Blinds Spots

Blinds Spots

Understanding the past can be helpful in order to understand the present.


As anti-fascists specifically we should know about the past and present of fascism and anti-fascism.
The beginning of the main fascist party in Britain goes back to Oswald Mosley, who was MP for the Tories, but then defected in 1924 to the Labour Party. Here, in the Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party he developed the economic blueprint which would later also influence the British Union of Fascists, e.g. protection of the British Industry from international finance, nationalisation of Industry, higher government spending to support the economy. In 1929 Mosley joined the Labour Government, but in 1930 resigned from this government as his economic proposals were not implemented.

In 1931 Mosley founded the New Party mainly with other defectors from the Labour Party, holding on to his economic plans. This New Party was initially influenced by the left, but moved within a year or so to become a fascist party, when New Party was merged with other groups into the British Union of Fascists in 1932. In the following years the main ideology of the BUF emerged: Anti-Semitism.
After a pause during WWII, when some fascist leaders were under arrest and the party was banned, the fascists returned to the streets after WWII under various names and eventually in 1948 as Union Movement. The fascists stuck to their pre-war ideology of anti-Semitism, harassed and attacked Jews, especially in London.

And mainly in London a large number of anti-fascist counter actions took place against the anti-Semitic attacks and propaganda, most importantly by the 43 Group. The 43 Group’s members were mainly Jewish and this Antifa group considered itself as rather apolitical (due to different political views of its members), focusing on direct action against fascists. These direct actions proved to be very successful and the UM declined in the following years.


One question is where did the anti-Semitism of the fascists come from? There was surely influence from the German Nazi party. But to a large extent this anti-Semitism can be considered home-grown, a British ideology and practice. One of the main contributors was the old Christian anti-Judaism, which had caused many anti-Jewish blood libels and subsequent massacres against Jews between 11th and 13th century and which eventually led to the expulsion of the Jews from Britain in the late 13th century. After Jews were allowed to live in Britain again in the 17th century, this old anti-Judaism was updated and popularised by literary figures like Shylock etc. In the 19th century the legislation was changed so that Jews would be emancipated in Britain.

Beside some right-wing groups (e.g. British Brothers League) also organisations of the radical left helped then to develop the old anti-Judaism into its modern form, anti-Semitism. There are numerous writings and speeches from members of Social Democratic Federation and Independent Labour Party, in which Jews are equated with capitalism and imperialism. And Jews are blamed for all bad aspects of capitalism, imperialism and modern life. Besides members of the left being anti-Jewish themselves, also this new anti-Semitism might have served several purposes in these left organisations. Here are some examples:

• Capitalism is a system, it is not a personalised form of rule like in the feudal system of the middle ages, but by falsely equating Jews with capitalism it becomes easier for the left to define and explain what (or who!) they are fighting against.
• The left might have hoped to gain support from those Christian workers who still harboured anti-Jewish religious prejudices.
• When a left party wanted to gain power in a country like Britain, which at that time ruled over the largest empire in world history, it did come in quite handy to have a minority to blame for imperialism. Otherwise the left party would have had to face the fact, that Britain was the biggest imperialist power at that time, which might have not worked well regarding popular support.
• In a world fractioned by competing interests and wars, the left could have longed for the “soothing” quality of an ideology that promises to unite most of the world – except the Jews. In this respect anti-Semitism is the global equivalent of nationalism. Nationalism promises to unite a nation, if only the enemies of the nation are defined and persecuted. And anti-Semitism promises to unite the world, if only the Jews are defined as enemies and persecuted. Both nationalism and anti-Semitism are of course wrong.

And additionally, the left all too often was opposed to immigrants and as at that time many immigrants were Jewish, they turned against the Jews also for this reason. Since 1892 the Trades Union Congress (TUC) prevented Jews from becoming members of their union, several other organisations of the left had similar restrictions. The TUC and other working class and left organisations campaigned for restrictions on immigration, which in 1905 culminated in the Aliens Act. The justification that the left organisations gave for demanding immigration controls were, that living standards and wages for the British workers would be endangered by immigration. The left tried to show the British workers with this, that they did support them, while in fact they only gave them propaganda to feed on.

