Tony Greenstein | 29 January 2013 | Post Views:

Physical Resistance – – A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism

Dave Hann – Chief Steward of AFA’s Northern Network and a respected anti-fascist worked on the book until his death in September 2009.
Last Friday (25th January 13) Brighton University was host to an anti-fascist book launch.  Written by Dave Hann, who was chief steward of Anti-Fascist Action’s Northern Network, it is the most comprehensive account of British fascism that I’ve read and I’ve read quite a bit!

Unlike the books you get from journalists (for example Martin Walker’s National Front) and academics (for example Richard Thurlow’s Fascism in Britain – A History 1918-85) this has the merit of being written by an activist who could bring his experience to bear when analysing the past struggles against fascism.  It is also far more comprehensive than anything else I’ve read,

It was standing room only at the book launch

Although I was on the Executive of Anti-fascist Action from 1986-1991, I cannot recall having met Dave before.  As I wrote in a previous article Dave Hann – An Appreciation my first contact was in July 2009 when I was rung up by Dave who wanted to interview me for the book.  I’d heard of Dave, both from AFA and the book he co-wrote with Steve Tilzey (No Retreat).  We met in August 2009 and I spent about an hour at Brighton Unemployed Workers Centre before parting.  Although I didn’t realise it at the time, Dave was seriously ill and barely a month later died from cancer at the young age of 48.  I also didn’t realise, until I read the book, that I was the last person to be interviewed.

The last part of the book was primarily in the form of notes and tapes at that stage and it must have been a Herculean task for his partner, Louise, to complete the book and find a publisher.  Some (Lawrence Wishart) rejected it because it was ‘too confrontational’ but to their credit Zero Book took it on and at nearly 400 pages it is well worth the £18.99.  Louise has done a magnificent job and it is a fitting tribute to Dave.

This isn’t a review but the breadth of the book’s coverage of anti-fascist activity is quite staggering.  From the days of Mosley through the Spanish Civil War to the Union Movement and then the fight against a resurgent British fascism in the 1960’s-1980’s, the book comprehensively details the successes and difficulties that faced anti-fascists in Britain.

The old Daily ‘hate’ Mail – campaigning against ‘bogus’ Jewish asylum seekers

He describes the activities of the ’43 group set up by returning Jewish ex-servicemen after 1945 to deal with the threat from Mosley’s Union Movement and how their squads battered the fascists into submission.  He also deals with the more shadowy ’62 group which emerged to tackle the new beginnings of British fascism in the early and mid 1960’s.

I found it interesting to note that in the ’43 group, discussion of Zionism and anti-Zionism was banned.  There were Zionists who played a key role, but the group took their political lead from the Communist Party primarily, or its activists.  Most British Jews then were not Zionist, although they supported the establishment of the Israeli state, and wanted to defend their right to live in Britain free from fascist terror.  The ’62 group was far less political, had little contact with the Communist Party or the Left and was divided between political activists and Zionists.  It was when the Zionists, who under Gerry Gable had their links with the State and Special Branch, made off with files that had been seized from a raid on the fascists, contrary to an agreement reached amongst those responsible, that the group split.

I also found myself reflecting on the reality that Jews faced in the East End where they could not go down certain roads or into certain areas like Bethnal Green without running the risk of physical attack.  The BUF instigated a reign of terror, backed up to the hilt by the Metropolitan Police (no change there).  Today levels of anti-Semitism are minuscule.  The place of Jews has been taken by Roma, East European workers, Bengalis and Muslims. 

Yet Zionist charlatans like Ronnie Bloom, who has set up a Sussex Friends of Israel group, as a result of the pickets of Sodastream, the Israeli shop in Brighton that sells stolen produce from the stolen land of the Palestinians, declaring that ‘“With the unparalleled level of antisemitism in the town, we feel our organisation will be able to make people understand the truth about Israel.”

Letter from President of British Brother’s League – the first proto-fascist organisation.  Founded by Tory MP William Evans Gordon, who was on the best of terms with the Zionist leaders in Britain.

