Who are the EDL, what motivates them and why are we unable to connect with the very people they are attracting – the disenfranchised working class.
Once again working class kids are out on the streets, kicking back at authority, attacking conservatives and the cosy status quo, standing up for freedom, ridiculing religion and battling with the police. Anarchists? No. Socialists? No. So who? The EDL!! Well that is clearly only half the story. The EDL [English Defence League] first appeared in summer 2009 at a demonstration in Birmingham against Sharia Law. Their placards read clichés like ‘Black and White Unite’ ‘Support Gay Rights against Islam” etc.
The group claimed there were simply against Islamic fundamentalism, something no anarchist could disagree with. But it was also immediately clear many on the group were from not only the right wing but the far right. While the facts are disputed it is clear some far right activists are involved though the BNP condemns them as ‘provocateurs’. Immediately Unite Against Fascism (UAF/SWP) and Hope Not Hate/Searchlight (CPB) attacked them as Nazis and racists and have demonstrated against them every since. EDL conversely have held swastika burning press conferences and attack fascism as being anti-British and Nazism as traitorous. (1)
But who and what exactly are they then? It is hard to say. Possibly a good analogy is the Labour Party. Clearly the objectives of those who run Labour are currently neo-liberal and anti-working class. But it retains a core of progressive beliefs and the trade unions like to think they still have power in it. And while there is many a parasite at the top of the party still millions of working class people support it as they think it is their party and thousands of Leftists still support it as they can not see any other option for the future.
The EDL is equally contrary. It claims to be simply opposed to Islamic fundamentalism but increasing seems to be against ‘Islamification’, the idiotic and baseless idea that all Muslims wish, let alone could, take over the UK and make it a caliphate. And increasingly it appears to be against the Left on the basis that the UAF are ‘fascists’ for opposing them. It contains libertarians (right wing) opposed to the conservatism of Islamism and particularly the extreme brands marketed on our street corners, it contains many ex-soldiers angry at seeing, as they see it, their efforts and their dead colleagues sacrifices ‘for their country’ belittled. It’s following is predominantly young frustrated white working class kids who would probably have been happy going to football on a Saturday years ago but this is now the best cheap thrills on offer; lots of drinking, having a go at the police and the possibility of a row with Muslim kids! And of course it contains a lot of far right activists, using, as the Left uses front groups (ANL, STW, RTW, YFFJs etc) the EDL as a way to recruit.
Who actually runs it is not clear. Various names crop up; Trevor Kelway (who we are told is a racist but I personally saw warmly shaking the hands of a young black supporter on an EDL demo), Chris Renton (said to be a BNP activist but it is unclear if this is true), Jeff Marsh (or Seasider, a self confessed and infamous Cardiff City Soulcrew hooligan who hates fascists he claims and also Antifa and Class War (2) ) and the main spokesman ‘Tommy Robinson’ from Luton (not incidentally the real Tommy Robinson, the Luton Town/MIG [Men In Gear] hooligan), who while being accused of stirring up fascism wrote on April 5 this year “the EDL will not tolerate fascism in any form…How can anyone in their right mind support an ideology that caused the deaths of millions upon millions of white, black, and Asian peoples?”.(1) The final key element is Alan Lake a Highgate based ‘businessman’ and possible bankroller of the EDL and who again while avowing anti-fascism is part of a European anti-Islam grouping.
The EDL on paper are clearly not fascist and even anti-fascist. Even Nick Lowles, Searchlight, the liberal anti-fascist magazine states that while many of the EDL were nationalists and racists, only a handful would associate themselves with fascist, far-right policies. “While it is not a fascist organisation, there are a handful of organised fascists in key positions. We are concerned that as the EDL grows it will attract more extremists and fascists.” And even Lancaster Unity says they have “..decent people..” (amongst others as members).
