Brief thoughts on yesterday’s antifascist demo in London

Respect to everyone who organised the antifascist demo in London last night and to everyone who turned out.

It was really good and necessary that it happened. There had been quite a lot of hype about the violence the far-right were going to dish out. So extra kudos to the people that turned out anyway.

As it turned out, the riots and violence the far-right were promising turned out to be a damp squib. All we saw we were gaggles of far right goons in the pubs down Whitehall.

We got about 200 antifascists at the International Brigades memorial on the South Bank had some speeches on the theme of anti-fascist internationalism and a little march about.

In the current context this was a good morale boosting thing. In the spectrum of things that could have happened this was up the top end of possible outcomes. I was imagining potentially being faced with large numbers of angry violent DFLA thugs in the dark.

As it turned out there was a non-embarrasing number of us, basically no fascist presence and we got to have a march and a shout. About 25 fash in little groups tried to have a go at the demo – pulling sieg heil salutes and yelling. It was nice to have them there as if to confirm our raison d’etre.

Some brief constructive criticism:

Once we realised there was minimal organised far-right on the streets it might have been good if we had tried to march over the bridge to Westminster rather than just around Waterloo.

All the sticks along the sides stuff that seems to now be compulsory at antifascist demos was a little pointless. It’s funny when innovation gets turned into a mindless repetition so quickly. The sticks thing is useful to defend against cops or fash getting into the crowd and to demarcate our space, but it has disadvantages too. It’s slow, it traps us in a block where we can’t move quickly or fluidly. Tactics need to be considered case by case – was it useful in this situation?

It would have been good to have more visible banners to explain what we were. The combination of being dressed all in black masked up in the dark with black flags shouting in foreign languages confused a lot of passers-by who had no idea whether we were racists or anti-racists. It was only the RCG people with a big Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! banner that made it clear.

We also could also have had leaflets to give to passers by to explain what we’re doing. There’s a lot of goodwill we are missing out on by people not knowing who the fuck we are. Everyone I talked to was on-side once it was explained who the weirdos in black were and what they were shouting about.

Finally, it was all a bit black bloc-ish. We desperately need to expand antifascism beyond the sub-cultural black bloc crowd. It happened a bit last year with the Feminist Antifascist mobilisation and since then we seem to have gone back into a small scene.

Yesterday was fine but we’ll be trying to reinvent the wheel all over again the next time Tommy Robinson calls a big demo and we panic that we can only get out 200 people. We need to work to mobilise larger numbers of people which doesn’t mean going all liberal, abandoning militancy or diluting our politics. If we follow the example of the Feminist Antifascists and the excellent Pop Mob in Portland we can expand antifascism beyond this black bloc masked up militant thing, get larger numbers on the streets, and be more effective as a social force and as a militant force.

5 thoughts on “Brief thoughts on yesterday’s antifascist demo in London

  1. […] Irregular-but-interesting anarchist/antifascist blog While Rome Burns has a critical report up from …. […]

  2. Garth Feld says:

    Total losers

  3. annoyed says:

    Not sure whether we should have crossed the river or not, but certainly we should not have allowed the police to have so much control or influence on our plans.

    In other words, if the aim was to have a visible antifascist demo taking up public space away from the main groups of fash, that should have been done on our own terms.

    Also, if a decision (not to try to cross the river to confront or block larger groups of fash) had already been made, it would have been more honest to communicate that in advance. That would have allowed each person to make a real informed decision about whether a (mostly) symbolic demo was a good use of their time and energy.

    Agree wholeheartedly that we needed more clear banners and chants. Speaking just for myself, I’m sick of that bloody cliched alerta chant that most people won’t understand.

    “sub-cultural black bloc crowd”

    Black bloc is a tactic, not a subculture. For sure, people less used to using that tactic may find it alienating, but that’s a reason to spread awareness about why people use it, not abandon it. I do feel that it is a useful tactic in any large mobilisation where things are likely to kick off.

    I do agree that we need to get a wider range of such people (who don’t tend to use black bloc tactics) involved. Having said that, it was predictable that for something like this, where the expectation was of possibly being outnumbered in violent clashes, inexperienced people might not be confident enough to show – and that can be hard to overcome.

    “did seem like a young black block cult despite instructions not to wear black but blend in with passing punters”

    Once you have become a crowd of over 200 people there is absolutely no way you are going to blend in. At that point it makes total sense to change into black bloc, and change back out again afterwards. I suspect the advice not to wear black bloc was aimed at people not familiar with the practice of using multiple changes of clothing.

    On the subject of changing clothes, by far the worst part of the demo was the end. Absolutely no decent exit strategy based on any shred of solidarity or basic security. Made much worse by a lack of communication or warning.

    I would have preferred to have moved together, as a crowd (breaking police cordons if necessary – this was doable!), to a park or similar, and dispersed there.

    If it really was necessary to disperse in a location full of cops, police vans, bright lights and CCTV, the least that could have been done would have been to warn the crowd a few minutes beforehand. Many people did not receive any such warning.

    Finally, for London AFN, LAFA and others to portray the demo as an unqualified success (as they have done already on social media) is unhelpful and gets in the way of us learning important lessons from it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Last night’s anti-fascist protest should not have happened. When it looked like there could have been a similar sized pro-Brexit mobilisation to 29 March 2019 and it was clear LAFA and assorted anti-fascist groups would not be able to mobilise more than 300 people, it was incredibly stupid to call a protest, particularly which looked like it would be held on Whitehall, in the middle of the pro-Brexit protests, just like the badly organised Another Europe Is Possible protest in September.

