Saturday’s counter-demonstrations against the far right showed the potential way forward in smashing any reactionary threat. But the left’s strength is currently being squandered by an apolitical and disunited leadership.
Around 2,000 trade unionists and left-wing political activists were on the streets of Westminster last Saturday to oppose the far-right ‘Democratic Football Lads Alliance’ (DFLA).
Alongside a demonstration backed by Labour, Momentum and the trade unions, another one thousand demonstrators also gathered at the BBC building near Oxford Circus to fight the far right.
Compared to this show of strength from the left and the labour movement, the DFLA were only able to muster a few hundred – far fewer than what they’ve managed in the recent past.
The DFLA had been planning to march from Park Lane to Parliament Square. But with one counter-demonstration forcing them to re-route their march, and the other blocking the road down Whitehall to Parliament Square, the far right had their plans scuppered.
Across both demonstrations, chants of ‘No Pasaran’ reflected the militant spirit of those who had come to out physically oppose the far right.
What is the DFLA?
The DFLA is a far-right organisation, incorporating the remains of the English Defence League (EDL) and other assorted bigots and reactionaries.
It also contains a small contingent of fascist elements whose aim is to atomise the working class and neuter it as a political force by attacking trade unions and the Labour Party.
Although small and disorganised, these fascist elements have reared their heads several times recently. They have attacked Steve Hedley, the senior assistant general secretary of the RMT; ransacked a left-wing bookshop in London; and attacked a Young Labour member in Wakefield, leaving her with stitches.
It was very welcome that the most militant speeches at the demonstration were from the representatives of the RMT and Unite. It is the forces of the organised working class that the far right have in their sights – and it is therefore the trade unions that must lead the fight to smash the reactionaries.
The fascist elements of the DFLA are small and disorganised now. But unless they are met with a show of strength by the labour movement, sent packing, and scattered into the wind, they can potentially pose a greater threat in the future.
How should we fight the far right?
The turnout for both counter-demonstrations was excellent, with dozens of trade unions, local Labour parties, Momentum groups, and other activist organisations sending delegations to oppose the far right.
The mood and the energy on these demonstrations was optimistic and militant. However, the organisers of both counter-demonstrations should ask themselves whether the tactics they used on Saturday are the best ones to fight the far right.
The labour movement backed demonstration, organised by Stand Up to Racism (SUTR), consisted of a very short march of around 500 metres, followed by a very long rally with a seemingly endless list of speakers.
It is essential to have political speeches at these counter-protests against the far right, as it is only a radical socialist political alternative that can cut across the desperation and despair in society upon which racism and the far right thrives. But to have a speakers’ list that lasts for over two hours is excessive. By the end of the rally the crowd had dwindled from around 2000 to less than 500.
A big reason why the crowd dwindled so much was due to the political content of many of the speeches at the rally.
The militant trade unionists who called for the smashing of the far right were extremely well received. But the CEO of the Finsbury Park mosque, the representative from Amnesty, and other assorted liberals didn’t go further than calling for “more love” in society. If people had wanted empty, woolly phrases like this, they could have spent their Saturday reading the Guardian instead of coming out to fight the far right.
In addition, although the SUTR demonstration did block the last 500 metres of the DFLA demonstration, it did nothing to prevent several hundred far-right hooligans marching through the streets of London, from Park Lane to Whitehall.
This was a source of frustration for many of the counter-demonstrators, knowing that we were penned into a corner of Westminster while far-right thugs were roaming around London. It made the slogan ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ ring a little hollow.
It is frustration at tactics of the kind used by SUTR that caused many people to attend instead the counter-demonstration organised by London Antifascists and various other organisations. This is understandable, because the organisers promised that this counter-demonstration would attempt to stop the DFLA marching at all, which is the correct approach to take towards the far right.
It is unfortunate, also, that the two counter-demonstrations were physically separate. If the left is going to successfully show its strength and physically oppose the far right, then it is required that the maximum number of people unite together.
Above all, the fight against the far right needs the coordination and backing of the organised labour movement, in the form of the trade unions and the Labour Party.
Rather than calling a second demonstration far away from the first, therefore, the SUTR-called and Momentum-backed counter-demo should have reached out to unite with the Antifascist-organised protest, in order to provide maximum unity on the streets. Instead, both counter-demonstrations ended up being penned in by the police, unable to stop the far right marching.
The best approach to fighting the far right last weekend would have been to gather all our forces and head straight to Park Lane. There we could have blockaded the DFLA and prevented them from marching at all.
No doubt they would have tried to break through our blockade (and the police would have helped them in this). But so long as there were enough of us, our side could have stood firm.
Fight to change society
For this approach to succeed, far more than one, two or three thousand people would be required. We would need to mobilise several times that number to stand our ground against the far right and the police.
The only way such numbers can be mobilised is through the organised labour movement, based on a clear socialist political programme.
The trade unions and the Labour Party need to make the case for the fundamental transformation of society, carried out through the power of the organised working class.
Far-right groups like the DFLA aim to stand in the way of this. They are in fact a symptom of capitalist society’s stagnation and decay. After all, it is in a stagnant pond that the scum rises to the top.
If we want to fight for a better society – and against the capitalist system that spawns the far right and fascism – then blockading the DFLA, preventing them from marching, and smashing their organisation is essential.
The next far-right counter-demonstration must set the following as its goals:
- Maximum unity of workers, students, and left-wing organisations against the far right
- Blockade the far right – don’t let them march for even one metre
- Mobilise thousands upon thousands of workers and students to fight the far right on the basis of a radical socialist programme to fundamentally transform society