The mobilisation against the English Defence League (EDL) in Bradford on 28 August was an important victory for anti-fascists everywhere. The fascist EDL suffered a double defeat.
It got around 700 supporters to Bradford after building the demo up all summer as “the big one” and calling for 5000 thugs to invade the city. When 100 EDL hooligans broke out of their pen to riot, local people and anti-fascists quickly mobilised to confront them, driving them back.
Hundreds who came to confront the EDL that day didn’t do it to start a riot, they came to stop one. And they were successful, despite shameful misleadership from some parts of the existing antifascist movement.
POLICE FLOOD THE CITY
Bradford was tense all morning as thousands of police flooded the streets early on, looking to sweep up any protesters from either side that hadn’t joined the two pens they had prepared.
The EDL demo was put in a city centre redevelopment site – Bradford Urban Gardens. Meanwhile, Unite Against Fascism held a “multicultural celebration” in Exchange Square in a different area of the centre, enclosed by stone buildings and a high stone wall at the back.
It was surrounded by a police pen and was controlled by a heavy joint police and UAF stewarding operation on the gates. The EDL pen was much less secure. Because of this, many young people and antifascists from Bradford quickly left or stayed away from the UAF festival. Whilst Socialist Worker claims 1,500 attended, the real figure was less than 600.
The EDL were bussed in on coaches by the police around 1pm and put into their pen. Immediately they began chanting sickeningly anti-Muslim and racist chants such as “we love the floods” – mocking the devastating crisis that has killed thousands in Pakistan.
Just as in 2001, when the National Front came to Bradford, the fascists were determined to start a race riot. But militant action by the local community managed to stop them.
The EDL soon tried to push through police lines, throwing rocks, bottles and even smoke bombs at anti-fascists who had avoided the two “festivals” to gather in the streets forming a badly needed counter-mobilisation. In response protesters from the local community shouted back “Smash the fascist EDL!”
Many shouted pro-Pakistan slogans, and waved Palestinian flags.
The numbers soon swelled with people of all cultures, races and religions – men and women, young and old and from antifascist groups like the Muslim Defence League, Stop Racism and Fascism Network.
Loads of people could be seen texting or on the phone, telling their mates to get down there. Lines of riot cops, mounted police and vans kept back the growing numbers of Bradford youth and anti-fascists to protect the EDL.
At one street where most had gathered, mounted police began to push protesters back. The antifascists held their ground, forming lines, pushing back with some success.
Then everyone gave a cry of outrage as scores of EDL protesters could be seen climbing over the back wall of their pen, desperate to cause the riot they so badly wanted. Over a hundred fascists escaped the pen while the police looked on. Conveniently they had not bothered to put any cops on this part of the fence!
Like lightning the protest turned and hundreds of us ran up a hilly road, down a car-filled street with many honking their support – if the EDL had gotten there first, no doubt many of the Asian families in these cars would have been attacked just like in previous EDL outrages in Dudley, Stoke and Luton.
The stream of protesters met the EDL at the bottom of a hill in a retail car park. The police who were supposed to protect Bradford from the EDL were nowhere to be seen. The EDL shouted insults and threw rocks at the oncoming protesters. After an initial stand-off anti-fascist activists and local people began calling out “don’t run, keep going!” and led the way, with hundreds pouring after them.
A couple of big thugs stood their ground, threatening the first anti-fascists to arrive and daring us to take them on. Rather than let them rally the rest to attack us, they were dealt with and had to be rescued by police with dogs, who used them not to corral the EDL back but defend them from the anti-fascists! The EDL were driven back into Foster Square.
Job done, EDL riot stopped. People walked back up the road to avoid being penned in by the police. Back in the city centre, the police began a concerted push up the road against the anti-fascists. But with the EDL being bussed out and the threat averted, everyone just walked away safely, proud of a victory by Asian, black and white anti-fascists united.
WHERE WAS THE ANTIFASCIST MOVEMENT?
