming from the National Council of Labour which endeavoured to dissociate itself from the action of the Government. Indeed, the Labour Party split over the issue, with 51 Labour MPs voting in favour of keeping Mosley in prison. Hostility was especially marked in the East End where many rank-and-file Labourites turned to the Communist Party to register disapproval, and during this time the Stepney Branch became the strongest Communist Party branch in Britain, with over 1,000 members.186 The National Jewish Committee of the CPGB, which had been established in April 1943, used the Mosley affair to appeal directly to Jews in the East End. The role of the Communist Party in opposing Mosley’s release was presented as part of a long tradition of active anti-fascist protest dating back to the 1930s. This theme was stressed in Communist Party campaign literature in the East End during the 1945 general election, undoubtedly contributing to Phil Piratin’s subsequent election as MP for Mile End, a constituency in which one third of the electorate was Jewish.187 Aside from the Communist Party, the NCCL also continued campaigning against domestic fascism during the war years. In April 1943, the NCCL had convened a conference in London attended by some 450 delegates from 273 organisations. The aim of this conference was to organise a nationwide campaign against fascism and anti-Semitism, with education presented as the key. The NCCL called on all democratic organisations to assist by holding meetings and discussion groups, by

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writing articles in journals and by pressing on authorities the need for legislation banning anti-Semitism.188 However, the problem with the NCCL’s educative strategy, as Kushner points out, was that discussion merely provided opportunity to repeat anti-Semitic charges and this tended to increase ‘Jew-consciousness’. Furthermore, the underlying premise that all anti-Semitism was the result of fascist activity failed to counter anti-Semitism as a native cultural tradition.189 Despite casting itself as the champion of civil liberties, the NCCL also joined the Communist Party in the voicing of popular protest at the release of Mosley from internment. This decision was met with indignation from many of the NCCL’s more liberal supporters and prompted a wave of resignations from those who insisted that Mosley should not remain in prison without a fair trial. Although it attracted widespread support, the campaign to re-intern Mosley eventually ran out of steam. Mosley subsequently retired to the country and as a condition of his release, disengaged from political activity for the rest of the war. Yet even in his continued absence, surrogate attempts were made by ex-18B internees to revive Mosleyite fascism. During 1944, these activities were centred on two organisations: the first, a registered charity known as the 18B Detainees’ Aid Fund; the second, the British League of Ex-Servicemen, led by former BUF member Jeffrey Hamm. Both organisations attempted to hold meetings in Hyde Park in 1944 but found themselves opposed by hostile crowds. Towards the end of 1945, those who remained loyal to Mosley were instructed to form a network of discussion groups, book clubs and ostensibly ‘non-fascist’ organisations in order to prepare the ground for Mosley’s come-back. The most active of these proved to be Hamm’s British League of Ex-Servicemen, which returned to East London immediately after the war and sparked the beginnings of post-war anti-fascism, discussed in the next chapter.

VI So opposition to domestic fascism did not end after Bermondsey and was carried into the war years, even if the general scale of activity was less than the peak of 1936–7 when the BUF’s anti-Semitic campaign drew thousands of people into the displays of anti-fascist opposition. As shows of strength, the anti-fascist agitation on 4 October 1936 stands out, although other mobilisations, such as Holbeck Moor and Bermondsey, also leave an impression. In numerical terms, popular anti-fascism in 1936–7 was certainly as significant as 1934, but after 1935 it became qualitatively different. With the BUF’s turn to hard-line anti-Semitism, opposition to Mosley’s fascists widened beyond radical-left groups to embrace specific Jewish groups in a broad Jewish-Communist alliance. This was most evident in the East End where it seems reasonable to speak of an anti-fascist ‘movement’, albeit a loose one. Although united by antagonism towards fascism, this anti-fascist alliance was not immune to its own divisions. These were apparent, especially within the Communist Party, which experienced conflict as militants increasingly turned to violent action, a strategy at odds with the leadership’s yearning for closer relations with the Labour Party. The CPGB was keen to distance itself from the disreputable activities

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of its militants, but at the same time it wished to retain the growing local support that opposition to fascism attracted. It was mainly through pressure from local militants that the CPGB remained at the forefront of the struggle against Mosleyite fascism. Moreover, it managed to lead this agitation, as it had done in the early 1930s, without central co-ordination. Consequently, anti-fascist activity from 1936 continued to be determined largely at local level and this allowed community action to emerge as an alternative anti-fascist strategy in the East End. The period from 1936 also shows that anti-fascism was not the monopoly of non-governmental groups and that it did have a state dimension. The Labour Party’s anti-fascist policy which looked to the state to legislate against fascism brought results through the Public Order Act, even if its impact on the BUF has been overstated. Nonetheless, by appealing to the state and enthusiastically supporting the POA, the Labour Party reinforced liberal-democratic legality and contributed to the cultural exclusion of political violence and extremism. However, as we have seen, it did not end violence. In early 1939 violent anti-fascist opposition may have claimed its first fascist fatality: Captain C.H. Steele died following complications from an injury sustained from a flying brick on a BUF march.190 Compared with the early 1930s, the effectiveness of popular anti-fascism in the latter half of the 1930s is more difficult to ascertain. In the early 1930s, the BUF had been denied legitimacy by anti-fascists at Olympia, and with the loss of Rothermere’s support Mosley turned towards militant anti-Semitism. Anti-fascists, as Skidelsky rather ironically puts it, ‘kept Mosley in business as a fascist’.191 Yet by adopting virulent anti-Semitism, Mosley reinforced his identification with Hitler and confined himself to the realm of the unrespectable political fringe where antifascists helped to create public order problems which public opinion attributed to fascist provocation. This reinforced negative perceptions already held by the public that associated Mosley’s fascists with lawlessness, violence and extremism. In this way, militant anti-fascists ensured that Mosley remained outside the political mainstream with his base of support contained to areas such as the East End where there was already a cultural tradition of anti-Semitism. This anti-Semitism was, as Skidelsky reflects, the price that was paid for keeping British fascism small.192 Within the East End itself, it is even more difficult to arrive at a verdict on the impact of anti-fascist activities. In raising anti-fascist consciousness, one would have assumed that agitation against Mosley would have generally acted as a ‘check’ on the growth of the BUF, but as the example of Cable Street shows, mass action against fascism could also stimulate fascist recruitment. Yet this effect was paralleled by anti-fascism drawing in more Jewish support for the Communist Party. A situation emerged in East London during 1936–7 whereby the greater the involvement of Jews in anti-fascist protest, the greater the impact of the BUF’s anti-Semitic propaganda on reservoirs of potential fascist support. Given the recurring interaction between fascist provocation and anti-fascist response, ignoring fascism, as the Labour Party and Board of Deputies advised, clearly offered one way of breaking this cycle.193 Another approach was community action and certainly Piratin’s account suggests that this was more effective in terms of eroding support for fascism

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than direct forms of anti-fascist protest. In closing this chapter, as Thomas Linehan has persuasively argued, the general effect of popular anti-fascism was to spatially contain the BUF – not just on the streets or in meeting halls, but also in terms of inspiring a wider spatial imaginary where local and national contexts became intrinsically connected to developments overseas, whether in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, France, or Spain.194

Notes 1 See Jewish Chronicle, 17 July 1936. 2 See G.C. Lebzelter, Political Anti-Semitism in England 1918–39, London: Macmillan, 1978, p. 158. 3 See comments by J. Shaw, cited in S.M. Cullen, ‘“Jewish Communists” or “Communist Jews”: The Communist Party of Great Britain and British Jews in the 1930s’, Socialist History, 2012, no. 41, 22–42, at p. 29. 4 See P. Piratin, Our Flag Stays Red, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1978, p. 14. 5 On the Board’s early responses to the BUF, see N. Copsey and D. Tilles, ‘Uniting a Divided Community? Re-appraising Jewish Responses to British Fascist Antisemitism, 1932–39’, in D. Tilles and S. Garau (eds), Fascism and the Jews: Italy and Britain, London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2011, pp. 180–206. 6 See D. Tilles, British Fascist Antisemitism and Jewish Responses, 1932–40, London: Bloomsbury, 2015, p. 130. 7 See E. Smith, ‘Jewish Responses to Political Antisemitism and Fascism in the East End of London, 1920–1939’ in T. Kushner and K. Lunn (eds), Traditions of Intolerance, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, esp. pp. 60–61. 8 Phil Piratin won the seat with 5,075 votes to Labour’s 3,861. 9 See TNA HO 144/20147/263, 269 and 271. 10 TNA HO 144/20147/400. 11 On Thurloe Square see S. Scaffardi, Fire Under the Carpet: Working for Civil Liberties in the 1930s, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1986, pp. 123–32. 12 J. Clark, ‘Sincere and Reasonable Men? The Origins of the National Council for Civil Liberties’, Twentieth Century British History, 2009, vol. 20, no. 4, 513–37, at p. 536. Also see J. Clark, The National Council for Civil Liberties and the Policing of Interwar Politics: At Liberty to Protest, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012. 13 On the NCCL see R. Thurlow, The Secret State, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994, pp. 169–72; and S. Scaffardi, Fire Under the Carpet, esp. p. 112. Scaffardi, a companion of Ronald Kidd and an assistant secretary of the NCCL, denies that links with the CPGB were strong. 14 J. Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, London: Janet Simon, 1978, p. 199. 15 R. Benewick, The Fascist Movement in Britain, London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1972, p. 204. 16 H. Pelling, The British Communist Party: A Historical Profile, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1975, p. 97. 17 A.J.P. Taylor, quoted in G.D. Anderson, Fascists, Communists and the National Government: Civil Liberties in Great Britain, 1931–37, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983, p. 45. 18 See N. Barrett, ‘A Bright Shining Star: The CPGB and Anti-Fascist Activism in the 1930s’, Science and Society, 1997, vol. 61, no. 1, 10–26. 19 See Jewish Chronicle, 3 July 1936. 20 See S. Gewirtz, ‘Anti-Fascist Activity in Manchester’s Jewish Community in the 1930s’, Manchester Region History Review, 1990, vol. 4, no. 1, 17–27. 21 See A. Bergen, Leeds Jewry, 1930–1939: The Challenge of Anti-Semitism, Leeds: Thoresby Society, 2000.

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22 TNA HO 144/21060/244, 245 and 248–9. 23 See Jewish Chronicle, 2 October 1936. 24 D. Cesarani in his contribution to P. Catterall (ed.), ‘Witness Seminar: The Battle of Cable Street’, Contemporary Record, 1994, vol. 8, no. 1, 124. 25 On the BUF in South Wales, see S. Cullen, ‘Another Nationalism: The British Union of Fascists in Glamorgan, 1932–40’, Welsh History Review, 1994, vol. 17, no. 1, 101–14. 26 See H. Francis, Miners Against Fascism, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1984, pp. 92–4. 27 See TNA HO 144/21060/141–44. 28 J. Hamm, Mosley’s Blackshirts: The Inside Story of the British Union of Fascists 1932–40, London: Black House Publishing, 1986, p. 35. 29 J. Charnley, Blackshirts and Roses, London: Brockingday, 1990, p. 72. However, there was no repetition of these events when Mosley returned to Hull in June 1937. 30 See S. Cullen, ‘Political Violence: The Case of the British Union of Fascists’, Journal of Contemporary History, 1993, vol. 28, 245–67. 31 D. Renton, Red Shirts and Black: Fascists and Anti-Fascists in Oxford in the 1930s, Oxford: Ruskin College Library Occasional Publication, 1996, no. 5, 38 and 42. 32 See G.C. Webber, ‘Patterns of Membership and Support for the British Union of Fascists’, Journal of Contemporary History, 1984, vol. 19, esp. 585–6. 33 Charnley, Blackshirts and Roses, p. 76. 34 The BUF became the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists, but shortened its title thereafter to the ‘British Union’. For the sake of convenience I will continue to refer to the BUF. 35 R. Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, London: Macmillan, 1981, p. 361. 36 G. Dimitrov, The United Front: The Struggle Against War and Fascism, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1938, p. 17. 37 Ibid., p. 45. 38 See K. Morgan, Against Fascism and War, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, pp. 33–55. 39 Comprising former members of the ILP who remained within the Labour Party following the ILP’s disaffiliation. 40 See Piratin, Our Flag Stays Red, pp. 17–8. 41 Ibid., p. 18. 42 See Gewirtz, ‘Anti-Fascist Activity in Manchester’s Jewish Community in the 1930s’, esp. 24–6. 43 See Jewish Chronicle, 19 June 1936. 44 On the defence debate, see D. Cesarani, The Jewish Chronicle and Anglo-Jewry 1841–1991, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 149–51; and D. Rosenberg, Facing up to Antisemitism: How Jews in Britain Countered the Threats of the 1930s, London: JCARP Publications, 1985, pp. 46–60. 45 See TNA MEPO 2/3043/253–61. 46 See Jewish Chronicle, 9 October 1936. 47 K. Newton, The Sociology of British Communism, London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1969, p. 21. 48 TNA HO 20147/32. Also see Benewick, The Fascist Movement in Britain, p. 221. 49 See C. Rosenberg, ‘The Labour Party and the Fight against Fascism’, International Socialism, 1988, vol. 2, no. 39, 55–93. 50 D.S. Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur: Mosley, Fascism and British Society, 1931–81, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987, p. 123. 51 B. Burke, Rebels with a Cause: The History of Hackney Trades Council, London: Hackney Trades Council and Hackney Workers Educational Association, 1975, p. 44. 52 F. Mullally, Fascism inside England, London: Claud Morris, 1946, p. 71. 53 See T.P. Linehan, East London for Mosley: The British Union of Fascists in East London and South-West Essex 1933–40, London: Frank Cass, 1996, p. 60. 54 TNA MEPO 2/3043/289–94.

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55 See Tilles, British Fascist Antisemitism and Jewish Responses, p. 128. 56 TNA MEPO 2/3043/276. 57 This had been formed in November 1934 at a conference of left-wing Jewish trade unionists who were committed to fighting fascism and anti-Semitism. 58 See Jewish Chronicle, 2 October 1936. 59 See conference resolutions in Jewish Chronicle, 31 July 1936. 60 See Jewish People’s Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism and the Board of Deputies, London: JPC, n.d.. 61 TNA HO 144/21060/314. 62 Smith, ‘Jewish Responses to Political Antisemitism and Fascism in the East End of London’, p. 64. 63 S. Sliver, ‘They Shall Not Pass’, Searchlight, January 2002, no. 319, 19. 64 TNA PRO HO 144/21060/316. 65 A. Harris in the foreword to A.C. Miles, Mosley in Motley, London: A.C. Miles, 1937. 66 See TNA MEPO 2/3043/289–94. 67 TNA HO 144/20143/258. 68 Lebzelter, Political Anti-Semitism in England, pp. 162–3. 69 See F. Renton, Jewish Defence Campaign: Speakers’ Handbook, London: Woburn Press, 1937, p. 9. 70 See Scaffardi, Fire Under the Carpet, p. 140. 71 See TNA HO 144/21060/307, 309 and 316. 72 Thurlow, The Secret State, p. 198. 73 Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, p. 238. 74 CPGB London District Committee, District Bulletin, 1 October 1936, no. 24. 75 Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, pp. 246–8. 76 See Catterall, ‘Witness Seminar: The Battle of Cable Street’, 112. 77 See Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, p. 249. 78 F. Brockway, Inside the Left, London: Allen and Unwin, 1942, p. 271. 79 Ibid., p. 271. 80 See ILP, THEY DID NOT PASS – 300,000 Workers Say NO to Mosley, 1936, pp. 5–6. 81 See TNA HO 144/21060/360 and 361. 82 Quoted in N. Branson, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain 1927–41, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1985, p. 163. 83 See Jewish Chronicle, 2 October 1936, emphasis in the original. 84 See contribution by C. Goodman in Catterall, ‘Witness Seminar: The Battle of Cable Street’, 118–20. 85 Rosenberg, ‘The Labour Party and the Fight against Fascism’, 62–3. 86 L. Susser, Fascist and Anti-Fascist Attitudes in Britain Between the Wars, University of Oxford, DPhil thesis, 1988, p. 302. 87 Piratin, Our Flag Stays Red, p. 23. 88 See TNA HO 144/21061/102–112. 89 See R. Bellamy, We Marched with Mosley: The Authorised History of the British Union of Fascists, London: Black House Publishing, 2013, p. 113. 90 N. Deakin, ‘The Vitality of a Tradition’, in C. Holmes (ed.), Immigrants and Minorities in British Society, London: Allen and Unwin, 1978, p. 167. 91 See contribution of Smith in Catterall, ‘Witness Seminar: The Battle of Cable Street’, 126. 92 Deakin, ‘The Vitality of a Tradition’, p. 167. 93 Piratin, Our Flag Stays Red, pp. 23–4. 94 C. Goodman in his contribution to Catterall, ‘Witness Seminar: The Battle of Cable Street’, 120. 95 See S. Rawnsley, ‘The Membership of the British Union of Fascists’, in K. Lunn and R. Thurlow (eds), British Fascism, London: Croom Helm, 1980, pp. 150–65. 96 See chapter 6 in The Battle of Cable Street, London, Cable Street Group, 1995.

Opposition to British fascism 1936–45 73

97 See J. Beckett, ‘Blackshirt Reply to Gutter & Ghetto’, Special Supplement to Action, 10 October 1936. 98 See D. Renton, ‘Docker and Garment Worker, Railwayman and Cabinet Maker: The Class Memory of Cable Street’, in T. Kushner and N. Valman (eds), Remembering Cable Street: Fascism and Anti-Fascism in British Society, London: Valentine Mitchell, 2000, pp. 95–108, at p. 106. 99 See Barrett, ‘A Bright Shining Star’, 10–26. 100 See D. Auty, The Trophy is Democracy: Merseyside, Anti-fascism and the Spanish Civil War, Liverpool: Hegemon Press, 2000, p. 15. 101 See TNA HO 144/21061/287. 102 See T. Gallagher, Edinburgh Divided, Edinburgh: Polygon, 1987, p. 109. 103 M. Gilfillan, ‘Jewish Responses to Fascism and Antisemitism in Edinburgh, 1933–45’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 2015, vol. 35, no. 2, 211–239. 104 See TNA MEPO 2/3043/253–61. 105 Beckett, ‘Blackshirt Reply to Gutter and Ghetto’. 106 R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918–1985, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, p. 111. 107 See Linehan, East London for Mosley, pp. 202–3. 108 W.F. Mandle, Anti-Semitism and the British Union of Fascists, London: Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd, 1968, p. 55. 109 Susser, Fascist and Anti-Fascist Attitudes in Britain Between the Wars, p. 303. 110 Anderson, Fascists, Communists and the National Government, p. 193. 111 Ibid., p. 193. 112 J. Hamm, Action Replay, London: Howard Baker, 1983, pp. 211–2. 113 See Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, pp. 262–3. 114 See TNA MEPO 2/3043/253–61. 115 Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, p. 263. 116 See TNA HO 144/21061/318. 117 Bellamy, We Marched with Mosley, p. 122. 118 See Thurlow, The Secret State, pp. 173–213. 119 See for instance Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur, pp. 145–80. 120 Ibid., p. 160. 121 Ibid., p. 160. 122 See Thurlow, The Secret State, esp. pp. 201–2; and Lebzelter, Political Anti-Semitism in England 1918–1939, esp. p. 130. 123 TNA CAB/24/249. 124 In a speech in the House of Commons in 1943. Quoted in M. Newman, ‘Democracy versus Dictatorship: Labour’s Role in the Struggle against British Fascism, 1933–1936’, History Workshop, 1978, no. 5, 67–88 (quotation at 73). 125 See J. Stevenson and C. Cook, Britain in the Depression: Society and Politics, 1929–1939, London: Longman, 1994, p. 231. 126 See M. Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts! Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, London: Jonathan Cape, 2005, p. 174. 127 Bellamy, We Marched with Mosley, p. 121 128 British Union: Constitution and Rules, 1938, p. 31. 129 See Linehan, East London for Mosley, pp. 10–13. 130 See G.C. Webber, ‘Patterns of Membership and Support for the British Union of Fascists’, Journal of Contemporary History, 1984, vol. 19, 575–606. The BUF’s membership for the period 1938–40 has been the subject of some debate. It is clear that support for Mosley in the East End fell, but this was offset by new recruits from the ‘respectable’ middle class in other areas of London. Webber argues that BUF membership reached 22,500 by the end of September 1939. 131 Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts!, p. 273. 132 See TNA HO 144/21086/69–70. 133 See TNA HO 144/21086/98.

74 Opposition to British fascism 1936–45

134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177

See TNA HO 144/21086/141–7. Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur, p. 127. See TNA HO 144/21086/141–7. Anderson, Fascists, Communists and the National Government, p. 196. See TNA HO 144/21086/167A and 203–11. See Action, 10 July 1937. London Labour Party circular re: Bermondsey, 20 September 1937. See Bermondsey Trades Council, BERMONDSEY says ‘NO’ to Fascism, 1937. See TNA HO 144/21087/69–78. See Branson, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain 1927–41, p. 169. The figure of 50,000 is suggested by Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur, p. 127. For the Special Branch estimate see TNA HO 144/21087/69–78. The Federation of Democrats appears to have originated from an amalgamation of the British Union of Democrats, the British Democratic Association and the Legion of Democrats. Anderson, Fascists, Communists and the National Government, p. 196. N. Todd, In Excited Times: The People Against the Blackshirts, Whitley Bay: Bewick Press, 1995, p. 111. See Action, 7 May 1938. See The Times, 2 May 1938. See TNA HO 144/21087/69–78. TNA HO 144/21281/6. This figure precedes the launch of Mosley’s anti-war policy in March 1938. Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur, p. 128. Bellamy, We Marched with Mosley, p. 150. See Barrett, ‘A Bright Shining Star’, 10–26. Daily Worker, 30 March 1938. See D. Turner, Fascism and Anti-fascism in the Medway Towns 1927–1940, Kent: Kent Anti-Fascist Action Committee, 1993, pp. 34–5. See L. Kibblewhite and A. Rigby, Fascism in Aberdeen – Street Politics in the 1930s, Aberdeen: Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978. Ibid., p. 27. Evening Dispatch (Edinburgh), 21 June 1937; and East End News, 24 June 1938. TNA MEPO 2/3043/71–2. See TNA MEPO 2/3043/59–61. Piratin, Our Flag Stays Red, p. 32. Ibid., p. 44. H.F. Srebrnik, London Jews and British Communism 1935–45, Ilford: Valentine Mitchell, 1995, p. 56. It blamed precarious finances, apathy and the growth of smaller anti-fascist groups for its demise. Board of Deputies (BD), C6/1/1/1, Report on conference between LAC and the JPC held on 26 April 1938. Tilles, British Fascist Antisemitism and Jewish Responses, p. 175. Ibid., pp. 157–86. BD, C6/1/1/1, JDC minutes, 13 January 1939. BD, C6/1/1/1, Vigilance Committees in Great Britain. A General Survey, 1936. BD, C6/1/1/1, Report on Outdoor Meetings of the London Area Council by I. Gellman, 1939. See TNA HO 144/21281/150–54. Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur, p. 138. Bellamy, We Marched with Mosley, pp. 146–7. Ibid., p. 180. See TNA HO 144/21281/142–46 and 150–54. Action, 2 September 1939.

Opposition to British fascism 1936–45 75

178 See News Chronicle, 6 November 1939. 179 L. Young, ‘Weapons of the Struggle’: The British Communist Press and Anti-fascism, 1928–1949, Teesside University, PhD thesis, 2015, p. 125. 180 K. Hodgson, Fighting Fascism: The British Left and the Rise of Fascism, 1919–39, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010, p. 181. 181 Communist Party membership temporarily fell from 18,000 in 1939 to 12,000 in June 1941. It revived with the entry of the Soviet Union into the war and subsequently peaked at 64,000 in September 1942. J. Callaghan, The Far Left in British Politics, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, p. 48. 182 See P. Gillman and L. Gillman, Collar the Lot! How Britain Interned and Expelled its Wartime Refugees, London: Quartet Books, 1980. 183 Tilles, British Fascist Antisemitism and Jewish Responses, p. 167. 184 See D. Hyde, I Believed, London: Reprint Society, 1950, p. 178. 185 See Branson, History of the Communist Party in Britain 1941–51, pp. 77–9. 186 Hyde, I Believed, p. 178. 187 See Stevenson and Cook, Britain in the Depression, pp. 154–55. On the East End, see H. Srebrnik, ‘The British Communist Party’s National Jewish Committee and the Fight against Anti-Semitism during the Second World War’, in T. Kushner and K. Lunn (eds), The Politics of Marginality, London: Frank Cass, 1990, pp. 82–96. 188 See E. Allen, It Shall Not Happen Here: Anti-Semitism, Fascists and Civil Liberty, London: Walthamstow Press, 1943, pp. 29–31. 189 See T. Kushner, The Persistence of Prejudice. Antisemitism in British Society during the Second World War, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, p. 182. 190 See Blackshirt, March 1939. 191 R. Skidelsky, ‘Reflections on Mosley and British Fascism’, in Lunn and Thurlow, British Fascism, p. 86. 192 Ibid., p. 87. 193 This was suggested to Harry Pollitt by Neville Laski following the ‘Battle of Cable Street’, see C. Holmes, ‘East End Anti-Semitism 1936’, Society for the Study of Labour History, 1976, vol. 32, 26–33. 194 See T. Linehan, ‘Space Matters: Spatialising British Fascism’, Socialist History, 2012, no. 41, 1–21.

3 ‘NEVER AGAIN!’ Anti-fascism 1946–66

I The human and material cost of the Second World War alongside revelations of the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities, ensured that in the post-war world, fascism was universally regarded as an evil obscenity, a doctrine of brutality, destruction and genocide. With animosity towards Nazi Germany and the heroic struggle against Hitler functioning as major sources of national loyalty and patriotic pride, anti-fascist attitudes now became central to constructions of British national identity.1 Significantly, the fusion of anti-fascism with national identity reinforced perceptions dating from the inter-war period that fascism was essentially an alien creed inimical to British culture and traditions. Whereas the British were ‘liberal’, ‘tolerant’ and ‘decent’, fascists were ‘foreign’ and ‘intolerant’, ‘fanatics’ who were intent on the physical extermination of Jewry. From this angle fascism was viewed as an abhorrent foreign ideology, wholly incapable of ever taking root in British society. The failure of Mosley in the 1930s offered further confirmation that fascism was indeed antithetical to British cultural values. It was therefore widely assumed that given these conditions, fascist activity in post-war Britain could be safely ignored. In short, fascism was a thoroughly shameful ‘foreign import’ – a futile effort destined for political failure. Not everyone, however, subscribed to the popular notion that the threat of fascism in Britain ceased to exist. One contemporary challenge came from the antifascist Fleet Street journalist Frederic Mullally, author of Fascism Inside England (1946).2 Although admitting that popular hostility to fascism made a resurgence of a movement operating under a distinct fascist label improbable, Mullally warned against complacency. The residual appeal of fascism, he contended, lay with various aspects of fascist doctrine, particularly with anti-Semitism and anti-socialism. Moreover, because an ‘important minority’ within British society was receptive to

‘Never again!’: anti-fascism 1946–66 77

these ideological concerns and thus sympathetic to fascism ‘without knowing it’, the danger was ‘in the emergence of a new political force preaching an out-andout fascist doctrine with a new label’.3 Mullally pointed to the existence of groups like the British League of Ex-Servicemen as examples of fascist or ‘crypto-fascist’ activity, but his real concern was the possible re-emergence of the British Union of Fascists under a new name, attracting a middle-class clientele disillusioned by the 1945 electoral defeat of the Conservative Party and uniting around militant nationalism. His underlying message, repeated by anti-fascists ever since, was that Britain did not possess intrinsic immunity to fascism. Therefore anti-fascists should be continually ‘on guard’ against the fascist menace and not bury their heads, to borrow Mullally’s words, ‘deep in the sands of complacency’.4 He was not alone. The possibility of a post-war fascist recovery was recognised even earlier by the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen (AJEX),5 which had taken immediate steps to counter the reappearance of outdoor fascist meetings in London in the autumn of 1945. Under the guidance of Major Lionel Rose, a team of 12–20 AJEX speakers held regular meetings at fascist pitches in Hyde Park, Bethnal Green and Dalston. Here they argued against both anti-Semitism and fascism, endeavouring to draw attention to the incipient activities of former members of the British Union of Fascists, who through ostensibly ‘non-fascist’ organisations such as Hamm’s British League of Ex-Servicemen, were now preparing ground for Mosley’s return. Working under the auspices of the Board of Deputies, AJEX assumed the role that it had undertaken in the 1930s. One notable difference was that it now openly attacked fascism. This line was endorsed by the BoD, which in response to the Holocaust, had irrevocably discarded its pre-war policy of isolating anti-Semitism from fascism. The place of AJEX at the very beginnings of the history of post-war anti-fascism has already been noted by Morris Beckman, who additionally pinpointed the first physical confrontation between fascists and anti-fascists after the war as taking place in November 1945 following AJEX’s occupation of the fascist pitch at Hereford Street in Bethnal Green.6 Besides heralding the return of fascist/anti-fascist violence to old battlegrounds of the East End, this episode also engendered disquiet within the Board of Deputies which viewed the re-emergence of physical confrontations between fascists and Jewish anti-fascists disapprovingly. The Board had one eye on events in Palestine where the British were contending with violent Jewish opposition to the Mandate. Although Zionist, the BoD’s leaders were moderates who feared that militant anti-fascism would provide anti-Semites with grist for the mill. Moreover, because of its position within the Establishment, the Board found itself unable to condone any illegal anti-fascist activity. It therefore urged caution and impressed on AJEX the need to keep within the strict letter of the law. Not surprisingly, the Board’s insistence on Jewish restraint gave rise to hostility and frustration from those Jewish ex-servicemen who, outraged by Nazi genocide, felt that maximum disruption of fascist activities through physical means was the only effective way of ensuring that fascist atrocities never happened again. The message from the Board was ‘don’t make waves’, but as Beckman recalled, British

78 ‘Never again!’: anti-fascism 1946–66

Jewry, ‘especially the ex-servicemen amongst them, were of a different metal to the community of the pre-war days. The keep-your-head-down and get-indoorsquickly mentality had gone for good’.7 Once again, the emotive issue of fascism brought divisions to Anglo-Jewry and in a throwback to the 1930s, Jewish militants resumed their attacks on the Jewish communal leadership for its perceived failure to resist fascist provocation on the streets where, by the beginning of 1946, a host of fascist groups were now operating, primarily in London. Following a spontaneous assault by four Jewish anti-fascists on a British League of Ex-Servicemen platform at Hampstead Heath in London in February 1946, a meeting was convened at Maccabi House, a Jewish community centre in West Hampstead. A radical anti-fascist organisation was formed, independent of the Board of Deputies, that was prepared meet the fascists head-on. This organisation, an offshoot of AJEX, was subsequently named the ‘43 Group’, so-called after the number of people who attended the founding meeting. It styled itself ‘non-political’, that is exclusively anti-fascist with no political affiliation. Morris Beckman,8 a founder member of the 43 Group, stressed that the Group had tunnel vision as far as defeating the fascists was concerned and accordingly there were ‘no politics’ within it.9 The priority was defending the Jewish community against fascism, but a CPGB cell did operate beneath the surface. Far from threatening the dynamism of the 43 Group, it actually endeavoured to provide a lead. This cell was organised by a close associate of Harry Pollitt, Len Rolnick.10 From its inception, the 43 Group proposed to destroy fascism by overwhelming the newly emerging fascist groups with hard physical opposition. The primary objective was to ‘out-violence’ the fascists and thereby deliver a knockout blow to fascism’s post-war revival. Although clearly located within the militant tradition of anti-fascism, this faith in physical confrontation was not all-consuming as additional aims were also professed. For instance, the 43 Group looked to exert pressure on the Government to introduce legislation making incitement to racial hatred illegal.11 From the outset the 43 Group declared a willingness to co-operate with other bodies combating fascism and anti-Semitism, and indeed, the 43 Group’s first action was a joint operation with Communists. This involved disruption of a fascist rally held at the Royal Albert Hall in March 1946 by the Britons’ Vigilantes’ Action League led by former BUF activist John Preen. Only 150–200 people attended the rally to hear Preen speak but opponent numbers doubled the crowd. After just 30 minutes the meeting was closed when anti-fascists stormed the platform. Piratin asked questions in the House of Commons, but the Labour Home Secretary, James Chuter Ede, replied that it made more sense to ‘leave these people to the sense of humour of the British people’. Directing his question to Chuter Ede, one Labour MP quipped, ‘[i]s my right hon. Friend aware that his debunking effort this afternoon is one of the best ways of dealing with everyone who tries to over preen his own feathers?’12 The League failed to recover from this inauspicious start and quickly fell into obscurity. By the end of April 1946 the 43 Group had reportedly enlisted 500 members (one ‘43-er’ was the 17-year-old Vidal Sassoon). Not surprisingly, considering the

‘Never again!’: anti-fascism 1946–66 79

group’s roots, these new recruits were overwhelmingly Jewish – just five were non-Jews.13 As the 43 Group drew in more activists, attention focused on organisational development whereupon the wartime experience of ex-servicemen was used to structure the group along quasi-military lines. At the apex was a controlling committee, later to become a national executive committee, headed by a joint chairmanship of Gerry Flamberg, a former paratrooper who had served in Arnhem, and Geoffrey Bernerd. Flamberg took responsibility for ‘field operations’ and led a strong-arm force of some 300 ex-servicemen, divided by area into a number of London units. Tactically, the 43 Group looked to force the closure of fascist meetings through maximum physical disruption. The key was to turn over the fascist platform; if this was not possible because of the number of stewards or police, then it was anticipated that fighting amongst the audience should be sufficient to close meetings. In turn, these field operations were co-ordinated through a headquarters established in Bayswater Road in central London which was separated into a number of departments, the largest being Security and Intelligence. This monitored fascist activity, maintained a network of ‘Aryan-looking’ infiltrators that included women, and supplied information to front-line ‘commando teams’. Financially, the group was supported from within the Jewish community. Key financial sponsors included businessmen Maurice Essex and Jack Perry, CPGB members who were both connected to the Board through their membership of the Trades Advisory Council.14 By mid-1947 the 43 Group was working with a budget of £30,000,15 but there are suggestions that group funds were misappropriated. One former activist recollects: We who began the movement were genuine with good intentions, but it finished up as a business, a lousy business. Though rich and influential Jews were supporting us with funds, we never got our expenses. The money that was coming into the coffers was not accounted for.16 According to Beckman, by mid-1946 Jewish militants were attacking between six and ten fascist meetings per week in London, with two-thirds of these brought to a premature conclusion. At the same time other group members concentrated on preventing the dissemination of fascist literature by intimidating fascist newsvendors (and in due course, raiding fascist bookshops).17 Although Beckman claims that the 43 Group was successful in stopping the resurrection of early post-war fascism – ‘Our relentless non-stop attacks, where we deliberately out-violenced them, is what really beat them’18 – in the short term its combative activities possibly added fuel to the fire, bringing about radicalisation in the fascist ranks. Beckman himself noted that during the autumn of 1946 fascist meetings were not being tamed; quite the contrary, they were becoming ‘more overtly pro-Mosley, anti-democratic and anti-Semitic’.19 What is clear is that violent disruption by the 43 Group did not put an instant end to the fascist street presence. That said, the violence occasioned by the 43 Group’s tactics did attract negative press publicity for British fascism. Frederic Mullally was one of the first journalists to draw attention to the activities of the British League of Ex-Servicemen, having sounded the alarm from the pages of the

80 ‘Never again!’: anti-fascism 1946–66

Sunday Pictorial (readership c. 5 million) in October 1946 in an article entitled the ‘New Fascist Menace’. As the 43 Group initiated its physical response to fascism, other bodies pursued an alternative route whereby attempts were made to use institutional channels in order to try to convince the Labour Government of the need to legislate against fascism. The main groups first involved in organising more formal protest were the NCCL, the Haldane Society (an organisation of socialist lawyers), and the Legal and Judicial Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The leading figure in this campaign was the left-wing lawyer D.N. Pritt MP, an active member of the NCCL and formerly associated with the Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities in the 1930s. In a call to build pressure, Pritt addressed a large meeting held under the auspices of the NCCL at Kingsway Hall in London in March 1946, having already drafted a Bill in 1943 intended to outlaw fascist activities which was subsequently adopted by the Haldane Society and the Legal and Judicial Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party as the basis for legislation.20 However, despite attracting support for a ban from many trade unions and trades councils, the response of the new Labour Government was that legislation against fascism was impractical because fascism was too hard to define and organisations would simply alter their programme so as to fall outside the scope of definition. As in the 1930s there was also concern that such legislation threatened freedom of speech. The Labour Government felt that it already possessed significant power to combat fascism through the Public Order Act and that in any case, quite rightly, it believed that the threat of fascism was exaggerated. In April 1946, despite early indications that the new Government was considering legislation to deal with fascism, a Cabinet Committee on fascism decided that new legislation was neither desirable nor necessary: The Government have very full information about fascist and potentially fascist movements in this country: and they have reviewed this information with care. These movements are small, disunited, ineffective. They should be watched, and they will be watched with utmost vigilance; but they should also be seen clearly as what they are – discredited remnants of a movement which, even when it enjoyed the prestige of foreign success, was a dismal failure in this country and of which present-day manifestations are sometimes more ridiculous than dangerous.21 There were attempts both by backbench Labour MPs, such as Ashley Brammall, and ordinary Labour Party members to change this policy and over the period 1947–9, a number of Labour Party branches did call on Chuter Ede to impose a ban on fascism. Yet this was all to no avail. For its detractors, the Labour Government had gone ‘soft’ on fascism; for Chuter Ede, the scale of the fascist threat never warranted additional measures. In defence of the Home Secretary, fascism was obviously now discredited and disgraced; that it could ever win the support of more than the smallest minority of British society seemed highly improbable.

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II Seeking advantage from both the volatile situation in Palestine and from austere domestic economic conditions, fascist activity increased significantly in 1947. This activity peaked in mid-1947, following the murder in Palestine of two British soldiers by Jewish terrorists at the end of July. This provided the spark for anti-Semitic rioting in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow.22 Official sources confirm that these riots were not the work of organised fascists, although fascist groups certainly looked to capitalise on this popular outburst of anti-Semitic feeling. Fascist agitation was not directed towards those areas that witnessed the worst anti-Jewish violence, but towards London, in particular Ridley Road, Dalston, in the district of Hackney on the north-eastern surrounds of the East End. Here, the British League of ExServicemen held regular outdoor meetings during 1947. Audiences grew steadily from 300 or so in April to nearly 3,000 by early October, with Ridley Road soon achieving notoriety for almost weekly ‘riots’ between fascists and their opponents. Other main pitches used by the British League of Ex-Servicemen in London included Hereford Street in Bethnal Green, Gore Road in Victoria Park and Rushcroft Road in Brixton. Elsewhere in London, the Union for British Freedom, led by former BUF member Victor Burgess, held regular meetings at Trebovir Road, Earl’s Court, and Pembridge Villas in Notting Hill. Linked to this organisation was John Webster’s British Workers’ Party for National Unity which was a provincial ‘limb’ of the Union for British Freedom based in Bristol. This held meetings at Durdham Downs, attracting audiences which at times numbered over 1,000 people.23 The upsurge in fascist activities in 1947 prompted the Communist Party, the first organisation to recognise the menace of fascism in the inter-war period and widely seen as the most determined opponent, to publish a pamphlet, The Fascist Threat to Britain, authored by future eminent historian E.P. Thompson. The CPGB’s militant tradition of fighting fascism was invoked by Thompson but, in actual fact, this statement of policy marks the end of the gradual evolution of the CPGB’s antifascism away from radical action. Rather than calling for barricades in the streets, the CPGB’s anti-fascist strategy was confined entirely to an appeal for a state ban on fascism. It seems likely that the decisive action taken by the state against domestic fascism during the war had left no doubt within the CPGB leadership that a nonconfrontational policy towards fascism was the most appropriate, but this cautious post-war policy should also be read in terms of the Communist Party’s pre-Cold War strategy of enthusiastically supporting the Labour Government and bidding for influence within the moderate labour movement. This overarching objective meant that CPGB leaders officially discouraged any anti-fascist activity likely to give the Communist Party a bad name. By demanding a state ban on fascism, the Communist Party’s anti-fascist policy in 1947 was thus far removed from the its ultra-left analysis of the early to mid-1930s when fascism had, of course, been synonymous with the capitalist state. For anti-fascist activists on the radical left, the recommendations of CPGB leaders – the CPGB had 45,000 members in 1945 – must have made for depressing reading.

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In communications from the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department, dated 7 August 1947, CPGB speakers were instructed to demand a government ban on fascist meetings, publications and organisations, imprisonment for those inciting racial hatred and, perhaps most revealingly, ‘police action to maintain order and democracy’.24 There was no call for militant direct action; if fascists came into a locality all that the ‘radical’ CPGB suggested was organising a local petition of protest to the Home Secretary, urging the local Borough Council, trade union or democratic political organisation to send a resolution to the Prime Minister, and writing personally and in groups to the local MP to press for the matter to be taken up in the House of Commons.25 However, as in the 1930s, the official line of the CPGB was disregarded by many of its rank and file. This is clear by the involvement of local Communists in street clashes between fascists and anti-fascists recorded in a 1947 survey by Lionel Rose. This identifies Communist opposition on a number of occasions at Ridley Road, Hereford Street, and also at Rushcroft Road in Brixton.26 At first, the CPGB deemed the forced closure of fascist meetings to be ‘quite a healthy thing’ but as the size of fascist meetings and associated policing increased during 1947, the party felt that participation of militant workers in disturbances had damaged the CPGB’s public standing. It was felt that involvement of Communists in street confrontations, particularly at Ridley Road, had allowed the Government ‘to present to the public a picture of two rival factions – Fascists and Communists – both of which were a danger to the public peace’.27 Accordingly, CPGB leaders proceeded to distance themselves from the Communist cell inside the 43 Group. Len Rolnick recalled that Pollitt asked him to resign from the party because the 43 Group’s tactics were deemed too aggressive. Pollitt did not want the party embarrassed by public disclosure of Jewish Communists arrested as a result of street confrontations with fascists.28 An alternative reading of what lay behind grassroots Communist involvement in fascist/anti-fascist disturbances in East London during 1947 proposes that the key motivating factor for the Communist Party was electoral interest rather than deeprooted opposition to fascism. Rebecca West maintained that the disturbances between fascists and anti-fascists in the streets of Dalston and Bethnal Green were ‘highly artificial’, being ‘cooked up’ in order to catch either Jewish or anti-Jewish votes at a possible by-election. This claim rests on the case of David Weitzman, Jewish MP for the Stoke Newington constituency who in 1947 faced prosecution for black market offences. Had Weitzman been convicted, a by-election would have resulted in his constituency, immediately north of Hackney. In the event, Weitzman was convicted but was later acquitted on appeal. No by-election was held, and according to West, local Communists eventually lost interest.29 There may, of course, be some element of truth in this account: a militant stance against fascism would certainly attract support from those who felt betrayed by the Labour Government’s apparent passivity, yet this neglects the wider perspective. As in the 1930s, the CPGB realised that Communist involvement in disorder would merely isolate the Communist Party from the moderate labour movement and was therefore keen to prevent violent disturbances. Moreover, West’s account also fails to

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appreciate the prominent role of the 43 Group which had no apparent interest in fighting by-elections, though presumably it did have an interest in ensuring the victory of a non-fascist candidate.30 In place of militant action, the leadership of the Communist Party advocated the organisation of popular front pressure on a non-party basis. The aim behind this strategy was to unite all shades of democratic opinion into a powerful anti-fascist lobby that would press for existing laws to be strengthened in order to prevent the growth of fascism. The plan was to join forces with the NCCL and encourage the NCCL to draw in the support of democratic bodies at local levels. In Hackney, for instance, the CPGB alongside the local Labour, Conservative and Liberal Parties, Hackney Trades Council, various trade unions and the North London Jewish Defence Committee, sent delegate representatives to a meeting held by the NCCL at Hackney Town Hall on 19 June 1947. At this delegate meeting it was decided to form a local Area Committee of the NCCL in order to plan a campaign against fascism and anti-Semitism.31 This committee represented some 25 organisations, and under its auspices, the CPGB circulated a petition calling for the Mayor of Hackney to convene a Town meeting. This followed in September 1947, whereupon it was proposed that an all-party deputation be sent to the Home Secretary with a petition calling for legislation to ban fascist activities and to make incitement to racial hatred illegal. A deputation was received by the Home Secretary in November 1947 when Chuter Ede was presented with a petition signed by 8,000 people, of whom at least 6,300 were Hackney residents.32 This deputation informed the Home Secretary of escalating fascist provocation. Chuter Ede again refused to act. Pritt has argued that there were two reasons for this passive response. The first was the Labour Government’s anti-communism which made it lukewarm to any legislation that was openly supported by the Communist Party. The Labour Government was stridently anti-communist, a feature reinforced by the onset of the Cold War, but the fact that the CPGB advocated a state ban on fascism was incidental to Labour’s decision not to pass legislation against fascism. Instead, the Labour Government’s apparent ‘inertia’ can be readily explained by continuity of state policy. Thus Chuter Ede was merely following Home Office guidelines set in the 1930s when the Public Order Act was deemed to have ‘done the trick’ in circumstances much more conducive to fascism. If existing legislation had proven sufficient in the 1930s, then there was surely no need to further restrict civil liberties when public opinion had become so resolutely opposed to fascism.33 Second, Pritt identified a pro-fascist bias in the Home Office and painted a picture of Chuter Ede blindly following the advice of ‘reactionary’ Home Office civil servants with Chuter Ede thereby giving his blessing to police action that ‘favoured’ and ‘protected’ fascists.34 In a rerun of the 1930s, anti-fascists once again claimed that police showed favouritism towards the fascist side. David Renton calculated that between April and October 1947 the police were almost three times more likely to arrest antifascists as they were to arrest fascists. The police were also frequently charged with deliberately keeping fascist meetings open even when a clear majority in the

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audience were anti-fascist and wanted the meeting closed.35 However, two points need to be considered here. The first is that the tactics of anti-fascists were aggressive and intentionally put fascists on the defensive. The second is that under the terms of the Public Order Act the police had sole responsibility for stewarding outdoor meetings (fascists were no longer responsible for their own self-defence). This meant that it was the responsibility of the police to ensure that public meetings were protected. Given these circumstances, is it not unsurprising that the police arrested more anti-fascists than fascists? As Graham Macklin has suggested, ‘there is little evidence of sustained, active collusion between the police and the fascists’, but this does not mean to say that both did not harbour ‘a set of shared attitudes, assumptions and prejudices’ which still challenges the ‘dominant liberal interpretation of the Metropolitan police as an impartial barrier keeping an “unbiased watch” between the political extremes’.36 With the police so apparently one-sided, the belief that the state was peppered with pro-fascist sympathisers was strengthened in militant circles and this underlined the need for a radical ‘fighting policy’. Thus, the Communist Party, which appeared content to restrict itself to petitions against fascism, drew criticism from other leftist organisations. One group that disagreed with the CPGB’s position was the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).37 The RCP, which at the time had around 600 members,38 appealed to the CPGB for a militant united front against the fascists but like the Labour Party’s response to the CPGB in the 1930s, calls for united action were rejected. Ted Grant of the RCP complained: Our appeals went unheeded […] Instead of rallying to Ridley Road, as the Trotskyists did, the leaders of the Communist Party discouraged their members from gathering there and thus fell into the camp of the petty bourgeois moralists and reformists who said ‘ignore them’. Grant additionally noted that the official line of the CPGB was held in contempt by many in the CPGB’s rank and file: Despite the cowardly policy of the leadership, many rank and file members of the CP and YCL continued to rally at Ridley Road together with members of the Revolutionary Communist Party and other organisations in a united front of protest.39 Akin to the ultra-left analysis of the Communist Party in the 1930s, the RCP insisted that the main task of the labour movement was to educate the workers in the class nature of fascism and that a working-class united front had to be constructed if workers were to be effectively mobilised against fascism. It also advocated the formation of a Workers’ Defence Corps to defend working-class meetings as well as Jewish and other minorities from fascist provocation. The parallels with the Communist Party’s anti-fascist policy in the inter-war period are obvious. Curiously, even though the RCP had attacked the post-war Communist Party for its

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‘reformism’, the RCP also demanded state action against fascism. According to Grant, this could be effective if it was ‘backed by determined organised activity on the part of the workers’ even if, quite correctly, historical experience ‘has shown us that it is not possible to legislate fascism out of existence’.40 Disagreements over anti-fascist strategy went further than the CPGB–RCP divide, with some groups and individuals favouring a strategy of open debate with fascists. For instance, the Commonwealth, a predominantly middle-class left-wing group formed in 1942, staged a debate with the British Workers’ Party for National Unity in Bristol in July 1947, only to have its motion, ‘that there is no case for discrimination against the Jewish race’ defeated.41 The following month, Frederic Mullally challenged the British League of Ex-Servicemen to a debate at Ridley Road but was physically assaulted by a group of fascists before being rescued by the 43 Group and spirited to safety.42 If taken as a guide to the effectiveness of this particular policy, these incidents do provide an abject lesson on how not to defeat fascists. As one fascist renegade stressed, debating with fascists merely gave them an ‘air of respectability’.43 The idea of debating with fascists on fascist platforms was anathema to the 43 Group. As one former activist so eloquently puts it: ‘We didn’t ask questions. We just moved into a thing, turned over the platform, gave a few Blackshirts a beating and kicked them up the arse.’44 By adopting this forceful approach, the 43 Group had succeeded in establishing itself as a leading player in the anti-fascist street opposition by mid-1947. A clear indication of the 43 Group’s growing status was the successful launch of its own anti-fascist monthly, On Guard in July 1947. According to Beckman, this served to reinforce the identity of the group by providing an ‘overall picture of what they were part of’.45 Yet it is noticeable that the paper never conveyed the reasons for the 43 Group’s policy of militant anti-fascism. This was highlighted in an editorial from the final issue of On Guard published in December 1949, when the paper was heavily criticised for not assuming responsibility for presenting the 43 Group’s case to the Jewish community.46 Rather than acting as the mouthpiece for radical Jewish anti-fascism, On Guard assumed a moderate, non-sectarian identity which was both educative and campaigning. The function of On Guard was to raise anti-fascist consciousness and unite all sections of the public against the menace of fascism. On the educative side, On Guard sought to expose fascism at home and abroad; on the campaigning side, it looked to bring about a state ban on fascism. In its first issue it declared that its ‘ultimate aim’ was the criminalisation of all fascist and pro-fascist activity, ‘to ensure that those things that happened in Germany will never, can never happen here’.47 To this end, it claimed the support of figures such as D.N. Pritt, Frederic Mullally, Labour MP Tom Driberg,48 the Dean of Canterbury, and left-wing actress Dame Sybil Thorndike. Production of the paper was the responsibility of a team grouped around Bernerd; it also appears to have included Douglas Hyde, news editor of the Daily Worker.49 As early as its third issue, On Guard boasted a ‘ready sale’ despite the post-war shortage of newsprint and the activities of fascist antagonists who were said to be pressing newsagents and bookshops not to sell the

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paper. One solution to this obstruction was found in street sales, although by September 1947, On Guard was claiming that due to public demand newsagents were beginning to stock the paper.50 Sales may have been in the order of 5,000 per issue, though the paper itself complained that due to a limited paper quota, demand exceeded supply ‘for at least twice the permitted number of copies’.51 The successful launch of On Guard convinced the Board of Deputies that the 43 Group had assumed a lasting presence. It was becoming increasingly clear that in terms of combating fascism and anti-Semitism, the 43 Group had set itself up as a credible alternative to both the Jewish Defence Committee and AJEX. Indeed by mid-1947, Beckman calculates that the 43 Group was bringing just over two-thirds of fascist meetings to a premature conclusion.52 However, these figures have to be treated with some caution. The police presence at fascist meetings grew considerably over the period April to October 1947. At Ridley Road, for instance, on 27 April only eight policemen were present at a British League of Ex-Servicemen meeting. By 7 September, this number had increased to over 300 policemen. Elsewhere, at Hereford Street in Bethnal Green, on 8 June, 20 constables and a number of senior officers were in attendance; by 17 August there were 40–50 constables plus senior officers as well. Given the increasing numbers of police it is doubtful whether the 43 Group could possibly have closed down so many meetings. Of the 22 fascist meetings held at Ridley Road between 27 April and 26 October 1947, disorder ensued at around 50 per cent of meetings, with opposition forcing the police to bring seven meetings to an early close. At Hereford Street, Bethnal Green, of the 22 meetings held between 30 March and 26 October 1947, only two meetings were closed by police.53 These figures suggest that Beckman’s calculations are somewhat exaggerated (Beckman conceded that no records of operations were kept by the 43 Group).54 Nonetheless, the 43 Group was clearly having some effect: fascists increased their attacks on anti-fascists. Three armed fascists attempted to raid the 43 Group offices; Preen concocted a story that Flamberg and On Guard photographer John Wimborne had attempted to murder him.55 Even if its efficacy may have been somewhat overstated, the 43 Group’s emerging presence against a backdrop of increasing conflict between fascists and anti-fascists, especially at Ridley Road, prompted the Board of Deputies to instruct the Jewish Defence Committee, chaired by Louis Hydleman, to call the 43 Group to order. The Board accused the 43 Group of tactical naiveté, declaring that militant antifascism was counterproductive, only serving to reward fascism with unnecessary publicity and new recruits. In this way, the 43 Group was hindering defence work and was thus doing the Jewish community a disservice. Attempting to put the brakes on anti-fascist militancy, the Board tried to submerge the 43 Group into the JDC. A verbal agreement was said to have been reached between the JDC and the 43 Group as early as July 1947, where it was agreed inter alia to bring the 43 Group into the Jewish Defence Committee and provide it with a say in the formulation of official defence policy and planning.56 A meeting took place at the Trocadero restaurant in London’s Coventry Street in early September 1947, where it was agreed ‘in principle that there should be unity’.57 Although hostile to the anti-fascist

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policy of the Board, the 43 Group hoped to turn the JDC into a more activistoriented defence body. The negotiations broke down, however, with the major sticking point being the 43 Group’s insistence that it should be given a major voice in defence policy.58 Understandably, the 43 Group rejected the offer of a ‘merger’, fearing that it would be subsumed by the JDC and that in the absence of sufficient representation, the ‘reactionaries’ on the Board would put an immediate end to the 43 Group’s radical policy. Although the Board of Deputies was attacked within the Jewish community for its appeasement of fascism, its policy was not, as its critics alleged, a woeful case of do-nothingness. That the Board eschewed physical confrontation with fascists certainly should not be taken as a contemptible failure to act. By this time the BoD had developed both short-term and long-term anti-fascist strategies predicated on countering ignorance through educative work. This was the underlying rationale for the open-air platforms that provided the major focus of the Board’s short-term policy. AJEX held as many as 138 meetings in 1947 with anti-fascist leaflets such as This is Your Enemy, Look What’s Crawling Out and Fascism Again in 1947 widely distributed. In a letter to the Jewish Chronicle, published on 8 August 1947, Lionel Rose maintained that AJEX had held particularly successful meetings in Hyde Park, where predominantly non-Jewish audiences had ‘at times’ numbered over 1,000 people, and at Durdham Downs in Bristol where local fascist activity by the British Workers’ Party for National Unity had been exposed by an AJEX speaker to an audience numbering over 4,000 people.59 Needless to say, for certain members of the 43 Group, the work of AJEX was seen as a ‘complete waste of time’.60 Critics claimed that AJEX would often hold meetings in areas where they were guaranteed a predominantly Jewish audience and thus preached to the converted. Unintentionally, the Achilles heel in AJEX’s approach was identified in an official JDC newsletter when it was declared ‘easier’ to beat the fascists on their own ground when there was an ‘intelligent audience’.61 The implication: when the audience comprised ‘ignorant fascists’, the ability of the speaker to win them over necessarily diminished. As for the Board’s long-term plan of campaign, this was also underpinned by education with the Board’s Central Lecture Committee assuming a key role. Its function was to counter ignorance and prejudice by presenting factual information about Jewry and Judaism to non-Jews through a series of lectures given to various organisations, from Rotary Clubs to women’s guilds. It also sought to impress on educational authorities the importance of teaching children mutual understanding and goodwill.62 A further aspect to the Board’s anti-fascist work, frequently overlooked by its detractors, was high-level deputations to the Home Secretary. These deputations detailed fascist activities and also supplied reports from observers that police were generally misadministering the Public Order Act at fascist meetings. The main complaint, additionally taken up by Pritt at the instigation of the South Kensington Labour Party, was that police were frequently taking the names and addresses of anti-fascist hecklers and giving them to the chairman of the fascist meeting. This practice allowed fascists to draw up a list of opponents who could then be assaulted at a later date, thus deterring all but the most committed of

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hecklers. It appears that the Board may have registered some success here as clearer directives were subsequently issued to police and observers recorded a distinct improvement. The Board also campaigned against the letting of municipal halls to fascists, but this was partly frustrated by the London County Council’s decision, in the interests of freedom of speech, to allow schools to be used for private fascist meetings. Evidently, although the effects of the Board’s anti-fascist policy do appear patchy, it is clear from this summary that it was not inactive and the Board’s work did cover a wide canvas. Nevertheless, because it was not geared towards rousing the Jewish community into direct action, Jewish radicals continued to criticise it.

