New challenges for anti-fascism

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Along with every great success come new challenges. That will be the case for Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR).

By any measure, the 2008 LMHR carnival was a great success. It celebrated London's multicultural spirit. Around 100,000 mainly young people soaked up its political message of opposing racism and the Nazi BNP. And that message got out far and wide.

Don Letts' documentary on the carnival was shown on Channel 4. Every major newspaper and magazine gave it glowing reviews, except for the New Statesman. Its journalist, Daniel Trilling, argued that the festival was too corporate.

This is laughable. It cost nearly £400,000 to put on the free event. Every band played for free and every penny raised came either from trade unions or donations from artists and individuals. The accusation is a bit rich coming from a magazine that had a pull-out ad from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

But more serious was his accusation that the bands who played back in 1978 - The Clash, X Ray Spex, Buzzcocks - were more political than the bands of today. Trilling is part of what I call the "Grandad faction" - people who wax lyrical about the past and bemoan the present. We had those people in the 1970s too - they were the ones who told you folk music and rock music of the 1960s had real meaning whereas punk was just inarticulate rage.

Did Trilling not hear Roll Deep's song "Racist People" or Asian R&B artist Jay Sean's moving speech about his right to stay in this country? Did he not read the brilliant polemical articles by Reverend and Drew McConnell of Babyshambles against the BNP and Boris Johnson in the NME?

For me, the carnival was best summed up by Nick Hasted's review in the Independent. He wrote that as the last band left the stage London felt a better place to be in. It was true London was a better place. But four days later things took a massive turn for the worse. The fascist BNP won 130,174 votes (5.3 percent) across London, winning a seat on the London Assembly. They also gained a net ten councillors, bringing their total to 57 across England. The result is similar to the fascist vote gained in the Greater London Council elections in 1977, when the National Front (NF) gained 119,063 votes.

This poses a big question for the anti-fascist movement - how do we stop the BNP? In the 1970s it was obvious who the NF were - they were marching on the streets, selling their papers full of race hate outside our schools, and their members were attacking black and Asian people.

This hatred, anger and fear were articulated in many of the great anti-fascist anthems of the late 1970s: Linton Kwesi Johnson's "Fite Dem Back", Tom Robinson's "Winter of '79", Steel Pulse's "Klu Klux Klan" or The Specials' "Why?" That experience shaped the movement. The Anti Nazi League distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets exposing the Nazis. It set up workplace and student groups and when it was necessary it confronted the NF on the streets. It provided a physical and ideological challenge to the NF. Rock Against Racism used music to win a massive layer of young people to anti-fascism.

Today people's experience of racism and fascism is different. This has everything to do with the political strategy developed by the BNP and not the so-called depoliticisation of young people. For the time being the BNP have taken off their Doc Martin boots, put on their suits and grown their hair. They are imitating the French Nazi Jean-Marie Le Pen's Eurofascist strategy of masquerading as a legitimate political party with some success.

Therefore young people's experience of the BNP is different. Thousands of young people around LMHR hate them - that's why the popular chant at every LMHR event is "Fuck the BNP." But it is primarily institutional racism and the tragic racist murders that shape many young people's viewpoint today. This can, and I believe will, change if the BNP start to take to the streets - we will have to confront them.

We are in this game for the long haul. The BNP will be polluting our town halls for some time yet. LMHR is the vehicle through which we can reach wide layers of people. But a cultural struggle never was and never will be enough to beat the fascists. We need to strengthen the political wing of the anti-fascist movement. This means redoubling our efforts to deepen the roots of Unite Against Fascism inside the trade unions, colleges and communities.

Things are not better or worse today than in the 1970s. They are just different. So we need to learn from the past, adapt our tactics today and where necessary develop new strategies for dealing with the Nazis.

Unite against Fascism website

Love Music Hate Racism website