In their enthusiasm to clamp down on ‘hate speech’, anti-fascists have become an unofficial arm of the state.
Given that the key thing about twentieth-century fascism was its extreme authoritarianism, you might reasonably expect those who describe themselves as ‘anti-fascist’ to be anti-authoritarian. You might imagine that these campaigners, more than most, would know the dangers of giving the state too much power and trusting it to determine who may speak and who may not, who is a ‘decent’ person and who is not.
But you would be wrong – certainly if the events in the north-east London district of Walthamstow this weekend were anything to go by. There, anti-fascists campaigning against a protest planned for Saturday by the right-wing, allegedly fascistic English Defence League (EDL) demonstrated that they are uncritically pro-state, and unabashedly pro-authoritarian, trusting the powers-that-be to police public protest and political discourse more broadly.
The modern anti-fascist left has provided plenty of justification for increased state control over political to and fro in modern Britain. It has strengthened the use of public-order laws over political freedom, and it has empowered the state to govern all forms of political speech. That control extends not just to the statements and actions of ‘fascist’ groups, but also to the statements and actions of left-wing groups and anti-fascists, too.
So for the next 30 days, any group - regardless of its grievance - is banned from marching in Walthamstow and the rest of the borough of Waltham Forest and in the nearby boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Islington. This blanket ban is directly down to the campaigning efforts of left-wing anti-fascist protesters, who have spent the past month taking to the streets to get people to join local Labour MP Stella Creasy in signing a petition to ban the EDL from entering Walthamstow. The successful campaign for a ban was celebrated by Creasy who, ironically, claimed it meant ‘our community can get back to its normal, peaceful and tolerant state’.
In truth, Walthamstow on Saturday resembled a police state. Hundreds of police officers monitored public transport, roads and thoroughfares, looking suspiciously at anyone who walked past. Random searches of people and cars were carried out, which led to three arrests of individuals, not because they were EDL members, but for things like drug possession and driving while disqualified. Many more officers waited in the wings as mobile surveillance-cameras checked the town for anyone who dared take to the streets to express their political views.
Police line up on a Walthamstow shopping street.
While the UK Home Office cannot ban ‘static demonstrations’, the Metropolitan Police used section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 to ban any EDL event from taking place in London, with the exception of a one-hour rally outside the Houses of Parliament. The anti-fascist protesters were permitted to have a demonstration in Walthamstow, however, and they duly decided to hold a ‘victory rally’ celebrating the fact that they had successfully kept the EDL from marching. Censorious Creasy was cheered by the anti-fascists when she took to the stage.
In what bizarre world is this a victory? In lobbying for the state to ban the EDL, anti-fascist protesters managed to have their own freedom to protest restricted as well. The fact that their own civil liberties would also be affected must have come as no surprise to many of these anti-fascist protesters, given that they were banned from marching in Tower Hamlets last year, too. Some socialist groups, however, did see it as ‘scandalous’ that they were banned from marching. They began chanting ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’, complaining that their human rights were being breached.
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So it’s fine to ban the EDL from marching, but not the EDL’s left-wing opponents? Apparently, human rights should not extend to those with the Wrong Views - or perhaps anti-fascists think EDL members aren’t human. It was as if these naive protesters were complaining that the home secretary, Theresa May, couldn’t see who the good guys were.
Given the extent of collaboration between the anti-fascist left and the police, you can see why they might have been miffed. On Saturday, anti-fascist groups such as Hope Not Hate monitored the borough on behalf of the police to ensure no one that even looked like an EDL supporter was allowed into the borough. Searchlight magazine reported seeing ‘six to eight thuggish EDL types wandering around’, who were told they were not welcome. Others took to Twitter to encourage their followers to report to the police any EDL members seen entering the borough. As one anti-fascist Twitterer put it: ‘So glad the #EDL are denied access to #Walthamstow today. We are on EDL watch, [so if EDL members are] seen today anywhere in “Stow”, please let the police know.’
In the name of anti-racism, left-wing groups gave the green light to authoritarianism.
That anti-fascists now take it upon themselves to ensure the law is being enforced, shows the extent to which the left have become an unofficial arm of the state. They have become squealers, the state’s eyes and ears, cheering on the state to intervene.
Surely anyone with an anti-authoritarian bone in their body would be chilled by the state’s clampdown on free expression in huge swathes of London over the next month. These so-called ‘anti-fascists’ are so untroubled by it, they are holding ‘victory rallies’ instead. What’s anti-fascist about that?
Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.
See Patrick Hayes discuss the EDL ban in a spiked short here: