Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anti-fascism: where next?

Join the debate at Hope Not Hate.

(Note: I have issues with Searchlight, but think this is a timely initiative.)

H/T: Voltaire.


I just posted the below long comment at Shiraz Socialist. As it is so long, I thought I'd reproduce it here. Some of the comment refers to this post and its comments thread at Socialist Unity (SU). I have corrected my typos, added a couple of hyperlinks and spelled out the initials and acronyms.

I too have concerns with Searchlight - not Bob Pitt’s nonsense that they are Zionists who pander to anti-black racism - but their 1980s/90s history of divisive stirring in the anti-racist/anti-fascist movement (e.g. effectively forcing the black left to disengage with Anti-Fascist Action [AFA] and join the Socialist Action [SA] front Anti-Racist Alliance [ARA - now merged into the SW's Unite Against Fascism]) and their bizarre smear campaigns against Green Anarchist - actions which led many people to suspect they were dumping on the left in exchange for co-opertaration with the state.
However, I like to think that history is behind them. I agree with most of what Nick Lowles says, of Paul Meszaros’s contribution, and of the perspective Andy Newman puts forward at SU. It seems churlish to point out that this analysis was more or less precisely that made by AFA in the wake of the BNP breakthrough at Millwall, 15 years ago, as set out in their Filling The Vacuum (FTV) document.
Meanwhile, the organised left has spent 15 years following its two most reactionary outlets, SA and the SWP, down the blind alleys of electoralism and big, expensive carnivals that preach to converts and have no impact on the white working class communities that vote BNP, while Searchlight has been slowly moving towards a sensible understanding of the situation.
I guess the difference between AFA’s FTV and what Lowles is proposing is that the former callde for an explictly working class local pole of attraction to fill the vacuum left by the labour movement (hence the formation of the IWCA), while Lowles is proposing something that is basically working class in content, but does not name itself as such, and appeals to all sections of the community.
Fifteen years ago, I would have dismissed Lowles’ cross-class position as Popular Frontism. Whether I’ve gotten more right-wing or the collapse of the labour movement has made stereotyped appeals to class consciousness sound even more dogmatic and out of touch - I don’t know. But I think he’s basically right about working with whatever forces are there on the ground locally, whether they speak the langauge of class or not.
Where I disagree slightly his emphasis, is that he seems still overly focused on the ballot box, without addressing the question of whether or not to basically endorse voting Labour. I think that elections ARE important for the BNP, which is why it remains important to urge people to vote Labour (except in the small number of places where there is any kind of meaningful alternative, such as the Greens in some wards of my own borough Lewisham, independents in some areas, or the left candidates in the tiny number of places where there is a viable left candidate, e.g. parts of Coventry where the Socialist Party still has an electoral base). BUT a shift in focus to the year-round work of community organising is much more valuable.


Technophobe said...

I think you're being a bit naive about the role of Searchlight thinking that their 'history' is behind them.

I don't see the claim that they are 'moving toward a sensible understanding of the situation' has any basis in fact.

I remember reading Searchlight editorials from as long ago as the late 90's arguing, like the IWCA, that the only way forward was building a 'political alternative'. In the 7ish years after this their 'understanding' improved to such an extent that they launched and promoted apolitical dross like 'Hope not Hate' up until a couple of months ago.

This is an important point, I can't think of a single piece of decent or consistent analysis on their part since 2001. Maybe you can point me in the direction of some.

One example, in the recent BNP 'split' Searchlight either didn't know or withheld important bits of information about the main figures involved. Sadie Graham, as most who were in AFA know, used to be a punk, a hunt sab and a supporter of Anti-Fascist Action! She used to go out with the organiser of Newcastle AFA ffs!

None of this was mentioned by our friends at Searchlight due to either ignorance or design. Whichever it was it shows their role is at best useless and at worst deliberately manipulative.

They are still up to their old tricks and socialists and anti-fascists will learn the hard way about them once again.

To see socialists once more running towards Searchlight in desperation is really fucking depressing.

fleshisgrass said...

"I think he’s basically right about working with whatever forces are there on the ground locally, whether they speak the langauge of class or not."

I think so too - because I am now unconvinced that racism discriminates between classes, so to speak. Or rather, the kind of understanding that you need to overcome racism is not specific to socialism and I kind of think that pushing it as socialism will alienate people. You shouldn't have to ally yourself to a political programme or p.o.v. to be anti-racist. Some of the most self-righteous socialists I know of are basically racist.

