Pat D reports and reflects on last Saturday’s successful anti-fascist mobilisation in Merseyside
Liverpool is a famous city. National Action, a neo-Nazi group, wanted to be famous too, which is why they chose the “Red City” as the location for their “White Man March”, planned for Saturday 16 August.
The problem was that Liverpool is famous, in large part, for being a city that doesn’t take shit from anybody without a fight – be it Thatcher, Murdoch or any other bastard of significance you’d care to mention. It was hubris of National Action to think they could get away with it. But hubris is something that they had in no short supply.
National Action congealed early last year from the ambitious youth of various fascist parties, who felt they weren’t taken seriously and had grown tired of the electoral focus and sheer incompetence of the older fascist groups. Their new strategy was to focus on building a generation of young Nazis – and to make a name for themselves by being as obnoxious as they possibly could.
For a while they seemed to be going from strength to strength. National Action propaganda was slickly produced, ultra-racist and shocking. They racked up column inches with stunts such as desecrating a Jewish cemetery, spraying antisemitic grafitti, organising flash mobs in various locations and hosting demos in central London to celebrate the American neo-Nazi murderer David Lane. They grew and attracted a layer of the most dangerous Nazis in Britain, training their members in mixed martial arts while maintaining organisational security.
The nature of this new formation was highlighted starkly in January this year. One of its members, Zack Davies, tried to decapitate Dr Sarandev Bhambra in his local Tesco in Mold, North Wales, as “revenge for Lee Rigby“. National Action had promised a “reign of terror” in the UK – and it seemed at least possible that they could deliver on this threat. That is, until last Saturday in Liverpool.
National Action had wanted to march in ordered ranks to the Pier Head on the Mersey and hold a rally in defiance of anti-fascist protesters. It would have been the first openly Nazi protest in Liverpool since the British Movement had done the same in the 1980s. It would be another stage in their plan to establish themselves as premier fascist “political soldier” group in Britain today.
It takes a lot to get me out of my natural habitat of south London, but National Action needed to be stopped. So I jumped in a minibus with local anti-fascists up to Liverpool. The Anti-Fascist Network (AFN) had called an ambitious demo to confront and stop the Nazis, setting out from St Luke’s, the city’s bombed-out church. What followed was the most comprehensive anti-fascist victory I can remember. It was textbook, and it was the people of Liverpool that made it so.
AFN affiliated groups from around the country formed up with hundreds of locals and marched off from the church around 11am. Locals informed us that a group of about 20 Nazis had holed up in the Wetherspoons attached to Lime Street station, so we set off there.
The march visibly swelled as it went on its way to the station. Drivers beeped their horns in support and pensioners waved. As we went past an Irish pub a huge cheer went up from the patrons outside. They grabbed a tricolour and joined the march.
The Wetherspoons was besieged by anti-fascists. The Nazis inside, initially cocky and swaggering, realised the severity of their situation. They soon stopped coming to the windows to swear at the crowd.
The cops tried to sneak the fascists out through Lime Street station. But their plan was discovered and antifascists stormed the station. A thin line of police was all that separated the Nazis from the protesters. They were backed up against a left luggage office, then pelted with abuse, eggs and bananas.
One bloke drenched a Nazi by squeezing a whole bottle of water over them. He then went to the bogs to fill the bottle back up, came back, and moved on to drench the next Nazi. This continued until most of them were dripping wet.
The cops bundled them into the lost luggage office and pulled down the shutters, where they remained in the dark as the crowd sung “Liverpool, Liverpool!” repeatedly. Occasionally small groups of Nazis would show up from other directions and try to join their mates. They would swiftly find themselves engaged, and repelled.
Back in the station the cops had realised that no one was likely to claim the lost luggage Nazis any time soon. They herded them out of the station and into a multi-story car park.
Around a thousand people had joined the anti-fascists by this point. Scousers young and old, Irish and black, grannies, mums with kids, trade unionists, football casuals, socialists and more all loudly cheered their victory in earshot of the Nazis in the car park as news came through that the march had been cancelled.
The fascists were loaded on to trains out of the city. Finally the anti-fascists marched en masse down to celebrate on the Pier Head, where National Action had wanted to hold its festival of race hate. This was a truly beautiful sight.
It’s important to grasp the significance of events in Liverpool on Saturday. The “white man march” planned by National Action would have been the latest in a wave of fascist street marches that started when the English Defence League first emerged in 2009. The EDL led the return to the streets by the far right – but they were eventually broken, notably by cross community mobilisations in Tower Hamlets and Walthamstow.
As the EDL declined, other more openly Nazi groups attempted to step into the void they had left. National Action was the latest such group – and they were experiencing some success. If they had succeeded in marching through a major city on a Saturday afternoon they would have established a troubling precedent. Their goal was to establish a European style fascist street movement here in Britain, and they would have been one step closer to that goal.
Credit must go primarily to the magnificent people of Liverpool – a fighting city and an anti-fascist city – for smashing the “white man march” and humiliating National Action. But another major factor was the tactics and organisation adopted by grassroots anti-fascists in the trade unions, radical left and the national Anti-Fascist Network. This was a confident and confrontational anti-fascism that gets the goods. Without AFN’s public callout to mobilise and confront National Action, the Nazi march would have probably gone ahead more or less unhindered.
The Anti-Fascist Network proved its worth and efficacy last Saturday in confronting the threat posed by the current crop of fascist gangs. As long as that threat persists, socialists should be asking ourselves how we can support and strengthen this network in our communities, workplaces and nationally.