On 22 April a mass mobilisation of up to 1,000 anti-racists joined a demonstration to counter the English Defence League and their annual ‘March for England’ (MfE) through Brighton.
MfE claims to stand for patriotic and nationalist values and argues that its ‘family orientated’ St George’s day demonstrations, which have taken place in Brighton since 2007, are no more than a celebration of national pride.
However, it has become clear that MfE is inexorably tied to various far-right organisations, especially the English Defence League (EDL), which is known for spreading a virulent anti-Muslim and ultra-nationalist agenda through intimidation and harassment of local populations. On the march last year sexist abuse was shouted at women, such as: ‘Get back in the kitchen’.
The event was dominated by bullies and thugs, intent on promoting fear and hatred in Brighton, known for its history of tolerance and anti-fascism. As socialists, we saw the counter-demonstration as an opportunity to stand with the wider community against this threat. The EDL tries to capitalise on the anger among working class people about the cuts and attacks on living conditions they face but they have no solutions. We explained the need to build a mass united working class fightback against both austerity and racism.
The march was due to leave Brighton station around midday. Our numbers began to swell as anti-racists lined the main road leading towards the town centre. Even protected by police regiments from several counties, the group of around 100 to 150 MfE marchers didn’t get far before the road was repeatedly blocked.
The police, numbering 300 to 400, resorted to violent horse and baton charges, dogs and pepper spray and arrests to break the line of counter-demonstrators, while the MfE route was diverted away from the seafront and towards Victoria Gardens.
Once at their impromptu destination, however, it became clear that the MfE was vastly outnumbered. Our banners, singing and rallying cries drowned out their limp messages of hate. The MfE were then followed all the way to the station by the crowds, who were held back by the large police presence. But at the station the police allowed the thugs to roam through the town, badly beating at least one trade union and anti-racist activist. This shows the need for organised stewarding of such anti-racist counter-protests – which the Socialist Party argued for prior to the day.
Nonetheless it is clear that this year’s event was an underwhelming and embarrassing result for the far right, rescued only by the police. Few in numbers, they were humiliated by a big and determined counter-protest.
Socialists used the occasion to engage with local people and demonstrators, and to show the urgent need to build a new mass working class party that fights for jobs, homes and opportunities for all. The far right will try to use the neglect of these necessities by capitalist parties to their advantage.
We will keep building a movement against future fascist events. March for England may well return to Brighton next year, but they will not go unchallenged in our city.