Later, in the 1930s, anti-Semitism was undoubtedly for German Nazism and many other right-wing, fascist organisations of the 1st half of the 20th century the main ideology and social practice. Only for few fascists, e.g. the Italian fascists, anti-Semitism did not play a major role. The Nazis radicalised the previously existing anti-Semitism and formed it into an eliminatory project, with the goal of the annihilation of the Jews in Europe, which they did their best to implement.

The left at that time, due to its own history and its failure to understand anti-Semitism, saw in Nazism mainly an anti-working class project. Subsequently many left organisations in Europe opposed and fought the Nazis during WWII, but very few supported the Jews who were targeted by the Nazis.
Unfortunately there was, with very few exceptions, never a period after WWII where the left in Europe reflected on this historic failure.

And today?

How do these historic developments relate to the present?
There are several aspects, which should be considered. The economic blueprint that Mosley had developed is still something e.g. the Labour party would partly agree on. The basis for this is the view that Britain should be protected from international influences – in itself a rather nationalist strategy (and who protects the rest of the world from Britain and Europe?). And this kind of economic nationalism always comes with the dark side that immigrants have to be defined as a threat.
Following these nationalist tendencies, also some trade unions of today agree that immigration needs to be controlled. Today e.g. the TUC and RMT support immigration controls for non-EU immigrants.

But also the issue of anti-Semitism has not gone away. Organisations like Socialist Workers Party (SWP) still equate imperialism with Jews, nowadays with the justification pointing towards Israel. They have chosen to keep rather quiet about British and European imperialism, and instead put the blame on a minority. To understand that this is anti-Semitism at work, just compare their reaction to the bombing of Libyan cities by Britain, where no organisation in Libya was engaged in hostile activities against Britain (SWP = no mass demonstration) with the reaction of SWP to the bombing of Gaza by Israel, where organisations in Gaza were engaged in hostile activities against Israel (SWP = several mass demonstrations). And SWP call for the destruction of Israel, while SWP have never called for the destruction of UK, Britain or England, although the latter have wreaked havoc since centuries all over the world.
Currently you have the market of different opinions in the British establishment, the right wing wants to destroy IS/ISIS, the left wing wants to destroy Israel. The real question is, why should Britain (or Europe) decide at all who should be destroyed in the Middle East? And by playing this game (just proposing a different target, but upholding that Britain should have a say), SWP is complicit in this.
Another example of the left combining nationalist and anti-Semitic ideas to gain support is George Galloway. Galloway sometimes draws on Nazi rhetoric, e.g. declaring Bradford an Israeli free zone, while knowing very well about the Nazis, their “judenrein” declarations and the actions that came with them.

Anti-fascists generally oppose and fight against racist organisations like EDL, Britain First and SEA. This is of course the right thing to do and needs to continue. Anti-fascists generally understand that these right-wing organisations targeting Muslims are racist. But anti-fascists often find it difficult to oppose anti-Semitic organisations and activities, partly because there is no understanding of anti-Semitism in the radical left.
Many in the radical left understand racism as a division of the working class and therefore reject it. The radical left should also reject the false unity promised by nationalism and anti-Semitism.

“The main enemy is in your own country” and it’s not the minorities!

The radical left should criticise racism and anti-Semitism in their own communities and act against fascists here. If the radical left in Britain wants to criticise a power structure, then they should criticise the British and European power structures. If the radical left instead attacks minorities, then this will become racist and/or anti-Semitic.
Irrespective of what Israel is doing, it is always wrong to single out and attack Jews.
And irrespective of what countries, governments and organisations abroad are doing, it is always wrong to single out and attack minorities (no matter if they’re Muslims, Asians, Blacks, Roma, Jews or any other). And it is justified to oppose anyone who singles out and attacks minorities. Shouldn’t this be self-evident for anti-fascists?

Some in the left in Europe seem to tend in recent years towards the wrong view, that fighting against racism and fighting against anti-Semitism are contradicting each other. This contradiction exists only in the head of racists and anti-Semites. Instead, it is possible and justified to oppose both the racists attacking Muslims and the anti-Semites attacking Jews.


Why cablelondon?

The Battle of Cable Street is often seen as a defining moment of anti-fascist struggle in UK. It is considered the event where the British fascists lost the day and which stopped their advances. As also today various fascist organisations are on the rise again, it is worth reflecting about it.
This is not supposed to be a scientific essay; instead I will try to formulate a few thoughts which will hopefully also be of relevance today.
The first thing I noticed was how much of a myth in the Left the Battle of Cable Street is. Many communists see this as a confirmation of their strategies and tactics. Therefore let’s look at what happened.

