Saturday 30 January 2016 in Dover will go down in contemporary history as an occasion when British nationalists, right-wing football hooligans and neo-Nazis joined forces on the streets to demonstrate against immigration and refugees, while launching violent attacks on anti-fascist counter-protestors. What follows is an account of what happened on the day, why we face an increasingly violent far-right street movement, and what we can do to organise together and defeat it.
Refugee crisis explodes
In September last year over 100,000 people marched through central London in solidarity with refugees fleeing war and searching for a better life. It followed months of intense media attention on the largest wave of migration seen in Europe since the Second World War. Every day people watched in horror as the bodies of refugees washed up onto the shores of southern Europe and states did nothing to stop it. In the absence of any humanitarian response from national governments, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens faced the disaster with autonomously organised mutual aid and solidarity.
But not everyone rallied behind those in need. As the crisis deepened, a racist backlash followed: asylum centres were burnt down, refugees were attacked, and border regimes tightened even further. In Britain public attitudes towards providing assistance gradually hardened, specifically among elements of the working class struggling in a tanking economy and facing increased welfare cuts. For the far-right it’s provided fertile ground.
The far-right is getting more organised but so are we
Last month’s rally in Dover was the latest in a series of protests designed to capitalise on this unprecedented crisis. Like the others it was organised in part by Cypriot-born immigrant Paul Pitt (real name Paul Prodromou), Chairman of the South East Alliance (SEA) and a committed racist nationalist who sees no contradiction between his own ethnic roots and his dislike of anything foreign.
Pitt has an obsession with seeking “unity” across the far-right political spectrum. Since the collapse of the English Defence League (EDL) the British far-right has been riven with splits and turf wars and has unraveled into a number of increasingly violent, ideologically extreme splinter groups. These groups often number less than a dozen and regularly fail to mobilise even their own close supporters, but with the current crisis things are clearly changing.
On 12 September 2015 Pitt, together with the National Front (NF) organised a protest in Dover against immigration and refugees, which saw violent clashes between anti-fascists and around 200 far-right activists. After that day we knew how important last month’s protest was going to be. Intelligence suggested that a number of violent racist gangs and individuals were intending to travel. With the NF taking a back seat because of concerns around associating with street violence ahead of an election, the two groups organising the new protest were both splinters from the EDL: the SEA and North West Infidels (NWI). In the end around 14 different far-right groups stated their intention of taking to the streets.
In response the AFN decided that a national mobilisation was needed and began coordinating in cities and regions across the country, including Brighton, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, Portsmouth, Reading, Southampton and Sheffield. In London around 350 anti-fascists mobilised and travelled on AFN-organised transport including 6 coaches and several minibuses. This was our biggest mobilisation outside London to date: a demonstration that opposing the racist backlash to the migrant crisis on the streets is absolutely crucial.
On the day we took a decision to stop at Maidstone Services before we arrived in Dover so people could stock up on supplies and take toilet breaks. A report of two minibuses of far-right activists was phoned in but at that point it was too late to do anything. People were instructed to stay for a maximum of 15 minutes as we waited for other coaches to meet up. We felt this would be in the interests of everybody’s safety and wellbeing, though in hindsight the risk of bumping into the far-right and it kicking off was too high.
Around 10 minutes into our pitstop, we got a phone call that our sixth coach was just pulling in. Unfortunately, behind it was another coach of around 50-60 hooligans and neo-Nazi skinheads. After staring at us through the windows they began piling off and attacking. At first between six and seven launched into a small anti-fascist crowd. One fascist slipped and fell back-first onto the ground while a woman was punched and kicked. Fists and bottles were launched, and we saw various other weapons emerge: belts, knuckle dusters, koshes, batons, padlocks and chains, all suggesting the group had travelled well prepared for violence. The first attack was successfully repelled and we managed to hold a line to ensure people were protected. With each attack, more and more fascists were severely injured. They lobbed ripped-up bricks, road cones and dustbins but nobody was hit.
Though we can’t say too much, we can conclude that faced with a seasoned mob of Chelsea Headhunters and Combat 18 skinheads, anti-fascists managed to defend themselves bravely, collectively and with dignity, pushing the fascists back onto their coach with their tails between their legs.
One hooligan, emerging with blood dripping from his head, started to smash one of our coaches, by which time most anti-fascists were back onboard wanting to get to Dover. He then walked over to an adjacent coach and used his own blood to paint a swastika on the side of it – which has received widespread media attention. He then smashed a coach full of schoolchildren.
This whole scene lasted about 20 minutes until a small number of police arrived, which slowly grew to several dozen riot police who found more weapons on the fascist coach. It was at that point that around 215 anti-fascists were detained at the service station and prevented from joining our comrades on the streets of Dover. Though this incident led to reduced numbers on the ground in Dover and meant that the blockade we were intending was weakened we note that hundreds of people were willing to come and will be willing to come again.
