The lack of democracy in Unite Against Fascism
This is from Workers Liberty, via Shiraz Socialist, reporting on Unite Against Fascism, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) front which is one of the market leaders in what passes for anti-fascism in the UK:
“There has been quite a bit of fuss, including inside the SWP, about the lack of democracy in UAF, and so this year – for the first time since the campaign’s founding in 2003, believe it or not – there were elections for the national committee. However even this small step was largely a formality or, to be blunt, a fake. Rather than a proper open election for a multi-member committee, candidates had to be nominated for a variety of individual positions (chair, vice chair, secretary, assistant secretary, parliamentary officer and so on).You can see a video of Justin here, and read his statement here. Personally, I agree with most of Justin’s sharp critique of the current state of the UAF – it is un-democratic, too reliant on state bans and moralistic denunciations of “bad” fascism, lacks positive demands, lacks a principled basis to the unity it preaches (e.g. seeking endorsement from right-wing politicians with objectively racist policies), and is a top-down body lacking a grassroots base in communities.
“Obviously this will have discouraged people from standing – and, lo and behold, there was only one candidate for each position. (Many of them were nominated by “Love Music Hate Racism” and “One Society Many Cultures” – “organisations” which decide these things how, exactly?) However this was only achieved by excluding Justin Baidoo, a young socialist and trade unionist from South London wishing to challenge SWP full-timer Martin Smith for assistant secretary, on a technicality. (See here.) The chair of his union branch had sent in the nomination, but failed to send in the reaffiliation form.
“Given this is the first time UAF has held elections, and given there were no other contested elections, you might think something could be done? Wouldn’t it have been positive to have a real election? But no, rules are rules – that is, when they allow the UAF leadership to carve out opponents. I guess it would have been particularly embarrassing for the SWP to have Martin Smith attacked from the left by a young, black socialist. (I should say that Justin chose not to get up on the floor of the conference and demand a vote on his exclusion – which I think was a mistake.)
“Nonetheless, surely the election still went ahead, with participants having the chance to vote for ‘Re-Open Nominations’? Don’t be silly! The ‘candidates’ were simply declared elected. I wondered if some SWPers cringed at this total absence of democracy.”
However, I didn’t sign Justin’s statement, because it would have been hypocritical to do so: I have come to see UAF as part of the problem not part of the solution, and will take a huge amount of convincing that it could ever become a different sort of animal. I think re-founding ant-fascism needs to happen outside of and despite UAF, not within it.
Update: A little more from Sacha Ismail's report of the UAF conference:
The reason Justin Baidoo was excluded is not just a sectarian factional reflex. It was because Justin was standing to raise political criticisms of UAF and its failures in fighting fascism (for the short program he and others including the AWL distributed at the conference see here). At the conference the contradictions in UAF’s politics were there for all to see. In fact, despite the lack of democracy and dissent, they seem to be boiling over.
Thus there was a quite heated discussion (only a discussion) on whether to call for state bans of EDL and other fascist marches, led by Socialist Action (for) and the SWP (against). This seems to be becoming more and more of an issue – and rightly so. And: a number of SWP speakers, including UAF leaders Weyman Bennett and Martin Smith, stressed that they are for class demands which undercut the base of fascism.
So then why shouldn’t this be included in the politics and demands of the campaign – which is what we were there demanding? Weyman Bennett got a lot of applause for demagogically declaring that David Cameron was a racist and should be sacked as prime minister – yet the SWP opposes the demand to kick Cameron and other Tory politicians out of UAF! Similarly, Martin Smith said that he regularly told Labour MPs that the best way to undermine the BNP would be to fight for millions of new council homes and decent jobs for all – but the SWP militantly opposes such demands actually being part of the campaign.
These two problems are, obviously, related. As a logical conclusion of all this, UAF is still saying “Don’t vote Nazi”, ie vote for anyone who isn’t the BNP.
Meanwhile the alliance with right-wing political Islam continues, now in the shape of the East London-based Islamic Forum of Europe, whose Azad Ali was “elected” UAF vice chair. No one on the left, as far as I know, suggests the IFE and its like are terrorists (I mention this because it’s a straw man Ali raised repeatedly – criticise us, and you must think we're al Qaeda) or that we should refuse to stand even with Islamists to physically defeat fascist violence. But the idea that the left should be building a political alliance with a group that has established a bigoted, reactionary and repressive political climate in the Bengali community of Tower Hamlets is astonishing.
Martin Smith also said, more than once, that disagreement and debate in a united front can only be a good thing. That’s right, but then why the lack of motions and the fixed elections?