The EDL provocation today: The biggest winner was the state.

September 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, AWL, Jim D, London, the cops)


By an East London anti-fascist on the Workers Liberty website

At the very best estimate, the scoreline for the events of 3 September in East London could be written up as 0-0 between anti-racists and the English Defence League. The biggest unambiguous winner was the state.

Although a clear and complete picture is yet to emerge, the day’s broad storyline is as follows: in the morning, EDL activists “mustered” near King’s Cross, gathering in pubs on the Caledonian Road as soon as they opened. After assembling there, they were escorted by the police through the tube system to Moorgate. It appears this was done in full collusion with London Underground management, despite the best efforts of some activists in the tube workers’ union RMT (see separate comment below). After piling out at Moorgate, the EDL were marched by police to a rally point by Aldgate station, meaning that they were effectively able to have a march (a noisy, lively march with flags, placards and chanting) as well as a lively rally at which their leading figures, including Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, spoke. Anti-fascist scouts attending the rally estimate that EDL numbers reached 1,000. They were then marched out of Aldgate, over Tower Bridge (giving them an excellent photo opportunity on a historic English landmark) and back onto their coaches.

Anti-racists held an assembly on Whitechapel, near the East London Mosque. It featured mostly bland speeches from the great-and-the-good of Tower Hamlets’ political and religious establishment, although did include some welcome points from trade union figures about the need to link the fight against racism to a working-class fight against cuts. One wonders how Tower Hamlets’ cuts-happy councillors and Mayor, with whom the SWP/UAF entered into an uneasy and unprincipled alliance to organise the “counter-demo”, took to such remarks.

Although initially small and made up largely of the existing left, the anti-fascist protest’s numbers were later swelled by several hundred local (mainly Asian) youth. The protest moved down to Aldgate East station (effectively defying the Home Secretary’s ban on political marches) so that all that lay between anti-fascists and the EDL’s rally were a few hundred yards of road. The problem was that the road was occupied by an immense number of riot police.

They were the real winners in today’s events. They put thousands of personnel on the streets of Tower Hamlets and were their usual community-friendly selves, hassling and stopping-and-searching people (who never seemed to be white, for some reason) seemingly on a whim. The EDL were prevented from crossing the borough boundary into Tower Hamlets by the tight policing of their rally, but were still able to hold their action (the size of which was worrying) in the multicultural East End thanks to police assistance and facilitation.

The police were enormously successful in preventing anti-fascists from getting anywhere near the EDLers themselves, meaning that the racists have been able to march in and out of the East End, holding a lively rally in between, without encountering any serious visible or organised opposition. Any triumphalist claims that the EDL has been “humiliated” because they did not manage to actually cross the borough boundary are unhelpful; certainly it is positive that they did not achieve their stated aim of marching into Tower Hamlets or past the East London Mosque, but the police can claim far more “credit” for that than the anti-fascist movement can.

The entire day had a kind of grim inevitability. The presence of thousands upon thousands of riot police on our streets, particularly when they are hassling Asian kids, and especially when they are actively facilitating large racist demonstrations, is absolutely nothing to celebrate.

Later in the day, there were rumours that local youth had damaged an EDL coach on its way out of Tower Hamlets, leading to a brief police clampdown that saw much of Mile End Road cordoned off. Certainly, those local residents have distinguished themselves and proved that their political instincts and courage far outstrips that of their official political and religious “representatives”, as well as the leaders of the mainstream anti-fascist campaigns.

The EDL will easily be able to spin the days events into a victory for them; equivalent spin from our side is not needed. What is needed is a serious examination of why our movement was unable to prevent 1,000 organised racists marching into East London and holding a spirited rally. Part of the answer to that question lies in the insistence of both wings of “official” anti-fascism (the Hope Not Hate campaign and the SWP-run Unite Against Fascism) of building unprincipled alliances with, and sowing illusions in, the political and religious establishment and, ultimately, in the state.

A mass anti-fascist movement organised on the basis of direct-action tactics and working-class politics could’ve have the strategic creativity to avoid police kettles and actually confront the racists on the streets of East London. It could also provide political answers to the social conditions that allow organisations like the EDL to grow.

Everyone who came out onto the streets of Tower Hamlets today was, undoubtedly, a sincere anti-racist. They deserve congratulation and commendation for not staying at home and hoping the day would pass off without incident. But the “victory” we won by keeping the EDL out of Tower Hamlets feels very hollow when the leadership of our movement – whether consciously or otherwise – remains reliant on the state to fight our battles for us.

Those who wish to see the development of an independent working-class anti-fascist movement must meet urgently to discuss today’s experience, and others, and organise to ensure that the next time 1,000 racists march into a multicultural area, with the full facilitation of the police, they do not do so without directly encountering the highest possible level of opposition.

A tube worker writes:

“I was at Moorgate station saying they should close it, but management chose to keep it open and the police chose to help the EDL travel in preference to other passengers. I even saw an EDLer make threatening gestures to an Asian man on the platform from inside a train before the doors opened, and despite being aware of it, the police still allowed the train to open its doors and let them out onto the very same platform where the man was standing.

We cannot rely on the authorities to protect us from racists. It would have been great if there had been hundreds of anti-racists there to “greet” the EDL, but they were a mile or two away listening to speeches and music. Our movement has to get its act together.”


