A disturbing and confusing day, the first time I have seen a fascist rally. This lot take political irrationalism to its utmost - it's not so much believing an irrational ideology as having no ideology at all. The theoretical basis of the English Defence League is barely sufficient to produce a few pathetic slogans - "Engerland, Engerland, Engerland," "EDL! EDL!" and once, "We want our country back!", a little surreal in the middle of an ordinary shopping day in the centre of Manchester. Looking at their website it is immediately clear that their ideology is so flimsy and preposterous that no-one could possibly believe it after a moment's thought.
This leads me to suspect that the whole thing is a cleverly constructed media campaign by a few fairly intelligent, though not very wise, leaders. The aim seems to be to create a discourse in the media of a confrontation between Muslims and white supremacists, by a series of carefully manipulated media stunts in various cities. I presume the leaders hope that by doing this, the media constructed discourse will become a nightmarish reality in which they will have the chance to take power. The strategy closely follows that of Hitler and Goebbels in the early days in Berlin - a small bunch of despised cranks creating publicity for themselves by causing confrontation on the streets.
The mainstream media functions by creating pseudo-concepts within its own discourse and repeating them until they become established as background facts, upon which further discourse can then be constructed. The pseudo-concept of Islamic fundamentalism or extremism is one of the clearest examples. A totally meaningless phrase, not least because any belief system is fundamental and extreme when seen from a certain perspective, it has been repeated daily for the past few years until everyone seems to tacitly agree that it exists, which then allows endless discussion on what to do about it, from the liberals who carefully make a distinction between nice Muslims and naughty Muslims, to the likes of the EDL, who use the pseudo-concept as a pretext to try and create racial tension on the streets. The point is that whatever position someone takes within the discourse, they still implicity reinforce the pseudo-concept. So the aim of the EDL leadership appears to be to create another pseudo-concept within the discourse - a concept of escalating racial confrontation.
The fascists on the streets of Manchester - a disturbingly large number of them teenagers - didn't seem to know what they were trying to do or what they believed in. A friend told me that one of them said he was marching against women being raped. Very few seemed to be aware of the existence of left-wing political organisations - the 'Reds' of traditional fascist demonology. In the fluid and confusing situations of the day, I frequently had the strange experience of rubbing shoulders with small groups of swaggering skinheads. Rather than immediately jumping on me or even insulting me as one of the 'Reds', there was a strange ambiguous stand-off, a kind of awkward politeness. Even when I jumped a railing to avoid some over-excited riot police and found myself alone in front of a large crowd of EDL supporters, all that happened was a couple of those nearest to me half-heartedly shouted 'Scum!' as I made a dignified exit. Earlier, a small group of EDL youths were being forcibly de-masked by mounted police. Remonstrating with the police, they seemed to look at me in appeal against the unfairness of it. Far from recognising me as a deadly enemy in front of whom they were being humiliated, they apparently had not the slightest idea of what I was doing there.
It was unfortunate that the police interfered with the anti-fascists' ethical duty to physically prevent the fascists from marching. Because of the police, what would have been an overwhelming anti-fascist victory was turned into a frustrating stand-off where the main bulk of both sides was contained in police cordons in Piccadilly Gardens, leaving small mobile groups wandering around aimlessly. At one point a large group of fascists rampaged pointlessly up and down the street for a bit until they were dispersed. Anti-fascist groups outside the cordons were too small to be effective. However, at some point fairly early in the afternoon, there was a confusing incident that appeared to be, possibly, a half-hearted attempt by the EDL to have a march. The police had to use vans and dogs to move the surrounded EDL supporters through the jeering anti-fascist crowd, bringing them a couple of hundred yards down the main street and then back to Piccadilly Gardens. It wasn't at all clear whether the police or the EDL knew what they were trying to do.
Although it was not possible to physically block the fascist march, there was a certain satisfaction in seeing them surrounded by hundreds of people expressing their contempt in no uncertain terms. The hardened NF veterans may easily dismiss it as the expected behaviour of the Reds, but maybe some of the new recruits will have to wonder why everyone hates them so much wherever they go; though having seen the intellectual quality of the far Right's new generation it's difficult to imagine them thinking at all.
It did make me idly wonder where the cynical grizzled recruiting-sergeants find their baton fodder. Perhaps a little feverish after little sleep and seven hours on the streets, I imagined them wandering Britain's urban wastelands with large nets, searching for bands of swaggering dysfunctional feral teenagers, herding them into vans and driving to various cities where they open the van doors and stand well back, possibly after a bit of drilling on the way - "Engerland, Engerland... Enger... um... how does it go?"