From the Archive: Fascism is not our only scourge


“We must teach the anti-racists to be anti-fascists, and the anti-fascists to be anti-racists” – Maurice Ludmer

It was not a jackboot on his neck that suffocated George Floyd in Minneapolis, nor a statue of a Blackshirt torn down in Bristol. Fascism, after all, is not our only scourge. These events exemplify how racism remains deeply embedded in our society and not just confined to Klansmen or nazis. They were reminders of how it is allowed to suffuse our institutions, be in plain sight on our streets, and be enacted in our actions day-to-day, by the far more insidious concoction of privilege, ignorance and prejudice that reaches across society.

With estimates that the protests sparked by Floyd’s murder have been the largest in the history of the USA and with support around the world, we are bearing witness to discussions and actions around institutional racism and reflections on histories of colonialism that are, in some ways, unprecedented. All this against a backdrop of a pandemic that has added insult to injury, as non-white lives have, through existing health inequalities compounding COVID’s spread, been disproportionately hit.

The response from the far right, in political office, online and on the streets to this mass movement has been predictable but whilst their campaigns, harassment and violence continue to be a stain on society, these are never the full measure of hate, as Floyd’s death itself ought to remind us. Despite this, those opposing the far right and those opposing racism’s societal and systemic manifestations can at times drift apart or rightly be accused of ignoring the other.

In the present circumstances, it is the anti-fascist movement which must listen to those rallying under the banner of Black Lives Matter, and consider how it can better infuse the fight against wider societal racism into its work. Part of this should involve reflecting on and listening to voices from the past who have attempted this before, and HOPE not hate’s archive collection of the anti-racist/anti-fascist magazine ‘Campaign Against Racism and Fascism’ allows us to do just this.

The Campaign Against Racism and Fascism

Britain in the 1970s was no stranger to racism or fascism. This was the era in which violent ‘P*ki-bashing’ and violence against ethnic minorities as a whole grew but without matched protection; a period in which, as a Runnymede Trust report describes, “it was clear that black people, and minority ethnic communities more generally, were ‘over-policed but under-protected’”.[1] Alongside this the fascist National Front (NF), under the leadership of John Tyndall, was growing, culminating in the 1979 election which saw them stand an unprecedented 303 candidates.

In such an environment the need to effectively marry anti-racist and anti-fascist activism was vital, and one champion of this approach was the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF). Originally the publication of the Kingston Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, CARF was adopted as the publication of the All London Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee, set up in May 1977 by 23 anti-fascist committees in London who joined forces.[2]  

Published bi-monthly, CARF covered both institutional racism and fascist activities in Britain and abroad, as well as advertised campaigns and carried exposés to counter these. It ran from 1977 to 1979 as an independent publication, then till 1989 as a four-page supplement inside Searchlight magazine before being re-launched as a standalone publication from 1990 to 2004.

CARF argued for the need to marry anti-racism with anti-fascism, warning that to not do so would be undermine the fight against both. After a series of racially-motivated murders and disturbances in April and June 1978 directed at East London’s Bengali community, historian Nigel Copsey describes how CARF argued these events must be seen as “part of a wider onslaught against the black community not only from fascists, but also from politicians, press, police, judges and the law.”[3]

CARF did not shy away from challenging their fellow anti-fascists’ assumptions that they had successfully addressed both racism and fascism, nor were they alone in this assessment at the time. Looking back at the late 1970s in a January/February 1992 edition, CARF quoted the view of an unnamed member of the Bengali Youth Association (BYA), a community defence organisation set up to defend and support the British-Asian community from racist violence and harassment from all areas of society. The BYA member spoke in 1978 after witnessing “yet another left-wing rally to remove the [National Front] paper-sellers from Brick Lane’s Sunday market”, part of a community under intense abuse from the far right at the time. Before the organisers of the rally then “left home for the night”, he told them “Now you’ve had your curries and cleared your consciences, f**k off back to where you came from.”[4] He was criticising what CARF referred to as ‘floating’ anti-fascism that “neither speaks to the problems of the local communities” beyond the threats of the NF, nor “helped to organise them on their own behalf”.