III The criticism further hardened when towards the end of 1947, new demands were placed on those engaged in the anti-fascist opposition. Mosley’s decision to stage a political comeback, announced in November 1947, marked a turning point in the anti-fascist struggle. His return to political activity, which was given organisational shape in February 1948 when the Union Movement was formally launched, raised the ante with anti-fascists fully expecting that Mosley’s return would inject new impetus into British fascism. Mosley, ‘The Leader’, was clearly of different stature to small-time demagogues such as Hamm, Burgess and Preen, and could inspire fanatical devotion in his followers.63 Moreover, the formation of the Union Movement brought a new unity to British fascism which now coalesced in one organisation.64 For those who had digested Mosley’s recent work, The Alternative (1947), it was clear that Mosley was determined not to repeat the BUF’s fascist policy and may well try to outwardly distance himself from fascism. Indeed, in a bid to make the Union Movement respectable, he made repeated pledges to democracy and adopted a political programme that replaced narrow-based ultra-nationalism with a new type of ‘Europeanism’.65 At the outset, the Union Movement directed its energies towards areas that had already been subjected to post-war fascist activity. The launchpad in 1948 was intended to be a May Day rally from Dalston in Hackney through Highbury Corner to Camden Town in North London. However, the Home Secretary thwarted this plan. The state continued to monitor Mosley closely and a Special Branch investigation had concluded that violence in the East End was highly probable. This had been relayed to Chuter Ede who resorted to the Public Order Act in order to impose a three-month ban on all political processions through East London. There had also been widespread opposition to Mosley’s planned march from within the borough, with local Labour Party leaders and the municipal authorities requesting that Chuter Ede take measures to prevent Mosley from speaking. In the event, Mosley was still permitted to stage a meeting in Dalston but his supporters would have to make their way individually to Highbury Corner from where they could parade to Camden Town. Some 3,000 anti-fascists gathered to oppose Mosley with the Communist Party playing a leading part in mobilising this opposition,

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‘circulating thousands of leaflets and doing loud speaker work in the back streets’. The willingness of the Communist Party to organise this demonstration appears to have been dependent on a show of popular opposition and the CPGB was later pleased to report a ‘wide anti-Fascist action involving trade unionists, Labour people, Commonwealth and liberals as well as Communists’.66 An estimated 1,500 fascists marched to Camden Town.67 There were 32 arrests, the majority of whom were anti-fascists, including some 14 members of the 43 Group.68 Beckman’s account of this day concludes that it was a washout for the Union Movement, but the failure of the May Day rally resulted less from the activities of militant anti-fascists who were prevented from mounting a Cable Street-type operation by a heavy police presence, and more from other factors, namely, the appearance and oratorical non-performance of Mosley who now ‘resembled nothing more than a middle-aged weary civilian, puffy of cheek and eye with a drooping shoulder […] the charismatic orations that once inflamed his supporters into ecstasies of loyalty had gone’.69 New recruits were quickly disillusioned by Mosley’s uninspired display and, predictably, his Europeanist ideas failed to strike a responsive chord from the dyed-in-the-wool nationalists who formed much of the Union Movement’s early following. Three days later, the Home Office imposed a ban on political processions in the Metropolitan area. This lasted for ten months and forced the Union Movement to re-think its strategy. With the Union Movement denied the opportunity to hold formal parades in London, attempts were made to establish a Union Movement presence in various provincial centres such as Brighton, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle, but the impact was negligible. Of these, Brighton was probably the main centre of provincial fascist activity having been deliberately targeted due to its close proximity to London where the core of the Union Movement’s membership was based. The decision by the Union Movement to stage a recruitment drive in Brighton triggered the formation of a local opposition group comprising Jewish ex-servicemen. The key figure in this local anti-fascist opposition was Major David Spector of AJEX and the JDC who, objecting to the Board’s policy of nonconfrontation, now gravitated towards the 43 Group. Operating alongside 43 Group activists from London, local Jewish ex-servicemen attacked a Union Movement march in Brighton in June 1948. Fierce fighting resulted, with the Union Movement’s keynote speaker, Jeffrey Hamm, hospitalised. The aggressive nature of the anti-fascist offensive in Brighton, masterminded by Spector, appears to have been the decisive factor in ending the local fascist presence.70 In Manchester, fascist activity was also countered by local Jewish ex-servicemen. In March 1948 anti-fascists from the Manchester Union of Jewish Ex-Servicemen (MUJEX) formed part of a contingent that showered a fascist loudspeaker van with bricks, resulting in injuries to the van’s crew.71 MUJEX claimed the support of over 1,000 members and although it was supported financially by the JDC, it was independent of AJEX and developed close relations with the 43 Group. In May 1948 MUJEX was represented at the 43 Group’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).72 Jewish ex-servicemen in Manchester also co-operated with local Communist Party

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activists who, despite official policy, still aspired to break up fascist meetings ‘at all costs’.73 Similarly in Leeds, the Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Association worked closely with local Communists. This Association had some 800 members, of whom 20 were CPGB members. One Communist Party member sat on the Association’s Executive Committee and used this position to propose that both organisations work together in order to prevent fascist meetings from taking place in the Leeds district. On 21 April 1948, around 100 Communists plus a similar number of Jewish ex-servicemen gathered at an outdoor fascist meeting in Leeds and this show of force led local fascists to quickly abandon their meeting.74 The Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Leeds additionally established contacts with the 43 Group and attended the 43 Group’s AGM in 1948. Also present at this AGM were Jewish ex-servicemen from Tyneside, where a local branch of the 43 Group was formed under the leadership of Geoff Rossman, an anti-fascist activist from the 1930s. This was said to have had a waiting list of over 200 people ready to engage in anti-fascist activity.75 The return of Mosley, the launch of the Union Movement and the links that the 43 Group were establishing with Jewish ex-servicemen in provincial centres such as Brighton, Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds presented militant anti-fascism with fresh momentum during 1948. The prospect of a radical Jewish anti-fascist front was now being discussed.76 By this stage, local residents would also frequently petition the 43 Group ‘to come to their district and drive the Fascists out’ in areas where fascists were holding meetings.77 These developments heightened perceptions within the Board that the JDC was being outdistanced by the 43 Group, a view reinforced by the 43 Group’s decision to hold joint open-air meetings with the newly formed National Anti-Fascist League (NAFL). Despite its name, this was not a national organisation as such, but essentially a small band of fascist renegades grouped around the former branch organiser of the Union Movement in Birmingham, Michael McLean.78 Formed in July 1948 it was a non-party and non-sectarian organisation whose aim was to ‘sincerely fight the bestiality of Fascism’ by speaking to the general public through organised meetings. With a view to securing invitations to speak, it distributed ‘underground propaganda’ in left-wing organisations, the mainstream political parties and Catholic bodies (the majority of the League’s members being Catholic). McLean’s report on the NAFL, dated October 1948, recorded invitations to speak from a number of organisations around McLean’s base in the Midlands, such as the Birmingham branch of the Peace Pledge Union, the Walsall branch of the Co-operative Society, Leicester Catholic Action, and from the student body of Nelson Hall Teachers’ College in Stafford.79 Although the League rejected the ‘hooligan methods’ of militant anti-fascism, it was prepared to work alongside the 43 Group on open-air platforms. These attracted substantial crowds and probably diverted attention away from the work of AJEX.80 Certainly the 43 Group’s decision to stage outdoor meetings encroached on AJEX territory. Moreover, the Board was becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that On Guard was developing into an effective source of anti-fascist propaganda, particularly following its disclosure that the Union Movement was planning to distribute a German-language newspaper in West Germany. This story was

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reported in the mainstream press in September 1948, followed by further revelations in On Guard that Mosley planned to establish the headquarters of an international fascist organisation on Jersey in the Channel Islands. Collectively, these developments served to fuel further criticism that the Jewish Defence Committee was doing nothing to counter fascism. In particular, the JDC was incensed by the publicity the 43 Group secured with its story of the German-language newspaper since the Committee had obtained a copy of this newssheet through an advertisement in the Union Movement’s newspaper and had already sent it on to the authorities. Therefore, in a bid to recover lost ground and curb anti-fascist militancy, the JDC wrote to the Anglo-Jewish press to put the case against the 43 Group’s policy, to issue its own anti-fascist newspaper, and to make a renewed attempt at bringing the 43 Group into the orbit of the JDC’s official defence machinery.81 In further negotiations between the JDC and the 43 Group, it emerges that Bernerd was offered a post on the JDC which he accepted provided that he was given a minimum three-year contract at £1,750 and was made responsible for all the JDC’s ‘outside activity’.82 These conditions proved unacceptable to the JDC and negotiations once again ran aground. Then in January 1949, the JDC redoubled its efforts to rein in the 43 Group’s radicals. This time an appeal was made to provincial Jewish ex-servicemen’s organisations to publicly oppose the 43 Group. A meeting between the JDC and MUJEX took place at the Kedessia Restaurant, New Oxford Street in London on 30 January 1949, where it was agreed that the JDC would send a formal communication to AJEX, MUJEX and the Leeds Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Association in order to arrange a conference to which the 43 Group would be invited. The idea was to use this conference in order to force the 43 Group to disband and merge with the JDC. Despite its previous association with the 43 Group, MUJEX agreed to this plan.83 Shortly afterwards, having been attacked by the Jewish Chronicle for its inability to restrain the 43 Group’s ‘youthful hotheads’ in light of events at Mosley’s meeting at Kensington Town Hall on 31 January 1949, the Jewish Defence Committee found itself under yet further pressure ‘to do something’ about the 43 Group.84 In the approach to Mosley’s Kensington meeting, the JDC and AJEX had looked to persuade the local Conservative council to revoke its decision to allow Mosley to use the town hall to stage an event intended to give the Union Movement a new lease of life. The 43 Group, on the other hand, decided to organise a counter-demonstration on the day of the meeting. An estimated 3,000 people joined this demonstration, described by On Guard as the ‘biggest’ and ‘most dramatic’ since the 1930s. Inside Kensington Town Hall, Mosley’s meeting was reduced to a ‘fiasco’ when anti-fascists exploded teargas bombs.85 Unsurprisingly, the actions of Jewish radicals drew immediate criticism from the Jewish communal leadership, who maintained that Mosley’s meeting would not have received any publicity had it not been for the antics of anti-fascist militants. Nonetheless, the publicity that these events attracted did re-awaken opposition to Mosley within the wider community. A 200-strong Union Movement march from Ridley Road to West Green in Tottenham in March 1949 was opposed by a reported 5,000 people. At various

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points along the route, 43 Group activists attacked the procession but it was noticeable that Tottenham Labour Party, various trade unions and the Liberal Party also joined the protest.86 Disorder at this march led Chuter Ede to re-impose a temporary ban on political processions and by doing so prohibit a proposed May Day procession by the Union Movement.87 By this time, however, support for the Union Movement had dwindled to a hard core. With the war in Palestine over – the 43 Group had sent some of its members to Palestine to fight in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 – and worn down by the external pressures of anti-fascist opposition, levels of fascist activity declined sharply in 1949 and by the end of the year had ground to a halt. The Union Movement had been established with high expectations; it now found itself in a state of indeterminacy. Mosley indicated his desire to withdraw from the foreground and subsequently departed to Ireland in 1951, leaving the Union Movement to merely ‘tick-over’ in the hands of his most faithful lieutenants. Following earlier patterns, the decline in fascist activity had a reciprocal effect on anti-fascism. Beckman records that by the autumn of 1949, the 43 Group ‘was shedding members like a tree sheds leaves in a gale’.88 This haemorrhaging of Group members also coincided with a painful course of internal conflict with the previously non-sectarian On Guard now giving vent to the rift between the 43 Group and the JDC. In December 1949, On Guard vociferously attacked the ‘ultraconservatives’ of the Jewish communal leadership and even maintained that by attacking militant anti-fascism, the representatives of British Jewry were ‘prepared to join in political attitudes which take them right to the door of fascism’.89 Yet this was the last gasp of a dying animal. Anti-fascist militancy had derived its strength from the perceived menace of fascism, but by 1950 the threat of fascism had obviously receded. No further issues of On Guard appeared; the Group was also suffering from precarious finances.90 Finally, in 1950 the 43 Group assured the JDC that it was ready to disband and those eligible should immediately join AJEX.91 Were the activities of militant anti-fascists responsible for thwarting attempts to resurrect fascism in early post-war Britain? Undoubtedly, the operational capacity of various pro-Mosley bodies was curtailed. Meetings were frequently disrupted either through organised heckling or through violent opposition. Nevertheless, given the scale of policing from mid-1947 onwards, the claim made by Beckman that over the course of four years the 43 Group closed down 85 per cent of fascist meetings appears improbable.92 It may well have been true, for instance, that what brought fascist meetings to an end at Ridley Road was not the venom of the antifascist opposition but the severe winter of 1947–8, but perhaps the most accurate picture of the effectiveness of the 43 Group is that provided from reports received from Group spies which left no doubt that over time fascists became increasingly nervous of 43 Group activists.93 This certainly appears to have been the case by January 1949 when the determination by fascists to continue with street activities appears to have evaporated altogether.94 Aside from restricting operational capacities – helped no doubt by placing a female mole95 as one of Mosley’s secretaries – the violent methods employed by militant anti-fascists also encouraged confrontational

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disorder which provided little basis for the respectability that fascism so desperately needed. Thus Jeffrey Hamm’s insistence that the ‘Battle of Ridley Road’ had been ‘fought and won’ by his side96 overlooks the fact that in terms of stemming wider support for fascism, violent street confrontations merely served to reinforce negative perceptions of fascism by inviting sensationalist headlines in the press. Yet it would be too glib to suggest that radical anti-fascism was solely responsible for the political failure of early post-war fascism. First, this fails to acknowledge the educative work of non-militant anti-fascist groups such as AJEX, which held a total of 557 open-air meetings between January 1947 and December 1950. Second, even though organised anti-fascism was divided, in all probability, what the fascists experienced on the ground was something rather different. David Renton makes the important point that what the fascist speakers experienced was a single antifascist opposition. ‘Both arms of the movement came together, without prior co-ordination and, but with a common effect, to attack and undermine the Union Movement.’97 Third, we also have to appreciate ‘outside conditions’. Fascism obviously had pariah status – marginalised not only by the democratic consensus but also by a national culture which post-Second World War had been implanted with anti-fascist attitudes. This pariah status was reinforced by the state which stopped processions from taking place in the East End in April 1946, in the entire Metropolitan district from May 1948 to February 1949 and from April 1949 to July 1949, before finally imposing a further three-month ban from October 1949. The state also sought to continue the press boycott of Mosley that dated from the 1930s and, with the exception of publicity surrounding the violence between fascists and anti-fascists, Mosley was generally ignored.98 Moreover, Mosley’s past associations hardly made a successful return to active politics probable. He now cut a sorry figure, his oratory was uninspired and his Europeanist political programme failed to connect with the visceral ultra-nationalism of his natural constituency. Evidently, even without the presence of a militant anti-fascist opposition, a serious resurgence of fascism was very unlikely. ‘The big political picture’, as David Renton concedes, ‘ensured that the Union Movement would have gone into some form of decline after 1948’, although he is right to point out that there was ‘nothing inevitable, however, about the speed with which fascism collapsed’.99

IV The 1950s in Britain were quiescent years for both fascists and anti-fascists. Mosley’s self-imposed exile had left the Union Movement standing still, desperate for a mobilising issue that would give it a shot in the arm. Optimism returned, however, when the anti-black ‘race riots’ in Nottingham and Notting Hill in August and September 1958 provided the opportunity for Mosley to stage a dramatic comeback. The Union Movement had already attempted to make use of racial populism at local elections in Brixton and the East End in the early 1950s under the slogan ‘Keep Britain White’, but had made little progress. In fact, from the mid-1950s more headway was being made by racial nationalist groups unconnected with

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Mosley, such as Colin Jordan’s White Defence League and John Bean’s National Labour Party. These groups, operating from a base in North Kensington, stirred up racial antagonism and helped prepare ground not only for the Notting Hill ‘race riots’ but also for the subsequent intervention of the rival Union Movement. Although the Union Movement was widely blamed for the Notting Hill riots, its local presence was principally established in the aftershock. ‘During our holiday we had read in the newspapers of an outbreak of rioting in Nottingham the previous Saturday night, and now it had spread to London’, Jeffrey Hamm recalls: On the following morning the Kensington organiser of Union Movement, John Wood, telephoned me to ask if I would speak for him at a meeting in the area the following evening […] As part of our campaign we published a local newspaper, the North Kensington Leader, copies of which were distributed free to every house in the area.100 Hoping to capitalise on local antagonism towards black immigrants, the Union Movement opened a bookshop on Kensington Park Road and a campaign against the ‘coloured invasion’ was quickly inaugurated. This all culminated in Mosley’s decision to contest the parliamentary seat for North Kensington in the 1959 general election. As early as 1956, attempts were made to counter the increase in fascist activity in North Kensington. In response to the activities of Mosley’s rivals, the West London Anti-Fascist Youth Committee was established. Its aim was to restrict the spread of fascist and racist propaganda in the area.101 This Committee had its origins in the left even though North Kensington was not renowned for radical-left activity. The area was characterised by slum dwellings, a shifting population and a large immigrant presence. Whilst this provided ideal conditions for racial agitation, it did not make for vigorous, community-based anti-fascism. Consequently, there was very little in the way of grassroots opposition to Mosley in North Kensington in the period between the Notting Hill riots and the 1959 election. The Union Movement campaigned for nearly a year in the North Kensington constituency and held a number of outdoor meetings. During the election campaign itself, Mosley held street-corner meetings at four different locations every evening over the course of several weeks. The Jewish Defence Committee, having sent observers to monitor all these meetings, was able to report ‘not much disorder, even on election night’.102 The onus for campaigning against Mosley therefore fell on the JDC by default. An anti-Mosley pamphlet for distribution in the run-up to the North Kensington election was produced, and the JDC approached all the major parties with a view to having the pamphlet sponsored. All refused, even the Liberal candidate Michael Hydleman, the son of the former Chairman of the Jewish Defence Committee. It is not clear why all refused, although it may well have been the case that the candidates did not want to alienate local anti-immigrant electors. Still determined to put out the pamphlet, the JDC suggested publication

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by AJEX, but in the event no pamphlet was issued. The problem was that under electoral law, no outside body could interfere in an election campaign, nor could any outside body attempt to persuade voters to vote in a particular way.103 Encouraged by the absence of a material challenge by anti-fascists, by sustained local activity and by Union Movement canvass returns which suggested that Mosley would poll 32 per cent of the vote, the Union Movement was confident of a major breakthrough. However, as it turned out Mosley experienced his most humiliating electoral defeat: he netted just 8.5 per cent and lost his deposit for the first time in his political career. It was a major blow. As Jeffrey Hamm recalls, ‘[n]ot only were all our women supporters in tears, but many of the men too wept unashamedly, shocked and stunned by this anti-climax’.104 An incredulous Mosley felt cheated. He presented a petition to the High Court asking for the election result in North Kensington to be declared invalid because of a number of irregularities (the petition was dismissed). Rejected by the voters of North Kensington, Mosley’s second comeback was brought to a miserable end. Even without an organised anti-fascist challenge, the sheer depth of hostility to fascism in post-war British culture ensured that despite populist appeals to anti-black racism, Mosley’s political resurrection never got off the ground. A last bid to salvage a failing political career came in 1962 when the Union Movement embarked on a period of heightened activity. This had followed a conference in Venice in March when Mosley had signed up to the formation of a ‘National Party of Europe’, and local elections in May when the Union Movement had polled an average of 5.5 per cent in the small number of seats it contested. In his autobiography, Mosley claims that this ‘progress’ led directly to a renewal of violent Communist opposition at Union Movement meetings: ‘When they found to their surprise we were making progress they felt that some risk must be taken to stop it: violence began again; they can turn it on and off like a hot-water tap.’105 While Communist Party activists were possibly irked by the successful lawsuit that Mosley had brought against the Italian Communist Party,106 it was the Venice Conference itself which, by raising the spectre of a ‘Euro-based’ fascism, was the source of most concern. However, what Mosley conveniently forgot to mention was that the revival of anti-fascism in the early 1960s was also triggered by a rally of Colin Jordan’s National Socialist Movement (NSM) in Trafalgar Square on 1 July 1962. Jordan had already gained some notoriety on the left and within Jewish circles as a virulent anti-Semite, having been fined in 1960 and 1961 for behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace. Jordan’s decision to stage a ‘Free Britain from Jewish Control’ rally in Trafalgar Square was seen as deeply provocative because for the first time the national press had given it advance publicity (between 1959–62 over 20 fascist meetings had been held in Trafalgar Square and none had attracted attention). A deputation from the Board of Deputies and AJEX met with Metropolitan Police in early May. Yet the police believed that the chance of disorder was minimal, and if trouble did ensue then they could deal with it effectively.107 In the event, the NSM rally attracted a hostile crowd of some 2,000 people. According to Martin Walker, such was the contempt for Jordan that ‘anti-fascists were waiting

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for the Nazis before they even began as an organization’.108 Feelings ran high as Jordan was shouted down and the NSM platform pelted with tomatoes, pennies and rotten eggs.109 After just 20 minutes the meeting was closed, with Jordan and his close associate, John Tyndall, arrested by police, and charged with offences under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Unfortunately for Mosley, these wellpublicised clashes could not have come at a more inopportune time – he had already booked Trafalgar Square for a rally scheduled to take place just three weeks later – but this was not the end to Mosley’s misfortune: Jordan’s rally also gave rise to a new anti-fascist organisation – the Yellow Star Movement (YSM). On 1 July 1962, on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields overlooking Trafalgar Square, the Reverend Bill Sargent, Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Dalston and Hackney Labour councillor, had stood in lone protest against Jordan’s National Socialists wearing a large Yellow Star of David: ‘I chose the Yellow Star as the symbol because on that day it was the Jewish community that was being vilified and I wanted to show my identification with it. I decided on that afternoon to be a Jew myself.’110 Harry Green, an active member of AJEX, chanced upon him and joined him, along with 40 others.111 As the two principal demonstrators, Sargent and Green agreed to maintain contact and planned to protest against Mosley’s scheduled meeting at Trafalgar Square on 22 July 1962. Sargent led a deputation to the Home Office bearing a petition calling for the Conservative Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, to ban Mosley’s rally. This was supported by the CPGB, which also called on the Conservative Government to ‘Ban the Square to Fascism’.112 Further calls were made by trade union leaders and South Paddington Labour Party.113 However, despite the protest, Mosley was allowed to stage the rally (he had held some seven meetings in Trafalgar Square since 1959 without serious incident). At a meeting that heard a report from Sargent’s deputation, a further peaceful counterdemonstration on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields was proposed.114 On the day of Mosley’s rally – the Board called on Jews to stay away – a few hundred antifascists initially gathered on the steps wearing Yellow Stars in sympathy with the Jews murdered by Nazis. In due course, as the crowds in Trafalgar Square grew to some 10,000 people, Sargent was joined by more than a thousand supporters who were handed Yellow Stars.115 Within Trafalgar Square itself, there was serious disorder. A number of younger Jews were present; one group had marched down from Stamford Hill in North London.116 Such was the determination to stop Mosley’s rally that a police cordon around the platform was broken and violent confrontations ensued. Fearing further disorder, police closed the meeting even before Mosley arrived. There were over 50 arrests. The Union Movement insisted that Communists were responsible for the violence, having ‘assembled in large force from all over the country for the purpose of smashing the meeting’ and pointed to court convictions for people ‘imported’ from Glasgow and Coventry as evidence of a highly organised operation. For the Union Movement, this was calculated aggression, coming after a botched attempt by the CPGB to disrupt an indoor meeting held by Mosley at Birmingham Town Hall in March 1962 where Communists had been ejected with

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‘little difficulty’.117 The Union Movement also claimed that ‘all who wore the Yellow Star did not demonstrate peacefully’ at Trafalgar Square and alleged that two female members of the Union Movement had been viciously assaulted by a group of Jews wearing Rev. Sargent’s Yellow Star.118 Sargent, a Christian Socialist, could not condone violence. What struck him most was the need for an anti-fascist organisation that could effectively curb fascist activities without resorting to physical force. This was the case especially as disturbances quickly followed at Union Movement meetings at Manchester on 29 July (47 arrests) and Ridley Road on 31 July (54 charged with public order offences).119 When the YSM was officially launched, it therefore rejected ‘punchup politics’ in favour of peaceful persuasion. The Jewish Chronicle saw the YSM as well-meaning and sincere but warned that ‘the supporters of the Yellow Star Movement should not countenance any action which might make it appear to be a vent for frustrations or a medium for retaliation by violence’.120 One non-violent tactic, used in the 1930s as well as by AJEX and the Communist Party in the 1940s, involved ‘jumping the pitch’, i.e. occupying fascist speaking sites in order to deny fascists an opportunity to hold meetings. The police operated on a principle of ‘first come, first served’ which meant that the speaker who arrived at a pitch first could claim it for as long as (s)he wanted provided no serious disorder occurred. Perhaps the most impressive example of this tactic in operation was an ‘all day speakers marathon’ which the YSM organised to prevent a fascist meeting from being held in Dalston in September 1962. Anti-fascists camped out overnight on two sites and persuaded no fewer than 136 speakers to become involved including local MPs, councillors and clergymen.121 However, it was not just inner London or provincial cities that saw anti-fascist activity during the summer of 1962. The NSM had organised a summer camp in Temple Guiting, Gloucestershire, in early August 1962. This was closed down as a result of spontaneous opposition from around 100 local villagers who stormed the camp. In a 20-minute pitched battle, tents were flattened and one villager fired a shot that pierced the swastika on the flag flying over the camp. One of the more driven anti-fascist locals was a burly 57-year-old quarry worker, said to be ‘the best badger catcher in the Cotswolds’.122 The presence of Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi leader, ensured that this amusing episode received worldwide media attention.123 Meanwhile, on the coast, 1,000 holidaymakers in Southend were reported to have roared with laughter as Union Movement speakers were showered with peanuts and ice-cream cornets.124 Following a meeting held at Conway Hall on 19 August 1962, the Yellow Star Movement inaugurated a national petition against incitement to racial hatred and looked to gather 500,000 signatures. The Board of Deputies and AJEX assisted in this project. By the end of November 1962, when the petition was presented to Parliament, 440,000 signatures had been collected (more than a third of signatures collected by the Board and AJEX). Nevertheless, Parliament refused to bend to popular pressure. Many MPs still insisted that legislation against racial hatred would infringe freedom of speech. It was not

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until 1965, in the form of the Race Relations Act, that legislation against racial hatred was finally passed. Organisationally, Sargent wanted the YSM to remain loose so that it could be activated in periods when fascist activity was on the increase and then revert to a dormant state when fascist activity subsided.125 There were no members as such; only mailing list supporters. Harry Green claimed that the Yellow Star Movement had 8,000 supporters. Geoffrey Ashe, a former supporter, suggests a figure of 6,000 was ‘perhaps exaggerated, but not absurdly so’.126 Most support came from AJEX and the broad left, with significant overlap between the YSM and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Particularly worrying for Sargent, however, was a Jewish faction of militant anti-fascists that he found unable to restrain. These donned the Yellow Star and passed themselves off as YSM supporters, but they were turning increasingly violent.127 This faction established the ‘62 Committee’ or ‘62 Group’ in August/September 1962, formed following two meetings held in a flat in Streatham, in South London. Modelled on the 43 Group, it sought to oppose fascism through physical force. Given the covert nature of its activities, the leadership of the 62 Group remained highly secretive. The chair of the 62 Group was Baron Moss, a Jewish businessman who had once worked at the Daily Worker as its publicity director.128 Other co-founders included Harold Bidney (a former ‘43-er’), later singled out by John Tyndall as the 62 Group’s ‘activities organiser, paymaster and recruiting sergeant’,129 Cyril Paskin, the 62 Group’s ‘field commander’,130 Maurice Essex, and Wally Levy (owner of London’s largest black cab firm). According to Special Branch, ‘[t]he Committee had no constitution, no elected officers or committee, and its membership was never revealed. No literature was published and no public meetings were held’.131 By early 1963 police estimated a membership of 200, with about 70 activists in London.132 Not all its members were Jewish, however. As Tony Hall, a future radical cartoonist, recalls: Don’t let anybody kid you that the 62 Group was an exclusively Jewish organisation because it wasn’t. The backbone of our part of it was the Stoke Newington branch of the Communist Party. They weren’t all members of the CP but people associated with it, sympathisers, friends, villains, all sorts of people.133 Under the influence of militants, the Yellow Star Movement adopted a more forceful line, though on occasions it still pursued peaceful action (in early 1963, for instance, it organised an anti-fascist jazz and folk concert, and also held a peaceful picket of a Mosleyite rally at Kensington Town Hall).134 However, since the YSM was managed through an ‘advisory panel’ (to ensure broad representation) and was subject to review, the composition of the panel was volatile and drifted to a more radical position from September 1962 onwards. Harry Green had more sympathy for militant anti-fascism than Sargent, who, uncomfortable with the YSM’s growing reputation for violence, now began to associate with the moderates in the London

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Anti-Fascist Committee. This body, which had also been set up in 1962, had London County Councillor Fred Tonge as its secretary and was sponsored by, amongst others, Fenner Brockway (now a Labour MP) and Jeremy Thorpe MP (future leader of the Liberal Party). The primary role of the London Anti-Fascist Committee was to press for legislation against race hatred. It also formed a number of grassroots anti-fascist committees, the most significant of which was the North and East London Anti-Fascist Committee.135

V With the NSM effectively paralysed by the imprisonment of Colin Jordan and John Tyndall for paramilitary activities in the autumn of 1962,136 most anti-fascist opposition was directed either against the Union Movement or the British National Party (BNP – a 1960 merger of the White Defence League and the National Labour Party). The Union Movement responded to the reappearance of violent opposition by holding ‘snap’ meetings without advance publicity. Adopting this method Mosley was able to hold orderly meetings in September 1962 at Earl’s Court, Bethnal Green, Highbury and Dalston. A meeting held at North Kensington on 18 September was advertised in advance but there was still no disorder. Consequently, the Union Movement became convinced that it had beaten the opposition and had exposed the ‘myth’ that Mosley was responsible for violence: ‘Once we started snap meetings their much vaunted “intelligence” system failed. No Yellow Star – no violence.’ Triumphantly, in October 1962, the Union Movement declared: ‘We are on top again – bigger, stronger, and with wider public sympathy than before.’137 Clearly, though, the Union Movement had not counted on a switch in tactics by anti-fascists. The 62 Group responded by launching a raid on the Union Movement’s headquarters.138 As one anti-fascist recalls: I was leading the second group with Tony Hall and an ex-boxer called Billy Collins. One kick with my work boots and the door caved in, and our section of about seven people rushed through. Bad luck: Mosley was not present. But most of his senior officers were, such as Bob Rowe, a big lump of an ex-copper from Yorkshire, and Keith Gibson, a vicious animal, plus half a dozen or more of their security squad. The idea was not to steal anything, as via our infiltrators we already had copies of their membership files and other important documents: the task was to destroy everything that made their HQ work. It was very bloody. Rowe, who had a reputation as a hard man, leapt down the stairs feet first into one of our guys, but two more overwhelmed him. One of our guys went down to the basement where they kept their banners and drums and destroyed the lot. Then Gibson picked up a long sharp sliver of broken glass and came at Billy, thrusting it towards him. Billy had been a great young contender for a future championship, but during the Suez Crisis had been shot in the gut by a trigger-happy British soldier and his boxing days were over. He saw red – he had a Jewish wife and child – and he

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just disregarded the broken glass and battered Gibson, screaming: ‘you would kill my family.’ Before three of us pulled Billy off, Gibson had suffered a broken nose and cheek bone, several broken ribs and very sore testicles.139 Another method, used in Ridley Road in particular, was to organise a ‘fast call-out scheme’ whereby stall holders and shop owners would immediately inform 62 Group members when fascists arrived intending to hold a meeting thereby enabling group members to be mobilised within a short space of time. Once mobilised, according to one former 62 Group activist, the modus operandi in these situations was either quiet infiltration of the audience and ‘then do them’, or meet a quarter of a mile away and then with enough numbers form ‘a running wedge straight in, and do them’.140 With anti-fascist militants refusing to drop the cause, the victory over its antagonists that the Union Movement had announced in October 1962 proved premature. No longer able to speak at open-air meetings, the Union Movement conceded defeat. The anti-fascist opposition had ‘swept Mosley from the streets for the last time’.141 Violently attacked by the 62 Group in Ball’s Pond Road in Dalston in September 1962, the British National Party now started avoiding street confrontations too: Being unable at this stage of our development to match the numerical superiority of the enemy – nor the organisational machine that the money of their rich Jewish backers can supply, common sense, and not lack of it, and not lack of staying power has decreed that we place the emphasis on mobility and switch meetings on to different London pitches unannounced.142 In Walker’s opinion, anti-fascist groups had been much more effective than in the 1930s and stopped Mosley – although this was no major achievement as the Union Movement, with a mere 1,000 supporters, lacked either the ability or the resolve to withstand sustained opposition.143 Evidently, anti-fascist militancy is at its most effective when the adversary is small and deficient in commitment and resources, but an equally important factor in the Union Movement’s final demise was the decision by municipal authorities to deny it the letting of premises for indoor meetings. Here, the JDC appears to have played a key role by making various representations to local authorities. By July 1963 Mosley had been restricted to only a handful of premises.144 Without space (both outdoor and indoor) to propagate its ideology, the Union Movement retreated into the political backwaters. After briefly resurfacing to contest the 1966 general election as a candidate for Shoreditch and Finsbury, in which he polled a miserly 4.6 per cent of the vote, Mosley finally retired from active politics and the Union Movement sank without trace. On the anti-fascist side, of the organisations created in 1962, the Yellow Star Movement had effectively collapsed by mid-1963. With the retreat of the Union Movement, the original stimulus disappeared. By May 1963, following the departure

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of co-founder Sargent, the YSM was struggling with finances. The YSM’s reputation for violence had discredited it in certain quarters, notably the JDC which had distanced itself from the Movement in December 1962.145 The end came in August 1963 with the hospitalisation of the YSM’s secretary, Olga Levertoff, elder sister of anti-war poet Denise Levertoff.146 At this point though, the YSM still claimed 8,000 supporters on its mailing list.147 Elsewhere, the London Anti-Fascist Committee and the associated North and East London Anti-Fascist Committee continued to exist on paper before, eventually, the resources of the former were placed at the disposal of the NCCL towards the end of the 1960s.148 The 62 Group on the other hand remained operative, but with the withdrawal of the Union Movement from conventional political activity, the efforts of the 62 Group were concentrated on small-scale clandestine operations, principally assaults on individual members of fascist groups and raids on fascist property. Over the period 1962–5, John Tyndall claimed that 62 Group militants had been responsible for, inter alia, a raid on the Union Movement’s headquarters; numerous assaults on members of John Bean’s British National Party; various attacks on members of the National Socialist Movement; assaults on members of his own Greater Britain Movement (launched by Tyndall in 1964 following a split with Jordan); and breaking and entering the flat of David Irving, who was suspected of pro-Nazi sympathies.149 An internal Greater Britain Movement document also records a raid by Jewish militants on its headquarters in Norwood in London following the failure to break up a Movement meeting in Dalston in October 1965.150 By the end of 1964, disquiet over the 62 Group’s tactics had led wealthy Jewish businessmen to withdraw much of their financial support – it had been used to pay fines and legal costs. The group now contracted to a hard core under the leadership of Harold Bidney, Issy Rondel, ‘field commander’ Cyril Paskin, and Gerry Gable, who in May 1964 had become research editor for a new occasional anti-fascist newspaper, Searchlight. Gable had stood unsuccessfully as a CPGB local election candidate in Stamford Hill in 1962; had been chief steward of the North East London AntiFascist Committee; and had participated in the raid on the Union Movement’s headquarters in May 1963. In January 1964 Gable, alongside Manny Carpel, had been found guilty of breaking into David Irving’s Hornsey flat. They were both fined £20. They had posed as General Post Office (GPO) engineers (Gable was fined an additional £5 for stealing a GPO pass card).151 Over the period November 1964 to October 1966 there was a wave of arson attacks on Jewish synagogues and property.152 The worst incident resulted in the near-total destruction of London’s Brondesbury Synagogue in March 1965. At the Old Bailey in February 1966, six members of Jordan’s NSM were convicted on charges of arson at the Clapton and Ilford Synagogues in July 1965; in April 1966 four members of Jordan’s NSM also pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to arson attacks on several synagogues, including the Brondesbury Synagogue. Paul Dukes, one of the defendants at the February trial, had been approached by the 62 Group’s Harold Bidney at North London Magistrates’ Court in October 1965 (17 persons had been arrested for various offences relating to a fascist meeting at

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Ridley Road). Dukes had been friendly with the 62 Group’s Issy Rondel and had first revealed his guilt to Rondel. This information was passed on to Bidney who then encouraged Dukes to give himself up to police (Bidney had accompanied Dukes to Stoke Newington police station).153 That the 62 Group had played such an active part in securing these convictions occasioned some debate in the BoD, but the suggestion that the 62 Group should be invited to future defence committee meetings was rejected.154 The 62 Group’s cause was now taken up by the so-called Jewish Aid Committee of Britain (JACOB), a ‘ginger group’, chaired by Maurice Essex (chairman of the Portman Group of finance companies). This committee – Essex claimed that it was not formed by the 62 Group – almost certainly helped finance it.155 Returning to well-trodden ground, JACOB criticised the Board’s ‘weak’ and ‘passive’ attitude. It asserted that the Board of Deputies had allowed these arson attacks to occur through a defence policy that was ‘frighteningly inadequate’, the result of an ‘ageing’ and ‘timid’ leadership, complacency, lack of information, and a ‘hush it all up’ attitude in which Jews were instructed to avoid all publicity. A clear distinction was drawn between this ‘official’ policy, and ‘unofficial’ policy ‘taken by an increasing number of young Jewish citizens who feel that they have learned other lessons from the experience of the past and who want a more positive anti-fascist policy, a policy of “direct action” […]’156 According to JACOB, these young Jews had been ‘brushed aside’ by John Dight, the Chairman of the JDC, without consultation with any other members of the JDC.157 JACOB demanded the election of a ‘new virile young’ leadership to the JDC in order to pursue an alternative defence policy. This had to be more forceful, with a ‘strong hand’ and should consist of the following elements: legislation to ban racist organisations (the recent passage of the Race Relations Act was deemed insufficient); the establishment of an information service to collect and analyse intelligence; the formation of an AntiDefamation Centre based on the model of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League in the United States (to expose fascist and racist activities as well as reply to Jewish defamation); and finally, community protection (where synagogues and youth clubs would provide courses in self-defence).158 Clearly angered by JACOB’s attack and anxious to deny JACOB any credibility with the Board, the JDC, chaired by John Dight, circulated a counter-statement to all members of the Board of Deputies entitled ‘Defence with Responsibility’. In this, the JDC denied that official defence policy was a ‘passive’, ‘hole in the corner’ type. It claimed its approach was to expose fascists and deprive them of support; though careful to draw a distinction between appropriate publicity and ‘undue publicity’, it does not believe that it is in the best interests of the Jewish Community, or the wider public for that matter, to have front-page stories about these minuscule fascist bodies in the TIMES, the DAILY TELEGRAPH, DAILY EXPRESS, DAILY MAIL, DAILY MIRROR, GUARDIAN, the SUN and SKETCH, six days a week, every week.159

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Quoting from Colin Cross, author of The Fascists in Britain (1961), the JDC argued that violence against fascists resulted in unnecessary publicity and produced a ‘boomerang effect’ whereby opportunities for putting fascism’s case are limited, but fascist activities are brought ‘to the attention of a much wider public than they would otherwise command’.160 Yet for JACOB, the notion that publicity builds fascism was too simplistic, failing to take into account other factors, such as quality of leadership of fascist organisations, and their ability to exploit certain situations. Absent in both analyses, however, was serious consideration of types of publicity because clearly, contrary to what the fascists themselves often thought, not all publicity was necessarily good publicity. Negative association with violence and extremism was unlikely to make for a ‘respectable’ party with wide political legitimacy especially in Britain where the consensus on liberal values remained deeply entrenched. Typically, fascist groups portrayed this violence as the responsibility of ‘Communists’ in order to represent their own violence and ideology as a legitimate response, but this tactic was rendered ineffective by both the liberal consensus and the CPGB’s political insignificance. Moreover, those attracted to fascist groups through media reports of violence may increase the fascist street presence, but this presence would almost certainly comprise young toughs who carried greater potential for extremist action. The scale of the divide between the JDC and JACOB also revealed itself in their respective assessments of the strength of contemporary fascist organisations. Although the JDC insisted that there was no room for complacency, its analysis of fascist performance in the 1966 general election seemed to confirm that the voting strength for fascist parties, such as the Union Movement, was negligible. JACOB agreed that Mosley, ‘the old man of British Fascism looks like ending his days as a political “has-been”’, but made the point that groups like the British National Party and Tyndall’s Greater Britain Movement were making headway by ‘cashing in’ on the immigration issue.161 JACOB warned that this could not be ignored by the Jewish community because although the fascists were concentrating on the ‘colour question’, they will eventually ‘turn their hate on the Jews’.162 JACOB’s call for a ‘new dynamic in defence’ went unheeded by the leaders of Anglo-Jewry. The Board at its meeting in May 1966 fully endorsed the policy of the Jewish Defence Committee; the historic breach between militant anti-fascism and the Board of Deputies remained. Of course with hindsight, the Board should have been more receptive to the views of JACOB as the following year several fascist and racial-populist organisations, including the Greater Britain Movement and the British National Party, came together and consolidated the ‘dangerous nucleus’ that JACOB had already identified. The result was a new organisation: the National Front. On 15 December 1966, in preparation for the launch of this new organisation, a meeting was held by the League of Empire Loyalists, the British National Party and the Racial Preservation Society at Caxton Hall in Westminster. Under the banner of the ‘League of Anti-Fascists’,163 the 62 Group held a demonstration along with Communists and Young Liberals. The anti-fascists tried to force their way into the

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meeting, helped by the fact that the Anti-Apartheid Movement was holding a meeting on the top floor. In the event, only around one-third of the far-right extremists looking to attend the meeting managed to get inside. At the meeting close, with a large and threatening anti-fascist presence outside, the audience was ushered out through a side door. Then, as the BNP’s John Bean tells it: The speakers at the meeting, escorted by a hard core of younger and fitter BNP members under the charge of Ken Merritt and Ron Tear, marched away through the back streets to Victoria Station, followed initially by a handful of opponents. When they had received sufficient reinforcements to outnumber us by three to one, they attacked, some throwing bottles. As we ran past a dustbin, I suggested to Merritt that we ought to empty it […] It produced four or five empty bottles which we hurled at the enemy. Thus taking advantage of many dustbins en-route, we arrived in Victoria Street to be met by several van loads of police […] ten of our opponents were arrested. The only one to be charged was a Tony Bloom, a Young Communist, who was later shot in a pub argument (non-political) in St. Pancras.164

VI Bringing this chapter to a close, it is clear that when set side by side, the scale of popular involvement in anti-fascist activity in the period 1946–66 fell far short of the mass opposition to Mosley in the 1930s. As a reactive phenomenon, the relative scale of anti-fascist activity is naturally determined by the measure of the fascist threat. In the wake of the Second World War, with anti-fascism firmly embedded in national culture, the threat of home-grown fascism was minimised. Therefore, anti-fascist activism contracted to a core of Jewish ex-servicemen understandably sensitised and radicalised by Nazi genocide – its most radical elements motivated more by a revengeful desire to give fascists ‘what was coming to them’ than a considered assessment of the potential for fascist growth. During 1947–8 and then again during 1962–3, anti-fascist opposition extended beyond this core to incorporate left-wing, liberal and, as in the case of Hackney in 1947, even Conservative elements. Nonetheless, we should also not lose sight of the fact that both in the late 1940s and early 1960s, the scale of anti-fascism (and fascism) was localised. Notwithstanding isolated activity in provincial areas, the centre of fascist/anti-fascist activity in Britain was London. Therefore, we do well not to exaggerate the wider importance of fascist and anti-fascist activity in this period. As in the 1930s, organised anti-fascism was a house divided against itself, with differences once again apparent over the question of the desirability of violent resistance, so graphically illustrated in relations between the 43 Group and the Jewish Defence Committee. Militant opposition undoubtedly lessened the opportunity for post-war fascism to revive by disrupting its activities, by limiting its public space and by denying it respectability. In this regard, radical anti-fascism was clearly of consequence (even if its impact is typically overstated). Moreover, non-violent

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anti-fascist groups also contributed to the political failure of post-war fascism, although the educative work of bodies such as AJEX was arguably of less significance and those bodies (such as the Communist Party) that called for a state ban on fascism in the mid- to late 1940s were to be disappointed. Nonetheless, the state eventually introduced anti-racist legislation in the form of the Race Relations Act in 1965, and through this piece of legislation the state did secure convictions of leading fascists, including Colin Jordan. Throughout this period, the state also continued to keep an eye on Mosley’s activities, it put the Public Order Act to use to prohibit fascist processions in the late 1940s, and on the grounds of disruption to holiday makers, also refused permission for three fascist meetings to take place in Trafalgar Square in August 1962.165 We should recognise as well the contribution of local authorities in denying public halls to fascist organisations and recall that in the early 1960s, in particular, Mosley was denied room to disseminate his ideology in indoor as well as outdoor arenas. Having said all that, the role of anti-fascism should always be placed in context: the scope for fascist growth was so limited in Britain during this period that even without the existence of an organised anti-fascist opposition, fascism would have struggled to find popular appeal. What anti-fascism therefore achieved in the period 1946–66 was further marginalisation of various manifestations of an ideology already contained by a continuing liberal-democratic consensus and a British national identity infused with patriotic hostility towards Nazi Germany. Only through adapting to this forbidding environment, by drawing a veil of anti-immigrant populism over its fascist ideology and by unifying various splinters into a coherent whole, could the extreme right possibly hope to effect a major electoral breakthrough. This point was recognised by the National Front, which from the very beginning set its sights on becoming an ‘acceptable’ challenge to the mainstream political parties. As the National Front’s first Chairman, A.K. Chesterton, a former Director of Publicity and Propaganda for the BUF and erstwhile leader of the postwar League of Empire Loyalists,166 understood, this meant ensuring that ‘we do not give ourselves a bad public image’.167 Accordingly, the National Front’s fascism became hidden behind the ‘respectability’ of racial populism and so during the 1970s, when the politicisation of the immigration issue created the opening for its racial politics, the National Front assumed a greater presence than any of its postwar predecessors. As we shall see in the next chapter, anti-fascists consequently found themselves facing their most serious challenge since Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.

Notes 1 R. Eatwell, Fascism: A History, London: Chatto and Windus, 1995, p. 14. 2 Frederic Mullally (died 2014) was a columnist for the Sunday Pictorial in the late 1940s. He was named as prospective Labour Party candidate for the Finchley constituency in North London in 1949. He later became a novelist. For an interview with Mullally, see Searchlight, March 1998, no. 273, 12–3. Mullally also authored and published anti-fascist leaflets, such as Fascism Again in 1947?

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3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

32 33 34 35 36 37

F. Mullally, Fascism Inside England, London: Claud Morris, 1946, p. 87. Ibid., p. 88. AJEX had in the region of 6,000 members in London. M. Beckman, The 43 Group, London: Centerprise, 1993, p. 16. Ibid., pp. 21–2. Morris Beckman died in 2015, aged 94. Morris Beckman to author, 29 May 1998. Len Rolnick to author, 7 July 1998. See 43 Group leaflet, The 43 Group Fights Fascism Today. See Hansard, HC Deb 14 March 1946, vol. 420, cc. 1260–4. See Jewish Chronicle, 25 April 1947. Over its four-year lifetime, perhaps 60 Gentiles were associated with the 43 Group. The Trades Advisory Council (TAC) was originally established in 1938. Its aim was to promote good relations between Jews and non-Jews in industry and commerce. See Searchlight, January 2002, no. 319, 18–21. A. Hartog, Born to Sing, London: Dennis Dobson, 1978, p. 77. Beckman, The 43 Group, p. 31. See Socialist Review, March 1993, no. 162, 23. Beckman,The 43 Group, p. 51. See D.N. Pritt, Autobiography of D N Pritt, Part 2, Brasshats and Bureaucrats, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1966, pp. 52–7. TNA: CAB 129/8/37: Annex to Cabinet Report by the Committee on Fascism, 5 April 1946. See T. Kushner, ‘Anti-Semitism and Austerity: The August 1947 Riots in Britain’, in P. Panayi (ed.), Racial Violence in Britain 1840–1950, Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993, pp. 149–68. See L. Rose, ‘Survey of Open-Air Meetings held by Pro-Fascist Organisations, April-October 1947’, Factual Survey, April 1948, no. 2. People’s History Museum Archive: Communist Party Archives (CPA), CP/CENT/ SPN/1/7. E.P. Thompson, The Fascist Threat to Britain, London: CPGB, 1947, pp. 14–5. See Rose, ‘Survey of Open-Air Meetings’, no. 2. CPA CP/CENT/ORG/12/7. Len Rolnick to author, 7 July 1998. See R. West (pseud.), ‘A Reporter at Large: Heil Hamm!’, New Yorker, 14 August 1948, pp. 26–44. Len Rolnick to author, 7 July 1998. A similar pattern of activity took place in neighbouring Bethnal Green. The Communist Party was also involved in the Bethnal Green NCCL Area Committee. However, anti-fascist activity was stronger in Hackney. The reason for this, according to the NCCL, was that the Jewish population was smaller in Bethnal Green and workers were not as organised. Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull, National Council for Civil Liberties papers, DCL 42/2b. See R.C. Thurlow, The Secret State, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1994, pp. 276–7. See Pritt, Autobiography of D N Pritt, pp. 56–7 and 75. See D. Renton, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000, pp. 108–29. See G. Macklin, ‘“A plague on both their houses”: Fascism, Anti-fascism and the Police in the 1940s’, in N. Copsey and D. Renton (eds), British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp. 46–67, at p. 64. The RCP was formed in 1944 from a merger of the Trotskyist Workers’ International League and the Revolutionary Socialist League. By 1950, however, the RCP had disbanded as a consequence of an ‘entryist’ strategy whereby members had been encouraged to join the Labour Party.

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38 According to M. Crick, The March of Militant, London: Faber and Faber, 1986, p. 29. 39 T. Grant, The Menace of Fascism. What it is and How to Fight it, London: Militant, 1978, p. 72. 40 Ibid., p. 74. 41 See Rose, ‘Survey of Open-Air Meetings’, no. 2. 42 See J. Hamm, Action Replay, London: Black House Publishing, 2012, pp. 115–6; and Searchlight, March 1998, no. 273, 12–3. 43 See comments by McLean, in Renton, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s, p. 141. 44 Hartog, Born to Sing, pp. 75–6. 45 Beckman, The 43 Group, p. 95. 46 See On Guard, December 1949, vol. 2, no. 1. 47 On Guard, July 1947, no. 1, 2. 48 Tom Driberg also authored an anti-fascist pamphlet which called for a ban on fascist activity and fascist propaganda. See T. Driberg, Mosley? No!, London: W.H. Allen, n.d., pp. 17–9. A former Communist, Driberg joined the Labour Party in 1945. He was later suspected of being a KGB/MI5 informant. 49 See Searchlight, November 1996, no. 257, 16. 50 On Guard, September 1947, no. 3, 3. 51 Beckman, The 43 Group, p. 95; and On Guard, September 1947, no. 3, 3. 52 Beckman, The 43 Group, p. 61. 53 See Rose, ‘Survey of Open-Air Meetings’, no. 2. 54 Beckman, The 43 Group, p. 177. 55 See Jewish Chronicle, 2 January 1948. 56 See Wiener Library, BD Archive: BD C6/4/2/3. 57 See ‘A Dissident Group’, letter from G. Bernerd, in Jewish Chronicle, 3 October 1948. 58 BD C6/1/1/3: JDC minutes, 30 July 1947. 59 NCCL DCL/42/1. 60 Described as such by Morris Beckman to author, 29 May 1998. 61 See Concord, November 1943, no. 3, 4. 62 See BD C6/2/1/5. Survey of the work of the Jewish Defence Committee of the Board of Deputies 1945–8. Also see S. Salomon, Anti-Semitism in Post-War Britain: The Work of the Jewish Defence Committee, London: Woburn Press, 1950. 63 See On Guard, March 1948, p. 3; and for outlandish devotion to Mosley see T. Grundy, Memoir of a Fascist Childhood, London: Heinemann, 1998. 64 L. Rose, ‘Fascism in Britain’, Factual Survey, April 1948, no. 1, 8. 65 On Mosley’s post-war philosophy, see A. Poole, ‘Oswald Mosley and the Union Movement: Success or Failure?’, in M. Cronin (ed.),The Failure of British Fascism: The Far Right and the Fight for Political Recognition, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996, pp. 53–80. 66 See CPA CP/CENT/ORG/12/7: Report on May Day Agitation, 1948. 67 M. Walker, The National Front, 2nd rev. edn, London: Fontana, 1978, p. 26. 68 See Beckman, The 43 Group, pp. 131–9. 69 Ibid., p. 134. 70 See Searchlight, April 1997, no. 262, 10–11. 71 MUJEX newsletter, March 1948, vol. 2, no. 4. 72 MUJEX newsletter, May–June 1948, vol. 2, no. 6. 73 See CPA CP/CENT/ORG/12/7: Report on Fascist Activities in the Lancashire and Cheshire District, May 1948. 74 See CPA CP/CENT/ORG/12/7: Letter from Leeds Area Committee of the CPGB, May 1948. 75 See On Guard, April 1948, no. 9, 1. On opposition to fascism on Tyneside in the 1940s, see N. Copsey, ‘Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Community of Newcastle-upon-Tyne’, Immigrants and Minorities, 2002, vol. 21, no. 3, 52–69. 76 See On Guard, September 1948, no. 13, 2. 77 On Guard, December 1948, no. 16, 3.

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78 Michael McLean also distributed his own anti-fascist literature, e.g. Mosley Exposed: The Union Movement from Within. 79 Report on the National Anti-Fascist League by Michael McLean, Board of Deputies, October 1948. 80 Over 1,000 people were said to have attended an outdoor rally held by the NAFL and 43 Group at Bethnal Green in July 1948. The pre-publicity for this meeting had promised ‘the most sensational meeting since the War’. 81 See BD C6/1/1/3, JDC minutes, 15 July 1948 and 2 September 1948. 82 BD C6/1/1/3. JDC minutes, 30 September 1948. 83 See BD C6/4/2/3. That MUJEX received a substantial grant from the Board of Deputies might account for why the JDC secured the support of MUJEX for this particular plan. 84 See BD C6/1/1/3, Chairman’s Statement, 16 February 1949. 85 On Guard, February 1949, no. 18, 1. 86 See On Guard, April 1949, no. 20, 1; and Beckman, The 43 Group, pp. 188–9. 87 By banning all political processions in London, the Labour Government also prohibited left-wing May Day parades. This meant that the only two capitals in Europe where May Day marches were banned were London and Madrid. 88 Beckman, The 43 Group, p. 196. 89 On Guard, December 1949, vol. 2, no. 1, 1. 90 Len Rolnick to author, 7 July 1998. Lack of funds also explains the non-appearance of On Guard in June and August 1948. 91 BD C6/1/1/3. JDC minutes, 5 April 1950. 92 Morris Beckman to author, 29 May 1998. 93 Len Rolnick to author, 7 July 1998. Also see Beckman, The 43 Group, p. 177. 94 See Beckman, The 43 Group, p. 177. 95 Wendy Turner (alias Helen Winnick) was a 43 Group mole but she was exposed and apparently tortured, see R. Filar, ‘What Wendy Did’, Searchlight, July 2011, no. 433, 18–9. 96 Hamm, Action Replay, p. 150. 97 Renton, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s, p. 135. 98 See R.C. Thurlow, ‘The Guardian of the “Sacred Flame”: The Failed Political Resurrection of Sir Oswald Mosley after 1945’, Journal of Contemporary History, 1998, no. 33, 241–54. 99 Renton, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s, p. 135. 100 Hamm, Action Replay, pp. 145–6. 101 See A. Graham, Fascism in Britain, Pharos Press, 1966. 102 BD C6/1/1/3. JDC current notes, September–October 1959. 103 See BD C6/1/1/3. JDC minutes, 8 and 16 September 1959. 104 Hamm, Action Replay, p. 151. 105 O. Mosley, My Life, London: Nelson, 1968, p. 453. 106 This followed an attack in the paper Unità triggered by the Venice Conference. 107 See Board of Deputies, Annual Report 1962, London: Woburn House, 1963, p. 41. 108 Walker, The National Front, p. 39. 109 The Times, 2 July 1962. 110 As quoted in the Jewish Chronicle, 28 September 1962. 111 See G. Ashe, ‘Yellow Star-Retrospect and Query’ (1), Institute of Race Relations Newsletter, April 1964, 26–9. 112 See Daily Worker, 6 July and 18 July 1962. 113 Daily Worker, 21 July 1962. 114 Ibid. 115 Daily Worker, 23 July 1962. 116 Jewish Chronicle, 27 July 1962 117 See Action, 1 August 1962, no. 97, 10–1. 118 Ibid., p. 18.

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119 For details, see Walker, The National Front, pp. 42–3. 120 Jewish Chronicle Supplement, 31 August 1962. 121 See Ashe, ‘Yellow Star-Retrospect and Query’ (1), 27; and The Times, 3 September 1962. 122 See Daily Mirror, 6 August 1962. 123 See Daily Mirror, 9 August 1962. 124 See Daily Mirror, 6 August 1962. 125 See G. Thayer, The British Political Fringe, London: Anthony Blond, 1965, p. 87. 126 Ashe, ‘Yellow Star-Retrospect and Query’ (1), 28. 127 See BD C6/1/3/4, JDC minutes, 12 September 1962. 128 Searchlight, November 1998, no. 281, 16. 129 See Spearhead, April 1965, 6. 130 For Gerry Gable’s obituary of Cyril Paskin, see Searchlight, November 2011, no. 437, 12–13. 131 TNA HO 325/55: Special Branch report on the 62 Group, 25 March 1969. 132 TNA HO 325/55: Special Branch report on the 62 Group, January 1964. 133 See comments by Tony Hall, in D. Hann, Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism, Winchester: Zero Books, 2013, p. 229. 134 See G. Ashe, ‘Yellow Star-Retrospect and Query’ (2), Institute of Race Relations Newsletter, May 1964, 11–4. 135 See Thayer, The British Political Fringe, p. 88. 136 These convictions had resulted from activities at the National Socialist Movement summer camp. 137 Action, 1 October 1962, no. 99. 138 See Action, 1 November 1962, no. 101, 9. 139 G. Gable, ‘Tony Hall and the Fight Against Fascism’, in Tony Hall: Trade Unionist, Anti-racist and Radical Cartoonist, London: Unite, 2015, p. 15. 140 See Fighting Talk, no. 5, 16. 141 D.S. Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur: Mosley, Fascism and British Society, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987, p. 247. 142 See Combat, October–December 1962, no. 19. 143 Walker, The National Front, p. 43. 144 According to JDC records, in order to deny Mosley an indoor hall, authorities usually insisted on prohibitively large insurance premiums to cover damages; alternatively, the Union Movement was refused because it was deemed racist, and in a small minority of cases, no reason was given for the denial of halls. See BD C6/1/3/4, JDC Provincial Liaison Committee minutes, 14 July 1963. 145 BD C6/1/3/4, JDC minutes, 11 December 1962. 146 Ashe, ‘Yellow Star-Retrospect and Query’ (1), 29. 147 Jewish Chronicle, 23 August 1963. 148 See NCCL DCL/611/10. 149 See Spearhead, April 1965, 6. 150 Jewish Defence Committee, Defence with Responsibility, 1966, p. 14. 151 See TNA HO 325/55: Special Branch Report on 62 Group, January 1964. 152 For a list see Searchlight, 1966, no. 2. 153 See TNA MEPO 2/9727. 154 See Jewish Chronicle, 25 February 1966. 155 See Jewish Chronicle, 22 April 1966. 156 Jewish Aid Committee of Britain, With a Strong Hand, March, 1966, p. 7. 157 See Ibid., p. 9. 158 See Ibid., p. 13. 159 Jewish Defence Committee, Defence with Responsibility, p. 10. 160 Ibid., p. 13. 161 Jewish Aid Committee of Britain, With a Strong Hand, p. 11. 162 Ibid., p. 12.

