Last Saturday, on the 3rd of August, all the usual suspects piled onto the streets of central London in support of grifting class traitor Tommy Robinson, currently in prison for jeopardising the trial of a paedophile ring. In response, groups from across London and beyond organised a counter mobilisation to ensure that Tommy Robinson supporters knew they and their far right politics were not welcome.
August the 3rd was especially important because it was the first major mobilisation for the London Antifascist Assembly (LAFA), a coalition of individuals and groups that was formally created in early 2019, but traces its roots back the antifascist mobilisations of the second half of 2018.
The need for such a coalition grew out of the disaster that was the counter mobilisation of Jun 9th, 2018. On that day we saw the largest ever British far right rally, with numbers of up to 15,000 coming out to support Tommy Robinson. The counter mobilisation only managed to get 200 to 300 people out on the day, and they were attacked from behind by breakaways from the main far right march.
This counter mobilisation consisted mostly of Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) with some members of the more militant Antifascist Network (AFN) also present. SUTR has a bad reputation among other antifascists and most groups on the left, partly over tactical disagreements over SUTR’s cooperation with the police, and partly over SUTR’s reputation as a front for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which is known for entryism and rape apologism. The AFN, while more broadly respected than the SUTR, was never intended to be the kind of mass organisation that could confront a 15,000 strong far right rally on the street.
With many people and groups rightly refusing for formally organise under the SUTR banner and a sudden increase in the far right presence on the streets, something new was needed. From that point onwards an alliance of community groups, unions, left political organisations, and militant antifascists (including the AFN) organised open assemblies and independent blocs to oppose the far right. As 2018 went on these independent blocs grew, sometimes outnumbering the SUTR mobilisation, and combined with SUTR, sometimes outnumbering the far right rallies they were opposing.
At the start of 2019 this alliance was formalised as the London Antifascist Assembly. LAFA was set up as a broad front that could incorporate many different groups with differing politics while also being a place for individuals without any previous group affiliation to get involved with antifascism. It was intentionally designed to be a joint effort and not dominated by any one group. In containing groups as diverse as London Anarchist Federation, Labour Against Racism and Fascism, and Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century, among many others. It has been a great success in these terms.
However, a combination of the stresses of attempting to form a new organisation and the nature of the far right mobilisations in the first half of 2019 prevented LAFA from being able to test its strength with a proper mobilisation until August the 3rd. So, how did that mobilisation go?
The Day Itself
LAFA attempted to mobilise entirely separately from SUTR, but SUTR changed their meeting point to a position near to ours and we ended up both meeting around Piccadilly Circus. We had feared that this might lead to a repeat of the 9th of December mobilisation, where both groups met at the same place and SUTR promptly attempted to co-opt the entire march. But, despite some problems between individual stewards, SUTR behaved in a far less antagonistic manner towards the LAFA bloc as a whole, and fell in behind us when we marched off down Regents Street towards the far right meeting point at Oxford Circus.
Despite some attempts to break out, the police mostly managed to prevent us from coming into contact with the far right as we marched, although there was a hilarious moment where a small group of Tommy supporters got stuck in a park as we marched past it and attempted to hurl abuse at us from the bushes, like a species of drunk racist hedgehog.
While the police were not as heavy handed as they had been on the 9th of December, where some antifascists were quite badly injured or arrested, there were still some incidents of police bastardry. They attacked some individuals without provocation and pushed one antifascist into the far right mob, but our bloc managed to maintain its integrity despite some shoving matches with the cops and no antifascist was seriously hurt or arrested to our knowledge.
We ended up near Portland Place, opposite the Tommy Robinson Rally but separated by police, who attempted and failed to push us further down the street into a fenced off kettle they had designated for the SUTR march. At this point a splinter group of Tommy supporters attempted to attack us from behind but the police again kept the two groups mostly separate. After being kettled for a while we marched off towards Great Portland Street station and called it a day.
The far right got up to their usual antics of abusing passers-by and getting into scuffles with the cops, and went to attack both an anti-hunt march and a Sudanese solidarity demonstration. 24 of them managed to get themselves arrested on the day, including one for possessing an offensive weapon.
Did it Go Well?
So, was LAFA’s first big day out a success?
In terms of organisation it went well. Training was carried out before the march. Stewards kept the bloc pretty tight and it was never seriously disrupted by the police, even if it never managed to push through them. Special thanks must go to QueerCare, who provided medics, water, information, and sugary sweets, and the Activist Court Aid Brigade who provided legal observers and bust cards.
In terms of numbers different people have given different estimates. I personally think that both the far right and the combined antifascist presence were under a thousand, with an advantage in numbers to the far right and the antifascists split evenly between SUTR and LAFA, however others have given numbers far more in favour of the combined antifascist presence in general and/or LAFA in particular.
Whichever numbers are correct, neither the far right or the combined antifascist mobilisation drew big numbers. However, in context I think we can consider this mobilisation a qualified success. Around summer time last year Tommy Robinson could muster 15,000 supporters and we could only mobilise 200-300. This summer both sides drew lower numbers than their peak mobilisations last year, likely because everyone is tired of Tommy Robinson at this point, but the difference in numbers between both sides was not massive whichever way it went, and the antifascist presence was more militant and better organised than it was last summer.
While we did not manage to block the far right march, and our numbers, starting point, and the geography of the area made it unlikely that we would be able to do so, LAFA proved it can mobilise at short notice as well as any other antifascist organisation in London. Hopefully our presence did force the police to keep them more contained than they otherwise would have, and we did show the far right that they cannot march in central London without an equal and opposite counter mobilisation.
While the 3rd was somewhat of a success, it could have been bigger and better. The coalition that LAFA grew out of got higher numbers out towards the end of 2018 than LAFA did on Saturday. Part of this is likely due to the lull in activity between then and now and the fatigue that sets in organising something like LAFA, but from this first mobilisation greater numbers are possible, and we might be facing a long campaign of Free Tommy nonsense ahead of us. There is already another far right rally planned for the 24th of August, which LAFA will be opposing.
To build numbers we need to keep building LAFA, getting more groups and individuals involved, and we need to build an awareness of the risks the far right represents and the need for antifascism both in terms of opposing the far right and building an antifascist culture in our communities. We need people not only for the big counter mobilisations but for the more day to day work of building contacts, giving talks, handing out flyers, organising assemblies, and running stalls.
We also have to look beyond what is needed to oppose the far right fringe. The Tory party is already pandering to its most extreme elements over Brexit, and we are looking at an uncertain and potentially chaotic future in the face of climate change. The potential for the far right to become the mainstream right, as is happening in America and many parts of Europe, is a real threat. We need to start thinking about and building a movement capable of confronting a quasi or fully fascist state right now, as attempting to do so when such a state is already in place is likely too late.
Final Thoughts and Resources
I would like to end on thanking everyone who came to or helped organise the August 3rd counter demonstration. A lot of hard work has gone into trying to build the London Antifascist Assembly and it was great to see that work bear fruit. For anyone interested in Antifascism in London I recommend you get in touch with LAFA or one of the other local antifascist groups, most of which are also involved with LAFA. If you know an organisation or group that might want to get involved, pass that information on to LAFA.
The next London mobilisation – 24th of August