Making History

In 1988 a couple of reporters were commissioned by BLITZ magazine to do a feature on Red Action. As part of their research they approached various sections of the Left for comment.

Most, when not openly hostile, simply refused ‘for one reason or another’ to be quoted. One group ARAFA (Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Action) went a step further, and to the astonishment of the hacks attempted to censor/edit the project themselves! “The outcome of the meeting” was, the stunned reporters recorded, “a statement put together on the spot and endorsed by the group as a whole”. It read: “Islington ARAFA disassociates itself from any article primarily focused on Red Action. The focus of any article should be on the positive aspects of the anti-racist, anti-fascist movement with no more than a small mention of Red Action (ie one paragraph)”.

The ‘ignore them and they will go away’ followed by the slightly more progressive ‘damned by faint praise’ approach is not restricted to Red Action only. ‘One paragraph’, is precisely what AFA is allowed in Searchlight’s recent account of anti-fascist resistance in the 1980’s. (It does not figure at all in the account of the 1990’s). As for the SWP, any public acknowledgment of AFA’s existence, no matter how grudging would in itself be a bombshell.

Traditionally, outfits who serve their time at the coal-face, such as the paramilitary 43 and 62 Groups are invariably more concerned with making history, than making propaganda. Up until recently this was also true of AFA. Until it realised that if it didn’t take responsibility for writing it’s own history, others were only too happy to write them out of it. Consequently a new pamphlet on the history of militant anti-fascism between 1985-2000 with anecdotal evidence from the fighters themselves is currently in production. To the chagrin of the ‘one paragraph more than enough’ revisionists, a new entirely independent publica­tion irredeemably undermines any future attempt at militant anti-fascist emasculation.

Anti-Fascism in Britain by Nigel Copsey (printed by Macmillan) is the first and only academic study of the tactics and strategies of anti-fascism in it’s own right. It’s overreaching feature, being an examination, from 1923 up to the present day of the “historic divide between radical anti-fascism with its emphasis on physical confrontation - and legal forms of anti-fascism”. Despite the occasional intrusion of the liberal, not to say naive personal politics of the author, it is nonetheless an honest exploration of motivations, strategies and tactics. And because of Copsey’s blatant objectivity, rather than being cast, if at all, as either peripheral, or mere auxiliaries to liberalism, militant anti-fascism in each generation strides centre stage as of right. Hence the real value of Copsey’s endeavour is not the level of research, the quality of the writing (though crisp) or the veracity of conclusion, instead the quiet satisfaction in the AFA camp, despite the staggering £49 price tag, is the actual existence of the book itself.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 5, Feb/March '00