- Category: Campaigns
- Published on Tuesday, 1 April 2014
- Written by Lawrie Coombs
From the standpoint of what is politically necessary, the Sunderland anti-fascist demonstration of 29 March 2014 was a failure, with only 80 of us gathered to confront a band of 50 or so misfits from the Sunderland Defence League (including 15 gathered from the 'Scottlsh' Defence League). The Sunderland Defence League is the latest incarnation of a series of splits within the English Defence League (EDL) and National Front (NF) and thankfully seems to represent a decline of the far-right that can be attributed to a range of factors.
Firstly, in line with the national picture, the British National Party (BNP) seems to have ebbed significantly from a position of having gained credible votes in local elections and of unfortunately articulating an alienation of many people on Wearside. Secondly, the Tommy Robinson factor and his departure from the EDL has clearly taken the wind out of the sails of the local far-right. Thirdly, the constant information gathering, community work and street opposition by North East Anti-Fascists (NEAF) has had some impact.
It is increasingly evident that the fascists are being reduced to a rump of fully paid up Nazi imbeciles and a few hangers on. Their claims to speak for white working class people is not taken seriously and NEAF have identified merciless piss taking of these people on Sunderland Football Club online forums. However, given the political situation, the woeful inadequacies of the workers' movement and the serious shortcomings of anti-fascism, it doesn't take a genius to work out that fortune could spin in their direction once again. For now, the anxieties of many NEAF militants at the rise of the EDL last year, following the horrendous and brutal murder of Lee Rigby do not seem to have been capitalised upon.
Whilst NEAF tries to embrace a certain humility and culture of self-criticism, there were a number of points for us to consider, positively. We are painfully aware of how far back the workers' movement has been pushed and as working class militants we have an agenda that goes well beyond that of chasing numpty lager louts around town. Centrally however our 80 was an increase on previous Sunderland demonstrations and in fairness, we did not pull out all the stops to maximise our number.
The five of us present with ISN affiliation, all had slight variations of analysis, however broadly speaking, the following points seem particularly relevant.
- There is a forward momentum with NEAF and this can be hinted at through the numbers of people engaging with the Facebook page and the declining influence and credibility of ineffective Unite Against Fascism (UAF) type cop collaborationist approaches. The numbers of people on the Anti-Fa bloc, numbered at least half the entire total, possibly more. The NEAF contingent had the most banners, were the most visible and attracted support from a number of Asian youth, who we have encountered several times now (despite their being warned off by community elders). NEAF is clearly the place to go for serious anti-fascist analysis, information and culture - its where things happens. On the demo itself, experience is beginning to pay off, and traditions of scouting and situation recognition is becoming routine.
- The numbers of young people linking up with NEAF has been increasingly evident and this was the case in the pub beforehand, on the demo itself and throughout the post match analysis return for liquid refreshment afterwards. Significantly, one comrade remarked that it was 'good to be around so many people who think like me, are the same age'. NEAF clearly has made significant efforts through a combination of cultural and online work that has taken place in collaboration with others, the Teesside Solidarity Movement (TSM) in particular, who brought significant numbers on the day.
- Intriguingly, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) as individuals acquitted themselves really well on the day, even to the point of being reckless. As militants they seem to regard UAFism as an embarrassment. These comrades have my respect and friendship and while I question their party membership, I will not lose much sleep if they are essentially pursuing a different policy to that of their leadership, who perhaps are losing their grip?
- The camaraderie after the demonstration was likewise a real bonus and I am hopeful that the useful discussions that took place afterwards with most of the politically non-aligned, as well as younger members of Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) and Socialist Party will eventually bear fruit. This is of course all part of networking, the building up trust and developing on-going effective working relationships that are based on 'doing' rather than 'recruiting'.
What happens post Sunderland should of course be the subject of much debate. Cultural, community and youth work will continue to be a focus for us. Collaboration with Ital Guidance Soundsystem for an upcoming Middlesbrough Dub/Roots/Reggae event once again in collaboration with TSM will seek to develop further a vibrant and ambitious working class anti-capitalist/anti-fascist culture.
Our next outing in Newcastle on May 17 has been talked about already and for this the call out goes to all Northern members of the ISN in particular to help out. We want to develop the anti-fa approach, not as some cult like form of machismo, but rather something that intellectually creates the agenda, links to independent working class politics and self-organises on our own terms, not those of the Police, conservative elements in the workers' movements or those who seek control.
We will be looking to make this event more visual, more noisy and more a celebration of our working class resistance and emerging alternative culture. We want banner blocs, drums and linking up with others. It goes without saying that we will steward properly and seek to further demoralise the fascists and emphasise issues of class, after all it it these people who keep us divided, when we need unity.
