Friday, January 18, 2013

AFA sectariana

I've left this post below the fold, as it is probably only of arcane interest to those of us who were involved in Anti-Fascist Action (AFA). It's three items, one about a racist RMT union rep, one about AFA's 2000 wind-up, and one about the Anti-Fascist Archive.

UPDATE Feb 2013: I retract my doubts about Hedley's record in militant anti-fascism expressed in this post, while I stand by my criticism of his antisemitic comments. I also want to make it clear that the opinions quoted in the second part of this post are not mine but those of an anonymous Wikipedia editor, in case it isn't clear enough.


1. Steve Hedley and the Zionists
Harry's Place and Shiraz Socialist have published some stuff about an union rep, Steve Hedley, and his rants at "Zionists" (i.e. Jews). Most recently, on Facebook various people chatting about the troubles in the SWP, Toby Abse reminded folks of comrade Martin Smith's closeness to antisemite Gilad Atzmon (documented here), which provoked Smith first into attacking Toby, then into calling serious hardcore anti-Zionists like Roland Rance "closet Zionists". Funny if it weren't so sad. Anyway, along the way, he made lots of comments about his prowess as an anti-fascist streetfighter, citing his involvement in AFA, and calling Rance a "keyboard warrior". Rance replies: "In fact, I organised the first AFA conference in Bradford thirty years ago. We had stewards around the town to prevent a possible fascist attack, but had to call them back to conference in order to protect members of the local Asian Youth Movement from physical attacks by members of Red Action. I know all-too-well about racism masquerading as leftist anti-fascism." Here's the comment I left:

Very odd that Hedley trumpets AFA and Smith/UAF at the same time. The heritage of UAF is the SWP’s expulsion of anti-fascist militants in the original ANL, two decades of SWP sectarian attacks on AFA and its “squadism”, and their re-establishment of the ANL in early 1990s as a direct attack on AFA. Martin Smith stands for the opposite of everything AFA ever stood for.

I was a London AFA ordinary rank and file member for over a decade and went to some national events, and I have no memory of this Hedley bloke at any event I went to. Maybe he was in a totally different part of the country, so I’m not saying he’s a liar, but I am a little suspicious of his claim to big AFA credentials, especially given his support for UAF. I’d be pleased to be told I’m wrong about this.


2. The death of AFA and birth of the IWCA
I was, I can't remember why now, looking at the AFA Wikipedia page. This had been included on the page by a disgruntled ex-member. I deleted it, as it's clearly not encyclopedic. But, even though it's not my view at all, I thought I'd paste it here in case anyone wants to discuss it, with added hyperlinks.
Having left AFA, disbanded Red Action, (and indeed abandoned activist anti fascist activity), to form the local electoral and local activism focussed , Independent Working Class Association (IWCA), ex Red action/IWCA members now argue that, while mainstream liberal anti-racist groups often focussed their attention on black people and other racial minorities as the victims of discrimination, AFA focused its efforts on the white working class, which it saw as the fascist movement's main recruiting ground.[1] However,others, including ex-RA members who did not go down the IWCA route[2] have argued that this supposed unique AFA "white working class focus" is a myth, backdating later IWCA politics into the AFA's actual history. They argue that even after the 1989 split in AFA with the more liberal anti fascist supporting organisations, the "on the ground" political focus of AFA remained essentially a very basic anti-fascist one, without any really significant political break from tactics and priorities pursued by the Anti Nazi League MK I, in its initial activist heyday 1977 to 1979. The ANL MK I , contrary to RED Action/IWCA claims , pursued a distinctly "twin track" , AFA-like, approach to anti fascism too, ie. physical street opposition to fascist marches and meetings, plus aggressive stewarding and violent additional actions by the "Squads", alongside the more populist, mass music carnivals and family day out marches, activities. The real difference being that in the ANL MK I the physical street action and "Squadist" aspect was largely unacknowledged publicly by the ANL leadership.
3. Anti-Fascist Archive
I don't think I've linked yet to this wonderful site. To give a taste, it includes a reply to Dave Renton's dishonest review of Dave Hann's new/posthumous book Physical Resistance, a 1972 Workers' Fight (the proto-AWL) pamphlet on "racialism", Red Action publications, and lots more.

14 comments:

Waterloo Sunset said...

1. Worth mentioning that an ex member of RA has responded on U75. (The Beating the Fascists thread). For my mind, his response sounds a hell of a lot more convincing then the evidence free stuff from Rance.

