News - July 2001


30th July '01

Even before Oldham, Burnley or Bradford erupted and even before the BNP were clearly seen to be profiting by the application of multiculural logic it was noticeable that an increasing number of journalists and columists ,among them, Ros Coward, Alibhai-Brown, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Minette Marin, Darcus Howe, and even Faisal Bodi were prepared to openly question and challenge the logic behind certain anti-racist orthodoxies. Julie Burchill can now be added to the list. None of the above are deemed politically radical in the accepted sense, which makes the attitude of the ANL/SWP and the Socialist Alliance who hide behind official racial pieties appear all the more craven and conservative. Here we re-print Ms Burchill's inimitable contribution to the debate from the Guardian, 28th July:

If I live to be a hundred, or even 43, I'll never understand why "multiculturalism" is accepted to be a progressive, leftist idea rather than a reactionary, rightwing one. Logically, if one should be automatically proud of one's accidental heritage, then the white ethnic English should be proud of being what they are. And then people wonder why that stuff happens in Bradford!

I'm old enough to remember Grunwick - a massive 70s strike powered by Asian women workers who had arrived here only a couple of years before, courtesy of the African nationalist madman Idi Amin forcing them out of their homes in Uganda.

In the 70s, when class was king - "Soak the rich!" cried the "rightwing" Labour chancellor Denis Healey, "squeeze them till the pips squeak!" - the British proletariat constituted a massive force, and their unions ruled the roost. But as the unions were gradually destroyed, "multiculturalism" came up as a vivacious booby prize, a decorative decoy.

The idea that whites oppress blacks more than the ruling class - of whatever colour - oppress the working class - ditto - was the greatest rightwing confidence trick of the 20th century. In his book Ornamentalism, David Cannadine details mercilessly how the architects of the British Empire conspired with the potentates of Asia and Africa to sell and receive a whole class into slavery and subjection, while still totally respecting each other's status. Race riots in the exploiting country, when they occur many decades later, are sleekly and shamelessly passed off, by those whose class made a profit from colonial slavery, as the fault of an ignorant and vicious working class. It's enough to make you chuck.

It's understandable and all too believable that the white ruling class would want to set the various ethnic working classes against each other - it's that old classic, divide and rule. What we have to try to get our heads around, though, is that the various ethnic "workers" and "leaders" who encourage race- rather than class-consciousness, are just as loathsome and protective of their position. And the way that they invariably protect their ludicrous logic - just what has Keith Vaz got in common with an unemployed Brick Lane Bengali teen, any more than Princess Margaret has in common with a white female street sleeper? - has caused just as much sorrow and strife as the tall stories of the white nationalists... There's the usual nonsense about all men being brothers and it's got to be a free-for-all. But the bourgeois journalists who advocate an open-door policy when it comes to immigration either aren't aware or don't care that when a country welcomes all-comers without making its original guests comfy, it is whizzing up a recipe for disaster. I think governments do it on purpose; just chuck every immigrant group in, one upon the other, without attempting to sort it out one at a time. Though they say they don't like them, I think our government loves "race riots", because then the working class are fighting each other and not the evil bastards who've destroyed their chances of employment through the slime of globalisation.

So I really resent it, actually, when I hear some posh pigging liberal telling me that if I don't want a bunch of white Czechs over here getting housed before some Brit single mother, it's the same as turning back the German Jews in the 30s; and that if I don't want legions of Albanians knifing prostitutes on Dover Beach, it's as bad as turning back the Windrush. It's not the same at all; even a redneck like me can see that all those Indians, all those blacks, were first interfered with and then performed totally beyond the call of duty during that war. They won their place here a hundred times over; I just don't think that a greedy Croatian's the same. So sue me!

But I'm white, and therefore a racist; thank God, then, for the ethnic Brits who do realise that it's far too soon for this country to pile undeserving whitey on top of our more than deserving dark citizens.

Guardian July 28


25th July '01

Reproduced from Anti-Fascist Action (19th July)

A report on the riots in northern England has been produced by the Institute of Race Relations. Titled 'From Oldham to Bradford: the violence of the violated', it avoids the simplistic analysis of the liberal media and the ANL. Although AFA would not agree with all of the report, we reproduce an interesting section on how official/liberal anti-racist strategies have failed:

"But this new generation [of Asians] had also been sold short by its own self-appointed community leaders. The state’s response to earlier unrest had been to nurture a black elite which could manage and contain anger from within the ranks of black communities. Where a middle class existed it was co-opted; where one did not, it was created. A new class of ‘ethnic representatives’ entered the town halls from the mid-1980s onwards, who would be the surrogate voice for their own ethnically-defined fiefdoms. They entered into a pact with the authorities; they were to cover up and gloss over black community resistance in return for free rein in preserving their own patriarchy. It was a colonial arrangement which prevented community leaders from making radical criticisms, for fear that funding for their pet projects would be jeopardised. The authorities hoped that if they threw some money at the bigwig blacks, they would stop complaining. And the community leaders proved them right.

