Newcastle: standing up to racism?

sutr newcastle

On 17 February, some 600 fascists led by Veterans against Terrorism (VAT) marched through Newcastle city centre. While Newcastle has been a frequent venue for such racist demonstrations over the years, this occasion saw the smallest mobilisation ever of anti-fascist forces, and one which was dominated by reactionary Labour Party politics.

The fascists paraded under a plethora of banners: Football Lads Alliance, People’s Charter,  Gays Against Extremism, Multiracial Alliance Tackling Extremism and Mothers Against Radical Islam And Sharia, mostly fronts for the English Defence League (EDL).

Meanwhile, supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) North East joined the counter-protest called by an alliance of Newcastle Unites and Stand Up to Racism (SUTR), groups which are dominated politically by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Counterfire and Newcastle Labour councillors. The central call of the 100-strong counter-protest was also to oppose terrorism – hardly distinguishable from the fascists as no-one condemned the terrorism of the British state or its racist policies at home.

Some speeches at the counter-protest heaped praise on the British military. Chair of the Tyneside Irish Brigade Association and firm supporter of the British armed forces Bill Corcoran was given a platform. He told us that ‘we have a multicultural armed forces and though we may disagree with what they do, they do their best out there.’ Tony Dowling of Counterfire and Newcastle Unites’ organisational committee, said:

‘We are here because the Veterans Against Terrorism are marching not just against terrorism but against Jihadist Islamic terrorism. If they were just marching against terrorism we would not have a problem, but they are clearly targeting and demonising our Muslim sisters and brothers, so we felt it was necessary to be here.’

Leading SWP member Weyman Bennett echoed this sentiment for SUTR, ‘The truth of it is, is that one terrorism not being talked about is the terrorism of the far right, it is not being talked about at all.’ A Labour councillor spoke of Muslim communities being collectively punished for the acts of terrorism committed by the few, adding ‘We're against all forms of extremism, all forms of terrorism.’ Neither Bennett nor Dowling bothered to condemn British state terrorism or the role the British armed forces plays in the Middle East. Some of the small audience were garbed in army camouflage festooned with patches displaying poppies, union flags and other chauvinist symbols and slogans.

Newcastle Unites and SUTR were shamelessly pandering to the most backward sections of the working class in an effort to include them in their ‘broad, united movement’. Their underlying message was that members of the British armed forces who support British imperialism can join their movement as long as they don’t support the EDL or its various fronts. Their strategy of framing anti-racism as little more than opposition to the EDL means they do not have to challenge the British state or the racist Labour Party. Yet every concession they make to Labourism takes the anti-racist movement backwards. There is no short-cut: no anti-racist movement can be built in Britain unless it has anti-imperialism at its core. That means fighting the British state, not attempting to give racist slogans a progressive makeover.

Newcastle branch


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