2. Certainly by the time I got involved (early 90's) the seeds of this argument were already there, way before the launch of the IWCA. I'd have to dig through FT to find the exact quotes, but from what I can recall the argument was that you needed to tackle fascism among their potential recruits. And that telling people who were targets of the fash that was the case was not only ineffective, but patronising. They were already perfectly aware of that.

modernity's ghost said...

Bob,

I think the argument advanced by Hedley is one that's been heard in the past few years.

You will no doubt remember the UAF variation of it?

The shorthand version is:

"We are antifascists, proven antifascists as we beat up the far right, therefore we couldn't possibly have anything against Jews or Israelis. And anything we say on the subject is sanitised by our own conspicuous anti-fascism, etc etc"

Or something similar.

It is an intellectually regressive approach which seeks to confuse two different issues and is almost devoid of introspection.

There are obvious variations on this type of argument:

"I am a woman and therefore I can't be sexist."

And so on...

It is the low-level type of argumentation found in SWP circles and amongst their fellow travellers.

Anonymous said...

Hedley was a member of AFA. He was a fellow-traveler of the DAM in the early 1990's. He was part of the small group of a dozen AFA (mainly RA and DAM members) who came under attack from 60 fascists at the Enkel Arms. He attended other anti-fascist mobilisations as a member and of the AFA Stewards Group.

bob said...

Apologies for leaving this thread - been too busy to come here since I posted it.

I looked in U75 and couldn't find it - but glad to have browsed in that interesting thread!

I've also had one off-blog comment, from someone who says Hedley was not involved in AFA in the 1990s but may have helped out stewards group, and that he was in No Platform in the 2000s. I guess he was around one way or another and has the right to attack the armchair antifash, so apologise. Still, it seems to me extraordinary someone can go from being a DAM fellow traveller and/or hanging out with Red Action to eulogising Martin Smith and UAF. Tragic.

modernity's ghost said...

Surely, this is a case of privileging?

That someone's past actions or position within a political structure validates or confers merit on their ignorant opinions, irrespective of the arguments.

It is one thing to go round thumping a few NF/BNPers, etc and an entirely different matter to oppose them intellectually.

There are many people disagree with neofascists, physically, but ultimately concede arguments to them and this is most obvious when the topic ventures towards, Jews.

That's a constant sticking point on the British Left, a certain intellectual ambiguity as Steve Cohen pointed out.

Personally, I think Hedley should be treated as the moron he clearly is, the rest is irrelevant.

bob said...

I probably didn't express myself clearly, as I have no time for Headley's racism; it is obviously racism and should be condemned as such, without qualification.

His record as a union militant or an anti-fascist street fighter would make no difference to that. I was simply curious about the latter, as he made a big deal of his AFA credentials and attacked "armchair anti-fascists", but it didn't ring true for me because of his regard for armchair anti-fascist Martin Smith and the pathetic egg-lobbing, lollipop-waving UAF. However, it seems I was wrong.

One other thing, which I didn't go into, is that Rance's claims about Bradford AFA are also very suspect to me, and look like a libel on Red Action. I feel sorry for the way Rance is so heavily trolled in cyberspace, but his accusations against RA are very serious and if wrong he should be called out too.

modernity's ghost said...

My feeling is that neither Rance or Hedley will learnt anything from this matter.

I suspect that both of them, as political activists, have a fervent self belief, poor grasp of reality and employ far too much hyperbole.

In my experience, politics is full of braggarts and ignoramuses with an inflated amount of self-worth, whereas (as you've ably pointed out, Bob) it is the arguments and the evidence that are more important.

roland-rance said...

Bob, I stand behind everything I said about AFA. Had I known you had posted this, I would have replied earlier.
Basically, the background was a political disagreement. The Bradford AFA group, which was hosting the conference, proposed that we change the name from Anti Fascist Action to Anti Racist Anti Fascist Action. This was a highly contested position. Although there were some serious political arguments raised, the position of Red Action was that anti-racism was merely a middle-class affectation, that racism was not an issue for the working class, and that we should not seek to exclude working class whites with dubious racial views from the anti fascist struggle. This argument did not go down well with the local Asian Youth, who had confronted elderly male conservatives in the Asian community, in order to take part in, and at times to lead, the struggle against racism in the city. Eventually, tempers got so heated that some AYM activists were threatened with physical violence from some Red Action members, and the stewards had to be called back.

The upshot was that the proposal was not agreed. We called for a disciplinary inquiry into the actions of Red Action, the AFA leadership refused. So soon after the conference, the Bradford AFA group, together with the Islington and Manchester groups, resigned from AFA altogether.

