[Left and above: Phil Dickens's anarchist 'class analysis' of the EDL and Islamism is indistinguishable from SWP, etc. analyses of the same things. All are essentially Marxist in nature and deeply reductionist (reductions to class, class conflict, class consciousness, etc.). Even Dickens's phrases and technical terms are identical to those used by Trots, etc. The only differences between Dickens's anarchism and general Leftism are differences which don't make a difference (to all those outside these tiny worlds of Trotskyism and anarchism and their mutual squabbles about minutia). Yet they, of course, take them to be massive doctrinal differences with huge social and political consequences.]
And yet, the English Defence League continues to grow. Part of this is down to the unique position it finds itself in. Not being a political party, it cannot suffer a decline in electoral fortune. Not being a social movement, they needn’t worry about grassroots organising. [Why isn’t the EDL a ‘social movement’? Because it’s not left wing or anarchist? Why doesn’t it need to ‘worry about grassroots organising’? Ditto. Actually, there is a hell of a lot of ‘grassroots’ organising in the EDL. Why does this person simply assume otherwise? Because all EDL are ‘knuckle-dragging Neanderthals' who even have the audacity not to be Leftists or anarchists?] All they have to do is call demonstrations, and people will come. They offer an outlet for neo-Nazis, football hooligans, loyalists, and others just looking for a fight and a flash point, and as long as that is the limit of their ambitions they remain immune to the political factors which brought down the BNP. [I’m not a ‘neo-Nazi’, ‘football hooligan’, ‘loyalist’ (depending on what is mean by that word) and none of the EDL leaders, organisers and active members I’ve met is any of these things. Sorry is this makes your ‘class analysis’ difficult for you; but sometimes, or many times, reality does not fit Leftist theory.] The other side of the EDL’s success is down to political Islam.
I was tempted to say the “rise” of political Islam, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. Being an extreme minority position whose ideals are alien to most people on this island, it has no base with which to build a broad-based movement for political reform, nor to galvanise the populace into revolution. [Political activists, and even movements, are always an ‘extreme minority’, whether in anarchism, Leftism, Islamism, or even in Labourism and Conservatism. That’s politics. Islamists make up no more an extreme example of a minority than most political groups. But if this anarchist writer thinks that Islamism is more or less an irrelevance because of its ‘minority position’ in the UK, then what the hell does he think about the most blatantly minoritarian political ideology of them all – his very own anarchism?] It will remain the preserve of a tiny band of lunatics espousing abhorrent views, and all that will change is how much attention they are given. [Just like anarchist and Leftist groups, in other words.]
Unfortunately, at the moment, the answer to that is “a lot.” With stunts such as burning poppies on Armistice Day, and threatening to march through Wootton Bassett, groups such as Islam4UK and Muslims Against Crusades can stir up more than enough public outrage to make themselves seem important. The government’s use of the SAS to protect shopping centres, and the continual playing up of the terror threat, likewise adds fear to that outrage. And this feeds the atmosphere and sentiments that keep the EDL going. [The ‘playing up of the terrorist threat’? These Leftists and anarchists fail to make a distinction between the bombs that do go off, and the bombs which are stopped from going off. That is, between the foiled Islamoterrorist attacks and those which are successful. So because there hasn’t been an Islamoterrorist attack since 7/7 in the UK, they assume that the terrorist threat is really minimal; whereas in fact many Islamoterrorist attacks have been thwarted by the Government, the secret services and the police.
This is just like the position in Israel and Palestine. Because the death toll in Israel is often lower than the death toll in Palestine, the Left, rather brainlessly, simply assumes that this is because Israel is far more brutal and indiscriminate than even Hamas and Islamic Jihad. That’s not the case. The lack of equality between death counts is because over 80% of terrorist attacks against Israel are foiled and many other bomb and rocket attacks prove to be unsuccessful. That’s because Israel is far more sophisticated in military and security terms than the Palestinian killers. If every Hamas rocket attack were successful, tens of thousands of Israelis would have died over the last ten years. The other additional point is that Hamas, etc. use human shields and virtually never use bomb shelters for their civilians. Israel, on the other hand, has hundreds of bomb shelters and it trains its civilians in what to do when the rockets start firing. Hamas, instead, feeds politically off their dead. Their dead do them wonders in the West as the Left cries its tears over ‘Israeli disproportionality’.]