But this victory came despite, not because of the main anti-fascist organisations in Britain who tried all they could to prevent this section of the community defending their city. In the run up to the Bradford demonstrations, Hope Not Hate argued that there should be no counter-demonstration and that the people of Bradford should campaign for the police to stop the EDL protest.
They launched a petition to lobby the Home Office to ban the EDL from marching. At first Hope not Hate argued that there should be no mobilisation from anti-racists at all on the day – though later they organised a festival on the city outskirts to draw anti-fascists away from the other organisation, Unite Against Fascism’s city centre event.
Hope not Hate was partially successfully in the campaign for a ban. Whilst an EDL march was declared illegal, they were to be allowed to hold a ‘static’ protest – a protest that inevitably turned out not to be so static, with the hardcore element of the EDL breaking out of their pen.
One of the main activists from Hope Not Hate, Nick Lowles, admitted on the day that the police made little serious attempt to keep the fascists penned, preferring to attack local anti-fascists.
Lowles said: “250 EDL have broken out and are running up the hill. One solitary police car in sight. This is a shambles… The [police] dogs are out of the van but are pointed at the locals.”
The other major anti-fascist organisation, Unite Against Fascism countered this nationally, arguing that anti-fascists and anti-racists should be able to show their opposition to the EDL in the city centre by holding a “We are Bradford” event.
But UAF was also specific that this should be only a “peaceful celebration of multiculturalism” and released a statement to reassure the police, local politicians and community leaders that such an event was “not a counter-demonstration.”
In Bradford, a UAF organising meeting on 26 August was explicit that if EDL members broke away from the police, attacking mosques and other buildings then they would “stay in the square.” When the EDL predictably broke out of their pen they held to that policy. Even the left-wing of UAF, the Socialist Workers Party, were determined to keep people at the “We are Bradford” festival and honour their agreements with West Yorkshire police.
Weyman Bennett, UAF National Secretary and SWP leader announced that “we have won” – at exactly the moment EDL thugs broke out further down the road. Other speakers at the festival said “the police are on our side – if you work with the police, they will work with you!”
Martin Smith SWP national organiser said “we have no time for those who want to divide us” – but the UAF festival divided many good antifascists from local people standing up to the EDL just a few minutes away.
Whilst hundreds of people from Bradford were defending their city, the SWP central committee, along with most SWP members were nowhere to be seen.
This was despite the insistence of their weekly newspaper, Socialist Worker that we needed a counter-mobilisation to counter the fascists “politically, ideologically – and physically.”
COMPETING STRATEGIES PUT TO THE TEST
In the run up to events in Bradford, The people of Bradford worked hard arguing for the mobilisation that was necessary: a mass mobilisation to drive the EDL off the streets. They took part in leafletings almost every day in the run up to the event arguing that we needed mass action to defend the city from the EDL and that we could not rely on the police to do it.
They helped pass a resolution through a local PCS branch which committed the union to organise a meeting to build a mobilisation against the EDL, and argued against relying on the West Yorkshire police to stop them.
In the end, The People were proven right.
The police were unable (or unwilling) to control the EDL and saved their ammunition for the anti-racists in Bradford. It took several hundred anti-fascists to drive the EDL off the streets. Nick Lowles, a leading activist of Hope Not Hate, has seen Bradford as a victory for their campaign.
Certainly by signing up over 10,000 people to their petition calling for a ban and opposing any counter-demonstration, they succeeded, along with leadership of the local Labour council, police and community leaders in convincing many local people to stay away.
But this is no reason to celebrate.
The hundreds of working class people who did come out to stop the EDL marching were right to do so. They showed it was possible, with just a few hundred peopled prepared to stand their ground, to stop the EDL from causing a racist pogrom.
But had they been joined by several thousand more people, then the EDL could have been delivered such a blow that they were driven off the streets once and for all.
That task still lies ahead of the working class movement in Britain.
Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate in a press statement said “Despite huge provocation from the racist hooligans the Muslim community in particular refused to rise to the bait.” The anti-fascist movement needs to reject absolutely the passivity and ‘stay at home’ quietism encapsulated by this statement.
