Nadia Sayed wrote a good piece in last month’s SR on the far-right. Historically, as Nadia says, it has been mass resistance confronting the Nazis in the streets, such as at Cable Street in 1936, that stopped fascism in Britain. East London, of course, has its own great tradition, which is kept alive by many local activists.
One point though: campaigning to ban the far-right was mentioned. Some anti-fascists seek to stop the far-right by calling for fascist marches to be banned.
This is an understandable reaction to the attacks on the left and black people carried out by the far-right. But banning racist organisations will not end racism and hampers the fight against fascism. In Germany neo-Nazi groups are banned, but that doesn’t stop fascists organising and carrying out racist attacks. The same is true elsewhere.
Socialists should never look to the state to deal with fascists. This is because of the nature of capitalism. The ruling class prefer their system to run with a “democratic” veneer — a parliament, a nominally free press, and so on.
But at times of crisis, when there is a strong working class movement challenging their rule, they will look to other methods. This is where fascist groups enter. Fascism is a mass movement of the middle class aimed at crushing all forms of democracy. It aims to show its usefulness to the ruling class by forming street gangs to terrorise the left.
It only takes power when the ruling class turns to it. This is what happened in Italy with Mussolini and Germany with Hitler. Across Europe, as we know, there are signs of such again.
Some marches by the fascist English Defence League were banned. But they still held “static protests”. Bans allow the police to “escort” the thugs to their rallying point, so they get paraded through the streets. Moreover, bans can demobilise our side. They take people off the streets.
When the state gives itself extra repressive powers it will use them against the left. The government brought in the Public Order Act in 1937 supposedly to counteract the rise of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. It didn’t stop fascism — and was used against left wing and workers’ protests for decades afterwards.
Only a mass movement, rooted in the working class, has the strength to challenge fascists, ideologically and politically, and to stop them.
Over the last few years Unite Against Fascism and others have thwarted the far-right, but they will be back. Of course, wherever possible we have worked alongside those who believe we should campaign for bans. Differences in opinion over the issue don’t mean practical unity in action is impossible; quite the opposite, often.
But we should have no illusions in the state.