This is a matter of historical record. You may disagree with my political position at the time, or now; you may question my interpretation of the events; but you cannot question what actually occurred, as will be confirmed by others who were at the conference.

bob said...

Roland, thanks for your clarification. I've heard more or less your version of the story before (I think David Landau gave a similar version in his review of Beating the Fascists) and I've heard a very different version from Red Action members.

Someone linked to this post at Urban75, as WS notes above, where it was assumed that I was accusing RA of attacking Asians. An ex-RA member there wrote this:

Brilliant! The old ones are the best. The organiser of the Bradford AFA conference was one Jeff Robinson. He did so with the express intention of winding AFA up and transform it into a more pliable safe and acceptable anti-racist organisation - without - RA. After the vote to approve the change was carried, it was pointed out that under his supervision only one side of the hall was counted!

Having lost the subsequent vote he ordered a second vote which he lost by an even bigger margin. He then conspired to provoke a leading member of RA (who was indeed notoriously easy to provoke!) by employing a local Asian to pick a fight with him.

Unbelievably he did his conspiring in the corridor during the break, where as I passed I caught the gist of it and arrived just in time to prevent a tear up between the targetted RA member and a large set Asian. The 'attack by RA on Bradford Asian Youth' is what he had planned to happen - but never did. As readers of BTF will know he want onto to suspend RA anyway. The meeting was immediately declared inquorate. But an inquiry was ordered anyway into 'RA's conduct' during the count. Even more absurd allegations followed.

At the inquiry he vehemently protested his innocence in regard to complaints of his role in the protracted anti-RA inspired debacle at the conference. 'He had nothing but the deepest respect for RA generally ...but' etc. It was then that Liz Fekete (who has been mentioned on this thread before) read out a long rambling letter from the bould Jeffrey where he repeatedly asked for her support to enable him to rid AFA of the pernicious influence of RA - 'name your price' and so forth.

The rest is history. Though Jeffrey still seems determined to invent his own.

bob said...

The Urban75 discussion continues with another poster:

I myself worked with Jeff Robinson (and other members of his long-term Bradford coterie) for many years in the 1970's, from our joint SWP years, the ANL, to the early AFA years, and the now forgotten, stillborn, "Socialist Federation" project which RA were briefly part of. Jeff was one of the most devious, double dealing people in Far Left Politics it was ever my misfortune to deal with I'm afraid. His word was worth absolutely nothing. He and I were the two AFA National Steering Group people delegated to be the enquiry Commission to get to the bottom of the accusations against Class War (which we now know were just Searchlight smears). Robinson did NO work for this enquiry at all - just came back with more unsubstantiated smears. I eventually ran all the smears to ground as baseless, and simply wrote the entire report, exonerating Class War myself . Jeff Robinson simply , grudgingly, eventually, signing it, after some very heated exchanges at my house where we had met up to consider our combined evidence collected (in Jeff's case -- NONE). Fortunately I had , on receiving no evidence from Jeff over weeks, already written a draft of the report - which simply became the actual final report.

Jeff was indeed also the main operator/plotter behind the subsequent attempt to expel Red Action ( a move which I at first managed to squash at a National Steering Group meeting as Chair, but as I was just about to bail out of activist politics and move to Scotland, Jeff and his plotters obviously came back again with the plan once I was out of the way). Fortunately Liz Fekete, who was/is a principled person, eventually came up trumps in denouncing Jeff and co's. plot, as detailed in BtF. It was indeed Jeff and his Bradford cronies who deliberately set an entirely disruptive agenda for the Bradford AFA 1987 Conference ( totally abusing their "host AFA branch" Conference Agenda Committee role the night BEFORE the Conference) In alliance with people who have since proved to be utter Labourite reformists within the Bradford Asian Youth Movement. The entire conference was dominated with fruitless debates about a NAME CHANGE, FFS. The only actual discussion we had about anti fascist work the entire day was an informal session I ran during the lunch break ! An utterly disastrous, shambolic conference ! Jeff's agenda, with Searchlight, was entirely to hijack the now established AFA membership structure nationally, for a renamed AFA to become a softer, touchy-feely anti racist (NOT street action anti fascist) campaigning body - and pull in lots of state grants on that basis presumeably -- a sort of ANL Mk II, without the SWP dominance, and without Squadism in its midst. Jeff did everything re the conference corridor plotting, setting up RA for conflict with the Asian Youth guys, that has been described by Gary et al.


roland-rance said...

