Stand Up To Racism/Unite Against Fascism (which I will treat as interchangeable from this point) already has a less than stellar reputation among anti-fascists, and their behaviour on the mobilisation against Tommy Robinson on the 9th of December has done nothing to challenge that reputation. As a participant in that mobilisation, my ground level experience of events is obviously incomplete and even before that day I had no love for the Socialist Worker Party, which Stand Up To Racism is widely agreed to be a front organisation for, but what I did see was a stab in the back of the broader anti-fascist movement involved in the mobilisation.
But before the events of the day, some background…
The Near Death And Renewal Of Anti-Fascist London
The events that led up to June 9th are complex: the rise and split of the Football Lads Alliance/Democratic Football Lads Alliance, Tommy Robinson’s media circus, Brexit, Trump. It would take a long time to untangle the web of causality that allowed for such a sudden upsurge in far right mobilisation, and I do not have the inclination or ability to do so. The important thing is that on that day around 10,000 far right supporters of Tommy Robinson gathered in Trafalgar Square to chant racist slogans, harass passers-by, and fight the police. This was the largest far right mobilisation since World War Two. They were opposed by only 300 counter demonstrators, mostly under the Stand Up To Racism banner but also backed up by a few dozen people involved in more radical anti-fascist groups. They were attacked by far right hooligans multiple times. No one really saw it coming and the anti-fascist movement was caught completely unprepared.
It was a disaster.
The next big far right demo in London was scheduled for the same place on July 14th. We had a little over a month to try and come back from a position of being outnumbered thirty to one, and that time was filled with leafleting, public assemblies, planning meetings, brainstorming, and unfocussed flailing panic. Many individuals and organisations not previously directly involved in anti-fascism made heroic efforts to get numbers out for the 14th, and new networks of cooperation were created to facilitate this. Plan C London especially played an important role in this burst of organising.
When July the 14th came around, Stand Up To Racism managed to get 1,500 people out on the streets, and a coalition organised by Plan C and the Anti-Fascist Network (among others) rallied a further 500 people in an independent anti-fascist bloc. The objective articulated at the time was simply to survive, and the radical bloc linked up with the Stand Up To Racism march and set up to protect their rear in parliament square. With a militant independent bloc defending the counter-demo, the police suddenly felt compelled to form a line behind the demo almost immediately. This is something that they had been slow to do on previous counter demos in the same place, leading to fascist hooligans being able to break off from the main far right demonstration and attack anti-fascists from behind.
The day was, all things considered, a massive success. The open attacks on the counter-demo that had characterised the previous outings were prevented by the presence of our more militant bloc, and the far right drew a crowd of 6,000, “only” outnumbering us by three to one. Under most circumstances this would have been disheartening, but in context we had reduced the disparity in numbers by an order of magnitude and at the end of the day there was a feeling or triumph and relief.
Spurred on by the experience of successfully organising an independent, militant, and disciplined bloc across many different organisations, the disparate groups and individuals involved continued to organise around smaller events and in preparation for the next big far right mobilisation. Football Lads And Lasses Against Fascism was set up as a direct answer to the Football Lads Alliance, and the Feminist Anti-Fascist coalition held a series of assemblies to discuss how feminism and anti-fascism can intersect.
When the next far right march happened on October 13th, the composition of the anti-fascist response had become a mirror image of July 14th, with the independent radical bloc drawing 1,500 people, and Stand Up To Racism drawing 500 to 800 at a separate demo. The independent anti-fascist bloc, led by the feminist coalition that had formed in the run up to the event, successfully blocked the far right march, which only drew in 2,000 supporters. The combined anti-fascist presence on the street now outnumbered the far right, and the majority of that presence consisted of groups independent from Stand Up To Racism.
The Limits Of Unity
At this point, someone not familiar with Stand Up To Racism might be questioning why an independent bloc was necessary. Surely such a massive rise in far right activity would demand we put aside sectarian difference and unite under one banner? There are several problems with this line of thinking.
The first is that Stand Up To Racism has been totally ineffective at countering far right demonstrations. Their preferred strategy is an A to B march that deliberately avoids any contact with the far right. This kind of mild mannered march does nothing to disrupt the far right, either by directly blocking it or by forcing the police to keep them in a kettle. In failing to disrupt the far right we allow them to build on their success. Symbolically, if nothing happens to disrupt a far right demo it is often just reported on its own terms, emboldening those sitting on the fence about joining the next one and demoralising those who might oppose them and those communities that are threatened by them. “Counter demo avoids far right, heckles them from sidelines, disperses when asked to nicely by police” is not exactly a stirring narrative of resistance for anyone watching, regardless of what side they are on.
Beyond the symbolism of militant opposition to far right demonstrations, practically speaking letting them go functionally unopposed is always a disaster. The police are notoriously light handed in their handling of far right demonstrations when they do not have to worry about protecting them from anti-fascists. Often the far right are allowed to rampage around at will, attacking locals and counter-demonstrations, terrorising the area and generally having a great time doing it. Passive anti-fascism of the Stand Up To Racism type reduces itself to voicing disagreement with the far right while letting them do as they please.
