This report was written by Marxist World supporters present at the counter-demonstration.

Organising

Residents of High Wycombe first found out about the far-right English Defence League coming to town in the local newspaper, the Newsquest-owned Bucks Free Press, on the 7th March. [1] On the same day, a local Marxist World supporter put out a call for action against the EDL, and soon a meeting was convened between locals and Antifa (anti-fascist) activists who wanted to build for action. Around the same time, other groups and organisations declared their intention to protest against the racist thugs in various ways. We guessed that the EDL would want to march from the train station to Frogmoor, a town square area with large open space. High Wycombe holds a busy market with dozens of traders on a Saturday along the High Street, so we were not sure they would be allowed to march through that route. The only other alternative was to go through Castle Street, which ran parallel to the High Street. It transpired our guess was correct.

Under the banner ‘High Wycombe Anti-Fascists’ we distributed nearly 1,000 leaflets across several days and evenings in the run up to the demo. In contrast to others that took a politically liberal approach by simply pointing out the racism and bigotry of the EDL, our leaflets raised the issue of class through exposing the right-wing character of the EDL on issues such as cuts and housing. We stated: “The EDL want to deflect anger away from the Tory government and the banks whose plans are making life intolerable for many working class people and place all the blame on Muslims and refugees. Yet it wasn’t Muslims who caused the financial crash in 2008, nor was it refugees who closed the A&E and maternity ward at our local hospital. The EDL have never campaigned in support of housing, hospitals or public services because they accept the massive inequality in society. The EDL do no stand up for working class people – they are the boot boys of the super-rich.” The response we received overall was positive, particularly from Asian youth and racially mixed friendship groups.

The two main groups involved in building for a demonstration were Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and High Wycombe Community Advocates (HWCA). UAF wanted to hold a static counter-demonstration outside the Guild Hall on the High Street. This approach flows naturally from the cross-class, politically liberal nature of UAF itself which seeks to avoid and minimise confrontation with far-right groups and the state in order to appease their layer of petty-bourgeois and sometimes even outright bourgeois members. For example, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, was the chair of UAF for a number of years! It is also to the advantage of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the main organisers behind UAF, as such a static protest provides them with good opportunities to sell their newspapers and attempt to recruit to their party.  While it is true that Marxist World supporters are passionate about promoting our website and selling our new journal, it would be the height of sectarianism to place such actions before the demands of the workers’ movement at the time, which was carrying out the most effective strategy to oppose the EDL!

The High Wycombe Community Adovcates, primarily made up of local Asian activists, wanted a “militant but peaceful” demonstration at Frogmoor to block the fascist rally from taking place, a position we also supported. Tension between the two organisations became apparent at an organising meeting, and reluctantly HWCA agreed to support the UAF protest outside the Guild Hall, although HWCA would steward the demo. We agreed to abide by this decision but made it clear that by itself was insufficient.

The evening before the demo, Marxist World supporters were invited by the HWCA to attend their final steward meeting.  Various practical details were ironed out, including the use of spotters, the exchanging of mobile numbers, but also crucially the question, in defiance of the UAF, of a march to directly confront the EDL through occupying Frogmoor before they arrived and so preventing their rally.  A possible route was sketched out that might enable the demo to get around the police lines, however there was unanimous consensus that it would be dependent on numbers if such action were to be taken.  It was also agreed that, were such a call to be made, it would be best to come from the HWCA stewards given the authority they would have on the day.  At the same time, we were prepared to issue the call ourselves if it became clear we had the numbers and the HWCA stewards were to back down.  As a final contribution, we gave our assurances that we would communicate these plans to Antifa, confident they would be supportive of more militant action.

Project Fear

The role of Thames Valley Police (TVP) in the build up to the demo was sensationalist and scare-mongering. In an article that appeared in the Bucks Free Press on 31st March, the police estimated that 1000 people would attend (150-200 EDL supporters and over 800 anti-EDL protestors) [2]. Another article published on the same day stated: “Riot police could be called in when 1,000 protesters hit the streets in High Wycombe next weekend as part of an EDL demonstration. Police officers carrying shields, mounted horse patrols, dog units and a helicopter are all expected to be used in the large scale operation…” [3]

Members of HWCA also explained that TVP were going round to local mosques asking community leaders to tell their congregations not to attend the counter-demonstration. Furthermore, local Muslim youth were warned that ‘Prevent’/anti-terror legislation could be used against those who intend to protest against the EDL! Such legislation was never threatened against non-Muslims and so the despicable role of TVP was completely racist. On the day prior to the demo, the police also announced their authorisation to use section 60AA, which allows them “…to order protesters to remove any item which they believe is for the purpose of concealing their identity…. Anyone failing to comply with the request will be committee a criminal offence according to Thames Valley Police.” [4]