Instead they argued these anti-fascists were merely swooping in on occasion, engaging in one-off actions that “can amount to little more than the macho flexing of left muscle”.[5] While not opposing marches or militant antifascism, they added that “we should destroy fascism at its racist roots and not merely react to it”, by mobilisations having “the backing of community organisations” and being “followed by the setting up of local committees”.[6]

Now you’ve had your curries and cleared your consciences, f**k off back to where you came from

They directed their criticisms too at the largest popular front against fascist groups like the NF and the British Movement around at the same time, the Anti-Nazi League (ANL), launched in 1977. Though recognising the good it did, CARF argued that the ANL nonetheless lost sight of the societal racism of white people which “provides the breeding ground for groups like the National Front”.[7]

December/January, 1978. Pictured is Andrew Fountaine, a founding member of the National Front.

After the emergence of the ANL, the London Co-ordinating Committee running CARF decided against competing with the new anti-fascist leadership and so disbanded in September 1978. Despite this, a committed group continued to publish CARF, in the view that they offered the crucially overlooked perspective which could best explain the ‘breeding ground’ for the far right.

Yet CARF’s answer was not to reject tackling the organised far right in favour of exposing institutional racism in society. They knew it was necessary to address both and, done in tandem, they strengthened and informed one another. This was made concrete when, in 1979, with sales falling, CARF was incorporated as a four page supplement into Searchlight, established by this point as Britain’s leading anti-fascist magazine.

Searchlight, first set up by pioneering British anti-racist and anti-fascist Maurice Ludmer in February 1975, investigated, infiltrated and exposed the inner-workings of the British far right. (HOPE not hate is itself the product of Searchlight, beginning with a campaign under the banner in 2003 and a split from its parent organisation in 2011.) Throughout CARF’s iterations it attempted to combine anti-fascist and anti-racist reporting and campaigning. Institutional racism and organised far-right activity would be discussed side-by-side or blended where relevant.

An August/September 1977 edition features a front page report on the growth of a Ku Klux Klan group in Brighton, whilst the opening doublespread features reports on National Front (NF) activities next to a report on police harassment of east London Bangladeshi Britons and inadequate policing of attacks on them following continued attacks by NF supporters.

The same edition discussed, to name just a few examples, racism and government criminal deportations, teachers protests over NF meetings, racism in the media, an investigation into notorious far-right figure Lady Birdwood and a report on racist policing at the Grunwick strikes (part of an industrial dispute at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in London’s Dollis Hill that ran between 1976 and 1978).

A July 1977 report showed the benefits of combining an anti-fascist and anti-racist lens on events to understand the interplay between the far-right and institutional racism. It looked at an NF attack on demonstrators in New Cross in support of the Lewisham 24, a group of mainly black defendants facing charges of the ‘sus law’ (which enabled police to stop and search people they suspected of loitering in public with intent to commit an offence) which were seen to disproportionately target black people.

CARF alleged that the Lewisham 24 were arrested in a raid of 60 homes as part of an operation known amongst some officers as Operation 39/PNH or ‘Police N****r Hunt’”, which aimed at cracking down on suspected pickpockets.[8] This played into local NF posters which whipped up fears of mugging, posters that could have been prosecuted under the Race Relations Act but were not. Examining the events in this holistic manner meant readers could see where the police contributed to an environment in which groups like the NF could thrive.