I would argue that ISN needs to fully embrace movements such as this that provide best practice. Presently this seems most evident in the form of the Anti-Fa, Fracktivism, 3 Cosas and initiatives from Unite Community and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Linking together militants and identifying ways of bringing these struggles together has been part of my own political orientation in TSM and perhaps lessons can be drawn from this.
- Category: International
- Published on Tuesday, 25 March 2014
- Written by Anindya Bhattacharyya, Estelle Cooch and Ben Neal
This article first appeared on the revolution in the 21st century (rs21) site. Many thanks to the authors for permission to repost.
Chris Nineham has written a very clear article on the Counterfire website laying out the position of Counterfire and much of Stop the War over the Ukraine situation. It suffers from a degree of strawfiguring: caricaturing one’s opponents’ positions, but we are all guilty of that to some extent. We want to mark, however, that “the main enemy is at home” was a response to the left openly backing their domestic imperialist war effort. Nobody on the left is chanting “bomb Russia” in the style of the late Kenny Everett, although a glance at Greece should disabuse anyone of illusions in the EU’s intentions. Chris’s article nonetheless makes several more substantial points that deserve a proper reply. Four follow.
1. Imperialism is embedded in capitalism
Chris is right to insist on looking at the “wider geopolitical context” but one can’t simply stop at an analysis of imperialism, let alone one indistinguishable from realpolitik thinktanks like Stratfor.
Imperialism is not like polo, a game the ruling classes play for fun. It is a necessary outcome of capitalist competition organised into national blocs. So any analysis of the imperial balance of forces must itself be embedded in an analysis of capitalism in post-crisis austerity.
For instance the picture isn’t simply one of increased rivalry between different national blocs, but also increased interdependency. For sure the bourgeois media demonises the Putin regime, but the City sure as hell doesn’t demonise Russian capital. Putin, judging from Reddit’s global id, is seen as rather cool. The ideological picture is considerably more contradictory than mere Ruskie bashing redux.
2. Russia's imperialism matters
Chris says “neither Washington nor Moscow” was “never meant as a response to imperialism”. Well one can draw different conclusions from that particular slogan, as we see today.
But the theory of state capitalism does have consequences for our understanding of imperialism. We recognise that Russia has been a capitalist and imperialist power under the Tsar, under Stalin, under Khrushchev, under Putin. We side with resistance movements from below against such powers.
This is why Chris’s list of IS attitudes to imperialist conflicts past is so strange. There is no mention of IS attitude to dissident movements in the Eastern bloc, or to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan under Russian occupation. To be fair he mentions Chechnya. But surely these are the relevant examples, not Vietnam or Cuba.
Acknowledging Russia’s imperialism has consequences for our understanding of national liberation movements. Take a plane to Calcutta and you will land in an airport named after an Indian independence hero who collaborated with the Axis against the Raj. Chris complains that the leadership of the Euromaidan protest movement is “overwhelmingly pro-Western as well as nationalist”. Yes, what do you expect in a former Russian colony?
3. Movements are not passive
Chris is too quick to throw out formulations like “the movement has been co-opted”, as if it were a horse that the ruling class could simply tame. Counterfire made this mistake over Syria and now they are making it now over Ukraine.
This writing off of mass subjectivity in the Eastern bloc leads to a narrowing of political horizons, and an ironic one given Chris’s generally positive assessment of mass movements. “The only way we can make a contribution to stopping a war is by doing our best to block the Western war effort,” says Chris.
No: we can also and we must also build solidarity with working class revolutionaries in Ukraine (socialist and anarchist and other), and (as Chris rightfully acknowledges) with the Russian anti-war movement. One of the major drivers of what is happening in Ukraine is Putin’s fear that its mass movement could inspire similar currents inside Russia.
The mass nature of the uprising in Ukraine has at least a potential revolutionary dynamic, one for the moment is being led down the blind alley of a neoliberal government that contains fascists, being crushed in the vice of imperialism. Both these factors are raising the kind of ethnic tensions which could lead to a Yugoslavia-type situation.
4. Its not 2004 any more
Chris’s passing reference to Chechnya reminded us of something that troubled us during the Georgia war. We saw what happened as a spillover of the war on terror, triggered by neocon proxies, and critically sided with Russia. But we also went very quiet about Chechnya. The latter was a mistake.
Today’s climate is very different. The neocons are not in charge of the White House and the obsession with them is mistaken. The aggressive imperialism they stood for was always a gamble based on exploiting a temporary window of opportunity. That’s what the Project for a New American Century was all about. That window has passed. Applying a 2004 analysis of the US ruling class to 2014 simply won’t wash.
