Two separate attempts by fascists to hold street demonstrations at opposite ends of Great Britain have been smashed by antifascists in recent weeks. On the 17th of June the so-called ‘Highland Division’ were run out of Elgin near Inverness, and on the 24th Turning Point UK and hangers-on were thwarted in Honor Oak, south London. Each of these actions – both resounding humiliations for the far right – show how mixing bold, militant tactics with larger community mobilisation can drive the fascists out of town.
A report by Anti-Fascist Action Dundee tells of how several hundred counter-protesters were brought to Elgin via callout by the more ‘respectable’ Moray TUC, while the more militant antifascists were able to guide this larger crowd towards direct confrontation. While Moray TUC had not intended to directly confront the Highland Division with their static demo, militant antifascists were able to peel away large sections of the crowd to do just that. The small fascist demonstration was thus drowned out by a wall of noise, hiding behind police protection. Showing true initiative, some antifascists even managed to sneak around the fascists’ side, hemming them in and forcing the far right to retreat to their minibus under close escort. The Highland Division failed utterly to make any headway with the Elgin townsfolk in exploiting a local refugee issue, and were humiliated. By combining the mobility of more militant tactics with the strength in numbers and political legitimacy of a large crowd of protesters, antifascists in Elgin were able to soundly defeat this new fascist formation on their first ever serious outing.
In Honor Oak, meanwhile, the day started somewhat differently. Both the far right and a small but committed bloc of militant antifascists from across England had arrived at the pub before 6am. This was the fifth in a series of monthly demos by TPUK against the Honor Oak Pub, an LGBTQ+ friendly pub which hosts Drag Queen Story Hour sessions. The prior four demos had seen the fascists cordoned off by police, shouted down, and generally humiliated and bored. Making an educated guess that the fascists would try to get there before police or the more ‘family-friendly’ counter-protest, antifascists got there first. What ensued was a half-hour street battle outside the pub entrance as around thirty antifascists held the line against the fists of far-right football hooligans. Despite inflicting injuries on the antifascists, the far-right were unable to fully break the antifascist line or secure either of the pub doors. The police eventually kettled them where they stood – away from the doors – and the drag queen event went ahead. This holding action by a militant crew bought time for the ‘family-friendly’ protesters to arrive, swelling our numbers and providing the noise to totally drown out the far-right speakers. The fascists were eventually outnumbered by locals more than eight to one, and packed up early with their tails between their legs. Their early-morning gambit and its potential legal repercussions had been for nothing.
There are some key differences between these two events. In Elgin, for instance, the TUC who called the ‘main’ demo were far more confrontation-averse and tried to discourage even the use of insulting chants against the fascists. In Honor Oak the far right could hold themselves in a fight and had come looking for exactly that sort of physical confrontation, having brought along football hooligans and aged Nazi skinheads to supplement TPUK’s normal complement of nerdy conservative students. The ‘main’ demo organisers in Honor Oak were also far more critical of the police’s role and willing to work directly with the militant bloc on an ad-hoc basis – even the SWP-aligned groups!
What was common to both, however, is that the militancy of committed sections of antifascists made possible the confrontations which drove the fascists off, and the crowds of the main demos made possible the success of those confrontations. Key lessons from these successes include the value of good intelligence on far-right formations, the need for militant and bold tactics where the situation calls for it, and the value of liaising with attendees of larger counter-protests, even when those protests’ organisers may oppose militancy altogether. To make bolder and more militant tactics viable, activists from across Scotland and England respectively had to be gathered and hosted, and this is a testament to the behind-the-scenes planning and longer preparation which went into both events. From Elgin to Honor Oak, the far right did not pass – for now, at least.
Ewan Forrest is an activist in the Republican Socialist Platform and a member of the Heckle editorial board. He is from Edinburgh but is currently based in London, teaching history and organising within the National Education Union.