Know Your Enemy Part 2

With the proponents exposed as state-friendly provocateurs and dupes, A. Shaw analyses the political logic behind the campaign against the strategy of working class community orientation.

Following an extensive inquiry that established a relationship at organiser level with the 'state friendly Searchlight.' AFA was forced to suspend two of its branches, Leeds and Huddersfield in February 1998 (see Red Action issue I vol 3). The very same individuals had been the subject of a previous inquiry initiated and conducted by London AFA but were on that occasion afforded the benefit of doubt.

In I995 they involved themselves in discussions regarding AFA support for an independent working class strategy. At a Northern Network (NN) meeting in September I995 'Simon' in particular doggedly challenged the legitimacy of AFA involvement with the project.

Subsequently two documents were circulated from Huddersfield AFA listing grievances, spotlighting problems real and imaginary, and passionately demanded answers 'in the name of militant anti-fascism' (see Editorial). Within both documents (composited and structured in a question and answer format in the London AFA response) Huddersfield AFA make a case for AFA 'supporting the SLP; remaining a single issue organisation; supporting Class War; all and every progressive political party; no political parties of any description; the Direct Action Movement and so on.

In hindsight out of this apparent confusion a methodology can definitely be detected a sort of 'Tweedy Bird,' What if... was that not... l thought I saw... l did! I did! I did! technique.

A prerequisite of this stratagem is that the operative comes from an 'apolitical' position of supporting everything and yet nothing ('Simon' for instance maintained his neutrality to the last. Despite repeated questioning as to his political beliefs he was unwilling or unable to say precisely who or what he supported, whether he was a socialist or anarchist or communist - eventually even - why he was an anti-fascist).

But while presenting himself as everyone's potential ally/recruit (at one stage he travelled to an anarchist meeting to defend RA against 'red-baiting') he was perfectly placed as a magnet and conduit for all grumbles. By exploiting every weakness, dignifying every cretinism and misrepresenting ever so slightly all positions including his own, he could (and did briefly) marshal a united front of contradictory views that effectively polluted real debate and paralysed genuine internal democracy. Three years on, a second look at the logic of the HAFA line given political developments is both intriguing and instructive not least that it is now known the author was a tout.

Huddersfield Anti-Fascist Action (HAFA): AFA's strength is its broad base and simple anti-fash (anti-fascist) message.

London Anti-Fascist Action(LAFA): One of AFA's strengths in its formative years was its limited platform; the single issue. However, during the Isle of Dogs campaign the single issue exposed AFA's limitations. AFA had nothing to say on the principle business. With the election of a Labour government the Isle of Dogs scenario could be repeated on a national scale and all our good work in the last decade would be undone at a stroke.

HAFA: If AFA sets up or becomes part of a new political party, this would create divisions amongst AFA militants and alienate sections of the dispossessed white working class youth who both ourselves and the fash try to recruit.

LAFA: A political party with all the connotations that suggests, is not on the agenda. What must be recognised is that it will happen with or without AFA. Consider a situation where a 'socialist' Labour government are attacking the working class, where the right and the BNP are attacking Labour, and AFA are attacking the BNP. Working class youth dispossessed or otherwise are not likely to be overly enamoured for long with the working class credentials of any group whose sole activity results in Labour being allowed a free run. To pretend to a UN like neutrality would play into the hands of the fascists; it would be also be false, dishonest and tactically inept.

HAFA: Huddersfield AFA believe that our non political stance has been the major factor in our success. AFA is a broad based organisation that has survived ten years while containing a wide variety of view points... the simple reason is that politics have been kept out of the movement.

LAFA: This line of argument is naive and totally inaccurate. AFA has always been "political" internally and externally. At only its second national conference in I986 one group was expelled, while two others walked out in sympathy. In 1987 there was allegations of vote rigging and racism. By 1988 the organisation built mainly on the back of students and Labour party types had virtually collapsed. Proposals that AFA propaganda implement a class message, a democratic structure, led to further accusations of racism, from conservative elements resistant to change.

The logic of this argument caused ten, (mainly paper, or state funded organisations) to withdraw. Had AFA not adapted to reality, the AFA of the 80's would have become the ARA of the 90's. AFA, is now we believe at the crossroads once again.

HAFA: If we back the IWCA this will put AFA in dispute with other pro-working class organisations. We do not see how criticising other working class organisations is going to help AFA's cause in fighting fascism.

LAFA: This is hardly accurate either. In the past AFA itself has vigorously defended its position and tactics. Not only attacking the entire Trotskyist movement but has also been justifiably and bitterly critical of other anti-racist /anti-fascist groups. You have to ask yourself is AFA stronger or weaker through the proclamation of its position and activities through Fighting Talk, leaflets, media etc. If AFA is justified in proclaiming precisely where we stand, it is unrealistic to expect the IWCA not to do so.

HAFA: Our [AFA's] role is to maintain the vacuum, not to sit in judgement and decide who is not to fill it.

LAFA: This statement, is, not to put too fine a line on it, complete bollocks. In the first place it is naive to believe that the vacuum can be maintained indefinitely. A new Labour government will change everything. It will be a massive shot in the arm for the far-right There is also the strong possibility that the Conservative Party itself will split either from the left or the right. The BNP are themselves planning to take advantage of the new opportunity. At the moment AFA is still in pole position. Is it seriously being suggested that we must sit still while everybody else is involved in manoeuvres? As working class militants we cannot and will not stand on the sidelines wringing our hands hopelessly. AFA is not a club. Militant anti-fascism is not a hobby, it is a means to an end. The means are physical opposition, the end, working class power in working class areas. The physical side has proved itself effective many times over; the new situation demands that the politics do as well.

