I had thought that anyone with any sense would take Joey Owens’ so-called autobiography (‘Action! Race War to Door Wars’) with a very large pinch of salt. However, some people who should know better have proved that this is not always the case. So, here’s a review of sorts.
First, I will admit that I haven’t a clue about Owens’ early life. I also don’t know a huge amount about his life as a bouncer (which is half the book). I’m not his mum, so that isn’t surprising. I do however, know a fair amount about the mid-1980s in Liverpool, so this is the bit I’ll concentrate on. I think it’s fair enough to judge Owens’ book on this period for two reasons: First, for any book, if one part is rubbish (or just plain dishonest), it doesn’t say much for the rest of the book. Second, the mid-1980s – the confrontations between the BNP and anti-fascists – is why Owens says he is writing the book (apparently in response to the book ‘No Retreat’ by two Manchester anti-fascists). So, here’s why I wouldn’t spend any money on this (I’ve looked at the free download version).
Early on in the book Owens states that the situation in Liverpool “was a battle for dominance between two opposing ideologies each determined not to retreat. This decade-long war saw people arrested, hospitalised and imprisoned. It was ten years of conflict which saw the eventual triumph of the nationalist will…” After reading this, you would expect that, at the end of the ten years, Liverpool BNP would have smashed all its opponents into the ground. The “nationalist will” would have triumphed. So it may come as some surprise to find that Owens describes the exact opposite. An increasingly violent and arrogant BNP is met head-on in the mid-1980s, and collapses. Owens suddenly finds he has better things to do.
Most of this information is found in the chapter “The End of Politics” .This is the period from early 1986 to 1988. At the beginning the BNP is apparently growing. At the end all the main BNP members left – and Owens also left, to begin life as a bouncer. What caused this collapse? Owens sort-of hints at what happened. Owens admits to a “war” with the anarchists. However, according to Owens, these anarchists are all a bunch of smellies, who run away “screaming” while forever being hit over the head with iron bars by victorious fascists. These anarchists are “concerned” every time they visit their centre. Yet they force all the BNP to resign. Funny that. Something doesn’t quite add up.… About the only time Owens comes close to how it really was – back in the mid-1980s – is when he describes a fight outside the left wing bookshop News From Nowhere. As Owens admits (seeing as he lost a tooth) it wasn’t a walk over. What Owens doesn’t explain is why the BNP (including Owens) stopped harassing or visiting News From Nowhere around this time, and why they stopped selling papers in Church Street (their ‘spec’ in Liverpool city centre).
According to Owens: “Never did reds drive us from our pitch on Church Street even when they had double our numbers. It was only when they outnumbered us five to one or more” .Sounds good – but Liverpool BNP wrote something very similar in the ‘British Nationalist’ magazine back in 1987. I know this because, in 1987, four BNP paper sellers in Church St, including the local organiser, were confronted by four anti-fascists – mostly anarchists. All the BNP papers and magazines were ripped up or confiscated. The article was in the free magazines. The BNP said they’d be back next week in force – but didn’t turn up then, or in the long weeks and months that followed.
The BNP lost it in the streets – and not to vast mobs of ‘reds’, though you’d never guess this from Owens’ account. The BNP could have tried to even the score by paying a visit, at any time, to the anarchist centre in town. Instead, rather than risk a head to head, they chose to repeatedly attack the home of someone Owens calls a “witch”. Owens obviously knows a lot about these attacks, and says the “witch” should have been slashed “across the face”. Yet nowhere does Owens admit he’s talking about a teenage schoolgirl. I never knew her personally, but I do know she was young (15 or so, maybe less) living at home with much younger brothers. No-one should be surprised at this. The BNP were just acting like usual fascist scum – not the heroes Owens would like the reader to believe.
Owens ends this period with a claim that, after the BNP collapsed, “the owners” of News From Nowhere (ie 4 women) were beaten up in their shop, at night, by friends of his. “The owners” had apparently taken to sleeping there to stop fascist attacks. Owens writes how everyone was arrested, red-handed, but mysteriously no-one was charged. There are a few things that can be said about this – like how come no-one heard about this attack at the time? And how come no-one from News From Nowhere had any actual injuries? Fascist attacks on the bookshop – including arson – ended long before the BNP collapsed, as the BNP were forced onto the back foot. Shortly after the BNP collapse News From Nowhere moved from Whitechapel (near Victoria St) to Bold St. What Owens is actually describing is anyone’s guess. Fascist victory against “the reds”, at this time, I don’t think so.
I’ll end with one final point. Owens says he wrote this book as a response to the book ‘No Retreat’ – which deals with the many physical force defeats inflicted on violent fascists by Anti-Fascist Action and its predecessors. Owens, in the introduction, says he can’t believe the authors of ‘No Retreat’ hadn’t heard of him or the trouble he gave the left in the 1980s. So, you would expect Owens’ book to give an account of how Liverpool BNP whupped the collective ass of Liverpool AFA. Except he can’t say this as the total opposite occurred. In fact, the words “Anti-Fascist Action” never appear in Owens’ autobiography with regard to Liverpool. This is despite all the anarchist anti-fascism of the time – from the mid-1980s well into the mid-1990s – being under the AFA banner. Funny that.
An ex-AFA member.