To say that fascists descended on Croydon on Saturday May 6th would be both an exaggerated lie and hyperbole. Whilst the London Evening Standard likes to believe that the South East Alliance (a coalition of fascists formed out of the dying embers of the National Front, the BNP, English Volunteer Force and British Movement) pulled out 40 members, their actual numbers were closer to, but not quite, 15.
Yesterday was an important moment in recent street anti-fascism, no less because of the way it was coordinated. London Antifascists want to first extend a congratulations to the group who organised yesterday’s counter-demo, Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary. From early in the day, MfJ established a strong presence at East Croydon Station, ready to meet the fascists as they arrived. Attracting locals to join members, a crowd of nearly 200 people soon amassed and stayed, joining in chants of ‘When the community is under attack, we fight back!’ and ‘We will win’. And we did.
There were moments of confusion, especially at the beginning. Members of the crowd, and it should be said members dressed in black bloc not affiliated to the AFN, made an uncoordinated push to meet fascists at the pub they were found to be drinking in. Leaving behind comrades from the larger crowd, they immediately came into contact with police who created a tight barrier across the main road forcing the march to halt almost as soon as it began. Despite this setback, the lack of a police kettle and the layout of Croydon meant that groups from the march soon started to form elsewhere and think tactically. This isn’t by any means a desire to attack comrades in black bloc, but it is necessary to recognise the weaknesses in mobilisation and formation and remember what the purpose of the bloc is. The black bloc should be a collective action, placing themselves as the first wave between police and fascists and the rest of the demonstration in a way that aptly counters the forces they face. It should not be lacking form, direction, or coordination. Otherwise, it only seeks to endanger everybody present. This point is underlined by the fact that one activist now faces a Section 5 Public Order charge which could have been avoided.
As small groups found ways out of the police cordon, siphoning off in order to once again attempt to confront the fascists, police began the arduous, embarrassing march accompanying the SEA through the streets of Croydon. Whether by chance or design, antifascists were able to surround the small collection of drunk, weathered louts, furiously out-of-shape for an apparent “master race”, surrounded by tight formation of police at a ratio of at least 10:1.
For all the tactical shortcomings of the beginning, protesters and activists soon shut down the main road and for some time held the SEA in stasis. A rallying moment came when, arms linked, drowning out the weak chants of the failing far-right, Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ came pouring over the crowds, releasing cheers and a new motivation to push harder against the now encroaching police lines. This is what we need – the sound of working class London artists (and self-proclaimed activists) shutting down racist outsiders looking to capitalise on an ideology of fear and division.
Police managed to push back protesters to the meeting point of Lunar House, where the penned-in UAF counter demo, which was, in a sad twist of irony, made up mostly by the UK Border Agency Union, had been all day. Whilst they will inevitably aim to take credit for the work of Movement for Justice activists, anti-fascists and the local community, their lack of solidarity in recent years is thematic as they cling on tightly to their delusions of grandeur.
For nearly 2 hours, police protected the SEA in the car park of Lunar House, while activists drowned them out with grime music, chants and laughter. What had been a planned launch of the SEA in London, proved to be an empowering moment in anti-fascism. Their PA speakers mumbled as they tried to make speeches, and it was easy to tell that most of them were pining to be back in the pub.
When the fascists were finally done with their unsuccessful launch party, the police attempted to take them back to the station and ferry them onto the trains home, back outside of the city that won’t ever want them. They were continuously out-maneuvered at this point too, with the people of Croydon not happy until every last one of them was gone. The only way police could keep the fascists safe was by closing off all exits to East Croydon Station and chauffeuring them away.
Yesterday showed that what we need more than ever is an organised and united coalition amongst different anti-racist and anti-fascist groups to always outnumber the far-right. As UKIP rapidly collapses, and out of that collapse, new and more motivated anti-immigrant nationalist movements will grow with more power than they’ve ever had, we need to begin the process of developing a movement that is ready for them.
Solidarity to the people of Croydon, Movement for Justice and anti-fascists everywhere!
NB: On Saturday 13th May, Movement for Justice have organised a demonstration outside of Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in support of the migrant and asylum seeking women trapped inside – click on the event here to attend: https://www.facebook.com/events/1397760473581688/