But one key definition of fascism is that fascism, to the benefit of the state, the status quo, the rich, divides the working class and attacks a scapegoat community as part of that division. There are similarities with the attacks on Jews in pre and Nazi Germany where, while only some Jews were part of the state/capitalism, all Jews were attacked regardless of their class or power. Similarly, here and now, while only some Muslims espouse reactionary ideas, let alone actually enact them, the EDL crowd ends up attacking verbally Islam, and Muslims as a whole. (NB there has though not been one reported racial attack associated with an EDL demo). And while the EDL is again clearly not racist or racialist in the sense it believes one race is better than another (it states clearly it is multi –racial, with some evidence), however ‘racism’ is also defined by opposition to one group of people, regardless of ‘race’ (which is of course a nonsense term).
EDL demonstrations are getting bigger and more confrontational and increasingly anti-Islamification as opposed to anti-Islamist, a significant difference as being anti-Islamification is arguably anti-Muslim which anti-Islamist isn’t. And equally significantly the anti-leftwing and anti-trade unions’ rhetoric from the EDL increases day by day. So the EDL, while on paper anti-conservative, may indeed be fascist in effect, while its activists and mass of supporters would angrily deny this. Recent EDL demos in Dudley have shown the dangerous possibilities. In the April EDL demo a breakaway group was on just stopped from fighting with a big group of ‘muslim’ youth. And the night of the May rooftop EDL demo, four white youths were stabbed after hundreds of ‘muslim’ youth came to Dudley looking to attack EDL supporters who they see as attacking them. If the EDL are not trying to create a race war they are going a funny way about it.
It is clear there is a major difference in the analysis of working class anarchists and the rest of the Left in how we see the EDL. We see the EDL as essentially a ‘loyalist’ (this does not refer to Ulster loyalism but uncritical support for the UK state, for the Queen as it’s head) group with a following of working class youth that we clearly relate to more than most of the Left! But we also clearly understand the extreme threat of ‘loyalism’ to the working class, as it defends the status quo, defends the rich, defends those who attack us. And we clearly see the threat the EDL can be used at some point as an out and out fascist organisation against e.g. strikes or demonstrations. The Left sees the EDL as simply, and wrongly, as fascist and racist and even Nazi. They attempt to push everything into boxes of the 1930s and simply the EDL do not fit. The Left simply fail to understand the depth of frustration and resentment in the working class as to how neo-liberalism has turned the world upside down, creating a mass of unemployed and breaking up communities. A major problem for the Left/anarchists understanding of the EDL is their middle class aversion to young working class men mobbed up. As any parent knows teenage boys/young can be pretty unpleasant often without them knowing. The chants of “Who the fuck is Allah” really are not the issue at all, and most of those chanting that would be just as happy chanting “Who’s the bastard in the black” at some myopic referee, and with just as little intent to take anything further. Today’s society offers young men little outlet to burn off their testosterone and the right have always been far better at helping them do this than the left. Compulsory viewing is the BBC3 documentary ‘Young, British and Angry’. (3)
And of course the big question is how do we deal with it! As with defeating fascism in general, it is at the roots we will succeed. Attacking symptoms rarely works. Calling for state bans falls into a trap of their making as they project a radical anti-establishment stance. Attempts to physically confront or stop them have ended in failure and to be honest the presence of the police has surely saved the skin of many an ‘anti-fascist’ at EDL demos. We need to argue politically at the EDL to divide the good from the bad. And we need to have community defence leagues to, if needs be, defend whoever; Muslims or trade unionists, the unemployed etc against the EDL, the BNP, the police, whoever. And we need to be based in and creating alternatives to their loyalist crap in the communities they work in.
And finally the EDL tell us a lot about what has happened to us as a movement. Where once we mobilised and attracted working class youth, now the Left and anarchists are utterly marginal in the working class and increasingly disliked in the ‘underclass’, the unorganised, where paid work let alone unions are a distant memory. The EDL is what it shows us; that we, the anarchists, the socialists, the communists, the radical have almost entirely lost contact with the vast majority of ordinary people. If we genuinely want to change society instead of just parroting a mantra, instead of just wearing the T-shirt, we need to be winning over the kids who are joining the EDL.