The Socialist 24 October 2012
Defend the NHS
Far right attempts to build support in Leicester
A united, working class, anti-cuts alternative is needed
The English Defence League (EDL) continues to drag its travelling circus of violent anti-Muslim demonstrations around Britain.
Despite infighting, dwindling numbers and some big defeats such as they received in Waltham Forest on 1 September, they still remain a threat.
The biggest threat would come if they succeeded in building a support base in some local areas.
This racist organisation, based on a mixture of football thugs and far-right individuals, has relied on the anti-Muslim prejudice that was whipped up by politicians and the press in the period after 9/11 as justification for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sections of the right-wing media continue to demonise Muslims.
The EDL focus on anything that they think they can blame Muslims for, however ludicrous. However if their ideas gain a foothold, they would not hesitate to attack other sections of working class people including the trade union movement.
There is no doubt that defeats on the streets have hit the EDL. A quick look at the recent rant on YouTube by their 'leader' Steven Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) against his own supporters after the Waltham Forest debacle shows that!
But it is important that we continue to mobilise community and trade union opposition to the EDL on the streets when they attempt to attack local communities.
This should involve building a democratic movement of opposition locally which aims to stop the EDL marching through and attacking areas.
This needs to be done by explaining why and how they must be opposed, including the role of the organised working class in the trade unions.
Opinion polls always have to be taken with a pinch of salt as they are ephemeral, often one-sided and influenced by the way questions are framed.
However, a YouGov poll published on 8 October revealed that 75% of people questioned had heard of the EDL, a third of people had an idea of what it stood for, 42% did not.
Of those who had heard of it 85% said they would never support the EDL, but 11% said they would consider joining. Far more said they "sympathised with their aims".
While this does not signal that the EDL has substantial support, it does flag up dangers. Up until now it has not been a membership organisation, and has not really attempted to build a local base.
The violence of the EDL's tactics undoubtedly puts off some who may have otherwise been attracted to its ideas.
The British National Party (BNP) in recent years, copying the tactics of many european far-right populist groups, attempted to shake off its neo-Nazi past by focussing on an electoral strategy.
BNP members put on suits and downplayed their fascist roots. They achieved some success, gaining two members of the European Parliament and a number of elected representatives in local government.
Since then the BNP has been on a downward spiral, losing votes and members, hitting financial crisis, and undoubtedly were driven back by anti-racist campaigning in many areas.
The EDL has recently shown signs of attempting to break into mainstream politics. They have linked up with a splinter group from the BNP called the British Freedom Party (BFP).
Steven Lennon's cousin, the number two in the EDL - Kevin Carrol, became its vice-chairman.
The EDL and BFP have received funding from rich business people such as Alan Ayling (aka Alan Lake), and have shady international links with far-right organisations.
The BFP stood for a handful of seats in the last local elections and got a derisory vote. But it is, for example, standing Carrol for the position of police commissioner in Bedfordshire on 15 November.
While organisations like the EDL are inherently unstable, the effects of the economic crisis are undoubtedly providing conditions in which the far-right can make gains.
Potential to grow
Whether it is the EDL, BFP, BNP or some other far-right organisation, there is a potential for them to grow at some stage if a mass, working class political alternative isn't built.
Cuts to benefits, cuts in public services, growing unemployment, the attack on wages, pensions and many more attacks are making people increasingly angry.
Add that to the feeling in many local areas that ordinary people have been abandoned by all the main parties including Labour, which is carrying through cuts at council level.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has publicly committed to continuing the cuts that are making working class people's lives increasingly unbearable.
If there isn't an anti-cuts political alternative put forward, the far-right can step into the vacuum.
A quick look at the growth of far-right parties in Europe points to the dangers that exist. The deeper the crisis, the more living standards are crushed by cuts and austerity, the more the danger.
Warning from Europe
In Greece we have seen the rise of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, getting 7% in the May and June general elections.
A recent poll even showed them ahead of former governing party Pasok (the New Labour equivalent).
Golden Dawn is a party that carries out violent attacks and even murders. Its violence is aimed mainly at immigrants and it has also attacked the left and LGBT groups.
We are not now facing this position in the UK but that doesn't mean we couldn't be at some point in the future if we don't build mass opposition to the far right and a socialist political alternative.
The situation that has developed on Thurnby Lodge estate in Leicester shows some of the dangers.
This is an overwhelmingly white estate that has around 150 Muslim families of South Asian origin living on it.
The council recently sent out a request for bids for the lease on an old abandoned scout hut and initially awarded it to a Muslim group that has been meeting in a room in a local community centre.
In response to this, a local group called Forgotten Estates has been established. It argues that the hut should be used as a boxing gym for the local community.
The EDL is in the leadership of this campaign which has held protests at least twice a week over an extend period of time outside the community centre.
The biggest of these had up to 400 local people. Muslim people going into the community centre with their children have been abused and intimidated.
This intimidation has to be opposed. The police do nothing to stop it. The tensions on the estate are high.
The EDL has opportunistically seized on the chance to portray themselves as defenders of the local community and build a base there. No doubt they are also considering standing in the next elections.
Nick Griffin of the BNP even showed up for one demo but the BNP have kept away since - perhaps as part of a deal with the EDL.
The EDL is almost daily whipping up racism and prejudice against Muslims on the estate. But there is also a genuine feeling among local people on the estate that they have not been listened to by the council.
The workers' movement has to respond to this. A debate has taken place over the approach.
The Socialist Party has argued that we need to build a campaign, based on local people, which strongly opposes racism, fights for facilities for everyone on the estate and that doesn't counterpose the needs of the Muslim group to others on the estate.
This means taking up the issue of cuts being made by the local Labour council in response to the Con-Dem government cuts.
It means putting pressure on the council to find suitable premises for all parts of the community. But it also links to the need for opposition to the privatisation of local facilities and for a strategy by local councils to fight the cuts.
On that basis we can explain the need for working class unity and can undercut the support for the EDL.
The local trades council executive has adopted this approach, although some groups have not. The Socialist Workers Party and others are simply arguing for the left to go onto the estate from the outside and campaign for the Muslim group to get the scout hut.
The situation on this estate highlights the lack of a party that represents the interests of working class people.
In the past perhaps the Labour Party would have had a local base that could have been used to undercut the EDL.
That possibility no longer exists and many see the Labour council as not representing them.
A mass party, rooted in local areas, that campaigns in the interests of working class people is vital.
This is why the Socialist Party supports the building of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) as a step in that direction.
The fight against the far right is absolutely bound up with the need for a socialist alternative to all the attacks raining down on working class people.
It means unity in action on the streets, but it also needs a class approach and a socialist political answer to the racists.
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