By Ed Emery, originally published in effimera.org. On 19 May 2019, Italian author and political...
Here is Plan C’s report from the counter-demo against the ‘Free Tommy Robinson’ rally in Whitehall, on 14th July 2018.
Building on a precedent of large central London rallies, the Saturday 14th July event was the first far-right mobilisation in recent years to face a large and diverse counter-demonstration. The arrest of Tommy Robinson for contempt of court last month spurred on the far-right to mobilise its supporters. In response, Plan C and many other London activist groups helped organise an autonomous counter-demonstration, outside of the official Trade Union Congress and Stand Up to Racism opposition. We believe taking the far-right seriously means diverging from the ‘activist-centred’ style of mobilisation. The bloc’s contribution to the counter-demonstration was a successful effort towards an autonomous working class movement, and a step to meaningfully addressing the threat of the far-right.
The far-right’s 14th July ‘Free Tommy’ event was smaller than expected, drawing around 6000 people, which is a significant drop from the 10,000 they attracted on 9th June. The droning of countless dull and repetitive speakers was widely seen as boring and un-engaging even by the far-right’s more committed attendees, leading people to drop out throughout the day. The preceding event on the 9th June was also marked by widely-reported scraps with police, which may have put off some of the more unsure or softer Tommy fans from making the trip, and may also have caused the cops to place much stricter restrictions on the day.
The ‘Free Tommy’ demonstration was a static rally, therefore tactics such as physically preventing the demonstration from reaching its destination would not work. So for us, the day begun around the International Brigade memorial statue in Jubilee Gardens with 500 anti-fascists meeting from various groups. From here, we marched as a tight but lively bloc across the river, with chants and smoke bombs making our presence known. Chants of ‘where’s your Tommy gone?’ and, to the tune of ‘Mrs Robinson’: ‘Here’s to you Tommy Robinson, London hates you more that you would know’, were especially well received. The 4-metre-wide banner, reading ‘We are all antifascist’, made our message clear to passers-by.
On arriving at Whitehall, the bloc defended the space just to the south of Whitehall, by Parliament Square, along with 1500 participating in the official counter-demonstration. As we were still outnumbered by the Free Tommy crowd, it would have jeopardised the safety of those attending our bloc to attempt to take another space. Our aim was to hold and defend the space just south of Whitehall from fascist incursions, and this was achieved.
In terms of a large physical presence, mobilising various sections of the left, and showing the fascists that they will not protest unopposed, 14th July’s autonomous counter-demonstration was relatively successful. However, the day was marred by ‘Free Tommy’ supporters physically blocking a bus driven by a Muslim woman, and attacking trade unionists in the centre of London. These sorts of violent incidents against ethnic minorities and left-wingers will increase unless the far-right is stopped in its tracks.
To this end, efforts towards building an anti-fascist culture should be considerably stepped up in London. Anti-fascists should aim to create an environment in which activists and non-activists, lefties and anyone who opposes the far-right, are aware of coming actions and are willing and able to organise for them as part of a larger mobilisation. Not just the demographics but the forms of counter-mobilisation should be expanded, starting with anti-racist parties and club nights, and self-defence classes and film screenings. Programmes of political education and cultural events should go hand in hand with the kind of revolutionary left politics that can provide an alternative to the propaganda of the far-right.
Anyone – however new to anti-fascism – is very welcome to attend the Women’s Strike Assembly On Violence this Sunday 29th July, 14.00 in Victoria Park Square, East London. Free entry. For more info, see event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1769274409835444/