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163 TNA HO 325/55: Special Branch Report on the 62 Group, 25 March 1969. 164 J. Bean, Many Shades of Black: Inside Britain’s Far Right, London: New Millennium, 1999, pp. 191–2. 165 On the same grounds, the Conservative Government also refused to give permission to the Yellow Star Movement to hold an anti-fascist meeting in Trafalgar Square. 166 On A.K. Chesterton see D. Baker, Ideology of Obsession, A.K. Chesterton and British Fascism, London: I.B. Tauris, 1996. 167 A.K. Chesterton’s address to the first AGM of the National Front, reproduced in Candour, October 1967, vol. XVIII, no. 469.

4 ‘THE NATIONAL FRONT IS A NAZI FRONT!’ Opposition to the National Front 1967–79

I In all probability, the moment that opposition to the National Front (NF) is mentioned, it is the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) that springs to mind. This organisation, formed in late 1977, grew rapidly to become the Front’s most memorable opponent. It obtained some 40,000 to 50,000 members, distributed over 5 million leaflets and sold around 1 million anti-Front badges and stickers. Such was the level of its popular support, that the ANL was widely regarded as the largest extra-parliamentary movement since the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the early 1960s.1 In mobilising mass opposition to the NF, and in smearing the Front with the lethal Nazi label, the ANL has been judged an unqualified success. Many held it responsible for the electoral demise of the NF at the end of the 1970s and urged others, such as opponents of the Front National in France, to follow its example.2 Yet support for the NF may have already peaked by the time the ANL was launched. Moreover, the concentration on the activities of the ANL has meant that the work of other antifascist groups that either pre-dated or paralleled the ANL has been largely ignored. This narrow focus has also precluded wider consideration of other sources of antifascism. It may have been the case, for instance, that hostility from the mainstream media hurt the National Front more than the activities of opposition groups. After the 1979 general election the NF named the media its ‘number one enemy’.3 At the very start, given that anti-fascist activities had contracted to a militant hard core, the NF escaped a baptism of fire. Even though groups of anti-fascists mobilised outside the Front’s first annual conference in October 1967, opposition to the NF in the late 1960s was mainly confined to the 62 Group, and even that was pursuing other far-right groups at the same time. In January 1967 a National Socialist Movement (NSM) meeting was disrupted by the 62 Group at Caxton Hall; more spectacularly, in July 1967 the NSM’s Terence Cooper, with whom

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Colin Jordan’s wife, Françoise, was co-habiting, was abducted by two men claiming to be police officers from Southend. Cooper was blindfolded, driven away in a van, kept in a building and questioned about fascist organisations, before being driven to Hyde Park and released on the North Carriageway. Special Branch suspected Gable’s involvement, along with Paskin, Carpel and others. Colin Jordan and two other fascists were also physically assaulted whilst walking along the street in Birmingham by a group of anti-fascists (reported to have been of ‘Jewish appearance’) in November 1968.4 That said, the early NF did not go unchallenged. The Front’s office in Tulse Hill, South London – the ‘Nationalist Centre’ – came in for some special treatment. The 62 Group was suspected of breaking into these offices in April 1967 when numerous documents were stolen. A further break-in occurred on 6 March 1969. This time more considerable damage was done: a printer machine was smashed; a water pipe was cut, causing flooding; books, boxes and papers were flung far and wide; and Tyndall’s passport and other documents were taken. Several months later, a stolen lorry was reversed into the Nationalist Centre (but the damage was limited). In October 1969 two men smashed up electrical equipment with axes in an attempt to sabotage the annual conference of the NF at Caxton Hall.5 That same month, the Independent Labour Party6 had proposed debating with the NF at a public meeting at Friars Hall in central London. After two members of the NF were assaulted by persons believed to be from the 62 Group the debate was cancelled.7 As for countering the NF’s early electoral intervention, the 62 Group was probably behind the circulation of an anti-NF leaflet during the March 1968 Acton parliamentary by-election contested by the NF’s Andrew Fountaine (he polled 5.6 per cent). The leaflet was published by the ‘Acton Anti-Fascist Committee’ but this committee, as Special Branch reports, was ‘probably fictitious’.8 For the most part, however, the formation of the NF elicited little response from potential antagonists on the left. Two reasons possibly account for this lack of interest. First, whilst the NF claimed 10,000 members in April 1968, and by May 1969 had branches in London, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Bradford, Wolverhampton and Glasgow,9 it was still relatively unknown as a political party outside militant Jewish circles and had yet to make a serious intervention in the electoral arena. Second, the radical left was more concerned about the racial populism of Enoch Powell. The scale of working-class support for Powell following his ‘rivers of blood’ speech in April 1968, when thousands of workers had staged demonstrations of support, had overwhelmed the left. The International Socialists (IS), later to become the Socialist Workers’ Party, did try to respond by proposing a single organisation to meet the ‘Urgent Challenge of Fascism’ that Powellism was said to represent. Yet with other radical-left groups suspicious of the IS’s motives and given the inherent difficulties of challenging ingrained racist attitudes in the workplace, this proposal came to nothing. Powellism, which lacked organisational form, was left to run its course.10 In 1969, in a specific bid to raise awareness of the National Front on the left, an Anti-Fascist Research Group was formed by two young undergraduates. Using

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local Jewish organisations’ typing and printing facilities out of office hours, these two students compiled a distribution list of Jewish organisations in Britain and abroad as well as trade unions and Labour Party branches. They also had access to a nationwide press cuttings service. Briefly acting as an ‘information service’ on contemporary British fascism, they published a short series of Anti-Fascist Bulletins (200–300 copies per issue), which were then circulated to various left-wing groups, trade unions, immigrant associations and Jewish organisations. The publications of the Anti-Fascist Research Group remained anonymous and its authors were never identified.11 Only in 2014 did it emerge that one of the two students was Michael Whine, future Government and International Affairs Director at the Community Security Trust.12 Whine was assisted in the production of these bulletins by Gable.13 Readers of the Bulletin were encouraged to undertake practical anti-fascist work at grassroots level and seek maximum co-operation between all local organisations that professed to be ‘anti-fascist’. They were also urged to distribute antifascist and anti-racist literature in their districts, read the local press, reply to racist features and letters, and expose fascist groups and their front organisations to the widest possible audience.14 The Bulletin additionally reported anti-fascist activity, which by 1971 was evolving on an ad hoc basis in response to announced NF activities. In much the same way as anti-fascist activity had developed in the early 1930s, it was localised, disparate and lacked central co-ordination. The Bulletin reported, for example, that anti-fascists in Hertfordshire had established a North Hertfordshire Campaign for Racial Equality as early as March 1971 in order to organise opposition to a Front march through Hitchin. Some 2,000 people had assembled to oppose the Front, with anti-fascist objectors throwing smoke bombs and rotten fruit. In June 1971 an alliance of local anti-fascists in the Bristol area had distributed anti-NF leaflets along the route of a Front march before heckling NF members as they made their way into a meeting.15 Elsewhere, Spearhead, the NF’s monthly, reported the formation of a local ‘Human Rights Group’ in Huddersfield which had circulated an anti-NF leaflet calling for opposition to proposals by the NF to open a regional headquarters.16 In Huddersfield local opposition to the Front was co-ordinated through the Trades Council.17 Yet notwithstanding these cases of isolated opposition, awareness of the National Front generally remained low. As one radical leftist complained in Red Mole, ‘[f]irstly and urgently, the fascist “tag” must be removed from Heath and the Tory government and employed only for the real extremists of the Right’.18 Anti-fascist consciousness was simply not at levels required for an opposition movement of any real significance to form and this situation was made worse by a marked failure of the left-wing press to report regularly on fascist activities. Ignorance of the NF was brought home to the Anti-Fascist Research Group in October 1971, when some 20–30 members of the NF successfully infiltrated an anti-Common Market demonstration in London – a demonstration that had been supported by trade unions, members of the Labour Party and several branches of the Communist Party. A number of NF activists freely sold anti-European Economic Community (EEC) literature, anti-immigrant literature as well as copies of Spearhead. In its

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subsequent press release, the Anti-Fascist Research Group was evidently not best pleased with ‘a TOTAL FAILURE to oppose the National Front, even though first real signs of resentment at their presence would certainly have warned them off […]’19 In 1972, some five years before the founding of the ANL, an attempt was made to call together a national anti-fascist organisation in response to moves by the NF to extend its influence in the workplace. The support that the working class had given Powell in 1968 had impressed on the Front that racism could be a potentially powerful force in the trade unions provided that the unions could be wrenched from the left. Consequently in 1972, Spearhead called on its readers to prepare for a major propaganda and recruitment drive amongst the trade unions. In reply to this, a group calling itself ‘Trades Unionists Against Fascism’ produced a one-off report to draw attention to the NF’s plan, which was then distributed to trade union executive officers, branches, trades councils and district committees. This report did not foresee a ‘vast upsurge of fascism in 1973, overwhelming the labour movement’ but did point to ‘a worrying growth in fascistic organisation, a real potential problem for trade unionists and socialists in Britain’.20 Having recognised that local ad hoc alliances against fascism tend to disintegrate when fascist activity subsides, it recommended that a permanent anti-fascist organisation be established on a national basis. However, the NF put its trade union campaign on the back burner until 1974. With the Front now giving priority to a series of ‘Stop the Asian Invasion’ demonstrations during the Ugandan Asians crisis, this particular cause for concern passed. A national anti-fascist organisation in the workplace failed to materialise. Yet the Conservative Government’s decision to accept thousands of Asians expelled by Idi Amin stimulated a period of rapid membership growth for the National Front. Membership of the Front increased by 50 per cent between October 1972 and July 1973, and may even have reached 17,500.21 This growth in membership combined with 16.2 per cent of the vote at a parliamentary byelection in West Bromwich in May 1973 captured by the Front’s Martin Webster, the NSM’s former publicity officer, and a set of encouraging results in local elections, where the NF polled an average of 19.9 per cent in Blackburn and 13 per cent in Leicester, invited greater attention from the left. It was, however, the Front’s decision to enter the national political arena and stand over 50 candidates in the February 1974 general election and thus establish a broader geographical presence than any of its post-war predecessors that finally aroused more substantive opposition. With the Communist Party, the chief grouping on the far left with some 25,000 members, seemingly preoccupied with trade union work and winning over the Labour left, it was more militant groups that first vocalised opposition to the NF. The CPGB’s position, expressed in early 1974, was to avoid physical confrontation with fascists but agitate for tighter laws banning the expression of race hatred instead.22 Towards the end of 1973, the International Socialists (with around 3,000 members) had already declared its commitment to opposing the National Front physically. During the February 1974 parliamentary election, the International

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Marxist Group (IMG) (fewer than 1,000 members) also declared itself to be in favour of physical opposition and advocated a ‘no platform’ policy for fascists.23 This policy was further supported by the National Union of Students (NUS), a body within which the IMG exerted considerable influence. At the NUS conference held in Liverpool in April 1974, the NUS voted to stop fascist and racist organisations from meeting on campus ‘by whatever means necessary’.24 On the mainstream left, concerned at the NF’s electoral performance and the Front’s renewed interest in extending its influence within the trade unions, the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) called on the TUC and Labour Party to expose the National Front as a fascist organisation.25 At the local level, more ad hoc anti-fascist committees emerged outside London, in Manchester, Coventry and Kent, amongst other places.26 That the NF intended to field over 50 candidates in the February 1974 general election, thereby qualifying for five minutes of TV and radio broadcasting time, was also noted with concern by the Board of Deputies. The Board’s records had been placed at the BBC’s disposal for a programme on the far right televised on 7 December 1972, but since the NF rarely made public reference to Jews, it had not been unduly alarmed. The Board had not detected any obvious anti-Semitic overtones during the Front’s West Bromwich by-election campaign in 1973 (indeed, Webster had written to the Jewish Chronicle in which he declared that his earlier views were the result of ‘youthful folly’). Nonetheless, it still identified a residual threat especially in view of the pro-Nazi origins of the Front’s leadership. In the wake of the February 1974 general election, it seemed as if this antiSemitism was becoming more obvious: in July 1974 Paul Rose, the Jewish Labour MP for Manchester (Blackley), referred an anti-Semitic pamphlet, Did Six Million Really Die? – The Truth at Last, to the Attorney-General. This newly published pamphlet, which described the Holocaust as a ‘most colossal piece of fiction’, had been authored under a pseudonym, but it resembled the format, layout and print of the NF’s monthly, Spearhead.27 At the same time, articles in Spearhead were becoming more anti-Semitic in tone. Concerned by public apathy over the NF’s electoral intervention, the Board produced an anti-NF leaflet which pulled no punches in ‘Exposing the Hatemongers’. A photograph of John Tyndall, the National Front’s chairman, in full Nazi uniform at the 1962 National Socialist Movement camp was reproduced and thousands of leaflets were distributed by candidates of all three main political parties in those constituencies in which the Front stood in the October general election.28 The NF leadership complained to the authorities that this leaflet constituted a breach of electoral law. In the event, the Board escaped prosecution but local distributors were taken to court, only to be later acquitted by the Appeal Court because the leaflet did not explicitly state ‘Don’t vote NF’.29 The mounting opposition to the Front would converge dramatically on Red Lion Square in London in June 1974, where an anti-fascist demonstration resulted in serious disorder and the tragic death of an anti-Front protester. This anti-Front mobilisation had been called by Liberation (formerly known as the Movement for

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Colonial Freedom), an anti-imperialist and anti-racist alliance figure-headed by Lord (Fenner) Brockway30 and comprising individuals from the Labour left, such as Sydney Bidwell, Labour MP for Southall, and Communist Party members such as Kay Beauchamp (Liberation’s London Secretary) and Tony Gilbert.31 On hearing of the NF’s plans to hold a meeting at Conway Hall to mark the end of a march through central London on 15 June, Steven Hart, General Secretary of Liberation, booked a small hall adjacent to the NF’s intended meeting place inside Conway Hall. The idea was to organise a counter-demonstration to the NF inside the hall itself as well as in the surrounding area of Red Lion Square. Following discussions with police, it was agreed that Liberation would hold a peaceful open-air meeting in Red Lion Square whilst a small contingent of anti-fascists would be allowed into Conway Hall to hold an indoor meeting, but would enter through a side entrance thereby avoiding any contact with the Front. In order to maximise the show of opposition at the open-air meeting, Liberation proceeded to invite a number of radical-left groups to participate, most notably the International Marxist Group and the International Socialists. Unbeknown to Liberation was the determination of the IMG to organise a mass picket at the main entrance of the hall, thereby denying the NF access. On 15 June 1974 around 1,500 anti-fascists marched to Red Lion Square. The largest contingent, around 700, marched behind the banner of the London District Communist Party. Located to the rear of the march was a group of some 400 to 500 IMG supporters and a smaller number of International Socialists. As the antifascist procession reached Red Lion Square, the IMG and IS contingents broke away and made directly for the police cordon around the main entrance of Conway Hall whereupon violent clashes between police and militant anti-fascists ensued. It was in these confrontations, which lasted for less than 15 minutes, that Kevin Gately, a mathematics student from Warwick University, was fatally injured. Following the restoration of order within the square, a second confrontation took place on the southern periphery at Vernon Place where a large group of anti-fascist demonstrators attempted to block the NF’s procession. A variety of missiles and two smoke bombs were thrown from the anti-fascist side before police cleared the anti-fascist demonstrators onto the pavements and dispersed the crowd. In all, one person died, 46 policemen and at least 12 demonstrators were injured, 51 people were arrested and the whole police operation had cost an estimated £15,000.32 One anti-fascist activist recalled, ‘Red Lion Square was splashed all over the Sundays […] The National Front were headline news though, as was the fact that there was violent opposition to the bastards’.33 The IMG believed that at Red Lion Square the ‘political point that the fascists are not a “normal” political organisation was made brilliantly […] This campaign is a severe political blow to the fascists’.34 The NF was becoming rattled by the left’s campaign to pin the ‘fascist’ label on them, it thought.35 Yet in the view of Martin Walker, the anti-fascist agitation at Red Lion Square backfired, turning the National Front into a household name. For it was the NF who ‘emerged as the innocent victims of political violence, the Left who

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emerged as the instigators […]’36 Consistent with Walker’s reading of events, Richard Clutterbuck insisted that: The result was precisely what the NF would have wished – publicity for the purpose of their demonstrations, discrediting of their detractors, increasing applications for membership and a substantially increased vote both at the next general election and at subsequent by-elections.37 Did Red Lion Square boost the NF’s performance at the October 1974 general election? Although the Front polled relatively well in a number of constituencies in London, such as Newham North East, Wood Green, Tottenham, and Hackney South and Shoreditch, where it received a higher percentage of the vote than in February, in the 44 seats contested both in February and October, the NF’s share of the vote remained more or less static. Moreover, its overall average only fell marginally from 3.3 per cent in February to 3.1 per cent in October. With some justification, Stan Taylor could therefore rightly conclude that no side could claim a victory as Red Lion Square ‘neither helped nor hindered the NF in October 1974’.38 All the same, events at Red Lion Square galvanised further anti-fascism. One spinoff was that more anti-fascist committees were formed at local level. In Oxford, for instance, a newly created Oxford Anti-Fascist Committee took on the NF during the October 1974 general election campaign with two meetings organised by the Front’s candidate, Ian Anderson, successfully disrupted.39 Another consequence was that the volume of anti-NF literature increased. Of particular note here was the publication in August 1974 of a pamphlet by Searchlight – A Well-Oiled Nazi Machine. This was an exposé of the NF and other extreme-right organisations.40 Searchlight had been irregularly published in the 1960s as a broadsheet newspaper edited by two Labour MPs, first Reginald Freeson and then Joan Lestor.41 After Freeson and Lestor became junior Labour government ministers, Searchlight turned into a news agency, ‘and the years 1968–1974 were spent feeding stories about Nazi activities to the media in Britain and abroad’.42 Well-Oiled was a collaborative effort between Maurice Ludmer, a former CPGB member, anti-racist activist and member of the Birmingham Anti-Fascist Committee, and Gerry Gable, Searchlight’s original research director. Along with literature distributed by the Board of Deputies, and a booklet entitled ‘Guide to Extremism in Britain 1973’, published by the ‘Circle for Democratic Studies’43 but most likely Searchlight, Well-Oiled was one of the first public documents to reveal the Nazi pedigrees of the Front leadership and all 7,500 copies quickly sold out. This indicated the necessity for such a publication amongst anti-fascist circles. Ludmer and Gable re-launched Searchlight in magazine format in February 1975 (printed in black and white, with the slogan ‘Fight Fascism, Defend Democracy’). Besides encouraging the emergence of additional local anti-fascist committees and circulation of anti-Front literature, at least two large demonstrations against the NF took place following Red Lion Square, with both involving significant numbers of people. The IMG sent coaches to Leicester for an anti-NF demonstration on 24 August 1974 where 6,000 demonstrators marched. The anti-fascist mobilisation in

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Leicester had won broad support, ranging from the local Labour Party, trade unions and Liberal Party, through to the Indian Workers’ Association and Communist Party.44 The IS also mobilised against the Front with the result that the ‘revolutionary left’ comprised around two-thirds of the anti-NF demonstration. A small group of IS demonstrators broke away and sought to harass the Front.45 In London, on 7 September 1974, the route of a National Front march through Hyde Park was occupied by a crowd of 7,000 anti-fascists, forcing the police to re-route the NF march to Lincoln’s Inn Fields.46 Fearing confrontation, the CPGB called on demonstrators to disperse (many anti-fascists had turned up wearing helmets and defensive clothing). Most stood their ground; some IS left the occupation in order to pursue the Front along its route.47 The adoption of these tactics by the IS drew criticism from the IMG, which supported physical force anti-fascism so long as it involved more than just small-scale, minority operations. For the IMG, this tactic did nothing to expose the Front politically. At the same time, the IMG saw little point in holding a succession of counter-demonstrations if the purpose was only to demonstrate that anti-fascist numbers were larger than fascist ones. This, the IMG believed, would not stop the Front from campaigning, and would not evoke strong reactions from workers. The central strategy had to be a militant ‘No Platform for Fascists’.48 For the IS, the reality was that their main target was not the Front in this period, but reformism and racism in the labour movement. The IS was not inclined to support ‘ultra-left hysteria that sees the Front as a substitute bogey for the ruling class’, but it was keen to discourage ‘conservative complacency that the Front is an irrelevance to our “serious work”’. Its line was that the IS should concentrate on countering the NF at elections, especially at local level, and that these local demonstrations should be led by trades councils. The aim was to ‘activate working class militants and the labour movement, not substitute ourselves for that’.49 In November 1974, in seeking to build on the impetus occasioned by Red Lion Square, a conference against racism and fascism was held at Warwick University, with over 300 delegates in attendance, representing an array of revolutionary-left organisations, including the IMG, IS and CPGB, student unions, trade unions and immigrant workers. However, progress towards unity of anti-fascist action was stalled by rampant left-wing sectarianism.50 For all the adverse publicity that the Red Lion Square disorder had generated for the left, more anti-fascists than fascists could still be mobilised at street level – surely a dispiriting state of affairs for the NF. Yet what proved more damaging to Front morale was a hostile TV programme screened in September 1974 to an audience of over 8 million viewers. In this programme, John O’Brien, who had been replaced by Tyndall as Chairman of the NF in 1972, alleged that Tyndall and Martin Webster (the Front’s National Activities Organiser) had close connections with national socialists in West Germany.51 This programme stirred up a hornet’s nest inside the Front, aggravated hidden tensions between ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’, and shattered National Front unity.52 Tyndall was promptly ousted from the NF chairmanship and replaced by the more ‘moderate’ former Conservative, John Kingsley

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Read.53 Thereafter, a lengthy period of internal wrangling between various factions ensued, with the result that a rival offshoot was formed in November 1975 in the shape of the National Party led by Kingsley Read.54 Tyndall resumed leadership of the Front, although at significant cost: the NF haemorrhaged 2–3,000 members to the National Party and lost considerable ground. Thus as early as 1974, adverse media treatment impacted negatively on the Front and this underlines the point that opposition to the NF involved more than simply displays of street hostility. In 1975, notwithstanding the fact that the NF was immersed in internal altercations, the Front did try to get an anti-EEC campaign off the ground, but this was stifled by anti-fascist opposition. First, more than 120 Labour-controlled local councils were now refusing to allow municipal halls to be used by the NF which indicated growing opposition from the Labour Party, albeit at a local level. An increasingly desperate NF responded first with attacks on opposition meetings, such as the violent disruption of a public meeting organised by Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Council in February 1975.55 Second, the NF organised demonstrations against local council bans. On 8 March 1975 the NF held a rally in Hyde Market Square after being banned from the town hall by the Labour-controlled council (only 150 NF attended despite it being a national mobilisation). On 25 March 1975, the NF tried to hold a meeting on the steps of Islington Town Hall in North London in protest at a local ban. Anti-fascists mobilised in numbers against the Front.56 Seven Labour councillors left a council meeting to thank the demonstrators.57 In May 1975 600 anti-fascists formed a mass picket in front of the entrance to Oxford Town Hall where the NF had succeeded in booking a meeting, despite the fact that the council was Labour controlled. A petition against the meeting, organised by the Oxford Anti-Fascist Committee, had been signed by 1,400 people. Following the picket, an open-air rally was attended by 2,000 people, including 100 local Pakistani workers.58 That same month, 70 anti-fascists were arrested after trying to stop a Front meeting in Glasgow – the Front was able to hold its meeting but only 12 people were brave enough to attend.59 On 11 October 1975, an estimated 1,000 people demonstrated outside the NF’s AGM at Chelsea Town Hall, where a mass picket was organised by the International Socialists and the International Marxist Group (the CPGB held an alternative demonstration at the World’s End, Chelsea).60 Hence, at the beginning of 1976, anti-fascists could look back over the period since Red Lion Square with relative satisfaction. National Front morale had been undermined through continued shows of force and antifascists had also ensured that the NF’s anti-EEC campaign had been a non-starter. Coming off second best, the National Front now looked destined for an early return to the political margins. Yet the Front refused to admit defeat and during 1976 it unexpectedly bounced back.

II It is commonly accepted that the unrestrained press sensationalism that accompanied the arrival of Malawi Asians to Britain in May 1976 led directly to the

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National Front’s revival. As Walker so aptly puts it, ‘[i]t was the story of the Ugandan Asians all over again […]’61 Inflammatory press reports of ‘four-star hotel’ Malawian Asians enjoying luxury at the taxpayer’s expense, over-inflation of the numbers of Malawi Asians that were set to enter the country and publicity surrounding NF demonstrations at various airports, meant that the National Front experienced both a sudden influx of around 3,000 new members62 and some disturbing electoral successes. In local elections in May 1976, the National Front stood 48 candidates in Leicester and polled 43,733 votes in all, some 18.5 per cent of the vote. It missed out on winning a council seat in one ward by just 60 votes. In Bradford, 21 candidates stood, capturing 9,399 votes, some 10 per cent of the vote. In Blackburn, the breakaway National Party won two local council seats after capturing 1,500 and 1,200 votes, respectively. Shortly afterwards, in July 1976, at a by-election in Deptford in South London, the combined vote for the National Front and the National Party reached an alarming 44 per cent.63 The NF then announced that it would be standing a record 318 candidates at the next general election. For sure, there had been some opposition to the NF during these local elections. The Board of Deputies re-issued 100,000 copies of its ‘Exposing the Hatemongers’ leaflet. Labour and Liberal candidates had agreed to distribute it but the Conservatives declined the offer.64 However, opposition had generally been low-key and the results shocked anti-fascists with the consequence that locally based anti-fascist committees ‘mushroomed to meet the threat’.65 Significantly, these attracted support not only from the radical left but also from the mainstream labour movement. Indeed, in sharp contrast to the 1930s, the involvement of grassroots Labour Party members in these local anti-fascist groups was actively encouraged by Labour leaders who had become increasingly concerned about the success of the extreme right in working-class areas, having identified 21 seats that could possibly fall to the Conservative Party in the event of NF intervention. Running parallel to the mobilisation of these anti-fascist committees (AFCs) were religious groups which began publicly to oppose fascism. One of the first religious bodies to declare its opposition to the NF was All Faiths For One Race, which published a number of anti-Front leaflets targeted at Christians.66 Previously, the response of Labour leaders to the NF had been subdued. Compared to conflicts over industrial relations, the three-day week and incomes policy, the NF was a minor issue. Moreover, many in Labour Party circles believed that the NF was stealing votes from disaffected Tories. Nonetheless, in the October 1974 general election, Labour’s National Executive Committee did advise its candidates not to share platforms with the Front and not to take part in any radio or television programme where a Front candidate was to participate. Now, at its annual conference in 1976, the Labour Party called on all its branches to assist in the development of the network of locally based anti-fascist and anti-racist committees, and implored all Labour councils to deny the National Front and National Party use of council premises.67 Before 1976, local trade unions, moderate trades councils and Labour Party branches had tended to avoid participation in local AFCs (there were of

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course exceptions) because either they were nervous of addressing the issue of racism which was deeply implanted within the working class and/or they did not wish to be associated with radical-left groups that were inclined towards violent opposition. Following the electoral successes of the Front, however, the Labour Party and TUC grasped the nettle and towards the end of the year launched a joint campaign against racism and the NF.68 The formation (or in some cases re-formation) of local AFCs over the course of 1976–7 did not follow any set pattern. In Haringey, Lambeth and Southwark, for instance, AFCs emerged from radical-left-connected or -sustained trades councils, whilst in other areas (for example Lewisham) the Race Equality Councils and the Labour Party were chief instigators.69 In Blackburn, in the wake of the National Party’s electoral success, an anti-fascist committee was resurrected. However, it lacked a clear policy on how to tackle the National Party. An alternative local organisation, the Action Against Racism Committee, held meetings with the editor of the local press in order to modify the tone of reporting (there had been sensationalist stories of Asians attacking National Party supporters).70 A national anti-racist demonstration did take place in Blackburn in September 1976, organised by Action Against Racism and Blackburn Trades Council, with IS, IMG and CPGB support, but Labour pulled out when it learnt that the far right intended a counter-protest. In the event, the demonstration passed off peacefully with only three arrests. Typically, the work of AFCs in the localities involved leafleting, fly-posting, preventing NF paper sales, raising awareness of the NF in trade unions, holding public meetings, petitioning local councils or police to ban NF meetings or marches, and organising pickets or counter-demonstrations. Like the 1930s, co-ordination of anti-fascist activity at the national level was absent. Attempts were made to impose some central co-ordination in the autumn of 1976 when the Northern Committee, comprising a network of AFCs from the North-West, Yorkshire and the north Midlands, called a meeting along with Searchlight, to establish a National Co-ordinating Committee of Anti-Fascist Committees. This set itself the task of producing joint anti-fascist propaganda, exchanging information, and producing a co-ordinating bulletin for each local AFC. However, the work of the ‘National Committee’ remained geographically restricted to the North and Midlands, and so anti-fascists in London were left to steer their own course.71 It was not until May 1977 that 23 anti-fascist committees in London came together to form their own All London Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee (ARAFCC), which adopted CARF, the paper of the Kingston Campaign against Racism and Fascism, as its bi-monthly.72 All London co-ordination had started with preparations for a counter-demonstration against the National Front’s St George’s Day march through Wood Green, North London, on 23 April 1977. Anti-fascists in Haringey had managed to assemble an impressive alliance of local branches of the Labour Party, anti-racist groups, trade unionists, as well as the Indian Workers’ Association, the International Marxist Group, the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), Communists, local West Indians, Cypriots and even Conservative councillors into a 3,000-strong protest. Future Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (then

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a Labour Party councillor) assisted in organising the anti-fascist counter-demonstration. There was some disagreement over tactics, with elements on the anti-fascist side, led by the SWP, urging physical confrontation.73 Thus, whilst moderate antifascists addressed a meeting at one end of Duckett’s Common at Wood Green, the SWP assembled away from this meeting and subjected the NF column to a series of ambushes and a barrage of smoke bombs, bricks, stones, bottles, eggs, rotten fruit, and even shoes taken from racks outside a shoe shop. In the most serious case of fascist/anti-fascist disorder in London since Red Lion Square, 81 people were arrested, of whom 74 were anti-fascists. Nonetheless, despite the number of arrests, militant anti-fascists held that the Wood Green mobilisation had produced a favourable result, demoralising the Front, reducing the NF marchers to ‘an illorganised and bedraggled queue’.74 One anti-fascist recorded in his diary: ‘It had been quite a day. I’d never been through a demonstration like it and left it determined that the National Front must be opposed with absolute ruthlessness wherever it dares to appear.’75 The anti-fascist solidarity that emerged from the Wood Green demonstration ran through the 1977 Greater London Council (GLC) elections the following month.76 In these elections the Front captured 119,063 votes in the 91 seats it contested. Although this averaged out at a relatively insignificant 5 per cent, the NF had polled impressively in East London, where it won over 15 per cent of the vote in five seats in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, and in a number of other boroughs where it captured between 5 and 15 per cent of the vote. Perhaps most sensationally, the NF beat the Liberals to third place in 33 seats and now claimed to be the country’s third most popular political party, a claim given credence by highly impressionistic reports that equated the GLC elections with levels of party support at general elections. Later analyses confirmed that the NF vote at the GLC elections was not evidence of growing support, but instead residual support distorted by the effects of differential turnout.77 Nevertheless, the NF’s apparent electoral success brought new urgency to the anti-fascist opposition and with the NF seemingly set for a major electoral breakthrough, anti-fascists stiffened their resolve. This was particularly true of the Socialist Workers’ Party, which became even more determined to use physical force to ‘clear the Nazis off the streets’.78 This was most evident at local level where the SWP ordered the establishment of ‘combat groups’ (squads) in those areas where the left was coming under most pressure from the NF. On 13 August 1977, the SWP gave further practical demonstration of its intent at Lewisham in South London. Here, the Front had called an ‘anti-muggers’ march in an area where young blacks suspected of mugging offences had recently been targeted by police in a series of early morning raids. Not surprisingly, the Front’s march excited much indignation and was clearly intended to fan the flames of racial tension. The AFC in Lewisham was the All Lewisham Campaign against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF), a broad-based alliance formed in January 1977 and affiliated to the All London Co-ordinating Committee. Understandably, given ALCARAF’s wide composition, which included representatives from the mainstream political parties, radical-left groups, churches, trade unions, the local council,

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black organisations and women’s groups, difficulties were encountered in agreeing on how ALCARAF should best respond to the Front’s provocation. Consequently the initiative passed to the SWP, which was intent on coming to blows with the NF, to stop it from marching and thereby inflict an embarrassing defeat on the Front’s leaders who had promised that Lewisham would be its biggest demonstration to date.79 Despite initial hesitancy, ALCARAF was able to win broad support for a peaceful demonstration through Lewisham on the morning of 13 August but scheduled it to take place at a different time and location to the Front’s march. The SWP, on the other hand, called for a separate demonstration at Clifton Rise which was the NF’s intended assembly point and scheduled it for just before the NF was set to arrive. The All London Co-ordinating Committee then stepped in between ALCARAF and the SWP and informed their chief stewards of respective plans. There was little attempt to restrain the SWP, not least because SWP members were active in many local AFCs and, besides, within the AFCs there were undoubtedly radical elements that were favourable to militant anti-fascism.80 Thus, despite intervention by the All London Co-ordinating Committee, two separate demonstrations were still planned (hardly an indication of successful co-ordination). In the meantime, repeated appeals were made for the Front’s march to be banned by three local MPs, the local Labour council, the TUC, ALCARAF, church leaders, 1,500 Christians, Lewisham Community Relations Council and the majority of the national and all the local press. Yet on the grounds of freedom of speech, Merlyn Rees, the Labour Home Secretary, refused to ban the march even though this was clearly a suitable case for treatment under the Public Order Act. Rees was reported as saying that, ‘[e]ven if we despise, disagree with, and hate the people involved, there is a right to demonstrate’.81 However, there was clearly an expectation of serious disorder with one quarter of the Metropolitan Police called in to Lewisham. Riot shields were issued for the very first time. The ALCARAF march, led by Roger Godsiff, Labour Mayor of Lewisham, Mike Power, a member of the CPGB National Executive, Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark, and Martin Savitt, Chairman of the Board of Deputies’ defence committee, attracted 4,000 anti-fascists and passed off without serious incident. What attracted most notice was a CPGB leaflet which called on people not to attend the SWP march in the afternoon. This was a riposte to the SWP, which had attempted to hijack the radical anti-fascist tradition from the CPGB by earlier distributing ‘They shall not pass’ leaflets in the borough. Whilst it may be true that, as a national body, the Communist Party had done little to counter the National Front and had surrendered militant anti-fascism to the IS/SWP and IMG, Communist Party members were often key figures in local anti-fascist committees.82 Analogous to policy pursued in the mid- to late 1940s, the Communist Party’s line was that the way to oppose fascism was by building a broad front amongst a range of organisations so widening opposition to include the big battalions of the labour movement. Within the AFCs, CPGB members looked to gain the confidence of moderate Labourites in the struggle against fascism and then win them over to

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Communism. In a repetition of well-versed arguments, the CPGB maintained that physical confrontation blocked the development of mass opposition to fascism as ‘only street fighters are likely to apply’, thereby isolating anti-fascists from the rest of the labour movement.83 Interpreting Cable Street as a community-wide antifascist action, it therefore insisted that: ‘The line of historic continuity between the great victory (at Cable Street) and the struggle against fascism today runs through the approach argued for by Communists in the Alcaraf, and not through the tactics of the SWP.’84 The Socialist Workers’ Party had appealed to the Political Committee of the CPGB in June 1977 for ‘united left action’ against fascism but had been coldshouldered.85 The SWP then proceeded to hit back at the CPGB’s ‘reformism’ and derided the AFCs as ‘class collaborationist anti-racialist committees stuffed full of reformist trade union bureaucrats, jolly liberal clergymen and other such riff-raff’. Accordingly, the SWP advised that ‘we should not ignore these bodies, but we have to recognise very clearly that they cannot and will not lead the physical struggle against fascism’.86 Whilst the first anti-fascist demonstration at Lewisham was peaceful, the second, involving 3–5,000 anti-fascists, resulted in serious disorder. Contingents led by the SWP, which had resolved to ‘stop the Nazi Front’87 broke through the police cordon shielding the NF march and succeeded in splitting the march in two, whereupon the police intervened and diverted the Front marchers, numbering some 500–600, into back streets and then on to a small meeting addressed by John Tyndall. In response to police attempts then to disperse the counter-demonstration, the SWP attacked the police in Lewisham High Street where the main ‘battle’ took place. While the numbers of anti-fascists present at the ‘Battle of Lewisham’ fades into insignificance when compared to the numbers at Cable Street, more than twice the number of anti-fascists (214) were arrested. It has been suggested that Lewisham marked a new stage in the escalation of the anti-fascist struggle by attracting significant numbers of local black people to militant anti-fascism.88 Yet this is probably an overstatement. Whilst ethnic origin is not clear, of those arrested at Lewisham only 47 came from the local area.89 Predictably, the SWP claimed to have effected a major victory over the National Front at Lewisham, where ‘the Nazi Front got the hammering of their lives’.90 For one anti-fascist, such was the scale of the Front’s defeat that ‘if I was a National Front member I’d be hitting the bottle by now’.91 The fact that the number of Front marchers had fallen from the 1,000 or so at Wood Green to 500–600 at Lewisham was taken as evidence that violent opposition was working: ‘we know for a fact that many NF members are bloody angry with the leadership for putting them at risk.’92 Despite negative press publicity which had equated the ‘Red Fascists’ of the SWP with the National Front, and had in some cases (e.g. Daily Mail, Daily Express) proclaimed the SWP to be ‘nastier’ than the Front,93 confrontational tactics were repeated at the Ladywood by-election in Birmingham on 15 August 1977, when anti-fascists clashed with police outside a Front election meeting in Handsworth.

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In a letter to the Prime Minister, James Callaghan, written on 18 August 1977, John Tyndall explained the Front’s position: The question has been asked if we were not intending to ‘provoke’ why did we march through an area where there is not a large immigrant population? The simple answer is that it is in the major urban areas of this country where most of our active support lies and there is scarcely any major urban area left where there is not a large immigrant population.94 The NF’s tactics on these marches was to ‘remain just within the law whilst encouraging its opponents to step outside of it’,95 and opponents did not require much encouragement. In his defence of violence, the SWP’s Alex Callinicos argued that failure to stop the Front from marching would empower Front leaders to build aggressive self-confidence amongst supporters, and allow fear and intimidation to be spread amongst black and Asian people. Front recruits would then become hardened Nazis and would soon turn on the working class itself.96 Violence against the NF would prevent this: it would shatter the illusion of fascist strength, break faith in the NF’s leaders and cut down levels of support. Yet matching the shortterm impact of Cable Street on BUF membership, it appears that the NF may have recruited 50 new members per day immediately following events at Lewisham and Ladywood.97 There is also evidence to suggest that the Front picked up the support of around one in ten of the white electorate in Ladywood during the last few days of the campaign, possibly as a reaction to disorder by the extreme left at Lewisham five days earlier and during the Ladywood campaign itself. In the event, the Front polled 5.7 per cent of the vote and finished ahead of the Liberals.98 Certainly the SWP’s claim that the Front’s ‘bubble burst at Lewisham’99 can be questioned and in terms of NF recruitment, as at Cable Street, physical confrontation seems to have had the opposite effect to what militant anti-fascists had originally anticipated. Even if Lewisham provided a boost to the Front, it proved very ephemeral. One consequence of the rise of militant anti-fascism was that the police became more inclined to request a ban on marches under the Public Order Act. Thereafter the state increasingly denied the Front opportunities to hold processions as once again it fulfilled its historic role and sought to contain extremist disorder. At Manchester in October 1977, an NF march was banned leading to the extraordinary sight of Martin Webster staging a lone protest in defence of free speech protected by 1,000 police. Whilst Webster held his ‘diversionary’ protest, 500–600 NF supporters marched through Levenshulme instead, resulting in the arrests of one NF supporter and 28 anti-fascists. A two-month ban on demonstrations in London then followed in February 1978 in order to cover two by-elections contested by the Front. Indeed, by May 1978, the National Front had become convinced that the police had adopted a new anti-NF policy, with Martin Webster claiming that the attitude of the police had changed from ‘impartiality and fairness to a policy of bullying and intimidation’.100

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Perhaps the most widely known consequence of Lewisham was that the Socialist Workers’ Party initiated the formation of the Anti-Nazi League. It had become obvious to the SWP that many people outside the SWP were keen to oppose the NF but wanted little to do with the SWP itself. Ill at ease with the media’s ‘Red Fascists’ smear, the SWP realised that its tactics were alienating it from more moderate opposition groups.101 The SWP was anxious to develop a specific antifascist organisation that would not only draw in the widest possible range of opposition to the NF but would also counteract hostile reporting of the Socialist Workers’ Party. As one anti-fascist explained: The problem with using violence is that it gets you bad publicity. You could argue that if people end up with an attitude of ‘a plague on both your houses’, you have still won because people aren’t supporting the fascists – even if they don’t support you either. But most anti-fascists would probably want to get approval for their cause, and this means being careful about what you do when the press is about.102

III David Widgery records that the idea of an anti-Nazi united front was first mooted a fortnight before Lewisham in the back garden of the home of Jim Nichols, the SWP’s National Secretary,103 though it was presumably the aftereffects of Lewisham that led Paul Holborrow, a leading SWP activist, to take on the plan with such zeal. Holborrow succeeded in enlisting support from figures on the Labour left, in particular Peter Hain, a prominent anti-apartheid campaigner, and Ernie Roberts, a former anti-nuclear campaigner who was the prospective Labour candidate for Hackney North. In early November, the Anti-Nazi League was formally launched at a meeting held at the House of Commons, and by the end of 1977 had secured the support of the majority of the Tribune group of Labour left MPs, known anti-fascists such as Maurice Ludmer (editor of Searchlight), Lord Brockway and Syd Bidwell, as well as prominent trade union leaders. Most noticeably, it also boasted sponsors from outside politics. These, as Taylor has already noted, were clearly intended to act as so-called ‘opinion leaders’ and provided much of the ANL’s early publicity.104 This group included actors (Alfie Bass, Warren Mitchell, Prunella Scales, Miriam Karlin), comedians (Dave Allen, Derek Griffiths), authors (Iris Murdoch, Melvyn Bragg) and even football managers (Jack Charlton, Brian Clough).105 A national steering committee was subsequently elected; the three executive positions of Organiser, Press Officer and Treasurer taken by Holborrow, Hain and Roberts, respectively; the other committee members included Maurice Ludmer (thus guaranteeing Searchlight’s input), a group of four Labour left MPs including future Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, Nigel Harris (a leading figure in the SWP), and the actress Miriam Karlin. Of these, Holborrow was the only full-time salaried official with the Rowntree Trust pledging £600 every quarter until the next general election. Financial support was also forthcoming from an undisclosed Jewish businessman.106

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With a view to becoming an all-embracing ‘broad front’ accommodating all those opposed to the growth of the British Nazism, the ANL stressed the need to forego political differences and unite against the NF on a national basis. In this sense, the launch of the ANL was a defining moment in the history of British antifascism as even at the height of Mosley’s popularity in the 1930s, there had been no national body solely dedicated to the anti-fascist struggle. In its founding statement, the League’s stated objective was ‘to organise on the widest possible scale against the propaganda and activities of the Nazis in Britain today’; more specifically, it put itself forth as a propaganda organisation that would counter the National Front at the forthcoming general election: In these months before the General Election the Nazis will seize every opportunity to spread their propaganda. During the Election itself, National Front candidates will be entitled to equal TV and radio time to the major parties. The British electorate will be exposed to Nazi propaganda on an unprecedented scale … Millions of leaflets and posters will have to be distributed. To have the necessary impact, this demands a campaign on a national and massive scale.107 This campaign began in earnest at an NF-contested parliamentary by-election at Bournemouth East at the end of November 1977, when an ANL team put up posters ‘Never Again. Stop the Nazi National Front’, and distributed an estimated 25,000 factsheets exposing the ‘real views’ of the NF.108 The Front’s poor showing of 3.8 per cent of the vote encouraged further local interventions by the ANL, although understandably, initial forays into local electoral arenas raised concerns amongst the existing network of grassroots anti-fascist groups that the ANL ‘might swamp local activity and initiative’. Nonetheless, the All London Co-ordinating Committee welcomed the launch of the Anti-Nazi League and advised that since the ANL was ‘specifically geared towards fighting fascism at elections and will most probably dissolve after the next general election’, the work of local AFCs would ‘complement rather than compete with the aims of the Anti-Nazi League’ and so local AFCs should make full use of ANL propaganda.109 Over the short term, collaboration between the ANL and local AFCs followed. In April 1978, at a byelection in Brixton, the local AFC, known as the All Lambeth Anti-Racist Movement, worked closely alongside the ANL to organise a large public meeting and produced 30,000 joint leaflets.110 Yet in other places, local AFCs retained greater independence. In Leamington, for instance, the Leamington Anti-Racist AntiFascist Committee, formed in November 1977, opposed local fascist activity on the basis of socialist anti-racism. It published its own newsletter with a circulation of 500–1,000 for each issue.111 Such was the general level of concern over the Front’s apparent progress, that as well as the Anti-Nazi League, various other anti-NF initiatives appeared towards the end of 1977. Joan Lestor, Labour MP, was the key figure behind the Joint Committee Against Racialism which was launched in December 1977. This, as

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Taylor identifies, was an ‘alternative to the ANL for moderates’.112 It attracted wide support from the Labour Party, Liberal Party, the Board of Deputies, the British Council of Churches, various immigrant organisations, the NUS and, despite the protestations of Margaret Thatcher, the National Union of Conservative Associations. Unsurprisingly, with such broad representation, difficulties were encountered in agreeing to policies and consequently activity appears to have largely involved distribution of anti-racist literature. Moreover, a national campaign against the National Front was also launched by the British Council of Churches, which issued a declaration against racism signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury that was then circulated to congregations for signature.113 More significant was the Labour Party’s decision to devote a TV broadcast in December 1977 to a hard-hitting attack on the Front. This directly linked the NF to Hitler, Mussolini and concentration camps – so critical that the BBC had to censor parts of it.114 This broadcast, the cornerstone of a renewed joint campaign by the Labour Party and TUC against the National Front, was initiated by the Party’s Press and Publicity Committee. It was devised by a non-party member, Ian Morrison, and resulted from Labour Party concerns over the ‘inroads’ that the NF was supposedly making into the Labour’s working-class vote.115 By using the mainstream broadcast media as the vehicle for anti-fascism in such a dramatic way, the Labour Party’s broadcast had considerable impact. The simple ‘NF = Nazis’ message was driven into millions of homes, with the popular press further encouraging wide acceptance of this message by responding in complimentary terms. The Daily Mirror’s editorial congratulated the broadcast which ‘tore into the National Front head-on, the only way it will ever be routed’,116 and The Sun agreed that ‘[t]he Front ARE about the nastiest bunch of characters on the British political scene. Their so-called policies are a load of sickening rubbish’.117 By early 1978, such was the depth of Labour Party disquiet about the Front’s potential to become a vehicle for working-class protest, that the Anti-Nazi League had now garnered the support of over 50 Labour MPs, with many grassroots Labour Party activists also becoming ANL members. As Anthony Messina has noted, high-profile Labour politicians would often address ANL rallies, including Tony Benn, who was then a Cabinet Minister. However, the Labour Party stopped short of official endorsement.118 Naturally, it was cautious about aligning itself with an organisation linked to the SWP which the Labour Party had already denounced following events at Lewisham in August 1977. Nevertheless, the Labour Party leadership was prepared to turn a blind eye to participation of its members alongside radical-left groups in the ANL because with possibly close to 50,000 members by the summer of 1978, the ANL clearly had potential to erode popular support for the Front in marginal constituencies. The ANL was thus politically advantageous for the Labour Party at a time when Labour’s electoral prospects were bleak. As one anti-fascist publication put it, ‘it was a chance to counteract NF electoral gains in Labour strongholds’ so ‘Labour saw the ANL primarily as an electoral machine for fighting the NF at the ballot box […]’119

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However, notwithstanding growing Labour Party involvement, the Socialist Workers’ Party still remained the Anti-Nazi League’s leading player. Other radicalleft groups such as the IMG and CPGB did rally to the cause, with the latter having ditched its hostility to the SWP/ANL in the interests of popular anti-fascist unity in March 1978; but with the ANL’s structure based heavily on existing SWP networks, the SWP supplied the Anti-Nazi League with its organisational backbone. The SWP’s headquarters supplied the ANL with its propaganda material. Most local ANL groups were run by SWP activists and, therefore, as well as having Holborrow installed in the ANL’s top position, the SWP also dominated the ANL’s local base. According to the NF, SWP activists controlled ANL groups in Sheffield, Hull, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Rotherham, Bradford, Pontefract, Wakefield, Cardiff, Manchester, South-East London, north Devon, Swansea, Pontypridd, Leeds and Newcastle.120 Naturally, the rapid growth of the ANL also provided the SWP with recruitment opportunities. Socialist Worker, the SWP’s weekly, reported on 27 May 1978 that due to its lead in the struggle against the Front people were joining the SWP at a rate of 150 per month. In one revealing issue, it was declared ‘crucial that members of the SWP and supporters of our paper visit every member of the Anti Nazi League in their locality to ask them to take out a subscription to Socialist Worker’.121 An SWP poster of a snake’s head superimposed on a male dressed in a Union Jack t-shirt and NF Nazi armband read: ‘NAZI POISON: IF YOU’RE FIGHTING FASCISM Socialist Worker IS YOUR PAPER.’122 However, sales and circulation of Socialist Worker did not substantially increase. Nonetheless, a party internal bulletin (May 1979) reported some evidence of ‘modest but significant recruitment out of the ANL’.123 The SWP’s membership had grown to around 5,000 by the end of the 1970s.124 The linchpin of ANL activity was the dissemination of anti-fascist propaganda. Initially, anti-fascist literature was put out during local campaigning at elections, but its dissemination widened considerably commensurate with the scope of ANL activity, which during 1978 extended to the staging of mass rallies and the organisation of various workplace ANL groups (such as teachers, civil servants, rail workers, firemen, busmen, factory workers and so on). Repeatedly, ANL propaganda branded the NF a ‘front for Nazis’ and was unrelenting in its exposure of the Nazi credentials of the NF’s leaders. In this respect, the contribution of Searchlight proved vital. Searchlight supplied photographs of NF leaders Tyndall and Webster in Nazi regalia and provided revealing quotations from both Tyndall and Webster, who had both been members of the NSM in their youth.125 The fact that the leaders of the National Front had such clear Nazi pasts was certainly advantageous for anti-fascists – as far as posing as ‘respectable’ was concerned, Tyndall and Webster were hardly an exemplary choice. Not only did anti-fascist revelations raise awareness amongst the wider public of the Front’s ‘hidden agenda’, but anti-fascist propaganda also encouraged defections by NF sympathisers who had originally joined the Front because it was the only party speaking out against immigration but were horrified to discover a virulently anti-Semitic brand of fascism at the core. It has been suggested that around 12,000 people joined and then left the NF in the 1970s126 and

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unquestionably the ANL contributed to this rapid turnover of members by helping expose the Front’s fascist ideology. Additionally, as Paul Gilroy observed, the Anti-Nazi League also pressed the residual anti-fascism of post-war British nationalism into service. The aim was to betray the National Front as ‘sham patriots’ who were insidiously importing an ‘alien’ and ‘unpatriotic’ ideology. Here Gilroy is still worth quoting at length: This inauthentic patriotism was exposed and contrasted with the genuine nationalist spirit which had been created in Britain’s finest hour – the ‘anti-fascist’ 1939–45 war. The neo-fascists wore the uniform of Nazism beneath their garb of outward respectability […] The League leaflets were illustrated with the imagery of the war – concentration camps and Nazi troops and were captioned with the slogan ‘Never Again’ […] Above all, the popular memory of the anti-fascist war was employed by the ANL to alert people to the dangers of neo-fascism in their midst. Pictures of the NF leaders wearing Nazi uniforms were produced as the final proof that their Britishness was in doubt.127 However, critics of the Anti-Nazi League on the far left were quick to point out that by arguing that the NF was ‘unpatriotic’, the ANL merely reinforced patriotism and British nationalism. In this way, the ANL supported the British ‘imperialist state’, covered up the ‘racist’ immigration controls of the Labour Government and thereby contained racism within a bourgeois democratic framework. According to Maxine Williams of the Revolutionary Communist Group,128 the ANL assumed a reactionary role where it eroded popular support for the NF merely ‘to prevent support for racism from upsetting the bourgeois democratic apple cart […]’129 For the Revolutionary Communist Tendency’s130 Frank Richards (Furedi), ‘The warnings issued by the radical left about Nazism serve to reconcile British nationalism with anti-fascism’.131 One does not necessarily have to agree with this radical analysis to acknowledge that League propaganda paid less attention to the popular racism in which support for the National Front was located. This was quite deliberate. The ANL rightly assumed that British public opinion would find the designation ‘NF = Nazis’ much more offensive than simply objecting to the Front’s racism. The Nazi tag would quickly build a large anti-Nazi movement and throw the NF on the defensive. The SWP was fully aware that it faced challenges in trying to harden up the ANL’s programme, especially in relation to the adoption of an anti-racist, no immigration controls position. This would give Labour Party and CPGB supporters the excuse to ‘jump off’.132 The ANL thus looked to reactivate anti-Nazism generated by the Second World War rather than address the roots of fascism in popular ideologies of racism. The latter option was far more problematic, especially when mainstream politicians like Margaret Thatcher legitimised racist attitudes, declaring on national television in a World in Action interview in January 1978, that she felt ‘really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture’.133 Whilst the ANL’s propaganda was more responsive to the sensitivities of public opinion, this should not detract us from its weaknesses: first, by reducing the NF to

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a Nazi conspiracy, by invoking images of concentration camp victims, the complexities of racism and institutional racism were not seriously challenged; and second, what happens when the extreme right, as Gilroy notes, ‘shrug[s] off accusations of Nazism’ and starts presenting itself ‘credibly as nothing more than concerned British patriots’?134 This is not to say that the ANL explicitly appropriated the Union Jack; ‘[t]he references in League material to the heroes of the Second World War, the positive descriptions of “Britannia”, simply are not there’, as David Renton rightly points out.135 But it was the constant reference to Nazi Germany – ‘the National Front is a Nazi front’ (originally an International Socialists slogan) – that mobilised public opinion. This mobilisation was based primarily on exploiting the moral repugnance to Nazism that was embedded in post-war British national identity. It was, to quote Richards, ‘trying to fight today’s NF with yesterday’s memories’.136 While the Anti-Nazi League remained confident that appeals to anti-Nazism would inhibit support for the NF amongst older cohorts, it believed that the Front’s decision specifically to target youngsters necessitated new departures. At a press conference in January 1978, the Young National Front announced that it had produced a leaflet aimed at schoolchildren, entitled ‘How to Spot a Red Teacher’, and was intending to distribute 250,000 copies. Equally disconcerting for antifascists were the results of two surveys in March 1978 which had found that one in seven young people was willing to support the NF. The ANL responded in two ways. The first was the formation of an ANL sub-section known as ‘Schoolkids Against the Nazis’, organised by Chris Timbry, a member of the SWP. The second, more innovative response, was the decision to join forces with Rock Against Racism (RAR). This had been formed in August 1976 by a group of SWP activists in a bid to counteract the apparently racist comments of rock stars Eric Clapton and David Bowie. It had emerged on the back of the ‘punk rock’ youth movement and already by December 1977 had organised over 200 concerts, sold 12,000 badges and produced four issues of a magazine, Temporary Hoarding, courtesy of SWP resources.137 In the spring of 1978, the ANL approached RAR with the idea of staging a march and rock concert in London in order to appeal directly to young people. It was decided that a rally would be held in Trafalgar Square followed by a march to Victoria Park where the rock concert would take place in what would be termed a ‘Carnival Against Racism’. On 30 April 1978, in the largest anti-fascist demonstration since the 1930s, an estimated 50,000 anti-fascists marched from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park with effigies of Adolf Hitler and John Tyndall also on display. In Victoria Park itself, the crowd eventually grew to 80,000. This event was followed by a series of provincial carnivals, with 35,000 people in Manchester, 8,000 in Edinburgh, 5,000 in Southampton, 5,000 in Cardiff, 2,000 in Harwich and 2,000 in Bradford. The sequence of rallies was then brought to a close with Carnival Two held at Brockwell Park in Brixton in September 1978, which attracted an impressive 100,000 people.138 The scale of these events also contributed greatly to ANL funds, with the Daily Telegraph reporting on 26 April 1979 that the ANL had raised £175,000 from private and trade union donations during 1978.