When in 1936 the British Union of Fascists (BUF) called for a demonstration in London’s East End, this was in line with their growing anti-Semitism. The BUF had initially started off modelled after the Italian National Fascist Party, but since 1934 they re-oriented themselves more and more according to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. This included an ideological and practical focus on anti-Semitism, which was also an attempt to gain stronger support from British workers e.g. in the East End.
The reaction from the Left to this planned BUF demonstration was initially to either ignore it (e.g. Labour party called it’s followers to stay away) or to call for a demonstration far away (the Young Communist League planned a demonstration against the Fascists in Spain on Trafalgar Square the same day, which was supported by the main communist organisation until few days before the BUF march). The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) called for the BUF demonstration to be banned by the state. As the CPGB was following the concept of Popular Front, asking the state to act against fascism was seen as appropriate to keep other organisations in the Popular Front, organisation which could be turned away by militant anti-fascism.
Only when local groups and organisations in the East End started organising a real counter-demonstration and CPGB feared losing control over the anti-fascists in the East End then they reluctantly joined into organising for the counter-demonstration.
On the day of the BUF demonstration hundreds of thousands of anti-fascists were on the streets of the East End. Parts were from Left organisations (with or without approval from their organisations’ leaderships), others were from local communities or simply individuals living in this area who felt the need to defend themselves against the Fascists. Several thousand police tried to force a path for the march of the few thousand fascists through the crowds of anti-fascists. But the anti-fascists battled with the police and in the end successfully prevented the BUF march in the East End. The BUF then relocated their fascist demonstration to the West End while anti-fascists continued the battle with the police in the East End for hours.
In the months and years after the Battle of Cable Street, the fascists intensified their anti-Semitic propaganda and attacks on Jews. But the Left did not clearly stand in solidarity with Jews and other minorities, instead CPGB was competing with BUF to gain support from the British workers. CPGB went to areas with strong fascist support and helped the British workers in their daily issues. But Jews and other minorities were out of the focus (if they ever were in the focus) of solidarity by the Left.

When going through this brief history it is clear the Battle of Cable Street itself was a big success, but it also reveals many mistakes and wrong decisions by the Left.

Popular Front strategies always come with the down side, that militant anti-fascism or other militant/ radical political activity is not supported. In some cases militant anti-fascists are expelled. The same is true today, whoever wants to work with e.g. Labour party or the big Trade Unions has made their choice.
Also if Left organisations appeal to the state to fight against fascism, then this implies that the state is seen as a neutral power, which can do good or bad things, depending on what the government decides. This view is of course essential for organisations who want to come to power one day, governing this state. But it also means that these organisations necessarily have to be blind to the oppressive character of the state.
Instead of taking anti-Semitism and racism seriously, most Left organisations simply continue to organise “the working class”, which is in most cases the white Christian British working class. Rather than fighting against anti-Semitism and racism, the Left too often decide to pamper anti-Semites and racists, because they think it is the “necessary false consciousness” of the workers, in effect they don’t think that anti-Semites and racists are responsible for what they are doing, as long as they are workers. By doing this, many Left organisations stand effectively on the side of anti-Semitism and racism and against minorities.
There is also a tendency of organisations to mystify history, to twist or even doctor facts to make the organisation look good, to claim victory when in fact others have done the actual organising and fighting (or as UAF does today, claim victory when there never was a victory in the first place, e.g. Jobbik counter-demo in London 2014). This tendency is often justified by tactical gains in the public discourse or bourgeois media etc., but this also has a very negative effect inside the Left and inside the organisation. I would want Left politics to be based on trying to get an accurate view of reality, both of society as a whole but also of the organisations and individuals in the Left. But if the Left organisations educate the individuals in the Left with propaganda, then how is the Left supposed to learn from past and present?

Coming to the present, there is an urgent need to fight against fascism in Britain. The last years have seen many fascist demonstrations and even more attacks on minorities, also in London.
Anti-fascism should never be a mere tool in party politics – however left-wing that party may be. And anti-fascists should take anti-Semitism and racism seriously and fight against these.
Who is the intended audience of this? Anyone who is interested, but also we – the inviduals in cablelondon.

antifascism and more