John McDonnell has called for a revival of the Anti-Nazi League to fight the far-right, but its history shows it’s not the right group for the job.
The past few months have shown that the far-right is indeed on the rise once again, with large numbers coming out in support for Tommy Robinson, recent meetings by senior Tory MPs with white supremacist Steve Bannon, and the recent vandalism of a left-wing bookshop by a mob which included members of UKIP. But McDonnell’s citing of the ANL shows he’s backing the wrong group to defeat the far-right (and not only because of its embarrassing acronym).
The Anti-Nazi League was set up in 1977 by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a revolutionary Trotskyist organisation whose opposition to parliamentary democracy prevents it from standing candidates in elections. The SWP are well known for their tactic of hijacking worthy causes to promote their own brand, which they continue to this day. The ANL originally successfully organised music festivals, marches, and, most controversially, ‘squads’ for fighting gangs of National Front supporters.
Having disbanded in the early 80s, the ANL reformed in 1992 as the BNP was growing. Its reformation was criticised by existing anti-racist groups, including the Anti-Racist Alliance, led by Ken Livingstone who wrote in the Sun that the ANL was a “front for the Socialist Workers Party.” Searchlight, a precursor to Hope Not Hate, accused the ANL of exaggerating the strength of the BNP for their own gain. During this period, Doreen Lawrence had to request that the ANL stop using her son Stephen’s name, later claiming they were “in danger of destroying our campaign which we wanted to keep focussed and dignified.”
In Hope not Hate, Britain already has its most successful anti-racist and anti-fascist organisation in modern times. Since their formation in 2004 they have defeated the BNP; helped wipe UKIP off the map in 2017; prevented the murder of a Member of Parliament by a member of the proscribed far-right group, National Action; sued Nigel Farage, costing the former-UKIP leader around £100,000 in legal fees; and have been on Tommy Robinson’s case (real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) for years. Why would the Shadow Chancellor reject such an impressive organisation, which focuses its campaigning on strengthening community bonds and building broad coalitions, rather than the violence of so many so-called anti-fascists who mimic those they claim to oppose?
McDonnell is steeped in the politics of the SWP. He has spoken in support of the tactics of violence and direct action at events hosted by Defend the Right To Protest (where he praised Ed Wollard, who was imprisoned after throwing a fire hydrant off an seven-story building during the 2010 student fees protest), Unite the Resistance, Marxism festival, and Right to Work, all SWP front organisations. Just last summer, he wrote the foreword to a Unite the Resistance pamphlet, which the Red Roar reported at the time.
And he’s not the only one at the top of the Labour Party with a longstanding relationship with the SWP. At the time the ANL folded and became Unite Against Fascism in 2004, it was being run by Weyman Bennett. Weyman Bennett was a central player in the party’s rape cover-up in 2013, when a 17 year-old alleged victim was asked to testify in front of a ‘kangaroo court’ set up by the party’s central committee (of which Bennett was a member), which announced their verdict of ‘not guilty’ at the party’s conference later that year. Two years after the cover up, Jeremy Corbyn was introduced to speak at a Stand Up to Racism (another SWP front, one of many whose platforms Corbyn has spoken from) rally by Bennett, when the Labour leader said of him:
“Thanks, Weyman. And in Weyman we have somebody very special and very principled and very good. Weyman, thanks for everything you do, have done and will do.”
The rising far-right and alt-right in America and across Europe is terrifying and requires serious new efforts from the left. These new and resurgent forces will only be defeated if the failed politics of violence and the SWP are rejected for the proven strategies of groups like Hope Not Hate.