    When it became clear that Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson, who had called the March protests and can both mobilise thousands, would not be calling street protests and the calls for a pro-Brexit mobilisation were coming from individuals and groups who’ve lost the ability to mobilise large numbers, the anti-fascist protest should have been called off as it was largely unnecessary. The single purpose of anti-fascism is to disrupt the ability of the far-right to organise, to make it hard for them to ever get into a position where they can ever exercise power. The mobilisation last night did not disrupt the far-right at all and all it did was provide a mobile target for fascists to harass.

    Had the 200 anti-fascists who turned out decided to go over the bridge into Whitehall, they would either have been kettled on Westminster Bridge or marched through Whitehall with a sizeable police escort. Being either stopped by the police or escorted through hostile crowds would have exhibited the weakness of anti-fascism in the UK, it would have actively undermined attempts to disrupt the far-right by making anti-fascism look ineffective. There were some positives from last night, an attempt to attack the point people were forming up at was rebuffed when the dozen fascists who were heading towards the memorial saw the dozens of anti-fascist stewards who were waiting. Another was the decision not to walk over Westminster Bridge and that the march was able to have a bit of a largely pointless walk around without any anti-fascists getting turned over.

    There are two ways you need to think about how anti-fascist protests go in central London. Firstly, you need to imagine what happens if the police aren’t there. Say 200 anti-fascists had formed up at the International Brigades Memorial, walked over Westminster Bridge and onto Whitehall in a bloc, chanting, setting off pyro etc. There would be fascists trying to have a pop at the march from the moment they got on to the bridge and it’s likely small groups would have had pops at it all the way along Whitehall. Initially the march would be able to rebuff these, they’d have been the people standing out on the streets, they’d not have access to glasses or many weapons, the fighting would be hand to hand and there wouldn’t be many projectiles involved. But as groups were rebuffed and fell back they’d join up with bigger and bigger groups. Eventually people would poor out of pubs with glasses they’d use as missiles and at one point there would be a large enough group of far-right activists ahead of the march that they would charge and try to scatter the anti-fascist bloc. They might not succeed first time, but there is little chance the bloc would have made it all the way along Whitehall without being scattered and people having to flee.

    For young and inexperienced anti-fascists, when projectiles start being thrown into your lines, they separate the people who are prepared to fight and will risk getting hit and the people who aren’t really ready for taking part in the level of violence they’re seeing. With a crowd of 200, there are maybe 30-40 people up for fighting, you do not have 200 street fighters and shouldn’t kid yourselves into thinking that. When glasses and half bricks start flying into your lines you have 40 street fighters and 160+ people standing back, watching or just leaving the area. You also have to deal with the fact that you may not have all of you street fighters where you need them. If you’ve got 10 people at the back of the march protecting the rear, you may only have 30 at the front. When they’re confronting a dozen fascists who’ve been out on the streets all day the anti-fascists will be fine, but when this whole march nears to pubs which are full of things which can be used as weapons, then things changed and you may discover that you are suddenly fucked.

    The points about banners and leaflets are fine, although it’s worth bearing in mind that you can only hand out leaflets when it’s safe for people to be wandering around the fringes of a protest. If this march had gone onto Whitehall it would probably not have been safe, also the people around you would have been tourists, civil servants or pro-Brexit protesters, not really priorities to leaflet.

    Finally, to mobilise larger numbers several things need to happen. First of all you really need to convince people of the need for them to take to the streets. Last night it wasn’t clear who was being opposed, why they were being opposed, how the action fitted into anti-fascist strategy and it looked downright foolish which is why large numbers of people stayed way. Had there been a feeling the protest was needed, more people would have come out. That’s one aspect which needs to be looked at (stop calling pointless protests). Another is how anti-fascists mobilise. Look at the addresses of the all the Tommy Robinson supporters who were jailed for rioting on the first ‘Free Tommy’ protest, the one which had over 15,000 of his supporters on it. They were from all over the UK.

    One of the golden rules of anti-fascism is that anti-fascists always need to mobilise from the same geographical area as the far-right. This means if they’re doing a local protest, you only need to mobilise anti-fascists locally. If they’re doing a regional protest, you need to get anti-fascists from across your region out and if they’re doing a national mobilisation it needs to be matched by anti-fascists. When anti-fascists need to do a national mobilisation it needs to be done the same way the left does big national demos. Meetings in every big city/urban area, poster and sticker campaigns across the country and coaches need to be put on to move large numbers of people at low cost. The left does these all the time but anti-fascists really struggle when it comes to these kind of things.

    Looking to the Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly or the Pop Mob lot in Portland for inspiration is setting your sights far too low and doesn’t prepare people for the scale of the challenge ahead.

  5. unionworkeruk says:

    As an aging anti fascist who was there but walking on the pavement I agree totally. The number who turned was good but it was confined to the hard core and did seem like a young black block cult despite instructions not to wear black but blend in with passing punters. Most of whom who were bemused by the masks, black clothes, flares, slogans in a foreign language. Very photogenic and well organised but they had no idea who we/you were.

    All they heard was “Fascista” and were unsure who we were. I also had to explain several times it was Anti fascista and that the march was in opposition to fascists who were around central London. The question then was why are you marching around the South Bank and Waterloo Station. Most of which seemed to be in alleys and under railway arches with no one about apart from some people in Halloween costumes queuing for a club, apartt from a short stretch from Waterfloo station to the first alley on the left where all the best pics were taken.

    Leaflets are needed on all demonstrations to explain your/our purpose and attract supporters and it does need to be more inclusive. No one of my age or even over 30 would feel comfortable joining the march or dressing all in black which as you say should be a tactic not a uniform.

    I admire those who organise and go on the demonstrations which are far more organised and purposeful than the UAF etc but they are not inclusive or working class orientated, particularly those above a certain age . Maybe FLLAF need to be approached so that they can organise a contingent which would be more open to those of us who do not fit the cultural base of the Antifa London as it stands at present .

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