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After Woolwich: self defence and working class unity against fascism

 By KD Tait

With the killing of a soldier in Woolwich, the people of Britain were treated to a glimpse of the mundane brutality inflicted daily on the innocent civilians of Kabul and Baghdad.

The violence of war is always barbaric. That is as true for the death of a soldier in London as it is for the indiscriminate murder and rape of the Afghan people by British soldiers.

For more than a decade the millionaires’ media have gone to every effort to vilify Muslims as collectively responsible for the terrorism provoked by the imperialist slaughter in the Middle East.

The deep roots of racism are nourished by a social system that relies on creating and recreating artificial divisions to disrupt unity against the common class enemy.

In the fifth year of economic crisis, the ability of the rich to keep working people divided against each other is more important to them than ever. Instead of building homes, training nurses and investing in education, the exploiting class of bosses and bankers slashes jobs and tells us to blame our neighbours and coworkers.

The police and the courts embody the official racism of the ruling class. The media popularises this racism in tabloids, TV shows and news programmes.

But it is the fascist gangs of the English Defence League (EDL) and British National Party (BNP) who are the street fighting expression of the fear and insecurity sown by poverty, war and racism.

For the fascists racism is a means to an end. Their social role is to be the violent, semi-tolerated bootboys of capital, waiting in the wings to smash working class resistance to a system of exploitation and oppression.

When the working class rejects racism, it becomes capable of stronger collective action. When the working class is divided – when it identifies a race or a religion as the enemy instead of the elite who exploit all working people – then our collective resistance is undermined from within.

Those who want to exploit the death of an individual to persecute millions of British people simply because they share a different religion or cultural heritage to the majority are the enemies of the working class. The instruments of capitalist reaction, they must be allowed no platform to spread their politics of hate and despair.

Unity – but not at any price

The fascists’ attempts to capitalise on the Woolwich killing polarised the antiracist movement.

On the one hand, Unite Against Fascism (UAF), led by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), organised a series of peaceful celebrations of “multiculturalism” in collaboration with tame Labour councilors and conservative “community leaders”, whose sole strategy is to rely on the police to keep the fascist gangs in line.

On the other hand, in places like London and Sheffield, the fascists were outnumbered and physically confronted by the militant antifascist youth who have no illusions at all in the racist police.

Nobody wants to see repeated splits and divisions in the antifascist movement. Nevertheless, if we are to succeed in creating working class unity against racism and fascism, then we need to break with the failed politics of concession and compromise with bourgeois liberal forces that are more scared of the self-organisation of the working class than they are of the fascists.

The policy of unity at any cost with these so-called allies has not only failed to deliver a comprehensive victory for the antifascist movement; it completely subordinates the independent activity of the working class to the tactics acceptable to the liberal sections of the ruling class and the intermediate layers.

A working class alternative

We need to reject this approach in its entirety. The tactical questions about whether mass marches, festivals or direct action are more appropriate in any given circumstance should be decided by democratic campaigns rooted in the working class communities under attack.

We should stop muzzling the youth. We should stop accommodating to pacifist illusions. We should stop the pathetic pursuit of bourgeois ‘respectability’.

What we need above all is a way for the working class to take the lead in the fight against fascism.

We can and should seek to work with allies outside the labour movement, but we should not start from the position of what is acceptable to them; we should start from what is necessary.

Nearly a century of struggle against fascism provides enough lessons: organised self-defence, mass participation, democratic decision making and freedom of criticism; and above all, a working class alternative to the capitalist system which incubates the fascist menace.

The experience is there. The will is there. What is missing is an organisation – a revolutionary workers’ party – able to distil our collective experience of antifascist struggles, the fight for women’s liberation and the daily economic struggle into a coherent strategy for working class power.

Workers’ power as the only alternative to the barbarism of capitalism is what we must aim for. And we can’t put off creating the means to bring that about – a party – while we confront the fascists. The struggle against fascism is the struggle for a socialist society that will abolish the material roots of every social oppression.

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