The Demo

On the morning of the demo, it was clear that TVP were putting on a display of force. Riot police and vans were situated in all major locations and possible choke-points. After some evasion of the police, who were filming activists for the crime of sitting in a cafe, anti-fascists began to assemble at the Guild Hall around midday. Thanks to Marxist World supporters from the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) we were able to bring twenty plain red flags on sturdy poles. These were quickly distributed, the majority of them being eagerly taken by Antifa members who were happy to have a more defiant symbol to march under than the limited UAF placards. UAF had a PA system which was hosting a variety of speeches from supportive organisations and Trade Unions. The numbers were gradually building as people in town started to realise what was happening. At one point, a worker in Sainsbury’s uniform, apparently walking home from after a shift, started shouting and everyone stopped to listen. He was ex-British Army and said “No to EDL using my dead friend’s memory in support of their cause!” At this point, the crowd erupted in cheers and clapping. It was clear that the 200 or so protestors present would not be content with simply standing around and waving placards at a foe they would only be able to barely see, primarily due to a row of police vans blocking the view and the fact that their rally point was round the corner and thus out of sight completely.

Anti-fascists raised with the HWCA that the crowd were ready to move round to Frogmoor, to which they agreed. Whilst we would have preferred to move straight away to get to Frogmoor before the fash, we abided by HWCA’s suggestion that we wait until the scum could be heard/seen marching past the church at the end of Castle Street. On this point, the UAF and its main organisers from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Socialist Party (SP) played a demobilising role, refusing to move from their spot.

When we saw the flags and heard the thugs shouting, various chants were initiated on the PA. After speaking to HWCA stewards again, they delegated making the call to march to Frogmoor to Antifa and ourselves.  With our red flag contingent moving into position at the front, a Marxist World supporter, raising his red flag high, shouted out defiantly in Spanish the immortal words of the Spanish Civil War, “No Passaran! Adalente Companeros!” , roughly translated as “They Shall Not Pass! Comrades Advance!” The effect was electrifying as virtually all protestors followed, abandoning the UAF organisers and their Socialist Worker paper sales. The major direct routes were blocked, so we had to go round a longer route which took us the opposite end of Frogmoor, about 200 metres away from the EDL rally. When we came round the corner, we were greeted by mounted police. Undeterred, we pushed on, flags flying and anti-fascist chants thundering into Frogmoor square. The horses spooked and so the mounted police were forced to retreat behind a line of police further back. We marched as far as we could until we got to about 15 metres away from the racist rally. In front of us were several lines of police, dogs barking at us and lots of riot vans on stand-by. “Who protects the Nazis? Police protect the Nazis!”

The EDL’s rally of around 60 people was interrupted and they were clearly uneasy about the presence of an ever-growing mass of angry locals and anti-fascists (around 250 people) ready to stop them. Their shit PA was barely audible over our chants and general noise. After about half an hour of their hate speech, the fash very quickly left, some so scared they left in minivans that were around the corner. Clearly demoralised and subdued, the rest of the scum were escorted back to the train station and sent packing. Not a single pub served the Nazis!

During the face off at Frogmoor, discussions went on between Marxist World, Antifa and the HWCA about the possibility of pushing forward once the EDL rally ended, in order to escort them back to the station and further demoralise them as they would feel as though they were being chased out of town.  This did not take place, primarily due to the lack of coordinated action. It must also be said that, given the firm police line that was maintained in order keep us in place, it would have been an open question as to whether the crowd were confident enough to try to break through, especially given the seeming general consensus among people present that the action already taken was enough, given the obvious humiliation of the EDL.

In our passion to get to the train station as fast as possible to bid our unwelcome guests farewell, our radical section, which had grown over the course of the march as some of the more combative youth identified with us to around 30-40 people, separated off from the main body and began to head there in the most direct route available.  It is to the extreme credit of Antifa that, when we had put around 100-feet between us and the main body of demonstrators, one of their seasoned supporters pointed out that we were walking into a trap.  The police were taking note of where we were going, and if we continued down the road we would have soon been out of sight of the main demonstration which, now being led by UAF members, was heading back to the rally point at the start.

