Talat Ahmed calls upon the left to mobilise on 2 February in a show of strength
It is five years since Greek anti-fascists called for international solidarity for their struggle against the fascist party, Golden Dawn, and for a response to the growth of racism and the far right. Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) Scotland is calling on trade unionists to help build the anti-racist movement. On Saturday 2 February, SUTR will hold a conference to bring activists together to discuss key issues and build for the coordinated international protests on 16 March 2019, around UN Anti-Racism Day.
History tells us if we unite and mobilise a mass movement, we can push back racism and crush the growth of fascist organisations. This lesson is a crucial one for us today. In June 2018, we witnessed one of the largest far right organised demonstrations ever in Britain. Some 15,000 assorted racists, xenophobes and Hitler-admirers protested in Whitehall to ‘defend free speech’. Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists or the Nazi boot boys of the National Front in the 1970s never achieved such a mobilisation. This ‘Free Tommy Robinson’ rally was backed and funded by an international network of the far right that has been emboldened by Trump’s presidency. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the real name of Tommy Robinson, has become a pivotal figure in the resurgence of the far right in Britain.
Using racist scapegoating, he is successfully uniting people around his Islamophobic agenda, but he’s not the only one. Eighteen months ago, we saw the emergence of the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) in the aftermath of a series of terrorist attacks in Britain. It capitalised on the outrage felt by many at the loss of innocent lives and professed to be “united against extremism” but its Islamophobic underbelly was soon exposed by determined campaigning by SUTR.
We have not seen the frightening sight of fascists enter parliament here. Yet in Germany and Hungary this is the case. The Austrian government is now run by a Tory-Fascist coalition. In too many countries in Europe and beyond over recent years, the growth of the far right has shocked people. Anti-semitism has reared its ugly head in Poland and Hungary, driven in the main by authoritarian governments, but Islamophobia is the glue cementing the far right globally.
It will, no doubt, be no surprise to readers of this magazine that we have seen the far right’s popularity grow after years of global economic crisis. The stakes are high. At SUTR’s International Conference in London last October attendees were shocked at the scale of the task at hand and inspired by the determined action in many countries to counter the far right.
Ismahane Chouder, co-founder of the International Forum against Islamophobia and for civil rights, underlined the dangers of the left not challenging discrimination and targeting of Muslims or Roma or other minorities. Civil rights and Roma campaigner, Sandor Szoke, reported the chilling news in Hungary that a new crime of homelessness had just been included in the country’s constitution. Gender studies, discussing Marx or women’s liberation has also been forbidden by Viktor Orban’s regime.
But the march of the far right is not going unopposed. We also heard from anti-fascists in Poland now mobilising thousands on the streets. This is all the more important since Polish state officials refused to distance themselves from fascists organising around Poland’s independence day parade.
In Germany, the racist AfD party, which is increasingly dominated by open fascists, is gaining in elections. It was involved in the violent rampage against migrants in Chemnitz last September. There was an immediate response from anti-racists in Chemnitz and over 250,000 joined the ‘Unteilbar’ (indivisible) march in Berlin after a broad-based mobilisation of the left, the unions and the wider anti-racist movement.
In too many places racism is becoming socially acceptable and Scotland is not immune. In the last six months alone Stand Up To Racism Scotland has organised and joined with many others to counter a series of racist attacks in Edinburgh, and opposed fascists trying to grow in Glasgow and Dundee. We saw the effects of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ in Glasgow with Serco’s threat to evict vulnerable people from their homes, those they deemed to be ‘failed asylum seekers’. The response from campaigners, politicians and trade unionists to defend them was magnificent.
We must challenge the racist scapegoating from the political mainstream that helps fuel the growth of the far right. The emerging new far right street movement is attempting to take advantage of the political crisis by scapegoating migrants, refugees and the Muslim community. And we cannot allow our unity to be broken. In early December fascist ‘Tommy Robinson’ called his ‘Great Brexit Betrayal’ march in London, hoping to take advantage of May’s crisis over her Brexit deal. Sadly, some argued that your position over membership of the European Union should be a dividing line in the mobilisation against Robinson. Thankfully, a united demonstration was forged on the day that called for people (whether ‘leave’ or ‘remain’) to say no to racism and fascism. We outnumbered Robinson’s march by three to one. Unity is our strength.
Dr Talat Ahmed is Lecturer in South Asian History at the University of Edinburgh and Convenor of Stand up to Racism Scotland (see https://www.facebook.com/SUTRscot/)