Anyway, as somebody who only has a cursory sense of what happened with searchlight, you've given me some important reference points. Ta.

Anonymous said...

Before the Green Anarchist smear - which actually had some basis in fact to the extent that some people around it ended up in that Alternative Green/third positionist swamp - Searchlight spread disgraceful stories about Martin W. and others in Class War who were actually seasoned anti fascist streetfighters. The smears about their supposed right wing links crop up on the internet to this day.

bob said...

1. I did say "I like to think" that history (of smearing leftists and especially libertarians in the anti-fascist movement) is behind them. I'm open to persuasion either way. I haven't heard any evidence of any of this stuff for a long, long time now, but I'm not as in the loop as I was. But I remain distrustful of them. (I haven't followed the Sadie Graham stuff properly: too complex for me!)

2. Yes, there was minimal basis in fact in the Green Anarchist smear, but very minimal. The fascist elements in Green Anarchist (who became Alternative Green) had long been kicked out before the smears began, and the experience of green fascism in their own ranks had actually strengthened GA's commitment to anti-fascism. The smears, incidentally, were also picked from Searchlight and widely purveyed by that malignant prankster Stuart Home.

3. Yes, there were also pernicious smears against Class War, based again on the slimmest elements of truth (Tim Scargill had been flirted with fascism as, I think, a teenager, some Class War members may have lived in the same squat as one or more NF members) were very bad. They had a detrimental effect on the anti-fascist movement, as most AFA members accepted them as true, poisoning Class War/AFA relations for years, in ways that certainly had the fascists laughing. They were also defamatory to people like Martin Wright, whose anti-fascist credentials are pretty much unequalled by anyone. Yet the smears against him have continued to circulate in the anarchy of the internet (I edited them out of his wikipedia page) and cropped up in Professor Clive Bloom's rather poor book Violent London.

4. Have Searchlight's analysis evolved? I think the late 90s turn to the IWCA-ish idea of building a political alternative, building on their prescient analysis of Euro-nationalism (which had itself been a key element in AFA's own Filling the Vacuum analysis) was a good start. It is true that it has taken a decade to get from there to here, and the theoretical move might be small. But the early embodiments of that strategy in the form of Hope not Hate groups has been quite impressive to me. I don't see it as apolitical dross, but as helping to kickstart genuinely local, genuinely grassroots campaigns that actually relate to local working class cultures.

5. Flesh is grass: what you say is exactly right. I also think that dogmatically speaking the language of class or scientific socialism, as well as alienating most working class people, can be completely compatible with a complete lack of working class content, and vice versa.

Technophobe said...

I haven't followed the Sadie Graham stuff properly: too complex for me!)

Long story short, the fash don't call her 'Shady Graham' for nothing...

I think we're coming from different perspectives. I don't trust Searchlight at all and see them moving into control genuinely local, grass-roots campaigns so they can retain their monopoly on anti-fascism rather than kick-starting them.

There were good reasons behind the 1998 AFA statement proscribing Searchlight and I assume Antifa have good reasons for making non co-operation with Searchlight a precondition for them working with people.

For info on Searchlihgt up to their old tricks in recent years I'd recommend reading Larry o'Hara's very long article on Redwatch in the last NFB.

bob said...

Yes, there were good reasons for AFA's proscription in '98 (which is now a decade ago): Searchlight's connections with the secret state. And this is a very good reason for Antifa, who are still very much involved in the clandestine, physical type of "militant" anti-fascism which AFA used to excell in.

I think this sort of physical confrontation still has a major place in the anti-fascist armoury. (I personally was never very good at it, lacking the heft and hand-to-hand combat skills, lacking the tactical sense on the streets, and lacking the espionage skills that are also an essential part of that strategy.) And if you are going to be involved in that, you are by definition working outside the law, and do not want to have any connection with Searchlight who, at the very least, co-operate with parts of the state which are also about monitoring the left.

But I think that, in the current climate when the fascists have completely re-oriented their strategy around community politics and electoral work, the physical strategy is at best a second priority to the above-ground work of building grassroots anti-fascist campaigns in local communities.

In such campaigns, I think that I might be prepared - with some caution - to get involved in local organisations connected to the Searchlight machine.

And, more importantly, whether I'm right about that or not, I am absolutely certain that the model for such a local politics is very close to the model which Lowles, Meszaros and Andy Newman are recommending: broad-based, intensely localised, not dogmatically pushing class politics, focused on day-to-day concerns.