Despite what it says, the EDL does not exist merely to “peacefully protest against militant Islam.” Chants such as “we hate Pakis more than you” and stunts like throwing pigs’ heads at mosques tell of overt racism and deliberate provocation. [On some Leftist demos the demonstrators shout ‘kill the pigs’, ‘string up a fascist’, etc. Can I judge the Left by these delinquents? Perhaps I can. Also, people like this writer shout ‘no war but the class war’. Is that really better than ‘we hate Pakis more than you’?] At its demos, supporters who break police lines regularly invade and attack Asian communities. [Attack Asian communities? That has rarely happened – if ever. It certainly can’t have happened at the many recent EDL demos with zero arrests. Some suspect things did happen in the early days of the EDL; but not really since the Stoke demo – and even then the ‘attacks’ on the ‘Asian community’ might have been made up by people like this writer.] For the EDL, the distinction between ordinary Muslims and militant Islamists does not exist. [Who says? You? The EDL is always making that distinction, and has done so on video, in print and on the Internet. This writer is far from being the sociological and political analyst he takes himself to be!]
At the same time, it cannot be denied that the message of clerics such as Anjem Choudary played a part in their rapid expansion. Founder Stephen Lennon has spoken before of how “preachers of hate such as Anjem Choudary have been recruiting for radical Islamist groups in Luton for years” whilst “our government does nothing.” This led to him and others deciding to “start protesting against radical Islam, and it grew from there.”
But this isn’t just a one-way process. It has been noted on more than one occasion that the EDL attacking Muslims provides “constituent parts” for those who would radicalise vulnerable people to encourage them to “go through the gateway towards being radicalised.” [And if the EDL hadn’t come along, we wouldn’t have had a problem with radical Islam? Bullshit! Radical Islam has existed, say, since the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in the late 1920s, when they began a campaign of Islamoterrorism and assassinations. Before that, the Jihad had been going on for over a thousand years. To say that any of this is the responsibility of the EDL is utterly perverse and a product of Leftist theory-intoxication and general brainlessness.
The EDL quite rightly says that radical Islam would have got much worse without the EDL and similar groups or individuals speaking out and demonstrating. (Though politicians, journalists, etc. would never admit to having been shaken out of their slumbers by the EDL. They are not political and career-wise suicidals.)
The Left says it has got worse precisely because of the EDL.
But why should the EDL have waited and waited until the Government, and even Leftist groups, got the radical Muslims under control? We didn’t wait because there was a good chance that the Government would never have got radical Islamism under control until things had got so bad that they had no other choice but to do so. The EDL was not prepared to wait for an Islamist hell before it got its act together.]
The role of class is not insignificant in this process. Fascism grows by feeding off anger and feelings of marginalisation amongst the working class [that’s if the EDL is indeed fascist, which it isn’t - this entire 'analysis' sits on that assumption], and offering a solution that turns one section of the working class against another. [A classic Leftist mantra – ‘divide and rule’. Or: ‘The ‘working class against the working class.’ Which is strange because most of the Left who say this aren’t working class themselves. It’s all just Marxist theory, even though this writer purports to be an anarchist.] Islamism is no different. The only difference is that one ideology is appealing to the white working class with patriotic and nationalist sentiments, whilst the other is appealing to the Muslim working class with religious sentiments. [A completely reductionist Marxist analysis of both Islam and the EDL. All the Leftist clichés and soundbites are here.] The antagonism between the two strands actually helps to form a symbiotic relationship. The two opposing ideologies feed off one another. [And so said Searchlight and Nick Lowles recently. This ‘anarchist’ position is indistinguishable from the Communist Searchlight position.]
