Some thoughts on fascism and loyalism
Amongst British antifascists, particularly those of an anarchist leaning, there has been considerable debate over the English Defence League (EDL). Specifically, over the nature of the beast and whether “fascist” is an appropriate label for them. If not – what is, and why?
I have been meaning to write on this topic for quite some time. However, I just never got around to it. Whenever I have found myself writing about the EDL, it has been more concrete matters like tactics in opposing them. See, particularly, my argument in favour of direct, physical opposition to them in Bradford and against the cowardly positions of both Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Hope not Hate (HnH).
For those who aren’t aware, the EDL are an anti-Islamic protest group which emerged following an Islamist protest in Luton last March against a homecoming parade for the Royal Anglian Regiment. In response, there was a protest in the city by men wearing ski masks, with apparently “peaceful” intent, which soon degenerated into vandalism and the assault of a local Asian man.
From these humble, violent beginnings, the English Defence League has grown exponentially, holding protests across the country – many of which have descended into violence and chaos. Facing no opposition, they have gone on the rampage in places such as Stoke, where amongst other things they issued death threats to Asian taxi drivers. Lacking anybody else to fight in Dudley in April, they turned on each other.
From the start, I dubbed the EDL and their sister organisation – Casuals United – as “the next generation of British fascists.”
However, others who opposed them have thought differently. For example, “Durruti02” wrote an article in December last year titled Knee-jerk anti-fascism and the EDL;
Many ‘kneejerk anti fascists’ don’t understand how the EDL is not fascist even though the role it plays in society, that of dividing people, is the role fascist groups also play.
But EDL is clearly not fascist, but loyalist, that means loyal to [B]ritish constitutional democracy, the queen and rights for all. They simply do not understand why they the white and mixed race and black working class who were once one of the most privilaged[sic] working classes in the world (due to both imperialism and the strength of the trade unions) has been disempowered, while Islamofascists, who have killed over a hundred Brits in the last few years at 9/11 and 7/7, from migrant communities with deeply conservative social values that appear opposite to everything [B]ritish ‘fair play’ ( myth or not) stand for, are propagating reactionary quasi fascist politics on the streets.
He cites myself as part of “a decent left [that is] taking on board that the Islamo fascists Hamza and Choudary and their crews need confronting as much as the BNP as their role in society is as bad.”
I don’t disagree with this assessment – particularly having called, on several occasions, for militant opposition to Islamism and for the left to show solidarity with Muslims and Asians opposing the fanatics in their communities. I have also challenged the black-and-white worldviews of antifascist groups in this area.
Returning to the point of the EDL being loyalist as opposed to fascist, Durruti02 has expanded upon his;
It is clear there is a major difference in the analysis of working class anarchists and the rest of the Left in how we see the EDL. We see the EDL as essentially a ‘loyalist’ (this does not refer to Ulster loyalism but uncritical support for the UK state, for the Queen as it’s head) group with a following of working class youth that we clearly relate to more than most of the Left! But we also clearly understand the extreme threat of ‘loyalism’ to the working class, as it defends the status quo, defends the rich, defends those who attack us. And we clearly see the threat the EDL can be used at some point as an out and out fascist organisation against e.g. strikes or demonstrations. The Left sees the EDL as simply, and wrongly, as fascist and racist and even Nazi. They attempt to push everything into boxes of the 1930s and simply the EDL do not fit. The Left simply fail to understand the depth of frustration and resentment in the working class as to how neo-liberalism has turned the world upside down, creating a mass of unemployed and breaking up communities. A major problem for the Left/anarchists understanding of the EDL is their middle class aversion to young working class men mobbed up. As any parent knows teenage boys/young can be pretty unpleasant often without them knowing. The chants of “Who the fuck is Allah” really are not the issue at all, and most of those chanting that would be just as happy chanting “Who’s the bastard in the black” at some myopic referee, and with just as little intent to take anything further. Today’s society offers young men little outlet to burn off their testosterone and the right have always been far better at helping them do this than the left.
The point seems to be that there is a fine line between aggressive patriotism/loyalism and outright fascism. The EDL walk that line, but do not necessarily cross it. Though, of course, they have the potential to.
The strength in the argument that the EDL aren’t an explicitly fascist comes from the form that their own denials have taken. The BNP, for example, has never taken the step of posting up a YouTube video of its members burning a Nazi flag. And it certainly doesn’t include a significant proportion of black people, under the slogan “black and white unite.” Forced to change their constitution by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, all the BNP could muster up was one racist Sikh and a deluded black pastor who only worked with them as a platform for homophobia and later defected to the Christian Party.