‘Something was happening again – if differently’

Though the HNH archive unfortunately has no editions of CARF from the 1980s, we know that it broke with Searchlight later in that decade and in October 1990 re-launched with the help of the London Alliance Against Racism and Fascism, formed in 1989. Copsey claims CARF’s reasoning was out of a sense that Searchlight had “discontinued the analysis pioneered by [founder] Maurice Ludmer which established that fascism could only be fought effectively if fought alongside popular racism.”[9]

In CARF’s letter to Searchlight explaining their decision to part ways, they said it is with “reluctance” that they had chosen to do so and that they hoped “there may be ways of working together in the future”. They claimed the decision was a result of realising “that our differences are not so much mechanical ones, susceptible to logistical resolution” but rather ones that arise “from our essentially different understanding of the events unfolding in the world today.”[10]
 
As a subscription leaflet from its new incarnation stated, CARF is “the only UK magazine to situate the [continued postwar] rebirth of neo-nazism in its breeding ground of popular anti-black racism”.[11] They had argued for the importance of this perspective since their inception, stating that in the late 1970s, “It was not enough to situate fascism historically, ideologically linked to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust”.

As they added, to “take up the refrain of ‘Never Again’” but stop at that point overlooked that “Something was happening again – if differently” and this needed to be seen in a contemporary perspective “if we [are] to fight it correctly”.[12] To tackle the far right, anti-fascists had to attend to the varied manifestations and targets of racism in Britain that fed one another, not just be wedded to a traditional idea of where and how race hatred manifests.

For this reason, in their relaunch, CARF made clear that they were offering a response to hate attuned to the times, addressing state racism and “Euro-racism”, a reference to what they termed ‘Fortress Europe’ and the persecution of refugees and migrants entering the continent.[13] They also were early to increase their focus on Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment, both across society and in the organised far right (though its European and international coverage had been in place since its launch in the late 1970s).

Though CARF lost the investigative insight that Searchlight afforded, its attention on the organised far right continued and was extensive and useful; a February/March 1997 edition gives detailed advice on “Fighting the fascists in the General Election”.[14] A back cover from a 1999 edition displayed its ‘Diary of race and resistance’, a long-running feature predating its relaunch which gave readers a round-up of relevant events and important dates, with subheadings in this case for “Racist attacks, Policing, [The Stephen] Lawrence Inquiry, Immigration, Fascism, Sport, Research”. It kept other longstanding columns that demonstrated its breadth of coverage, such as ‘Fascist round up’, ‘Around the courts’, and ‘Inquest’, which focused on ethnic minority deaths in custody.

What can we learn?

CARF ran after its relaunch until 2004 under the aegis of the Institute of Race Relations, who still hold digitised copies of its second iteration. Combined with its earlier incarnation, the magazine covered a hugely significant period for both the organised far right and societal and institutional racism in Britain, and so remains a treasure trove for understanding how to tackle both together today. The value of looking back at CARF is not simply that it offers an inspiring attempt to address both, however. It also gives us concrete steps we can take as anti-fascists to better integrate these into our work today, and learn too from their mistakes.

Some of this is about the story we tell ourselves and the events we memorialise. In an October/November 1996 edition under the headline ‘Sixty years of fighting fascism’, the writers (CARF rarely gave their names) give a timeline of opposition to fascism since the opposition to Mosley’s Blackshirts at Cable Street to show how we can bring our story up to date. As they write:

[Cable Street] was, no doubt, a political milestone. And it is right that we recall such triumphs. But in asserting the principle ‘They shall not pass’, we should not forget the many other milestones since 1936 when residents – and especially black residents – have come on to the streets to protect their communities. In 1958, for example, West Indian residents of Notting Hill had to defend themselves against attacks from fascists. In 1977, as the National Front (NF) held provocative meetings and marches in black areas, residents came out in protest – often to be met by police violence. In 1979, when the NF threatened to hold a meeting in Southall town hall, the whole town downed tools and shut up shop to protest at the incursion. The police, who cordoned off the entire area, cleared the streets with extreme violence, and Blair Peach was killed by a blow from a Special Patrol Group officer’s truncheon.[15]

This timeline challenges assumptions about who engaged in anti-fascism, where and when. Though traditional, majority white anti-fascist organisations were involved in some of these events, it is important to remember all who were involved and to include them in the story we tell of British anti-fascism.