  1. skidmarx said,

    What a load of rubbish. Good to see that there was a reasonable turn-out from the AWL, but this is just self-serving nonsense.
    And of course if the AWL people bravely leaftletting outside Whitechapel station, and not leading the masses to Moorgate, had been honest about how they regard everyone else on the demo as anti-semites, their reception wouldn’t have been so neutral. As it is, they were an irrelevance.

  2. charliethechulo said,

    “an irrelevance”…unlike your goodself, presumably? Skidiot, the Rosa Luxemburg de la jour!

  3. skidmarx said,

    I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.
    ~Edward Everett Hale

    and it’s “du jour”, Dimbo. I think I learned that at school when I was about 7.

  4. charliethechulo said,

    yOU OBVIOUSLY HAD A BETTER EDUCATION THAN WOT i DID. iN fRENCH, i MEAN. Pity you haven’t got the hang of elementary socialist politics.


  5. Sarah AB said,

    ‘de nos jours’?

  6. Monsieur Jelly est formidable said,

    just glancing at the public schoolboy, Oxbridge edukated tosser’s sneering at, and looking down his nose at, those of us with a mere comprehensive edukAtshun is enuff to myake puke rise in my throat. wot a disgusting little snivvelling goat-fuckker shittyknicks is. a clagnut

  7. Jim Denham said,

    Interesting exchange on the United Left discussion list:


    Gill George


    Sent: Saturday, September 03, 2011 5:15
    Subject: [United Left] Whose streets? Our

    The EDL attempted to march through Tower Hamlets today –
    with a police plan of escorting them to static protests in groups of several
    hundred at a time. This kind of makes a mockery of bans, you might

    They failed miserably. In a magnificent display of unity,
    the local community and anti-fascists mobilised to keep them out of Tower
    Hamlets altogether. Forget bans – these Nazi thugs were stopped by mass
    mobilisation, and were humiliated.

    A beautiful clip of the victory march is here:

    Current reports are of the remnants of the EDL scum
    marching across Tower Bridge – desperately trying to pretend that they haven’t
    been smashed.

    One ban, two marches, one victory. Our side

    Gill George

    From James Kelly:

    Gill, don’t want to be the party pooper, but in order to beat the common enemy we do need a bit less political machismo and posturing and a little more sober analysis.

    I joined the anti-EDL rally at Whitechapel. It was excellent with, I believe at least 25, possibly more, speakers from across the breadth of the community, trade unions and LBGT groups, etc. I had to leave to catch a train to Burston from Liverpool Street. When we got to Liverpool Street around 2pm there were around 100 EDL in the Weatherspoon’s in Bishopsgate/Liverpool Street station and around another 40-50 in 2 pubs in Liverpool Street itself. By 2.20pm, hundreds more exited the Circle Line underground exit in Liverpool Street/Old Broad Street.

    Between 2.20pm and 3pm, my guess is around 1200 confident, organised thugs had been allowed to walk from the underground, south along Bishopsgate, along Camomile Street and through Bevis Marks to Aldgate. The cops told me this wasnt a march, but groups walking to a static protest. Each group was broken into geographical areas, including 2 young Asian men sporting Swedish Defence League logos on their black hoodies and large contingents from Scotland.

    There were also 2 EDL supporters wearing rubber pig masks outside the Liverpool Street station Weatherspoons although this didn’t make them look much different from their fellow fascists around them, one briefly gave a nazi salute. They were also allowed to drink in 3 local pubs and take beer in glass glasses on their march. A clear possible dangerous weapon. Some, a small minority, were drunk, but most were sober.

    Whatever your views of how you think they looked when they crossed Tower Bridge, when I saw them they were organised into large football firm type of organisation. They were clearly confident, including pushing police around physically at one point. The police appeared nervous ands lacking any clear strategy.

    I do agree with you that the local community would have rose up and met the challenge if these thugs would have broke through police lines at Aldgate. But dont underestimate the enemy for the chance to engage in a little opportunist posturing. These fascist scumbags should not be underestimated.

  8. Matty said,

    “but were still able to hold their action (the size of which was worrying) in the multicultural East End”
    Isn’t this an exaggeration? Bishopsgate and Aldgate (where the EDL were limited to) on a Saturday afternoon is an area of empty office blocks. The East London Advertiser headline was “EDL fail to get into Tower Hamlets”
    And yes the main credit for that is to the police but there was a lot of pressure from the local community and anti-fascist organisations to get the ban and the police had a heavy turn out which prevented major disorder.

  9. Martin Ohr said,

    in defence of Charlie Chulo’s french ‘de la jour’ is a mistake, but it’s a good mistake rather than a terrible one, born presumably of trying to agree the du/de las/des with Rosa Luxembourg rather than ‘le jour’ rather than disregard for the language

    ….but it still doesn’t explain why I in some places monsieur le bar tabac takes delight in correcting my beautifully pronounced ‘une pression’ to ‘un pression’ (even though both biere and pression are feminin)

  10. Banning demonstrations: an effective way to fight fascism? | Catch21 Productions said,

    […] fascist demonstrations: some anti-fascist activists supported the ban on the EDL march, but others argue that the anti-fascist movement should not have to rely on the state to fight fascists for them.  […]

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