Today, Obama’s administration has its sights set on the challenge of China. Its “pivot” to Asia has seen the development of alliances in the region and temporary deployments of troops as the US seeks to concentrate 60% of its military power in the region.
This does not mean that the US has abandoned its interests elsewhere. One has only to consider its attitude to the Arab Spring, particularly its involvement in the bombing of Libya, to see that. However, military involvement by the US has not been the main enemy of revolutionaries in the region. For Syrian revolutionaries, the unstinting support of Russia and China has allowed Assad’s regime to frustrate the revolution, drawing it into armed conflict and slaughtering tens of thousands.
Perhaps the biggest difference between then and now involves the reason socialists are anti-imperialist in the first place. We are revolutionaries, and the primary (though not sole) reason we oppose imperialism is because it puts down or derails revolutions. We want a victory for revolution and therefore a defeat for the imperialist system full stop. Non-revolutionaries in contrast do not propose a world without imperialism so content themselves with supporting the other side in the global chess game.
In quiet periods, like the Middle East ten years ago, reformists and revolutionaries find themselves opposing imperialism for much the same reason and can form close alliances. After all, the point of difference is a hypothetical revolutionary movement not an actual one. But we are not in a quiet period any more. The Arab revolutions have changed all that. The financial crisis has changed all that. Our first duty is to support the actual revolutions taking place: and the consequences for our anti-imperialism must flow from that axiom.
Continue the debate at rs21’s political weekend: 29-30 March, New Cross. This is our first major public event and we welcome participation from anyone who is interested in similar issues and has been asking similar questions. Book online at bit.ly/rs21weekend
- Category: International
- Published on Friday, 21 March 2014
- Written by Rima Majed and Nick Evans
This article first appeared on the revolution in the 21st century (rs21) site. Many thanks to the authors for permission to repost.
Over a thousand people marched through London to Downing Street on Saturday, to mark the third anniversary of the start of the Syrian Revolution.
This demonstration served as a reminder of the continued determination of Syrians to overthrow the Assad dictatorship. It also acted as a challenge to the British government: a government that talked about military intervention last year has now said that it will allow only 500 Syrian refugees into the country.
The demonstration was organised by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (UK). Coaches came from nine cities across the UK. There were large numbers of people carrying Syrian opposition flags, and placards that raised the slogans of the revolution, calling for freedom and the overthrow of Assad. There were chants such as, “Revolution until victory”, “Syria wants freedom” and “Oh God we only have you by our side”.
After the demonstration, a group of Syrian children took a petition to 10 Downing Street asking the British government to open up humanitarian aid into the country.
Demonstrators refused to accept the depoliticisation of the revolution through references to it simply as a “conflict” or a “crisis”, obscuring the responsibility of the regime for the violence that has ensued. As one placard put it, “Syrians Started the Revolution; Assad Started the War.”
The #WithSyria campaign, that Banksy has been involved in, is an example of this tendency to depolitise the revolution and has caused anger among Syrians. There is no reference to Assad or the slogans of the revolution in their campaign video. The crudeness of Banksy’s Orientalist adaptation of his image of a girl with a balloon, with the simple addition of a hijab, has caused further irritation.
It is reflective of how the Syrian Revolution has been declared “too complicated” that there was virtually no visible presence of the British left or wider progressive forces on the demonstration. There were no union banners or Socialist Worker placards visible.
One Syrian demonstrator, who had attended last year’s demonstration in solidarity with the Syrian Revolution in Paris, remarked on the contrast. There, French political organisations, including NGOs, marched with the Syrians. There were more flags representing other communities from the region; here only the Egyptian flag was visible. However, that demonstration was smaller than the London demonstration.
One of the great achievements of the Stop the War movement at its height was that it brought together Muslim and non-Muslims with organisations of the labour movement and broader progressive forces. Islamophobia in France that made demonstrations of this kind impossible there was rightly criticised by the British left at the time. But now we might ask: where then was the British left on Saturday 15 March?
It would be wrong to say that the entire British left has abandoned its support for the Syrian Revolution. The conference organised on the Syrian Revolution last month by activists from groups such as the Anti-Capitalist Initiative, the International Socialist Network and Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century made a contribution, and many of the same activists were active in building the demonstration this weekend. But it is clear that there is much work still to be done.
Further reading: This report on demonstrations within Syria highlights the efforts Syrian revolutionaries are making to remind the world that the Syrian revolution is not dead
Photo Gallery: Syrian Community in the UK الجالية السورية في المملكة المتحدة