The failures of the left
Unfortunately, the anti-fascist movement has failed to recognise the implications of this. In particular, groups such as Unite Against Fascism have adopted a very black-and-white approach to this issue which has played into the EDL’s view that all those who oppose them are “in bed with radical Islam.” [I take this Marxist analysis to be pretty ‘black and white’ too.] It has also resulted in accusations of “Islamophobia” being hurled about in a way that made the entire movement look ridiculous.
For example, back in June the EDL announced plans to march on Tower Hamlets in opposition against what UAF called “a peace conference, organised by a Muslim charitable foundation and aimed at building understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.” It emerged that this was in fact an event being organised by the Islamic Forum of Europe, “a virulent form of political Islam that is fascistic in nature like Jaamat Islam and verges on the anti-Semitic and is very exclusivist and undemocratic.” [Well, I partly take back my accusation that this writer is a complete Leftist (or I am prepared to soften it slightly). A Trotskyist, or member of the SWP/UAF, would certainly never call any Muslim or Islamist group ‘fascist’ or even ‘anti-Semitic’. They would say that such criticism of Muslims 'plays into the hands of the far right and the state'. Thus, on this piece of Trot theory, Muslims and Islamist groups can never be criticised lest we feed the state and the far right with ammunition against Muslims, the working class, blah.]
That description comes from a statement issued by a number of local groups, including Muslim and Bangladeshi organisations, in opposition to the EDL’s “demonstration.” However, in taking such a position – “against fascism in all its colours” – the groups behind the statement were accused of being racist and in league with fascists. [‘In league with fascists’ against the State! Lovely. ‘With the State, never. With Islamoterrorists, yes, if our Revolution can gain something from it.’]
Such an attitude will be familiar to anybody who has dealt for long enough with UAF and the Socialist Workers’ Party for whom they operate as a front group. Five years ago, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell criticised UAF for inviting Sir Iqbal Sacranie, then head of the Muslim Council of Britain, to speak at one of its events. He dubbed it “a sad betrayal of liberal, non-homophobic Muslims,” saying that “Sir Iqbal’s homophobic views, and the MCB’s opposition to gay equality, echo the prejudice and discrimination of the BNP.” [I think Trots are quite proud of such examples of utter cynicism and opportunism. It’s almost a kind of macho political thing. The SWP will do and say anything to further their revolution. Anything! This is the essence of Trotskyism and precisely why just about everyone outside of university campuses despises them.] For these comments, he was accused of “claim[ing] the role of liberator and expert about Muslim gays and lesbians” and of being “part of the Islamophobia industry.” Clearly, absurdity knows no bounds. [If lies, deceit, alliances with Islamofascists, etc. work for the Revolution, then the SWP will indulge in these things. Simple as.]
The problem is that those afflicted by such a narrow perspective are currently the most influential in the broader anti-fascist movement. UAF is able to draw in the support of students and young people on the sole basis of vague, anti-racist politics, whilst keeping class analysis out of the worldview keeps funding from mainstream organisations coming in. Thus, they are able to simply marginalise and ignore tricky debates such as this when it suits them. [The ‘class analysis’ in this article is also ‘vague’ and student-ish.]
Hope not Hate have, especially of late, shown a lot more political savvy in this regard. They recognise that “hate breeds hate,” and that “the EDL breeds Islamic extremism and Islamic extremism breeds the EDL.” [Oh yes!? The EDL breeds Islamic extremism? The Muslims have been bombing and being extreme since the 1920s and have been carrying out the jihad for a millennium longer. What had the EDL to do with any of that? I will admit that some pretty thick Pakistani yobs, the ones who join the Muslim Defence League, may well become ‘radicalised’ because of the EDL. But their numbers will be tiny and they aren’t like the hardcore ideological Islamists that have existed in the UK since the early 1990s, and in some cases since the Leicester Islamist conferences going back to 1976.] This is certainly a better position than UAF’s. However, ever the statists, they delegate responsibility for “making] a stand against extremism on both sides of the divide” to “the Government.”