Has anyone in Brighton been attacked physically (apart from the demonstrators by Zionists)?  Are swastikas being daubed on walls and are there ‘no go’ areas in Brighton & Hove where Jews cannot go?  Apparently anti-Semitism and understanding ‘the truth about Israel’ have some connection with each other. Interestingly the anti-Arab bigot and racist, Julie Burchill, who has now attacked trans-gender people too, made an appearance last week on the Israeli counter-demonstration.  What is sad is that Burchill, whose father was a communist, was one of the original founders of Rock Against Racism and a columnist on New Musical Express (NME) for some years.  Maybe she intends to set up a ‘Bigots against anti-Semitism’ group!

The account in the book of the formation of anti-fascist committees nationwide and then the Anti-Nazi League and the changing contours of British fascism is second to none.

The Daily Mail’s support for the Blackshirts is well known – what isn’t so well known is that the Daily Mirror also supported Moseley and Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere was spreading his poison in this paper too

If I have any criticism, it is that the book could have covered the origins of Mosley and British fascism back to the first proto-fascist group, the British Brothers League.  The BBL was founded in 1901 by the Tory MP for Stepney, William Evans-Gordon, to campaign against Jewish refugees fleeing the pogroms in Czarist Russia.  Evans-Gordon and much of the BBL leadership were both anti-Semitic and pro-Zionist.  Chaim Weizmann, long-standing Zionist Organisation President and the first President of Israel proposed that in the first issue of Der Jude, a new Zionist paper he wished to set up, there would be an article by Evans Gordon [Letters & Papers Vol. 2 Chaim Weizmann p. 293 (1. 12. 1903)]. “Looking back now, I think our people were rather hard on him.” [Trial and Error, autobiography Chaim Weizmann, pp. 90-1]  But maybe I’m asking too much.  My only other criticism is that there’s no index!!

Despite their apparent concern over anti-Semitism, Brighton’s Zionist leaders have no truck with anti-fascist mobilisations or demonstrations.  Anti-fascism is not for them.  Zionism is consistent in this regard!  Only a few days ago, the avidly pro-Zionist, Berlusconi, praised Mussolini to the sky, with the except of his 1938 Race laws (forgetting that Mussolini’s Salo Republic also deported about 7,000 Italian Jews and  Mussolini himself was always willing to go along with the final solution).  Although individual Zionists (used to) take part in anti-fascist activities this was not because of, but despite their Zionism which taught them that anti-Semitism is an inherent and ‘natural’ part of non-Jewish society.

As BBL President William Stanley Shaw said, in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle of 8.11.1901. ‘The return of the Jews to Palestine is one of the signs of our times.’   In other words, an Evangelical Christian of the type that is making up the bulk of the pro-Apartheid demonstrations outside Sodastream.

It was good to see old comrades like Micky O’Farrell from Hatfield and Nick Mullen, the latter who I knew from the days of the Socialist Students Alliance and Middlesex Polytechnic (at that time a bastion of the far-left).  Nick was framed by the Police and spent time inside for being the ‘quarter-master of the IRA’ in Britain.  Although freed from prison he hasn’t received a penny in damages because someone wrongly imprisoned has effectively to prove that they are innocent, an outrage which the Supreme Court pioneered in 2011.  And of course Attila the Stockbroker took part, under the name John Baines, and he was in fine form.

The meeting itself had been moved to a larger room to accommodate the numbers, but even so people were crowded around the door as there wasn’t a spare seat in the room.  It was a wonderful night and it was a joy to hear from people that I hadn’t met for years and who, like me, have passed on the baton to a younger generation. Relatives of Harry Johnson, Manchester communist and anti-fascist, Betty Davis, granddaughter of Trinidadian International Brigader and Cable Street participant spoke at the meeting and stayed on for the excellent post-launch party.

I finished my own talk by reflecting that nothing we had done in Brighton bettered the wonderful turn out on April 22nd last year, when the EDL’s march was halted by the Police after it had gone less than 1/3 of the way, and forced down the backstreets.  I can remember in particular a young woman, who had attended a meeting that I and others had addressed at Sussex University earlier that week, who listened to what I said about the anti-fascist battles of the ‘70s and ‘80s.  We met up again on the demonstration and she asked ‘Well did we do as well’ to which I responded ‘Yes, better even than us!’.

This is a book that every serious anti-fascist activist should read.  I feel privileged to have been asked to take part, along with others cited in the book, in reading extracts from my interview.

Tony Greenstein

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