CARF’s analysis also highlights, as exemplified in discussion of its early editions, the benefit of exploring the relationship between institutional racism and far right activity to our understanding of both. In a June/July 1999 article they show how the statements of authorities in the mainstream can play into far-right narratives and be weaponised by them. In ‘The Politics of Numbers’, the authors look at how flawed police recording of racially-motivated attacks in Oldham was leading to the growth of an unfounded narrative that white people were being targeted by Asian gangs in the area.

This was alongside the growing, negative perception of British Asian-majority areas after Oldham council had “ghettoised” many onto a rundown estate as a result of an unlawful segregation policy in its housing allocation, a policy exposed in 1993. The article also considers how race relations worsened in Oldham after 1997 when the local racial equality council was closed, and how, meanwhile, far-right groups, including C18 and the British National Party (BNP), were setting up bases in the area.[16]

In this climate of growing antipathy towards Oldham’s British Asian community, the BNP reported in their party paper with the headline ‘Ethnic Cleansing in Britain’ and leafletted white people in Oldham with the same propaganda, drawing on the flawed police statistics. When the Oldham Riots would later erupt, CARF echoed their prescient analysis: “Oldham’s Asian community is up against a combination of local police chief, Eric Hewitt, with his dubious pronouncement on ‘anti-white racism’ and ‘no-go areas’, a local press that has provided a platform for racism and, finally, the presence of far-Right [sic] political parties mobilising in the area prior to a general election.”[17]

A November/December 1993 edition’s map of racial violence and far right activity in South East London. The article considered the interplay between the growth of BNP branches, fascist activity on the streets, and areas of increased racial violence.

We can also learn from CARF’s criticisms of the insufficiency of anti-fascists’ rallies in Brick Lane in the 1970s discussed earlier. This reminds us that effectively meeting the threat of the far right, or of institutional racism, requires that we avoid being wedded to a tactic. In recent years there have been attempts in the US, UK and elsewhere to smear all anti-fascist activism as a violent, even terroristic, threat.

This is only the latest example of a longstanding far-right tactic, yet it is also true that macho, largely performative anti-fascism can occur and, at its worst, drown out the voices of those communities who anti-fascists claim to support. Without being rooted in these communities and listening to them, as CARF wrote in 1992 we will “not have any real understanding of the nature of racial violence in black communities today”.[18] If this message was true then, it is just as true today.

Indeed, in the same article CARF discussed the very approach which HOPE not hate would be later borne out of Searchlight to take: tackling the root causes of social division which can lead to support for fascist groups, by working in communities at risk of this division. Listening to voices in affected communities allows better recognition of how racist violence comes from racist culture, and how fascism and the far right emerges from society, rather than simply encroaches upon it from outside.

The article as a whole aimed at questioning assumptions about racist violence, encouraging anti-fascists to place it in a wider context then just the result of fascist thugs. As they report from 1992, “Most racist attacks, besides, are carried out not so much by organised nazi groups as by local racist gangs.” They cite “Suresh Grover of the Southall Monitoring Group (covering Hayes, Hounslow and Ealing) [who] believes that less than 20 per cent of the 520 attacks he dealt with in 1990 had any connection with neo-nazi activity.”[19]

Overlooking how racist violence can be a product of a racist culture, not just that of a far-right group, moreover can appease and clear a path for fascism. Describing a series of repeated, racist attacks on a British Asian shop owner, CARF wrote:

“It is this type of commonplace, everyday racism which, because it goes unchecked and uncontested by the police and state generally, provides the groundswell for fascism. Yet anti-fascist activists tend, on the one hand, to ignore state racism and, on the other, to treat racial violence as though it were a by-product, a sub category, of fascism.”[20]