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Given the scale of popular participation in these events, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the ANL’s alliance with Rock Against Racism connected with thousands of people, especially youthful sectors of society and did much to neutralise the Front’s appeal amongst these specific target groups. Arguably, it was here that the Anti-Nazi League was at its most effective, using a very contemporary medium of popular culture (i.e. Rock Against Racism) as a ‘bridge’ to carry anti-fascism to Britain’s youth. Indeed, the scale of popular involvement in these anti-fascist events, in numbers not witnessed since the 1930s, led some commentators to suggest that the Anti-Nazi League had become the largest mass movement since both the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. In actual fact, by fusing with a cultural movement, the rise of the ANL was far more rapid with this type of anti-fascist activity marking a radical new departure from more traditional forms of anti-fascist mobilisation.139 Moreover, by embracing young people in such numbers, organised anti-fascism also succeeded in reaching beyond the labour movement and Jewish community to unprecedented degrees. All the same, the Anti-Nazi League continued to attract criticism from other radical-left groups. According to the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP), an organisation of not more than 3,000 members,140 since the working class was growing in strength – both trade union membership and militancy were on the increase – the Anti-Nazi League had exaggerated the threat from the Front. Second, from a Trotskyist united front perspective, the WRP argued that the ANL was a popular front comprising essentially ‘middle-of-the-roaders’ and ‘centrists’ who were mainly interested in the suppression of socialism and the defence of capitalist democracy. Preoccupied by theory, the WRP refused to join the AntiNazi League and the same isolationist stance was taken by the Trotskyist Militant Tendency.141 This also criticised the ANL for its failure to mobilise around an overall socialist programme. A less doctrinaire criticism came from the Hackney Committee Against Racialism, a longstanding local AFC in East London. This was appalled by the failure of the Anti-Nazi League to mobilise against a Front march on May Day, just 24 hours after the first ANL carnival in April 1978. The NF march from Portland Place in the West End to Cornet Square, Hoxton in East London went unopposed by antifascists. The Hackney Committee had pressed the ANL to mobilise opposition from the platform at the carnival but ANL organisers insisted that they had become aware of the Front’s intentions too late to organise mass opposition to the NF march. For those anti-fascists associated with the Hackney Committee, this failing indicated a shift in priorities whereby the Anti-Nazi League was diverting anti-fascist protest off the streets and into the parks, so avoiding direct confrontation with the National Front. It was noted, for instance, that despite the rapid growth of the ANL, the numbers of people mobilised against fascist meetings in London had dropped significantly, falling from 2,500 at the Ilford by-election in February 1978, to 1,000 at Brixton in April 1978 and finally down to zero on May Day.142 For the Hackney Committee, when it came to the ANL’s relationship with grassroots organisations in East London, the ANL leadership had been arrogant and opportunist. Anxious

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to retain the support of moderates and influential sponsors, the Anti-Nazi League was reluctant to put a radical ‘no platform’ policy into practice. One former antifascist activist recalls: ‘Sure, the ANL in some areas created “squads” to take on the fascists on the streets. But that wasn’t the general picture. After the Battle of Lewisham the SWP were often the keenest to direct people away from militant confrontation.’143 The ANL’s position became all too clear in September 1978 when the NF announced its intention to march through East London on the same day as the second ANL carnival was scheduled to take place in Brixton. Even though the local Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee144 had called on the ANL to redirect large numbers to the East End to protest against the NF, the ANL failed to respond with sizeable numbers.145 For two SWP members, this failure was political and certainly not organisational: We believe the blunders were political not organisational. They were caused by the fact that the SWP leadership, frightened by adverse publicity in the capitalist press and by the prospect of the liberal-reformist element withdrawing from the ANL, decided to put the respectability of the ANL before the concrete political task […]146 A further gripe amongst anti-fascists was that the advent of the ANL also helped put an end to attempts to create a unified national structure by the existing network of 100 or so local AFCs. The swift growth of the ANL served to weaken local campaigns by drawing away SWP activists into an alternative organisation. That said, the failure of the National Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Conference in June 1978 also played its part in sinking proposals for a national organisation. This conference, organised by the ‘National Committee’ and the London Committee flopped, falling prey to divisive ideological bickering between rival sects, with some groups reportedly pushing for 50 per cent of the conference agenda to be devoted to sexism.147 Worse still, there was also disagreement between those who favoured a national steering committee elected from the conference and those wanting the national leadership to be based on existing AFCs. Predictably, the collapse of the conference alienated more moderate elements who could not fail to have been impressed by the ANL’s well-organised national conference held the following month. This attracted 810 delegates compared to the National Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Conference which drew a relatively modest 152.148 Rather than compete with the ANL, the All London Co-ordinating Committee disbanded in September 1978, though a radical-left collective did emerge from the London Committee which continued to publish CARF. In CARF’s analysis, the Anti-Nazi League had lost sight of the racism of white people which ‘provides the breeding ground for groups like the National Front’, and accordingly rebranded itself as a ‘paper which speaks to white people on the question of racism’.149 CARF endeavoured to redirect efforts towards local anti-racist campaigns, and through locally based struggles hoped to build a grassroots anti-racist movement. In this regard, following a series of racially motivated killings and racist disturbances

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between April and June 1978, the plight of the Bengali community in the East End of London absorbed most attention. For CARF, these events were part of a wider onslaught against the black community not only from fascists, but also from politicians, press, police, judges and the law. Faced with this onslaught, CARF’s response was to make the case for black and Asian self-defence. This did not mean racially motivated revenge attacks on whites, but ‘patrolling of areas by members of the community to allow its children to return unmolested from school, its workers to reach home unharmed, its youth to walk the streets without fear, its houses and businesses to withstand vandalism’.150 It was to this end that CARF directed local groups but with more moderate elements having withdrawn from the original network, sales of CARF fell. Consequently, at the end of 1979, CARF was incorporated into Searchlight which had by this time established itself as Britain’s leading anti-fascist magazine. Searchlight’s original objective in 1975 had been to win the argument that the National Front was a Nazi conspiracy: ‘At the time, the fashionable opinion was that the NF was no more than a particularly virulent anti-immigration pressure group, unpleasant, yes, but certainly not nazi in the classic sense […]’151 In order to prove its point Searchlight put a three-part plan into action. First, it repeatedly revealed the Nazi pasts of the Front leadership. Second, it exposed the NF as a violent organisation by listing the criminal convictions of NF leaders and revealing connections between the NF and the loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Third, it publicised links between the Front and neo-Nazi organisations at home (for example, the League of St George) and also abroad. In ‘turning the searchlight on the extremists’, Searchlight was assisted by ‘moles’ placed inside extreme-right organisations, one of the earliest being Dave Roberts, a former member of the CPGB and a leading figure in a small group known as ‘Anti-Fascist Democratic Action’.152 This group began publishing Forewarned Against Fascism in March 1978 ‘with just £20 and a typewriter’,153 and claimed a circulation rising from 300 per issue to 2,500 by mid-1978.154 Forewarned wanted to spark debate on the true nature and causes of fascism which it said resulted from landowners resorting to fascism in a conflict with capitalist industrialists. Whilst there is little evidence to suggest that this idiosyncratic analysis gained any wider currency amongst the anti-fascist movement, on a more practical level its ‘isolate a Nazi strategy’, which printed names and addresses of fascists, probably proved a useful resource for those militant anti-fascists intent on subjecting fascist adversaries to individual attention.155 In Forewarned’s report on Searchlight, published in 1978, it emerges that Searchlight underwent a difficult period in early 1976 when under the editorship of Ken Sprague, sales fell to around 500 a month. However, once Maurice Ludmer returned as editor in May 1976 sales picked up and quickly rose to 2,500 a month – largely a consequence of the NF’s electoral revival and media interest following Searchlight’s exposure of the activities of Column 88, an alleged neo-Nazi paramilitary cell.156 By this time, as well as exposing the Nazi backgrounds of Front leaders, Searchlight had also begun exposing their Nazi ‘foregrounds’ by drawing attention to current

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articles in Spearhead which revealed how strongly attached the Front’s leadership was to authoritarianism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism.157 Through the relative quality of its analysis, sales of Searchlight grew to perhaps 5,000 per month by 1978.158 Searchlight now assumed a pivotal role in anti-fascist circles. It not only provided up-to-date information to activists but also materials for distribution in propaganda. Indeed, the work of Searchlight in this regard cannot be overemphasised: as one anti-fascist recalls, ‘[n]early all the facts that packed our Anti-Nazi League leaflets and other material originated with Maurice (Ludmer). His work literally passed through millions of hands’.159

IV Armed with materials supplied by Searchlight, Chris Husbands believed that the ANL spread the ‘NF = Nazis’ message ‘more widely and successfully than almost any other medium could have done’,160 a view supported elsewhere, notably in a study by Paul Wilkinson.161 Clearly the ANL deserves credit for ‘hammering out’ the anti-Nazi message but it is important to remember that the ANL was not the only medium for anti-fascism, a point largely unrecognised by most commentators. Of crucial importance in this respect was undoubtedly the mainstream media, yet research into the ways in which the NF was reported in Britain remains slender. Most focus, especially by Barry Troyna, has concerned the national news media and in particular the national press. According to Troyna, it was the national press, by firmly exposing the Front’s ‘Nazi side’, that had a ‘most profound effect on public consciousness, and succeeded in discouraging further support for the party’.162 Of course, adverse reporting was repeated in other areas of the media as well. In addition to the hard-hitting TV programmes mentioned already, the Front experienced more hostile treatment in July 1978 when Granada TV’s World in Action programme investigated cases of racial violence in Leeds and linked them to National Front members. To make matters worse for the Front, the NF was largely excluded from TV and radio and thus had little right to reply (Ludovic Kennedy’s interview with Martin Webster for the BBC TV programme Tonight screened in December 1977 being a notable exception). In the case of national press coverage, reports of disorder at Red Lion Square had already negatively associated the NF with violence, lawlessness and extremism (‘Violence in the Streets’, The Sun, 17 June 1974; ‘Storm over Battle in Red Lion Square’, Daily Express, 17 June 1974). This association was reinforced in 1977 following the clashes at Wood Green, Lewisham and Ladywood (‘Thug Law’, Daily Express, 15 August 1977; ‘Hate Mob Runs Riot in Brum’, Daily Mirror, 16 August 1977). Although it brought much sought after publicity for the Front, these violent episodes were typically portrayed as clashes between opposing groups of ‘extremists’, and with the exception of those minority elements attracted to street violence, this type of publicity only served to deny the Front political legitimacy. Moreover, this reporting was increasingly coupled with exposure of the NF as a ‘Nazi front’ (e.g. ‘I see the NF Hate Machine at Work’, Daily Mirror, 4 July 1976;

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‘The Secret Crimes of Fuhrer Tyndall’, News of the World, 11 December 1977). Such was the spread of negative press coverage that Troyna’s survey conducted over the winter of 1978–9 found that over 65 per cent believed that their daily paper was anti-NF. Noticeably, there were repeated references to articles and leaders which focused on the Front’s fascist side.163 Although no such survey has been carried out for the provincial press, Roger Eatwell made the further point that even the ordinarily a-political local press ‘often took up the anti-fascist attack’.164 This is clearly important as the combined circulation of local weeklies, bi-weeklies, and provincial morning and evening papers far surpassed the circulation of the national press in the 1970s. The pattern of reporting the Front, especially at the local level, became noticeably more critical from 1977 onwards. This was one consequence of media workers becoming conscious of the fact that the press had helped whip up popular racism in 1976 and had therefore been mainly responsible for the NF’s resurgence. Thus in the approach to the GLC elections in 1977, the Campaign Against Racism in the Media (CARM)165 pressed journalists to adopt a hostile line when reporting statements and activities of fascists and racists. It also called on journalists to boycott letters/phone-ins from National Front/National Party candidates and supporters, pressed local candidates to endorse the view that the media should not be used for the expression of racist views and policies, and recommended industrial action where coverage was racist.166 Moreover, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) also issued a series of guidelines which recommended that the media should not be used as a platform for racist propaganda and that the National Front should only be reported in critical terms. On occasions, however, the urge to speak out against the Front could give rise to conflict within local papers. For instance, on the East Ender (based in Newham), three journalists were reportedly ‘harangued’ and one of them physically assaulted by another reporter following disagreements over anti-fascist policy.167 On the Hackney Gazette, NUJ members went on strike for three days during the GLC elections following the decision of the management to publish an issue of the paper which carried a National Front advertisement. Presumably this was why, as Juliet Alexander, a former reporter for the Hackney Gazette recalls, ‘[a]s far as the NF was concerned, we were a “Nigger-loving Commie rag”, which is what they sprayed on the building’.168 Three of the most prominent examples of anti-fascism in the local press appeared in 1977 in the Hornsey Journal, the South East London and Kentish Mercury and the East Ender. The Hornsey Journal responded to the Front march in Wood Green with a graphically illustrated front page that drew an explicit analogy between the NF and Hitler’s Nazis. The headline read, ‘Forty years on: the evil march … of fascism fouls our streets’: Their objectives are no different from those of Hitler. The target may be blacks instead of just Jews. The military-style tactics may be less overt. But the cancerous symptons [sic] of Nazy-style [sic] nationalism are just as obvious, potent and inhuman.169

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Shortly afterwards, in the GLC elections, the South East London and Kentish Mercury ran an anti-fascist election day plea under the headline, ‘YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE US … The National Front and National Party are making an offer you MUST refuse’. A picture of both Tyndall and Kingsley Read with the former in paramilitary Spearhead uniform appeared alongside the following: FOR THE first time every voter in SE London has a chance to tell the National Front and National Party: CLEAR OFF! Every one of you can go to the GLC polling stations and tell their candidates … NO! NO! 100,000 TIMES NO! […] Vote Labour. Vote Tory. Vote Liberal. Vote Communist. Vote Fellowship party. Even vote for the GLC Abolitionist Party! Vote for the Sunshine Club of Sydenham if you can find them. Put your cross against anyone else on the voting form. But for your sake. Our sake. Your children’s and their future’s sake … DON’T VOTE National Front or National Party.170 The East Ender, having adopted a ‘neutral’ stance at the GLC elections in May, published a racy exposé of the NF in August 1977 under the sensational front page headline, ‘EXPOSED: THE NAZI MENACE IN THE EAST END’ aloft a photograph of two Nazi-saluting Front followers. This was based on revelations by NF defector John Considine, who declared that the Front was ‘[s]omething very evil masquerading as a party’. The front page read: THE new Nazis are stalking the streets of London. Thirty years after the politics of hate were crushed in Europe, fascism is again raising its head. A new breed of violent fascists is making a mark in the East End. They celebrate Hitler’s birthday, they honour the swastika and read ‘Mein Kampf’. They peddle violence and preach hatred against black people and Jews. It was this grim picture which opened the eyes of National Front member John Considine. He was sickened by the ideas, the hate and the violence.171 By the late 1970s, local press opposition to the National Front was commonplace.172 In April 1977, the Leicester Mercury, which had been previously criticised for running stories with racist sentiments, finally answered its critics and came out against the NF: ‘To give the National Front the chance of power to implement its cruel policies would be a rejection of humanity’.173 Evidently, with the local press joining the national media in its opposition to the Front, the mainstream British media arguably became the Front’s most telling antagonist. Towards the end of the 1970s, not only was the Front largely excluded from the media, but it had also been associated with violence, exposed as a fascist organisation to millions of television viewers, and had been correspondingly identified as a Nazi-type organisation in both the national and local press. For some anti-fascists, however, the media had not gone far enough and there were calls for broadcasters to take the unprecedented step of refusing the NF party political broadcasts. To this end, CARM joined forces with the Anti-Nazi League

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and launched a ‘No Plugs for the Nazi Thugs’ campaign in August 1978. This was a response to the Front’s decision to stand over 300 candidates at the 1979 general election and was intended to apply pressure on the broadcasting networks to deny the NF a party political broadcast. Labour MPs Frank Allaun and Neil Kinnock expressed their concern and enquired about the possibility of a ban.174 As it turned out, though, the campaign rebounded on CARM and the ANL: there was an unfavourable reaction in the press and also from broadcasting chiefs who insisted that the National Front, as a legally formed political party, could not be denied a broadcast simply because the ANL disapproved of its policies.175 Yet in practice, despite the fact that the Front was fighting a far greater number of seats, it was granted the same broadcasting time in 1979 as in 1974. Moreover, in terms of more general reporting, the Front received less media coverage in 1979 than at both elections in 1974, and even ‘reached the stage of farce when we were granted radio interviews by American and Canadian networks which exceeded in length and scope anything granted by the national broadcasting services in Britain!’176

V Following the GLC elections in 1977, it had been widely feared that the NF was on the verge of an electoral breakthrough; the Front’s performance at elections in 1978 suggested otherwise. In its previous strongholds outside London, levels of electoral support decreased sharply and only in London, in the East End, did the Front retain a significant vote. Nonetheless, the Front still harboured pretentions to serious electoral credibility and accordingly mobilised all its resources to stand a record 303 candidates in the 1979 general election. The Front’s strategy was to try to reach as many people as possible and so was forced to stretch its campaigning efforts across multiple constituencies. It did not plan on mass canvassing, particularly since less than one-quarter of its members were ‘active’. It would rely on meetings and free broadcasting time to generate publicity. Since the terms of the Representation of the People Act (1949) made it incumbent on local councils to make council property available for all candidates contesting an election, the NF managed to secure a number of premises for election meetings. Meetings were therefore scheduled to take place in April 1979 at Battersea, Islington, Southall and Newham in London, and elsewhere in Plymouth, Dinas Powys in South Wales, Lewes, West Bromwich, Bristol, Rochdale and Bradford. The Front also planned to hold election rallies at Crawley, New Brighton on Merseyside and in Glasgow, with a final national election rally booked for Caxton Hall, London on 1 May. In addition, a national march to an election meeting was planned for 21 April in Leicester. If during election periods any candidate had the right to hire council premises, the decision to allow the NF council premises was entirely at the discretion of the council at all other times. Consequently, towards the end of the 1970s, the NF had been increasingly refused the hire of halls outside election periods and thus faced exactly the same problem as Mosley had previously encountered in the 1930s and early 1960s. According to Tyndall, Labour-controlled local authorities would

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refuse on the basis that halls should not be made available to racists, a policy further endorsed by the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee in September 1978,177 whereas Conservative-controlled councils usually insisted on prohibitively large insurance premiums to cover possible damages.178 In fact, there were even cases of anti-fascist local authorities refusing the National Front candidate council premises during election periods. Typically, this refusal was on the grounds that the council was not satisfied that the meeting would be made public, and under this pretext the Front had been denied the use of school premises during a by-election in Manchester in June 1978, and had been refused a school hall in Brent in North London in April 1979.179 Despite the electoral advance of the Front having clearly floundered by 1978, the fact that the Front was contesting so many seats at the 1979 general election was understandably viewed with concern. The Board of Deputies predicted that if the Front’s overall vote was less than 2 per cent, ‘the leadership, both national and on a local level, will not only be demoralised but generally discredited’. It thus set itself the task of updating anti-NF leaflets and making them available to the three main political parties through contacts established at the local level between constituency agents and the Board’s local committees and AJEX branches. In addition, the BoD Defence Department would collate information about NF candidates, provide information about these candidates to the news media and would also make special information packs available exposing the true nature of the Front. Moreover, NF meetings and marches would be monitored and ethnic minority groups approached to ensure the highest possible voter turnout.180 Meanwhile, the ANL would mobilise opposition to NF marches and rallies as well as organise opposition to the Front’s election meetings. In particular, it would try to ensure that these meetings adhered to the Representation of the People Act and were bona fide public meetings. The ANL anticipated that once inside a hall, its activists could then disrupt the meeting through heckling speakers, and on at least two occasions during the 1979 general election campaign this tactic proved effective: in Plymouth, where anti-fascists managed to gain access to the hall and forced the meeting to be abandoned; and in West Bromwich, when police cleared the hall following attempts by NF stewards to forcibly evict hecklers. It was fortunate for the ANL that the NF had pinned its hopes on a relatively small number of election meetings, marches and rallies, because following the series of carnivals in the summer of 1978, the ANL had stagnated. A variety of reasons account for why activity had died down over the winter of 1978–9. First, moderate ANL supporters were becoming unhappy at SWP domination and the lack of internal democracy. The belief that the SWP was using the ANL as a recruitment front was gaining traction, leading a number of organisations to withdraw and high-profile sponsors to resign. This may have resulted in part from the National Front’s distribution of an apparently ‘well-researched’ booklet, Lifting the Lid off the Anti-Nazi League, which had been sent to ANL sponsors, though the booklet did stretch the truth when it declared the Anti-Nazi League to be the creation of the Board of Deputies (and hence part of the Jewish conspiracy).181

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The reality was something really rather different. Martin Savitt, Chairman of the Board’s Defence Committee, had written to the Jewish Chronicle in the wake of Lewisham condemning extreme left-wing groups who ‘see the fight against the National Front as an opportunity to gain political advantage for themselves’.182 The decision of Jewish Labour MP Maurice Orbach to withdraw his sponsorship of the ANL, partly on the basis of Peter Hain’s known support for Palestinian causes,183 led the ANL steering committee to write to the Jewish Chronicle with a plea for unity. Miriam Karlin, a Zionist, maintained that the NF already derided the ANL as a ‘Zionist conspiracy’ and would take much pleasure in this division.184 After the ANL sent letters to synagogues and other Jewish organisations requesting financial support, Savitt responded by calling on the community not to offer funds to support an organisation (the SWP) ‘whose motives are primarily political and often inimical to the interests of Israel and world Jewry’.185 This was followed by a scathing attack on both the SWP and the ANL by the Executive Director of the Board of Deputies, Jacob Gewirtz. Speaking in July 1978, he declared that ‘[n]o real Jew can make his peace with the SWP, and the Anti-Nazi League is made up of virulent anti-Zionist organisations’.186 In a letter to the Jewish Chronicle, Gewirtz made it clear that: As a Jew and a Zionist I recognise the centrality of Israel’s existence to Jewish survival. Both the National Front and the Socialist Workers’ Party – although they follow a different ideology and employ a different approach – are dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel.187 What followed, in response to the question, Should Jews support the ANL?, was a lengthy debate played out in the letters page of the Jewish Chronicle. Historian Geoffrey Alderman called on the Board to give support to the ANL. His reasons: a significant number of Jews were involved in the ANL; it had no official policy on Israel; it was not a front for the SWP because at least six out of ten members of the steering committee were Labour Party members; and all political groups are coalitions. ‘There are members of the ANL who hold views detrimental to the interests of Israel and Zionism’, he wrote, ‘[b]ut this is just as true of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Parties’.188 Future historian David Cesarani, then political affairs officer for the Union of Jewish Students, was unconvinced: ‘To us, the ANL remains “the league for the thinly disguised promotion of the Socialist Workers’ Party”.’189 The Jewish Chronicle called on the Board to find some compromise. Responding to this call, in December 1978, the Board’s President, Lord Fisher, and Defence Chairman, Martin Savitt, met with Neil Kinnock and Ernie Roberts before hosting Roberts and Holborrow in January 1979. At this second meeting it was proposed that the ANL would not be used as a vehicle for anti-Zionism. Finally in March 1979 there was agreement to maintain contact on an informal and friendly basis.190 Many grassroots ANL activists were also feeling alienated by the SWP’s decision to ‘workerise’ the ANL by trying to move it into the factories. This was part of a wider strategy aimed at gaining the SWP a foothold in the trade unions, as the

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SWP’s leading figure Tony Cliff made clear in Socialist Worker: ‘The more the ANL is rooted in the workplace, the more the inter-connection between all aspects of struggle will be clear to everyone.’191 There is also a suggestion that it was deliberate policy by the Labour Party to ‘keep the ANL on ice’ until the general election and consequently, as one radical-left group records, ‘many ANL supporters were allowed to drift away and did not return in May 1979’.192 Consequently, the ANL found it harder to mobilise numbers for the 1979 general election but, even so, all the NF’s election rallies were still opposed.193 One NF activist observed that the ANL’s campaign ‘was a total failure, especially the mass leafletting [sic] campaign which failed to materialise at all’.194 In reality, the ANL still made its presence felt, particularly in Leicester and Southall. Since both were areas of high immigrant density, the ANL was especially determined to stand up to the Front’s incursions into these localities. At Leicester, where the Front had planned a St George’s Day march to an election meeting, the Labour, Liberal and Conservative candidates, local churches, the Anti-Nazi League and Asian organisations had all called on the authorities to ban the march. However, in the interests of free speech, Leicestershire Chief Constable Alan Goodson refused to bow to pressure and drafted in some 5,000 police from no fewer than 21 police forces. On 21 April 1979, an estimated 2,000 anti-fascists mobilised to oppose fewer than 1,000 Front supporters. Following attempts by the ANL to waylay the Front, there were confrontations between counter-demonstrators and police, with television pictures later showing police dogs chasing anti-fascists onto Leicester University campus. The reported numbers arrested ranged from 40 to 82 but these numbers were insignificant when compared with the mass arrests just two days later in Southall, in the London borough of Ealing.195 Although the Conservative-controlled council in Ealing did have a policy of not letting halls to the Front, it felt obligated under the terms of the Representation of the People Act to make Southall Town Hall available for NF use provided that one-third of seats inside the hall was reserved for members of the general public. In early April, the local community had become aware of the NF’s plans and the Southall Indian Workers’ Association (IWA) had subsequently called a meeting to discuss ways in which the Front’s meeting could be opposed. Aside from the IWA and Ealing Community Relations Council, the local branch of the Anti-Nazi League also attended. The IWA proposed that there should be closing down of businesses in Southall on 23 April from 1.00 pm onwards as a sign of protest but that the NF meeting at the Town Hall should be ignored. The ANL, on the other hand, proposed a demonstration outside the Town Hall. Eventually, the meeting agreed that there should be a mass peaceful sit-in on roads around the Town Hall and that those arrested should not resist police arrest. The meeting also set up a Co-ordinating Committee which proceeded to distribute some 25,000 leaflets and 1,000 window posters around the borough stressing that the protest was to be peaceful. However, not all publicity emphasised the intended peaceful nature of the protest. The ANL’s leaflet, for instance, issued in both English and Punjabi, called on people to ‘Stop the Nazi meeting’. This slogan was repeated in Socialist Worker with

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the SWP also calling on all its followers in London and the surrounding area to mobilise for the Southall demonstration. On 18 April, representatives from the Co-ordinating Committee met with Home Secretary Merlyn Rees, who was visiting Ealing as part of Labour’s election campaign. Rees maintained he was not in a position to ban a public election meeting on legal grounds, but undeterred, on 22 April, a ‘March for Unity and Peace’ was organised when between 3,000 and 5,000 anti-fascists marched in peaceful protest to Ealing Borough Town Hall in a final, albeit unsuccessful, bid to have the Front’s meeting cancelled. This march was subjected to ‘snatch arrests’ by police which served to sour relations between the police and local community before the main demonstration scheduled to take place at 5.00 pm the following day. In the early afternoon of 23 April, anti-Front demonstrators began to assemble outside Southall Town Hall. The first group to attempt to congregate was the Southall Youth Movement which was intent on picketing the Town Hall in order to ensure that no NF supporters could access the hall before the main demonstration. As the number of protesters grew, the police guarding the Town Hall, numbering around 3,000, decided to clear the crowd from the crossroads outside the Town Hall. By 4.00 pm, the police had established a cordon which split the demonstrators into distinct crowds, thereby preventing the possibility of a peaceful sit-down protest. Serious disturbances between police and demonstrators then followed at various locations. Missiles were thrown at police from the anti-fascist side, including flares, smoke bombs, and a petrol bomb that was hurled at a police coach. The police also contributed to disorder, first by making peaceful protest impossible, and then by attempting to disperse the crowd using aggressive tactics, such as ‘snatch squads’, charging with riot shields, truncheons and horses, and even driving vans into the crowd. It was therefore not surprising that a fatality occurred: at around 7.45 pm, Blair Peach, a member of both the SWP and the ANL, was killed. Suspecting that Blair Peach had died following a blow to the head, anti-fascists accused the police and, in particular, officers from the Special Patrol Group.196 On 28 April, 10,000 people marched to mourn the death of Blair Peach and in June, 8,000 people attended an all-night vigil prior to his burial. Yet despite the weight of evidence implicating the police, the Government refused an official inquiry, no police officer was ever prosecuted and at Blair Peach’s inquest, the verdict passed was ‘death by misadventure’.197 For many on the radical left, the actions of the police at Southall represented a crucial moment in the anti-fascist struggle, with the state now replacing the NF as the main adversary. The police unquestionably used excessive force at Southall with the scale of arrests of over 700 (342 charged) even surpassing the numbers arrested at Lewisham. With few exceptions (for example, the Daily Mirror), the media reacted to events by blaming ‘extremist outsiders’ (that is, the ANL and SWP), who were said to have come into Southall determined on violent confrontation with police. There are clearly a number of problems with this reading of events. First, Southall had its own local ANL branch which did agree to plan for peaceful protest. Second, although a number of ANL members did come into Southall from other

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parts of London, such as Blair Peach, a New Zealander who lived in East London, and ANL activists were also present from Oxford and Kingston, the majority of the demonstrators were Asians from the local community who were clearly angered by Front activity on their doorsteps. Third, according to figures in CARF, 95 per cent of those arrested came from the local area.198 It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that outside involvement was minimal and that overall responsibility for the violence must rest with the NF, whose incursion into Southall set the local community at odds with the police after the police had denied the Asian community the opportunity to hold a peaceful demonstration. If Front leaders hoped that the publicity resulting from Southall would boost the NF’s electoral prospects, they were sorely disappointed. The Front only managed to capture a derisory 1.3 per cent of the vote in the 1979 general election. This represented a fall of 2.8 per cent in relation to the previous general election in October 1974 with an extra 213 candidates having yielded only an additional 76,220 votes. Even in its recognised strongholds, its share of the vote fell. For all its claims to be the country’s third most popular party, the Front failed to poll more than any Liberal candidate in any constituency, and only in Hove, in Sussex, did the Front manage to poll more in 1979 than in 1974, and this was an increase of only 0.2 per cent. The NF had to absorb £45,450 in lost deposits.

VI Electorally, the NF had clearly come to grief and at last, for all but the most dedicated and vigilant anti-fascists, it could be finally written off. The Front’s election defeat was overwhelming and as the Board of Deputies predicted, dissenting elements quickly called the leadership to account, thus setting off a damaging period of internal warfare resulting in the formation of a number of rival offshoots.199 In truth, the NF should have seen this coming because even though it had tried to present a respectable face, it could not offset anti-fascist censure because no matter how many times it condemned National Socialism, trimmed its policies and reasserted its ‘commitment’ to democratic politics, its leadership (Tyndall and Webster) was just far too transparent. Just how far the NF’s identification with Nazism had penetrated society is clear from a survey conducted by NOP Market Research in February 1978 which found that 64 per cent of its sample ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘tended to agree’ that the ‘National Front has a Nazi side to it’.200 It is obvious, therefore, that anti-fascism, emanating from a variety of sources, the media as well as anti-fascist groups, had successfully pinned the Nazi label on the NF. This discouraged potential support for the Front by equating the NF with a pernicious ideology, by reactivating moral repugnance towards Nazism, and thereupon divesting the NF of political respectability. However, as we have seen, anti-fascist propaganda could have done more to address racism. Indeed, those with very determined views on the race issue might still have supported the Front in spite of its ‘Nazi’ label had it not been for the Conservative Party which was able to attract these voters through Margaret

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Thatcher’s calculated exploitation of the race issue in 1978. So whilst anti-fascism spread the perception that the NF was fascist and this was clearly a major factor in its widespread rejection, it does not fully account for the Front’s demise. On this point, Roger Griffin argued that the revolutionary threat of fascism is so marginalised in mature liberal democracies that ‘it was not the election of the Conservative Party in 1979 that forestalled a National Front takeover of Britain, any more than it was the Anti-Nazi League that clipped its wings’.201 Yet what Griffin’s argument fails to acknowledge is that the NF operated on two levels where revolutionary nationalism was hidden behind the outward respectability of racial populism. The key to the NF’s limited success was not revolutionary ideology but the soft sell, presenting itself as a democratic political party with reasonable policies. It was only when anti-fascism had exposed this outward appearance as a cover for Nazism and Margaret Thatcher had simultaneously drawn the racist constituency towards the Conservative Party that the ground was finally cut from under its feet. With tens of thousands of people involved in displays of opposition to the Front, the level of popular participation in anti-fascist activity in the 1970s was clearly significant. Rough comparisons with the 1930s suggest popular involvement on a similar scale, and it was noticeable that anti-fascism developed in a like manner through locally based responses on an ad hoc basis which took the form of broad front committees. In the early 1970s, numbers involved in the initial phase of antifascist mobilisation were not inconsiderable but certainly fell short of the heights attained by the ANL in the late 1970s. Particularly from 1976 onwards, participation increased as AFCs multiplied across the country in order to counter the NF revival. Yet what transformed organised anti-fascism into a genuine mass movement was not this growing network of local anti-fascist groups but the launch of the ANL and, in particular, its fusion with Rock Against Racism. This changed the face of traditional anti-fascist activity by merging political agitation with a particularly vibrant form of popular youth culture and so carried anti-fascism beyond its traditional bases directly to Britain’s youth. At the same time, also in a new departure, black and Asian communities increasingly mobilised against the Front. At Lewisham, this may have been overstated, but ethnic minority groups did organise against Front activity in their districts, most notably in Southall. Undoubtedly, the extent of anti-fascist unity in the 1970s was impressive. This, despite tactical disagreements, particularly over the question of whether countering the NF primarily meant countering Nazism or the roots of NF support in popular racism. Yet the cynic will have noted from this chapter that even though the ANL did achieve much in the way of anti-fascist solidarity, it was essentially a marriage of convenience between the SWP and the Labour Party. In this sense, radical-left critics were right when the ANL was proclaimed not a genuine united front but a behind-closed-doors alliance of the Socialist Workers’ Party and some MPs.202 Whilst the SWP disappeared within the Anti-Nazi League, and reduced the taboo surrounding the Trotskyist party,203 Labour saw the ANL as a tool for eroding the NF’s working-class support in marginal constituencies. Thus, unlike the 1930s, when the Labour Party had little to gain from collaboration with the extreme left

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in anti-fascist activity, in the 1970s electoral exigencies dictated co-operation with groups from which under normal circumstances the Labour Party would have kept at a distance. So not surprisingly, once it had become clear that the NF had been beaten, Labour quickly abandoned ship. Despite the fact that the ANL had probably put a stop to the SWP’s decline, and given it cachet, with the arrival of Thatcher’s right-wing administration, its attentions also started to turn elsewhere. Now the SWP had a far weightier adversary. So, as the SWP’s Central Committee would so bluntly put it in 1984, ‘[t]he ANL was right before 1979, and no good now’.204

Notes 1 A. Messina, Race and Party Competition in Britain, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989, pp. 118–9. 2 See C. Rosenberg, ‘The Labour Party and the Fight against Fascism’, International Socialism, 1989, vol. 2, no. 39, 55–93. In 1992 anti-fascists from Britain handed out thousands of leaflets at an anti-Front National demonstration in Paris, offering advice on how French anti-fascists could use the Anti-Nazi League as a model to defeat the Front National. 3 See Spearhead, July 1979, no. 129, 10–2. 4 See TNA HO 325/55: Special Branch Report on 62 Group, 25 March 1969. 5 See M. Walker, The National Front, 2nd rev. edn, London: Fontana, 1978, p. 92. 6 The ILP believed that working-class racism could only be challenged through reasoned argument and debate, see Red Mole, 22 April 1971, vol. 2, no. 7. 7 See TNA HO 325/55: Special Branch Report on 62 Group, 30 October 1969. 8 See TNA HO 325/55. 9 People’s History Museum Archive: CPA, CP/CENT/SUBJ/OG/18. Communist Party memorandum, dated May 1969. 10 On Powellism and the response of the left, see D. Widgery, The Left in Britain 1956–68, London: Penguin, 1978, pp. 407–13. 11 J. Spiers, A. Sexsmith and A. Everitt, The Left in Britain, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1976, p. 21. 12 The Community Security Trust (CST) is a charity that protects British Jews from antiSemitism. It received charitable status in 1994. CST has over 60 full- and part-time staff based in offices in London, Manchester and Leeds. 13 See Searchlight, April 2014, no. 458, 3. 14 See Anti-Fascist Research Group, Facts on Fascism, Bulletin no. 3 (n.d.) and Bulletin no. 5 (n.d.) included in The Left in Britain, Harvester/Primary Social Sources Microform Collection, 1976. 15 Anti-Fascist Research Group, Bulletin no. 5. 16 Spearhead, January 1971, no. 39, 15. 17 For a history of anti-fascism in Huddersfield, see P. Ward. G. Hellawell and S. Lloyd, ‘Witness Seminar: Anti-fascism in 1970s Huddersfield’, Contemporary British History, 2006, vol. 20, no. 1, 119–33. 18 Red Mole, 8–22 April 1971, vol. 2, no. 7. 19 Anti-Fascist Research Group, Press Release, 31 October 1971. Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull, National Council for Civil Liberties papers, DCL/611/10. 20 Trade Unions Against Fascism, 1972, included in The Left in Britain, Harvester/Primary Social Sources Microform Collection, 1976. 21 According to Searchlight figures in From Ballots to Bombs. The Inside Story of the National Front’s Political Soldiers, London: Searchlight Publishing Ltd, 1984, p. 4. 22 See Red Weekly, 29 March 1974, no. 45. 23 S. Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, London: Macmillan, 1982, p. 34.

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24 See Red Weekly, 12 April 1974, no. 47. 25 See Transport and General Workers’ Union, Racialism, Fascism and the Trade Unions, 1974. 26 Walker, The National Front, p. 157. 27 See Jewish Chronicle, 21 June 1974. 28 See Jewish Defence Committee, It Can Happen Here – if You Let it!, n.d. 29 State Research Bulletin, August–September 1978, no. 7, 126. 30 Brockway became a Labour MP in 1956 before becoming a Labour peer in 1964. Brockway had introduced a bill in the House of Commons to outlaw racial hatred eight times before the Race Relations Act was finally passed in 1965. 31 Kay Beauchamp became a member of the Communist Party in the 1920s and later was active in the Movement for Colonial Freedom/Liberation as well as in the Hackney borough organisation of the CPGB. Her spouse, Tony Gilbert, fought in the International Brigades and was also active in the Communist Party and Movement for Colonial Freedom/Liberation. 32 See The Red Lion Square Disorders of 15 June 1974, Report of Inquiry by the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Scarman, London: HMSO, 1975. 33 M. Lux, Anti-Fascist, London: Phoenix Press, 2006, p. 26. 34 Red Weekly, 20 June 1974, no. 57. 35 Red Weekly, 27 June 1974, no. 58. 36 Walker, The National Front, p. 163. 37 R. Clutterbuck, Britain in Agony: The Growth of Political Violence, London: Faber and Faber, 1978, p. 163. 38 S. Taylor, ‘Race, Extremism and Violence in Contemporary British Politics’, New Community, 1978–9, vol. 7, 59. 39 Fighting Talk, no. 16, 18; and Morning Star, 4 October 1974. 40 A Well-Oiled Nazi Machine: An Analysis of the Growth of the Extreme Right in Britain, Birmingham: A.F. and R. Press, 1974. 41 See Searchlight, spring 1965, no. 1; 1966, no. 2; spring 1967, no. 3; and n.d., no. 4. 42 The Guardian, 29 September 1986. 43 See Guide to Extremism in Britain 1973: Extreme Right, Croydon: Circle for Democratic Studies, 1974. 44 The Guardian, 24 August 1974. 45 See Red Weekly, 29 August 1974, no. 65. 46 See Walker, The National Front, p. 163. 47 See Red Weekly, 12 September 1974, no. 67. 48 See Red Weekly, 5 September 1974, no. 66. 49 International Socialists, Internal Bulletin, June 1974. 50 See Red Weekly, 28 November 1974, no. 78. 51 See Walker, The National Front, p. 149. 52 Although it should not be forgotten that anti-fascist literature exposing the fascist pasts of Front leaders helped sow the seeds of this division in the first place. 53 Former Chairman of Blackburn Young Conservatives, Kingsley Read, held dual membership of the NF and the Conservative Party before leaving the Tories in a public split in 1973. He was noted for his long cigarette holder and black coat. He declared himself proud to be a racialist (see Hackney Gazette, 9 October 1974), and after the murder of a Sikh student, had declared, ‘One down, a million to go’. 54 In 1976, the National Party had two of its representatives elected to Blackburn District Council although one had to resign for not declaring a criminal record. Amidst mutual recriminations (Kingsley Read was later exposed as having secured links with neo-Nazi groups abroad) the National Party collapsed in the late 1970s. 55 See Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Council, Press Release, 4 March 1975. 56 Walker, The National Front, p. 181. 57 See Red Weekly, 3 April 1975, no. 95. 58 See Red Weekly, 22 May 1975, no. 102.

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59 On these incidents, see Searchlight, June and July 1975; Walker, The National Front, p. 181; and Fighting Talk, no. 16, 19. 60 Morning Star, 13 October 1975. 61 Walker, The National Front, p. 195. 62 Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, p. 102. 63 Labour Research Department, The National Front Investigated, London: LRD Publications, 1978, p. 7. 64 See Jewish Chronicle, 21 May 1976. 65 CARF, 1978, no. 6, 15. 66 A central figure in All Faiths For One Race was the Rev. John Hick, Professor of Theology at Birmingham University. See for instance, Rev. J. Hick, The New Nazis of the National Front: A Warning to Christians (1976), and The New Nazism of the National Front and National Party (1977). Also see Rev. T. Holden, So What Are You Going to Do About the National Front? (1978?). 67 See Z. Layton-Henry, The Politics of Race in Britain, London: Allen and Unwin, 1984, pp. 99–100. 68 For more detailed analysis, see N. Copsey, ‘Meeting the Challenge of Contemporary British Fascism? The Labour Party’s Response to the National Front and the British National Party’, in N. Copsey and D. Renton (eds), British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp. 182–202. For an example of an anti-NF leaflet, see TUC-Labour Party, The National Front is a Nazi Front, TUC/ Labour Party, 1978. 69 Jenny Bourne (CARF) to author, 14 May 1997. 70 See Comment: Communist Fortnightly Review, 10 July 1976, pp. 212–3. 71 See CARF, October–November 1977, no. 2, 15. 72 CARF, the paper of the Kingston Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, had an initial print run of 500 copies. 73 D. Widgery, Beating Time, London: Chatto and Windus, 1986, p. 43. 74 Ibid., p. 45. 75 Comments by David Bennie, The Battle of Wood Green, London: Haringey Trades Union Council/London Socialist Historians Group, n.d., p. 17. 76 For details of anti-fascist responses at local level, see CARF, August–September 1977, 11, and October–November 1977, 14. 77 See M. Steed, ‘The National Front Vote’, Parliamentary Affairs, 1978, vol. 31, no. 3, 282–93. 78 See Socialist Worker, 28 May 1977. 79 See CARF, October–November 1977, no. 2, 10. 80 See commentary on Lewisham in CARF, October–November 1977, no. 2. 81 CARF, October–November 1977, no. 2, 7. 82 Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, p. 133. 83 See D. Cook, A Knife at the Throat of Us All, CPGB pamphlet, n.d. 84 Morning Star, 26 August 1977. 85 See Socialist Worker, 18 June and 9 July 1977. 86 International Socialism, 1977, vol. 94, 13. 87 Socialist Worker, 13 August 1977. 88 See Big Flame, The Past Against Our Future: Fighting Racism and Fascism, n.d., p. 35. 89 Clutterbuck, Britain in Agony, p. 216. 90 Socialist Worker, 20 August 1977. 91 Steve Radford, Secretary of the Southwark Campaign against Racism and Fascism, CARF, October–November 1977, 10. 92 See CARF, October–November 1977, 11. 93 On the press and Lewisham, see CARF, October–November 1977, 7. 94 TNA PREM 16/2084: Letter from John Tyndall to the Prime Minister, 18 August 1977. 95 See TNA PREM 16/2084: Report on the National Front, 7 February 1978.

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96 See A. Callinicos, ‘In Defence of Violence’, International Socialism, 1977, vol. 101, 24–28. 97 See Taylor, ‘Race, Extremism and Violence in Contemporary British Politics’, 62. 98 On the Ladywood by-election see Z. Layton-Henry and S. Taylor, ‘Race and Politics in Ladywood’, New Community, 1977–8, vol. 6, nos. 1 and 2, 130–42. 99 C. Bambery, Killing the Nazi Menace, London: Socialist Workers’ Party, 1992, p. 33. 100 See State Research Bulletin, August–September 1978, no. 7, 127. 101 Big Flame, The Past Against Our Future, p. 36. 102 Nona Peras, CARF, October–November 1977, 11. 103 Widgery, Beating Time, p. 49. 104 Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, p. 136. 105 See Founding Statement of the Anti-Nazi League, 1977, for full list of sponsors. 106 New Society, 11 May 1978, 294. 107 Founding Statement of the Anti-Nazi League, 1977. 108 Socialist Worker, 19 November 1977. 109 CARF, n.d., no. 3, 5. 110 See CARF, 1978, no. 6, 14. 111 Between September 1978 and mid-1981, 24 newsletters were produced by this group. 112 Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, p. 139. 113 See Searchlight, 1978, no. 31, 10–1. 114 The Guardian, 8 December 1977. 115 The Times, 11 December 1977. 116 The Daily Mirror, 9 December 1977. 117 The Sun, 9 December 1977. 118 Messina, Race and Party Competition, p. 120. 119 Big Flame, The Past Against Our Future, p. 36. 120 National Front Ex-Servicemen’s Association, Lifting the Lid off the Anti-Nazi League, NFN Press, 1978, p. 6. 121 Socialist Worker, 12 August 1978. 122 See Socialist Worker, 18 February 1978. 123 See SWP Central Committee, Internal Bulletin Pre-Party Council, May 1979, no. 2. 124 J. Tomlinson, Left, Right: The March of Political Extremism in Britain, London: John Calder, 1981, p. 85. 125 Searchlight, October 1983, no. 100, 3. 126 Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, p. 103. 127 P. Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, London: Routledge, 1995, pp. 131–2. 128 An offshoot from the International Socialists. 129 M. Williams/Revolutionary Communist Group, The Anti-Nazi League and the Struggle against Racism, RCG Publications, 1978, p. 9. 130 The RCT, which originated as an offshoot from the Revolutionary Communist Group, later became the Revolutionary Communist Party. 131 See F. Richards, Under a National Flag: Fascism, Racism and the Labour Movement, 2nd edn, London: Revolutionary Communist Tendency, 1978, p. 20, emphasis in the original. 132 See Simon Turner, ‘The SWP and the ANL’, SWP Bulletin, 1978, no. 7. 133 Quoted in Z. Layton-Henry, The Politics of Race in Britain, London: Allen and Unwin, 1984, p. 104. 134 Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, p. 134. 135 D. Renton, When We Touched the Sky: The Anti-Nazi League, 1977–81, Cheltenham: New Clarion Press, 2006, p. 127. 136 Richards, Under a National Flag, p. 24. 137 Widgery, Beating Time, p. 62. By 1979 Temporary Hoarding was selling 12,000 copies. 138 Rosenberg, ‘The Labour Party and the Fight against Fascism’, p. 80. 139 See T. Cliff, ‘Build the Anti Nazi League’, Socialist Worker, 13 May 1978. 140 Tomlinson, Left, Right, p. 79. The Workers’ Revolutionary Party was formerly the Socialist Labour League.

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141 The Trotskyist Militant Tendency probably had between 1,000 and 2,000 members in the mid- to late 1970s. 142 See CARF, 1978, no. 6, 16. 143 Arthur Merton, letter to Fighting Talk, summer 1992, no. 3, 19. 144 A black ‘self-defence’ organisation formed following three racially motivated murders in East London. 145 See CARF, 1978, no. 7, 7. 146 SWP Bulletin, 1978, no. 7. 147 Forewarned Against Fascism, 1978, no. 4. 148 See Forewarned Against Fascism, 1978, no. 5; also see Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, pp. 152–3. 149 CARF, 1978, no. 7, 2. 150 CARF, 1979, no. 8, 2. 151 Searchlight, October 1983, no. 100, 2. 152 See Unity Against Fascism, 1976, no. 1; and Forewarned Against Fascism, 1978, no. 4. 153 Anti-Fascist Democratic Action circular, dated 26 May 1978. 154 Press statement by Anti-Fascist Democratic Action, dated November 1978. 155 See Forewarned Against Fascism, 1978, no. 5. 156 Ibid., p. 14. 157 See Searchlight, October 1983, no. 100, 3. 158 Forewarned Against Fascism, 1978, no. 5. 159 Graeme Atkinson in Searchlight, August 1981, no. 74, 8. 160 C.T. Husbands, Racial Exclusionism and the City, London: Allen and Unwin, 1983, p. 273. 161 See P. Wilkinson, The New Fascists, London: Grant McIntyre, 1981, pp. 169–70. 162 See B. Troyna, ‘The Media and the Electoral Decline of the National Front’, Patterns of Prejudice, 1980, vol. 14, no. 3, 25–30, at p. 30. 163 Ibid., p. 29. 164 R. Eatwell, ‘Why has the Extreme Right Failed in Britain?’, in P. Hainsworth (ed.), The Extreme Right in Europe and the USA, London: Pinter, 1992, p. 187. 165 This was an offshoot of the All London Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee. 166 CARF, May 1977, no. 1, 4. 167 Socialist Worker, 16 September 1978. 168 See P. Cohen and C. Gardner, It Ain’t Half Racist Mum, London: Comedia, 1982, pp. 12–3. 169 See Hornsey Journal, 29 April 1977. 170 South East London and Kentish Mercury, 5 May 1977. 171 See East Ender, 11 August 1977. 172 For examples, see Camden Journal, 20 April 1979; Southall Gazette, 20 April 1979; East Ender, 14 April 1979 and 5 May 1979; Rochdale Observer, 28 April 1979; and Wolverhampton Express and Star, 24 April 1979. 173 Leicester Mercury, 29 April 1977. 174 See TNA HO 328/292. 175 See comments made by Ian Trethowan, BBC Director General in Yorkshire Post, 21 September 1978. 176 Spearhead, July 1979, no. 129, 11. 177 See Statement by the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, Response to the National Front, September 1978, p. 3. 178 J. Tyndall, The Eleventh Hour, London: Albion Press, 1988, p. 230. 179 See National Council for Civil Liberties, Southall 23 April 1979, Report of the Unofficial Committee of Enquiry, London: NCCL, 1980, p. 121. 180 Board of Deputies Memorandum: The Board’s Programme for Combating the National Front during the General Election, n.d. 181 National Front Ex-Servicemen’s Association, Lifting the Lid, p. 3.

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182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190

191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199

200 201 202 203 204

Jewish Chronicle, 26 August 1977. Jewish Chronicle, 18 November 1977. Jewish Chronicle, 25 November 1977. Jewish Chronicle, 21 April 1978. Jewish Chronicle, 7 July 1978. Jewish Chronicle, 25 August 1978. See Jewish Chronicle, 6 October 1978. See Jewish Chronicle, 20 October 1978. See Jewish Chronicle, 2 March 1979. The Board’s model campaign for combating the Front had already been effected in Leicester. A united campaign against the NF had been launched by church groups, trade union leaders, businessmen, politicians. The emphasis had been on educating the city’s public on the dangers of the NF. Over 50,000 Board of Deputies leaflets – ‘The National Front is a Nazi Front’ – had been distributed house to house, with a focus on council estates where the NF had pockets of strength. Just prior to the 1977 local election, hundreds of Leicester residents had signed up to a full-page anti-racist advertisement in the Leicester Mercury. The NF saw its local vote fall by a third. Socialist Worker, 13 May 1978. Big Flame, The Past Against Our Future, p. 36. See D. Hann, Physical Resistance: Or, A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism, Winchester: Zero Books, 2013, p. 299. Spearhead, July 1979, no. 129, 10. National Council for Civil Liberties, Southall 23 April 1979, Report of the Unofficial Committee of Inquiry, London: NCCL, 1980, p. 190. A mobile unit of the Metropolitan Police that had gained a reputation for heavy-handed policing. See Campaign Against Racism/Southall Rights, Southall: The Birth of a Black Community, London: Institute of Race Relations and Southall Rights, 1981. CARF, 1979, no. 9, 2. The first to vacate the NF was the National Front Constitutional Movement. This was followed by the British Democratic Party, which was the old Leicester branch of the NF. Both of these were short-lived and came to nothing. The final break came in 1980 when John Tyndall left to form the New National Front, which became the British National Party in 1982. See M. Harrop, J. England and C.T. Husbands, ‘The Bases of National Front Support’, Political Studies, 1980, vol. 28, no. 8, esp. 279–82. R. Griffin, ‘British Fascism: The Ugly Duckling’, in M. Cronin (ed.), The Failure of British Fascism: The Far Right and the Fight for Political Recognition, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996, pp. 162–3. Workers’ Action, 25 March–8 April 1978. Quoted in National Front Ex-Servicemen’s Association, Lifting the Lid, p. 7. See ‘ANL – A Balance Sheet, Central Committee’, SWP Internal Bulletin, Pre-Party Council, May 1979, no. 2. See SWP Central Committee, ‘Opposing the Nazis’, SWP Discussion Bulletin, 1984.


I At the beginning of the 1980s, with the National Front having fallen on hard times, the urgency that rallied mass opposition to the NF between 1977–9 disappeared. Not only had the threat of fascism abated, but political space for anti-fascism had also been squeezed by the arrival of Margaret Thatcher whose austere right-wing policies raised more pressing issues for the left. In consequence, in the early 1980s anti-fascism lost momentum and petered out. Although a few local ANL groups continued, the ANL wound down.1 For a moment, there were efforts to re-invigorate it during 1980–1 when the activities of the NF’s main rival – the British Movement (BM) – generated concerns over the rising popularity of the Nazi cult amongst working-class youth. Thatcher may have pulled the ‘racialist rug’ from under the NF but as a result, the ANL believed, violent Nazi hardliners were now winning the argument, ‘offering to sections of disaffected white youth a way to hit back’, trading on anxieties caused by the alarming rise in mass unemployment.2 However, these efforts came to nothing and the ANL failed to establish a permanent presence.3 In then rationalising its departure from the anti-fascist arena, the SWP saw unemployed youth as inherently ‘unstable and difficult to organise’ and the far right was, in any case, ‘prone to disintegrate rapidly if a few key organisers were imprisoned or resigned’ (the BM’s West Midlands organiser was jailed for seven years in early 1981 for incitement to race hatred and for building up an arsenal of weapons; in-fighting had split the BM by late 1981). Moreover, ‘as the riots of 1981 revealed, large numbers of white youth were willing to fight together with blacks against the state’.4 By the end of 1981, therefore, the urgency over the vulnerability of young people to the ‘poison of fascist ideas’ had gone. Tellingly, the size of the ANL picket at the founding press conference of the British National Party (BNP) in April 1982, when fewer than ten activists stood outside in the rain, confirmed that the ANL had come to the end of its (first) run.

