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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Oh, I do like to Sieg beside the seaside...

I honestly never thought I'd see fascists marching through the streets of Brighton.

Because of my family background I was brought up with a strong awareness of the history of Nazism. Unlike some people from European Jewish backgrounds, including members of my family, my response to this was not to retreat into paranoid Jewish nationalism but to draw some more general conclusions about history, politics and especially the relationship of the individual to the state. That was the earliest motivation that eventually led me to become an anarchist - a political position that I believe results logically from a combination of the desire to attain personal integrity, the principle of non-harm, and a certain amount of historical and political knowledge. Though my political life has taken various turns, I have always had at the back of my mind a watchfulness for the return of far-right politics in the UK. As I have said in other posts, I have been concerned for many years about the increasing authoritarianism and conformism of mainstream politics. Recently, however, it appears that certain people - perhaps just a few cynical individuals - are trying to bring far-right politics back into the British political spectrum.

I came back early from visiting my family to oppose the so-called English Nationalist Alliance march in Brighton. As far as I can tell, they are the aspiring paramilitary English Defence League with a racist authoritarian political programme. They claim to have chosen Brighton because of what they call 'anti-English' activities in the area - an apparently nonsensical statement that actually refers to the relatively healthy radical political scene here. So essentially they had called a march against me and all my friends.

I got back to Brighton late on the night before the fascist march, so I didn't have much idea what was going on in opposition to it. I turned up in the general area of the fascist meeting point, Brighton station, and tried to wait inconspicuously, hoping that enough others would have the sense to do the same thing. I bumped into a couple of people but still had no idea how many were around. We waited in a small group. I didn't want to go anywhere near the station after a good friend of mine was arrested during the last nationalist march in Brighton just for showing up in the street.

After about an hour I saw a large crowd move down Queens Rd (leading south from the station) and turn east into North St. I wasn't quite sure what was going on at first but worked out this was the UAF-led main body of the anti-fascist demo, being compliantly herded away from the fascists by the police and led into a crowd pen they had set up in Victoria Gardens, which I'd had a look at earlier. One of my friends decided to join them and later sent us a message saying it was 'totally shit'. Useless bastards. There must have been hundreds of them. All they had to do was stand still in the right place and the fascist march would have been blocked.

Once they had passed, we carried on up Queens Rd. I was relieved to see that a group of perhaps 30-40 militant anti-fascists and Brighton anarchists were still on Queens Rd. It was reassuring to see that at least a small amount of solidarity still exists on this planet. I presumed at that point that the police would be herding the UAF crowd into their pen, and then do the same with the fascists.

Word came from two independent sources that the police were planning to redirect the fascist march down Trafalgar St, leading east immediately outside the station. Most of us moved down to Trafalgar St to try and block them, but I understand that another group separated from the anti-fascist bloc at this point and tried to block the fascists at other places. We assembled on Trafalgar St just in front of the tunnel and waited.

A line of police came down the tunnel and stood in front of us, followed by three dog handlers with snarling dogs. I went up and challenged one of the police with how utterly despicable it was to use dogs against the people of his own city to force a fascist demonstration through the streets. He looked quite shaken but didn't say anything, presumably having been briefed not to talk to us. Three or four police horses came up the road behind us, walked round us and lined up with the line of foot police. I'm quite scared of batons (and if you want to know why I'll show you the scars), very scared of horses and extremely scared of dogs. It was fairly obvious at this point that the police were going to try and push us down the road to get the fascist march through. After some more tense waiting, the police moved towards us and started pushing. I asked the policeman who was shoving me if he was aware that he had no legal power to assault me and was comitting a criminal offence. He didn't have much to say except 'You've been asked to get back.' The pushing became more aggressive as we passively resisted. They started going for the throat. I was grabbed and shoved several times by the throat.

Later I asked myself what it is that can make a human being grab and shove someone by the throat who is offering absolutely no physical threat to them.

Further down the road, as we continued to passively resist, they started pushing people onto the ground - including a woman of probably about 7 stone, pushed by a vicious sadist who must have been at least 16 stone and was clearly enjoying himself - and striking people in the legs and back with their knees. I got a painful bruise just above the tendon of my right biceps femoris. Police officers also attempted to use arm and neck locks to force me to comply. I didn't hear any batons coming out, but one woman showed me a bruise later that looked like a baton strike. Some of the militant anti-fascists tried to create barricades from large bins but didn't manage to block the road. The horses came forward to scatter us and we ended up at the bottom of Trafalgar St, on the pavement heading towards the pens in Victoria gardens. The last thing I wanted was to stand in a police pen all day, so I nipped across the road with a few others.

This was not the worst violence I've seen from Sussex police, but it was particularly frustrating that they were attacking us on behalf of Nazi skinheads.

Arriving at Victoria gardens I finally got a sight of some of the fascists. (Quote of the day: 'Have you seen the fascists?' 'I think they're behind that bus'). They truly are the dregs of humanity. 30 or so bleary-eyed skinheads were standing around in their oversized police pen, occasionally chanting football slogans, surrounded by a jeering crowd of Brighton residents. One prominent individual, who looked like a zombie that should have stopped taking amphetamines 20 years ago, was carrying an Israeli flag - apparently the far right have suddenly switched from antisemitism to pro-Zionism to try and make common cause against Islam, the enemy of the day. I asked corpse-face about this and he told me to 'fuck off'. More work needed on EDL public relations, perhaps. I was reminded once more that this is a political movement (or pseudo-movement) with practically no ideological basis, consisting of gutter kneejerk reactions and mindless nationalist slogans. The basic premise - that radical Islam is taking over the UK - is so preposterous that no-one could seriously believe it. Conclusion - there is something else behind it. The sight of a few fat, cynical veterans in the crowd confirmed this. They must have been there before Islam became the new official enemy. Do they have a strategy or do they just enjoy it?

Anyway, all good things must come to an end, and it came to time for the police to babysit the delicate little Nazis back to the station and home to bed. They were followed up the hill by the swelling crowd of Brightonians who, disgusted by the presence of these bigoted scum in our sophisticated laid-back town, gathered to give them a royal send-off, gleefully jeering as they were quick-marched back to whatever London overspill arsehole town they were recruited from.