They, too, ignore class issues and reduce the matter to one of “extremism.” In essence, that those who diverge too far from the narrow spectrum of mainstream politics must be taken care of by the state. [This writer keeps on mentioning ‘class’ and the fact that other Leftists don’t mention class. Yet just the very mention of ‘class’, or ‘class issues’, is not in itself a ‘class analysis’ and neither is it any more sophisticated that what Searchlight and UAF/SWP have to offer. And that’s because they are all using the same empty Leftist clichés and soundbites about ‘class’, ‘divide and rule’, ‘lack of class consciousness’ and all the other phrases Leftists use simply because other Leftists have used them.]
The problem with this, as the left should be all too aware, is that under such auspices the definition on “extremism” goes beyond violent fascists and religious lunatics espousing holy war. Forward Intelligence Teams and police “evidence gatherers” are becoming ever more commonplace on demonstrations of all kinds, particularly those in opposition to the cuts. Their job is to gather footage of “domestic extremists” – that is, those who take to the streets to protest, picket, and make their voices heard.
By this definition, trade unionists, environmentalists, anti-war activists, and anti-fascists are extremists as much as the EDL and Muslims Against Crusades. As such, asking the government to “make a stand against extremism” sets a very dangerous precedent indeed.
Militant working class self-defence
Even if the English Defence League wasn’t a fascist organisation grounded in loyalism and hooliganism, it wouldn’t be an effective vehicle to challenge political Islam. It is a purely reactionary movement, more concerned with feeding right-wing anger than challenging the radicalisation of Muslims.
They don’t organise within Muslim communities. They don’t counteract the religious arguments of the Islamists with a class argument to address the real issues that affect and concern Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They don’t stand in solidarity with those who oppose the extremists in their own midst. And they don’t distinguish between issues of religious bigotry from those of religious freedom in order to distance themselves from the far-right and racism.
This is the approach taken by militant anti-fascists, who counter the propaganda of the BNP and EDL with a working class perspective. We argue from this point of view precisely because it is this argument that both the far-right and the mainstream media have worked to obscure, and to twist in favour of a racial or national interpretation of the world.
Likewise, for working class Muslims there is an enormous effort to paint the world around them as defined by religion. The Islamic far-right talks of holy war in the Middle East, ignoring the fact that capitalism and the control of markets is the root of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention the fact that it is poor Arabs and Muslims who are dying and being oppressed, whilst the wealthy are able to serve or integrate into the class of people who benefit from the war. They certainly don’t mention how the regimes they seek to implement are, elsewhere, crushing workers’ movements as readily as those for women’s and LGBT equality.
Not only does such a situation make it harder for militant organisation against the various shades of far-right, it also thus makes it harder to organise around attacks on our class. The current climate of austerity is just one example, and questions of race and religion don’t merely distract from the matter at hand but turn us against one another whilst the ruling class wreaks havoc from above. This is how fascist regimes came to power in Europe in the 1930s, but it is also how the totalitarian regimes of the Middle East keep class antagonism crushed under-foot. A populace mobilised in the cause of holy war, or contained by a climate of fear instilled by strict religious laws, necessarily finds it difficult to see anything other than faith as the prime mover of world affairs.
In response, what we need is militant working class self-organisation. Grassroots mobilisation across all sectors of the working class, in the first instance, galvanises people to take a stand against threats such as fascism and Islamism.
But it is not just about defending the areas we live in from the forces of reaction. By organising in this way, we see the power that ordinary people can have, collectively, to make a difference. This helps to rebuild a genuine sense of community – based on vicinity, rather than faith or ethnicity – and the further organisational strength that this brings. Not only does this make anti-fascism far more effective, but it shores up our position in the broader class struggle.
Phil Dickens is an anarchist, anti-fascist, and trade unionist from Liverpool, England. He writes regularly about class struggle, racism, fascism, and imperialism, and his blogs can be found at http://truth-reason-liberty.blogspot.com and http://propertyistheft.wordpress.com