Beating the Fascists is the subject of a thread on Urban75.net (with all the detours that internet discussions have). It’s well worth reading, but the prize piece has to be an anecdote from LiamO on the tension between militant antifascists and some of the more respectable anti-racists.
It seemed to me that every time one of our mob spoke the reaction was to their language and speaking style rather than what they said. I fell foul of this when I referred to something as ‘clearly a load of old bollocks’. Some of us may have included a ‘fuck’ or two as well but only as conversational punctuation, certainly not directed at any person. At this point a particularly shrill middle-class woman jumped up and interrupted me (which was something we had been at pains not to do to them).
She started banging on about swearing, how offensive she found it and how she could not imagine sending the likes of me in to speak to a Asian women’s group. I replied neither could I and why would anybody send me to do a job that would obviously be more suited to a woman and probably an Asian one. Surely this was a matter of horses for courses and that was the idea of this meeting? We felt that in the past the Left had concentrated far too much on aiming it’s activity and propaganda at the victims of racism. We were proposing that as well as this AFA should work in and among the potential recruits of racist organisations – the disaffected white working class – and that required a different skillset and language.
Neither was it a matter of either ‘jaw, jaw’ or ‘war, war’ but of both. Not of propaganda Vs street activity but of both together. I finished by saying I was sorry she did not like the way we spoke but that we all had roles to play, I did not see mine and her roles overlapping too much and if she was so offended by a couple of swear words then frankly I did not give a flying fuck.
There was uproar and I caught a sideways-look from some of our senior people as I had set off the very thing we had all been told to avoid – and it was now in full swing.
A shouting match broke out and the Chair (one of them of course, as they would have sulked if it was one of us) struggled to hold it together and to ‘Chair’ rather than join in on one side. Suddenly Rupert arose from his front row seat. Immediately the Chair demanded silence for his new Comrade from the Farm. Given that about a dozen people were all waiting to speak this was not exactly how things should be. But this was Rupert. He was from Broadwater Farm. He was working class AND black which made him ‘special’. The NMP [Newham Monitoring Project] lot fell silent as their champion held the floor.
In fairness we were all interested in what he had to say too.
“I tried to come to this meeting with an open mind. We are all in this thing together, y’know what I mean? So despite what I was told about people beforehand, I come to meet people, make friends and find ways we could work together. I have to say I am absolutely gutted by what’s gone on here today.” Well said Rupert they enthused and nodded knowingly to each other.
“From the very start there was a bad atmosphere and a bad attitude from some people in this room. Look at it now – you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. This ain’t no way to carry on, people.” And on he went. By now the murmurings of enthusiastic endorsement were becoming more pronounced and they were clapping his every remark as he warmed to his task.
“It’s obvious that one group in here are genuine. One group are ready and willing to work together. But the other group don’t wanna listen to no-one else, they just think the other mob are wrong all the time. They’ve basically got a BAD attitude. They are just insulting. It’s pathetic and it’s just plain wrong”. By now they were besides themselves with glee and cheered his every word as he tore into the ‘bad guys’.
Until, that is… when Rupert turned round… looked at them with a look of pure “WTF” and said “What’s the matter with you people? What are you lot clapping for? I ain’t talking about THEM… I’m talking about YOU!”
This stopped them in their tracks and they sat open-mouthed as he continued (they could not interrupt him of course, or shout him down. How could they? After all he was THEIR champion. He was working class, he was black and (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this but) he was from Broadwater Farm.
“All you lot seem to care about is if people use big words and talk like you or not. If they don’t, you don’t listen. Why can’t you just listen to what they’re saying, instead of how they say it? My first experience with the NF was when I got hit on the head with a bottle and called ‘nigger’ on Tottenham High road – by some geezer who two days before had been in our flat fitting the gas. Now if those days are coming back with the BNP, I know who I want watching my back and it ain’t fackin you lot… “
The loud silence was by now only broken by the laughter we were all doing our best (unsuccessfully) to hold in. All I could see was the shock on their faces, the anguished looks of betrayal – and the shoulders of several burly men shaking as they tried to restrict themselves to a polite chuckle instead of the belly-laugh such a turnaround deserved.
He finished by apologising if he had hurt anybody’s feelings but said this shit was too important to let people’s feelings get in the way and sat down to a big round applause – from us.
Strangely, this frank reality check had a very positive effect on the proceedings. Of course some of them would never get over their own prejudices and offended sensibilities but it sort of shook the best of them from their self-constructed cocoon and they began to engage positively. I doubt this would have happened without Rupert’s intervention.
The relationship between RA, DAM [Red Action, Direct Action Movement] etc and those in the ‘nicer’ anti-racist sector was always a little strained, but good people from both sides found ways to work together in common cause for a considerable length of time.