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In fact, already in October 1981, Searchlight had lamented a situation where there was ‘no anti-racist, anti-fascist movement to speak of’, and had called for the formation of a new, nationally co-ordinated organisation dedicated to the fight against fascism and racism.5 To this end, in May 1981 it had convened a meeting to mark the first anniversary of the death of Maurice Ludmer from which it was hoped that new initiatives to sustain the anti-fascist struggle might emerge. Yet with only 60 people in attendance in a hall that could seat 1,200, it was all too clear that the scale of the fascist threat had diminished to such an extent that the formation of a mass anti-fascist movement in the near future was an unlikely prospect. Of the local Anti-Nazi League groups still functioning after the 1979 general election, one of the most active was the group based in Islington, North London, which objected to NF activity at Chapel Street Market where the Front had established a regular paper sale. Here the local NF group could count on upwards of 60 street-hardened foot soldiers, including BM activists. Despite vicious intimidation, where on one occasion ANL members were apparently attacked by a large group of ‘brick-wielding’ fascists,6 the local ANL continued to leaflet the market and collected a petition signed by over 800 shoppers opposing NF violence and the sale of fascist literature. With militant anti-fascists determined to defend their pitch and eliminate the Front’s presence, frequent violent clashes during 1981 ensued. As one anti-fascist militant tells it, Our propaganda won over, or neutralised, the locals and in frequent physical clashes the fascists were hospitalised, humiliated and demoralised. Around the same time nine of their hardcore were convicted of possession of fire-arms and armed robberies; the branch collapsed. This created a ‘domino effect’ with other branches in North London completely ceasing activity.7 The street violence at Chapel Street Market was symptomatic of what the SWP leadership disparaged as ‘squadism’ – anti-fascists organising as small, violent, semiclandestine harassment squads. For the SWP leadership, this type of physical force anti-fascism had become counter-productive, a form of ‘terrorism’ whereby activists were ‘substituting’ themselves for a mass anti-fascist movement. As the SWP’s Central Committee made clear, ‘we are absolutely opposed to substitutionism (ie to all forms of squadism) and are for united fronts, mass action and mass campaigns’.8 Significantly, during the spring and summer of 1981, the SWP expelled a number of militant anti-fascists for ‘squadist’ activity. These expulsions were based on two incidents: one occurred at an SWP Easter holiday camp where a fight broke out between a ‘squadist’ and a band roadie; the second incident occurred before an ANL carnival in Leeds in July 1981 following a disagreement over stewarding.9 The SWP’s Leeds district committee now called on the leadership to expel the anti-fascist squads: Clearly a very small minority of SWP members feel that the use of violence and individual terrorism is a preferable method to taking on the Nazis. The

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experience of mass movements such as the carnival seems merely to offer an outlet for drunken and violent behaviour, which differs little in style from the macho loutish behaviour of the Nazis. We therefore call upon the central committee to firmly state against the concept of squads as a means of opposing the Nazis. We also call upon the national secretary to locate those members and to initiate immediately their expulsions.10 So, in 1981, the SWP expelled a number of its members. There were many reasons, both political and social. Within the SWP a section had found themselves to be at odds with the leadership of the party, who were mainly middle class and well educated. This same crowd that seemed always to be at the front of the SWP demos, taking the flak, found themselves drinking together and getting more dissatisfied. There were rows. Many had joined the SWP because of its links with the Anti-Nazi League. The confrontational policies of the ANL, fighting the National Front on the streets, were the sort of politics they could understand. Now the SWP wanted to disband the ANL, but this crowd felt there was still a need for them. They didn’t want to sit down and talk about fascism, they wanted to go out and hit it.11 By January 1982, those expelled from the SWP had formed a new militant group, Red Action (RA). Dismissed by some as a little more than a glorified drinking club, RA defined itself in opposition to the SWP’s ‘intellectual mostly middle-class, ex-student leadership’, and identified with two issues in particular, both of which RA believed had been abandoned by the left: militant anti-fascism and the struggle for Irish liberation.12 With regard to the former, RA took inspiration from Chapel Street Market where anti-fascists had simply refused to give in. As Sean Birchall, the semi-official historian of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), explains: Without doubt events surrounding the campaign at Chapel Market had set the tone for the development of militant anti-fascism in the years ahead. The militants had demonstrated that a violent party like the NF could be taken head-on. The anti-fascists were well-organised, disciplined and able to outthink and out-violence the NF at street level, an emphatic answer to the SWP’s leadership’s critique of ‘squadism’. Where was the NF’s ‘appetite for violence’ now, was the inquiry?13 In the short term, however, it was the regular presence at Chapel Street Market of a young Patrick Harrington, an NF local branch organiser, which had the greater impact. In April 1983, an article entitled ‘Who Polices the Nazis?’ that carried a photograph of Harrington selling literature at Chapel Street Market appeared in Fuse, the student magazine at the Polytechnic of North London (PNL). Following the publication of this article, students to whom Harrington had attempted to sell

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National Front News identified him as a first-year undergraduate at the Polytechnic and after verification from Searchlight, Harrington became known to the student body as a Front activist. Following a brief campaign by students objecting to his attendance at the Polytechnic, Harrington promptly disappeared, only to return to the Polytechnic in February 1984 to brazen it out. In so doing, a wave of anti-fascist protest was initiated, resulting in a series of events, aptly described by one Polytechnic lecturer as a ‘comic opera’,14 involving mass student pickets, confrontations between riot police and students, High Court action, the presence of a High Court tipstaff in classes ruling what could and could not be discussed, the threat of 14 lecturers being jailed and, unsurprisingly, calls from the right-wing press to close the Polytechnic down. In an amusing analogy a Times editorial suggested that the script – an unfortunate student being ‘victimised’ for his right-wing views – had been written a decade earlier by Malcolm Bradbury in his novel, The History Man.15 The comic analogies aside, why did the presence of a lone individual cause such mayhem? In the first place Harrington was more than just a passive member of the NF, he was a leading activist – the treasurer of Kensington/Chelsea NF, a student and Young National Front organiser, assistant editor of National Front News, and an officer in the NF’s Publicity Department. Moreover, there were allegations that he was a former editor of South London News, a publication that had featured hit-lists of anti-fascists alongside details of how to send opponents faeces in the post as well as advice on how to tape razor blades to envelopes. Harrington had also been suspected of organising attacks on anti-fascists in Islington in 1981 and allegedly advocated the use of firebombing in a conversation recorded on tape by an ANL member. Moreover, it was widely held that Harrington was not a bona fide student. His attendance record at classes during his first year had been poor and he had not even registered for a library card. Add to this the multi-ethnic composition of the student body at PNL and its reputation as the most left-wing college in the country, where on average there had been demonstrations or disruptions four times a year over the previous 14 years,16 then had Harrington deliberately conspired to enrol at PNL to cause trouble and so attract publicity for the Front, he clearly could not have chosen a more appropriate place to ‘study’. Whether a conspiracy or not, Harrington’s reappearance in February 1984 was certain to cause disquiet. Initially, a small group of Philosophy students began to mount pickets in March 1984 objecting to Harrington’s attendance at lectures. Gradually, organised by the Socialist Workers’ Student Society, these pickets grew and culminated in a mass picket on 1 May 1984 when hundreds of students joined by Polytechnic trade unionists and a number of outsiders, gathered to prevent Harrington from gaining entry to the Polytechnic’s Kentish Town site. By this time, however, Harrington had initiated legal action in the High Court and obtained an injunction restraining, in both a personal and representative capacity, Steve Phillip (a black Sociology student and member of the Socialist Workers’ Student Society) from interfering with his contractual right to attend lectures. The mass picket against Harrington on 1 May was therefore in breach of this injunction. Having baited the trap, the NF photographed students participating in the picket

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and then applied to have those students identified and imprisoned. On 21 May, Judge Mars-Jones ordered 14 lecturers to disclose the identities of anti-fascist students photographed on the demonstration, but after staff were granted leave of appeal, the order was eventually discharged on technical irregularities.17 Meanwhile, the Polytechnic Directorate attempted to defuse the situation by offering Harrington private tuition. This Harrington refused and with considerable police protection was able to carry on attending lectures in the company of the High Court tipstaff despite ongoing protest, which on 22 May saw several hundred students demonstrate outside the Kentish Town site of the Polytechnic, whilst inside some 300 students lined the corridors in silent protest and occupied all the seats in the library.18 Interrupted only by the summer vacation, the disruption at the Polytechnic continued into the new academic term. At an emergency general meeting of the students’ union in October 1984 a decision was taken to defy the High Court order and resume mass picketing. This drew immediate criticism from the NUS, which called on students not to take any illegal action. The NUS then withdrew its support and instructed all affiliated student unions to follow suit, at which point splits started to emerge in the ‘Harrington Out’ campaign, with many students having concluded that further protests would result in pointless confrontation and would likely lead to the Polytechnic’s closure.19 Then in a bizarre twist the Director of the Polytechnic, Dr David MacDowall, announced his resignation. In an open resignation letter circulated to staff and students, MacDowall admitted, ironically, that by discouraging students from protesting, by threatening disciplinary action and by naming students for NF lawyers, he had acted ‘in a totally fascistic manner’. In his parting shot MacDowall even wished ‘all the picketing students the best of luck in their campaign’.20 Yet despite this resignation, which called further attention to the Polytechnic’s maladministration, and despite the reservations of a growing number of students, there was no immediate end to the protests. Consequently in November 1984 Harrington once again resorted to legal action and made a committal application against two Polytechnic students who had broken the injunction. At a subsequent hearing the two students, Steven Tisane and John Leatham, were imprisoned for refusing to give an undertaking that they would stop trying to prevent Harrington from attending the Polytechnic.21 It was January 1985 before the new director, Dr John Beishon, was able to broker a deal whereby Harrington would be taught in isolation in a small Polytechnic house away from the main sites, whilst in return, the student body agreed to call off the pickets.22 Although there were complaints of a ‘sell-out’, most students welcomed the deal as a ‘90 per cent victory’ and after ten months of disruption, some semblance of peace finally returned to the Polytechnic.23 However, there were suggestions that this ‘victory’ came at too great a cost, with the media reporting Harrington and not his objectors as the injured party. As one commentator said, the media portrayal of Harrington was that of a victimised individual ‘modestly and courageously claiming his right to education’ with anti-fascist students having ‘handed, on a plate, more publicity to the Front than it has had for years’.24 Certainly Harrington’s position within the Front’s elite was strengthened – he won a

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National Front bravery award – and the Front obtained considerable publicity. Nonetheless, Harrington’s ‘heroic’ deeds failed to rescue it from further decline, with NF membership having contracted continuously from 10,000 at the time of the 1979 general election to just below 1,000 by January 1985.25 Inadvertently, the major consequence of the ‘Harrington Out’ campaign was the damage inflicted on the already beleaguered reputation of the Polytechnic. Leading the calls for the Polytechnic’s closure was Baroness Cox, who in quite hysterical terms warned Daily Mail readers that the PNL was producing ‘graduates in the art of anarchy’ and was ‘a malignant cell in the body of higher education, spreading its pernicious influence into the wider society’.26 Yet even if the ‘Harrington Out’ campaign scored an ‘own goal’ in this respect, the episode retains significance in the wider history of British anti-fascism. It was the first example of students at a higher education institution27 coming together to oppose a leading member of a fascist organisation whose presence, they feared, would lead to racial attacks on the multi-ethnic student body. This points to the uniqueness of this case and underlines the very diversity of the British anti-fascist experience, but in another sense, it merely follows in the line of other historical examples of community-based responses to fascism. The difference on this occasion, however, was that the community was the student body and although other episodes of student opposition to a fascist presence on campus have arisen since, the scale of disruption at the Polytechnic of North London has never been repeated.28 As students at the PNL initiated their anti-fascist protest, a timely warning of the potential dangers of right-wing extremism was served by Channel Four when in March 1984 it screened The Other Face of Terror. This was a 75-minute television documentary in which Ray Hill,29 a Searchlight informant, revealed how he had sabotaged a fascist plot to plant a massive bomb at the Notting Hill Carnival in 1981. In this programme Hill alleged that Tony Malski, the leader of an obscure neo-Nazi grouplet known as the National Socialist Action Party, had planned to start a race war by detonating a bomb supplied by French fascists at Europe’s largest black street carnival. In order to thwart the plan, Hill leaked the story to the Daily Mirror which carried it on its front page a month or so before the Notting Hill Carnival was due to take place.30 According to Hill, this alarmed Malski who swiftly dropped the plan and so the plot was foiled. However, this was not the limit to Hill’s sharp practice as it also emerged that whilst working undercover for Searchlight, he had successfully infiltrated the British Democratic Party (BDP), a National Front splinter group led by Anthony Reed-Herbert, a solicitor based in Leicester. For a moment the BDP offered the possibility of becoming a serious rival to the NF, yet in a story that originated with Ray Hill, Reed-Herbert’s involvement in a gun-running operation was exposed in a World in Action programme in July 1981 and this, by forcing Reed-Herbert into self-imposed exile in Ireland, led to the BDP’s collapse. Hill also claims to have triggered the disintegration of the BM, first by establishing a leading presence within that organisation, and second by engineering a split whereby he delivered half its membership to Tyndall’s BNP in 1982. Hill then ensured that the newly

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launched BNP faltered by putting a stop to an alliance between Tyndall and Joe Pearce’s faction of the NF.31 Through his anti-fascist work Ray Hill believes that ‘major successes were chalked up’,32 and there is no denying that he put himself at considerable risk for the anti-fascist cause. Clearly if there had been a plot to bomb the Notting Hill Carnival then by saving many lives, Hill’s tip-off to the press was of major significance. Yet there are doubts as to whether such a plot actually existed, as no prosecution was ever brought (one commentator speculated that the plot was deliberately fabricated by Searchlight).33 As for the damage inflicted to both the BDP and BM, it is worth bearing in mind that the former may have had potential for growth but it was still a tiny grouping; the latter, more significant with perhaps 2,000 members, was still a political outrider for the far right. The BM, oblivious to the need for political respectability, made no attempt to hide its neo-Nazism. Despite possessing potential for expansion amongst disaffected skinhead youth, the BM’s prospects for wider growth were miserable. Indeed, in his autobiographical account, Hill records that a television team from TV Eye had already revealed the BM’s neo-Nazism to the nation ‘and the images of sieg-heil-ing skinheaded hooligans stamping through west London which were beamed to the general public […] did little to enhance BM’s pretensions to being the government of the future’.34 Also, the launch of Tyndall’s BNP was hardly memorable and with or without Pearce’s faction of the NF, the BNP posed little threat. The reality was that the activities of Ray Hill had no real bearing on the relative electoral position of British fascism in the early 1980s. Yet perhaps this misses the point. In the wake of the collapse of the Front, elements on the fascist right did look to re-establish a presence, not necessarily by fighting elections but by fomenting racial violence, whether covertly (possibly through bombings) or overtly through the street activities of skinhead organisations like the BM. By exposing these developments Hill reinforced fascism’s illegitimacy and by encouraging organisational friction, Hill further dislocated an extreme right that was already at odds with itself following the resounding electoral defeat of the National Front in 1979.

II One key consequence of the electoral collapse of the NF and the subsequent fall in general fascist activity, was that a successor to the Anti-Nazi League did not finally emerge until July 1985 when at a conference held at Conway Hall, London, attended by some 300 activists, AFA was launched. Even then, this new organisation was brought into being at a time when electoral support for fascist groups in Britain was negligible. In the 1983 general election, the NF had polled a derisory 1.1 per cent of the vote from 58 seats contested, whilst Tyndall’s BNP, its main rival, had captured an unremarkable 1.3 per cent for its 53 candidates.35 In the 1970s NF marches could muster significant numbers, but ‘[n]ow their marches are not only smaller and fewer but their assemblages of fat, ageing skinheads are somewhat pathetic’. In 1984 the SWP’s Central Committee concluded: ‘There are fascists in

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existence in Britain, even some fascist activity, but there is no fascist movement. It would therefore be impossible to build an anti-fascist mass movement, and foolish to try.’36 Given that anti-fascism is quintessentially a reactive phenomenon, why was the formation of AFA deemed necessary when popular support for organisations like the Front had so obviously declined? Red Action, increasingly aware of its own political isolation, had made the initial running in terms of establishing contact with other groups, but why were these groups, which included less militant ones such as anti-racist workers from East London’s Newham Monitoring Project, so receptive? The ‘nature of the beast’ – put succinctly – had changed. First, a radical faction had emerged in the NF known as the ‘political soldiers’ who openly advocated political violence and the fear was that the NF was intent on ‘pushing racist violence beyond intolerable limits’.37 Second, black and Asian communities in the inner cities were now being subject to rising levels of racist attacks. The Anti-Nazi League was found guilty of having abandoned these communities and was charged with allowing fascists space to ‘regroup in the inner cities in a campaign of unmitigated violence on black families’.38 Third, the NF’s interest in so-called ‘destabilisation politics’ had widened to include grassroots activity ostensibly directed towards leftwing constituencies, such as organising support groups for striking miners, infiltration of animal rights organisations, and protesting at the presence of American nuclear bases in Britain. What had struck a jarring note in particular, was the relative ease with which a group of some 70 or more NF skinheads had physically attacked two bands on stage at the Greater London Council’s ‘Jobs for a Change’ festival held in central London in June 1984. One victim was slashed; another had a jaw broken. RA members had been around the beer tent; they had seen young skinheads but believed them to be harmless.39 By exposing the weakness of the left to fascist aggression, this attack had ‘brought matters to a head’.40 In its founding statement, Anti-Fascist Action promised to oppose fascism and racism both physically and ideologically whilst also recognising the rights of black and Asian communities to self-defence against fascist and racist attacks. Red Action had ‘drawn up (on the back of a beermat) the heart of AFA’s founding statement that AFA would “fight the fascists physically and ideologically on the streets”’.41 Taking responsibility for security on the day of the conference, RA contributed little to the conference debate. Nonetheless, it was confident that when the dust had settled, RA would provide the new organisation with ‘“de facto” leadership behind the scenes, and on the streets’.42 This new organisation was to be ‘nonsectarian’, a broad alliance of left-wing groups, both ‘liberal’ and ‘militant’, with each affiliated group having one vote on a national secretariat. The honorary president was Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn. On its founding, AFA claimed 4,000 supporters.43 Even though some larger radical-left organisations did not choose to join (SWP, Militant, Communist Party), AFA drew together numerous militant-left and anarchist groups within its ranks (Red Action, Class War, Workers’ Power, the East London Direct Action Movement), along with more moderate black and ethnic minority organisations that

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campaigned against racist violence, such as East London’s Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), the Refugee Forum, and the East London civil rights organisation, CAPA.44 The NUS also affiliated to AFA, as did several Labour Party branches, trades councils and individual trade union branches. Searchlight was represented on the national secretariat too. ‘One of the mistakes of the anti-fascist movement in the past has been to play up differences between direct action, mass community mobilisation and educational and propaganda work’, explained the NMP’s Unmesh Desai, AFA’s public spokesperson, ‘But you can’t have just one strategy, but a number of strategies that compliment [sic] each other. Everyone has a part to play in AFA’.45 Worthy for sure, but AFA’s founding principles – to oppose fascism both physically and ideologically, whilst also recognising the rights of ethnic minorities to defend themselves from racist attacks – were portents of an organisational mismarriage. So from the outset, AFA ‘contained the seed for its own demise’.46 AFA’s militant wing saw in fascism a reactionary anti-working class system. Class rather than race was its compass point. Yet at the outset moderate anti-racists from the NMP held the upper hand. The way to defeat fascism, the NMP opined, was not through class-based militancy but through challenging popular support for racist ideas. Despite acknowledging that black and ethnic minority communities had a fundamental right to defend themselves against racist attacks – in other words to physically oppose racism and fascism – anti-racists from the NMP were dismissive of squads of anti-fascist fighters preoccupied with giving fascists ‘a good kicking’. This position jarred with AFA’s combative wing. Whilst AFA’s moderates saw the value in militants ensuring that AFA’s meetings could take place without being attacked, they felt ill at ease with ‘taking on the fascists’ in sporadic and isolated street battles. Internal differences had already emerged by the time of AFA’s national conference in Manchester in 1986, when the anarchist Class War was suspended for ‘racism’, and the Direct Action Movement along with Red Action walked out in protest. Red Action returned to the fold but in so doing, ‘as the only autonomous group left in AFA’, it felt ‘isolated and vulnerable’.47 Anti-fascist aggression was not entirely stifled, however.48 In 1986, following an attack by AFA on an NF march in Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk, a beleaguered NF leader (and future BNP leader), Nick Griffin, thought it best not to hold further demonstrations. Griffin was quoted as saying: We must resist the temptation to hold exciting but basically futile street activities as a reaction to Red provocation. We have been marching down that road for nearly 20 years with very little effect, save to allow groups such as Red Action to use the NF threat to boost their own support on the streets.49 Radical anti-fascists claimed further victories such as physical disruption to an NF Flag Group march in Stockport in 1986, when at one point anti-fascists apparently overturned a car containing NF supporters and then subjected its unfortunate occupants to a smoke bomb attack;50 and to a National Front Flag Group public

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election meeting in Greenwich in 1987, when 15 anti-fascists gained access to the hall and the ‘whole place erupted almost immediately, and whilst anti-fascists were outnumbered between two and three to one, they still put a creditable performance before being ejected by police’.51 At AFA’s 1987 conference in Bradford, RA called for a radical restructuring of the organisation but moderates wanted to convert AFA into an anti-racist protest/ pressure group. A proposal was made to change the name to Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Action (in a bid to put race above class). According to former AFA activists Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey, ‘[t]he liberals had manoeuvred themselves into positions of authority in AFA, and as a consequence the organisation was dying on its feet, stifled by an ineffective leadership that thought the best way to fight fascism was to appeal for Parliament to do something about the problem’.52 Reflecting its increasingly moribund state, only 50 people attended the 1988 AFA conference in London, where a decision was taken that since it was no longer a credible national movement, responsibility for anti-fascist activity would be separated out on a federal basis.53 AFA would remain, but only in skeletal form. In the North, a northern anti-fascist network comprised a variety of local groups, such as Bradford Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Action, which by holding a wreathlaying ceremony to the victims of fascism and racism in alliance with local trades councils and Bradford Labour Party, prevented the BNP from staging a rally near the War Memorial in Eccleshall in September 1989.54 On Tyneside, fascist activity was opposed by the Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association (TWAFA), a group that dates from 1983, formed when local anti-fascists reacted to news that the BNP intended to hold a march through Newcastle-upon-Tyne. TWAFA is significant because it was the first anti-fascist group to receive local council funding which probably accounts for its longevity. It also appears to have been one of the first anti-fascist groups to have successfully confronted the sale of fascist literature at football grounds.55 This type of fascist activity dates back to the 1950s when Colin Jordan’s White Defence League had sold literature outside Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United,56 though it is more commonly associated with the Front. The NF had started to target London football clubs in the late 1970s – so giving birth to ANL sub-groups such as the ‘Gunners Against the Nazis’ at Arsenal – and had achieved notoriety in the 1980s for selling racist literature at many football grounds across the country. One of its prize sites was St James’ Park, Newcastle, where the NF had established a foothold amongst a large body of Newcastle United supporters. TWAFA responded by holding regular pickets outside the ground whilst at the same time distributing anti-fascist materials, such as stickers (‘Geordies are Black and White’) and leaflets. Faced with rising numbers of antifascist objectors, the NF presence lessened and by 1989 had gone altogether. Such was the success of TWAFA’s campaign, that its example was followed by other local anti-fascist groups, such as Leeds Anti-Fascist Action which along with the local trades council had, by early 1990, eliminated the NF presence at Leeds United. In the South, Anti-Fascist Action was concentrated on Red Action and the London region where in 1989 a number of successes were recorded against the

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neo-Nazi ‘Blood and Honour’ organisation. The focal point for hard-core skinhead subculture, Blood and Honour’s chief was Ian Stuart Donaldson whose band, Skrewdriver, had attracted a sizeable international following. This subculture, which emerged around an abrasive type of rock music, had originally been encouraged by the NF as a riposte to Rock Against Racism.57 Detached from the mainstream music business, it was a lucrative source of income for the Front, so much so that by mid-1987 the NF’s ‘political soldiers’ faction was diverting a considerable sum earned through concerts, merchandise, record and tape sales away from Donaldson directly into NF coffers. This led Donaldson to an acrimonious split with the NF and he subsequently created the Blood and Honour network. At first Red Action responded to Blood and Honour with Cable Street Beat, set up in 1988, and affiliated to AFA. Its aim was ‘to counter and ultimately negate the propaganda activities and objectives of organisations like “Blood and Honour” at home and abroad’.58 Its first event – a gig at the Electric Ballroom in Camden – was held on 4 October 1988 (to mark the 52nd anniversary of Cable Street). It was described by RA as both a political and commercial success: £40,000 worth of Cable Street Beat fanzines, over 100 RA papers, and £100,000 worth of books and t-shirts were sold.59 Lifted by this, in January 1989 AFA, in conjunction with Cable Street Beat, launched a campaign against the sale of Blood and Honour and associated neo-Nazi merchandise in Carnaby Street, in London’s West End. This campaign was supported by Corbyn, as well as representatives from Westminster Council and Searchlight. After some five months of campaigning, which included a number of demonstrations, petitions, appearances on TV and radio, AFA succeeded in forcing the closure of one of the shops (Cutdown), whilst another (Merc) withdrew neo-Nazi material. On 27 May 1989 anti-fascists had taken sledgehammers to the former, forcing the shop’s insurance company to insist on security at a cost of £100 per day. On the same day, AFA had frustrated a plan by Blood and Honour to stage a large rally in London by first managing to cancel a booking at Camden Town Hall which Blood and Honour had reserved under a false name, and then by mobilising anti-fascists to occupy Blood and Honour’s redirection point in Hyde Park where the neo-Nazis expected to discover the location of the rearranged venue. As Sean Birchall reveals, Even before the AFA security wing arrived, scattered confrontations had begun to take place. Once the AFA stewards took centre stage, running battles became the norm. A scene of utter lawlessness was enhanced by the coincidence of a huge Muslim demonstration against the author Salman Rushdie degenerating into a riot in Parliament Square at exactly the same time. With police overstretched, anti-fascists had an almost entirely free hand. All around the Marble Arch area, gangs of would-be gig-goers, many of them German, were continually confronted.60 According to AFA, this campaign led to the ‘virtual collapse’ of Blood and Honour in London. Ian Stuart Donaldson had a wine (or Lucozade?) bottle smashed over his head shortly afterwards; he then made his retreat to Derbyshire.61

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Whilst events in the capital stole the anti-fascist limelight, elsewhere anti-fascist opposition, independent of AFA, could also take violent form. In June 1989 58 people were arrested and two policemen injured during a riot in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. Following a campaign by white parents to remove their children from a school were 80 per cent of the pupils were of Asian origin, the BNP held a rally in the town. Local opposition had been organised by the Kirklees Black Workers’ Association (originally formed in 1986). A counter-rally of 800 gathered, for the most part comprising incensed young Asians as rumours had been spread that the BNP were going to burn the Koran. Heavy-handed policing saw Asian youths driven towards the predominantly Asian area of Saville Town, whereupon fighting broke out and a local pub was wrecked. Meanwhile, 30 to 40 white youths had rampaged through Dewsbury Market shouting abuse at Asian stall holders. Of those arrested, almost all Asian, a number received prison sentences ranging from three months to three years.62 In the approach to the NF’s Remembrance Sunday march in November 1989 internal tensions within London AFA had become especially heated. The militant wing insisted that the AFA Cenotaph march should not be repeated because marches in 1987 and 1988 had seen numbers of participants fall, had generated no useful publicity and had failed to stop fascists from marching. The only positive aspect to these marches, AFA’s militants argued, was the mobilisation of AFA ‘defence squads’ which after the march defended the anti-apartheid picket outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square from attack by fascists. Thus in the event, around 500 AFA militants decided against marching to the Cenotaph but occupied the fascists’ assembly point at Victoria instead. In doing so, anti-fascists delayed their opponent’s march for over an hour and clearly rattled the fascist contingent as there was no subsequent attack on the anti-apartheid picket. However, this ‘victory’ came at a price. Unity within London AFA collapsed when between 150–300 moderate anti-fascists, comprising elements from Islington Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Action and representatives from a variety of organisations such as the TUC, the NUS and the Union of Jewish Students, marched to the Cenotaph, led by Gerry Gable, editor of Searchlight, and Glyn Ford, a leading Labour Party MEP.63 Those who argued for a more radical line cut loose, further impetus being occasioned by the arrival of the BNP – ‘the new kids on the block’ – in Tower Hamlets in early 1990. Anti-Fascist Action was now re-launched by Red Action as the militant wing of the anti-fascist movement. What this involved has been graphically described by Jim Kane, an AFA activist: Militant anti-fascism has a single goal – to forcefully disrupt the fascists from going about their business. Our aim is to prevent them selling their papers, distributing their leaflets, putting up their stickers and posters. Our intention is to make it impossible for them to stand candidates in elections, and where they do manage to stand, disrupt their campaigns at every stage. Ultimately, our aim is to crush them completely, to wipe them off the face of the earth.64

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In terms of the radical anti-fascist tradition, the re-launched AFA was not a carbon copy of the 43 or 62 Groups. Besides the fact that it had no interest in Jewish community defence, AFA was driven by an overarching political objective – to clear fascists out of working-class areas and fill the resulting vacuum with a radicalleft alternative. This political line was promoted through an uncompromising magazine, Fighting Talk, launched in September 1991, advertised in Searchlight along with a regular list of AFA contact addresses. By putting AFA in touch with a wider audience, Searchlight – circulation by now was probably in the region of 7,000 or so copies65 – lent its support despite marked differences of approach, particularly over the question of whether anti-fascists should appeal to the state in the struggle against fascism. Whilst Searchlight was prepared to call for ‘legal’ antifascism, AFA’s position left no room for compromise: ‘If you seriously oppose the fascists in a way which is effective, you are operating against the state. This is a fact of life.’66 A further point of difference related to the alleged Zionist editorial line of Searchlight, with critics holding Gable responsible for the magazine’s ‘political degeneration’.67 Beyond Searchlight’s readership, an even wider audience was reached on 18 May 1992 when AFA’s case was broadcast to the nation in a documentary entitled ‘Fighting Talk’, shown on BBC 2’s public-access Open Space programme. Unsurprisingly, not everyone was convinced by AFA’s case and the BBC was swiftly attacked by the Daily Mail (19 May 1992) for giving a national platform to ‘a group which looks suspiciously like left wing fascists eager for a street war with right wing fascists’.68 The Sun’s Garry Bushell, suspected of harbouring far-right sympathies himself,69 declared that the Open Space slot ‘had been given over to ugly red thugs who glory in violence’.70 The 30-minute programme had featured Mensi, lead singer with the punk band Angelic Upstarts – ‘a burly ruffian with a thick Geordie accent’, as the Daily Mail condescendingly described him – alongside interviews with several silhouetted figures, all of whom had been ‘attacked or felt threatened by the fascist renaissance’.71 The reality was that AFA’s position was more carefully thought out than simply ‘bash the fash’. For in AFA’s class-based analysis, support for fascism was said to come from the disillusioned white working class betrayed by a mediocre Labour Party that had ditched socialism. So without a credible alternative, the working class had no choice but to turn to popular racism by default: ‘In the absence of class, race. In the absence of socialism, nationalism.’72 Thus, the underlying objective behind the re-launched AFA was ‘to create the climate whereby progressive left and anarchist groups can bring their ideas and programs to those targeted by the fascist gangs both as victims of their abuse and as victims of their recruitment’.73 The precise nature of this alternative was never made explicit. Nonetheless, AntiFascist Action always insisted that ‘AFA is not, and must never be a front for any one organisation’.74 It declared itself a non-sectarian, broad-based organisation and accordingly, in October 1991, expelled the tiny Revolutionary International League on the grounds that this group was intent on hijacking AFA and converting it into a political party.75

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By 1990 the chief adversary had become Tyndall’s BNP, which had now succeeded in displacing the NF as the leading organisation on Britain’s far right.76 During 1990 the BNP ventured into East London and through its ‘Rights for Whites’ campaign witnessed an encouraging improvement in its local electoral scores, especially in the district of Tower Hamlets. Where previously the BNP might poll between 1 and 2 per cent of the vote, it now began to poll between 8 and 10 per cent. Standing four candidates in local elections in Tower Hamlets in May 1990, the BNP polled more than Conservative Party candidates and at one local election in the St Peters Ward in August 1990, the BNP netted 12.8 per cent of the vote. Ominously, given the ethnic composition of the area, 50 per cent white and 50 per cent Asian, the BNP had received votes from around one in four of the white electorate.77 What was particularly depressing for militant anti-fascists was that these votes were recorded despite an energetic counter-campaign by AFA. In May 1990 AFA had distributed thousands of leaflets on white housing estates in Tower Hamlets which had followed the tried and tested formula: a photograph of John Tyndall in neo-Nazi regalia with voters urged ‘Don’t vote Fascist! Don’t vote BNP!’ AFA militants disrupted a BNP election meeting at Weaver’s Field School in Bethnal Green in April, whilst in a park next to the school, a public demonstration against the BNP had been held by a variety of organisations, including the local Labour Party and Socialist Workers’ Party.78 Later in the year, AFA once again disrupted an election meeting at Weaver’s Field School, occupied the BNP’s regular paper sale at Brick Lane, and in order to build a locally based opposition, held a public meeting in Whitechapel after having earlier distributed thousands of leaflets defining AFA’s new militant strategy.79 Alive to the possibility of the BNP taking root in East London, this anti-fascist groundwork was followed up in 1991 with yet more activity. AFA held another demonstration against the paper sale at Brick Lane in March 1991 and afterwards successfully besieged a local public house favoured by BNP activists. In September 1991, an anti-fascist Unity carnival at Hackney Downs Park was organised which drew more than 10,000 people; in October 1991 300 anti-fascists staged a mass picket of the paper sale in Brick Lane; and then in November, a national march against racist attacks was held in Tower Hamlets, attended by 3,500 anti-fascists. Writing in September 1991, AFA believed that through its application, the BNP had been denied a foothold in Tower Hamlets and was hopeful that ‘the fascists’ slow retreat in London’ could be turned ‘into a national rout’.80 In the midst of this East London campaign, AFA approached the SWP with a call to affiliate: The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) claims 6,000 members. Socialist Worker carries a weekly column called ‘Where We Stand’, committing the party to fighting racism and supporting black self-defence. For too long the SWP have held back from actively organising their members to enforcing these principles. Now is the time for the SWP to throw its efforts and resources into common action with AFA to crush the BNP and destroy the fascists’ base.81

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In the spring of 1992, AFA remained confident that it had ‘recorded an impressive number of successes, particularly in East London’.82 As it turned out, however, AFA had got it wrong. Despite opposing the BNP’s ‘Rights for Whites’ campaign from the very beginning, anti-fascist militants had not removed BNP influence from the area. In truth, quite the reverse happened: in September 1992 a BNP candidate polled 20 per cent of the vote in a local election in Millwall, and it was in Millwall the following year that the BNP won its first ever council seat. All the more surprising given that from late 1991 a succession of new players emerged in the anti-fascist arena, including a re-established Anti-Nazi League. Rather than affiliate to AFA, the SWP had decided to re-launch the ANL instead.

III The first anti-fascist group to (re)appear was the Campaign against Racism and Fascism (CARF). This broke with Searchlight in October 1990 and re-launched itself as an independent bi-monthly magazine with financial help from the London Alliance against Racism and Fascism, formed in 1989 from local anti-racist organisations in Hackney, Greenwich, Southall and Newham.83 CARF explained that the reason for the break with its host publication was fundamental differences of approach, ‘to the extent of riding rough-shod over our views, and our claims to space and autonomy’.84 CARF maintained that Searchlight had discontinued the analysis pioneered by Maurice Ludmer which established that fascism could only be fought effectively if fought alongside popular racism. In CARF’s view, anti-black racism was being down-played by Searchlight with the anti-fascist/anti-racist struggle now subsumed to the fight against anti-Semitism. Instead of recognising that contemporary fascism’s breeding ground was anti-black racism and not Europe’s antiSemitic past, Searchlight was repeating the same mistake as the ANL in the 1970s when fascism had been situated ‘historically, ideologically linked to anti-semitism and the holocaust’.85 In going its separate way, CARF aspired to ‘develop a more vigorous and responsive anti-racist forum to co-ordinate and service the various anti-racist initiatives that are taking place up and down the country’.86 Essentially it saw itself as a co-ordinating body that would collate and exchange information about local anti-racist campaigns and would, in addition, draw attention to the plight of black people, migrants and refugees in Britain and in Europe generally, as well as exposing new forms of ‘state racism’ associated with the emergence of ‘Fortress Europe’. Thus, the primary function of CARF was ‘to service and inform’ grassroots anti-racists. Although it wanted to build unity between locally based campaigns, CARF was not a national anti-racist, anti-fascist movement as such, and was produced on a shoestring budget by a very small team of politically non-aligned volunteers based in London. As to building a national anti-racist movement, a well-sponsored organisation such as the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA), founded in November 1991, therefore offered more promise. Within the first seven months of its existence, the Anti-Racist

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Alliance could boast support from no fewer than 70 MPs, including prominent Labour MPs such as Ken Livingstone, Diane Abbott and Peter Shore, as well as the backing of 24 national trade unions; it also won support from, amongst others, the NUS, Liberty (formerly the NCCL) and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Yet to begin with, the origins and objectives of this organisation were something of a mystery. Searchlight confessed in January 1992 that ‘[n]obody knows who the steering committee is or what its aims and objectives are’.87 It soon emerged, however, that ARA was led by Marc Wadsworth, a black television presenter who had interviewed Patrick Harrington for Thames Television’s six o’clock news in 1984,88 and that ARA had been set up by black political activists instrumental in creating the Labour Party’s black sections in the 1980s. These activists were clustered around the Black Liaison Group which represented some 50 organisations, including the Society of Black Lawyers, the National Convention of Black Teachers and the Association of Black Journalists. Although formally independent of any political party, ARA was therefore very close to the Labour Party and trade unions, and so well positioned as to secure substantial backing from within the labour movement. Ostensibly a response to rising levels of racist attacks, ARA defined itself in opposition to racism, but since it also wanted to stop fascist groups from getting the foothold in Britain that extreme-right parties had already established in other European countries, ARA also expressed a will to counter fascism. What made ARA unlike all other predecessors, however, was its belief that the ‘most crucial alliance which needs to be created to stop the extreme right’ is ‘that between Black and minority communities’.89 Thus ARA’s historical significance lies in the fact that it was the first organisation to advocate as a ‘non-negotiable’ principle, ‘black’ (that is black and Asian) self-organisation and leadership of the anti-racist struggle.90 Yet beyond this, there was little analysis of either the causes of racism or fascism. There was certainly no class analysis; ARA’s anti-fascism was instead expressed in simple moralistic terms as a case of good versus evil. Tactically, ARA positioned itself on the moderate wing of the anti-fascist movement and looked to integrate itself within mainstream structures of state and society. It did not support physical confrontation against fascists but advocated a legal policy of pressure group tactics whereby members were encouraged to lobby to influence state legislation. ARA members were invited to write to the press and to politicians, to draw up petitions, to send delegations to MPs, MEPs, European Commissioners, and to stage protest demonstrations.91 During its first year, ARA pressed for a Racial Harassment Bill to be introduced, organised opposition to the Asylum Bill, held demonstrations of support for Rolan Adams, murdered in South London in a racist attack, and campaigned for the closure of the BNP’s national headquarters in Welling in Kent. As for its organisational structure, ARA created a network of local groups and borrowed from the original Anti-Nazi League model by establishing specialist sections, such as Lawyers Against Racism, Youth ARA, Lesbian and Gay ARA, and Student ARA. It also staged an ‘ARAfest’ music festival modelled on the ANL/RAR carnivals, which attracted some 25,000 people to Brockwell Park in South London

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on 1 August 1992.92 Clearly the Anti-Racist Alliance convinced many of its viability and was confident that it could secure a long-term future within the mainstream of British political life as a broad coalition capable of extending itself to most of Britain’s anti-racists. However, ARA found immediate detractors. Searchlight was quick to identify Lee Jasper, ARA’s Vice-Chair, as a black nationalist who had allegedly invited Louis Farrakhan, the US black separatist and anti-Semite, to Britain only two weeks after the Anti-Racist Alliance was launched.93 This charge was fiercely denied by both Wadsworth and Jasper, and in separate letters to the New Statesman and Society, Wadsworth maintained that ARA was unequivocally opposed to anti-Semitism whilst Jasper replied that Searchlight’s claim was ‘complete and utter rubbish’ and was a cynical attempt by the white left to undermine black organisation.94 Elsewhere, even though there was a 50–50 black-white representation amongst ARA’s executive officers, AFA attacked ARA’s policy of ‘black’ leadership, which it said excluded white activists and so reduced the potential for mass anti-fascist opposition. AFA refused to accept the ARA line that only victims of racist attacks could define the anti-fascist struggle as all sections of the working class were potential victims of fascism. Moreover, the principle of ‘black’ organisation was said to have little support within black and Asian communities, and organisations such as the Society of Black Lawyers were deemed by AFA to be ‘careerist’. Hence, by implication, the leadership of ARA was middle class, interested only in self-advancement, and would in the long run demonstrate a gross lack of commitment. AFA also claimed that ARA had made ‘no tangible difference’ to the everyday struggle against racism and fascism. Despite ARA holding a demonstration and mounting some 14 pickets of the local Tory council, the BNP’s headquarters in Bexley, Welling was still open in mid-1992. Moreover, for all the assistance ARA gave to publicising the Rolan Adams case, racism remained prevalent at Thamesmead where Adams had been stabbed to death in February 1991. On the local housing estate, the Wildflower public house still operated a colour bar.95 The Anti-Racist Alliance also faced hard competition for Labour Party and trade union support from a revived Anti-Nazi League whose successful record in the 1970s still gave it some cachet on the left. In January 1992, at a House of Commons press conference, in the same mixture as before, founder members Paul Holborrow, Peter Hain and Ernie Roberts came together to set the AntiNazi League in motion once again. As in 1977, this move was initiated by the Socialist Workers’ Party which had apparently contacted Searchlight on 12 December 1991 to inform it that the SWP intended to re-establish the ANL.96 The decision to re-launch the ANL appears to have been personally taken by the SWP leader, Tony Cliff, when it was announced to a local branch meeting in Stoke Newington in London. In early December 1991 the leader of the French Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had visited London. His visit was opposed by 1,500 anti-fascists, organised by an Ad Hoc Committee to Stop Le Pen.97 That this crowd included ‘SWP-ers’ (some of whom were being attracted to AFA) had not gone unnoticed.

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In the statement made on the re-launch, it was explained that the ANL was being brought back because of the ‘significant advances’ made by ‘Nazis’ in Europe and that whilst fascists in Britain were still much weaker than their continental counterparts, ‘Nazi’ organisations like the BNP were beginning to ‘regroup’ and ‘are making a concerted bid to gain a fresh toehold in political life in Britain’.98 Yet for all the ANL’s cachet, its re-launch met a mixed response from Searchlight, the Anti-Racist Alliance and Anti-Fascist Action, all quick to question the SWP’s motives. The prime suspicion was that the SWP had opportunistically re-established the ANL as a ploy both to recruit new members and to thwart any potential flight of members to AFA – a charge given some credibility by Searchlight, which disclosed that the ANL was falsely claiming that the BNP was to stand 50 candidates at the 1992 general election in order to exaggerate the threat from the BNP and so reap greater support for the ANL.99 Red Action reassured its supporters that AFA would never be ‘eclipsed or supplanted by the rank amateurs or posturing dillettantes [sic] controlling the competition’.100 Anti-Fascist Action held the SWP responsible for recklessly abandoning the anti-fascist struggle over a decade earlier and, with a smile of contempt, ridiculed the SWP for having to call Searchlight ‘to try and get some information on the fascists because they didn’t know what was happening’.101 An additional sore point was that the SWP had previously rejected AFA’s approach for a militant united front against fascism and had boycotted a meeting organised by AFA on 13 February 1992 intended to consider ways in which the various newly emerging anti-fascist groups could work together with existing organisations.102 Moreover, AFA also believed that the ANL had been disingenuous about the reasons for its re-launch, with the SWP having resurrected the Anti-Nazi League largely because of pressure from the grassroots activists who were being regularly attacked on the streets by groups of street-hardened fascists.103 Naturally, the accusation that the ANL was a ‘front’ for the Socialist Workers’ Party was denied by Holborrow,104 but in the final pages of an SWP booklet, Killing the Nazi Menace, published at the time of the ANL’s re-launch, Chris Bambery makes the SWP’s overriding position very clear: As socialists we will stand alongside anyone who wants to fight the Nazis. But we know that fascism springs from capitalism. It is spawned in the sewers of a rotten system […] if we are to once and for all rid this world of fascism and racism we need to rid it of a rotten system – a capitalist system which breeds war, famine and recession.105 We are left with no doubt as to the SWP’s ultimate objective, but if capitalism were to be destroyed, as Bambery concedes, then a revolutionary alternative had to be built – a task incumbent on the Socialist Workers’ Party. Bambery detected ‘a sea of bitterness’ in the recession-hit Britain of the early 1990s, where ‘[t]he Tories are hated. But Labour offers no answers’.106 Accordingly, instead of being ‘just another group’ on its ‘extreme margins’,107 the SWP had to connect with the

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working class and then, ‘[i]f socialists give a lead we can turn that anger against the government, against police harassment and this rotten system’.108 Thus the purpose of the ANL, like that of AFA, was not merely to stop Nazis from having a ‘free hand’ to divert working-class anger into racism, but likewise, the political task the SWP set itself was to unite black and white and then redirect working-class anger against the capitalist system. However, in contrast to AFA’s publications, this was never said outright in ANL literature. As in the 1970s, the message was reserved for party members where in the SWP’s journal, Socialist Review, for instance, Bambery drew on the historical experience of the CPGB in the 1930s to demonstrate that a successful fight against fascism could draw non-party sympathisers into the wider socialist struggle.109 If such intentions were openly expressed in ANL literature, they would risk alienating large numbers of people and the fear was that, as a result, the ANL would end up like AFA-type ‘squads’, ‘more and more conspiratorial, more and more isolated and almost exclusively made up of young, white males’.110 As for the Anti-Racist Alliance, aside from the charge that the Anti-Nazi League was a front for the Socialist Workers’ Party, recited by ARA Co-chair Ken Livingstone in his column in The Sun, the ANL was judged ‘a typical white-led attempt to steal the thunder from a black-led initiative’.111 The ANL was branded an ‘exercise in nostalgia’, with Holborrow, Hain and Roberts the ‘three white men telling anti-racists what to do’.112 For many in ARA, the ANL’s refrain of ‘Never Again’ with images of concentration camps was predicated on an ‘old, historical fascism’ when the focus should be, as CARF had already recognised, the fight against new forms of state and institutionalised racism. However, according to Lindsey German, editor of Socialist Review, the strength of the ANL was precisely its broad appeal which through mobilising mass opposition to the Nazis necessarily ‘means undercutting other levels of racism’. Indeed, with some justification, German identified the problem with ARA-type campaigns: they ‘attempt to mobilise around twenty different aspects of racism [and] often find themselves incapable of mobilising round any, and are consequently less effective’.113 The popularity that the ANL had acquired in the 1970s worked to its obvious advantage; criticisms were brushed aside. Early publicity material shows that the ANL won endorsements from numerous Labour MPs and MEPs (Tony Benn, Frank Cook, Joan Lestor, Tony Banks, Chris Smith, Glenys Kinnock), trade unionists, local councillors, media personalities (Julian Clary, Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross) and rock stars (Sinead O’Connor, Paul Weller).114 Searchlight claimed that this publicity material contained purported supporters, such as Ray Hill, who ‘have neither signed nor have been invited to sign’ and this was not a careless mistake but a deliberate ‘political con trick’ designed to give the impression of the widest possible support.115 All the same, even if some ‘names’ were misappropriated, the ANL’s later literature confirms that it registered the support of over 100 MPs, numerous media personalities, certain trade unions, such as the National Union of Teachers and the National Union of Mineworkers, and thousands of individual members.116

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On the organisational side, as with the 1970s original, there was to be a national steering committee to provide the ANL with overall direction, though unsurprisingly, this time a representative from Searchlight was not asked to join. Day-to-day co-ordination of activities was the responsibility of the national office in London, but though centrally run, emphasis was still placed on non-militant, locally oriented activity. At this level, the ANL encouraged groups to leaflet and petition shopping areas and housing estates, to paint out racist and fascist graffiti, to organise antifascist concerts, to expose Nazi sympathisers in the workplace, to lobby local councils and to organise counter-marches.117 However, at the outset, given that the SWP had not seriously monitored fascism for many years, first indications were that it was ill-prepared. In its first forays into Rochdale, for instance, the ANL distributed anti-BNP leaflets on Asian rather than white housing estates. At Welling, a coach carrying ANL members to protest against the BNP’s headquarters was ambushed by the BNP, whilst a similar fate awaited a group of ANL activists on a leafleting drive in Tower Hamlets which resulted in three BNP activists being charged with grievous bodily harm.118 That said, in advance of the May 1992 general election the ANL distributed over 1 million leaflets; it also sold over half a million badges and put up 250,000 posters. During the general election campaign itself, a total of 250,000 election leaflets were distributed specifically in constituencies contested both by the BNP and NF, and in the ANL’s view, the result of this anti-fascist propaganda drive was that ‘the electoral breakthrough which the Nazis hoped for was not achieved’.119 Standing 13 candidates in the 1992 election, the BNP polled some 7,000 votes, whereas the NF fared worse with around 4,800 votes for its 14 candidates. No NF candidate polled more than 1.5 per cent of the vote and the highest score for the BNP was a very modest 3.6 per cent. However, as AFA discerned, the 2,500 votes for the BNP combined from two constituencies in Tower Hamlets confirmed that the BNP had secured a local support base and this marked ‘a qualitative breakthrough for the fascists’.120 Accordingly, AFA warned against demobilisation of anti-fascist activity, yet in the period between the 1992 general election and the election of the BNP councillor in September 1993, Tower Hamlets was largely, although not entirely, abandoned by the anti-fascist opposition.121 When BNP candidate Barry Osborne polled 20 per cent of the vote in the Millwall by-election on the Isle of Dogs in October 1992, the highest fascist vote for over a decade, the ANL had simply dismissed it as a ‘freak result due entirely to low turn-out’122 (down from 42 per cent in 1990 to just 33 per cent in 1992). When it too might have been concentrating all its efforts on Tower Hamlets, AFA was diverted by Blood and Honour’s attempt to re-establish itself in London. On 12 September 1992 AFA mobilised some 1,000 anti-fascists to confront Blood and Honour concert goers at their assembly point at Waterloo railway station.123 What followed was dubbed the ‘Battle of Waterloo’ by AFA, with 44 people arrested as anti-fascists clashed with Blood and Honour supporters.124 It was, as Birchall describes it, ‘the largest and most bloody head-to-head battle between the Far Right and anti-fascists [in central London] since Kevin Gateley [sic] was killed

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in Red Lion Square in 1974’.125 Whilst this clearly set back Blood and Honour, inflicting a ‘near-fatal blow’, the more significant point was that it was Blood and Honour and not the BNP that ‘got smashed’. Even so, it was still a major victory for AFA, not least because it finally substantiated its claim to the radical anti-fascist tradition.126 Though drawn away by Blood and Honour, AFA argued that there were other reasons why it had lost its grip on East London during 1992–3. The first was that Workers’ Power deserted its ranks in the hope of ‘radicalising’ the Anti-Nazi League. The second was the intervention of the ANL in East London in early 1992 when, as previously mentioned, its badly organised leafleting session resulted in the ANL contingent ‘getting battered and run all over the place’, so boosting confidence on the fascist side. A further factor was that the BNP switched tactics and rather than hold ‘mass rallies’ which gave AFA the opportunity to ensure that the BNP was ‘Waterlooed’, the BNP focused on canvassing in small teams of 20–30 activists instead.127 This gave the BNP space in which to develop local appeal in an area made fertile by a Liberal Democrat council whose policies and election literature encouraged popular racism within the white community and so awarded the BNP much coveted political respectability.

IV After the supposedly woeful performance of the BNP in the 1992 general election, the victory of the BNP’s candidate in the Millwall by-election in September 1993 took most anti-fascists by surprise. This was the first time that a candidate from an extreme-right political party had won any type of election since the election of two National Party candidates in local elections in Blackburn in 1976. What further deepened concerns was that this election victory was widely interpreted as part of the broader electoral rise of the extreme right in Europe. This generated rather alarmist predictions that what was happening in Europe could well happen in Britain, and with anti-fascist tabloid headlines such as ‘SIEG HEIL … and now he’s a British Councillor’ (Daily Mirror, 18 September 1993), a wave of popular antifascism was sparked not seen since mass opposition to the Front in the 1970s. Mainstream politicians swiftly condemned the result, whilst more than 350 local council workers in Tower Hamlets took immediate strike action. Within the antifascist movement itself, following a number of snap mobilisations at Brick Lane, where on one occasion police arrested over 50 BNP supporters, calls were made for the disparate anti-fascist organisations to pull together. The ANL took the lead and proposed that a march against the BNP’s headquarters in Welling scheduled for 16 October 1993 should be turned into a mass demonstration of popular antifascist unity, a proposal described by the ANL’s Steering Committee as the ‘best response possible’ to developments in East London.128 Not surprisingly, given the shock wave that the BNP’s local election victory caused, the ANL’s appeal for a show of unity did strike a responsive chord with the majority of Britain’s anti-fascists. Most of Britain’s anti-fascist and anti-racist groups

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agreed to sponsor this ‘Close Down the BNP’ demonstration, with support coming from Searchlight (which had decided to put past differences with the ANL to one side) as well as AJEX, TWAFA, Youth Against Racism in Europe (a ‘front’ organisation of Militant set up in October 1992), CARF, the Indian Workers’ Association, various locally based anti-racist groups, the NUS and many trade unions.129 However, it was noticeable that despite the BNP’s by-election victory, support was not forthcoming from either Anti-Fascist Action or the Anti-Racist Alliance. AFA held that the proposed march served little purpose as there had already been six marches against the BNP’s headquarters and 27 lobbies of the local council, to no effect. For AFA, the problem was that this demonstration was purely symbolic and would do nothing to counter deep-rooted racism in South London where fascist influence had grown not as a consequence of the BNP’s headquarters, ‘but from an ability by their activists to exist anonymously and operate with impunity’ within the local community.130 Meanwhile, the Anti-Racist Alliance predicted violence and supported by The Guardian, Marc Wadsworth urged his supporters to avoid Welling and instead attend ARA’s demonstration at Trafalgar Square on the same day. However, whereas only 3,500 gathered in central London, an estimated 40–60,000 people converged on Welling in easily the largest anti-fascist demonstration since the 1970s. The initial plan for the Welling demonstration, agreed by police in June, was to march past the BNP headquarters, but five days before the march was due to take place, the route was altered by police. Consequently, once the protesters arrived at the crossroads where the march was to be diverted away from the BNP headquarters, the leaders of the march, including Leon Greenman, a Holocaust survivor, tried to persuade police to allow them to pass. It was at this point that initial altercations between police and demonstrators broke out before police horses rode into the crowd followed by riot police. With lead protesters separated from the rest of the march, all possible exit routes were blocked by lines of police and so, penned in and subjected to repeated baton charges, the crowd was forced against a cemetery wall which then collapsed. At this point, a small number of angry demonstrators picked up bricks and proceeded to throw them at police. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Condon subsequently blamed the disorder on this ‘mob of extremists’ who had worn ski-masks and scarves over their faces and had come to Welling determined on violence. According to the police version, these ‘extremists’ had triggered the police response by using the ruins of the wall against police ranks. Anti-fascists, though, were all too aware that this incident had happened after the police had charged into the crowd. Moreover, some of those who had pelted the police with missiles had themselves been victims of seemingly indiscriminate police charges.131 Although there were few arrests, over 60 people were hospitalised with head injuries.132 For the ANL, Welling had been a ‘police riot’, a view supported by Steve Platt of the New Statesman and Society, present on the demonstration and unfortunate enough to have had a thumb broken by a police riot shield. Perceptively, the conclusion that Platt draws is that the squabbling within the anti-fascist movement that resulted in the holding of two separate

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demonstrations allowed for the ‘demonisation of those who chose to go to Welling rather than Trafalgar Square; and this as much as anything, was what sowed the seeds for such a disastrous and brutal, policing operation’.133 With the mainstream media accepting the official version of events, condemnation of ‘professional troublemakers’ quickly followed with The Sun kindly offering a £1,000 reward for anyone who could provide information on the rioters. As expected, even though it had not sponsored the march, Anti-Fascist Action/Red Action was suspected of being responsible for the violence. This view was supported by the London Evening Standard which reported that information gathered by MI5 and police surveillance units on the march would soon result in arrests of extremists from two organisations, one of which was Red Action. Moreover, despite a record of anti-fascist investigative reporting, which had been revisited earlier in the year when Combat 18,134 a shadowy neo-Nazi group, had been exposed, World in Action gave further credence to the line that the Welling demonstration had been manipulated by a hard core of extremists. In a subsequent documentary it turned on anti-fascist militancy, presented AFA as a paramilitary conspiracy and screened footage of violence at the ‘Unity’ march to imply that AFA had deliberately planned disorder. The underlying message from the programme was that the anti-fascist movement and especially AFA should be avoided. The point made was that racist violence could be effectively managed by both legislation and the police, thus antifascism was not necessary. Since violent anti-fascism did nothing to stop racist violence, anti-fascism was counter-productive.135 In reality, Red Action activists were some 2–3 miles away from the main events in Welling, confronting Combat 18 in Abbey Wood.136 If the aim of this programme was to expose the ‘sinister side’ of anti-fascism and thereby discredit the anti-fascist movement, it failed dismally. Even before the ANL held its carnival in Brockwell Park on 28 May 1994 which attracted over 150,000 people, the ANL possibly had as many as 60,000 members.137 This easily corresponds to numbers drawn to the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s and shows the continuing significance and resilience of popular anti-fascism. Even the militant wing of the anti-fascist movement did not suffer for World in Action’s treatment – AFA expanded to over 30 branches in 1994, rising to over 40 by 1995.138 After Welling and following a brief lull in anti-fascist activity, the attention of anti-fascists was soon drawn towards the May 1994 local elections. The TUC led the way with its ‘Unite against Racism’ demonstration through East London in March 1994 which saw 50,000 people turn out.139 This demonstration, initially proposed by Tower Hamlets Trades Council,140 looked to forge unity between the trade union movement, the Anti-Racist Alliance, the Anti-Nazi League and various locally based anti-fascist and anti-racist groups ahead of the local elections. Wider still, the Board of Deputies decided to act and initiated the United Campaign Against Racism (UCAR), which followed the model of the Joint Committee Against Racialism in the 1970s. This looked to attract broad support from across the political mainstream as well as from Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish leaders. The UCAR organised a public meeting where pledges were made to oppose

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racism and to keep the race issue out of electoral politics. This meeting brought together the then Home Secretary Michael Howard, shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair, and the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Baroness Sear,141 but pledges are not necessarily honoured and in Newham, for instance, five Conservatives played the race card and stood as ‘Conservatives Against Labour’s Unfair Ethnic Policies’.142 The major weakness of the BoD’s initiative was that although the UCAR did publish a number of anti-BNP leaflets, it had little grassroots presence. According to one observer, the UCAR’s meeting at Central Hall, Westminster had more people on the platform than in the audience.143 Whilst broad campaigns against racism have their place, it was all too clear that the focus for anti-fascists had to be on grassroots activity in Tower Hamlets. Menacingly, the BNP was not only confident of retaining its seat but also of capturing two more seats, thereby securing control over the Isle of Dogs community council with its budget of some £23 million. In concentrating its efforts on the Isle of Dogs, the BNP, which at the time probably had no more than 2,000 members, was forced to import activists from outside East London. So as not to give the BNP free rein, anti-fascists reciprocated with a show of force. However, even though the Anti-Nazi League’s membership far exceeded that of the BNP, the ANL still had to ‘parachute’ activists into East London. The ANL claimed a membership of tens of thousands but the number of committed activists prepared to work the ground fell well short of this ‘paper’ figure. With priority on East London, the ANL launched a ‘Don’t Vote For Nazis’ campaign and this saw teams of ANL activists on the Isle of Dogs in regular leafleting drives, flyposting and canvassing. Over the weekend prior to the local elections on 5 May 1994, 200 ANL members worked the ground leafleting, flyposting and canvassing voters backed by a number of local council workers, teachers and students.144 Certainly the impression from ANL sources is that its activities were enthusiastically received by the local community but the Vicar of Christ Church on the Isle of Dogs strikes a cautionary note. In his view, the ANL’s tactics were ‘extremely destructive’: Like the BNP, they brought in large numbers of people from outside this well-boundaried and insular community to canvas [sic] door to door. On weekends near to the May elections there were running battles between rival groups. Islanders hated it, and the Anti-Nazi League got the reputation of being worse than the BNP who had done their best throughout to seem respectable and to appear as a party of law and order.145 Arguably, the most effective local response to fascism on the Isle of Dogs developed within the local churches, separate from the Anti-Nazi League.146 Following the BNP’s by-election victory, a number of concerned Christians came together to form an ad hoc churches’ group determined to draw up a coherent anti-fascist response from the local churches. Although this response had many elements to it, the most important part was the campaign to increase the size of electoral turnout

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at the 1994 local elections and, in particular, to raise the ethnic minority vote. The BNP had emerged victorious in September 1993 by the narrowest of margins – just seven votes ahead of the Labour candidate on a 42 per cent turnout. Hence if turnout could be maximised this would, in all probability, ensure the BNP’s defeat, especially if voters could be encouraged to vote tactically. Thus, when the Institute of Community Studies, based in Bethnal Green and headed by Lord Young of Dartington, published an opinion poll which showed that Labour’s support was well ahead of the Liberals, the message was clear: vote Labour to keep out the BNP. With financial support from the Rowntree Trust, the local churches set about encouraging people to exercise their right to vote. Electoral information was specifically translated for ethnic minorities and following a meeting with church representatives and Bangladeshi groups, both Labour and the Liberals agreed to translate their election literature. The local churches also helped housebound voters to register for postal votes and in conjunction with local Bangladeshi community organisations, organised minibuses to transport voters to polling stations where independent observers from Liberty (and some 80–100 ANL activists) ensured that voters were free from BNP intimidation. As a further guarantee, there was also a relatively large police presence – all deemed necessary following complaints that skinheads with pit bull terrier dogs had scared ethnic minority voters away from polling booths in September 1993.147 In the event, the churches’ campaign proved decisive. Voter turnout was over 67 per cent, extraordinary for a local election, and the BNP lost its seat despite capturing more than 550 extra votes. By siding with the anti-fascist cause, another possible reason why the BNP failed to retain its council seat was the hostility of the local print media. Of the two main local newspapers, the Docklands Recorder (circulation 28,000) and the East London Advertiser (circulation 24,000), the latter had gained something of a reputation for being not entirely unsympathetic to certain aspects of the BNP’s agenda. After the 1993 by-election, it had described BNP voters as ‘decent law abiding folk who turned to the BNP simply because they had nowhere else to turn’, and although racism was said to be ‘evil’, the Advertiser stressed that ‘it isn’t just whites who do it. And the quicker this message sinks home with all the thick-headed, do-gooding, politically correct dopes who’ve been sounding off last week, the quicker we’ll beat the problem’.148 Aware that this editorial line helped construct some legitimacy for the BNP, the churches responded by pressing the East London Advertiser to become more critical. To this end, Lord Young met with the editor in the week before the May local elections. This had the desired result: on 5 May, under the headline ‘IT’S TIME TO FACE FACTS’, the East London Advertiser changed tack and now openly associated the BNP with fascism and the Holocaust, suggesting to readers that they should ‘go and see Schindler’s List, and see if you feel quite so content to vote for a party of the far right’. Since throughout, the East London Advertiser had sought to reflect the opinions of its local readers (and not the opinions of ‘unwelcome outsiders’), once the East London Advertiser had finally made a stand, one would expect that the BNP would have been divested of at least some of its remaining local legitimacy.