Reluctantly we rejoined the main demonstration chanting “The workers united will never be defeated!”. However it turned out our time in the spotlight was not yet over.  When the march reached the original rallying point, the UAF supporters at the front stopped, blocking the centre of the High Street with their banner in the hopes of ending the march and initiating a closing rally outside the Guildhall. Ourselves and the more militant section of the youth pushed past the rally and continued towards the train station. Due to a lack of coordination on our part and the demobilising strategy of UAF, unfortunately over half the protestors stayed at the static rally. Despite several valiant attempts, we were unable to get the train station due to huge presence of riot police, dogs, horses and vans blocking Crendon Street and various side streets. However, we did hear that, allegedly, a minivan window was smashed. Tut tut Nazis, you should drive more carefully! Marxist World supporters also sold several journals in the aftermath of the rally.

We celebrated the departure of the racists with some well deserved pints and grub. Definitely 1-Nill to High Wycombe and anti-fascism, and a humiliating retreat for the EDL. Following the success and the raised profile of anti-fascist action, a group of working class militants have now formed a local Antifa organisation in High Wycombe and will be pursuing measures to combat the far-right locally. If you are interested in getting involved in anti-fascist work in High Wycombe, email them highwycombeantifascists[at]riseup.net (replacing [at] with @).

EDL, Islamophobia and the Left – A Brief Analysis

According to the EDL’s facebook event page for the demo (which has since disappeared, presumably after only a quarter of the scum who claimed they could attend actually turned up), their platform was “No to radical Islam, no to child grooming, no to immigration”. By combining these slogans, they are deliberately conflating a number of issues.

As Marxists, we are opposed to the ideology of right-wing political Islam, generally referred to as Islamism and associated with the so-called Islamic State. We are opposed to methods of individual terrorism, which can only drive the working class of the target nation in to the hands of the bourgeois state. Obviously, we are also against child grooming – but who isn’t?! By following this slogan with “no to immigration”, the racist intent of the EDL is obvious; their message is that Muslims and immigrants in general are child groomers. The fact that the “migration crisis” was brought about precisely by Syrians fleeing so-called Islamic State shows how ridiculous the EDL ‘argument’ is. But then, since when did Nazis worry about facts?

Marxist World supporters have a philosophically materialist conception of the world and human society, but we support the right of all people to practice their religion peacefully. We oppose all forms of discrimination and bigotry on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sex and sexual orientation. In light of the EDL, we would defend Muslims from anti-Muslim bigotry, racism and physical attacks. However, we do think it is important to distinguish between criticism of Islam as a religion, and bigotry/racism against Muslims. Unfortunately, terms such as Islamophobia conflate the two concepts, which does not help Marxists build support amongst those workers who are repelled by certain religious and political ideologies. We believe that criticism of all ideologies, whether religious or political, is a legitimate expression of freedom of speech, even if we do not agree with what is said. For example, it was suggested by the HWCA that we call for the arrest of any EDL supporters that make offensive chants against the Prophet Muhammad. We would not support such an action, because we do not consider blasphemy a crime. Then again, we wouldn’t support the intervention of the police and bourgeois state in general. This is because the same measures used against the far-right could be used against the far-left and anti-capitalists. We believe that the workers movement needs more critical discussion and debate around theory and practice, not less. Only by engaging with debate and criticism can we reach a better understanding of society and therefore the means to change it. We therefore also oppose the “no platform” tactic when used against anyone other than fascists.

Far more concerning for everyone present at the demonstration was that speakers at the EDL rally called for anti-EDL protestors to be hanged and for Muslims to be put into vans and shipped out the country. So much for the EDL’s “not racist, not violent” credentials! It is when EDL supporters make comments such as these publicly, in conjunction with other comments like “we need a strong state to protect our children”, that the fascist nature of the EDL leadership is revealed, even if some of its followers, drawn mainly from the most backwards sections of the working class, aren’t fully aware of this fact.

Whilst the EDL is now a tiny pathetic rump of an organisation, this wasn’t always the case. They continue to pose a direct danger to the Marxist Left and the workers’ movement, even in the aborted embryo form they have currently, and hence should be stamped out wherever they raise their ugly head. We believe that militant anti-fascism is a key component for building a wider revolutionary workers movement, the key task facing revolutionaries today.

References

[1] http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/14325891.EDL_members_to_protest_in_High_Wycombe/

[2] http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/14393190.Over_1_000_protesters_set_to_demonstrate_in_High_Wycombe_as_part_of_EDL_march/

[3] http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/14395014.Riot_police_on_standby_as_1_000_people_arrive_for_EDL_protest_in_High_Wycombe/

[4] http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/14415864.Police_given_new_powers_ahead_of_tomorrow_s_EDL_march/

 

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