Now, this understanding of the limits of passive anti-fascism is does necessarily create an unbridgeable divide between Stand Up To Racism and more militant anti-fascists. Within the independent anti-fascist bloc there has been an understanding that not everyone is able to confront fascists directly, and that this is perfectly OK. The militants who do pursue a more confrontation form of anti-fascism and also try to defend those who, for whatever reason, can not join them. On July 14h the bloc acted as the rear-guard to the Stand Up To Racism march in order to ensure London anti-fascism in its entirety was not crushed on the street on that day. On October 13th the bloc operated independently from Stand Up To Racism march and did not interfere with their passive demo. Within the bloc itself there are varying levels of militancy. A diversity of tactics is not only possible, but necessary.
Stand Up To Racism does not take a live and let live approach to other strains of anti-fascism, and it is tarred as a focal point for unity by its association with the Socialist Workers Party. Stand Up To Racism stewards are known to prevent militant action within their march and cooperate with police against more militant anti-fascists. Their idea of “unity” is everyone towing their line, and they often fail to even mention other anti-fascist organisations in their media around mobilisations, let alone credit them with any achievements. From Stand Up To Racism’s press releases you would not even know that a militant bloc existed on July 14th or October 13th.
The fact that Stand Up To Racism is commonly accepted to be a Socialist Workers Party front causes even more problems. The Socialist Worker Party both has a reputation for being dishonest and domineering, attempting to take control of every movement they get involved in, and was the centre of a nasty rape scandal in which the party closed ranks around the higher up accused and expelled anyone who disagreed with them. No one should be asked to unify under an authoritarian banner stained by rape apologism, especially not the feminists and libertarian-socialists who have been among the most dynamic elements of the recent mobilisations.
With that all out of the way, on December the 9th the militant anti-fascist bloc was sabotaged by Stand Up To Racism from the very start. In the run up to the day, the coalition attempted to organise a separate meeting point for their bloc so that they could operate independently of the Stand Up To Racism bloc as they had on October 13th. However, Stand Up To Racism changed their meeting point to the same place as the independent anti-fascist bloc, which they did not mention in media in the run up to the event, giving an impression that this was a Stand Up To Racism led mobilisation.
This made it impossible to tell who had come to join which group, and meant that there was effectively now one march with two separate stewarding teams attempting to implement two very different approaches to anti-fascism. As soon as the march itself was underway Stand Up To Racism wasted no time in trying to get to the front (with the cooperation of police) and co-opt the march. As the march went on Stand Up To Racism filtered more and more people ahead of the front formed by stewards from the independent bloc, trying to relegate our bloc to tag-alongs to our own fucking march and take control of the route of the march as a whole.
On top of this very un-comradely co-option of our march, Stand Up To Racism stewards were also cooperating with the police. Both cooperating with the police on the route the march would take and even pointing out our stewards to the police and calling us troublemakers to watch out for. Partly thanks to Stand Up To Racism’s service as an arm of police intelligence, and also partly thanks to their attempts to peel as much of the march away from us as possible and leave us isolated, our bloc had its own special team of police heavies shadowing it for most of the march. This would later make it far harder for us to break out of the now co-opted march and result in many of us getting beaten and batoned for attempting it.
When fascists attempted to block the march, our stewards rushed to the front to defend it, only to be harassed, insulted, and pushed into police by Stand Up To Racism stewards. The fact that Stand Up To Racism had, at this point, moved so much of the march ahead of our “front” meant that our stewards had to operate well ahead of the bulk of their own bloc in order to do this, and police could cut them off from the rest of the bloc for some time. This would later leave the militant bloc short on stewards as it attempted to break away. Our stewards ended up having to compromise the safety of their own bloc to defend the overall march, which was at this point led by a group doing its best to disrupt and disown them. If only Stand Up To Racism was willing to be so magnanimous in its handling of fellow anti-fascists.
To sum up, Stand Up To Racism dropped their march on top of ours, co-opted that march and attempted to sideline the people who organised it, cooperated with police against fellow anti-fascists, insulted and endangered our stewards, and for what? Their actions did more to disrupt anti-fascism than they did the far right, which their route did nothing to block.
Judging from October the 13th Stand Up To Racism may be losing the ability to pull numbers in comparison to more radical anti-fascist coalition, and that is probably why they decided to try and co-opt that bloc instead of march by themselves on December 9th. If they are on the way out it can not happen soon enough, because they have become an active hindrance to anti-fascist organising. If there was ever a reason to put up with their shit in order to form a broad coalition, that reason died with the ability of coalitions to bring mass marches onto the street independent of them. The question now is what can we do to stop them from co-opting our efforts next time?
Re-posted from London Anarchist Federation