Nor is Durruti02 the only anti-fascist to be convinced by this of the complexity of the EDL’s position. The Stop Racism and Fascism Network when founded passed to this motion (PDF) on the organisation [emphasis mine];
1. The EDL (and its far weaker Scottish and Welsh satellites, the SDL and WDL) are racist populist organisations whose political staple diet is organising racist street provocations.
2. From the EDL’s inception there have been organised fascists prominent in its organisation. The EDL’s initial organisational base has been from nationalist gangs of football hooligans but it has been successful over the last year in pulling behind it a layer of working class youth. It has energetically attempted to claim that it is not racist and attempted to pull in black (Afro-Caribbean) youth and they have had people from the Black and non-Muslim Asian community speaking at rallies. Some of those in its periphery, particularly on the web, appear to be taken in by this.
3. The EDL however still has only a skeletal organisational structure and few policies other than crude anti-Muslim slogans and implicit anti-immigrant policies. As such at present it cannot be regarded as a fascist organisation. Whilst some in the EDL are members of the BNP, it is not a BNP front. Any unsubstantiated claims that it is a BNP front, only weakens our argument.
4. Like organised fascist organisations the EDL feeds off the disillusionment in working class communities with politics, particularly the Labour Party and the lack of a fight by many trade unions. Even a limited growth in trade union activity and militancy would marginalise the racists of the EDL and their pretence that they to genuinely represent working class dissent. But until and even when a revival in real working class politics happens, there is still a need to stop the racist activities of organisations like the EDL.
5. Whilst the EDL’s demonstrations continue, they might provide the resources and personnel for a major growth of fascism in this country either by:
a) continuing to be a recruiting milieu for organised fascists of the BNP and NF; or
b) becoming a significant factor in a future fascist regrouping
6. The EDL contains many who have experience in street fighting and confrontations with the police. Legal bans, which we do not support, and attempts by the police to restrain them are even less likely to be effective than such action taken against the BNP or NF.
7. The EDL also pose an indirect threat, in that their slogans feed into the Islamophobia which has been pushed into the public consciousness by government institutions and the media when attacking the rights of asylum seekers, immigrants or justifying wars in Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran. This normalises the association of the Muslim community with extremism, fundamentalism, cultural dominance and terrorism and without the offer of an alternative perspective provides justification for supporting the BNP.
As communities/individuals already targeted by racism seek to distance themselves from those scapegoated by the EDL (e.g. Asian speaker at EDL rally) it creates confusion by lending credence to EDL’s claim to be non-racist. Such divide and rule tactics undermine attempts to organise against racism and fascism.
As previously stated, there isn’t much that I would disagree with in the above analysis. Indeed, I suspect that at least in part the debate over whether the EDL is fascist or loyalist is a pedantic one. That said, it remains an important debate to be had mainly because the position in some quarters is startlingly weak, in particular the simplistic definitions of “the Muslim community” and “Islamophobia,” and the almost complete lack of class analysis.
To be pedantic, though, I would classify the English Defence League as fascist. As I said in the comments thread on Durruti02’s original article, “if we think of fascism in the narrow sense of Hitler and Mussolini, of course, then the EDL aren’t fascist.” But, in the broader context of fascism stemming back to the Ulster Volunteers, “the label of fascism is appropriate for the EDL.”
I explained this context in more depth in Killing and dying for “the old lie”;
In Ireland, Edward Carson and James Craig had raised the Ulster Volunteers as a fascist paramilitary force dedicated to “using all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland.” Despite their efforts, the Easter Rising of 1916 set in motion the events leading to the formation of the Irish Republic. Nonetheless, their role as a reactionary group promoting the sectarian division of the working class was a portent of things to come.
The Ulster Special Constabulary, or “B-Specials,” were the direct heirs to the Ulster Volunteers. David Lloyd George, although he had approved their formation, he remarked that “the Fascisti in Italy would be a more exact analogy” to the organisation than the Ulster Volunteers.
In Britain, too, fascism had direct links to the state. The British Empire Union (BEU), was founded in 1916, and the Economic League in 1919. In the inter-war years, they were two of several organised fascist groups which worked in tandem with the state against workers movements. Through strike breaking, anti-communist violence, and intelligence activities, they enabled the state to tackle the threat of “Bolshevism.”