I'm not surprised that Dave Landau has a similar recollection; he was one of the Islington AFA people involved. And I am angry at the smearing of Geoff (which is the correct spelling) Robinson, who died several years ago so cannot refute the lies about him.

Geoff (a leading figure in Bradford SWP, who with almost the entire branch was expelled in the 1980s for forming a "subconscious faction" after they refused party instructions to stop selling Women's Voice) was for many years a committed anti-fascist activist in Bradford. As far as I recall, he was less keen than the AYM activists (who I supported) at the proposed name change, though he accepted the political point that anti-racism had to be a central element of the anti-fascist struggle. And it certainly not true that the proposal came "the night before"; we discussed it over several weeks, and had submitted the proposal well in time, but someone had manoeuvred to keep it off the agenda.

Many years later, when I was living in London, I again worked with Geoff in the International Workers' Aid for Bosnia campaign; he was a member of several convoys which helped break the siege of Tuzla and other towns.

Nor is it true that the AYM represented "Labour reformists". The only person who that term might have applied to at the time was Marsha Singh, who had not been an active AYM member for some years. I don't recall him being involved in the conference or AFA at all.

Although memories can be fallible, and sectariana, while occasionally interesting, is of little import, the political question involved is still relevant. It has echoes, for instance, in the sort of political illiteracy which believes that you can oppose Zionism while allying with antisemitism.

bob said...

Thanks again Roland. I didn't twig the connection between "Jeff" Robinson and Geoff Robinson, who I never met but who I remembering reading stuff by from the Workers Aid times - an organisation who meant a lot to me at that moment, and who I have meaning to write a post about for a long time now.

Links re Geoff Robinson:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/may/23/obituaries.mainsection

http://www.1in12.com/publications/archive/kosova/kosova.html

http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/archive/1998/05/23/Bradford+District+Archive/8076963.Risking_lives_on_a_mercy_mission/

http://www.leefoster.co.uk/websites/tups/tups_files/pages/books/03_takingsides.html

bob said...

God, I just had another peak at the Urban75 thread, where I've been accused of spreading various pieces of misinformation about AFA/RA/IWCA on Wikipedia etc - although I have no idea what the misinformation I'm supposed to have spread is.

Also noticed Joe Reilly's reply to Rance:

Bob, I stand behind everything I said about AFA. Had I known you had posted this, I would have replied earlier.
[Rance writes:] "Basically, the background was a political disagreement. The Bradford AFA group, which was hosting the conference, proposed that we change the name from Anti Fascist Action to Anti Racist Anti Fascist Action. This was a highly contested position. Although there were some serious political arguments raised, 1.the position of Red Action was that anti-racism was merely a middle-class affectation, that racism was not an issue for the working class, and that we should not seek to exclude working class whites with dubious racial views from the anti fascist struggle. This argument did not go down well with the local Asian Youth, who had confronted elderly male conservatives in the Asian community, in order to take part in, and at times to lead, the struggle against racism in the city. Eventually, tempers got so heated that some AYM activists were threatened with physical violence from some Red Action members, and the stewards had to be called back.

The upshot was that the proposal was not agreed. We called for a disciplinary inquiry into the actions of Red Action, the AFA leadership refused. So soon after the conference, the Bradford AFA group, together with the Islington and Manchester groups, resigned from AFA altogether.

This is a matter of historical record. You may disagree with my political position at the time, or now; you may question my interpretation of the events; but you cannot question what actually occurred, as will be confirmed by others who were at the conference."

1. If memory serves RA did not say anything much at all. Instead we along with the rest of the audience were subject to long lectures about the importance of finding our 'inner racism'. In fact it was the NMP who has stood with Searchlight the previous year in the suspension of CW who were most vocal in opposition.

2. Love this bit in particular. The stewards had to be 'called back' from as he previously decribed the 'town centre'. What were stewards doing in the town centre in the first place? What if had been fascists that attacked what gone would they have been 'off-site'? In any event this was not a public meeting but and internal conference so even if they had found out about it, the chances of the fash attacking a 200 -300 strong AFA conference, even AFA mark 1, were slight to non - existent. He somehow forgets to mention how the 'attack on the AYM' concluded. Who won?

3. Oh is it, where is this history recorded?

Mas Teguh said...

Hedley was a member of AFA. He was a fellow-traveler of the DAM in the early 1990's. He was part of the small group of a dozen AFA (mainly RA and DAM members) who came under attack from 60 fascists at the Enkel Arms. He attended other anti-fascist mobilisations as a member and of the AFA Stewards Group.