Monday, June 08, 2009

This is not their victory. It is our failure.

An eyewitness report of today’s anti BNP demonstration in Manchester.

At 7pm, a small crowd of anti fascists began to assemble outside Manchester Town Hall. Unite Against Fascism erected a gazebo and played a soothing medley of reggae tunes while the latecomers began to appear. A few stray fascists were chased away, before a handful of speakers addressed the crowd. It began to rain, and I cannot recall the speakers’ names, or indeed much of what was said. From here on, braving bouts of rain and freezing cold (whatever happened to June?), Manchester’s anti fascists waited around, occasionally running here, there and everywhere as rumours of Nick Griffin’s presence reached us. The majority of protesters eventually assembled outside a side-entrance of the Town Hall. The entrance was guarded by large numbers of police and BNP security, most of whom openly admitted to supporting the fascists. At around nine, two large cars pulled up outside the entrance and the BNP security attempted to block the anti fascists from the vehicles. Some protesters hurled eggs, while others attempted to break the windows, or block the vehicles’ progress with their own bodies. They were hauled away by the BNP’s security thugs. One woman was injured.

Chasing the fascists’ cars round to another entrance, most of the anti fascists were forced into a police cordon. Myself and a few others avoided this, and were left free to hang around the Town Hall, waiting for the BNP to make their next appearance. At around this point, the only arrest of the night was made, when Chris S was handcuffed by plain clothes officers and arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, ostensibly for saying the word “fuck”. The officers, who repeatedly refused to give their names and numbers, then dragged Chris away to a police van. He was removed to a police station miles away in North Manchester.

In the meantime, two anti fascists were left to confront three fascists sitting on a bench outside the Hall without aid from the majority of the crowd, who continued chanting “the BNP is a Nazi party” nearby. The fascists ran off, shouting “BNP!”. At the same time, police cleared a path outside the same entrance to the Town Hall where the cars had previously been attacked. As BNP security amassed here, the cars once again pulled up and were surrounded by growing hordes of angry anti fascists. As the police and the BNP’s own louts combined to crush the mobilisation against the vehicles, the first rumours that Griffin might already be inside began to circulate. It turned out to be true; the cars and security had been a decoy… Griffin had sneaked in through a back entrance.

The anti fascist protest continued for about two and a half hours. Chants of “black and white, unite and fight!” and “build a bonfire…” began to ring hollow, as more protesters drifted off. At its peak, the mobilisation was perhaps 200 strong. But by midnight, scarcely forty were left. Two brief interludes of fighting broke out in the meantime: the first when police assaulted a drunk woman who was not part of the protest and the second when one of the BNP’s team, wearing a BNP identity badge, was spotted attempting to make a quiet phone call scarcely a few yards from protesters. After news of the BNP’s victory in Yorkshire and Humberside, everything became subdued. Hearing stories of the BNP trailing behind the Greens at the count taking place within the Town Hall, the mood was one of anger and, in some cases, disbelief. The Greens appeared particularly shocked.

A Labour Councillor addressed the anti fascist mobilisation poorly, omitting the fact that the degeneration of her own party had driven many working class people into the hands of the fascists. UKIP candidates came to join the protesters, and were met with fierce accusations of racism from several anti fascists. A SWP member and UNISON steward intervened, arguing that it was not the time to be exposing UKIP. A while later, at around quarter past twelve, the protest disbanded.

In the European elections, the BNP gained two MEPs. They gained a platform in Europe, and large amounts of taxpayers’ money with which to propagate their fascist lies. They managed it not just because of wide mistrust in the Labour Party, or the expenses scandal, or even the economic recession. They succeeded because the Left is fractured and weak. Because the Left didn’t stand candidates (the soft nationalism of No2EU and its pathetic results notwithstanding). We have a political alternative to fascism, we have the answers, and we need to start putting them forward. If the Left doesn’t learn this, things are only going to get worse.

Finally, we can say with utter sincerity that the “vote anyone but the BNP” strategy of UAF, Hope Not Hate etc. has been a decisive failure.

Labels: , ,