The day that working class people refuse to stand up and fight racism and fascism wherever it rears its head, when we refuse to organise to defend our cities from pogromists, will be the day that the anti-fascist movement has been defeated.
Equally wrong was the claim made by Unite Against Fascism that their demonstration was “a vindication for all those who were determined to peacefully oppose the EDL today”.
They failed to mention that the EDL riot had been stopped not by the police but by local people defending the city – and not by peaceful means either but by standing their ground.
MYTHS OF 2001 DISPELLED
Many of the local youth we spoke to on the protests had family members or friends whose lives had been ruined by the 2001 riots.
They pointed out how the police were still protecting the EDL in 2010 and that they were not on our side.
They said that the youth had been terribly criminalised in with many sent down for years, unable to get a job, jailed by poverty as well as prison for defending their city.
But the shameful fact is that the HNH and UAF leaders believe the media’s version of 2001 – that violence on both sides caused the riots, that both sides were to blame.
They sought to prevent any confrontation with the EDL to prevent another 2001 – but in the end it was local people, not them who stopped a repeated of those awful days precisely through self-defence.
Some more radical parts of UAF like the SWP say that their festival was not counter-posed to resisting the EDL in self-defence, but the UAF statement before Bradford was clear-cut.
“The issue is whether the response to the EDL’s presence is properly stewarded and channeled to a peaceful, positive event.”
The Bradford “riots” were a key point of reference throughout the build up to the EDL demonstration and during it.
HNH and UAF, along with their comfortable backers and leaders, made avoiding a repeat of 2001 their central argument, disgracefully following the media myths of the criminal youth and disorganising the defence of Bradford.
The actions of antifascists on the 28 August showed up the how wrong the racist stereotypes, and pro-police sympathies, that underlie the public image of 2001 are.
Saturday was a step towards completely dispelling this myth, and the fear and demoralisation created by a lost generation of criminalised youth. Anarchist must point out to many ordinary workers who are afraid of the effects of standing up to the fascists the positive experience of Bradford on 28 August 2010.
The riots were also a key point of discussion on the counter-demo (during the slower moments). Many asked, how can we turn Saturday’s victory for Bradford into a movement to stop the EDL causing havoc in other towns and cities across the UK?
The way forward: a united front, antifascist committees and an Antifascist Defence League The answer is not to set up another little campaign to rival UAF or Hope Not Hate. Instead we need a simple agreement between the active antifascist forces and the labour movement to coordinate common action. This would not be a ‘popular front’ with respectable bourgeois figures who block action, but the opposite – a united front against fascism.
The best way to make this happen is to set up local antifascist committees that draw in all the activists that are really mobilising to stop the EDL. This includes trade unionists, socialist groups and antiracist campaigns.
These committees could draw in individuals who want to stand up to the EDL, and they could start to win backing from local union branches, from local Labour Party wards and constituencies. They would not need long charters of common principles, just an agreement to act against the EDL and deny them the streets. In these committees consistent antifascists would argue to mobilise thousands on the streets against every EDL or BNP action, whether the police sanction it or not.
Finally, Bradford showed more clearly than ever that we need a national self-defence organisation that defends us from the police and fascists, rather than “channelling” our movement into pacifism and dependence on the police like UAF and Hope not Hate.
We should not focus on clandestine groups but instead launch a public campaign to build an Antifascist Defence League, drawing on people from across all the antifascist organisations. It should issue an appeal for enrolment, sign people up, and train its members on moving in formation. It should be ready to assert its democratic and legal right to defend our marches and our communities from racist rioters, and to defend its right to do so in the courts, in the media and in practice.
We saw in Bradford that many Asian youth rallied to the simple slogan of a Muslim Defence League. How many more, Asian and white, Hindu and Muslim, religious and non-religious, would rally to an Antifascist Defence League? We believe it would go round like wildfire once we actually take the step of setting it up. The time is now to prepare, before the next EDL outing in Leicester.
This time, let’s make sure what awaits the EDL when they get off their coaches is not an impotent celebration rally penned in by police, but a drilled and organised defence association ready to stop them in their tracks.
See you on The Streets..