On November 22nd, thirteen British National Party members were arrested in Liverpool city centre for distributing racist material. The pamphlet in question was a BNP “report”, purporting to be about “hate crimes against white people”. It begins with a nauseating denunciation of racism by BNP chair and Holocaust denier, Nick Griffin, which is followed by a welter of lies and scare stories about foreign workers, asylum seekers and Black and Asian communities in this country. It is designed to produce fear and hatred amongst white voters, and to drive them into the arms of the BNP.
In the week following the arrests, the BNP condemned the incident as an attack on “civil liberties”. They called on supporters to gather in Liverpool the following Saturday to condemn this outrageous assault on their right to peddle racist filth. The choice of Liverpool for this upsurge in BNP activity is linked less to the defence of free speech (threatened by what the BNP curiously calls the “fascist” Labour government), and is more to do with Griffin’s challenge for the North West seat in the next European elections. Meantime, Merseyside Police “consulted” the Crown Prosecution Service and was told that the thirteen should be released without charge, which they duly were. The BNP also got permission to hold their leafleting in Liverpool.
Anti-racists used the intervening week to mobilise a counter-demonstration. On the day, around 200 turned out for a rally against the BNP at the top of Church Street in the city centre. The BNP’s event was at the other end of the same street. More police were deployed to corral the anti-fascists than to observe the BNP, who were distributing the same material which had triggered the arrests the previous week. The anti-fascist protest had been called by Unite Against Fascism and by the Merseyside Coalition Against Racism and Fascism, two alliances of moderate anti-BNP campaigners. After an hour or so of standing around and chanting, the rally was addressed by the local MCARF spokesperson and TUC bureaucrat, Alec McFadden. He thanked everyone for being present, told us that the demonstration had been a magnificent victory and that, as the BNP were not going to turn up, the event was now over. Then he left, and many demonstrators drifted away.
How odd, then, that that was the very moment at which the police escorted around 100 BNP scum into position at the other end of Church St. The sequence of events could not have favoured the BNP more if McFadden had been liaising with the police about the scope and timing of the protest and when to disperse the anti-fascists.
Well…the fact that he had actually been liaising with the police about the scope and timing of the protest and when to disperse the anti-fascists tells us that what we are dealing with in McFadden is a reformist trade union bureaucrat who, despite attacks on his home and his person by the BNP, cannot be trusted, is scared to death of independent working class action and is more concerned with his career and his respectability than with organising effective opposition to racism and fascism. It shows us the danger of leaving anti-fascism in the hands of those who will connive with the police to allow the BNP to go about its business without fear.
polluting the city
Thankfully, some anti-fascists had been unwilling to go home at McFadden’s bidding, and had lingered, suspecting that they had not witnessed a magnificent victory at all, but rather sensing that the BNP were still polluting their city. Scouts quickly ascertained that Nazi scum were encamped at the very centre of Liverpool’s shopping area, not half a mile away, this time protected by the police. Frantic phone calls brought anti-fascist numbers up as protests began at the police cordon around the BNP contingent. Shameful scenes then followed. Police prevented anti-fascists from moving around the streets while BNP luminaries like Griffin and Richard Barnbrook, the party’s London Assembly member, freely mingled with the rest of the inadequates who were trying to poison the minds of the people of Liverpool. Police were seen directing black people away from the leafletters. “Freedom of speech” for the BNP apparently means that black Scousers can’t walk the streets of their own city on a Saturday afternoon because permission has been given for an event at which their passing by might constitute a “threat to public order”.
At this point, another self-selected “leader” of the official anti-fascist movement, Weyman Bennett, UAF spokesperson and SWP central committee apparatchik, announced to the crowd that we should march back up Church St, thereby leaving the BNP unhindered. After being shouted down by the anti-fascists, he reappeared briefly to tell us that he had negotiated “five more minutes” with the police on our behalf. More abuse flew. The police seemed to tire of the whole business of negotiation at that point, and lines of cops pushed us all back up the road anyway, taking the opportunity to detach and surround the more vociferous section of the anti-fascists and to box them into shop doorways.
herded by police
News of the BNP being escorted to Lime St. Station was followed by anti-fascists again being blocked in by police, this time back at the top end of Church St. Two Labour city councillors were spotted in the vicinity and were accosted by anti-fascists, asking how the BNP had been allowed to occupy the main shopping thoroughfare while those opposed to racism and fascism were being herded around by police. Neither, unsurprisingly, could give a coherent answer. The BNP held a rally on St. George’s Hall steps en route to the station while anti-fascists were still penned in by police. The rank and file did not know it was taking place. Had Mr. McFadden and Mr. Bennett been told of this event, which the law demands should be pre-arranged, by their partners in negotiation, Merseyside Police?