Part of the solution to this, they suggest, is to look at this wider culture, for example in “the development of a racist culture in our inner cities where killings of black people are seen as an acceptable part of white gang violence” even in the absence of far-right influence. In addition to this they discuss the need to tackle the fact that anti-fascism is white-dominated scene. It is the denial of ethnic minority perspectives here as in the police and the state they argue, which means that vitally insightful experiences are denied a seat at the table and so “everyday problems get redefined by a white-dominated left” who can too often apply “a kind of anti-fascist rote learning” to understanding the causes and solutions to far-right activity.[21]

Conclusion

CARF recognised the inextricable and complex relationship between racism and fascism, between societal prejudice and organised hate. Yet they also were not afraid to question anti-racist and anti-fascist orthodoxy where it was limiting our understanding of threats and how to address them. This is what we need in the present, to understand how recent events should be understood in relation to the far right, and the far right to these events.

This is all the more so given the blurring of far right activity with manifestations of societal prejudice. At HOPE not hate we have spoken of a post-organisational turn in the far right in recent years, with activists moving away from traditional parties and street groups to embrace loose groupings who coalesce for events and online campaigns but without formal membership. Yet this analysis, however useful, has generally failed to sufficiently make the connection with every day and institutional racism, failing to consider how a ‘lone’ actor loosely engaged with activism may nonetheless be engaged in prejudicial behaviour in their daily life, or have absorbed it here also.

As anti-fascists we can learn from CARF’s example, rooting our actions in an understanding that, as Ludmer wrote in 1976, “fascism tries to grow on the dunghill of racialism”.[22] We must put fascism and the far right in the context of systemic and institutional prejudice, looking at what allows it to find a home in the first place. We must always consider whether our tactics are best placed to meet the threat. And to do all of this, we must come together more with the anti-racist movement and listen to them.


[1] Bowling, B., Iyer, S., Solanke, I. 2015. ‘Race, Law and the Police: Reflections on the Race Relations Act at 50’, in Justice Resistance and Solidarity: Race and Policing in England and Wales. Runnymede, London. 9.

[2] Copsey, Nigel. Anti Fascism in Britain. Abingdon. Routledge. 121.

[3] Copsey. Anti Fascism in Britain. 134.

[4] ‘Racial Violence: Challenging Old Orthodoxies’. CARF. January/February, 1992. 3. For another less discussed group, see this short documentary on London’s ‘Sari Squad’, a group of mainly South Asian-British women who defended communities from racist attacks and campaigned against racism: https://vimeo.com/176730792.

[5] ‘Racial Violence: Challenging Old Orthodoxies’. CARF. January/February, 1992. 3.

[6] Ibid. 4.

[7] Copsey. Anti Fascism in Britain. 121.

[8] ‘Operation 39/PNH’. CARF. June/July, 1977. 8.

[9] Copsey. Anti Fascism in Britain. 165.

[10] ‘CARF is back’. CARF. February/March, 1991. 2.

[11] ‘Subscribe’. CARF. January/February, 1994.

[12] ‘CARF is back’. CARF. February/March, 1991. 2.

[13] Ibid.

[14] ‘Fighting the Fascists in the General Election’. CARF. February/March, 1996. 24.

[15] ‘Sixty Years of Fighting Fascism’. CARF. October/November, 1996. 12.

[16] ‘The Politics of Numbers’. CARF. June/July, 1999. 11.

[17] ‘Stop press: Oldham erupts’. CARF. June/July 2001. 2.

[18] ‘Racial Violence: Challenging Old Orthodoxies’. CARF. January/February, 1992. 3.

[19] Ibid. 4.

[20] ‘Racial Violence: Challenging Old Orthodoxies’. CARF. January/February, 1992. 4.

[21] Ibid.

[22] ‘Maurice Ludmer’. IRR. [Online] https://web.archive.org/web/20071112045950/http://www.irr.org.uk/faces/ludmer.html. [Accessed 21.8.2020]