The fascist crowd outside Tate Britain drew in an ungainly coalition of middle-class gender criticals, fire and brimstone religious fundamentalists, and at its core, the fascist grouping Patriotic Alternative. Against them but restricted by a heavy police presence, the antifascists included members from A*CR, the AWL, and WP, all organised under the banners of the SWP.
At one point, the police created a cordon, so parents attending the Tate event, a drag queen story hour, had to walk by the fascist crowd. When asked about this, the cops smiled knowingly. They aimed throughout the day to bolster the far right and operated in conversation with the leaders of the transphobic protesters.
Piers Corbyn showed up partway into the event and tried to set up an unaffiliated protest. However, after receiving the apparent ire of the socialists present, he was quickly led into the fascist gathering. There, his politics of Covid denial and transphobia were welcomed, and he happily accepted that his new values aligned him more with the far right than contemporary marxists.
The counterprotest was proudly militant; people squared up to the fascists, getting pushed around, and eventually, threw punches. One fascist tripped down the steps leading into Tate Britain. The result was that London conveyed a clear rejection of this reprehensible neo-Nazi politics. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of an earlier protest in Knowsley, where PA gained the upper hand and successfully kettled antifascists in a nearby car park. The two events need to be studied attentively by the left so that we can learn from them and engage in a more robust antifascism in the future.
Patriotic Alternative are just the latest iteration of violent far-right politics in Britain. Their leader is Mark Collett, the head of BNP youth in the early 2000s. He was filmed undercover by a Panorama journalist saying he expected a race war in Britain and wanted to build an organisation to “prepare for it”.
The far right in Britain isn’t expecting a race war; they are attempting to provoke one. Their purpose is to build an ethno-nationalist movement based on street violence, queer-phobia, genocidal nativism and the general shit of the ages preserved by class society’s prejudices.
The playbook of these organisations is straightforward. They actively deny being fascists (though Collett learnt German so he could read Mein Kampf in the original language!) because they know in a country that boasts about how it fought the Nazis in WW2, identifying with fascism is unpopular. They target minorities often under-protected by society, asylum seekers, trans people, etc. They usually do it under some pretence, for instance, alleged criminal behaviour, to excuse calling a protest.
They also do not explicitly talk much about race, preferring to focus on “culture”. This way, they can attack Muslims and claim it isn’t about them being black or brown but about “legitimate concerns over cultural differences”. Because the far right has shifted towards Islamophobia as their key battleground, they opportunistically defend Israel as being on “the front line against Islamic extremism”. However, many are still blatantly antisemitic about Jewish people in Britain and believe conspiracies about Jewish billionaires “replacing” white people through immigration and by promoting queer “ideology”.
Their methods were straightforward in Knowsley on Friday 10th, February. Rumours were circulating online that an asylum seeker who had allegedly harassed a young woman in the street was staying at a hotel. Patriotic Alternative and others had already put out leaflets whipping people against asylum seekers in hotels, claiming the government was spending money on them and not “British people” during the cost of living crisis.
This fake concern for working-class people is common in fascist and far-right politics, but it is just a way to obscure their real agenda, making people hate foreigners. The ensuing protests were ripe for Patriotic Alternative to launch an attack on the hotel, anti-racists and even the police. Only with robust local support could they hope to push so far against so much opposition.
It is arguable whether organisations like Patriotic Alternative are fascist as such. Their political programme is underdeveloped, so whether they intend to create a corporate fascist state is not explicit. But they are violent ethno-nationalists who want to purge Britain of anyone they deem subhuman or alien. They are the agency of the petit bourgeois awaiting a glorious leader from the reactionary opportunist ranks of the bourgeois political class unless they can be quickly crushed.
And the violence of the far right has to be understood in context. We live in dangerous times when the far right internationally is mobilising and are incredibly confident. They have the backing of much of the security forces of increasingly draconian police states. They still need a plan, but they also make up for this deficit with a sense of vision and purpose, which the left currently lacks.
The Trump supporters’ invasion of the US Capitol, the Bolsonarists in Brazil attacking the Presidential Palace, Congress and the Supreme Court, and the far right gains in elections in many countries (most notably Italy) all showcase creeping fascism. These parties and individuals are not all fascists, but they are building a movement in which far-right violent fascist politics can grow and become more confident.
The far right’s violence shows how far they are willing to go. Each act of performative atrocity inspires new martyrs to join in the fascist cause. Anders Brevik murdered social democrat teenagers, the Christchurch killer, and multiple far-right (including alt-right incels) attacks in the USA, all show this violence is rising.
Several PA leaders were previously in National Action before the UK government banned it, and this happened after one of its members assassinated Labour MP Jo Cox. They are violent killers who would not hesitate to murder again, and thanks to a government Prevent strategy that ignores the far-right, are allowed to fester. At the same time, we see the overpolicing of Muslim communities. Fascism is being granted plenty of opportunity to grow by a weak bourgeois state.
How to fight them
The organised ethnic-nationalist/fascist movement in Britain is currently tiny. But they have an audience for their politics and ideas which we must consider. Especially in the atomised and alienated spheres of Web 2.0, they have found a medium that perfectly matches their penchant for sensationalism and irony and their reduction of politics to aesthetic games.
In truth, the organised force of the labour movement, with its 6 million people in trade unions, is powerful enough to sideline, isolate and crush this fascist menace. However, that can only happen through a united working class in all of its diversity. This is why the actual danger is from the potential for red-brown coalitions, whereby resentful class layers join fascist organisations due to resentment and prejudice.
The danger is that if the fascist menace grows as a street fighting presence, the response will fall into two camps, passive demonstrations against them half a mile away behind police cordons or an aggressive approach limited to only a physical struggle. We need to confront them whenever we can to isolate and demoralise them. But the best kind of anti-fascism is when socialist politics can answer the problems facing working-class communities, including queer, Black, Muslim, disabled, etc. communities.
This is where we need to build a working-class movement active in every town and city, mobilising around important issues like housing, public services and low wages. We need class arguments, not race arguments. But we need to embed those arguments in a liberatory struggle that is universal and human in its scope and vision.
It means we must go beyond just pay strikes and look at how we can build a natural class struggle movement that links all the issues together. It is about a vision for a better world away from the morbid fears of capitalist scarcity and the violent reaction of the far right. It means a totality of struggle that sees queer people and migrants stand shoulder to shoulder against their shared fascist enemies.
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