The result was that black communities became fragmented, horizontally by ethnicity, vertically by class. Different ethnic groups were pressed into competing for grants for their areas. The poor and the still poorer fought over the scraps of the paltry regeneration monies that the government made available to keep them quiet. Money that did come in was spent, after empty ‘community consultation exercises’, on projects that brought little benefit, particularly to the increasingly restive youths. Worst of all, the problem of racism came to be redefined in terms of ethnic recognition so that to tackle racism was to fund an ethnic project, any ethnic project, no matter how dubious. As Sivanandan put it, ‘equal opportunities became equal opportunism’.

The confusion between anti-racism and ethnic recognition spread to the schools, too, where teaching other people’s culture came to be perceived as the best strategy to overcome segregation. Unfortunately the Asian ‘culture’ taught to whites did little to give them a meaningful appreciation of Asian life, based as it was on hackneyed formulae of samosas and saris. And since white working-class children were perceived as having no culture, their parents soon started to complain of favouritism to Asians in the classroom. Competition over ethnic funding was thus joined by competition over classroom time. Genuine education about other people, their histories and their struggles, was replaced with the grim essentialism of identity politics. A generation grew up who were not given the tools to understand how their own towns and cities had become increasingly divided by race.

Furthermore, as cultural protectionism replaced anti-racism, the cultural development of Asian communities was itself stunted. The community leadership tried to insulate their clans from the wider world, which they saw only as a threat to the patriarchical system on which their power depended. Internal critics were considered disloyal. Thus the dirty linen of the Asian communities – the deep-seated gender inequality, the forced marriages, the drug problems – was washed neither in public nor in private."


9th July '01

For years the ANL has followed a policy of calling counter-demonstrations against far-right initiatives in the full knowledge that either they would not take place, had been scheduled for an alternative venue, or had simply been cancelled. This meant that even, or particularly when, the SWP/ANL knew the fascists were not coming, every effort was made to maximise turn-out, for pretty venal reasons. It would for instance, allow the ANL to claim that it's presence had intimidated the fascists, it would allow unparalled access by the SWP to a fresh layer of potential recruits unhindered by any serious distractions, and it would allow the ANL to chalk up the event as 'a victory', something the ANL has found increasingly elusive in the real world. So the policy of besting absent foes has a threefold attraction for the SWP central committee.

For the ANL, things probably began to go wrong in Bermondsey earlier in the year, where despite facing an NF unable to muster more than a couple of dozen for a national demo, the ANL strategy, was on a humiliatingly repetitive basis, publicly shown to be entirely impotent against even them. Morale and turn-out duly suffered. It also became painfully apparent that the national publicity being generated for the NF and it's policies would not be happening without the ANL gearing, - as it has done since the re-launch in 1992, - ALL it's propaganda with the media in mind. This led critics including, when the action shifted up north, the Oldham Chronicle, to conclude that the ANL was effectively 'doing the NF's job for it'. However as events in Oldham would show, the ANL, unable to understand much less deal with the more sophisticated strategy being pursued by the BNP, need the NF as much as the NF need the ANL. Objectively, each can justify it's existence only through the reaction of the other. One senior militant anti-fascist described the relationship as akin to 'a pantomime horse; where ever the NF went the ANL followed'.

When earlier in the year, the NF called a march in Oldham the ANL responded with a counter-demo. But even when the NF officially announced more than a week in advance, that it had cancelled, the ANL blithely ignored them, even when aware that when hundreds turned out, many of them young militant Asians, there would be no fascists for them to engage with. It did not seem to matter at the time. There was no serious trouble and after all, 'Oldham had united against the Nazis'.