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However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the BNP captured more votes in May 1994 than in September 1993, an increase of over one-third, whilst other BNP candidates in Millwall and neighbouring Globe Town polled an average of 25 per cent of the vote. Given this growth in local support, the main conclusion that needs to be drawn is that the key to the defeat of the BNP in Tower Hamlets was not the impact that anti-fascist propaganda had on white voters but the unusually high electoral turnout. Thus, the drive to encourage as many people as possible to vote, especially from the ethnic minorities, proved of more consequence than traditional leaflet-based anti-fascist campaigning. In the case of the latter, the effectiveness of the ANL’s ‘Don’t Vote Nazi’ campaign was probably impaired by the ANL’s growing reputation for violence. As AFA argued, it may well have been the case that the ANL’s anti-fascist message of ‘anything but the fascists’ was also suspected by local residents of being a spoiling tactic carried out in an effort to maintain the local political status quo.149 The obvious lesson from Tower Hamlets, therefore, was that anti-fascists had to adopt new forms of community-based campaigning. This was a lesson learnt quickly by other community groups in East London, such as the NMP.150 At a byelection contested by the BNP in January 1995, the NMP organised a broad-based campaign that called on people to ‘vote for equality, not hatred’. This appeal for local unity secured wide support from Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates, as well as former boxing champion Terry Marsh, the Bishop of Barking, and Beckton Community Association. On election day, so as to ensure maximum turnout, the NMP visited residents in their homes whilst also providing transport to polling stations. In an area that had seen the BNP capture 33 per cent of the vote in a neighbouring ward in May 1994, the BNP finished behind both Labour and Conservatives with just 12 per cent of the poll, a result which saw many BNP activists, expecting an electoral breakthrough, demoralised.151

V As a matter of course, following the failure of the BNP to hold its seat and, thereafter, the inability of the BNP to build on its local election scores and so break through into mainstream political respectability, anti-fascism lost some impetus and the broader anti-fascist movement experienced both a diminution in size and activity. The Anti-Nazi League wound down (again); membership was under 10,000 by January 1996.152 Whilst the ANL was determined to stay afloat just in case fascism re-emerged, the Anti-Racist Alliance disintegrated amidst internal factional warfare and disagreements over money. In December 1994, a breakaway grouping, the National Black Alliance, was established from a coalition of black and Asian organisations – the National Black Caucus, Tower Hamlets Anti-Racist Committee, the Society of Black Lawyers and the Indian Workers’ Association – which would lead to the launch of the National Assembly Against Racism in February 1995. The effective end of ARA came the following month when a national demonstration against racism, held by the remnants of ARA in central London, attracted fewer than 200 people.

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However, AFA was still going strong. By 1996, there were 12 groups listed in northern England, 12 in southern England, four in the Midlands, three in Scotland and one in Wales. London AFA, which produced its magazine, Fighting Talk, was still dominated by Red Action. Whilst RA also dominated AFA in Manchester and Glasgow, elsewhere it was anarchists, often from the Direct Action Movement, and non-aligned anti-fascists who constituted the main body of activists.153 Viewing itself as Britain’s pre-eminent anti-fascist organisation, AFA also tried extending its reach overseas where its intention was to end the international isolation of militant anti-fascist groups. In October 1997 AFA called an international conference for militant anti-fascists in London with anti-fascists from no fewer than 22 groups attending, including delegates from North America, Scandinavia, Germany, France and Spain. A militant international anti-fascist network was subsequently launched (although it had little longevity or impact).154 As for the size of AFA’s membership, this was never disclosed. According to one press report, most AFA members came from the same constituency that the BNP targeted – that is, street-hardened white working-class youth.155 For sure, RA’s membership was overwhelmingly male and working class. Of those employed, most worked in manual trades, either in the public sector or on building sites; many shared Irish descent. Aside from the RA inner core (of around 200 or so), AFA’s periphery – not all of whom supported RA’s Irish Republicanism – comprised students, anarchists, non-aligned anti-fascists, former hunt saboteurs, and even football casuals.156 This periphery numbered several hundred, and possibly up to 1,000 at its peak.157 Membership of AFA was open to both men and women, regardless of their capacity for physical confrontation. Despite a reputation for being just a group of left-wing thugs who took pleasure in a good row, AFA was operating across a much wider canvas, organising fundraising events, carnivals, concerts, public meetings, pickets and demonstrations. The object of nonconfrontational work was primarily ideological, but such work was never intended to be ‘a substitute for what is necessary when the fascists take to the streets – physical confrontation’.158 Whilst on the surface things looked in fine fettle, there was a problem. A decisive moment came early in 1994 when the BNP abandoned its old ‘march and grow’ strategy in favour of a new ‘hearts and minds’ approach, that is, a Millwall-style approach characterised by local electioneering and community politics. This reconfiguration of strategy was announced at a BNP organisers’ conference on 29 January 1994. In withdrawing from the physical arena, in turning its back on the confrontational strategy of its past, at one fell swoop the BNP denied militant antifascists the opportunity for direct action. This would drain AFA of its lifeblood, whilst also denying the ‘controlled media’ the opportunity to hold the BNP responsible for violent disorder. ‘The reason for abandoning confrontational street politics was because it hindered our political progress’, the BNP’s Tony Lecomber explained, ‘and was the only thing holding our extreme opponents together’.159 ‘It takes two to tango’, AFA recognised, so what of its ‘reason for being if the BNP decide that they don’t want to play anymore’?160 For London AFA:

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The BNP are changing tack […] Lecombers [sic] is to switch the arena from the streets to the estates. No longer then a battle for control of the streets, but instead a battle for hearts and minds. The retention of the ABF (Anybody but Fash) would leave AFA hamstrung nationally as London AFA were in the Isle of Dogs in 1993.161 A further, practical problem for AFA, was that physical anti-fascism was becoming more difficult to effect successfully, not least because of increased policing and state surveillance (new powers were introduced under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 with regard to stop and search; by 1994 79 towns or cities in the country had some form of open street CCTV system).162 Faced with something of a Hobson’s choice, Red Action proposed filling the vacuum left by the alienation of the working class from the Labour Party, to ensure that a credible alternative to the far right did exist in working-class communities. ‘It cannot be left to the Far Right to organise the resistance to Labour in working class communities. To allow the likes of the BNP the opportunity to graft racist solutions on to legitimate working class grievances would be fatal.’163 In other words, militant anti-fascists should mimic the BNP, engage in conventional politics, and root themselves in community-based activism within run-down working-class neighbourhoods. As the vehicle for this, Red Action proposed a new political organisation to complement but not replace AFA – the Independent Working Class Association, or IWCA. Founded in October 1995, the IWCA was established both to uphold and advance the political independence of the working class: AFA is not a club. Militant anti-fascism is not a hobby, it is a means to an end. The means are physical opposition, the end, working-class power in workingclass areas. The physical side has proved itself effective many times over; the new situation demands that the politics do as well.164 The fly in the ointment, however, was that many from AFA’s anarchist wing were ideologically resistant to electoral politics, and simply refused to have the ICWA imposed on them from London. Furthermore, as soon as Red Action started to prioritise the ICWA, so its activists retreated from militant anti-fascism. Instead of revitalising AFA it went into decline. As a former Liverpool AFA member reflects, Street fighting has a shelf life due to age. Arrests, injuries, and increasing family commitments mean that without constant new blood any militant organisation will enter decline, if only from attrition […] A smaller pool, with fewer mobilisations, and important sections of AFA now prioritising the IWCA, meant that AFA decline was gradual rather than sudden.165 As Lecomber said, ‘[n]ot to adapt leaves them impotent and in decline, but to adapt will take time and leave them considerably weaker’. By the end of 1997 a

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gleeful Lecomber could write that the BNP’s radical opponents had become ‘a footnote in history’.166 Four extreme-right organisations contested the 1997 general election.167 The BNP put up 56 candidates and supplied the largest proportion, followed by the National Democrats,168 formerly the National Front, with some 21 candidates. Not surprisingly, given that by standing over 50 candidates the BNP qualified for a five-minute TV broadcast and free distribution of over 2 million leaflets by the Royal Mail, the BNP’s electoral intervention generated foremost attention. However, the BNP’s strategy did raise problems for organised anti-fascists as it desisted from canvassing and from holding election meetings. In keeping with tactics employed at Millwall, high-profile public activity was avoided and this denied anti-fascists a focal point for counter-mobilisation whilst also circumventing the negative association with violence and ‘extremism’ that typically resulted from street confrontations with anti-fascist opponents. Accordingly, the Anti-Nazi League, alongside the National Assembly Against Racism, put their efforts into pressing the broadcasting networks not to screen the BNP’s election broadcast. The ANL’s ‘Media Workers Against the Nazis’ sub-section, founded in 1994, was activated and this collected hundreds of signatures from BBC employees calling on the BBC not to transmit the BNP’s broadcast.169 Yet despite receiving over 1,000 complaints, the BBC (and ITV) transmitted the broadcast, insisting that it could not be pulled because neither was it libellous nor did it contravene race relations legislation. Channel Four, on the other hand, did win praise from anti-fascists for ‘pulling the plug’ on the BNP’s broadcast, though this decision appears to have been made not ‘on principle’ but because the BNP was unable to edit part of the programme within a given timescale. Therefore, as with ‘No Plugs for Nazi Thugs’ in the 1970s, efforts by anti-fascists to deny fascism this specific platform once again proved futile. Meanwhile, denied the opportunity to physically confront the BNP, Anti-Fascist Action concentrated on leafleting the BNP’s strongholds in East London, where some 20,000 leaflets were distributed. Interestingly, these leaflets departed from traditional anti-fascist approaches. There was no photograph of Tyndall in Nazi regalia; the BNP was pictured as ‘Tories in Flight Jackets’ instead. By identifying the BNP as ‘ultra-conservatives’, the aim was to use the unpopularity of John Major’s Conservative government against the BNP. As a pre-election Fighting Talk made clear, AFA anticipated a Labour election victory and was determined that any future political challenge to Labour did not come from the extreme right.170 Nonetheless, in relative terms, AFA distributed less than 1 per cent of the total of the BNP’s election literature output and this, alongside the ANL’s failure to ‘silence’ the BNP, shows that the impact of organised anti-fascism on the 1997 general election was minimal. Regardless, the average BNP vote was still only 1.35 per cent.171 For sure, in the sense that ‘white’ citizens were accepting it as such, by the end of the 1990s British society was becoming progressively more ‘multicultural’, a process of acceptance reinforced by the greater prominence of black and Asian personalities in sport and the media. Writing in 2000, the sociologist Stuart Hall gauged it well:

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it is perfectly possible for multiculturalism and racism to coexist. The country is divided into three rough groups. Some think that Britain’s multicultural character gives vibrancy and cultural energy to life and wouldn’t have it any other way. Others tolerate ‘multicultural drift’ but are not passionately committed to it and hope, if they keep out of the great urban areas, it will leave them alone. Others are passionately hostile to the idea and feel threatened by and culturally undermined by it. A minority are prepared to stick knives into it or set it alight when they encounter it on the streets.172 Even as a more heterogeneous notion of nationhood emerged, a culture of popular racism still existed. One indicator was racially motivated criminal incidents. In the mid-1990s, the Home Office estimated a figure of 130,000 incidents for 1994 based on an under-reporting rate of one in ten.173 In many inner-city areas, ‘[b]ehind the figures is an everyday reality of fear for many immigrants and minorities’.174 A second indicator was potential electoral support for anti-immigrant politics. An ICM opinion poll in the Daily Express (8 August 1995) found that 26 per cent of its sample would definitely or would seriously consider voting for a far-right party of the Le Pen type. Society is not static, there is generational change, but clearly antiimmigrant racial populism still held significant residual appeal. Before long, as the next chapter will show, this potential support began to turn real when it revealed itself in rising electoral support for a ‘modernised’ BNP, under the new leadership of the Cambridge-educated Nick Griffin. However, in 1997, given Major’s decision not to play the ‘race card’, there was little opportunity for the BNP to impact on mainstream political debate and convince voters that the mainstream parties were ‘soft’ on immigration. Furthermore, although there were claims that the BNP received 3,500 enquiries following its election broadcast, this initial interest was not converted into active support.175 Consequently, despite having little influence on the 1997 general election, anti-fascists could take comfort in the fact that the BNP had not expanded its membership, and remained cut off from the political mainstream. Outside East London, and with the possible exception of West Yorkshire where a deposit had been saved in Dewsbury, the BNP was left languishing on the very margins of British political life. At local elections in 1998, a further positive sign came when in its East London stronghold of Tower Hamlets, the BNP’s average vote fell to just 4.53 per cent.176 The following year, the BNP’s share of the vote from the European elections was just 1 per cent and party membership was under 1,500. As the end of millennium rapidly approached, everything pointed to the heartening conclusion that the far right’s fight for political recognition had ended in comprehensive failure.

VI In this (final) chapter on the twentieth-century history of British anti-fascism, we have seen how, once again, the fluctuating fortunes of British fascism gave life to, and took life from, anti-fascism. In the early 1980s, following the electoral collapse of

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the National Front and with fascism no longer such a visible threat to mainstream society, the ANL and its popular anti-fascism faded. In the early 1990s, especially after the BNP’s shock by-election victory, fascism’s public profile increased and so popular anti-fascism briefly re-emerged in a size and form equal to the 1970s. But recall that Anti-Fascist Action emerged in 1985 at a time when fascism was marginalised electorally and when its public profile had visibly declined. Did the formation of AFA therefore break with this historical pattern? No, and the point that needs to be made here is that anti-fascism reacted to a perceived change in fascism where fighting fascism in the 1980s was not so much a case of fighting fascism as an electoral force but as a threat to those black and Asian communities ‘hidden’ from mainstream society. As this chapter documented, a further recurring feature was anti-fascist sectarianism. This reached its peak in the early 1990s when the anti-fascist arena became so crowded and when opposition groups with their own political agendas insisted on quarrelling with one another rather than achieving broad unity. More traditional disagreements over anti-fascist strategy also re-emerged in the early 1990s with the militant wing of the anti-fascist movement now represented by Anti-Fascist Action insisting on physical confrontation, whilst others, such as the Anti-Racist Alliance, opting for a more moderate legal response. Whilst this debate would run and run, the potential weakness of militant anti-fascism clearly emerged from the experience of Millwall. Although anti-fascist militancy can undoubtedly disable the street operations of fascist groups, a problem obviously arises when adversaries change tactics and adopt campaigning methods that avoid the possibility of confrontation. A further problem, as the ANL appeared to find to its cost, is that confrontational anti-fascism risks isolating anti-fascists from the local community. As for elements of discontinuity in the history of anti-fascism in the 1980s and 1990s, the founding of ARA clearly stands out. Although it soon collapsed, the Anti-Racist Alliance was nonetheless an attempt to build a broad national antifascist and anti-racist response around black and Asian leadership. The fate of ARA showed, however, that this approach is fraught with difficulties and seemed to confirm that fascism needs to be fought collectively by all sectors of society even if through racial violence, for example, it impacts on society unequally. Moreover, as Millwall revealed, and anti-fascists increasingly recognised, in particular Searchlight, any collective and effective anti-fascist response had to be rooted firmly within local communities.177

Notes 1 For a summary of ANL activities during 1980, see C. Bambery, ‘Euro-fascism: The Lessons of the Past and Current Tasks’, International Socialism, autumn 1993, 67. 2 See ANL/Terry Jones, British Movement: Nazis on Our Streets, London: ANL, n.d., p. 16. 3 See interview with Peter Hain, Searchlight, February 1981, no. 68, 16–7. 4 SWP Central Committee, ‘Opposing the Nazis’, SWP Discussion Bulletin, 1984, no. 1, 11. 5 Searchlight, October 1981, no. 76, 2.

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6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

29 30 31

32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

See The Guardian, 30 May 1984. Red Action, The Making of Red Action, 1989, p. 1. SWP Central Committee, ‘Opposing the Nazis’, 11. See Red Action, We Are … Red Action, n.d., pp. 24–6. As cited in We Are … Red Action, p. 26. Martin McNamara and Mark Piggot, ‘Red Action’, Blitz Magazine, 1988, available online at: (last viewed, 21 December 2015). See Red Action, February 1982, no. 1. S. Birchall, Beating the Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action, London: Freedom Press, 2010, p. 85. See comments by philosophy lecturer Alan Howarth, New Society, 11 October 1984, 56. The Times, 18 May 1984. This figure was claimed by John Marks, physics lecturer at the Polytechnic, who co-wrote The Rape of Reason, a history of the Polytechnic in the 1970s. Times Higher Education Supplement, 14 December 1984. The Guardian, 23 May 1984. The Guardian, 12 October 1984. See questionnaire circulated by second-year sociology students at London Metropolitan University, Patrick Harrington File. London Metropolitan University, Patrick Harrington File: Dr David MacDowall, Announcement of Resignation, 16 October 1984. See Daily Telegraph, 29 November 1984. Harrington was also provided with 250 library books and his own refreshment facilities. See The Guardian, 11 January 1985. The ‘90 per cent victory’ verdict was the official line of the Polytechnic Students’ Union Executive, see Time Out, 24–30 January 1985. The Times, 18 June 1984. R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain, 2nd rev. edn, London: I.B. Tauris, 1998, p. 260. Daily Mail, 13 December 1984. In 1981 there had been an (unsuccessful) campaign to remove the new chairman of the NF, Andrew Brons, from his position as a lecturer at Harrogate College of Further Education. Andrew Lightfoot, a BNP activist, encountered student opposition at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College in the early 1990s. The discovery of Troy Southgate, a leading member of the miniscule ‘English Nationalist Movement’, at the University of Kent at Canterbury sparked opposition from the Kent Anti-Fascist Committee in 1996. Ray Hill was a former member of the National Socialist Movement in the 1960s who had been recruited by Searchlight following his return from South Africa in the late 1970s. See Daily Mirror, 21 July 1981. See R. Hill with A. Bell, The Other Face of Terror, London: Grafton Books, 1988. At this time, Joe Pearce was the leading figure in the Young National Front. On Joe Pearce, see J. Pearce, Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love, Charlotte, NC: Saint Benedict Press, 2013. Hill with Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 291. Larry O’Hara speculated that this story was fabricated by Searchlight; see Lobster, 1992, no. 24, 17–8. Hill with Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 138. Spearhead, July 1983, no. 177, 11–3. SWP Central Committee, ‘Opposing the Nazis’. L. Fekete, ‘The Anti-fascist Movement: Lessons We Must Learn’, Race and Class, 1986, vol. 28, 79–85. Ibid., p. 80. See Red Action, n.d., no. 13.

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40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78

See Anti-Fascist Action, An Introduction to London AFA, 1991, p. 3. Red Action, The Making of Red Action, p. 3. Ibid. See The Observer, 1 September 1985. CAPA, the Community Alliance for Police Accountability, was formed in 1981. Searchlight, October 1986, no. 136, 17. Red Action, The Making of Red Action, p. 2. Ibid., p. 4. See K. Bullstreet, Bash the Fash: Anti-Fascist Recollections 1984–93, London: Kate Sharpley Library, 2001. Red Action, The Making of Red Action, p. 7. See Fighting Talk, no. 7, 17. Anti-Fascist Action, An Introduction to London AFA, p. 3; and Red Action, June 1987, no. 33. D. Hann and S. Tilzey, No Retreat: The Secret War Between Britain’s Anti-Fascists and the Far Right, Lytham: Milo Books, 2003, p. 123. Red Action, The Making of Red Action, p. 5. See Searchlight, November 1989, no. 173, 4. For a summary of the work of Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association, see Searchlight, When Hate Comes to Town: Community Responses to Racism and Fascism, London: Searchlight Educational Trust, 1995, section 8.4. Fighting Talk, no. 9, 4. For a contemporary account of the white power music scene, see N. Lowles and S. Silver (eds), White Noise: Inside the International Nazi Skinhead Scene, London: Searchlight, 1988. For a more recent assessment, see R. Shaffer, ‘The Soundtrack of Neo-Fascism: Youth and Music in the National Front’, Patterns of Prejudice, 2013, vol. 47 no. 4–5, 458–82. Red Action, August 1988, no. 45. Red Action, November 1988, no. 47. Birchall, Beating the Fascists, p. 157. See Anti-Fascist Action, An Introduction to London AFA, p. 11. See Yorkshire Evening Post, 4 and 10 January 1991. See Anti-Fascist Action, An Introduction to London AFA, pp. 3–4; and Searchlight, December 1989, no. 174, 5. Fighting Talk, no. 7, 6. See D. Campbell, ‘Tips that Spotlight the Nazi Tendency’, The Guardian, 29 September 1986. Fighting Talk, no. 7, 6. See T. Greenstein, ‘Spotlight on Searchlight’, Red Action, September/October 1990, no. 57. See Fighting Talk, summer 1992, no. 3, 18. Searchlight carried a front page revelation in February 1991 that The Sun journalist Garry Bushell was an NF sympathiser. Bushell took legal action, and Searchlight paid an out-of-court settlement. Red Action, July 1992, no. 63. Ibid. Fighting Talk, no. 7, 12. Fighting Talk, summer 1992, no. 3, 16. Anti-Fascist Action, An Introduction to London AFA, p. 4. See Fighting Talk, summer 1992, no. 3, 16. For an overview of the BNP in the 1980s, see N. Copsey, Contemporary British Fascism: The British National Party and the Quest for Legitimacy, 2nd rev. edn, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2008. Anti-Fascist Action, An Introduction to London AFA, p. 12. Ibid., p. 5.

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79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121

122 123

Ibid., p. 14. Fighting Talk, September 1991, no. 1, 2. Action-Fascist Action, ‘Appeal to the Socialist Workers Party’, 1991. See Fighting Talk, spring 1992, no. 2, 2. It donated £1,000 towards the first issue. Letter to Searchlight, CARF, February/March 1991, no. 1, 2. Ibid. CARF, February/March 1991, no. 1, 2. Searchlight, January 1992, no. 199, 2. Times Higher Education Supplement, 7 December 1984. The Guardian, 30 March 1992. See Anti-Racist Alliance Bulletin, March/April 1994. See Anti-Racist Alliance, Building an Anti-Racist Alliance, 1992. CARF, September–October 1992, no. 10, 16. Searchlight, January 1992, no. 199, 2. See New Statesman and Society, 6 March 1992, 35, and 13 March 1992, 92. See Fighting Talk, summer 1992, no. 3, 15–6. See Searchlight, February 1992, no. 200, 2. The initiators of this committee was a short-lived group, the Campaign Against Fascism in Europe, see CAFE, Nazis Out, January 1992, no. 1. See ANL, Fighting the Nazi Threat Today, p. 2. See Searchlight, February 1992, no. 22, 2. Red Action, April 1992, no. 62. For more on AFA’s response to the ANL, see Anti-Fascist Action, ‘Anti-Nazi League: Don’t Believe the Hype’, circular, n.d. Fighting Talk, spring 1992, no. 2, 7. Ibid. Fighting Talk, January 1995, no. 10, 13. See New Statesman and Society, 20 March 1992, 36. C. Bambery, Killing the Nazi Menace, London: Socialist Workers’ Party, 1992, pp. 45–6. Ibid., p. 45. C. Bambery, ‘Planning the Party’, Socialist Review, November 1993, no. 169, 12. Bambery, Killing the Nazi Menace, p. 45. See Bambery, ‘Planning the Party’, pp. 12–3. Bambery, Killing the Nazi Menace, p. 44. See New Statesman and Society, 15 October 1993, pp. 18–9. See New Statesman and Society, 28 February 1992, pp. 12–3. L. German, ‘Return of the Anti-Nazi League’, Socialist Review, February 1992, no. 150, 10. Anti-Nazi League, Sign Up Against the Nazis, 1992. Searchlight, April 1992, no. 202, 14. See ANL, Fighting the Nazi Threat Today, p. 16. See ibid., p. 17. See Searchlight, April 1992, no. 202, 14. For a description of the attack on the ANL in Tower Hamlets see Searchlight/T. Hepple, At War with Society, London: Searchlight, 1993, p. 36. Anti-Nazi League leaflet, Invest in a Nazi Free Future, 1992. Fighting Talk, summer 1992, no. 3, 2. The Millwall by-election had not been entirely disregarded by the ANL. Locally, an ‘Island Against the Nazis’ group had formed after the October 1992 by-election whilst campaign work against the BNP did take place during September 1993. A rally was held at Millwall Park, a leaflet drive was undertaken, and there was opposition to the BNP paper sale at Brick Lane, though this was, it has to be said, probably a case of ‘too little, too late’. See Fighting Talk, 1994, no. 7, 12. The ANL did claim that it had a contingent present at Waterloo. On the day it was holding a rally at Thornton Heath in South London.

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124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134

135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159

See Searchlight, October 1992, no. 208, 4–5. Birchall, Beating the Fascists, p. 291. See Anti-Fascist Action, Heroes or Villains? n.d. Fighting Talk, January 1995, no. 10, 12. See ANL Newsletter, October 1993, no. 4, 2. For the full list of sponsors see ibid., p. 5. Fighting Talk, 1994, no. 7, 14. See Searchlight, November 1993, no. 221, 3. ANL Open Letter – Welling Demonstration. See New Statesman and Society, 22 October 1993, 13. The origins of Combat 18 have been the matter of some debate as well as some inconsistent analysis. AFA maintained that Combat 18 emerged as a direct consequence of its confrontations with the BNP in the early 1990s (see Fighting Talk, March 1997, no. 16, 11). At first, Searchlight saw Combat 18 as a group inspired by a US neo-Nazi, Harold Covington. In April 1995 its position changed with Combat 18 now said to be the creation of MI5. On Combat 18, see N. Lowles, White Riot: The Violent Story of Combat 18, Bury: Milo Books, 2001. See Fighting Talk, 1994, no. 7, 18. See Birchall, Beating the Fascists, pp. 321–30. Fighting Talk, March 1996, no. 13, 15. See Fighting Talk, 1994, no. 8, 2, and November 1995, no. 12, 15. See Searchlight, May 1994, no. 227, 9. See Tower Hamlets Trades Union Council, Bulletin no. 1, November 1993; and Tower Hamlets Trades Union Council, No More Blood on the Streets, How to Fight Fascism and Racism, 1994. See Institute of Jewish Affairs and American Jewish Committee, Antisemitism World Report 1995, London: IJA, 1996, p. 244. See CARF, May/June 1994, no. 20, 3. G. Gable, foreword to N. Holtman and S. Mayo, Learning from the Conflict, London: Jubilee Group, 1998. See ANL, Fighting the Nazi Threat Today, 2nd edn, May 1994, p. 16. N. Holtman, ‘The BNP on the Isle of Dogs: Developing a Church Response’, in Holtman and Mayo, Learning from the Conflict, p. 12. See ibid. East London Advertiser, 23 September 1993. Ibid. Fighting Talk, November 1995, no. 12, 16–7. The Newham Monitoring Project was originally formed in 1980 to monitor and campaign against racial violence. See Newham Monitoring Project, The Enemy in Our Midst, London: Newham Monitoring Project, 1995, pp. 20–1; and Searchlight, March 1995, no. 237, 3. Searchlight, January 1996, no. 247, 2. See Anon., Anti-Fascist Action: An Anarchist Perspective, London: Kate Sharpley Library, 2007. See N. Copsey, ‘Crossing Borders: Anti-Fascist Action (UK) and Transnational Anti-Fascist Militancy in the 1990s’, Contemporary European History, forthcoming. See The Guardian, 25 November 1994. See M. Seaton, ‘Charge of the New Red Brigade’, Independent on Sunday, 29 January 1995. See D. Renton, ‘Anti-fascism in Britain, 1997–2012’, in E. Smith and M. Worley (eds), Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014, pp. 247–63. Fighting Talk, summer 1992, no. 3, 5. Also see M. Hayes and P. Aylward, ‘Anti-Fascist Action: Radical Resistance or Rent-a-Mob?’, Soundings, 2000, no. 14, 53–62. Spearhead, December 1997, no. 346.

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160 See Fighting Talk, November 1995, no. 12. 161 See ‘If not this way, how? If not us? Who? If not now, when?’: AFA-IWCA Controversy Points of Clarification, 1995. 162 Under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, a police officer of the rank of inspector or above may authorise the search of all persons and vehicles within a locality if the officer reasonably believes that incidents involving serious violence may occur, or that individuals are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons without good reason. 163 Fighting Talk, December 1997, no. 18. 164 ‘If not this way, how? If not us? Who? If not now, when?’ 165 Anon., Anti-Fascist Action, p. 14. 166 Spearhead, December 1997, no. 346. 167 These were the BNP, the National Democrats, the National Front, and the Third Way (formed in 1990 by Patrick Harrington). 168 In May 1995 the National Front changed its name to the National Democrats. A minority of the party centred on the West Midlands refused to accept this and continued as the National Front. 169 The Guardian, 10 April 1997. 170 See Fighting Talk, March 1997, no. 16, 12–5. 171 For a comprehensive list of far-right election results, see Searchlight, June 1997, no. 264, 4. 172 See The Observer, 15 October 2000. 173 Institute of Jewish Affairs and American Jewish Committee, Antisemitism World Report 1995, p. 236. 174 A. Favell and D. Tambini, ‘Great Britain: Clear Blue Water Between Us and Europe?’ in A. Favell and B. Baumgartl (eds), New Xenophobia in Europe, London: Kluwer Law International, 1995, p. 155. 175 Searchlight, June 1998, no. 276, 3. 176 Community Security Trust, Elections Research Unit for Board of Deputies of British Jews, Local Elections 7 May 1998, p. 5. 177 See Searchlight, When Hates Comes to Town.


I In October 1999, reflecting upon the recent electoral success of Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party in Austria – taking second place in national elections with 27 per cent of the vote – Guardian journalist Francis Wheen questioned whether the rise of the far right might happen here. ‘Probably not’, he felt, ‘but it would be dangerously complacent to ignore our home-grown fascists altogether. After years of hibernation something is stirring in their malodorous lair’. If something was stirring, what was it? In a development almost entirely passed over by the national and local media, the election of Nick Griffin as the BNP’s new leader in September 1999 had quickened the pulse of home-grown fascists. If the march of time (and also his abysmal record of failure) had finally caught up with John Tyndall, it was not simply business as usual, replacing one intransigent hardliner with another. The difference was that Griffin was intent on a party make-over, fast-tracking a process that BNP ‘modernisers’ had been promoting since the mid-1990s. ‘Whereas Tyndall was an old-fashioned rabble-rouser with a taste for Mosleyite uniforms and Hitlerian rhetoric’, Wheen wrote, ‘Griffin prefers Italian suits or smart-casual wear. He describes himself as a “moderniser” and “new nationalist”; he talks excitedly about liberating the power of the Internet; he is contemptuous of his party’s traditional supporters – the skinheads, the football hooligans’. In view of that, ‘[h]e may not yet have the popular appeal of Jörg Haider; but he certainly needs watching’.1 ‘New Leader, New Danger’, Red Action put in bold letters,2 but Griffin’s election would not see the BNP return to the streets for the BNP had long since decommissioned the boot and Griffin had no interest in recommissioning it. For RA, the danger that Griffin represented was political not physical. The physical war with the BNP had been won, but where, it asked, was the credible radical-left political alternative to Tony Blair’s New Labour in white working-class

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communities? ‘Anti-fascists are now faced with a BNP equipped with a formidable leadership able to provide the organisation with well thought out strategies and clear political objectives’, and so, AFA forewarned, the ‘new arrangements at the top set the tone for the fash to win greater support via community based politics’.3 AFA’s warning would prove remarkably prescient. Equally prescient were the conclusions that RA/AFA had reached concerning anti-racism and its failures. AFA had hosted an afternoon of film and discussion at the Lux Cinema in East London in October 1999. As part of this anti-fascist event, it gave the first public screening of Routes to Racism, a film based on the sociologist Roger Hewitt’s study of ‘white backlash’ in Greenwich in South-East London.4 Hewitt’s work suggested that crude multicultural policies were alienating people in white working-class neighbourhoods. The problem with the progressive left, RA argued, was its clumsy embrace of multiculturalism and its flat refusal to take the implications seriously. Multiculturalism, AFA said, was creating a perception amongst the white working class that black and Asian people were being favoured over whites. Simply put, ‘anti-racism’ was not working. Class had to be placed at the centre of the race debate; ‘unless class is brought into the equation and the whole issue of unfairness (real or perceived) addressed, there will in all probability be a racist backlash’.5 Yet for other discussants, such as the Anti-Nazi League’s Weyman Bennett, since Britain had an anti-racist majority, such talk was unnecessarily alarmist. BNP membership at the point of the party’s leadership contest was, after all, under 2,000. Accordingly, anti-fascism need not challenge anti-racist practice but should respond to the far right as it had done before. When and if it threatens, the ANL would stop the ‘Nazis’ from becoming respectable.6 Red Action had been pushing the Independent Working Class Association – its radical political alternative – for several years, but in 2000, sensing new opportunities, RA also affiliated to the SWP-dominated London Socialist Alliance (LSA), an electoral alliance of radical-left groups that stood candidates in the 2000 Greater London Assembly (GLA) elections. RA’s aim was to radicalise this alliance from within, displacing race with class. Countering the Conservatives’ decision to play the ‘race card’ over the asylum issue, the LSA had contested the GLA elections under the slogan ‘Refugees Welcome Here’, but the LSA had taken just 27,073 London-wide Assembly votes compared to the BNP’s 47,670. Whilst the existence of the LSA’s radical-left alternative might offer anti-fascists possibilities, the concern for RA/AFA was that the LSA’s ‘insistence of trumpeting “Asylum Seekers Welcome Here”’ had revealed a ‘complete disregard for already impoverished local communities’.7 Moreover, the BNP’s candidate for London Mayor, Michael Newland, had captured close to 80,000 first and second preference votes. Newland had delivered the far right its largest vote in the capital for a quarter of a century. Meanwhile, outside London, RA/AFA was becoming increasingly concerned by the electoral inroads that the BNP was making in the deindustrialising town of Tipton, in the West Midlands. Here, in 1999, the BNP had won 17.2 per cent of the vote in local elections; in 2000 its vote increased to 23.7 per cent. The BNP’s intervention was succeeding on the basis of doorstep politics, working on

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core community issues such as housing and neighbourhood safety. The BNP’s community engagement was neither confrontational nor provocative but ‘largely arbitral – a simple but effective liaison mechanism for people with practical problems to tap into’. This meant that the BNP could normalise itself, operating ‘with impunity, temporarily guarded from the menace that was militant anti-fascism’. ‘The BNP know full well that this tactic of steadily nurturing legitimacy’, RA observed, ‘will further criminalise and isolate the physical force tradition within militant anti-fascism’.8 On 5 September 2000 RA’s delegate to the LSA’s steering committee called for a review of existing LSA strategy on race and immigration. The call was dismissed. Exasperated, before long RA would quit the LSA altogether, singularly focusing on the IWCA instead. For RA, the critical point was that the LSA had set itself ‘on a course of head-on confrontation with the working class on the very issue there can be no prospect of winning on. Race’.9 As for AFA, it finally folded. The last issue of Fighting Talk appeared in May 2001. An article entitled ‘The Multi-cultural Trojan Horse’ sounded the death-knell for AFA’s physical force, militant anti-fascism: When the BNP retreated from the streets in 1994 we didn’t pursue them into their homes. The confrontations ceased. For us, our time was well used and our strategy now clear. Working class rule in working class areas neutralises the multi-culturalist counter-insurgency and hurts the fascists more than a bosh from a cosh (made from Jamaican cobalt) in the hands of an AFA activist (who knows the date of Diwali and where to buy a decent pattie) ever could.10 RA’s criticisms of multiculturalism would become ever more trenchant in the wake of the ‘race riots’ in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford in the summer of 2001, when within the broader mainstream there was growing recognition that multiculturalism had undermined ‘community cohesion’ through a process of parallel segregation.11 ‘For purposes of anti-fascist strategy, if for no more principled reasons, multiculturalism is “an idea that should have been dumped long since”’, RA insisted.12 The presence of the Anti-Nazi League, particularly in Bradford, was a further aggravating factor. The ANL had been drawing criticism from anti-fascists for ‘chasing after’ the NF, even though the NF’s membership was fewer than 200 and most of those attending its demonstrations were not even members.13 Militant anti-fascists likened this state of affairs to a ‘pantomime horse’; ‘wherever the NF went the ANL followed.’14 The rioting in Bradford – the worst inner-city riots since Handsworth, Brixton and Tottenham in the 1980s – had followed an outdoor protest meeting organised by the ANL. The purpose of the ANL meeting in Bradford’s Centenary Square had been to protest against a proposed NF rally, but the NF rally had already been banned by the Home Secretary. Nonetheless, hundreds of young Asians still joined the ANL demonstration in the city centre. The trigger for the violence was reported to have been the presence of ‘suspected’ NF members trawling from pub to pub nearby. As they became more verbally abusive, and a

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young Asian was attacked, the situation then deteriorated. RA criticised the ANL for its failure to control its own mobilisation. For historian David Renton, events in Bradford on 7 July 2001 were a ‘dramatic indication of the League’s weakness’ (it did not have a strong enough local base to prevent the riot).15 After some nine hours of rioting, hundreds of police officers finally dispersed a hard core of 200 rioters. There had been £30 million worth of damage; the total number arrested was close to 300 with 187 people charged with rioting. No fewer than 200 jail sentences were handed down, totalling over 600 years. In the fallout the Labour MP for Bradford West, Marsha Singh, called for a ban on ANL events.16 Socialist Worker blamed Nazi provocation.17 RA responded with derision. Those doing the rampaging were almost exclusively Asian and the effect, it said, was only likely to further antagonise the white working class.18 Since some Labour MPs were now openly criticising the ANL, the damage that a beleaguered ANL had inflicted upon itself suggested that its days were probably numbered. It was now becoming increasingly obvious that anti-fascists should direct their efforts not towards challenging the NF’s presence on the streets but towards countering the BNP at the ballot box. This, if ‘less glamorous and more difficult than physically confronting NF demonstrations’, was, as Nick Lowles rightly stressed, ‘far more important’.19 That the anti-fascist movement lacked strength in many of the areas where the BNP’s electoral intervention was growing was causing some concern. In September 2001, when the IWCA registered as a political party, RA (like AFA) as good as folded. However, the IWCA was concentrating its efforts on places, such as Islington, Hackney and Oxford, that were hardly BNP strongholds. The focus on Oxford did culminate in the successful election of an IWCA candidate, Stuart Craft, in local elections in 2002 (Craft was the first of four IWCA councillors to be elected in the city). Yet even after Craft’s election, the IWCA conceded that in terms of both national profile and infrastructure, it was still at least five years behind the BNP. Meanwhile, the anarchist remnants of AFA were trying to sustain the militant anti-fascism tradition in the form of a new group, No Platform, which in some isolated places made efforts physically to stop BNP canvassers. This group was hardly visible though, perhaps numbering only 60 across the entire country.20 In 2002, the year in which Griffin’s BNP won its first council seats, militant anti-fascism had become, to all intents and purposes, dead in the water. It is surely significant that following the BNP’s success in the June 2001 general election, polling over 10 per cent in Oldham and Burnley, the disappearance of militant anti-fascism occurred precisely at the moment when the far right was a developing electoral threat. As militant anti-fascism absented itself, space opened up for the BNP, and it now anticipated capturing local council seats in several key target wards, especially in Oldham and Burnley. Searchlight, which in 1999 had come under the twin editorship of Nick Lowles (active in AFA’s Northern Network in the early 1990s) and Communist Party member Steve Silver, had already organised a series of pre-emptive ‘Communities combating hate’ workshops for communitybased organisations in areas targeted by the BNP. Lowles also shared a close friendship with then national organiser of the ANL, Julie Waterson.21 In the

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approach to the 2002 local elections, they decided to campaign together. A division of labour, born more from positions of relative weakness than strength, saw the ANL focus on Burnley while Searchlight concentrated on Oldham. Under the ANL’s lead, the SWP’s Socialist Worker reported that more than 250 people leafleted every household in Burnley. Coronation Street soap stars Liz Dawn and Julie Hesmondhalgh spoke out against the BNP, as did Burnley Football Club.22 Anti-fascism had also received something of a fillip from events in France, where on 21 April Jean-Marie Le Pen had captured 17.2 per cent of the vote in the first round of the French presidential elections, the first time that a far-right candidate had won through to the second round in the entire history of the French Fifth Republic. Burnley, however, did not seem particularly receptive to anti-BNP campaigners. Lowles would recall that, ‘[i]n all my time campaigning against the BNP, Burnley was the only place where some people would come out of their houses challenging you to a fight’ (!)23 On 2 May 2002 the BNP won three council seats in the town, capturing 28 per cent of the vote overall. Fortuitously, anti-fascists would find things easier in Oldham. For one, a local group, Oldham United Against Racism, had already taken up the challenge. Supported by the local trades council, which set up Oldham Trade Unions Against Racism and Fascism in September 2001, it was led by long-term anti-fascist and community activist Mike Luft. Working alongside Searchlight, the cornerstone of its strategy was to expose the criminality of the local BNP. Tellingly, this campaign presented journalists with a devastating exposé of the criminal past of the Oldham BNP’s leafleting organiser, Robert Bennett, who had served seven years for his involvement in gang rape. This story ran in the Sunday Mirror (14 April 2002). To maximise its effect, at 10.00 am on that morning anti-fascists started distributing a hard-hitting leaflet to Oldham households with the headline ‘Gang rapist leads BNP election campaign’, co-authored by Lowles and the Labour MP for Reading West, Martin Salter. For Mike Luft, he had never known a response like it from a leaflet: ‘People were standing in the street reading the leaflet, even in areas where the BNP had been strong.’24 It was followed by a further undercover exposé of the BNP in the Daily Mirror on 24 April: THEY think fascism is on the march, that they are the new order and that Britons will flock to their grubby banner. But the Mirror has found, the British National Party is nothing more than a shambolic collection of criminals, thugs, social misfits and weirdos. Searchlight also produced a series of four-page local newsletters, distributed in several places, notably in Oldham (The Oldhamer), Burnley (Burnley & Padiham Gazette), and Bradford (The Bradfordian). These newsletters drew from the earlier example of Docklands Voice, an anti-BNP newsletter distributed in East London during the mid-1990s. In 2001, Oldham United Against Racism had produced Oldham Voice with support from Searchlight – a community newsletter refuting widely spread myths over resource allocations in the town. In 2002, Searchlight’s version would

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feature a swastika superimposed on the local town/city hall. Searchlight also started harnessing the Internet to its campaign, running a dedicated website, offering anti-fascist literature, guidance on campaigning, and an e-newsletter (seven issues).25 If for the moment Searchlight could work with the ANL, tensions were emerging with regard to how race-sensitive issues were handled. In Oldham, for instance, the ANL recoiled from distributing an edition of The Oldhamer which recognised that whites could be victims of racial violence too.26 The SWP line was that racism (in post-colonial Western societies) = prejudice + power. When structural power and prejudice combine, racism is the consequence. Since ethnic minorities lack privilege and power, and are the victims of structural discrimination, it follows that they cannot be racist. To recognise that racism can be directed against whites, or indeed be carried out by non-white groups against other non-white groups, is thus a concession to racism (unless the whites are Eastern European migrants). Searchlight’s position, in arguing that whites could be victims of racial violence and not always the beneficiaries of racism, accepted that lack of relative power does not necessarily stop individuals from being racist. This did not mean to say that ethnic minorities did not overwhelmingly comprise the victims of racism – they clearly do – but denying that racism exists against whites or between ethnic minorities would only encourage division and resentment. The SWP/ANL’s response to the election of three BNP councillors in Burnley was to reprise Rock Against Racism, launching Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR). The initial plan was to hold a carnival in Burnley’s Towneley Park, but this was banned at the eleventh hour on the grounds of a risk to public order. As a result, the first anti-Nazi LMHR carnival was held in Manchester in September 2002, drawing some 30,000 people to Platts Fields Park. Afterwards, the campaign went national, launching in both London and Manchester in December 2002. The national co-ordinator recalled: Like RAR, LMHR attempted to fuse music and culture with politics to create a powerful anti-racist message that connected with the young and not so young. In culture as in history, nothing is fixed, rigid or definitive. That’s why the ‘Rock’ tag had to go. Our new slogan was: Hip hop, indie, drum ‘n’ bass, reggae, punk and grime – Love Music Hate Racism. Our ethos was simple – we mixed different musical genres in order to create both musical and physical black, white and Asian unity.27 The hope was that LMHR might encourage young people to put on their own events locally, to inspire ‘from below’, and thereby reboot the ANL, but this was not the 1970s: youth was no longer contested terrain for the far right and so energy was being directed towards preaching to the converted. So that the ANL might be revived (for a third time), it called on the TUC to provide the lead: ‘We need a mass campaign against the Nazis. We did it in the 1970s and again in the early 1990s. We can do it again. It demands that the TUC

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be at the forefront, organising the protests and the carnivals.’28 In the meantime the ANL announced the launch of its ‘Don’t Vote Nazi 2003’ campaign. Yet the SWP was still inclined to read fascism as a counter-revolutionary street movement, a ‘battering ram’ against the workers. Any move by the BNP to electoral politics was therefore treated with a serious dose of scepticism, as if the BNP’s return to the streets was not a matter of if but when (this would have implications for how the Socialist Workers’ Party/Unite Against Fascism would understand the English Defence League, as we shall see). In fact, the ANL was not the first to appeal to the TUC, for the TUC had already been approached by the successor to the Anti-Racist Alliance – the National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR) – now co-chaired by Labour MP Diane Abbott, and Cllr Kumar Murshid (a future regeneration adviser to London Mayor Ken Livingstone). In Oldham the TUC had previously sponsored a Coalition Against Racism, co-ordinated by a local Labour councillor, Mohammed Azam, and supported by the NAAR. Citing this as an example of best practice, in September 2002 the Trades Union Congress urged its General Council to initiate a tripartite national ‘Defeat the BNP’ campaign, to be run in conjunction with trade unions, Asian community organisations, and the National Assembly Against Racism. Under the slogan, ‘The Coalition Against Racism – Unite to Stop the BNP’, a series of anti-BNP initiatives were planned in the run-up to the 2003 local elections, including leafleting, public meetings and days of action. However, the NAAR was obviously deficient in numbers. Although it could call on local groups in Birmingham, Coventry, Manchester, Lewisham and Sheffield, it had little, if any, grassroots presence in Burnley (the national campaign was launched at Burnley Football Club in October 2002).29 A week before the 2003 local elections, the TUC, in conjunction with UNISON (Britain’s largest public-sector union), and supported by the NAAR and the ANL, organised a flagship ‘Unite against racism’ demonstration in Manchester. This national event cost over £200,000 and yet to little effect – fewer than 3,000 people attended. Lowles had taken a dim view of this event. ‘Manchester was not a BNP hotspot and that demonstrating in a city centre on the final weekend before an election was the last place activists should be.’30 He was minded to keep the focus on localised campaigning in the BNP’s target areas, and working with local groups (often trades councils, but also ANL groups), Searchlight further finessed campaign strategy, stressing the importance of creating local brand identity; sticking to message; addressing local concerns, even concerns that anti-racists had traditionally avoided; seeking community endorsement from well-respected local people and support from local faith groups and local journalists; turning out the anti-BNP vote; and so on. In 2003 Searchlight also produced its first tabloid-style newspaper, which aside from exposing the BNP as a ‘Nazi’ party, also challenged prevailing myths about asylum, carried endorsements from footballers such as Rio Ferdinand and Sunderland legend Niall Quinn, and featured a holiday competition, crossword, spot the ball, and even an ‘agony aunt’ letters page. Close to half a million of these free tabloids were delivered door-to-door and they reportedly ‘sent the BNP apoplectic!’31

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The short-term aim had been to contain the BNP, but even if the BNP failed in some places to make their anticipated breakthroughs, and one could point to a correlation between strong anti-BNP campaigns and BNP failure (such as in Oldham and Sunderland), the BNP still won seven more council seats in Burnley, and a total of 13 new councillors overall. Looking ahead to effecting a ‘maximum breakthrough’ in European, GLA and local elections in June 2004, the BNP now saw the chance to send its opponents ‘reeling back under a hail of BNP victory blows from where they can never recover’.32

II Griffin’s adversaries had other ideas, naturally. A statement of intent came with the formation of a new anti-fascist coalition towards the end of 2003. This coalition, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) – still in existence as I write – became the first ‘united’ anti-fascist organisation since the 1970s. It originated in a merger of the NAAR and the ANL, supported by the TUC. Weyman Bennett (ANL) and Sabby Dhalu (NAAR) were joint secretaries, London Mayor Ken Livingstone was chair, with the General Secretary of the Communications Workers’ Union, Billy Hayes, as treasurer. Reflecting growing perceptions that British society was facing a rising electoral threat from the BNP, it did succeed in acquiring signatures from some 80 cross-party MPs and MEPs, including both Labour (e.g. Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, Peter Hain, Keith Vaz) and Conservative (e.g. then backbencher David Cameron, Michael Howard, and even former Monday Club vice-president Sir Teddy Taylor). Needless to say, being a signatory did not have to mean anything other than a public declaration of support (mainstream political parties were not necessarily inclined, or obligated, to campaign alongside UAF). Endorsement was also forthcoming from the Commission for Racial Equality, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, various pop celebrities (e.g. Morrissey, Franz Ferdinand, Kings of Leon), journalists (e.g. Mark Steele, David Seymour), and 13 trade unions (e.g. UNISON, the TGWU, Communication Workers’ Union – CWU, Fire Brigades Union – FBU, National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education – NATFHE, and Association of University Teachers – AUT). ‘The BNP is now trying to present itself as a “respectable” political party. In fact they are a fascist party’, UAF’s founding statement declared and, ‘[w]e believe that this dangerous situation requires a new and united response from all those dedicated to freedom and democracy’.33 The strategy was a simple one: raise turnout and maximise the anti-BNP vote. The ‘majority of people in this country abhor the BNP. If everyone votes, we can stop the BNP’.34 UAF would therefore appeal to the anti-racist majority. In other words, ‘vote anyone but the BNP’ (even if this entailed voting Conservative), for the ‘BNP’s rise has gone hand in hand with falling voter turn out: reversing that trend is critical to defeating the BNP’.35 From a far-left theoretical take, this was surely a concession to the right – mobilising every single anti-BNP vote. It meant that UAF really represented a form of ‘popular front-ism’ rather

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than a working-class united front (rather ironic considering the SWP’s contempt for the ‘Stalinist’ popular front). Although run from NATFHE’s London headquarters, with the BNP now implanted in industrial areas in northern England, UAF saw the need to extend its reach beyond the capital. While the official launch party in February 2004 took place in London, at the Astoria Theatre, attended by 2,000 people, there were no fewer than 120 local launch events.36 The TUC organised a national rally at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre on 3 April, and a regional TUC rally in London. As many as 600,000 anti-BNP leaflets were then handed out in a national mass-leafleting drive, ‘the largest number of anti-BNP leaflets ever handed out on a single day’, according to Weyman Bennett.37 In total, UAF produced 5 million leaflets and 200,000 posters during this campaign. UAF expenditure for the European elections in 2004 was returned at £62,923 (£13,500 donated from the CWU and £8,500 from the TGWU).38 It was now claiming over 1,000 supporters and affiliates.39 Searchlight’s recorded expenditure was slightly more, £78,774, but both were eclipsed by expenditure from the 1.3 million-strong UNISON, which spent £167,704 from its general political fund to support anti-BNP campaigning. UNISON had donated £10,000 to fund a research worker at Searchlight; ordered 70,000 copies of a special London edition of Searchlight magazine to distribute to its members across more than 100 branches; produced 20,000 of its own antiBNP leaflets; and published a series of electoral advertisements in national newspapers warning voters of the dangers of voting for the BNP.40 This advertisement (see for example, Daily Mirror, 27 May 2004) featured a bottle of lethal poison – ‘British National Poison’ – with the warning ‘DO NOT SWALLOW’, and listed the ingredients as: ‘The British National Party. Side effects: In the few cases of council election, local crime has been known to increase, whilst racial attacks rise by 300%.’ Guided by fieldwork undertaken during several local council by-elections in October and November 2003, Searchlight now decided to rebrand its message. The idea was to move away from the negative campaigning of ‘Stop the BNP’ and strike a more positive tone with the slogan of ‘HOPE not Hate’ (HnH). This slogan had already been used on a Searchlight campaign leaflet in 2003 (having originally featured on a ‘Philosophy Football’ t-shirt design by Mark Perryman and Geoff Andrews). As Nick Lowles explains, Men were much more likely to vote for the BNP than women, by a margin of almost two to one. Women were generally put off by the BNP’s aggressive image and concerned about the tensions and trouble it could bring to local communities. Conversely, however, many of these same women were put off by traditional anti-BNP and anti-racist slogans and literature. Slogans such as ‘Smash the Nazis’, ‘Nazi scum off our Streets’ were equally threatening and aggressive. People preferred positive messages, as opposed to negative; they wanted to vote ‘for’ something rather than ‘against’.41

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Focusing on 35 target wards, Searchlight prioritised the 2004 local elections. Its campaign had three stands to it: to inform and work with local political parties; to mobilise its own network of local anti-BNP groups; and for the first time, to conduct voter ID (over the telephone) in order to identify the anti-BNP vote (this yielded some 20,000 anti-BNP voters). No fewer than 29 different versions of its tabloid newspaper were distributed – an impressive 1.25 million in all. In addition to localised versions, a specific Jewish edition of its tabloid was circulated through door-to-door drops in largely Jewish districts and through synagogues/community buildings. The Board of Deputies also launched a late drive to maximise anti-BNP turnout.42 What little remained of militant anti-fascism had re-grouped as ‘Antifa’ in April 2004. The term ‘Antifa’ was political slang, short for anti-fascist, but a militant antifascist, modelled on the German activist/autonomist movement. Supporters of ‘Antifa’ were from the anarchist tradition: Class War Federation, Anarchist Federation, Solidarity Federation, and No Platform. The aim was ‘to oppose the far-right’s electoral politics and where possible by means of direct action’.43 Based initially in London and South-East England, Antifa made no discernible intervention in the 2004 elections (but in September 2004, a former BNP treasurer and his security team were on the receiving end of a physical attack in Basildon, Essex). If the 2004 elections had seen the largest vote for a far-right political party in British history to date, the BNP had still failed to inflict serious hammer blows on its opponents. Whilst its tally of local councillors did rise, gaining four additional councillors, and increasing the overall number to 21, the party failed to get elected to either the European Parliament or the Greater London Assembly. The margins of defeat were slim, however. The BNP had garnered over 800,000 votes in the European elections, missing out on winning an MEP in the North-West by 0.4 per cent of the vote, in Yorkshire and Humber by 0.8 per cent, and the West Midlands by 1.3 per cent. In London, the party missed out on winning a seat in the GLA by just 5,720 votes. The priority of anti-fascists had been to raise anti-BNP turnout. In the North-West, where the BNP thought it had its best chance of winning a European Parliament seat, UAF’s objective was to double turnout, and turnout increased more than twofold to 41.1 per cent compared to 19.67 per cent in 1999. In Yorkshire and Humber, turnout was 19.75 per cent in 1999; in 2004 it too more than doubled to 42.3 per cent. In London, turnout increased to 37 per cent, a 50 per cent increase on 1999. If part (or even a large part) of the increase in turnout could be accounted for in terms of the introduction of all postal ballots in four European constituencies (North-West, North-East, Yorkshire, East Midlands), that turnout was up in other areas suggested that the anti-fascist campaign may well have made some difference (although a surge in the popular vote for the UK Independence Party – UKIP – almost certainly depressed the BNP vote). All well and good – Searchlight triumphantly declared Griffin the ‘LOSER!’,44 but the reality was that the BNP had not failed miserably, for anti-fascists had struggled to make more telling interventions in Bradford, where the BNP won four council

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seats (in wards that were overwhelmingly white). Despite distributing the Searchlight tabloid to every home in three wards in Loughton, in Essex, the BNP took three council seats. One of the three seats was won (improbably) by a Jewish BNP candidate, Patricia Richardson, where turnout in her Fairmead ward was 31.4 per cent (the Jewish vote in this ward was estimated to be just 0.7 per cent). Jewish observers were not pleased, but then again, neither was John Tyndall: the BNP should, so long as it is legally permissible, exclude Jews from membership, and in any event should not appoint Jews to positions in the party nor select them as candidates for elections. They would not do it for us and there is no reason why we should do it for them.45 At the end of 2004, looking forward 18 months, Nick Lowles reasoned that anti-fascists should see the 2005 general election as part of a longer-term strategy. Anti-fascists, he maintained, must focus their efforts not on increasing the national anti-BNP vote in the 2005 general election (UAF’s priority), but on community campaigning in specific constituencies that the BNP was targeting (with a view to the BNP effecting further local electoral breakthroughs in 2006). Of course the BNP had absolutely no prospect of winning a parliamentary seat in 2005, but it was intent on sustaining momentum and building voter loyalty. For Lowles, therefore, the most effective counter-strategy had to be rooted in community campaigning, which he defined as: a bottom-up approach to political campaigning. It is an attempt to develop a localised response to a political problem, in this case the BNP […] we believe that the only real answer to the BNP is to build opposition within the communities that are being targeted. That means finding local people to be involved centrally in the campaign […] Community campaigning has to involve localised leaflets rather than nationally produced ones. Each area has different issues worrying residents and these can only be addressed by local leaflets written and designed to suit their target audience […] Simply name-calling and demonising the BNP has little or no effect in areas where the BNP has established a base. We need to get inside a community to expose the BNP’s lies and broken promises and help people find alternative means to address their concerns.46 Whilst this reflected increasing recognition that the BNP was emerging as the voice of the forgotten white working class, Lowles stopped short of advocating any radical-left political solution. Although not made explicit at the time, this would lead Searchlight to seek more immediate (and admittedly more practical) remedies from within the political mainstream, above all by aligning itself with Labour. In setting out his stall, Lowles developed his critique of UAF. After the 2004 elections Searchlight had taken two seats on UAF’s steering committee, albeit reluctantly, having been pressurised by the trade unions to become involved.47 However, Searchlight favoured localised campaigns and, as we have seen, was more open to addressing racially sensitive issues. Whilst UAF accepted that the BNP’s

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aims for the 2005 general elections were publicity and base-building for the next round of local and European elections, it believed that since the rise of the BNP was taking place against a context of asylum-seeker and migrant community demonisation, making any concessions to racism only further legitimised the BNP. Drawing lessons from continental Europe too, UAF maintained that in appeasing and accommodating racism, the political mainstream was conferring public legitimacy on the BNP whilst also alienating those ethnic minority communities that had most to lose from the rise of the far right.48 Since Britain had an anti-racist majority, the role of UAF should be to campaign against the BNP as a racist party of ‘Nazis’ and criminals, and to encourage as many anti-racists to vote at both national and local levels. In so doing, UAF could inflict sufficient electoral defeats on the BNP to stop its momentum, and thereby force it back to the periphery before it secured any permanent foothold. Simmering differences within Britain’s anti-fascist movement would boil over during the 2005 general election campaign. The result was that at the end of June 2005 Searchlight severed links with UAF altogether. When Griffin announced his intention to stand in Keighley in West Yorkshire in the May 2005 general election, Searchlight’s response had been to focus its efforts there. In 2004, the BNP had won two council seats in Keighley, largely through exploiting cases of Asian men ‘grooming’ young white girls for sex and drugs. Anti-fascists had been reluctant to address the issue for fear of giving the BNP credibility. Channel Four had screened a documentary about it – Edge of the City – in August 2004.49 It was made clear in the film that the abusers were largely Asian, and the abused girls were white. Griffin wanted to further exploit the issue. Searchlight rightly felt that it could no longer be ignored and challenged the line that it was a racial issue, insisting that the exploitation was purely criminal. Significantly, Searchlight enlisted the support of the mother of one of the victims. Speaking out against the BNP in a Searchlight tabloid, she maintained that the BNP was exploiting her daughter in a similar way to her daughter’s abusers. As many as 35,000 issues of this tabloid were delivered in the constituency. According to Lowles, Obviously a piece of literature does not win an election, but we can look back on this tabloid as a key moment in the campaign. It took the sting out of the grooming issue and more significantly it turned the tables on the BNP.50 Griffin polled 9.2 per cent of the vote (his expectation was for a much higher vote). Yet for UAF, which did not organise an anti-fascist campaign in Keighley (it was instructed not to interfere by the TUC), Searchlight had been at fault – making concessions to racism by giving credence to false ‘grooming’ stories.51 At one trade union conference in June 2005, UAF staff gave vent, and allegedly accused Searchlight of ‘pandering to racism’; at another UAF supporters allegedly accused Searchlight of ‘using the language of the BNP’ with reference to its local campaign slogan in Barking and Dagenham of ‘We are Dagenham, the BNP are not’.52 (Lowles would lock horns with UAF again in 2009, when he threatened to sue

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UAF for insinuating that he pandered to racism.) For Searchlight supporters, it was UAF not Searchlight that was abdicating its responsibility to tackle racism and fascism by failing to establish a presence in white areas and ‘challenge racist arguments there’.53 The centrepiece of UAF’s 2005 general election campaign was another city centre festival – a large May Day rally and music event in Trafalgar Square, which attracted 40,000 people. UAF did distribute around a quarter of a million leaflets, organised a protest outside the BBC against the BNP’s party political broadcast, and an anti-BNP ‘ad van’, sponsored by UNISON, visited Manchester, Burnley, Pendle, Leeds, Sheffield, Stoke, Cardiff, Swansea and London.54 Yet the suspicion was that its priority, or at least the SWP’s priority, was not so much campaigning against the BNP in white neighbourhoods but campaigning for George Galloway’s Respect party in Asian neighbourhoods (the SWP had formed an alliance with Respect following the 2004 elections). Relations between UAF and Searchlight were not helped either by Julie Waterson’s removal as the ANL’s national organiser in 2003. UAF’s (ARA/NAAR) belief that the anti-fascist/anti-racist struggle should be black-led attracted criticism, as did a whispering campaign that Searchlight was ‘Zionist’. Steve Silver would not name names, but was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle as saying that ‘[t]hey were leading people. In anything you do with the left, you are always going to find a hard core of anti-Semitism […]’.55 Yet within the anti-fascist movement the response to the split was fairly muted. The Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG), one of the first groups to affiliate to UAF, was troubled by it. It felt that disunity would have a demoralising and debilitating effect on anti-fascism, giving rise to confusion, duplication of effort, and rival campaigns. Whilst it sympathised with Searchlight’s line that campaigns had to be built from the grassroots and not be imposed as part of a ‘top-down’ national campaign, the JSG maintained that anti-Zionism was not anti-Semitism, and it recognised the need not to make any concessions to racism because this only served to legitimise fascist values.56 For UAF, the major problem with Searchlight was its failure to heed that the ‘main political cutting edge of the BNP’s campaigning today is racism’,57 and antifascists had yet to smooth down this cutting edge: the BNP obtained 192,750 votes in the 2005 general election, averaging 4.2 per cent in the seats contested; deposits had been saved in a record 34 constituencies. ‘The far right’, UAF cautioned, ‘has stronger electoral support than ever before in British history’.58 Yet as David Renton suggests, since the BNP only broke 10 per cent in three seats, this ‘was less dramatic progress than would have been predicted in 2002 or 2003’. Therefore, despite their differences, Renton believes that both UAF and HnH did impact on the far right.59 Can the same thing be said of militant anti-fascists? By 2005 Antifa had become a ‘national federation’ of around half a dozen local groups at most, but without AFA’s numbers. Where militant anti-fascism impacted in 2005, the effects were fitful. One of the most active groups was the ‘635 Group’ based in West Yorkshire, which had been established in February 2005. The following month, around 30

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anti-fascists attacked a BNP meeting in Halifax with half-bricks and rocks. ‘BNP activists[’] cars were smashed causing tens of thousands of pounds[’] worth of damage (most car insurance doesn’t cover vandalism). Job done, and a quick getaway was made. No injuries, or arrests made.’60 Yet such escapades, while no doubt uplifting for the perpetrators, did nothing to stop the BNP’s overall ability to organise: 119 BNP candidates had contested the 2005 general election, compared to 33 in 2001. Over 350 BNP candidates would contest the 2006 local elections (more than a 500 per cent increase on 2002).

