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Issue 39, June 1999

Fascist bombing outrage

THE RECENT BOMB attacks on London's black, Asian and gay communities show that even though fascists and fascist groups are small in number they can pose a very dangerous and sometimes deadly threat.

Three blasts, in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho, caused horrific injuries to over 100 people, with three dead. So far the attacks have been attributed to one 'lone' bomber, David Copeland. But, although no fascist organisation has claimed him as a member, it is unlikely he acted alone.

The response to the bombings was swift. A meeting initiated by the Socialist Party in Brixton pulled together trade unionists and anti-racist organisations to plan a demonstration. Around 3-4,000 attended and a smaller demonstration, but no less defiant, marched through Brick Lane. London's gay community organised protests around the slogan, 'we won't be bombed back into the closet!' This mood subsided once Copeland was arrested. But that should not mean that we drop our vigilance and the issues raised about how to respond to fascist activity still need to be addressed.

How do you stop bomb attacks when there is no obvious target to aim a campaign at, unlike the very focused campaign against the BNP headquarters in 1993? Yet, despite a seemingly intangible target, it is possible to isolate those carrying out such attacks and reduce the chances of them going ahead.

A sharp rise in neo-Nazi activity in Germany in the early 1990s, for example, including fire-bomb attacks on Turkish immigrant centres, was meet by mass street protests. The working class and Turkish community were able, for a time, to push back the fascists. In a different context, in Northern Ireland, as a war weariness and a mood for peace developed at the start of the 1990s, mass mobilisations of workers organised through trade councils, began the process of isolating those carrying out sectarian attacks. It was these mobilisations that were mainly responsible for forcing the paramilitaries into a ceasefire.

Each time fascists attempt to organise they must be stopped. As the bombings show, they pose an immediate threat to blacks, Asians and gays. From a longer term point of view, if they go unchallenged, they will also pose a threat to the workers' movement and democratic rights. They must be driven back even when only in their incipient stages. We cannot, as some on the left would say, ignore them and hope they go away.

  At the start of the 1990s the BNP attempted a revival. After their headquarters was set up in Welling in 1989 they embarked on a campaign in the area to win support. There was a 200% increase in racists attacks in south-east London and four young black people were murdered within a few mile radius of their HQ. In Tower Hamlets in East London a BNP councillor was elected in September 1993.

The racist murder of Stephen Lawrence however, alerted a new generation to the dangers of fascism. One week after Stephen's murder 8,000 marched on the BNP HQ calling for its closure. In October 1993 60,000 marched with the same demand. These mass mobilisations forced the BNP HQ to close.

These events have important lessons for us now. Ken Livingstone and others on the left have called for a law to ban far-right groups like the BNP and C18. But the idea that laws will stop fascist activity is fundamentally false.

The history of anti-fascist struggles show that only mass action by the working class can stop the rise of fascism. In 1936 the Public Order Act was introduced supposedly to deal with Mosley and his blackshirts. The legislation, however, was mainly used against the labour movement. The recent introduction of a 5% threshold before a party can be represented in the new London assembly has been made supposedly to keep the BNP out. But the effect will be to make it harder for a socialist alternative to New Labour to get elected.

The campaign to close the BNP HQ also shows that it was not a case of there not being enough laws to deal with fascists. The BNP HQ could have been closed immediately the BNP moved in, using existing race relations legislation. Existing planning laws also made the use of the BNP premises as an HQ illegal. But it took the police and the council six years and the deaths of four black teenagers before they were prepared to consider closing it down. We can only rely on our own strength to deal with fascism.

Other questions have also arisen: how big are the fascists? Do the conditions exist for a growth in support for far-right groups? There has been a small increase in BNP and National Front (NF) activity. They have had paper sales in Bermondsey and have attempted to march in Dover and Worcester. In the May local elections the BNP averaged 7.65% of the vote in the seats they contested in the West Midlands, in one ward, in Tipton Green, polling 17.2%. But overall, the BNP and other fascist groups remain small, isolated and weak.

  Yet we cannot be complacent. Far-right groups will increase their support in the future if they go unchallenged. Recession, with increased unemployment and cuts to public spending, could lead to a growth in disillusionment and despair amongst a section of society. Under these conditions support for racist ideas could grow, particularly if the labour movement is not organising and going forward. The forces of socialism need to put a political alternative to the bankrupt policies of the establishment parties.

In addition New Labour and other pro market parties will increasingly use the race card as a weapon to deflect blame for social and economic problems. The new Asylum and Immigration Bill, for example, has been accompanied by constant talk of bogus asylum seekers and 'criminal elements' in the immigrant community taking advantage of the welfare system. This 'state racism' gives confidence to the far-right and can lead to racist attacks, particularly as the Kosovar refugee crisis develops. In the future a more virulent anti-immigration and anti-foreigner campaign by bourgeois politicians could give a bigger impetus to the far-right.

Socialists will have to fight for the trade unions to play a much more active role in combating racism, for example, to establish networks of members who can respond at short notice to fascist activity. The community surveillance which was set up in places like Southall after the Brixton bomb should remain in place. Most of all socialists, trade unionists, anti-fascists and black, Asian and gay organisations need to build a political socialist alternative which can counter the ideas of racism and fascism and build a movement that eradicates the conditions which allow these ideas to grow.

Lois Austin

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