On bank holiday Monday at the end of May, several hundred anti-fascists, including members of the IBT, watched in frustration from behind a wall of cops as an English Defence League (EDL) demonstration at least twice as large marched unhindered through the heart of central London, where fascists rarely venture. Only a month earlier, in Brighton, we participated in the disruption of the annual far right ‘March for England’ on St George’s day. It is an ominous sign that the EDL, which had been losing members and influence after suffering a series of defeats across the country, was suddenly able to mobilise over 1,000 supporters in London and twice that number in Newcastle two days earlier, as well as making an appearance (albeit with mixed results) in towns across the country the following weekend. We were also at Westminster on 1 June, as the declining BNP was met with more successful opposition, although they were protected by a clearly pre-planned police operation that arrested over 50 anti-fascists.
The surge in support for the EDL was sparked by the killing of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 22 May by two men citing retribution for British army attacks on Muslims abroad. Fascists and other racists have seized on the murder to step up violent assaults on Muslims:
‘As participants in an English Defence League (EDL) march in Whitehall were recorded giving Nazi-style salutes, Faith Matters, which monitors anti-Muslim hatred, said the number of incidents in the past six days had risen to 193, including ten assaults on mosques. The figure compares to a total of 642 incidents in the previous 12 months – meaning the last week has seen a 15-fold increase on last year’s average of 12 attacks per week.’
(Independent, 28 May 2013)
Rigby, a soldier in Britain’s imperialist army, has been treated in the bourgeois media (and even by much of the left) as an innocent civilian. Politicians have whipped up patriotism and paranoia about ‘terrorism’, while attempting to distance themselves from the rise in fascist support. The hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie and its media lackeys is ultimately an expression of the requirements of British imperialism. In April the brutal stabbing of 75-year-old Mohammed Saleem, whose family had received threatening letters from the EDL, received far less media coverage than the Woolwich incident.
London mayor Boris Johnson and others have absurdly denied that Rigby’s killing had anything to do with British intervention in the Middle East, despite the statement of one of the perpetrators, Michael Adebolajo, at the scene: ‘The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers’ (Telegraph, 24 May 2013).
Marxists do not advocate attacking individual soldiers in response to imperialist atrocities, but the charges of ‘terrorism’ must be seen in the context of Rigby’s own willing role in those crimes. He served a tour of duty as a machine gunner in Afghanistan, where the British army has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. It was recently revealed that the Ministry of Defence intends to obstruct investigations of unlawful killings by British occupation forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.
Islamic reaction has been fuelled by British/US/NATO aggression in the Middle East and North Africa. While we endorse neither the ideology nor the methods of Rigby’s executioners, we do solidarise with the victims of imperialist occupation. We call for class-struggle resistance to the military adventures of ‘our’ rulers, including strikes against the production and shipment of arms. Every victory won by the British army in the Middle East will embolden the ruling class to commit further crimes abroad, which is why Marxists call for the defeat of British imperialism.
Since Rigby’s killing, public support for the military has risen, and there has been a dramatic spike in donations to the charity Help for Heroes. This support for ‘our boys’ is echoed by those on the left who downplay the significance of the fact that Rigby was a professional soldier, not a civilian, mirroring the horror expressed by the bourgeois press that sometimes chickens come home to roost.
Unite Against Fascism were predictably among the worst offenders, proposing to start the demonstration against the BNP ‘with a minute’s silence in memory of Lee Rigby’ (uaf.org.uk, 31 May), but others were not so different. Workers Power suggests that it was somehow worse that women witnessed the event:
‘This is a horrific act, committed in front of ordinary civilians, women and children. We sympathise with the family of the victim and those traumatised by witnessing such appalling scenes.’
(workerspower.co.uk, May 2013)
Left Unity’s Kate Hudson takes an approach tinged with pacifism and religion:
‘We deplore the brutal murder of an unarmed British soldier in Woolwich yesterday. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Acts of violent retribution against individuals can never be justified as a response to the crimes of states and governments.’
(leftunity.org, 23 May)
The Socialist Party equates the attack on Rigby with indiscriminate attacks on civilians:
‘The Socialist Party completely condemns this attack just as we condemned 7/7, 9/11, and all similar attacks aimed at indiscriminate slaughter. The victim of this latest killing, while one individual rather than many, appears to have been selected possibly only because of the “help for heroes” t-shirt he was wearing.’
(Socialist, 29 May 2013)
While class-conscious workers take no satisfaction in Rigby’s death, we do not mourn a man who, according to his own family, wanted to be a soldier all his life. As a volunteer defender of British imperialism, he was in a very different category than the civilians killed by the 7/7 London bombings of 2005. The sympathy expressed for Rigby by various self-proclaimed revolutionary organisations is paralleled by their refusal to side militarily with the victims of imperialist attacks (see ‘Libya and the Left’, 1917 No. 34).
During periods of economic crisis and high unemployment, the army often succeeds in recruiting heavily among the working class, targeting schools and deprived communities – sometimes described by the left as ‘economic conscription’. But those who volunteer for the army are not part of the workers’ movement. At the time of his death, Rigby was working as an army recruiter, signing up cannon fodder for the bosses.
Rigby’s death has provided reactionaries with a pretext for advocating increased state repression, as demonstrated by Theresa May’s proposed ban on internet access for ‘extremists’. Such laws will inevitably be used against whichever ‘enemy within’ the authorities decide to target – today Islamic fundamentalists, tomorrow the left and trade unionists. Marxists, by contrast, seek to defend democratic freedoms and to extend full citizenship rights to all residents, regardless of their religious beliefs or immigration status.
Divisions and the absence of revolutionary perspective in the anti-fascist movement – particularly the pernicious role of the SWP front Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which often seeks to avoid direct confrontation and willingly co-operates with the police – has made it easier for the EDL to grow. It is necessary to crush the fascists while they are still relatively small – by uniting the left, immigrants, and particularly trade unionists in militant mobilisations to physically prevent the EDL, BNP and their ilk from spreading venomous hatred. Westminster also illustrated the potential for increased state repression against anti-fascist protests. We call for the dropping of charges against all arrested anti-fascists.
To imagine that the agencies of the capitalist state can be relied on to prevent fascist attacks is a dangerous illusion. In the final analysis, the raison d’être of fascism is to provide bourgeois shock troops in times of crisis, supplementing the army and police. The fight against fascism – like the fight to resist austerity attacks that contribute to the sense of hopelessness and despair that fuels the growth of the far right – requires determined action by all those oppressed by capitalist rule. Ultimately, bourgeois reaction can only be defeated by uprooting the social system that produces it, and that requires the creation of a revolutionary workers’ party, capable of leading the working class to power.