On Saturday 13 June, a ragtag group of about 1,000 fascists, far-right racists and football hooligans assembled at Parliament Square, ostensibly to “protect” London’s statues and monuments.
Despite claiming to have mobilised supporters from as far away as the North West of England, the fascist and far-right hooligans numbered a fraction of the 20,000 Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters who had mobilised in London the week before.
However, the antifascists and BLM presence in London was smaller still this week. This was because a few days earlier the original BLM protest was called off by organisers. Their decision was motivated by predictions of a clash and a desire to ensure all violence was avoided. As nobly motivated as the decision was, it was a mistake.
Inevitably, a determined group of 500-700 BLM protesters who had felt let down by the organisers turned up to confront the fascists and racists. The fact that their numbers were far smaller, however, meant that they were at greater risk of falling victim to right-wing violence.
With only a small number of BLM protesters, it was possible for the police to kettle many of them. Where antifascists did break out of police kettles, the lack of organised stewarding meant small groups roamed central London, without clear direction, looking to confront the fascists. This could have led to tragic consequences. Where they found fascists, the police intervened to protect the latter, as they always do.
Lack of an organisational lead meant that when one drunken hooligan accidentally stumbled into the midst of a group of BLM supporters outside Waterloo. He was set upon and was lucky not to have been killed. This would have been all the excuse the government needed to whip up a reaction against BLM and come down on the movement with repressive measures.
The far right’s true colours
The far right meanwhile were able to feel that they had won the day. The decision not to oppose them did not lead to fewer violent scenes. After a few hours of drinking, the real colours of the brave “statue protectors” came out. One mused to a journalist how he felt Sadiq Khan should be arrested and shot as a terrorist. Others were less verbal in expressing their political opinions, preferring to give journalists bottles and fists to the face rather than soundbites.
“We’re here on a peaceful demonstration.”— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) June 14, 2020
*5 seconds later*
“Sadiq Khan should be arrested and shot as a terrorist.” pic.twitter.com/S759hdYPw8
Despite claiming to protect such memorials, one man decided to use the memorial to PC Keith Palmer as a urinal. Whereas the week before had seen police charging on horseback against BLM protesters, the fascists by contrast were given full freedom to throw Nazi salutes and assault passers-by.
Is this a fascist pissing on the memorial to PC Keith Palmer, who was murdered during the 2017 terror attack on Parliament?— Joe Quixotic (@joejglenton) June 13, 2020
I thought blue lives mattered to the far-right? pic.twitter.com/Sssk4N54mV
On Parliament St, in front of the police cordon 100m from the Cenotaph pic.twitter.com/Rd72kXofnh— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) June 13, 2020
One 18-year-old Asian man, who wasn’t attending the BLM counter-demo, was bottled in the face by a fascist. It was apparent that the fascists, having been handed free rein, were intent on assaulting any BAME individual they could get their hands on. Frustrated and intoxicated, they eventually turned their aggression on the police themselves.
We can harbour no illusions that the police or the government will do anything to protect those whom the far right are out to threaten and abuse. Whilst Boris has had to denounce the “racist thuggery” of those rampaging through London this weekend, it is hard to take such statements seriously from a man who has described black people as “piccaninnies with watermelon smiles”.
Fight racism with solidarity
Since the weekend’s protests, the Police Federation has demanded that the government step in to ban all protests during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The right-wing press are likewise clamouring for such laws, claiming that they are necessary to stop another rampage by the far right.
Such laws would inevitably be used primarily against the left and the working class, whatever the nominal reason for their being introduced. BLM protesters know very well that the police are not our protectors. This weekend in London we were given a demonstration of this fact. We must oppose giving the police any new powers.
The only way to deal with fascists and the far right is to base ourselves on the strength of the united working-class movement to clear them off the streets. It was an alliance of trade unionists, socialists, communists, Jewish groups and local residents from the East End of London who blocked Mosley’s blackshirts at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. The fascists never recovered from this humiliating blow.
The Battle of Lewisham in 1977 was a key turning point in the fight to smash the National Front. More recently the EDL became demoralised and disintegrated when, wherever they assembled, they were met by mass mobilisations of socialists and youth.
If the call had been put out by BLM in advance of the weekend to increase the turnout to the protest, to physically smash the far right, the turnout would have far exceeded the 20,000 of the weekend before. The far right would scuttled back under the stone from which they came - under police protection, of course! It would have reduced their ability to mobilise for years to come.
The BLM organisers made a mistake. But responsibility for the lack of a counter-demo is not theirs alone. In fact, there are limits to which the BLM organisers can be said to be organising these protests at all, beyond putting the initial call out. To confront the threats of the state and the far right, the movement needs organisation.
Above all the labour movement must give it that organisation. Year in and year out, the TUC and big unions pay homage to the Battle of Cable Street. Yet it is left to small unions, individual trade unionists, and branches or trades councils here-and-there to take the initiative to confront fascists and the far right. It is the elementary duty of the organised labour movement to come to the assistance of the BLM movement at this time.