III Emergent analysis of the BNP’s election results was now showing a definite trend: the BNP was challenging Labour in many of Labour’s traditional heartlands. This was where the BNP’s support was beginning to solidify. In Burnley, for instance, Labour’s share of the vote had dropped by 38 per cent between 2001 and 2005. All but one of the seats where the BNP had saved its deposit in the 2005 general election were Labour-held. Campaigning against Griffin’s BNP had hitherto operated almost entirely independently of the mainstream political parties, including Labour (there were exceptions, such as Oldham and Dagenham). The prevailing view within the Labour Party had been that the BNP was best ignored, but the launch of a new organisation, ‘Labour Friends of Searchlight’ (LFOS), by the Parliamentary Labour Party in 2005 signalled some change of direction. This group, with Martin Salter as one of the founding members, was established with Frank Dobson, Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras, as its chair. Dobson, in a nice turn of phrase, likened the BNP to ‘vultures feeding off the dead meat of British politics’.61 In October 2004 Dobson had written to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) requesting its assistance in undertaking opinion research into support for the far right in London (the previous month the BNP had won a council by-election in Barking and Dagenham, which was the party’s first local council victory in London for more than a decade). The result was the JRRT-sponsored publication, The Far Right in London: A Challenge for Local Democracy?,62 a report co-authored by, amongst others, Searchlight’s Nick Lowles and the Labour MP for Dagenham, Jon Cruddas. For Labour’s Cruddas, a former New Labourite, it was all too clear what was happening in his constituency: the BNP had become a depository for the disaffected white working class: The cornerstone of New Labour has been the assumption that working class voters in communities like mine have nowhere else to go as they would never vote Tory. Yet this mixture of population movement and policy failure alongside the national discussion around race has meant that many are now developing a class allegiance with the far right.63 Cruddas would become LFOS vice-chair (along with David Heyes MP); Lowles its co-ordinator. Their aim was not only to defeat the BNP, but in so doing

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re-energise Labour’s grassroots, re-connect the party with its traditional constituency, and thereby revive civic participation. If working alongside Jon Cruddas was one thing, working with Barking’s Labour MP Margaret Hodge was a different proposition altogether. Although Hodge met with Lowles, their meeting was less than productive. Hodge had objected to a personal attack on her in Searchlight (in future years she opted to align herself with UAF instead). Making matters worse, in the run-up to the 2006 local elections, in which the BNP targeted Barking and Dagenham, Hodge had talked up the BNP vote, claiming that eight out of ten white voters in some wards in Barking were seriously considering voting for the BNP. The knock-on effect, boosted by some indulgent media headlines, was that support for the BNP rose from 0.4 per cent in a March 2006 poll to 7 per cent in April. A poll taken by the Sunday Mirror (23 April) suggested that almost half of Barking and Dagenham residents were intending to vote for the BNP. Much of the Searchlight/HnH campaign had been concentrated, like UAF, on turning out the anti-BNP vote (and 51,000 anti-BNP tabloids were distributed in Barking and Dagenham). As for UAF, it distributed tens of thousands of leaflets across the country and (rather unimaginatively) held yet another anti-Nazi carnival in Trafalgar Square (generally ignored by the media). However, the BNP would double its number of seats. Thirty-three BNP councillors were elected in the 2006 local elections; the stand out result was in Barking and Dagenham. As Nick Lowles, who invested much time in Barking and Dagenham, would lament, It was one of the most miserable days of my life as 12 of the 13 BNP candidates romped home. The only saving grace from the election was that the BNP had not stood more; because if it had, it could well have taken control of the entire council.64 Even though overall borough turnout was 38.3 per cent (up from 22.76 per cent in the last round of elections in May 2002), for UAF the lesson from Barking and Dagenham was that anti-fascists had failed to sufficiently mobilise the ethnic minority vote. ‘Crucially’, it said, ‘the communities targeted by the BNP – particularly the African and other ethnic minority communities – need to be more engaged in the anti-fascist campaign’.65 Reflecting on the 2006 local elections, a downbeat Lowles now conceded that there was ‘a limit to what anti-fascists can do these days’.66 With the BNP having become part of the social fabric in some local communities, to label the BNP as ‘Nazi’ or ‘fascist’ had become ineffectual and telling voters not to vote BNP was construed by many as patronising. For Lowles, what was needed was broader engagement, bringing together political parties (especially Labour), trade unions and community groups into new anti-fascist partnerships. Localised campaigning would remain central to his thinking, with community campaigners encouraged to re-assert positive values of fairness, equality, democracy and tolerance.

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In November 2006, in a community and capacity-building exercise, more than 130 Labour Party members, representing as many as 72 constituency parties, attended a LFOS seminar/workshop at the TGWU’s regional office in Birmingham. A 32-page pamphlet, Fight the BNP, Rebuild the Labour Party, was launched, a copy sent to every constituency Labour Party (CLP) and Labour MP. Lowles announced ambitious plans for an ‘Anti-Fascist Fortnight’ between 24 March and 7 April 2007, ‘the biggest show of community opposition to the BNP to date’.67 Cruddas would be joint secretary of this campaign. Meanwhile, UAF intended carrying on as before: to continue to portray the BNP as a racist party of Nazis and criminals, and because more Britons are intolerant of racism, the anti-racist majority would (or should) ultimately suffocate the racist minority. Of the 33 council seats that the BNP had won in the 2006 local elections, 28 had been previously held by Labour. In the 2007 local elections, over 80 per cent of the BNP’s target wards were Labour. The BNP threat could no longer be taken so lightly. Indeed, by 2007 Searchlight had teamed up with local Labour parties and trade unions across many of the BNP’s target wards, particularly in West Yorkshire and the West Midlands. Reflecting increasing concern amongst Labour MPs, in early 2007 62 MPs (or their staff) attended an LFOS meeting in London. A key element of Searchlight/LFOS strategy was to bring local Labour parties and trade unions together through trade union liaison officers, who formed the link between the party and the unions at regional and national levels. For Cruddas, one of the positive outcomes of campaigning against the BNP was that it offered a chance to rebuild connections between Labour and the trade union movement. In Dagenham, for example, the campaign against the BNP in 2005 led to 50 GMB union members joining the party; in Sandwell, in 2007, the Unite union drove the local anti-BNP campaign – ‘unrivalled by any union anywhere in the country’.68 When it comes to electoral anti-fascism, without robust post-election voter data, measuring cause and effect is deeply problematic (but we do know that around two-thirds of voters did read one or more political leaflets during the 2007 local election campaign). Where co-ordinated, integrated community campaigning took place, it did seem to have some effect. During the Anti-Fascist Fortnight, large-scale days of action were held in the BNP’s target wards, and no fewer than 110 local authority areas saw anti-fascist activity. A ‘London Calling’ voter ID operation was launched, which targeted the anti-BNP vote in 75 wards (the aim was to identify 75,000 anti-BNP voters). Working with the Daily Mirror, an HnH-branded double-decker bus also toured the country, starting in Barking and Dagenham and ending in Glasgow (to be met by future Prime Minister Gordon Brown). Eighteen localised tabloids were produced; 500,000 were delivered along with some 650,000 leaflets. The Daily Mirror carried an eight-page anti-BNP supplement on the day before the election, which featured an open letter urging voters not to vote BNP. In a grudging reference to Searchlight’s HnH campaign, the BNP’s Mark Collett acknowledged that: ‘No doubt thousands upon thousands of pounds were spent on this campaign and it was used in an attempt to steal just enough votes from us to peg us back in key wards.’69 The BNP further conceded that Labour had

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undergone a ‘paradigm shift’ in organisation: ‘They and their union allies are now capable of out-organising us in a limited number of places, thereby cutting off our support spike.’70 Whilst UAF was also active in terms of its own days of action and door-to-door leafleting, its campaign attracted less attention. Since the BNP emerged from this round of local elections with a net gain of just one seat, despite putting forward over 700 candidates, Searchlight declared an ‘organisational victory’ for anti-fascism.71 For UAF, which gave Searchlight zero credit, the ‘reduced pace’ of the BNP’s advance could be explained in terms of a less favourable pre-election climate.72 The BNP’s advance had slowed in 2007, but anti-fascism would still have to focus on elections. At the next round of local elections in May 2008, a limited number of marginal wards outside London were vulnerable but a seat in the GLA was the BNP’s prize. The principal objective of both Searchlight and UAF was to mobilise the anti-BNP vote in the capital. Searchlight produced 650,000 copies of a free tabloid; 100,000 copies of a leaflet that exposed the claim by one BNP candidate that ‘[r]ape was simply sex’; 250,000 eve-of-poll leaflets; and 20,000 localised leaflets for distribution in Barking and Dagenham. This campaign was once more supported by the Daily Mirror, which carried an eve-of-poll eight-page anti-BNP supplement. UAF launched numerous initiatives prior to the deadline for registration to vote, including a national anti-fascist month (16 March–16 April), before launching a ‘Keep London Assembly Fascist Free Fortnight’ from 17 April to polling day, which included leafleting various Tube stations. The Board of Deputies worked on increasing Jewish turnout in the capital, campaigning under the slogan ‘Your Voice or Theirs’, placing advertisements in the Jewish press and running a dedicated website. On a 37 per cent turnout (2004) the BNP would require around 96,000 votes to capture one GLA seat, but on a 45 per cent turnout, there was fair expectation that the BNP would need in the region of 117,000 votes. In the 2004 GLA elections, the BNP had captured 90,365 votes and therefore, on a 45 per cent turnout, the BNP would probably require an additional 27,000 votes. So ‘[o]ur task is clear’, Searchlight editorialised, ‘to raise turnout to 45% or even 50%’.73 In the event, although turnout did increase to 45.28 per cent (in part as a possible consequence of anti-fascist intervention), the BNP still secured 130,714 votes and won a seat in City Hall. Buoyed by this success, the BNP was now hoping to make its most significant electoral breakthrough to date in the 2009 European elections. In the meantime, militant anti-fascism re-materialised, if rather fleetingly. Hostile to liberal anti-fascists, who ‘want us instead to vote for their friends in New Labour and the Lib Dems or even the modern Tories’, militant anti-fascists continued to insist that ‘fascists need silencing’. ‘Fascism and democracy are just two different ways of running the same stinking capitalist system’, as the Anarchist Federation eloquently put it; ‘They are two cheeks on the same arse.’74 In October 2007, when Nick Griffin was due to speak at a parish hall in Nottinghamshire, the hall was surrounded by militant anti-fascists. One activist described how,

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In a pincer move of dangerous guile and cunning we approached the parish hall where the fash were due to meet from two different directions. In a bit of an anti-climax there were only a handful of coppers and no obvious fascist presence. We quickly moved into a line to completely block the front of the hall, preventing any movement in and out. After a bit of pushing and shoving with the outnumbered police we had a line several people deep across the driveway to the hall. Down at the other end people blocked the pedestrian entrance to the hall. No wannabe fascists were going to get into this meeting.75 In March 2008 militant anti-fascists in Yorkshire attacked a number of venues in Leeds that had been used for BNP meetings; BNP paper sales in Barnsley and Selby were also attacked.76 However, in the most high-profile ‘action’, around 70 anti-fascist militants targeted the BNP’s Red White and Blue Festival in August 2008. ‘We cannot accept that militancy against the fascists is not an effective strategy’, one of its intransigent activists declared, ‘as we know it can and does work’.77 Yet when these militants attempted to smash the BNP’s festival, After emerging from a field dressed in anarchist black […] Antifa were dealt with – severely and quickly – by riot police. Assessed simply against their own aim – that of stopping the festival – the group’s expedition to Derbyshire can only be seen as a complete failure.78 Not so, countered Antifa. Since the threat of militant opposition had caused the BNP to fail in its application for an alcohol and entertainment licence and this had led to a reduced attendance, it had been a ‘success’.79 Yet this ‘elite action’ merely underscored the ghettoisation of militant anti-fascists from the broader anti-fascist movement. In the wake of the 2008 local elections (the BNP now had 55 councillors across 22 local authorities), Lowles tried initiating debate on the future direction of the anti-fascist movement. Once again acknowledging the limitations of a strategy centred on turning out the anti-BNP vote, he argued that the simple ‘Don’t vote Nazi’ slogan had become irrelevant, but acknowledged that ‘HOPE not Hate’ was also insufficient in those areas where support for the BNP was deeply entrenched (there is no hope in Dagenham, he was told by one voter). Lowles urged anti-fascists to further embed themselves within local communities. ‘It might not be glamorous and it might not be easy but it is vital’, he wrote. In his mind he saw a nationwide network of local anti-BNP groups, comprising trade unionists, faith groups, residents’ associations and community groups, all working with mainstream (i.e. Labour) parties against the BNP because a refusal to do so ‘will only hand dozens of seats to the BNP and quicken its electoral advance’.80 Lowles did invite UAF to respond, offering space in Searchlight for it to contribute. Yet the die had been cast and unsurprisingly UAF did not avail itself of this ‘opportunity’ (Lowles further derided Weyman Bennett for suggesting that the absence of BNP marches was a sign of its weakness when ‘[n]othing could be further from the truth’).81

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IV Attention was now turning to the June 2009 European elections. Turnout looked likely to fall, especially in the four regions that held all-postal ballots in 2004. In the North-West England constituency, where Griffin would stand, the BNP would, depending on the breakdown of results, likely require an increase of between 1 and 2 per cent in the share of the vote in order to capture a European Parliament seat (a similar margin would be sufficient in Yorkshire and Humber where Andrew Brons was standing). The obvious problem for localised anti-BNP campaigning was the formidable European constituency size (not council wards with around 5,500 or so average population counts, but millions of voters across thousands of square miles). So, in a significant new departure, Searchlight/HnH enlisted the services of Blue State Digital, the online marketing company that Barack Obama had used to such good effect in 2008. Through a digital platform, HnH built up an online supporter list that increased from 7,000 in February 2009 to over 30,000 by May 2009. The idea was to inspire online supporters to become offline activists, and in what became its largest anti-fascist campaign to date, HnH delivered as many as 3.4 million newspapers and leaflets. In the North-West, around 1,200 activists delivered 1.6 million tabloids and newspapers (electorate: 5.2 million); in Yorkshire and Humber, 880,000 leaflets were delivered (electorate: 3.7 million). In ‘the largest single political email in British domestic political history’,82 an eve-of-poll email was sent to some 600,000 addresses. Unsurprisingly, Searchlight had to increase its campaign expenditure by almost £60,000 in comparison to 2004. Unite Against Fascism increased its spend by almost £25,000.83 UAF activists handed out, typically at Tube and train stations, more than 2 million new tabloid-style newspapers and leaflets. The message was its consistent one: the BNP was fascist, there was a real danger that the BNP would win seats, and the only way to stop the BNP was to turn out and vote against them. One of UAF’s ‘Stop the BNP: Use your vote’ leaflets asked readers: ‘Would you vote for a party that … 1. Wants to destroy the NHS? 2. Loves Hitler? 3. Hates your friends, family and work mates?’ Anti-BNP adverts appeared in the local press (sponsored by teaching unions) and a UAF ‘ad van’ travelled the country. UAF also employed new online strategies, sending out regular email bulletins, trebling the number of visitors to its website, and using Twitter. Its showcase event was a Love Music Hate Racism festival held in Stoke at the end of May 2009, attracting some 20,000 people.84 The Board of Deputies spent close to £35,000. Once more under the slogan ‘Your Voice not Theirs’, the Board distributed 1,000 ‘special kits’ containing leaflets, posters and balloons. The idea was to work alongside Searchlight/HnH, particularly in three areas with the largest Jewish populations: the North-West, London, and the South-East. Not all welcomed this initiative, however. Historian Geoffrey Alderman, who, as we have seen, contributed to the ANL debate in the 1970s, maintained that the Board of Deputies would be better advised spending its time lobbying the ‘mainstream’ parties on issues of immigration and employment rather

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than ‘wasting its time and our money on the distribution of posters and balloons’.85 By way of reply, the Board’s President, Henry Grunwald, made no apology for his determination ‘to make sure that I, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish community can stand tall on June 4, knowing that we did everything we could to stop the BNP and the politics of hate’.86 Nonetheless, despite these comprehensive efforts, overall turnout did not increase but actually fell from 38.4 per cent in 2004 to 34.5 per cent in 2009 (but this was still considerably more than the 24 per cent European election turnout of 1999). Where turnout did rise relative to 2004, it was in the East, South-East and South-West. In the North-East, where turnout was lowest (30.4 per cent) the BNP’s share of the vote increased by 2.5 per cent (the highest increase of any region). While the BNP won a higher share of the vote in four other regions, Griffin captured a seat in the North-West (there were eight available seats in this region) with 132,094 votes (+1.6 per cent on 2004), and Brons took a seat in Yorkshire and Humber with 120,139 votes (+1.8 per cent on 2004). Despite the glare of publicity falling on Griffin, Brons had outperformed him, capturing some 9.8 per cent of the vote – the highest regional share of the BNP vote. Ominously, the BNP now had two MEPs. The anti-fascist electoral campaign, historically unprecedented in terms of its size and scope, had been found wanting. This was an uncomfortable moment, particularly when critics on the left responded with the claim that never mind anti-racism, it was now clear that ‘anti-fascism isn’t working’: The statistics are telling […] By comparison, previous fascist groups had managed three councillors in total in the previous 80 years (this is without counting the seats won and subsequently lost by the BNP). The party has one member on the London Assembly, and now two MEPs in Europe.87 Nonetheless, Lowles refused to accept that anti-fascists had got nothing out of it. That observers had been predicting that the BNP might win up to seven seats offered him some comfort. ‘That it didn’t was down to the hard work of antifascists around the country’.88 Similarly for UAF, since pollsters were putting the BNP on around 7 per cent of the vote just before the election – it polled 6.2 per cent – ‘[i]f it had not been for the efforts of anti-fascists, the BNP may well have taken three or even four seats’.89 Yet UKIP also factored into the outcome. It had won 16.5 per cent of the vote, capturing 13 seats, one more than in 2004. As in 2004, UKIP had undoubtedly squeezed the BNP vote too. What, then, were the implications for anti-fascists of the BNP’s alarming success? Would it prompt a major re-think? One critic asked, with some justification, what the point was of exposing the BNP’s criminality when an estimated 40 per cent of men in Britain had some kind of criminal record. Why call on people not to vote ‘Nazi’ when the BNP often came across as ordinary people? Why attempt to raise turnout with ‘anyone but the BNP’ and yet fail to address the root causes of BNP support? Had anti-fascism simply become counter-productive?90

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Searchlight thought not, and saw no need to jettison its pro-Labour position. It would keep at it, and its immediate priority was to build anti-fascist groups in every community in the country. The basis for these community groups would be the one in 470 adults who had engaged in its 2009 HnH campaign. The way forwards for UAF was for anti-fascists to redouble their efforts in mobilising the anti-racist majority to out-vote the BNP, and it called for the mobilisation of the largest possible mass movement to drive the BNP out of the political mainstream.91 A YouGov poll of 32,000 voters, carried out in the run-up to the 2009 European elections, was taken as the justification for UAF’s campaign strategy. It was not notions of a multicultural elite betraying the white working class that had been behind the BNP vote, but racism, UAF claimed. This racism was strongest amongst those in the middle-income bracket, manual workers in the private sector aged 35 to 54, who read The Sun or The Daily Star. The media hype about the white working class ‘riddled with racism’ was, it said, simply wrong. For UAF, the white working class was ‘consistently less likely to agree with racist attitudes than the population at large’.92 However, UAF’s analysis was seriously muddled. If BNP voters were not necessarily lumpenproletariat have-nots, the reality was that the BNP did best amongst older, hard-pressed (gross household income of £20,000 to £30,000) white workingclass voters. Overwhelmingly male, they were likely to be owner-occupiers and had little interaction with public services. Significantly, these white working-class voters had usually grown up in Labour-supporting households but they now felt abandoned by metropolitan New Labour elites. They were insecure and pessimistic about their future. Many did not consider themselves racist – the issue was that the ‘system’ was unfairly benefiting others, that is to say, ethnic minority and, for the most part, Asian neighbourhoods.93 A further misreading was occasioned by UAF’s residual belief that ‘[f]ascist parties such as the BNP stand in elections in order to gain a “respectable” cover for their street activity’. It now predicted that the election of two BNP MEPs would ‘usher in a period where the party’s thugs are set loose to intimidate ethnic minorities and whip up race hatred’. UAF expected a return to the streets. ‘The BNP should be physically confronted wherever it tries to organise’, Weyman Bennett declared defiantly.94 ‘Fascist parties are not simply electoral organisations, so anti-fascists cannot be either.’95 To emphasise the point, when the victorious Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons attempted to hold a press conference on College Green outside Westminster, they suffered the indignity of being pelted with eggs from 50 to 100 UAF protestors (a television cameraman was hit in the face).96 With the election of the BNP’s Nick Griffin (and fellow BNP candidate Andrew Brons) to the European Parliament, a new chapter in the history of antifascism was opening up. Amongst anti-fascists there was recognition that the political landscape was changing for the BNP was finally establishing (if not yet consolidating) a mainstream presence. As Searchlight’s Nick Lowles said, Firstly the BNP has MEPs and whether we like it or not Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons will appear more regularly on television. No platform

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agreements between political parties were already breaking down before the election, with only Labour holding to them, and this process is likely to quicken now.97 Similarly, for Unite Against Fascism, ‘[t]he danger is that the BNP will be allowed to worm its way into the media establishment […] The danger today is that the BNP break through the “cordon sanitaire” to become a regular fixture in our media’.98 UAF urged journalists working on BNP-related stories to clearly identify the party as a racist and fascist organisation, to challenge the lies and myths the BNP peddles, and to avoid at all costs simply repeating BNP claims uncritically or recycling its press releases. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to stand up to fascism and race hatred – and media workers have a special duty to help stop the Nazi BNP.99 The problem was that the BBC, bound by its strict rules of impartiality, was now obliged to give due coverage to the BNP. Controversially, in October 2009 Griffin was invited onto the BBC’s Question Time. BBC Director-General Mark Thompson explained that: It is a straightforward matter of fact that, with some 6% of the vote and the election of two MEPs in this spring’s European elections – and with some success in local elections as well – the BNP has demonstrated a level of support that would normally lead to an occasional invitation to join the panel on Question Time. It is for that reason – not for some misguided desire to be controversial, but for that reason alone – that the invitation has been extended. For Thompson, ‘Keeping Nick Griffin off air is a job for parliament, not the BBC’.100 UAF responded by calling an emergency public rally to condemn the BBC’s invitation. Peter Hain, then Welsh Secretary, made a late, but ultimately futile appeal to Thompson and then the BBC Trust. Indulging in some hyperbole, Hain accused the BBC of being ‘apologists’ for the BNP and for making ‘one of the biggest mistakes in its proud history’.101 UAF supporters mounted an all-day picket outside BBC Television Centre in West London on 22 October, the day of the programme. With flares being let off, more than 800 anti-fascist demonstrators turned out to protest, 25 of whom succeeded in breaking through the security cordon and getting into the building before being ejected by security staff and police. Surrounded by around 30 heavily built minders, Griffin was taken into the building through a back entrance. This programme, with Griffin as star attraction, would record its highest viewing figures in its 30-year history – 8.2 million viewers at its peak (more, unbelievably, than that Saturday’s Strictly Come Dancing). However, Griffin’s awkward moment in the media limelight – he came across as a

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‘smirking extremist’ – would ultimately prove calamitous, particularly in relation to encouraging internal party division.102 The verdict of national newspapers from across the political spectrum the following morning was unanimously withering. This once more underscored the continuity in the mainstream media’s anti-fascist consensus: ‘BNP leader Nick Griffin is … A Disgrace to Humanity’;103 ‘Bigot at Bay’;104 ‘Griffin uses BBC to attack Islam and defend the Ku Klux Klan’;105 ‘I’m the most loathed man in Britain (we couldn’t have put it better, Mr Griffin)’;106 ‘BNP chief Griffin is a Nutter […] even wife puts the boot in’;107 ‘Rat Run – BNP bigot scuttles away after humiliation on TV’;108 ‘Question Time for BNP Leader. His answer: “I am not a Nazi”’;109 and ‘The BBC gave him the oxygen of publicity. He choked’.110 All the same, Weyman Bennett predicted that, Griffin’s supporters – his army of racist thugs – will draw strength from his appearance, and they will use this confidence to get on to the streets and attack ethnic minorities. For make no mistake – it is black and Asian people who will pay the price for the BBC’s disgraceful decision in the weeks and months to come.111 However, there was no return to the streets and there was no lasting increase in BNP support either. As it turned out, The Times offered the more accurate prediction that ‘history shows that BNP will follow Mosley’s Fascists down the drain’, noting that Griffin’s appearance represented the high-water mark for the BNP, ‘the moment when the party was seen for what it is, and crashed in flames’.112 Nonetheless, James Macintyre, a former Question Time producer and now political correspondent for the New Statesman, warned that, regardless of Griffin’s performance, ‘symbolically the damage is done: there he was in his suit, tie and poppy, on a panel alongside a Cabinet minister and the best presenter in the business, gaining false respectability. The taboo of voting BNP has been lifted’.113 Macintyre would back the launch of a new anti-fascist media campaign group entitled ‘Expose the BNP’ which, in the run-up to the 2010 general election, provided background briefings for reporters, news editors and others in the media industry. Other campaign groups had entered the fray too, such as ‘Nothing British’, an online anti-BNP platform, formed by former Sunday Times journalist James Bethell and former chief of staff to Iain Duncan Smith, Tim Montgomerie. Nothing British rejected the traditional anti-fascist policy of ‘no platform’ and instead appealed to traditional ‘British’ values of liberty, decency and tolerance.114 Neither should we forget growing intervention from the Church of England. Following in the anti-fascist tradition of Anglican priests such as Father John Groser in the 1930s, and later interventions in the 1970s, in the run-up to the 2010 general election the Church of England would participate in coalitions against the BNP, particularly in Barking and Dagenham, as we shall see.115

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V Despite Griffin’s failure to enthral the British nation, the BNP went into the 2010 general and local elections in confident mood. Griffin opted to stand as a parliamentary candidate in Barking, where he anticipated making a serious challenge for the parliamentary seat. At the very least, the BNP expected to become the largest single party on Barking and Dagenham Council. In the event, although the BNP increased its overall vote per candidate in the 2010 general election (almost trebling its vote compared to 2005), the average performance per candidate in terms of vote share dropped to 3.7 per cent in 2010 compared to 4.2 per cent in 2005. This was the consequence of, first, standing in nearly three times the number of seats, and second, voter turnout increasing from 50.5 per cent in 2005 to 61.4 per cent in 2010. That said, of 81 comparable constituencies where the BNP stood candidates in both 2005 and 2010, the BNP had actually increased its vote share by 75 per cent. It was always going to be the story of Barking and Dagenham that would make the headlines, however. In Barking, Griffin came third with 14.6 per cent of the vote (if truth be told, his chance of winning the seat was an outside one at best), but in the most serious hammer blow to the party, the BNP lost all of its seats on Barking and Dagenham Council. This blow was especially difficult for the BNP to stomach, ‘probably the single worst result that we have ever had’, Griffin later admitted.116 Looking back over its recent history, the 2010 elections would prove a ‘watershed moment’ for the BNP – the moment of approaching electoral meltdown. Further electoral setbacks came thick and fast. Fielding 257 candidates in the 2011 local elections, the BNP could only hold on to just two of the 11 seats that it was defending. These results now left the party with 13 councillors. By the middle of September 2011 the number of BNP councillors had fallen to single figures, and following the 2012 local elections, the BNP was left with just three. In the GLA elections of 2012, the BNP polled 47,024 votes, a drop of more than 83,500 votes in comparison to 2008 (64 per cent down). The following year, the number of BNP councillors had fallen to just two. With the resignation of Brons from the BNP in October 2012, Griffin was now the solitary BNP MEP. He then lost this seat in the 2014 European elections after the BNP polled 32,826 votes in the North-West England European Parliament constituency, just 1.87 per cent of the vote (a fall of 6.13 per cent on 2009). Later that year, and before the 2015 general election, Griffin was expelled from the party (he had been replaced by former schoolteacher Adam Walker). Whereas in 2010, the BNP had stood the largest number of far-right parliamentary candidates ever in British political history (almost 340), in the 2015 general election it could only manage eight candidates (the Official Monster Raving Loony Party fielded twice as many candidates as the BNP). Griffin’s former party averaged a pitiful 0.5 per cent of the vote for its eight candidates. Within the space of five years, from promising a ‘political earthquake’, the BNP had become an electoral irrelevancy. The all-time low came in early 2016 when it was reported that the

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BNP had been de-registered as a political party by the Electoral Commission (it had failed to pay the annual £25 registration fee). The BNP now measured absolute zero on the political Richter Scale. So how far did the unremitting efforts of anti-fascist campaigners contribute to the ‘largest decline of a political party in British electoral history’?117 There is no easy answer to this question. For sure, the BNP’s collapse was a largely self-inflicted one. Internal divisions had been mounting since Griffin’s woeful performance on Question Time; an ongoing legal challenge from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission over the party’s ‘whites only’ membership rule further exacerbated divisions; key activists, such as Eddy Butler, the party’s gifted elections organiser, were sacked; dissent worsened with electoral defeat in 2010, ongoing financial problems, and a leadership challenge from Andrew Brons in 2011; vicious infighting then tore the party apart with a narrowly defeated Brons forming an ill-fated offshoot in late 2012; and it all ended with the expulsion of Nick Griffin, for allegedly trying to ‘destabilise’ the party and for ‘harassing’ its members. However, it would be wrong to claim that electoral anti-fascism played no part whatsoever in contributing to the BNP’s devastating decline. This story is not simply one of the far right failing because of a habitual tendency for self-destruction. ‘If anti-fascism in history has often involved street violence and physical force, 2010 was the year’, one commentator has rightly written, ‘when electoral antifascism really came of age.’118 The level of sophistication was quite extraordinary. If UAF’s recorded spend at the 2010 general election was £34,858, HnH’s spend was over nine times more at £319,231 (with over £100,000 raised online).119 The total number of online HnH supporters was now put at an impressive 142,000 – a figure reached through exploiting online ‘tools’ and by capturing popular indignation in the immediate aftermath of the election of Griffin and Brons to the European Parliament. Following advice from Blue State Digital, an online video was produced with a ‘Not in Our Name’ petition. This online petition was signed by over 96,000 people – handed to MEPs on the day that Griffin and Brons took their seats – and over 3,000 people subsequently volunteered to become local HnH organisers. HnH had evidently become Britain’s leading anti-fascist organisation but it was not a traditional one – there was no membership structure as such, nor any national conference. It resembled more an online network, or ‘advocacy group’ that encouraged people into offline anti-fascist activity through locally based groups. These groups would be overseen by ‘super-activists’ trained at its ‘Organiser’s Academy’. This latest initiative involved a series of training days offering guidance on both the online and offline services that local groups could access (such as online events tools and an online phone bank). In the run-up to the 2010 general election, around 70 such groups were listed as supporters of the HnH campaign.120 In all, 20 dedicated staff would work on the 2010 HnH campaign, with HnH producing no fewer than 27 different versions of its tabloid newspaper, each customised for a key area, and distributing 880,000 copies of a 12-page HnH/Daily Mirror/UNISON booklet, Together for HOPE, specifically geared towards women (since women were less likely to vote BNP). Almost a million local leaflets were

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also distributed. This year the HnH/Daily Mirror bus tour took in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Stoke-on-Trent before returning to Barking and Dagenham. Meanwhile, UAF distributed millions of generic ‘use your vote to stop the BNP’ leaflets (sponsored by the Public and Commercial Services union), and anti-BNP leaflets were also produced by local groups. An LMHR carnival was held in Barnsley (8,000 people attended) and an anti-BNP ‘ad van’ once again toured the country. As national campaigns, they were far-reaching. Nonetheless, both concentrated their efforts on Barking and Dagenham, where the stakes were highest: if not the election of Griffin to Westminster, then control of Barking and Dagenham Council and an annual budget of £200 million. Some six months before the general election, HnH activists had been working closely with Barking and Dagenham Council Voluntary Services in a voter registration drive. HnH subsequently opened a campaign hub on the top floor of the Unite trade union HQ in Dagenham. This office was used extensively for telephone canvassing and the data gathered supported specifically targeted campaign materials. Resources were initially concentrated on marginal wards. As the campaign gathered momentum, it drew in more and more people and so coverage broadened out. On 17 April, some 540 activists distributed 92,000 newspapers in just three hours. Just four days before polling day around 380 people delivered 55,000 leaflets. On election day itself, 176 people knocked on 6,000 identified anti-BNP households. A key part of the HnH strategy was to identify and target those voters most likely to vote against the BNP, such as women voters, and black and ethnic minority voters, and these voters received targeted mail shots. Employing a dedicated ‘faith communities worker’, it also worked closely with the local Anglican churches, speaking at several church services, including one church in Barking with a congregation of 2,000 people. At a higher level, it tried to shape the media narrative, supported by the Daily Mirror. Yet its relationship with Hodge and Barking CLP was always prickly. The local HnH organiser recalled: The problem with the Labour party strategy for a long time is it wasn’t taking the BNP head-on and I had some very forceful arguments with Margaret Hodge about that. In the end I said to her ‘Look, Searchlight are happy to play that role to give you the breathing space to sell yourselves, basically, to the electorate’.121 However, Hodge remained dismissive of HOPE not Hate – ‘a waste of space’, she said.122 Hodge was fulsome in her praise for Unite Against Fascism. Labour’s emphatic victory in Barking was a reflection, she said, of the support we received from Unite Against Fascism who made a vital contribution to the campaign to drive the BNP out of Barking. UAF put in months of work before the elections. They knocked on thousands of doors and distributed many more leaflets.123

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Yet Barking Labour Party did have concerns over UAF’s use of hysterical language in its leaflets (it had produced a leaflet claiming that the BNP were the heirs of Hitler and the Nazis). In private, Hodge’s view was to bring UAF close and direct them towards canvassing. To this end, Hodge’s campaign team held regular meetings with UAF, encouraging it to work closely alongside the local community action group, Barking says No, which spelled out the negative impact that BNP policies would have on local people. According to Hodge’s campaign manager, UAF took this on board and delivered a similar message, leaving the CLP free to talk up Labour rather than talking down the BNP.124 All told, UAF held 13 days of action in Barking and delivered 200,000 leaflets. David Renton believes that in Barking ‘the average voter would have received around nine leaflets inviting them not to vote for the BNP’.125 What of efficacy? The failure of the BNP to retain any representation on Barking and Dagenham Council was due to the local BNP vote simply being swamped by the Labour vote (up by over 200 per cent in the Alibon ward, for example) on a 62 per cent turnout (compared to 38 per cent in 2006). If we accept that what gave the BNP a ‘bloody nose’, as Griffin put it, was the return of the Labour vote, then the efficacy of these campaigns is best measured in terms of their relationship to Labour’s vote. In some cases they directly assisted Labour through doorstep canvassing; in other cases the effect was more indirect, creating the space for Labour to ‘detoxify’ itself. By concentrating on mobilising the anti-BNP vote, anti-fascist campaigning allowed Labour the space to focus on reconnecting with its constituency, something which Labour managed to do successfully in Barking and Dagenham. Notwithstanding the possibility that anti-fascist campaigning did have an effect on people who might have been inclined to vote BNP, when it came to bringing about any real reduction in the BNP vote, its impact was negligible. In comparison to 2006, the vote for BNP candidates in Barking and Dagenham only fell on average by perhaps 10 per cent. Nonetheless, in helping to create the space for Labour, anti-fascists certainly contributed to the BNP’s local electoral defeat, and in so doing, further stirred up ongoing internal dissent. By 2011, the aim of anti-fascists was no longer to contain the BNP but to wipe it off the electoral landscape altogether. The priority was now Stoke-on-Trent, where a residual threat from the BNP still lingered. Working alongside the local anti-fascist group, North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (NorSCARF),126 HnH distributed 120,000 anti-BNP leaflets across Stoke; on election day itself activists delivered and knocked on doors for 13 hours.127 UAF also worked alongside NorSCARF, disrupting the BNP’s election manifesto launch in the city, distributing 10,000 ‘Stop the BNP’ leaflets on the same day, and as election day drew close, delivering on average 1,000 leaflets per day.128 The BNP lost all its councillors in Stoke and for the first time since 2003 the BNP had no elected representatives in the city. Its other ‘jewel in the crown’ was Burnley, and here its representation was reduced to just one councillor. Tellingly, successive electoral defeats during 2012–14 accelerated the BNP’s internal crisis which meant that Griffin not only struggled to retain his grip on the party’s leadership but ultimately shattered what remained of

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the party’s credibility. It is in this context that we should recognise the significant part that electoral anti-fascism played in intensifying internal dissent, demoralising and dividing BNP activists. A beleaguered Griffin was now coming under more and more fire, and as Lowles rightly foresaw in 2011, ‘[t]he demise of Griffin would signal the end of the BNP’.129

VI The overriding concern of this chapter has been electoral anti-fascism and the campaign against the BNP. We have seen how, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, more traditional forms of street-based anti-fascism did become increasingly obsolete as the BNP withdrew from the streets and focused on electioneering instead. As a reactive phenomenon, it was then incumbent on anti-fascists to adapt to the reality that the struggle against fascism would almost entirely happen at the ballot box. Some found it easier to adapt than others. On the militant wing RA’s analysis of the reasons behind the emergence of the BNP was compelling but its solution, in the form of the IWCA, was not. Militant anti-fascism fragmented, leaving an isolated and largely ineffective (anarchist) rump that remained wedded to a combative and yet out-dated form of physical force antifascism. Nonetheless, militant anti-fascism did not disappear entirely: AFA was replaced first by No Platform, and then later by Antifa. In 2009 Antifa went to ground following an attack on two German skinheads attending a Blood and Honour concert in Kent. Twenty-three anti-fascists were arrested by police after this attack. In 2011, in relation to this particular incident, seven anti-fascists were convicted of ‘conspiracy to cause violent disorder’.130 ‘There needs to be some serious discussion around the strategy and tactics of militant Antifa street actions, because from what I can see this ill-thought action fucked us up pretty well!’ one activist would allegedly remark.131 Even so, militant anti-fascism managed to re-group in a horizontal network of local militant groups, known in 2016 as the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN). The watchwords of militant anti-fascists remained ‘no platform’: ‘Denying a platform to fascists is just common sense, to do nothing is to invite catastrophe.’132 However, what exactly do present-day militant anti-fascists understand by this? At the most basic level, ‘using all physical and direct action means to prevent fascists from organising and from putting their ideas into practice’.133 Does this mean no platform for racists? Not necessarily, because racism is not fascism, and: There is a distinct difference between the right to free speech and the right to organise. Racist comments and ideas should be challenged and opposed, but a distinction must be drawn between this and incitement to violence/active recruitment to fascist organisations […] Attempts by fascist groups to recruit members to fascism cannot be tolerated by an anarchist organisation. If such groups are not smashed when they are small, they will inevitably grow to a size where they will feel confident enough to attack immigrants, workers’ organisations, etc.134

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If militant anti-fascists see enforcing ‘no platform’ in terms of direct action, how should moderate anti-fascists approach this anti-fascist precept in the twenty-first century? Many in the anti-fascist movement have abandoned it and for two very good reasons. The first is political: a point of no return was passed when Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time. The second is technical: can a platform really be withheld from someone with an Internet connection? For Lowles, it underscored the need for adaptation: moving from a policy of non-engagement (ignoring fascists; preventing them from having a platform), to a policy of popular engagement whereby campaigners ‘deny fascists, organised racists and other haters the freedom to spread their poison within communities unchallenged’.135 When examining the anti-fascist experience in the first decade of the new millennium, adaptation comes across as a key motif. Of the anti-fascist organisations that adapted to the electoral challenge of the BNP, Searchlight/HnH was almost certainly the most effective. As we have seen, it had recognised the importance of community-based responses in the 1990s, and now looked to respond to the BNP by establishing community coalitions, working with mainstream parties, particularly Labour, in presenting positive alternatives to the BNP. At times this demanded engagement with racially sensitive issues, as in Keighley or Oldham. For UAF, such an approach risked appropriating the language of the BNP and normalising its local presence. However, unless issues were openly addressed, then concerns and grievances would go unchallenged. For those alienated by mainstream politics, the UAF approach, with its emphasis on anti-racism, risked simply reinforcing perceptions that concerns were being ignored, and that only the BNP spoke for the forgotten white working class. Between UAF and Searchlight/HnH, there were some obvious differences in approach, and UAF instinctively desired a return to campaigning models from the 1970s, such as the RAR-inspired Love Music Hate Racism. However, let us not forget that there were important similarities too, as both looked to maximise anti-BNP turnout. If the essence of UAF’s approach was to portray the BNP as a racist party of criminals and Nazis and in so doing convince the anti-racist majority to come out and vote against the BNP, Searchlight/HnH’s more inclusive approach relied less on negative campaigning, looked to embed itself within local communities, and through the LFOS encouraged Labour to reconnect with voters in its traditional heartlands. In the end, though, as we saw in Barking in 2010, UAF would also become part of Labour’s winning strategy in Barking, as it too looked to engage with voters (UAF canvassing teams held an estimated 4,500 conversations on the doorstep).136 The BNP largely imploded as a result of its own incompetence – it did self-destruct – but the point that needs to be repeated here is that anti-fascist campaigning by both Searchlight/HnH and UAF contributed to the run of electoral defeats that helped to ensure that the BNP lurched from one crisis to the next. Yet Searchlight/HnH would also experience something of a crisis too when, in 2011, Nick Lowles, Gerry Gable’s heir apparent, resigned as Searchlight editor and HnH split off as an independent organisation. The minutiae of this unfortunate split are not my concern here.137 The upshot was that HnH launched its own

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bi-monthly magazine in 2012, leaving the septuagenarian Gable to resume editorship of Searchlight, which went bi-monthly in 2013 and then quarterly in 2014. Whilst Searchlight returned to its traditional role of exposing fascist (and ‘near-fascist’) organisations, HnH broadened its remit to a values-based ‘counter-extremist’ position. This led it to campaign not only against the far right but against Islamist extremism too. ‘We say “a plague on both their houses” when looking at both far-right as well as Islamist extremism […] The face of hatred is the face of hatred and the mask it wears is irrelevant’.138 Significantly, this enlarged remit meshed with the 2011 revised iteration of the British Government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy, where extremism is defined as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’. Included in this definition was a range of extremist individuals and organisations, including both the far right and Islamists.139 What this meant in practice was that HnH’s anti-fascism became subsumed under a more generic anti-extremism (or, more critically, anti-fascism was reduced to ‘antiextremism’). The problem in ‘[r]emoving anti-fascism from a progressive register and placing it in the field of anti-extremism’, Liz Fekete argued, was that it meant ‘accepting reactionary security discourses which have emerged in the context of the war on terror’.140 For militant anti-fascists the state is never a ‘reliable proxy for anti-fascism’.141 For UAF, it represented yet another concession to racism: linking opposition to the far right to a campaign against ‘Islamic extremism’ is more likely to whip up exaggerated concerns that feed into the far right, rather than appease those who see this as a vital issue. The slogan ‘A plague on both your houses’ clearly implies that the problems are similar in approach and scale. But this is ridiculous […] In fact, of course, polling on attitudes has repeatedly shown that Britain’s Muslims are more loyal, more law-abiding and feel more patriotic as a group than the white population and not at all ‘extremist’, however ‘extremist’ is defined.142 If Lowles attracted allegations of being ‘Islamophobic’,143 UAF ran the risk of turning a blind eye to Islamist extremism, not helped by revelations that its vice-chair, Azad Ali, was community affairs co-ordinator for the Islamic Forum of Europe, an offshoot of the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami.144 A further point of divergence concerned how anti-fascists should best respond to the growth of the English Defence League (EDL). At first HnH saw the EDL as something of a distraction from the main focus – defeating the BNP – but its position emerged as a moderate one: calls for the state to ban EDL marches, or where this proved unsuccessful, to hold peaceful protest/vigils, and minimise risk of serious disorder. For the UAF, which was inclined to conflate the BNP with the EDL, it was no coincidence that the EDL had formed at the high point of the BNP’s electoral success (as we have seen, it predicted such a return to the streets). UAF now took on responsibility for organising the street-based opposition to the EDL and there were three key elements to this strategy. The first was to label the EDL

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as racist and fascist (violent racists, riddled with fascists).145 The second was to organise mass mobilisations on the streets. The third was to oppose calls for a state ban on the EDL. In March 2010, at one demonstration in Bolton more than 70 people were arrested as a result of violent clashes between UAF and the EDL. It was reported that 55 of those arrested were from UAF. This figure included UAF joint secretary Weyman Bennett, charged with conspiracy to organise violent disorder.146 For the SWP, the key turning point in the street campaign against the EDL was political and physical opposition to the EDL in Tower Hamlets in 2011 and in Walthamstow in 2012: Mass protest which involved UAF, trade unionists and Muslim organisations stopped the EDL from marching. These defeats for the EDL quickly saw it descend into infighting and splits […] It is a fact that UAF, with the SWP playing a key role, has been crucial to defeating the EDL […] The murder of Lee Rigby last year saw both the BNP and EDL attempt to re-energise themselves. Once again it was mass mobilisations called by UAF and our unity statement, which pushed them back.147 By 2016 the EDL had declined into near oblivion. How far was UAF responsible for this downward slide? It might be responded that UAF counter-demonstrations fed the EDL in terms of encouraging the ‘buzz’ – the anticipation, the excitement of confrontational street demonstrations. Indeed, once the police and local authorities were able to manage these demonstrations with minimal impact on local communities, and where events passed off relatively peacefully, it was all too likely that EDL activists would grow tired. Violence was certainly part of the allure, and where the possibility of confrontation with anti-fascists lessened, so did this draw, but not all EDL activists were attracted by the violent thrill, and as Joel Busher has persuasively argued, that EDL activists were described as ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’ ‘undoubtedly undermined the ability of the group to gain purchase among people who did not already identify with the far right, and amplified the social costs of participation’.148 Finally, might it be that the demise of both the BNP and EDL has given rise to an ‘existential crisis’ amongst anti-fascist campaigners? Is there any truth in the jibe that since anti-fascism needs fascists, anti-fascists will find them even when they are not there?149 That HOPE not Hate decided to oppose UKIP, transposing its electoral campaign against the BNP to UKIP,150 and that the SWP/UAF gave its support to a new umbrella group, Stand Up to UKIP,151 suggests that the antifascist movement, in bending with the political wind, is experiencing something of a post-BNP/EDL identity crisis. HnH has justified its anti-UKIP position on the grounds that it opposed ‘political parties who whip up anti-immigrant prejudice through scaremongering and playing on racist fears’.152 Yet such a charge might equally be levelled at other parties, including both the Conservatives and Labour. ‘For many years this newspaper was a supporter of Hope Not Hate, an organisation

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that had admirable aims, and welcomed its writers in our pages’, the Jewish Chronicle wrote, ‘[b]ut it has now lost its claim to be taken seriously. Last year it started targeting UKIP as if it was no different to the EDL or BNP […]’153 UKIP is clearly not a fascist organisation. Indeed, as Lowles admits, ‘Farage is not a fascist and UKIP is not the BNP’. Nonetheless, ‘over the last couple of years his party has turned from a single-issue campaign group into a radical right populist party’.154 When antifascists do not even recognise it as such – the SWP reiterates that UKIP is not a fascist party155 – is this really anti-fascism? If truth be told, all this reflects the fact that anti-fascist campaign groups are waiting for the far right once more to realign. As history tells us, this will doubtless happen. In the meantime, anti-fascists have acquired significant expertise in electoral anti-fascism and it is not easy to abandon it. Moreover, where campaign groups depend on funding, identification of some kind of emerging threat is necessary for the group to outlive its opposition (BNP/EDL). However, let us not take our leave by maligning what still remains a laudable cause. In the first place, the circumstances that gave rise to the BNP and EDL have not gone away. Second, as one anti-fascist writer put it, ‘[a]nti-fascism can be tedious, unpleasant, violent, time consuming and depressing, but this is infinitely preferable to fascism’.156

Notes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

F. Wheen, ‘The Right Revs Up’, The Guardian, 13 October 1999. See Red Action, October/November 1999, vol. 4, no. 3. Fighting Talk, February 2000, no. 23, 18. See R. Hewitt, White Backlash and the Politics of Multiculturalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Fighting Talk, February 2000, no. 23, 8. See Red Action, December/January 1999/2000, vol. 4, no. 4, 5. Also see Fighting Talk, February 2000, no. 23, 8. Fighting Talk, July 2000, no. 24, 6. See Red Action, July/August 2000, vol. 4, no. 7, 3. Red Action, May/June 2001, vol. 4, no. 11, 4. Fighting Talk, May 2001, no. 25, 15. See N. Copsey, ‘Multiculturalism and the Extreme Right Challenge in Contemporary Britain’, in N.-K. Kim (ed.), Multicultural Challenges and Sustainable Democracy in Europe and East Asia, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 155–76. Red Action, July/August 2001, vol. 4, no. 12, 4. See N. Lowles, ‘Staying Focused’, Searchlight, May 2001, no. 311, 6–7. See Red Action, July/August 2001, vol. 14, no. 12, 3. See D. Renton, ‘Anti-fascism in Britain, 1997–2012’, in E. Smith and M. Worley (eds), Against The Grain: The British Far Left from 1956, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014, pp. 247–63. See The Guardian, 9 July 2001. See Socialist Worker, 14 July 2001. See Red Action, July/August 2001, vol. 14, no. 12, 12. Lowles, ‘Staying Focused’, p. 7. See D. Hann, Physical Resistance: Or, A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism, Winchester: Zero Books, 2013, p. 360.

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21 Julie Waterson died in 2012. For obituary by P. Holborrow, see The Independent, 19 December 2012. 22 Socialist Worker, 4 May 2002. 23 N. Lowles, HOPE: The Story of the Campaign that Helped Defeat the BNP, London: HOPE not Hate, 2014, p. 39. 24 M. Luft, as quoted in Lowles, HOPE, p. 33. 25 See (retrievable through Internet Wayback machine). 26 See Lowles, HOPE, p. 42. 27 M. Smith, ‘Ten Years of Loving Music and Hating Racism’, Socialist Review, July/ August 2012. 28 Anti-Nazi League circular: ‘We Need Unity in Action to Defeat the Nazis.’ 29 In September, one of the BNP’s councillors, Carol Hughes, had abstained from the council’s motion of support for Burnley Football Club’s ban on racist supporters (the BNP’s two other councillors did not attend the meeting). 30 Lowles, HOPE, p. 42. 31 See Searchlight, ‘Stop the BNP Conference Pack’, 2003, p. 3. 32 Identity, February 2004, no. 41, 8. 33 See ‘Unite Against Fascism’, Socialist Worker, 6 December 2003. 34 See The Guardian, 3 February 2004. 35 Unite Against Fascism, ‘Why We Must Act Now to Stop the BNP’, UAF Briefing Paper no. 1, UAF Conference, 26 February 2005. 36 See W. Bennett, ‘Next Steps in Campaign to Drive Back the Nazis’, Socialist Worker, 8 May 2004. 37 Ibid. 38 See peanExpendrep_18347-13541__E__N__S__W__.pdf (last viewed 22 February 2016). 39 Unite Against Fascism letter to author, dated 4 August 2004. 40 See Searchlight, September 2004, no. 351; and Unison: In Focus, monthly magazine, June 2004. 41 Lowles, HOPE, p. 49. 42 See Jewish Chronicle, 2 April 2004. 43 Antifa founding statement, 2004. c=on (last viewed 22 February 2016). 44 See Searchlight cover, July 2004, no. 349. 45 J. Tyndall, ‘Do We Need Jewish Candidates’, Spearhead, May 2004. www.spearhead. (last viewed 22 February 2016). 46 See Searchlight, December 2004, no. 354, 11. 47 Lowles, HOPE, p. 77. 48 Unite Against Fascism Briefing Paper, 26 February 2005. 49 The documentary had been originally scheduled to broadcast in May 2004 but following a request from police who feared that it might increase community tensions in the run-up to the European and local elections, it was rescheduled to August 2004. 50 See Lowles, HOPE, p. 76. 51 See Unite Against Fascism statement in response to Searchlight’s resignation. www.wha (last viewed 22 February 2016). 52 See Searchlight Letter of Resignation, dated 30 June 2005. uk/Pages/Politics/UAF.html (last viewed 22 February 2016). 53 See P. Meszaros, ‘Comment: Defeating People’s Fears is Key to Beating Racism’, Searchlight, July 2005, no. 361, 13, emphasis in original. 54 See Unite Against Fascism, Autumn 2005 newsletter. 55 See Jewish Chronicle, 15 July 2005. 56 See Jewish Socialists’ Group, ‘Open Letter to Unite Against Fascism and Searchlight’, 9 August 2005. 57 See UAF statement in response to Searchlight’s resignation. 58 Ibid.