While it was desperately sad to see a large BNP presence in our city, there were some positives. There was pretty general condemnation of McFadden, Bennett and the handling of the protest amongst the crowd. People will in future be much less inclined to take at face value what they are told by these two, or to accept their leadership of the anti-fascist struggle. In addition, the day’s events did bring out many old faces – some were veterans of Anti-Fascist Action in the 1980s and ‘90s who had in the past prevented BNP and NF scum from operating here and who are clearly still keen. There were also many new faces there – younger people obviously willing to stand up to fascism. Another thing – the BNP turnout was small, considering the publicity generated by the week’s events. Those who wandered through their ranks noted that there were few Scouse accents to be heard, and that some there had come from as far away as Tyneside. A northern mobilisation of the BNP had only unearthed 100 bigots willing to show their faces. We still outnumber them without really trying, so there is potential there. The other good thing was the response of the public. The BNP contingent remained static in size throughout. People did not join them and many made their opposition clear. Young Asians spontaneously joined the anti-fascist protest. The street was strewn with discarded BNP leaflets. Several passers by, young and old, independently mentioned Hitler’s bombing of Liverpool during the war, and cited this as a reason not to support the BNP. A group of lads asked what was going on at the cordon. When told that the BNP were in town, one said scornfully “BNP – British Nazi Party”.
There is a school of thought that believes it is inaccurate and simplistic to equate the BNP with the Nazis, that not everyone in the party is a raving anti-Semite or a closet Hitler-worshipper, and that these facts will damage the anti-fascist argument. It is certainly true that history never repeats itself and that the next far right demagogue will not have a toothbrush moustache and a lank fringe. Yet the evocation of the Nazis is a potent weapon. Some people clearly make the links already, implicitly understanding where racism can lead. If the term became firmly linked in the public mind with the BNP, it would prove fatal to a party trying to market itself as a respectable organisation that shares the concerns of many white voters. At the moment, the leadership is keen to marginalise the bonehead foot soldiers who sustained the party in the past, but they are still present and active. Whatever the case, we have to make sure that our charges against the BNP stick.
Another thing became apparent on November 29th. This is going to be a long struggle. The BNP is already more successful in electoral terms than either Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts or the later National Front. The North West will inevitably be a focus for sustained BNP activity in general and as Griffin’s Euro campaign progresses. In any case, the economic turmoil which confronts us will be grist to the BNP mill, allowing them to link the crisis and its effects with everything from “international finance” (code for Jews amongst BNP insiders) to asylum seekers. The current “leadership” of the local anti-racist movement showed its fitness for purpose on that Saturday and the BNP reaped the benefits. The real struggle to defeat fascism, politically, organisationally and physically in Liverpool and elsewhere must intensify now.
Let us re-learn an old lesson from the events of November 29th in Liverpool. The leadership of moderate anti-racist groups and the labour movement are not going to challenge or stop the BNP. We need a more militant organisation to do that. In the 1980s and ’90s, Anti-Fascist Action served this role, allowing anarchists and serious anti-fascists from the left to co-operate in a shared policy of giving “no platform” to fascism. Direct action was used most effectively to prevent the BNP gaining a toehold in our communities then. Alas, AFA is no more and BNP support has risen to alarming levels. There is a direct action oriented anti-fascist movement in Britain, in the form of Antifa, which shares the “no platform” ethos (antifa.org.uk). This is a young organisation that is still to achieve a national presence and has not yet mobilised numbers on the scale that AFA did. This state of affairs has meant that the field is still clear for reformists and compromisers of McFadden’s ilk to keep anti-fascism “safe” and at the margins, while the BNP make the running.
Direct Action would welcome a debate on the way forward for militant anti-fascism in this country.
Thanks to Liverpool Indymedia for images used with this article.