In Italy, supported by the military, the business class, and the liberal right-wing, Mussolini’s Blackshirts waged a war of terror against socialists, communists, and anarchists. As always, fascism was used by the powerful as a way of fracturing class consciousness in favour of nationalism. However, when King Victor Emmanuel III handed Mussolini the reigns of power, fascism finally distinguished itself from the interests of the dominant sectors of liberal democracy.
In Germany, fascism didn’t first emerge in 1924, when Hitler took over what was then the German Workers’ Party, but in 1919. It was then that the German Social Democratic Party enlisted the nationalist militia known as the Freikorps, who would later become famous for their service to the Nazis, in crushing the Spartacist Uprising and thus preventing a workers’ revolution in Germany.
When Hitler did come to power, and Germany joined Italy as the second state where fascism was not merely a tool of the state but dominated the legislature, still the ruling class of Europe did not realise their folly. American and European business leaders actively approved of the destruction of communist and trade unionist currents in Germany. The British and American establishments, particularly, viewed Germany as a useful buffer against the threat of Soviet Communism.
Likewise, in 1938, British Ambassador to Spain Sir Henry Chilton “expressed the conviction that a Franco victory was necessary for peace in Spain” and that it “would be better for Great Britain” than a republican victory. Winston Churchill, too, praised the fascist Franco as “defending Europe against the Communist danger,” although he was pleased by the republic’s repression of the anarchists, and did have some concern that “Franco could be an upset or a threat to British interests.” The British policy of “mild support” for Franco is documented in full in Noam Chomsky’s Objectivity and liberal scholarship.
People have come to define fascism on the basis of its Italian and German incarnations, and it is true that both were a combination of authoritarian nationalism and fanatical loyalism with economic corporatism. On those grounds, whilst such as the BNP are explicitly fascist, the EDL are left with some wriggle room.
But the historical context described above demonstrates how they are analogous to the Ulster Volunteers, B-Specials, BEU, and Economic League – and the comparison of them with “the Fascisti in Italy,” came long before World War II.
Thus, though you could probably categorise the EDL quite accurately as “loyalist,” it is also not inaccurate to describe them as fascist too. The point is whether you are doing so on the basis of a knee-jerk hysteria which labels everything you disagree with as “Nazi” or on the basis of class consciousness and historical analysis.
Though he draws the line at a different point, I doubt Durruti02 would have much objection to this point.
The EDL on paper are clearly not fascist and even anti-fascist. Even Nick Lowles, Searchlight, the liberal anti-fascist magazine states that while many of the EDL were nationalists and racists, only a handful would associate themselves with fascist, far-right policies. “While it is not a fascist organisation, there are a handful of organised fascists in key positions. We are concerned that as the EDL grows it will attract more extremists and fascists.” And even Lancaster Unity says they have “..decent people..” (amongst others as members).
But one key definition of fascism is that fascism, to the benefit of the state, the status quo, the rich, divides the working class and attacks a scapegoat community as part of that division. There are similarities with the attacks on Jews in pre and Nazi Germany where, while only some Jews were part of the state/capitalism, all Jews were attacked regardless of their class or power. Similarly, here and now, while only some Muslims espouse reactionary ideas, let alone actually enact them, the EDL crowd ends up attacking verbally Islam, and Muslims as a whole. (NB there has though not been one reported racial attack associated with an EDL demo). And while the EDL is again clearly not racist or racialist in the sense it believes one race is better than another (it states clearly it is multi –racial, with some evidence), however ‘racism’ is also defined by opposition to one group of people, regardless of ‘race’ (which is of course a nonsense term).
EDL demonstrations are getting bigger and more confrontational and increasingly anti-Islamification as opposed to anti-Islamist, a significant difference as being anti-Islamification is arguably anti-Muslim which anti-Islamist isn’t. And equally significantly the anti-leftwing and anti-trade unions’ rhetoric from the EDL increases day by day. So the EDL, while on paper anti-conservative, may indeed be fascist in effect.
Which, I think, is the point. People aren’t opposed to the EDL because of what they profess to be but because of what they are.
It is possible to be loyalist – even provocatively so – without being fascist, as the Orange Lodge demonstrate. It is also possible to be reactionary and racist without being fascist, as is the case with the Tea Party movement and the mass mobilisation against the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in America.
However, more often than not, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s pretty safe to argue that it is indeed a duck.