So, following on from demonstrations in September and January that saw increasingly intense levels of violence, yesterday’s far-right and anti-fascist mobilisations in Dover seemed to pass without much incident. I think that in many ways what this illustrates is that these kinds of events are never just a two-way clash, but they’re always a three-way fight between fascists, antifascists and the police, and the smart money is usually on the well-armed professionals rather than the amateurs. Back in January, the total failure of all their attempts at crowd control meant the cops came in a very poor third place, but they seem to have belatedly learnt their lessons well enough. Yesterday the cops could say that they achieved all their objectives for the day, and it seems likely that similar levels of policing will be in place on the 23rd.
Looking at the other two groups, it seems that numbers had fallen on the fascist side more than on the antis: certainly, nickings and bail conditions from last time round will have played some part in this, but that can’t account for the whole of the drop in attendance. Some of it will may just be demo fatigue, and the fact that nazis are indeed human too, and all the reasons why’re you’re not able to do as much as you’d like will also be in play in their own lives. Whatever, the violence last time round doesn’t seem to have scared off too many antifascists.
The AFN are right to conclude that the day went well, in that the refugee solidarity convoy to Calais was able to march unopposed and set off without any grief, while the nazi march was heckled and obstructed. But the cops were still able to make space for the nazis to march at all: taking and holding space from the police is a very tall order, but it’s what we need to do if we’re going to actually prevent the fascists from marching. It’s a difficult task, but not an impossible one.
Closing thoughts: as much as we’d like to claim all the credit for the defeat of far-right movements, the state does often play just as much as a role. Antifascists did contribute to the decline of the EDL, but so did things like, for instance, the jailing of over 50 EDLers after Birmingham. It’s possible that the eventual fallout from the prosecutions after Dover will do for the new style of neo-nazi marches what the post-Birmingham court cases did for the EDL, but that would be nothing to celebrate: if we ever come to pose a serious threat to the status quo, we’ll be facing the same, so we need to be working out how our movements could survive that level of state attention.
And one last suggestion: it’s easy to take the piss out of the British Movement with their little shields, but, if you’re heading into a situation where you’re going to have people throwing shit at you, it is quite sensible to have something to try and make sure you don’t have to catch it on your head (or to rely on using your ipad like that one nazi in Liverpool). It might not be such a bad idea to revive the book blocs that were seen on the student demos a few years ago – next time you set off to oppose the far-right, it may be worth taking along a few outsize copies of Beating the Fascists, A Day Mournful and Overcast, or The 43 Group? This tactic could be particularly useful in situations, like yesterday, where the cops are removing people’s facial coverings – large, bulky shields don’t just block incoming missiles, they can also be used to block visibility and lines of sight for cameras.