220 Opposing fascism in the twenty-first century

59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98

Renton, ‘Anti-fascism in Britain, 1997–2012’, p. 255. Antifa Newsletter, Winter 2005. F. Dobson as quoted in Lowles, HOPE, p. 43. J. Cruddas, P. John, N. Lowles, H. Margetts, D. Rowland and S. Weir, The Far Right in London: A Challenge for Local Democracy? York: Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, 2005. Ibid., p. 23. Lowles, HOPE, p. 90. Unite Against Fascism, ‘The BNP and the 2006 Local Elections’, Election Analysis, 2006. N. Lowles, ‘Halting the Rise of the BNP’, Searchlight, September 2006, no. 375, 11. See Searchlight, December 2006, no. 378, 17. N. Lowles and P. Meszaros, ‘Beating the BNP: A Practical Approach’, in F. Grindrod and M. Rusling (eds), Stopping the Far Right: How Progressive Politics Can Tackle Political Extremism, London: Young Fabians, 2007, p. 29. See M. Collett, ‘Council Election Analysis 2007’, Identity, May 2007, no. 78, 9. See ‘Lessons from the May Elections’, Identity, June 2007, no. 79, 9. Searchlight, June 2007, no. 384, 8. See Unite Against Fascism, ‘The BNP and the 2007 Elections’, Election Analysis, 2007; and Unite Against Fascism, Summer 2007 newsletter. See Searchlight, October 2007, no. 388, 3. See ‘Fascism and Democracy – TWO CHEEKS OF THE SAME ARSE’, Organise!, magazine of the Anarchist Federation, Summer 2008, no. 70, 9. See (last viewed 22 February 2016). See No Pasaran, Antifa News, 1 May 2008, no. 1. See Antifa, ‘What we Think: Antifa Activists Interviewed by Sean Matthews from the Workers’ Solidarity Movement, Ireland’, p. 4. (last viewed 22 February 2016). See The Guardian, 3 September 2008. See No Pasaran, Antifa News, 1 May 2009, no. 3, 5. See N. Lowles, ‘Where Now?’, Searchlight, June 2008, no. 396, 4–8. N. Lowles, ‘Leaving the Comfort Zone’, Searchlight, July 2008, no. 397, 4. See Searchlight, July 2009, no. 409, 8–11. See pean-campaign-spending-final-web.pdf (last viewed 22 February 2016). See Unite Against Fascism newsletter, July 2009. See Jewish Chronicle, 3 April 2009. See Jewish Chronicle, 24 April 2009. See K. Farrow, ‘Anti-fascism isn’t Working’, Red Pepper, August 2009. See Editorial, Searchlight, July 2009, no. 409, 3. Unite Against Fascism, ‘After the European Elections … Tackling the Rise of the BNP’, UAF newsletter, July 2009. See criticisms by Farrow, ‘Anti-fascism isn’t Working’. Unite Against Fascism Supporter Letter, July 2009. Unite Against Fascism, ‘After the European Elections’. See R. Ford et al., ‘Voting for Extremists: Demographic, Attitudinal and Contextual Predictors of Support for the British National Party’, lay.aspx?DocID=20709 (last viewed 22 February 2016). See The Times, 13 June 2009. Unite Against Fascism, ‘After the European Elections’. Nick Griffin would use his maiden speech to the European Parliament to attack UAF as a violent organisation of ‘far-left criminals’. See Searchlight, July 2009, no. 409, 16–7. Unite Against Fascism, ‘After the European Elections’.

Opposing fascism in the twenty-first century 221

99 See ‘Why Nazi BNP Should have No Place in Our Democratic Culture’, UAF appeal to media workers, June 2009. 100 The Guardian, 21 October 2009. 101 See Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2009. 102 See N. Copsey and G. Macklin, ‘THE MEDIA = LIES, LIES, LIES!: The BNP and the Media in Contemporary Britain’, in N. Copsey and G. Macklin (eds), British National Party: Contemporary Perspectives, Abingdon: Routledge, 2011, pp. 81–102. 103 Daily Express, 23 October 2009. 104 Daily Mail, 23 October 2009. 105 Daily Telegraph, 23 October 2009. 106 The Sun, 23 October 2009. 107 Daily Star, 23 October 2009. 108 Daily Mirror, 23 October 2009. 109 The Guardian, 23 October 2009. 110 The Independent, 23 October 2009. 111 W. Bennett, (last viewed 22 February 2016). 112 The Times, 23 October 2009. 113 Daily Telegraph, 24 October 2009. 114 See, retrievable through Internet Wayback Machine. 115 See A. Davey, ‘Confronting a Beast: The Church of England and the British National Party’, International Journal of Public Theology, 2011, vol. 5, 1–23. 116 See N. Copsey, ‘Sustaining a Mortal Blow? The British National Party and the 2010 General and Local Elections’, Patterns of Prejudice, 2012, vol. 46, no. 1, 16–39. 117 M. Collins, ‘The Irrelevant Far Right’, HOPE not Hate magazine, May–June 2015, no. 19, 31. 118 See Community Security Trust, Elections Report: Thursday 6 May 2010, p. 5. 119 See dums/past-elections-and-referendums/uk-general-elections/2010-non-party-campaignerspending? (last viewed 22 February 2016). 120 See Searchlight, April 2010, no. 418, 22–3. 121 Copsey, ‘Sustaining a Mortal Blow?’, 34. 122 Ibid. 123 Ibid. 124 Ibid. 125 Renton, ‘Anti-fascism in Britain, 1997–2012’, p. 258. 126 NorSCARF dates from the 1970s, see (last viewed 22 February 2016). 127 Lowles, HOPE, pp. 178–82. 128 See Unite Against Fascism Briefing, ‘BNP Meltdown in 2011 Elections’. 129 Editorial, Searchlight, May 2011, no. 431, 4. 130 See ‘Seven Anti-facists Face Jail for an Attack on Two “Nazis”’, 29 June 2011, www. html (last viewed 22 February 2016). 131 See ‘Antifa Terror Gang is Smashed’, 10 October 2011, newsdetail.php?newsid=1339 (last viewed 22 February 2016). 132 See ‘Why take direct action against fascism?’, antifascistnetwork.files.wordpress. com/2013/03/why-take-direct-action-against-fascism.pdf (last viewed 22 February 2016). 133 See Phil Dickens, ‘Why no platform is still relevant, and the trouble with liberal “antifascism”’, 1 December 2013, (last viewed 22 February 2016). 134 See a Workers Solidarity Movement policy statement, ‘No Platform for Fascists’, flag. (last viewed 22 February 2016).

222 Opposing fascism in the twenty-first century

135 See S. Ditum, ‘“No Platform” was Once Reserved for Violent Fascists. Now it’s Being Used to Silence Debate’, New Statesman, 18 March 2014. 136 Unite Against Fascism circular, ‘Stopping the Nazi BNP in the 2010 Elections’. 137 For an obsessive view on the HnH–Searchlight split, see Larry O’Hara, ‘Supping with the Devil? UKIP & Hope Not Hate’, 20 March 2013, sport-mainmenu-28/13-searchlighthopenothate/searchlight-hope-not-hate.html (last viewed 22 February 2016). 138 See Nick Lowles, ‘We say ‘a plague on both their houses’ when looking at both far-right and Islamist extremism’, 25 November 2013, (last viewed 22 February 2016). 139 See ‘Tackling extremism in the UK’, December 2013, ds/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/263181/ETF_FINAL.pdf (last viewed 22 February 2016). 140 See Liz Fekete, ‘Anti-extremism or anti-fascism?’, 21 November 2013, uk/news/anti-extremism-or-anti-fascism/ (last viewed 22 February 2016). 141 See Phil, ‘Why no platform is still relevant, and the trouble with liberal “anti-fascism”’, 5 January 2013, scism-05012013 (last viewed 22 February 2016). 142 See Sabby Dhalu, ‘A response to the Searchlight “Fear and Hope” report: Celebrate and defend our multicultural society’, 10 March 2011, onse-to-the-searchlight-fear-and-hope-report/ (last viewed 22 February 2016). 143 See Aftab Ali and Jamie Merrill, ‘HOPE Not Hate Chief Executive, Nick Lowles, “No-platformed” by NUS for being “Islamophobic”’, 18 February 2016, www.indep (last viewed 22 February 2016). 144 See James Bloodworth, ‘Why is the Left So Blinkered to Islamic Extremism?’, 28 June 2013, (last viewed 22 February 2016). 145 See Unite Against Fascism circular, ‘The EDL: Violent Racists and Fascists’. 146 See Daily Mail, 21 March 2010. 147 Socialist Workers’ Party, pre-conference bulletin, October 2014, no. 1, 11. 148 J. Busher, The Making of Anti-Muslim Protest: Grassroots Activism in the English Defence League, Abingdon: Routledge, 2016, p. 13. 149 See P. Hayes, ‘UKIP Haters: Desperately Seeking Fascism’, newsite/article/ukip-haters-desperately-seeking-fascism/14985#.VssM8-l0E9Y (last viewed 22 February 2016). 150 See HnH’s ‘Purple Rain blog’, (last viewed 22 February 2016). 151 On Stand Up to UKIP, see (last viewed 22 February 2016). 152 See Nick Lowles, ‘UKIP have proscribed HOPE not hate’, 23 September 2013, (last viewed 22 February 2016). 153 See ‘Hatred Not Hope’, Jewish Chronicle, 17 December 2015. 154 N. Lowles, ‘Straight Out of the Far Right Playbook’, HOPE not Hate e-newsletter, 15 February 2016. 155 Socialist Workers’ Party, pre-conference bulletin, October 2014, no. 1, 12. 156 M. Testa, Militant Anti-Fascism: A Hundred Years of Resistance, Edinburgh: A.K. Press, 2015, p. 318.


The original edition of this book unearthed a much under-studied and absorbing area of British political history. Considering the imbalance in existing literature and anti-fascism’s historical significance, it was long overdue. Now, as then, anti-fascism was understood in both active and passive terms, and it was from this broad conceptualisation that the story of British anti-fascism over the course of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first has been told. Within this frame of reference, our particular concerns lay with the range of anti-fascist opposition, its organisation, strategic positions, and the contribution that anti-fascism made to the political weakness of British fascism. As we have seen, the anti-fascist tradition in Britain dates as far back as the 1920s, when it first established itself as a reactive phenomenon. Ever since, the pattern of anti-fascism’s historic development has been determined by this overarching characteristic. This means quite simply that the scale of the anti-fascist response has been determined by the nature of its stimulus – ‘fascism’, however understood by the anti-fascist dramatis personae. Accordingly, responses to the relatively insignificant forerunners to Mosley’s Blackshirts were of small scale, for the most part (though not entirely) restricted to London, and largely exclusive to the radical left. Not surprisingly, the scope of the opposition to British fascism then assumed far wider dimensions when, after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the stimulus hardened. In consequence, the labour movement isolated Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists as a serious threat, especially after Mosley had received influential backing from the Rothermere press. All the same, the Labour Party dismissed out of hand joint action with the radical left and as a result the British labour movement, like its German counterpart, failed to form a solid, unbroken anti-fascist front. Nonetheless, left-wing militants and moderates still came together in grassroots ad hoc committees, and thus a locally oriented popular (‘united front’) anti-fascism emerged, as multiple examples from 1934 reveal. This was the case despite an

224 Conclusion

organisational structure to anti-fascism that remained loose and ill-defined particularly when, for a variety of reasons that we will not rehearse here, the Communist-sponsored Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities wound down in 1935. Thereafter, what widened the scope of activist-oriented anti-fascism was the emergence of fascist-related anti-Semitism. This extended anti-fascist activity beyond radical-left groups to involve Jewish groups in a bloc of militant opposition. Though not exclusively focused on London’s East End, it was in this district where concerted opposition to Mosley’s fascism peaked at the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ in October 1936. After 1936–7, the scale of anti-fascist activity did diminish, but opposition lasted to the outbreak of war and, following a brief pause, resumed again in 1943 with popular hostility to Mosley’s release from internment. It should also be borne in mind that after 1935 what widened opposition to Mosley still further was the intervention of another important actor in the anti-fascist arena: the state. Its open intervention came about first through the Public Order Act, which attempted to contain the threat of fascist (and left-wing) extremism, before assuming greater force in 1940 when the British Union of Fascists was proscribed and internment commenced. The breadth of active anti-fascist opposition was then cut by fascism’s postHolocaust cultural antipathy, which made the possibility of Mosleyite fascism reviving to any significant degree in the immediate post-war period negligible. Under these circumstances, the scope of opposition initially narrowed to a core of militant Jewish anti-fascists who post-Holocaust were understandably angered when Mosley’s followers resumed activity in their districts. Between 1947–8 and then again during 1962–3, as Mosley’s profile was raised, opposition extended to numerous other objectors, but even then opposition remained localised and largely confined to London. It was the 1970s before popular anti-fascism would re-emerge on a national scale – the point at which the National Front seemed on the cusp of breaking out of the fascist fringe and into mainstream political respectability. Undoubtedly, the main vehicle for anti-fascist popular participation was the AntiNazi League, which for the first time in anti-fascist history, was a union of the radical and moderate left in one national organisation. However, as we have stressed, opposition to the NF involved more than the ANL, and in this respect the intervention of the media in the anti-fascist arena was also significant. Where previously the media had responded to fascism largely through publicity boycotts of Mosley, in the 1970s the national and local media more actively embraced the anti-fascist cause and did so to marked effect. Following the electoral collapse of the Front in 1979 and the general fall in fascist activity thereafter, the relative quantity of anti-fascist activity declined in the 1980s, though campaigns such as ‘Harrington Out’ and the formation of Anti-Fascist Action indicated that anti-fascism had continuing resonance. The short-lived success of the British National Party in 1993–4 against the backdrop of sizeable electoral support for extreme-right parties in continental Europe provided the stimulus for a further resurgence of popular anti-fascism in the 1990s, which manifested itself in a variety of organisations, not just AFA, but also including a relaunched ANL, and

Conclusion 225

a new black-led initiative, the Anti-Racist Alliance. Yet in line with the historical pattern, once the BNP had lost its council seat and fascism returned to the margins, the stimulus was removed and popular anti-fascism subsequently abated. At the same time, with the BNP’s withdrawal from the streets, AFA’s militant anti-fascism was left redundant. The need to adapt to the challenges presented by a ‘modernising’ BNP, intent on normalising itself at the ballot box, then rendered older methods of physical force anti-fascism increasingly obsolete. The first decade of the twenty-first century saw popular anti-fascism once more re-emerge, this time in the form of an increasingly elaborate electoral anti-fascism, which reached its high point of sophistication in 2010. All of this was indicative of a cyclical pattern to anti-fascist activity where in terms of popular participation, anti-fascism had undergone periodic highs and lows. The 1930s, the 1970s, the early to mid-1990s, and the 2000s were all periods when public participation peaked and drew in tens of thousands of people, not just in terms of protesting on the streets, but also in attending cultural events, participating in mass doorstep leaflet drops, building local tactical alliances, reconnecting voters, engaging in online activity and so on. It should not be forgotten, however, that even in the absence of mass displays of popular anti-fascism, anti-fascist activity has been ever present, with ‘professional’ anti-fascists continuing to infiltrate and gather intelligence on the far right, thereby disrupting its organisational capacity. One of the more significant findings to emerge from this comprehensive study is that it is clearly wrong to see anti-fascism simply in terms of mass mobilisations and physical confrontations. Evocative images of fascist and anti-fascist street confrontations might still dominate everyday perceptions (revisited more recently in the activities of the English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism), but as this study has shown, the operation of anti-fascism has been subject to far greater variation. Whilst mass demonstrations and militant confrontations have been important recurring features, we must remember that when pieced together, the overall picture of anti-fascism has been complicated by many different activities and strategies. This complex picture has been further differentiated by a plurality of organisations and marked disagreements in tactical approach. As we have seen, the primary division has been between radical anti-fascism and ‘legal’ anti-fascism which in the 1930s separated the militant left from the official line of the Labour Party, and which during the 1930s, 1940s and 1960s divided Jewish anti-fascist groups from those bodies sponsored by the leaders of Anglo-Jewry. However, this strategic division was often blurred. Some ostensibly ‘militant groups’ (for example, the 43 Group) have called on the state to legislate against fascism/ racism, whilst other more ‘moderate’ anti-fascist organisations (for example, the post-war Communist Party) have had grassroots activists engage in militant opposition. Moreover, the question of opposing fascism with violence has not only set one organisation apart from another, but has also resulted in conflict and division within organisations, as the experience of the Communist Party in the 1930s and Anti-Fascist Action in the 1980s reveals. It may well have been the case that anti-fascism came across as a unified whole to its fascist antagonists, but as all

226 Conclusion

the preceding chapters show, the fact remains that opposition to British fascism has been far from homogeneous. This brings us to our final area for review: what impact has anti-fascism had on British fascism? Clearly anti-fascism exerted considerable effects on the fortunes of British fascism in the pre-1945 era. By actively disrupting fascist activities, militant anti-fascism restricted the BUF’s capacity to propagate its ideology and invited fascist opponents to discredit themselves by engaging in confrontational disorder. Negative association with violence and extremism denied the British Union of Fascists political legitimacy and discouraged potential support. The BUF then had to fall back on visceral anti-Semitism, which spatially restricted its support to isolated areas such as East London where anti-Semitism had some degree of local legitimacy. Second, the Labour Party’s ‘legal’ anti-fascism reinforced the existing liberaldemocratic consensus and helped sustain the prevailing cultural exclusion of political extremism and violence. Here, we should not forget the contribution made by anti-fascist Labour-controlled public authorities which additionally helped isolate Mosley by denying the BUF public space to disseminate its ideology. Third, the anti-fascist activity of the state also played its part in marginalising the Blackshirts, first by pressuring the media not to give Mosley undue publicity, second by curbing fascist activity through the Public Order Act and, finally, albeit on national security grounds, by proscribing the BUF and interning its leading members. After 1945, the incorporation of anti-fascism into British national identity proved the most decisive factor in fascism’s continued marginalisation. This was the overarching context in which Mosleyite fascism made efforts to rebuild and so it is in this context that the role of active anti-fascism in the immediate post-war era should be equally judged. What active anti-fascism achieved in the period 1946–66 was further marginalisation of a political ideology that was already contained by the strength of passive anti-fascist feeling in post-war British national identity. As we saw, however, the problem with this ‘patriotic’ anti-fascism is that it could easily sit alongside cultures of racism, and in the 1970s the respectability of anti-black racism provided the NF with the cloak to hide its Nazism. Yet by variously exposing the Front as a ‘front for Nazis’, a message channelled through the mainstream media and through activist groups, anti-fascism successfully appealed to popular anti-Nazi sentiment and so dispossessed the Front of political and social legitimacy. However, popular racism went largely unchallenged and having supplanted the NF, the BNP was able to exploit a culture of ‘respectable’ racism first in the 1990s, and then later in the 2000s around issues of asylum and immigration. Rather predictably, the BNP’s electoral rise was met once again with ANL-style appeals to popular anti-Nazism. If this encouraged more anti-racists to vote, it struggled to win over the hearts and minds of white working-class voters who were alienated by mainstream politics, particularly by New Labour’s preoccupation with the concerns of those in ‘Middle England’ living in ‘super-marginal’ seats. What did labelling the BNP as fascists and racists do to address the concerns of a dispossessed white working class without mainstream political representation? In this context, alternative, community-based anti-fascist strategies, which challenged the

Conclusion 227

BNP’s use of race to express working-class grievance, had more impact at local level, creating space for Labour to re-engage with those voters who may have been thinking about voting for the BNP. Nonetheless, there was little evidence to suggest that anti-fascism inhibited repeat BNP voting. In that regard, what did for the BNP in the end was the role that the party itself played in its own demise (occurring at a time when UKIP’s tough line on immigration was also becoming increasingly popular), but this is not to say that UKIP inflicted more damage on the BNP than anyone else. In the original edition of the book I took my leave with a series of questions. One concerned how anti-fascists should respond to the emergence of a far-right populist party that immunises itself against charges of Nazism and consolidates a mainstream presence. Improbable as it seemed at the time, the BNP would come very close to consolidating such a presence in 2009/10. What of UKIP? Even if ‘[t]he party I founded has become a Frankenstein’s monster’, as the international historian Alan Sked remarked to The Guardian (26 May 2014), can anti-fascists meaningfully oppose parties that are not (or not yet) right-wing extremist? Also, in thinking that multiculturalism might marginalise fascism to the point that the need for anti-fascist activity might disappear altogether, I did strike an overly optimistic note at the end of the original edition. On further reflection, it is quite clear that, notwithstanding the minority that is downright hostile, most people in Britain’s multicultural society remain either ambivalent about it, or sceptical towards it. In a 2016 survey, around one-third of (English) respondents were very positive towards multicultural society (leaving two-thirds, the majority, that were not as positive). Whilst the percentage of people who were most strongly hostile to immigration and a multicultural society was put at just 8 per cent (down from 13 per cent in a similar survey in 2011), those who saw Muslims as a uniquely different and problematic religious minority was closer to 45 per cent.1 The first edition of the book pre-dated the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and 7 July 2005, published before large swaths of British society held negative attitudes towards Islam. Then the possibility of a far-right anti-Islamic street movement was never in the offing and it did seem that the days of street-based counter-mobilisations were long gone. I am, of course, not privy to the future, but past experience tells us that as long as people remain receptive to potentially threatening forms of nationalism, anti-fascism will endure, no doubt adapting and redefining itself to meet future challenges posed by twenty-first century far-right extremism. ‘When one thinks of all the people who support or have supported Fascism’, George Orwell wrote, ‘one stands amazed at their diversity’2 The same holds true for anti-fascism, and fortunately for Britain’s liberal democracy, anti-fascists are, and have been, far greater in their number.

Notes 1 See (last viewed 8 March 2016). 2 From ‘Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War’, England Your England and Other Essays (1953), available online at (last viewed 29 February 2016).


Note: ‘n’ denotes chapter notes. 43 Group 78–9, 82, 83, 85–7, 89, 90–2, 108n80 62 Group/62 Committee 98, 99–100, 101–2, 103, 111–12 635 Group 199–200 Abbott, Diane, MP 166, 193 Aberdeen 62–3 Action (BUF newspaper) 65 Action Against Racism Committee 121 Acton Anti-Fascist Committee 112 Adams, H. (Building Trade Workers) 23 Adams, Rolan, murder in racist attack 166, 167 Alderman, Geoffrey (historian) 140, 205 Alexander, Juliet (journalist) 136 Ali, Azad (UAF vice-chair) 216 All Faiths For One Race 120, 147n66 All Lambeth Anti-Racist Movement 127 All Lewisham Campaign against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF) 122–3 All London Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee (ARAFCC) 121–2, 127, 133 Allaun, Frank, MP 138 Allen, Dave (comedian, ANL supporter) 126 Alternative, The (Mosley) 88 Anarchist Federation 196, 203 Anderson, Gerald 31 Anderson, Ian (NF candidate) 117 Anti-Apartheid Movement 166

Anti-Defamation Centre 102 anti-extremism 216 Antifa 196, 200, 204, 214 Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) 153, 157, 158–64, 167, 168, 172, 173, 177–8, 181; anti-racism film event 188; against Blood and Honour at Waterloo 170–1; decline 189 Anti-Fascist Bulletins (Anti-Fascist Research Group) 113 Anti-Fascist Campaign Committee 12 anti-fascist committees (AFCs) 120–4, 127, 132, 133 Anti-Fascist Democratic Action 134 Anti-Fascist League (AFL) 18 Anti-Fascist Network (AFN) 214 Anti-Fascist Research Group 112–14 Anti-Nazi League (ANL) 111, 126–33, 135, 137–45, 173, 189–90; against BNP 170–72, 174, 176, 179, 184n121; decline 151, 152, 181; merger 194, 199; race issues 192; relaunch 167–70, 192–3 Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) 165–7, 168, 169, 172, 176, 181 anti-Semitism 37–9, 40–1, 44–8, 55, 58, 69, 199; and the ARA 167; NCCL activity 67–8; and the NF 115, 129; post-WWII 76, 77, 79, 81 ARAfest music festival 166–7 Artists’ International 26 Ashe, Geoffrey (YSM supporter) 98

Index 229

Ashton-under-Lyne by-election (1931) 8 Asian communities 134, 158–9, 167, 170, 181, 189–90; and the BNP 162, 164, 193, 198, 207; and the NF 114, 119–20, 125, 134, 143, 144, 158 Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen (AJEX) 77–8, 87, 89–90, 92, 95, 97, 172 Association of Jewish Friendly Societies 48, 64 Association of Jewish Youth 51 Austria 16, 187 Azam, Mohammed (Labour councillor) 193 Bambery, Chris (SWP member) 168, 169 Barking, East London 210, 212–13, 215 Barnsley 212 Bass, Alfie (actor, ANL supporter) 126 Battle of Cable Street 7–8, 37, 51–6 Battle of Lewisham 124–6 Battle of Waterloo 170–1, 184n123 Bean, John (BNP and NLP member) 94, 104 Beauchamp, Kay (Liberation London Secretary) 116, 146n31 Beckett, John (BUF organiser) 18, 34n86, 55, 58 Beckman, Morris 77–8, 79, 85, 86, 92, 106n8 Bedford 53 Beishon, Dr John (North London Polytechnic Director) 155 Bellamy, Richard Reynell 20, 52, 58 Benewick, Robert 6–7 Bengali East End community 133–4 Benn, Tony, MP 128 Bennett, Robert (BNP member) 191 Bennett, Weyman (ANL member and UAF joint secretary) 188, 194, 195, 209, 217 Bermondsey, south London 60–2 Bernerd, Geoffrey (43 Group joint chairman) 79, 85, 91 Bethell, James (journalist) 209 Bethnal Green, London 37–8, 46, 55, 63, 77, 82, 86, 106n31, 108n80 Bidney, Harold (62 Group member) 98, 101–2 Bidwell, Sydney, MP 116, 126 Birchall, Sean 153, 161, 170–1 Birmingham 124–5 black communities 124, 134, 144, 149n144, 158–9, 166–7, 179–80; and the NF 122–3, 125, 144; and the Union Movement 93–4, 95 Black Liaison Group 166 Blackburn 121, 146n54

Blackshirt, The (BUF newspaper) 13–15 Blair, Tony, MP 174, 187 Blood and Honour 161, 170–1, 214 Blue State Digital (marketing company) 205, 211 Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) 39, 41, 44–8, 52, 64–6, 77–8, 87–8, 95, 97, 102, 103; against BNP 196, 205–6; against NF 115, 120, 139, 150n190; and UCAR 173–74 Bowie, David 131 Bradbury, Malcolm 154 Bradford 112, 160, 189–90, 196–8 Bragg, Melvyn (broadcaster, ANL supporter) 126 Bramley, Ted (London Communist Party Secretary) 19 Brick Lane, East London 164, 171 Brighton 89 Bristol 18, 48, 81, 85, 87, 113 British Anti-War and Anti-Fascist Movement 27 British Anti-War Movement 16, 21, 23 British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) 179; Open Space 163; Question Time 208–9, 211, 215 British Council of Churches 128 British Democratic Party (BDP) 156, 157 British Fascism Explained (pamphlet) 17 British Fascisti (BF) 1–3 British Fascists (BF) 3–5, 6 British League of Ex-Servicemen 68, 77, 78, 79–80, 81, 85, 86 British Movement (BM) 151, 156, 157 British National Party (BNP): 1940s 67; 1960s 99, 100, 101, 103–4; 1980s 151, 156–7, 160, 162; 1990s 162, 164, 166, 167, 168, 170, 171, 174–9, 180, 181; 2000s 180, 187–9, 190–8, 199–200, 201–6, 207–14 British Union of Democrats 46 British Union of Fascists (BUF) 1, 8–9, 68–70, 71n34; 1932 8–9; 1933 8–10, 13–15, 17, 18, 29, 31, 66; 1934 15–26, 29, 40, 43; 1935 30–1, 37; 1936 7–8, 37–42, 44–6, 48–9, 51–8, 65, 66, 69; 1937 55, 58–60, 62, 65, 69; 1938–1939 58, 62, 63, 65, 69, 73n130; 1940–1943 66–8; 1945 77 British Workers’ Party for National Unity 85, 87 Britons’ Vigilantes’ Action League 78 Brixton, south London 131, 133 Brockway, Fenner 10, 16, 23, 50, 52–3, 99, 116, 126, 146n30

230 Index

Brockwell Park, south London 166–7, 173 Brons, Andrew, MEP (BNP member) 182n27, 205, 206, 207, 210, 211 Brooke, Henry (Home Secretary) 96 Burgess, Victor (Union for British Freedom leader) 81 Burnley 189, 190–1, 192, 193, 194, 200, 213, 219n29 Burton Dancy, E. (NUCF organiser) 3 Bury St Edmonds 159 Bushell, Garry 163, 183n69 Busher, Joel 217 Cable Street Beat 161 Callinicos, Alex (SWP member) 125 Camden Town, London 88–9 Campaign against Racism and Fascism (CARF) 121, 133–4, 143, 165, 172 Campaign Against Racism in the Media (CARM) 136, 137–8 Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament 98 Captain X (BoD ‘mole’ in BUF) 66 CARF (newspaper) 121, 133–4, 143, 165, 172 Carnival Against Racism 131 Cesarani, David (historian) 41, 140 Challenge Club, YCL Jewish branch 41 Channel Four (TV broadcaster) 179; Edge of the City 198; Other Face of Terror, The 156 Chapel Street Market, London 152–3 Charlton, Jack (football manager, ANL supporter) 126 Charnley, John (BUF branch organiser) 42 Chesterton, A.K. (BUF member and NF Chairman) 22, 105 Church of England 174–5, 209, 212 Chuter Ede, James (Home Secretary) 78, 80, 83, 88, 92 Citrine, Walter (TUC Secretary) 20, 24 Clapton, Eric 131 Clark, Janet 40 class against class principle 9, 27 Class War 158, 159 Clear Light, The (NUCF newspaper) 2–3 Cliff, Tony (SWP member) 167 Clough, Brian (football manager, ANL supporter) 126 Clutterbuck, Richard 117 Cockburn, Claud (CPGB reporter) 29–30 Cohen, Willie (London YCL Secretary) 49 Cold War 83 Collett, Mark (BNP member) 202 Combat 18 173, 185n134 Comintern (Communist International) 5, 9, 13, 43, 65

Commonwealth (group) 85 communism, early anti-fascism 1, 2 Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB): 1920s 4–7; 1930–1933 8, 9–10, 11, 12, 13–15, 18–20; 1934 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27–30; 1935 30–1, 43–4; 1936 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 47–51, 55–6; 1937–1939 59–63, 65–6, 75n181; 1940s 39, 67–9, 78, 79, 81–5, 90; 1960s 96, 101, 103; 1970s 114, 118, 123–24, 128 Communist Solar System, The (Labour Party list) 13, 16 Community Alliance for Police Accountability (CAPA) 159 Community Security Trust (CST) 145n12 Conservative Party: 1920s 6; 1930s 8; 1940s 77; 1970s 114, 143–4, 145; 1990s 174, 179, 180; 2000s 194 Considine, John (NF defector) 137 Cooper, Terence (NSM member) 111–2 Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities 22–31, 38, 40, 43, 80 Corbyn, Jeremy, MP 121–2, 158, 161 Coronation Street (TV programme) 191 council funding of anti-fascism 160 Cox, Baroness 156 Craft, Stuart (IWCA candidate) 190 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994 178, 186n162 Cross, Colin 103 Cruddas, Jon, MP 200–1, 202 Cullen, Stephen 15, 30, 36n149, 42 Dagenham, East London 200, 202, 210 Daily Express 25, 180 Daily Herald 1, 2, 27, 50; van hijacking 6 Daily Mail 15, 16, 20, 156, 163 Daily Mirror 15, 25, 128, 171, 191, 202, 203, 211–12 Daily Star, The 207 Daily Worker (CPGB newspaper) 8, 14, 19, 21, 24, 25, 26, 29, 38, 39, 49, 50, 59, 61, 62, 67, 85 Deakin, Nicholas 52, 53 Democracy and Fascism (CPGB pamphlet) 11–12 Democracy versus Dictatorship (Labour Party pamphlet) 10–11 Desai, Unmesh (AFA member) 159 Devine, Pat (CPGB organiser) 63 Dewsbury 162 Dhalu, Sabby (NAAR member) 194 Did Six Million Really Die? - The Truth at Last (NF pamphlet) 115 Dight, John (JDC Chairman) 102

Index 231

Dimitrov, Georgi (CPGB member) 43 Dobson, Frank, MP 200 Docklands Recorder (newspaper) 175 Dollfuss, Engelbert (Chancellor of Austria) 16 Donaldson, Ian Stuart (Blood and Honour leader) 161 Douglas, Clifford Hugh (economist) 17, 34n74 Down with Fascism (NJC pamphlet) 13 Driberg, Tom, MP 85, 107n48 Dukes, Paul 101–2

Forewarned Against Fascism (Anti-Fascist Democratic Action circular) 134 Fountaine, Andrew (NF member) 112 France: anti-fascism, 1930s 43; Front National 111, 145n2, 167, 191 freedom of speech 49, 80, 88, 97, 123, 214 Freedom Party, Austria 187 Freeson, Reginald, MP 117 Front National, France 111, 145n2, 167, 191 Fuse (North London Polytechnic student magazine) 153–4

Ealing, London 141–2 Earl’s Court, London 65 East Ender (newspaper) 136, 137 East London Advertiser (newspaper) 175 Eatwell, Roger 136 Edge of the City (Channel Four TV programme) 198 Edinburgh 18, 53, 54 Elliot, W. (Men’s Co-op Guild) 23 English Defence League (EDL) 216–17 Essex, Maurice (43 Group sponsor) 79, 98, 102 European Economic Community (EEC), NF opposition 113–14, 119 Evening News 15, 16 Evening Standard 173 ‘Exposing the Hatemongers’ (BoD leaflet) 120 Ex-Servicemen’s Movement Against Fascism 48, 49, 50, 53, 64, 74n165

Gable, Gerry (Searchlight research director) 101, 112, 113, 117, 162, 163, 216 Gallacher, W., MP 23 Galloway, George, MP 199 Game, Sir Philip (Metropolitan Police Commissioner) 52 Gately, Kevin, death in Red Lion Square demonstration 116 General Strike (1926) 5, 6 German, Lindsey (Socialist Review editor) 169 German Communist Party 9 German Social Democrats 11–12 Germany 21, 76; see also Nazi Party Gilbert, Tony (CPGB member) 116, 146n31 Gilfillan, Mark 54 Gillingham 62 Gilmore, Sir John (Home Secretary) 24, 57 Gilroy, Paul 130, 131 Glasgow 21, 81, 112 Godfrey, Edward (British National Party leader) 67 Godsiff, Roger (Mayor of Lewisham) 123 Goodman, Charlie 53 Grant, Ted (RCP member) 84 Greater Britain Movement 101, 103 Greater London Assembly (GLA) 188, 196, 203, 210 Greater London Council (GLC) 122, 136–7, 138, 158 Green, Harry (AJEX member) 96, 98 Green Band (NWF weekly) 17 Green Shirts 17, 21, 46, 48 Greenman, Leon (Holocaust survivor) 172 Greenwich, south London 165 Griffin, Nick (BNP leader) 159, 180, 187, 198, 200, 203–4, 205, 206, 207–9, 210, 211, 213–14, 215, 220n96 Griffin, Roger 11, 144 Griffiths, Derek (comedian, ANL supporter) 126

Far Right in London: A Challenge for Local Democracy?, The (JRRT report) 200 Farage, Nigel, MEP 218 Farrakhan, Louis (US black separatist) 167 Fascism Inside England (Mullally) 76–7 Fascist Threat to Britain, The (CPBG pamphlet) 81–2 Fascists in Britain, The (Cross) 103 fast call-out scheme tactic 100 Federation of Democrats 61, 74n145 Fekete, Liz 216 fifth column 66 Fight the BNP, Rebuild the Labour Party (pamphlet) 202 Fighting Talk (AFA magazine) 163, 177, 179, 189 Flag Group (NF) 159–60 Flamberg, Gerry (43 Group joint chairman) 79 Ford, Glyn, MEP 162

232 Index

Groser, Father 48 Grunwald, Henry (BoD President) 206 Guardian, The 172, 187, 227 Hackney, London 46, 50, 81, 83, 165; Ridley Road 81–3, 85, 86, 92–3, 97, 100 Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee 133 Hackney Committee Against Racism 132 Hackney Gazette 136 Haider, Jörg (Freedom Party, Austria) 187 Hain, Peter (ANL founder member) 126, 140, 167, 169, 208 Haldane Society 80 Halifax 200 Hall, James, MP 48–9 Hall, Stuart 179–80 Hall, Tony, cartoonist 98 Hamm, Jeffrey (BUF member) 68, 77, 89, 93, 94, 95 Hann, Dave 160 Hargrave, John (Green Shirts founder) 17 Haringey, London 121 Harrington, Patrick (NF activist) 153–6, 166 Harris, Alexander (Ex-Servicemen’s Movement Against Fascism Chairman) 48 Harris, Nigel (SWP member) 126 Hayes, Billy (UAF treasurer) 194 Hebden Bridge 2 Henderson, Arthur (Labour Party secretary) 16, 24 Hewitt, Roger 188 Hill, Ray (Searchlight informant) 156–7, 169, 182n29 History Man, The (Bradbury) 154 Hitler, Adolf 9, 12 Hodge, Margaret, MP 201, 212 Hodgson, Keith 66 Holbeck Moor, Leeds 41 Holborrow, Paul (SWP activist) 126, 140, 167, 168, 169 Holdsworth, Ethel Carnie (NUCF founder) 2 Holocaust 76, 77, 115, 135, 172, 175 HOPE not Hate (HnH) 195, 201, 202, 204, 205, 207, 211–12, 213, 215–16; against UKIP 217–18 Hornsey Journal 136 Hove 143 ‘How to Spot a Red Teacher’ (YNF leaflet) 131 Howard, Michael (Home Secretary) 174 Huddersfield 113 Hughes, Carol (BNP councillor) 219n29

Hull 42 Hulme, Manchester 41 Hunter, Neil (British Anti-War Movement Secretary) 21 Husbands, Chris 135 Huxley, Aldous 39 Hyde, Douglas (journalist) 67, 85 Hyde Park, London, BUF activity 23–9 Hydleman, Michael (Liberal Party candidate) 94 immigration 38, 94, 103, 105, 114, 119–20, 125, 141, 180, 198, 227 Independent Labour Party (ILP) 6, 10, 12, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 26, 29, 50, 65, 112 Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) 178, 188, 189, 190 Indian Workers’ Association (IWA) 141, 172, 176 International Labour Defence (ILD) 13, 14 International Marxist Group (IMG) 115, 116, 117–18, 119 International Socialists (IS) (later Socialist Workers’ Party) 112, 114–15, 116, 117, 119, 131 Irving, David 101 Islam 227 Islamist extremism 216 Isle of Dogs, East London 170, 174 Islington, London 152, 154, 162 Israeli War of Independence 92 Italian fascism 1–2, 7, 11, 58 Jacobs, Joe (East End activist) 29, 44, 49, 55, 63 Jasper, Lee (ARA Vice-Chairman) 167 Jewish Aid Committee of Britain (JACOB) 102–03 Jewish Chronicle (JC) 39, 41, 44–5, 51, 87, 91, 97, 115, 140, 199, 218 Jewish community 54, 140, 203, 297; synagogue attacks 101–2; see also 43 Group; anti-Semitism; Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD); Jewish Chronicle Jewish Defence Committee (JDC) 45, 86–7, 89, 90–1, 92, 94–5, 100, 101, 102–3 Jewish Labour Council 46 Jewish People’s Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism (JPC) 46–9, 64 Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) 199 Jews in Britain, The (BoD pamphlet) 45 Johnstone, H. (PDF organiser) 2 Joint Committee Against Racialism 127–8

Index 233

Jordan, Colin (NSM and White Defence League leader) 94, 95–6, 99, 101, 105, 112 160 Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) 175, 200 Joyce, William, (BF member) 4, 32n19, 58 Joynson-Hicks, William (Home Secretary) 6 jumping the pitch tactic 97 Kane, Jim (AFA activist) 162 Karlin, Miriam (actress, ANL supporter) 126, 140 Keighley, Bradford 198 Kensington, London 91 Kent 53, 182n28, 214 Kidd, Ronald (NCCL member) 40 Killing the Nazi Menace (SWP booklet) 168 King’s Cross Co-operative Society 26 Kingsley Read, John (NF chairman) 118–19, 137, 146n53 Kinnock, Neil, MP 126, 138, 140 Labour Friends of Searchlight (LFOS) 200–1, 202 Labour League of Ex-Servicemen 5, 7 Labour League of Youth 19, 21, 26, 29, 39 Labour Party: 1920s 2, 3, 4–5, 6; 1931-1933 8–9, 10–13; 1934 11, 16, 19, 20, 22–5, 27–9, 31, 38; 1935 43, 44; 1936 11, 38, 41, 42, 44, 46, 50, 56–8, 69; 1937 59, 61; 1940s 66, 67, 78, 80, 83–4, 92, 93, 108n87; 1970s 116, 119, 120–3, 126, 128, 138–9, 140–1, 144–5; 1980s 158–9; 1990s 163, 164, 166, 167, 168, 169, 175, 176; 2000s 187–8, 190, 193, 194, 200–3, 207, 212–13, 215 Lancashire 30 Lansbury, George, MP 38 Laski, Neville, (BoD President) 45, 46, 47 Le Pen, Jean-Marie (leader of Front National, France) 167, 191 League of Anti-Fascists 103–4 League of Empire Loyalists 103, 105 Leamington Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Committee 127 Leatham, John (North London Polytechnic student) 155 Lebzelter, Gisela 38 Lecomber, Tony (BNP member) 177–9 Leeds 41, 90, 91, 112, 152–3, 204 Leeds Anti-Fascist Action 160 Leeds United FC 160 Left Book Club 40, 59, 62 Legal and Judicial Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party 80

Legion of Blue and White Shirts 46 Leicester 22, 30, 117–18, 141, 150n190 Leicester Mercury 137, 150n190 Lestor, Joan, MP 117, 127–8 Levertoff, Olga (YSM secretary) 101 Levine, Maurice (Jewish communist) 29 Levy, Prof. H. 23 Levy, Wally (62 Group member) 98 Lewis, David 16, 57 Lewisham, south-east London 122–3, 124, 125, 135, 144 Liberal Party 92, 94, 122, 125, 128, 143 Liberation (formerly Movement for Colonial Freedom) 115–16 Liberty (formerly NCCL) 166, 175 Lifting the Lid off the Anti-Nazi League (NF booklet) 139 Lightfoot, Andrew (BNP activist) 182n28 Linehan, Thomas 70 Lintorn-Orman, Rotha (British Fascisti leader) 3 Liverpool 54, 62, 81, 112, 115 Livingstone, Ken, MP 166, 169, 194 Lloyd, Geoffrey, MP 19 London Alliance against Racism and Fascism 165 London Anti-Fascist Committee 99, 101 London Socialist Alliance (LSA) 188, 189 Loughton 197 Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) 192, 205, 212 Lowles, Nick (anti-fascist activist) 190–1, 193, 195, 197, 198–9, 200–1, 204, 206, 207–8, 214, 215, 216, 218, 222n138 Ludmer, Maurice (CPGB member) 117, 126, 134–5, 152, 165 Luft, Mike (anti-fascist activist) 191 MacDowall, Dr David (North London Polytechnic Director) 155 Macintyre, James (journalist) 209 Macklin, Graham 84 McLean, Michael (Union Movement organiser) 90 Maggs, Joseph (CPGB sponsor) 21 Major, John 180 Malski, Tony (neo-Nazi leader) 156 Manchester: anti-fascist activity 29, 30, 44, 81, 192, 193; anti-Semitism 40–1, 81; BUF 29, 40–1; NF 112, 125; Union Movement 97 Manchester Guardian 10 Manchester Union of Jewish Ex-Servicemen (MUJEX) 89–90, 91

234 Index

Manning, Leah (National Union of Teachers’ President) 23 Marley, Dudley Aman, 1st Baron 13, 23 Martin, H. (PDF organiser) 2 Maxton, James (ILP member) 10, 16, 23 media: and BNP 175, 177, 179, 187, 207–9; and NF 111, 118–19, 128, 129, 134–8 Melksham, Wiltshire 22 Menace of Fascism, The (Strachey) 16 Messina, Anthony 128 Millwall, London 170, 171, 176, 177, 179, 181, 184n121 Mitchell, Warren (actor, ANL supporter) 126 Morrison, Herbert, MP 58 Mosley, Oswald: The Alternative 88; backing from Lord Rothermere 15, 20–1; comebacks 88–9, 90, 93, 94–9, 100; and freedom of speech 49; hall use restrictions 65, 109n144; imprisonment 66–7; Ireland 54, 92; JACOB opposition 103; likened to Adolf Hitler 69; at Olympia meeting, 1934 19–20; press boycott 93; provincial visits, 1935 30; retirement 67, 100; secretary 92; violence against 41–2, 54, 62, 66; at White City meeting, 1934 21; see also British Union of Fascists (BUF); National Party of Europe; Union Movement Moss, Baron 98 Mullally, Frederic (journalist) 12–13, 76–7, 79–80, 85, 105n2 multiculturalism 179–80, 188, 189, 227 Murdoch, Iris (author, ANL supporter) 126 Murphy, Dylan 12 Murshid, Kumar (London councillor) 193 Mussolini, Benito 2, 3, 15, 58 National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association 26 National Anti-Fascist League (NAFL) 90, 108n80 National Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Conference 133 National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR) 176, 179, 193, 194 National Black Alliance 176 National Black Caucus 176 National Co-ordinating Committee of Anti-Fascist Committees 121 National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) 39–40, 47, 57, 60, 67–8, 80, 83, 101, 106n31 National Council of Labour 24–5

National Democrats (formerly National Front) 179, 186n168 National Fascisti 5–6 National Front (NF): 1960s 103, 105, 111, 112; 1971–1976 113–21, 134; 1977–1979 111, 121–5, 127–8, 129–31, 132, 133, 135–9, 141–2, 143–5; 1980s 152–62, 180; 1990s 170; 2000s 189–90; see also National Democrats National Front News 154 national identity 76 National Joint Council 10–11, 13, 20 National Labour Party 94, 99 National Party of Europe 119, 120, 121, 146n54 National Press Association 25 National Socialist Action Party 156 National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) 9, 11, 13, 31, 42, 43 National Socialist Movement (NSM) 95–6, 97, 99, 101, 111–12, 115 National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM) 12, 22, 26, 46, 57 National Union for Combating Fascismo (NUCF) 2–3 National Union of Conservative Associations 128 National Union of Journalists (NUJ) 136 National Union of Students (NUS) 115, 128, 155, 159, 166, 171 Nazi Party 9, 11, 13, 31, 42, 43 Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression pact 65–6 neo-Nazism 151, 156, 157, 161, 173, 185n134 New Labour 187–8, 207 New Party 8–9 New Party youth movement (NUPA) 8 New Statesman 2 New Statesman and Society 167, 172–3 New World Fellowship (NWF) 17, 46 Newcastle United FC 160 Newcastle upon Tyne 18, 30, 160 Newham, London 174 Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) 158, 159, 165, 176, 185n151 Newland, Michael (BNP candidate) 188 News Chronicle 50 Nichols, Jim (SWP National Secretary) 126 No Platform 190, 196 no platform theory 214–15 North and East London Anti-Fascist Committee 101 North Hertfordshire Campaign for Racial Equality 113 North Kensington, London 94–5, 99

Index 235

North Manchester Co-ordinating Committee Against Fascism 41 North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (NorSCARF) 213 Nothing British (online platform) 209 Notting Hill, London 93–4, 156, 157 Nottingham 93–4 O’Brien, John (NF member) 118 Oldham, Manchester 189, 190–1, 192, 193 Oldham United Against Racism 191 Oldhamer The (newspaper) 191, 192 Olympia, BUF meeting 18–21, 43 On Guard (43 Group newspaper) 85–6, 90–1, 92 Open Space (BBC2 TV programme) 163 Orbach, Maurice, MP 140 Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS) 4–5 Orwell, George 227 Osborne, Barry (BNP candidate) 170 Other Face of Terror, The (Channel Four TV programme) 156 Oxford 15, 42, 119, 190 Oxford Anti-Fascist Committee 117, 119 Oxford Council of Action 12 Palestine 77, 81, 92, 140 Palme Dutt, Rajani (CPGB member) 4, 11–12, 30 Paskin, Cyril (62 Group member) 98, 101, 112 Peach, Blair, death in Southall 142 Pearce, Joe (NF activist) 157 People’s Defence Force (PDF) 2 Perry, Jack (43 Group sponsor) 79 Phillip, Steve (anti-fascist activist) 154 Piratin, Phil, MP 44, 49, 52, 53, 59, 63–4, 67, 69–70, 78 Platt, Steve (journalist) 172–3 Plebs League 3, 32n17 Plymouth 18, 21–2, 29, 139 police 39–40, 51–5, 84, 87–8, 123, 142, 172–3 Pollitt, Harry (CPGB activist) 4, 22, 23, 26, 27, 30, 65, 82 Polytechnic of North London (PNL) 153–5 Popular Front 43–4, 65 Portsmouth Workers’ Movement 26 Powell, Enoch, MP 112, 114 Power, Mike (CPGB National Executive) 123 Preen, John (BUF activist) 78, 86 Printing and Allied Trades Anti-Fascist Movement 16, 19, 21, 26

Pritt, D.N., MP (left-wing lawyer) 23, 80, 83, 85, 87 Protestant Action 54 Public Order Act (POA), 1936 11, 56–61, 69, 80, 83–4, 87, 88, 96, 105, 123, 125 Pugh, Martin (historian) 19–20, 58 Question Time (BBC1 TV programme) 208–9, 211, 215 Race Relations Act, 1965 98, 102, 105, 146n30 ‘race riots’: 1958 93–4; 2001 189–90 racial hatred, legislation against 78, 83, 97–8, 99, 102, 146n30; see also Race Relations Act, 1965 racial nationalism 93–4, 103 racial populism 105 Racial Preservation Society 103 racism: 1970s 114, 118, 130–1, 133–4, 136, 143–4; 1980s 151–2, 158, 159; 1990s 165, 166, 180; 2000s 188, 192, 198–9, 207 Red Action (RA): 1980s 153, 158, 159, 160–1; 1990s 162, 168, 173, 177, 178; 2000s 187, 188, 189, 190 Red Lion Square demonstration (1974) 115–17, 135 Red Mole (Communist newspaper) 113 Reed-Herbert, Anthony (BDP leader) 156 Rees, Merlyn (Home Secretary) 123, 142 Refugee Forum 159 Relief Committee for the Victims of German Fascism 13 Renton, David 12, 42, 54, 83, 93, 131, 190, 199, 213 Representation of the People Act, 1949 138, 139, 141 Respect Party 199 Revolutionary Communist Group 130 Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) 84–5, 106n37, 144 Revolutionary International League 163 Richards, Frank 130, 131 Richardson, Patricia (Jewish BNP member) 197 Ridley Road, Hackney 81–3, 85, 86, 92–3, 97, 100 Roberts, Dave (‘mole’ in NF) 134 Roberts, Ernie (ANL founder member) 126, 140, 167, 169 Roberts, Helena (Mayor of Stepney) 48 Rochdale, Manchester 170 Rock Against Racism (RAR) 131–2, 144, 161, 192

236 Index

Rockwell, Lincoln (US Nazi leader) 97 Rolnick, Len (CPGB and 43 Group member) 78, 82 Rondel, Issy (62 Group leader) 101, 102 Rose, Lionel (AJEX member) 77, 82, 87 Rose, Paul, MP 115 Rosenberg, Chanie 46, 51 Rossman, Geoff (43 Group leader) 90 Rothermere, Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount (BUF supporter) 15–16, 20–1, 24 Routes to Racism (film) 188 Rowntree Trust 175, 200 Royal Albert Hall meetings: anti-fascist 27; Britons’ Vigilantes’ Action League 78; BUF 15, 17, 29, 30, 38, 39 Salter, Martin, MP 191, 200 Salvadori, Guglielmo (journalist) 2 Sargent, Rev. Bill (YSM founder) 96–7, 98–9, 100 Sassoon, Vidal 78 Savitt, Martin (Jewish Defence Committee Chairman) 123, 140 Scales, Prunella (actress, ANL supporter) 126 School Kids Against the Nazis 131 Schwartz, Sally (Federation of Democrats member) 61 Searchlight (anti-fascist magazine): 1960s–1970s 117, 121, 126, 129, 134–5; 1980s 152, 154, 156, 159, 161; 1990s 163, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 172, 183n69, 190; 2000s 191–2, 193, 195–9, 201–03, 205, 207, 215–16 sectarianism, anti-fascist 181 Sear, Baroness Beatrice 174 Sheffield 22, 112 Sheffield United Action Committee 22 Shermer, David 15 Shore, Peter, MP 166 Silver, Steve (CPGB member) 190, 199 Singh, Marsha, MP 190 Sked, Alan (UKIP founder) 227 Skidelsky, Robert 8, 9, 42, 43, 69 Skrewdriver (Blood and Honour band) 161 Social Democrats, Vienna 16 Socialist League 10 Socialist Review (SWP journal) 169 Socialist Worker (SWP newspaper) 129, 141–2, 164, 190, 191 Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP): 1970s 121–6, 128–31, 133, 139, 140–1, 144–5; 1980s 151, 152–3, 157–8; 1990s 164–5, 167–70; 2000s 192, 193, 199, 217

Socialist Workers’ Student Society 154 Society of Black Lawyers 166, 167, 176 South East London and Kentish Mercury 137 South London News 154 South Wales 41 Southall, London 141–3, 144, 165 Southend-on-Sea 48, 97 Southgate, Troy (English Nationalist Movement member) 182n28 Spanish Civil War 45, 49, 66 Spearhead (NF monthly) 113–14, 115, 135 Spectator 15 Spector, David (AJEX and JDC activist) 89 Stand Up to UKIP 217 Star (newspaper) 50 Steele, Captain C.H. 69 Stepney Tenants’ Defence League 63 Stockport 159 Stockton-on-Tees 14–15 Stockwood, Mervyn (Bishop of Southwark) 123 Stoke-on-Trent 213 Strachey, John (anti-fascist activist) 8, 16, 22, 27, 28, 29–30, 33n37; Left Book Club 40; return 38, 39 Sun, The 128, 163, 169, 173, 183n69, 207 Sunday Dispatch 15 Sunday Mirror 191, 201 Sunday Pictorial 15, 79–80 Sunday Worker (CPGB newspaper) 4 surveillance, state 178 Susser, Leslie 51 Swansea 22 Taylor, A.J.P. 40 Taylor, Stan 117, 126, 128 Temple Guiting, Glos. 97 Temporary Hoarding (RAR magazine) 131 Ten Points against Fascism (YCL pamphlet) 19 Thatcher, Margaret 128, 130, 143–5, 151 Thompson, E.P. 81–2 Thompson, Mark (BBC Director General) 208 Thorpe, Jeremy, MP 99 Thurloe Square anti-fascist counter-demonstration 39–40 Thurlow, Richard 31, 57 Tilles, Daniel 64 Tilzey, Steve (AFA member) 160 Timbry, Chris (Schoolkids Against Nazis organiser) 131 Times, The 62, 154, 209 Tipton 188–9 Tisane, Steven 155

Index 237

Todd, Nigel 12, 18, 62 Tonge, Fred (London Anti-Fascist Committee secretary) 99 Tonypandy 41–2 Tower Hamlets, East London 162, 164, 170, 171, 174, 176, 180, 217 Tower Hamlets Anti-Racist Committee 176 Tower Hamlets Trades Council 173 Trade Union Congress (TUC) 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 23–4, 28, 121, 173, 192–3, 194, 195 Trade Unionists Against Fascism 114 Trades Advisory Council (TAC) 106n14 Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) 26, 115 Troyna, Barry 135–6 Tunbridge Wells, Kent 53 Turner, David 12 TV Eye (ITV programme) 157 Tyndall, John: 1960s 96, 98, 99, 101, 103, 112, 115; 1970s 118–19, 124, 125, 136, 137, 138–9; 1980s 150n199; 1990s 164, 187, 197; see also British National Party (BNP) Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association (TWAFA) 160, 172 Tyneside 90, 160 UK Independence Party (UKIP) 196, 206, 217–18, 227 Union for British Freedom 81 Union Movement 88–9, 90–2, 93, 94–7, 99–100, 101, 109n144 UNISON (union) 193, 195, 199 Unite Against Fascism (UAF) 194–9, 201–5, 207, 208, 211, 212–13, 215, 216–17 United Anti-Fascist League 21 United Campaign Against Racism (UCAR) 173–4 Venice Conference, National Party of Europe 95 Victoria Park, East London 23, 45–6, 48, 52, 55 Vigilance (JPC monthly) 47 Wadsworth, Marc (ARA organiser) 166, 167, 172 Walker, Martin 95–6, 116–17 Walsh, Tim (Federation of Democrats member) 61

Walthamstow, London 217 Waterloo, south London 170, 184n123 Waterson, Julie (ANL national organiser) 190, 199 Webber, Gerry 42 Webster, John (British Workers’ Party for National Unity) 81 Webster, Martin (NF National Activities Organiser) 114, 118, 125, 129, 143 Weitzman, David, MP 82 Welling, London 166, 167, 170, 171–3 Well-Oiled Nazi Machine, A (Searchlight pamphlet) 117 Wells, H.G. 39 West, Rebecca (journalist) 82–3 West Bromwich 114, 115, 138, 139 West London Anti-Fascist Youth Committee 94 Wheen, Francis (journalist) 187 Whine, Michael (student, Anti-Fascist Bulletins) 113 White City, London 21 White Defence League 94, 99, 160 Widgery, David 126 Wilkinson, Ellen, MP 13, 23 Williams, Bert (CPGB propaganda chief) 25 Williams, Maxine (Revolutionary Communist Group member) 130 Wolverhampton 112 Wood Green, London 121–2, 136 Woodman, Dorothy, MP 13, 23 Woolf, Virginia 39 Workers’ Circle (trade union) 41, 46 Workers’ Defence Corps 5, 7, 84 Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP) 132 World Committee Against War and Fascism 16 World in Action (TV programme) 130, 135, 156, 173 World War II 66–8, 76 Yellow Star Movement (YSM) 96–9, 100–1 Young, Lewis 65 Young Communist League (YCL) 12, 19, 21, 25, 26, 29, 39, 41, 44, 46, 48, 49, 50 Young National Front 131, 154, 182n31 Youth Against Racism in Europe 172 Youth Front Against Fascism and War 23

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