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Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) was a militant anti-fascist organization founded by a wide range of anti-racist and anti-fascist organisations in 1985.
It was active in fighting organisations that were fascist or racist, such as the National Front and British National Party. It was notable in significantly reducing fascist street activity in Britain in the 1990s. AFA had what they called a "twin-track" strategy: physical confrontation of fascists on the streets and ideological struggle against fascism in working class communities.
Among its more notable mobilisations were violent confrontations such as the "Battle of Waterloo" in 1992 and non-violent events such as the Unity Carnivals of the early 1990s.
AFA was launched in London in 1985 at a large public meeting representing a wide range of anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations and individuals, including Red Action and the Direct Action Movement, Searchlight, the Newham Monitoring Project, and the Jewish Socialist Group. It was partly a reaction to the perceived inadequacies of the original Anti-Nazi League (ANL), which had recently wound up its operations. AFA members accused ANL of failing to directly confront fascists, of allying with moderates who were complicit in racism, and of being a vanguardist front for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Although many Trotskyist groups, independent socialists, anarchists and members of the Labour Party were active in AFA in the 1980s, the main members were always from Red Action, a group founded by disillusioned miltant anti-fascist ex-SWP members who had criticised perceived populist or popular front politics of the ANL.
Thousands of people took part in AFA mobilisations such as the Remembrance Day demonstrations in 1986 and 1987, and a mobilisation against a Blood and Honour gig, "the Main Event", in May 1989. In 1988, AFA formed a musical arm, Cable Street Beat (named for the Battle of Cable Street, a 1936 confrontation between fascists and anti-fascists), on similar principles to the Anti-Nazi League’s Rock Against Racism. Cable Street Beat launched a magazine, Cable Street Beat Review, in early 1989. Among the artists who performed for early Cable Street Beat events were Blaggers ITA, Angelic Upstarts, Attila the Stockbroker, The Men They Couldn't Hang, Forgotten Sons and Blyth Power.
In 1989, there was a split in AFA between militant anti-fascists and other members, such as the Newham Monitoring group, whose views were closer to liberal anti-fascism. The militant groups relaunched AFA that year, with the affiliates Direct Action Movement and Workers' Power, as well as several trade unions.
In the early 1990s, AFA continued the pattern of twin-track physical and ideological confrontations with fascism. Examples of the former include the first Unity Carnival in east London in 1991, with 10,000 participants, and a demonstration in Bethnal Green, with 4,000 participants (under the slogan “Beating the Fascists: An old East End tradition”). In September 1991, AFA launched its magazine Fighting Talk, of which 25 issues were published between 1991 and April 1999; the magazine incorporated Cable Street Beat Review. The first issue reported the recent launch of a Dublin branch and a Glasgow branch, the latter with the support of Red Action, Class War, Direct Action Movement, Workers Party Scotland, Scottish Anti-Racist Movement and the Republican Bands Alliance.
Physical resistance to fascism also continued. In 1990, three AFA members were jailed for a total of 11 years following an attack on a neo-Nazi activist. AFA's militant approach to anti-fascism was given media airing in May 1992, when the BBC screened a documentary, Fighting Talk, as part of its Open Space series.
A long street battle between AFA and Blood and Honour supporters in October 1992 was dubbed the Battle of Waterloo because it was centred on Waterloo Station. This event was pivotal in defeating the street presence of the far right in Britain.
Filling the Vacuum
In 1993, Derek Beackon, a candidate from the British National Party (BNP), won a council seat on the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets, East London; under the slogan of "Rights for Whites". This signalled a turn in the BNP's policy from confrontation on the streets to a bid for electoral respectability, partly as a response to their defeat on the streets by AFA. In 1994, BNP activist Tony Lecomber announced this turn in tactics with a statement to the press that the there would be "no more meetings, marches, punch-ups". In 1995 London AFA responded with its Filling the Vacuum strategy, which involved offering a political alternative in these communities instead of concentrating on challenging the fascist presence on the streets. Red Action and its allies campaigned within the AFA Network after 1995 for AFA as an organisation to adopt the "Filling the Vacuum" strategy. However, given that AFA contained a number of political groups, with differing political programmes, this, and the decline of street action by the BNP as it embraced "respectable electoralism", contributed to the breakup of much of the AFA network, with much internal recrimination.