The goal of the day was clear: bring enough people to the demonstration to block the far-right march in the train station and prevent them from rampaging through Dover. When we heard about our comrades being detained in Maidstone we knew this might not be possible. But it was clear the demo was still going to be big, broad and determined to stop the fascists in their tracks.
A decision was made to block the march on Folkestone Road, a short distance from Dover Priory station where the far-right protest was forming up. Anti-fascists made it to this road with very little trouble and a coalition of AFN, Dover residents, local trade unionists and labour movement activists massed on the road. It was at this point that we knew the game had changed.
A group of 50+ fascists made up of veteran neo-Nazis, far-right football hooligans and EDL supporters moved from the train station, across the grounds of a private school, up Effingham Crescent and into the side of the anti-fascist blockade. It became clear that many of the fascists had no intention of playing the liberal game of marching to demonstrate a point: they had travelled to Dover with the sole purpose of trying to smash their political opposition.
The group who attacked came with bricks, glass bottles, clubs and knives, catching many on the anti-fascist side by surprise. The images which have been shared by the far-right on social media of young people with missing teeth and broken noses were largely from this first volley of bricks and missiles. We don’t believe throwing rocks at kids while standing with neo-Nazis is really something to be proud of is it Roy Price or Darren Shield?
Given the obviously pre-planned nature of the far-right violence which happened it is a credit to all the anti-fascists present that we were able to beat back attacks every time they came at us. Anti-fascists were kettled by police, pelted with rocks and attacked by roving mobs of neo-Nazis but were able to deal with everything thrown at us (pun intended). Furthermore, it has been misrepresented in some places that this was two groups of white men fighting each other, which is simply untrue.
The people who defended the anti-fascist march were from a cross section of society; comrades who are neither cis, het, white or male stood side-by-side at the front alongside comrades from other backgrounds. The disgusting gendered violence of the far-right in Dover will be explored in more detail in a coming article, however it was heartening to hear one female comrade say at the end of the day: “anti-fascism is our space, we created that space through our own collective defence and after the rape threats today, it’s clear that fascism is rooted in patriarchy, more women must take up this cause if we are going to kick back male dominance as well as racism and fascism.”
AFN anti-fascists finished the day by marching into the centre of Dover where we were later joined by trade unionists, Kent anti-racists and others to the cries of “No Pasaran!”. Each group understood the vital role the others had played on the day and a strong mutual respect was forged. The day finished with a group of 60 to 70 neo-Nazis throwing Nazi salutes in unison before attempting to break into Market Square and attack the anti-fascists who had gathered there. As before, each time the neo-Nazis attacked they were beaten back, on more than one occasion fleeing before feeling the brunt of an anti-fascist counter charge. The only thing halting the fascist retreat was Kent police forming a protective cordon on their behalf.
Winning the battle of ideas, defending each other on the streets
In short, Dover saw the most violent far-right street protest in a generation. Many of the fascists that travelled were not there to simply highlight their views through protest, but to smash their opposition through political violence. This is the material reality in which we now live. The events on the streets of Dover were no accident, they were pre-planned by fascists as demonstrated by the large cache of weapons seized by the cops and confiscated by anti-fascists during confrontations. We can expect to see more fascist violence towards the left in the months ahead, especially if the “migrant crisis” intensifies and the racist backlash grows.
But what happened in Dover was by no means a defeat for the left. Many people realised they were able to collectively defend themselves and each other from naked aggression and the fascists understood that they will not be able to control the streets without contest (and bloodshed). However what we do next is important.
It is obvious that a new ideologically extreme far-right street movement is posing a real threat to the left and marginalised groups. At the same time there is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis taking place in Europe and ongoing imperialism in the Middle East. These are conditions in which the far-right can grow unless the people who can be seduced by fear are instead won by the hope for a better world.
The left must refound its anti-fascism along the lines of working class unity. The idea that our interests and enemies are aligned with those waiting in the migrant camps in Europe must be put forward. This is not to say that we have the same oppression or experience of oppression but instead to say that it is in all of our interests to rid the world of the structural oppression that binds us in chains and profits only a few. It is not good enough to paint fascists as idiots: this ignores the ideological goals which they seek to achieve and ignores the real purpose behind their actions. We need to give an explanation for people’s hunger and fear that apportions blame to the ruling class rather than migrants. We need to win the battle of ideas and be prepared to defend each other on the streets.
We would like to thank everyone who came to Dover or who tried to make it, and stood by their comrades in the face of political violence. You are the anti-fascist movement. Without you neo-Nazis would be able to control the streets uncontested and the left and marginalised groups would find it increasingly difficult to organise. Please get involved in your nearest anti-fascist group, every skill and ability is valued as it can takes months of time and work to organise demonstrations.