by Edd Mustill
It seems likely that the Home Secretary will ban all marches in five London boroughs for a month. This sort of blanket ban is what governments have issued in the past, targeting EDL or National Front marches but also any counter-mobilisations, for the sake of maintaining public order. To believe we can petition a bourgeois Home Secretary – a Tory Home Secretary! – saying “Please ban them but not us” is ludicrously naïve.
Public order, public order, public order. The same reason given for the kettling of every student protest in the last twelve months. The same reason given for the pre-emptive arrests around the Royal Wedding. The same reason given for the mass arrests after the riots, including the wrongful arrests and their ramifications.
Saying that the EDL march shouldn’t be banned is not a question of a gliberal defence of “free speech.” It is a political question because we can’t afford to give in to public order politics. Should the police be allowed to set the parameters of what constitutes “acceptable” political behaviour? We have already seen them do this, pontificating on what is a necessary protest and how people should go through existing structures.
Independent mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has said: “You have helped us achieve our aim and we no longer need a mass show of support.” Go home, ladies and gents. Job’s done. The East End is demobilised. And if the EDL come back? Ban them again. And again. And again…
Perversely, one of the events affected by the blanket ban could be the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, which took place in what is now Tower Hamlets. Historically, the Communist Party and people following its tradition have managed to place Cable Street among the Party’s finest hours. But initially the CP argued for people to attend a rally for Spain in Trafalgar Square on the day, miles away from where the fascists were marching:
Although the CP did give its backing to a demonstration by the Ex-Servicemen’s Committee Against Fascism, which was to assemble in Stepney on the Sunday morning, the party’s main emphasis was to rally support for the JPC [Jewish People's Council] petition calling on the state to defend workers against fascism. As one study of CP history observes: “It was not that the Party’s leaders were lacking in either courage or anti-fascist feeling, but the Popular Front line predisposed them to respectable protest rather than direct militant action, which could only antagonise those they were so anxious to influence among the Tories, Liberals and ‘Progressives’.”
Many CP and Labour leaders were busy telling people to stay at home then, as Rahman and co. are now. There would have been no political defeat for the Blackshirts if East-Enders had followed their advice.
Likewise, getting the march banned does not represent a political defeat for the EDL. This is an important point; don’t we want to defeat them politically? They will posture about how much effect they’ve had just by threatening a march, how they’ve got the Marxist Establishment running scared and so on. And if they hold a static demonstration and it’s tiny, they can blame poor attendance on the ban. They can’t lose.
Anti-fascist politics is in a rut if we are reduced to calling on the state to sort everything out. Apart from anything, this helps the EDL peddle their favourite propaganda piece; that UAF is a front for the liberal political establishment (well, isn’t it?). Socialists in UAF must be slightly embarrassed that their organisation’s joint secretary was among those signing the pro-ban letter to the Home Secretary. But then, in a Popular Front we must acknowledge and respect political differences, as the 1930s Communist Party would have well understood.