Anti-fascist mobilisations still occurred after 1995, such as ones against the National Front in Dover in 1997 and 1998. The number of AFA branches across the UK peaked at 38 in the mid-1990s, with regular national conferences and an active Northern Network A new AFA National Coordinating Committee was set up, and in 1997, an official AFA statement forbid members from associating with Searchlight. In 1998 the committee expelled Leeds and Huddersfield AFA for ignoring this policy.[dubious ] There were some local relaunches of AFA groups, such as in Liverpool in 2000, but by 2001, AFA barely existed as a national organisation.
Red Action and other AFA activists followed the logic of providing a political alternative to fascism in setting up the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) in 1995, which became the sole focus of Red Action activity after 2001. Others formerly involved in AFA, predominantly anarchists, have maintained militant, street-focused tactics, initially in the group No Platform, then Antifa UK. Some of these groups have re-formed in the Anti-Fascist Network, formed in 2011, which aims to recreate the "two-track" approach of AFA.
Critics[who?] argue that AFA's physical confrontation approach was often more visible than their ideological work, and their tactics were criticised[who?] for their squadism and use of violence. However, supporters of AFA's approach cite its involvement in the youth music scene and successful propaganda events like the 1986 and 1987 Remembrance Day "Remember the victims of Fascism" marches, as evidence of this wider agenda.
- <Birchall, Sean, Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (London: Freedom Press, 2010).
- 1985-2001: Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) | libcom.org
- Steve Greenfield and Guy Osborn When the Whites Go Marching In? Racism and Resistances in English Football in Marquette Sports Law Review 1996
- "Cable Street Beat: A Brief History" Fighting Talk
- Ant-Fascist Archive
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- Cable Street Beat Review no.5.
- Fighting Talk archive at Libcom; Fighting Talk archive at Anti-Fascist Archive
- Fighting Talk no.1, p.6
- Fighting Talk no.1, p.13
- Birchall, Sean, Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (London: Freedom Press, 2010) p. 195
- Part 1, Part 2
- Birchall, Sean, Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (London: Freedom Press, 2010) pp.291-302;"It Woz AFA Wot Done It!" Red Action Vol 3, Issue 6, April/May 1999
- Fighting Talk no.3], p.19
- Red Action Vol 4, Issue 3, Oct/Nov 1999
- Filling The Vacuum - London AFA
- Physical Resistance. 2013 by Dave Hann
- About the Anti-Fascist Network
- Birchall, Sean, Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (London: Freedom Press, 2010) ISBN 978-1-904491-12-5
- Bullstreet, K. Bash the Fash: Anti-Fascist Recollections 1984-1993. ISBN 1-873605-87-0.
- Anti-Fascist Action: an Anarchist Perspective (Kate Sharpley Library, 2006) ISBN 978-1-873605-49-3
- Hann, Dave and Steve Tilzey, No Retreat (Milo Books, 2003) ISBN 1-903854-22-9
- Interview with author of No Retreat - in Spike Magazine
- Hann, Dave, A Hundred Years of Anti Fascism (Zero Books, 2013) ISBN 978-1780991771
- Mark Hayes and Paul Aylward Radical resistance or rent-a-mob? soundings issue 14 Spring 2000
- Anti-Fascist Archive
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- Beating The Fascists Video on YouTube
- Bullstreet, K. Bash the Fash: Anti-Fascist Recollections 1984-1993 (Kate Sharpley Library, 2001)
- AFA Ireland (archived)
- Nicky Crane: The secret double life of a gay neo-Nazi