So in Bradford when the scenario repeated itself, the ANL stuck to the script, apparently indifferent to the heightened tensions that had exploded in riots in the same area only weeks previously. It is one of many miscalculations. The principle problem is that the ANL is not an anti-fascist organisation in the understood sense. It does not in itself seek physical confrontation with the far-right. Indeed it condemns such activity, even when its own members are victims. Instead its whole strategy is based on 'pinning the Nazi label' on those targeted - via the media mostly. In that sense it is spectacularly ill-equipped to control or channel those elements who answer the call to 'smash the National Front' - but take the slogan literally. This lack of physical control and credibility at a street level is heightened, when among those who turn up are many who, when denied authentic fascist targets, seem perfectly content to exercise their 'anti-fascism' in random and indiscriminate attacks against any people who 'look right'. In Bradford on Saturday trouble was sparked by the presence in pub near the rally of National Front 'supporters'. They may have been 'supporters' in a loose sense though even this is arguable, at least one witness described them as 'local drunks'. For the purposes of riot, all that mattered was that they looked like they might have been. Justification enough these days it seems. But even if justified why then were they not properly dealt with as AFA stewards would have ensured happened?

The inability and reluctance of the SWP/ANL to properly organise their mobilisations, means that what has served the ANL perfectly well when dealing with Poly students, becomes seriously counter-productive when the invited audience are almost exclusively militant Muslims, possibly armed with an agenda, political or otherwise, all of their own. Labour MP Terry Rooney who spoke at the ANL rally insists that a 'hard core' manipulated the situation. "Over the last five years we have had a battle for control over drugs in Bradford which this hard core has won." Whatever the merits of the argument that it was the ANL who was manipulated, in any event as an article in Red Action in 1994 pointed out when it comes down to it pacifistic solutions such as "petitions are not likely to satisfy Asian youth. Retaliations will still occur, but in the absence of collaboration with more experienced anti-fascists, or accurate intelligence, they will and can only be arbitrary and indiscriminate." At the height of the riots one exasperated local Asian asked: "Where is the logic, where is the protest, where is the National Front". Good point. One estimate put the number of NF as high as 20, while the Sunday Times reported that a mere five 'Fronters' had been persuaded to turn back at the railway station. Such figures make the ANL claim that "2,000 defended Bradford" seriously surreal. Writing in the Independent, Ian Herbert describes the rioting as "a copybook National Front sting,and it left the more reflective among Bradford's teenage Asians wondering how on earth they fell for it. Just as in Oldham, one of the former mill towns to have burnt on sultry Saturday nights these six weeks past, the National Front stoked the fire days ago by announcing plans for a march. They knew full well it would be banned by the Home Secretary but it would serve the purpose of bringing out the white liberal Anti Fascist League in force with Asians and national television crews in tow".

As in Bradford, Oldham, Burnley and Bradford, the combination of ANL, young Asians, and no fascists, has led to much random and indiscriminate activity. For liberals generally the symbolic fire-bombing and gutting of the Manningham Labour Club may disabuse them of the idea that the rioters intentions are uniformly progressive. For the ANL, who follow, as they readily admit a 'liberal bourgeois agenda', their unique responsibility in events ought to give pause for thought. After all high profile sponsors such as Labour Cabinet Minister Peter Hain can hardly be overjoyed with tactics that produce results exactly opposite of those desired.

Headlines such as "Nazis rampage through Bradford" can hardly hope to convince either, when television pictures showed those 'rampaging' to be almost exclusively Asian. "The cause of the violence in Bradford, Oldham, and Burnley lies solely with the Nazis and police inaction against them." is equally naive and ridiculous on a whole number of levels.
Not least, that the ANL seem blissfully unaware of the damage it is surely inflicting - on itself. It is for instance unlikely the ANL will continue to get unconditional Cabinet Minister endorsement when it is perceived to be acting as a recruitment sergeant for the BNP. Labour MP Marsha Singh for one, has called for the "ANL to be banned" insisting the "price is too high". Another Labour MP Sion Simon, also denounces the role of the ANL: "one might have thought the supposed anti-Nazis would recognise their own leading role in bringing it [recruitment to the far-right] about as counterproductive." But not only is the ANL being brought into disrepute, but on a more fundamental level anti-fascist principles are being prostituted along with it. For example the impact of events on the core message, and on working class consciousness that 'fascism is the enemy of all', is taking a severe beating to no useful effect, when the political threat lies not with the NF 'stoking of fires', but with the BNP's ability to capitalise on them.
As both AFA and Red Action, have continually pointed out this where the strategic danger lies. Ever so reluctantly even Searchlight have come to recognise that it is the BNP - and only the BNP - who are benefiting from the NF- ANL political play-acting. If even now the ANL cannot see the objective role they are playing, then the pantomime horse really has bolted, and it increasingly looks like it will require someone other than the SWP leadership to rein it in.