Dover, a symbolic entrance point to Britain, has become a target for fascists mobilising against immigrants and spreading racial hatred. On the other side of the channel tunnel in Calais, the ‘jungle’, a slum for refugees who have fled the imperialist-led wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, as well as from impoverished sub-Saharan Africa, is regularly attacked by French fascists and is now targeted for demolition by French riot police and bulldozers. Many of these people risk and lose their lives in repeated attempts to hide in lorries and trains or even walk through the tunnel in a desperate attempt to reach Britain.
The motley collection of fascist groups who rallied in Dover on 30 January 2016 aimed to frighten immigrants from even making the attempt. It was not the first time. In the summer of 2015, a variety of English Defence League (EDL) splinter groups and the National Front collaborated in organising a demonstration during which they hurled missiles into a crowd of anti-fascists trapped in a kettle by the police. Emboldened by continued anti-immigrant media campaigns and the racist Cameron government, which bombs Syria but has committed to accept a mere 20,000 refugees over the next five years, the fascists felt encouraged to return.
The day started tensely. A convoy of five coaches organized by the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN) encountered a bus carrying the neo-Nazi hooligan group Chelsea Headhunters at Maidstone services, on the motorway from London to Dover. The fascists attacked immediately, but had not expected much resistance or that some of their number would require medical attention. A bag of knives, hammers and knuckledusters was found on their coach. When the police arrived, they allowed the fascists to roam freely while they attempted to ID, search and interview the anti-fascists, including IBT supporters, confining us for most of the day – thus ensuring there were 250 fewer anti-fascists on the ground in Dover.
Meanwhile on the south coast, the remainder of forces organised by the AFN broke through two police lines and attempted to block the route marked for the fascist demonstration. In contrast to more co-ordinated policing from the Met and Thames Valley Police at other events, the local Kent cops appeared unable to control the situation – there were running battles between Nazis and anti-fascists throughout the day that yielded injuries on both sides. Fascists came armed with weapons and missiles, exhibiting a greater level of premeditated violence than seen at other demonstrations, prioritising their stated aim of ‘smashing the reds’ over trying to claim the streets of Dover.
The brutality of the fascists underscores the bankruptcy of the liberal anti-fascism of the Socialist Workers Party front group, Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which traditionally has made few attempts to stop and directly confront the fascists. Socialist Worker’s factual description of the Dover events reads almost as an endorsement of a more militant strategy – one not pursued by UAF that day:
‘But anti Nazis organised to let the fascists know they’re not welcome and stop them from marching through the town. The anti-fascists marched from a rally in the town centre to block the route of the Nazis’ march. But police allowed groups of fascists to attack the march from the side and rear with bricks, rocks and bottles. Anti-Nazis defended themselves. But police pushed them into a kettle, splitting the protest before allowing the Nazis to march past.’
As the limitations of UAF become increasingly obvious, the AFN (with which the IBT works) is becoming the dominant anti-fascist organization in Britain, winning people to the idea that fascist mobilisations can only be stopped if they are physically confronted.
Effective physical confrontation requires not only organising trusted groups of activists in the tradition of militant anti-fascism in Britain, but also mobilising large numbers on the streets in coalition with forces from different political backgrounds. The most effective way of repelling the fascist menace is what Marxists call ‘united fronts’ – action blocs for practical goals between representatives of the left, the workers’ movement and the oppressed, while allowing all to openly express and debate different political views. Fascism targets the organised workers’ movement, and the big challenge for the anti-fascist movement in Britain is to build links with workers in the trade unions, who have an interest in stopping forces that are already beginning to threaten their picket lines and union headquarters. This will face sustained opposition from the conservative and self-interested union leadership, but is necessary to defend the immediate and long-term interests of the working class. The trade union movement has the social weight and organisational capacity to galvanise all the fascists' potential victims and decisively crush far-right terror.
The decline of the EDL, beginning in autumn 2013, has created a fractured fascist scene, with many of the splinter groups moving to more open identification with overt fascism and Hitlerism. The demonstration in Dover was organised by EDL splinters South East Alliance and North West Infidels. Also represented was National Action, which styles itself after the German Nazi Autonomous Nationalists, and the demonstration featured a collection of various Celtic-cross flags, Odal runes and a National Front flag styled after the Wehrmacht’s Reichskriegsflagge. It is a cause for concern that the various EDL splinters overcame their differences enough to mobilise significant numbers in Dover and co-ordinate one of the most violent demonstrations in recent memory, but also worth noting that their attempts to do the same a few weeks later in the centre of Liverpool resulted in small groups of cringing fascists being chased out of town by hundreds of locals and anti-fascists.
The ruling class in Britain is not yet ready to call on the fascist rabble to carry out their historical role of defending capitalism in times of crisis, and the fascists themselves are currently more focused on building fighting bands of ‘hard men’ than a mass movement. But fascism is bred from capitalist austerity and from attempts to divide those who would oppose it through anti-immigrant scaremongering and outright racism. Ultimately, the fight to destroy fascism means a struggle against the capitalist system and the inequalities it creates. To be successful, a working-class challenge to capitalism requires the leadership of a mass party armed with a programme that consistently opposes British imperialism at home and abroad and advances a perspective of meeting the needs of migrants and native-born workers alike through the expropriation of capital. Events in Dover in January briefly lifted the curtain on the true savagery of class society – only by destroying the basis of that society through socialist revolution can humanity begin to build a world of material security and fraternity.