The growth of fascism in 2020 was a disturbing development in Irish politics and one that needed a coherent response from the left. Fascists were able to capitalise on discontent at the COVID restrictions and insert themselves into anti-mask protests. At the same time, socialists, appreciating that anti-mask is anti-worker and insisting that the government did not cave in to pressures from businesses to sacrifice the vulnerable, were hampered in both protesting and mobilising against the fascists. We complied with measures to restrict the growth in COVID cases. The fascists did not.
A few skirmishes took place in which the fascists injured participants of small counter-protests and were becoming increasingly confident. A growth in fascism does not just represent a distant threat, it always leads to an immediate increase in attacks on the people they target in order to divide working class communities.
Anti-Fascist Action decided it was necessary to check the fascist rallies and successfully mobilised against the National Party on 10 October 2020. While many commentators wrung their hands and condemned the counter-protest, we stood on the side of AFA in regard to seeing the humiliation of the National Party (who would be better called the Nazi Party) and their retreat under the protection of the Gardaí as an important check on the fascists. There is plenty of evidence it damaged their morale and capacity to mobilise.
So when leading People Before Profit members initiated a conversation about creating a new anti-fascist alliance, we were keen to participate. Initially, there was a lot of positive energy about the new organisation, which would come to be called Le Chéile, not least because when asked would this organisation be genuinely owned by all the participants, we were assured by the People Before Profit TDs that it would.
It seemed to us that this movement had the potential to bring even more people onto the streets when another moment came in which it was necessary to turn out to stop a fascist event: that it could be the kind of vigorous ‘fighting’ united front of all those who would be victims of fascist growth that Trotsky envisaged was necessary to stop the rise of Hitler.
Of course there were differences expressed at the meetings, including over the question of whether there should be counter mobilisations against fascists. Independent Left members and others present recall the conclusion of this discussion being that while the new organisation would not publicly call for counter-mobilisations, it would not rule them out.
While we saw some limitations in Le Chéile, we were willing to play our part in participating in the alliance until today, 3 December 2020. Disappointingly, we found that the launch statement included the following crucial line: “it is not the aim of Le Chéile to organise counter-protests to far-right rallies.”
Indeed? Well, it certainly was our aim all along and that of some of the others present at the meetings. It came as a surprise to see this position (one which raises the question of who made that the policy of the alliance and when?).
A launch that was anxious to communicate this non-confrontational message, whether approved of by everyone concerned or not, undermines our confidence in Le Chéile as being the right way to go about stopping the growth of fascism. We think it best to spend our energy at a grassroots level, resisting the infiltration of fascists in our communities.
Good luck to the new alliance, genuinely. There is a role to be played in having musicians and actors and politicians speak out against fascism, to have them perform anti-racists gigs, hold carnivals, readings, etc. This is important activity. But it isn’t enough.
Two wings of an anti-fascist movement checked the National Front in the UK in the 1970s: one embodied the spirit that ‘they shall not pass’, which was most evident at the Battle of Lewisham; the other was a cultural marginalisation of fascist values. The recent documentary White Riot shows the valuable work done at that time by Rock Against Racism. We hope Le Chéile will be able to deliver on that cultural side of things.
We appeal to members of Le Chéile: please consider the historical experience of anti-fascist movements and be less equivocal about the need to support counter-protests. Hopefully, you’ll join them in the future. If not, then please don’t sit on the fence when figures like Mick Clifford weigh in against those of us who take to the streets to scatter the fascists while we can.
And to People Before Profit members who agree with us, there is still time to change the approach of your party. We would very much welcome unity with you, not to pose together in front of the cameras, but arm-in-arm on the streets.
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