Two important protests, in Bolton and Dudley, have taken place since Socialist Review published the article "English Defence League Uncovered" in March.
Bolton was the most serious. Up to 3,500 anti-fascists confronted around 800 English Defence League (EDL) supporters. What marked Bolton out from the 13 other counter-EDL protests of the last eight months was the ferocity of the police. For hours they attacked Unite Against Fascism (UAF) supporters, using police dogs and horses (see Frontlines last month).
Although we did not prevent the EDL from demonstrating, we did cut their protest short and finally drove them out of the town centre. But most importantly this was not a repeat of Stoke: the EDL weren't able to riot and rampage through the streets of Bolton.
The boldness and the anger of EDL members are the product of a combination of factors. Clearly most come from a football hooligan background and are attracted to street fighting. The political cement that binds them together is a virulent Islamophobia - anti-Muslim racism. Also, as many make clear in the EDL chat rooms, they feel the squeeze of the economic crisis, but their anger is directed at the usual scapegoats - Muslims and migrant workers.
The EDL is now setting up permanent political structures based around regular meetings and local branches or "divisions". But there are tensions in its ranks. Right wing street movements have a dynamic - they have to continually move forward to keep their supporters active and maintain a level of excitement and a belief they are on the winning side. Any stalling or reversal of fortunes can lead to splits or implosion. A debate is raging inside the EDL about the kind of movement it is trying to build. Some want to split into two wings - one based on street fighters and another on those who just want to march.
The leadership of the EDL go to great lengths to deny they are Nazis. But, as even the mainstream media have demonstrated, the EDL is riddled with Nazi British National Party (BNP) members and assorted fascist fanatics. Even Tommy Robinson (not his real name), the spokesperson for the EDL, had to issue a statement to EDL divisions acknowledging "the National Front, Blood And Honour, Combat 18, British Freedom Fighters and other affiliated yet 'autonomous' Nationalistic racist groups have come out to cause us trouble". Robinson doesn't mention the BNP - because a number of key BNP members openly run EDL divisions.
Most EDL supporters are not card-carrying members of fascist organisations, but as Trotsky wrote, "Fascist movements don't start out as fascist movements, but at the moment this movement begins attacks on the workers, their organisations, their actions and minorities a fascist movement is born."
Recently the EDL has widened its attack. During the British Airways dispute the EDL published an article entitled "Labour Party Affiliation to Union Criminality" where new enemies are denounced: Unite the union and communists. EDL members have also attacked UAF and SWP meetings. One leading member of the Welsh Defence League has put a film up on YouTube calling for a "fatwa" on UAF meetings. The trajectory of the EDL and its sister organisations is becoming clearer. Our task must be to deepen and broaden UAF and oppose the EDL when they take to the streets.