By Ed Emery, originally published in effimera.org. On 19 May 2019, Italian author and political...
On Sunday 9th December 2018, a coalition of anti-fascist and anti-racist groups organised to oppose the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march, led by UKIP’s Tommy Robinson. The coalition was formed by a large section of London residents (see list below), including Feminist Anti-fascist Assembly (FAF), who were due to lead the march. This report of the day is by Plan C.
Description of the demo
The counter-demonstration was made up of around 2,000 people on the Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) bloc and another 2,000 people on the FAF-led bloc. The latter bloc marched from Portland Place to Whitehall, maintaining coherence until around Trafalgar Square. The ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march traveled from Park Lane to Whitehall with around 4,000 people.
The FAF bloc aimed at blocking the fascist demonstration to prevent it from reaching its final destination at Whitehall. This is a tactic which requires a large number of organised and committed demonstrators on the day, who do not all need to be prepared for physical confrontations with the far right. Whilst this tactic worked effectively on previous demonstrations, we were not as successful on this occasion, and were not able to approach the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march.
On the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march, despite the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) crowd numbering only a few dozen, they managed to continually slow down the entire march from Piccadilly onwards and it was more or less untouched by counter-demonstrators until Trafalgar Square. But, as the counter-demonstration approached Trafalgar Square, it disbanded temporarily to get around police lines, resulting in ad hoc taunting of fascist supporters who were hovering around the area. Despite the vulnerability of the counter-demonstration at this point, the DFLA didn’t seem up for a fight, even though there seemed to be multiple opportunities. They were humiliated a few times, with food thrown at them over police lines.
The political messaging of the FAF-led bloc built excellently on previous demonstrations, as part of a strategy to re-frame the discourse around sexual violence, an issue we’ve discussed previously. The idea of women leading the demonstration shoots at the heart of the right’s claim that black and brown men perpetrate sexual violence more than white men. This lie is directed at migrants and asylum seekers, so it is important for the left’s response to be fundamentally anti-borders and anti-nationalist, as well as feminist.
For these reasons, the FAF bloc have led previous counter-demos. On 9th December, it was frustrating that SUTR didn’t want to support the idea of the feminist bloc leading the demo and set off on their own, as this probably stems from their failure to fully address the current propaganda tactics of the far-right. The day ended around mid-afternoon, with three arrests.
In the weeks before the march, the violent attack on an asylum seeker child caused national outrage, which Tommy Robinson span into a story of British victimhood. He is attempting to play an ideological game of pulling the frustrated Brexit voter towards the far-right, presenting it as a maintenance of democracy and supposedly creating a space for people who are alienated from the political status quo. Whilst some in the left were prepared to hand him the mantle of ‘Brexit champion’, we must be wary of doing so.
For the DFLA, after their rise in on-street numbers peaking on 6 May 2018, it’s safe to say they are are no longer a mass organisation. We’d be confident to say that’s because of the October 13th demo. Nevertheless, anecdotally, the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march felt that they had a fantastic day, and a lesson for the future is that frustrating the movement of far-right demonstrations, by whatever means, slows their rise.
In terms of antifacist strategy, SUTR do not have the capability nor tactics to lead the way in combating the rise of fascism, so it is imperative for the new broad-based/coalition style of anti-fascist movement to adopt a more fluid approach. In the coming year, we should diversify our tactics into longer-term and caring approaches which are more sustainable for a movement. For tactics, it’s necessary to discuss the coherence of the bloc. Historically, a lot of what the Anti-Fascist Network does on demonstrations is peel people off from a SUTR demo towards more militant confrontation of the fash. Should we sometimes adopt this fluid approach, where people can move more freely to block the right’s demonstrations?
Sunday 9th felt like a draw, at least compared to the success of 13th October. Unfortunately, we didn’t pull substantially more numbers than last time, let alone the much higher figures peddled by some media outlets. As a comrade said, “I feel as though a lot of the immediate reflections are verging on boosterism, where we exaggerate our successes to pep up supporters”. It’s obviously important to keep the movement enthused, but not every event can be a resounding success, and we need to be honest with potential and current supporters.
That said, SUTR’s demo was just as ineffective in blocking the fascists, and it lacked the fresh perspective on sexual violence that Feminist Antifascist Assembly bring to recent demonstrations. We think 2019 is the year to completely wrestle the leadership of mass anti-fascism from SUTR, through new tactics and messages.
Supporting organisations: (this list is of groups which publicly supported the demonstration beforehand and brought their members out on the day).
Stop Trump Coalition
Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union
Independent Workers Union of Great Britain
Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union
Global Justice Now
Another Europe is Possible
Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly
Women’s Strike Assembly
Brazilian Women Against Fascism
Labour Against Racism and Fascism
Labour Campaign for Free Movement
Kurdistan Students Union
NUS Black Student Campaign
London Young Labour
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Women’s March London
Fourth Wave: London Feminist Activists
The x:talk project
Ni Una Menos UK
Sister not Cister
Action for Trans Health
SOAS Detainee Support
People and Planet
Our Future Now
Women of Colour GWS
Global Women’s Strike
United Voices of the World