HAFA: We accept AFA members should be involved in the wider struggle...we should work towards promoting autonomous working class organisations...we believe that it is necessary for the vacuum to be filled by left wing groups but why the IWCA? Why doesn't AFA directly back Class War or DAM both groups which act in working class interests and have just as much claim to our backing as the IWCA?

LAFA: With all due respect to the organisations mentioned, neither is involved in AFA nationally. As for working in the interests of the working class, there is no evidence that the working class agree with you. And like any other left group they are handicapped by their own histories, reputations and ideologies. Because of these factors they can never hope to fill the vacuum, and so must also recognise that on their own they will never make a difference. What is true of them is true to one degree or another of the entire British Left. The simple fact is that the Left has failed. The IWCA is designed to learn from the mistakes of others.

HAFA: Why shouldn't AFA if they do decide to back a parliamentary group back the SLP, a party which obviously has much greater resources, more grassroots support and a much higher profile than the IWCA?

LAFA: Why shouldn't AFA fold into the ANL, an organisation with much greater resources, numbers, higher profile, etc? The reasons are the same. The SLP like the SWP/ANL is controlled from the top down. Influence within the organisation is impossible to achieve. The SLP is working to the same tried, tested and failed formula. The IWCA on the other hand is actually designed for AFA. It is non-ideological and wide open. It is non sectarian. It will be built from the bottom up. The involvement of AFA members in the IWCA would be a compliment rather than a deviation from vigorous anti-fascist activity

HAFA: The 'Filling the Vacuum' [FTV] article states that since the BNP are trying to present a respectable face we must follow them and fight them via elections or we will be criminalised.

LAFA: In regard to the 'BNP and respectability,' FTV says the direct opposite [RA emphasis]. "...the BNP declared in April I994 that here would be no more marches, meetings, punch ups. A year on this must now be regarded as a serious change of strategy... something other [RA emphasis] than an effort to court respectability."
There is a big difference between a concern for respectability and the ability to operate successfully. Furthermore that the BNP are on the point of decisively changing strategy is no longer a matter of speculation. Lecombers' argument is to switch the arena from the streets to the estates. No longer then a battle for control of the streets, but instead a battle for hearts and minds. And of course once you begin to lose the political argument, even by default, you eventually lose the physical argument.

HAFA: This statement that (we must fight elections, etc) would suggest that the IWCA is prepared to abandon AFA's "No platform policy" ie that anti-fascists will not share a platform with fascists.

LAFA: To repeat, the IWCA has no policy on this, or on any other issue to abandon. "No platform" never meant only anti-fascists physically sharing a platform. It is a metaphor for a basic denial of free speech to fascists, or those that might wish to debate with them. It is not a liberal concept. In the past AFA has even broken up debates hosted by people like the Labour party.

HAFA: The suggestion is made that Combat 18 is a state controlled counter gang... this may be the case but while C18 are making attacks on innocent people we don't believe that we can stand by on the grounds that it may be an intelligence conspiracy.

LAFA: What it [FTV] does say is that "the ideal solution [RA emphasis] for the state would be for AFA to get locked into a clandestine gang war with C18." As for attacking innocent people, etc, this is largely propaganda (C18 have done very little) though with the political turmoil following a Labour government this may change. That being the case AFA would probably be far more concerned in them attacking people who aren't so innocent!

HAFA: To summarise as a group we feel that:
We would be interested to hear the IWCA's explanation for saying they have the backing of AFA without any mandate from large sections of the movement. The whole area of expanding AFA's politics has not been adequately discussed. If agreement is reached that AFA should support more explicitly political groups, there is a need to clarify the exact nature of this support. Will we back just one group? Should we back any group that we believe is acting in the best interests of the working class? What position will AFA take in regard to disputes between these groups?

LAFA: AFA's politics is not expanding and cannot expand. That is why a new organisation (the IWCA) has been brought into existence. How much support AFA provide in practice will depend on whether or not AFA members accept the analysis put forward on the previous pages. In 1990 at a public meeting in East London AFA declared that "the success of the far right is due to the fact that the left are not seen as a credible option. AFA are committed to creating the space in which one [a credible alternative] can develop." Six years on we have created the political space. The IWCA is designed to be that credible alternative. We believe that it has the potential to do so. Fascism is not the cause of the Left's failure it is the consequence of that failure. Political support for Labour leaves the left unable to address itself honestly to the primary cause. The essential contradiction is support for Labour and the working class. The interests of the two are now clearly irreconcilable. The far-right capitalise on this. Establishing a working class alternative is the best, indeed, the only guarantee in the long run, that the cycle of constantly being forced to respond to ever increasing fascist initiatives can be reversed.

In regard to who AFA should back, etc, AFA should back the organisations who are at the sharp end of the class struggle; the organisations who have grasped the nettle and are attempting to make a difference. That must always remain our remit. If in the long term this proves to be an organisation other than the IWCA so be it. If we in AFA are agreed that the vacuum needs to be filled, then the following are the only questions that remain: If not this way how? If not us who? If not now when?

(the article above is an edited version of the London AFA document, 'If not this way how? If not us who? If not now when?' Original available on request. send s.a.e. to:


Reproduced from RA Vol 3, Issue 4, December/January 1998/99