I don’t want to make light of the fear the EDL inspired in Asian shopkeepers who were victims of their haphazard campaign against Islamic extremism, but I always thought they were a feeble lot compared to the real horrible Eurofascists like Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece. Not even Fascists in fact, a bunch of thuggish nationalists with a football hooligan element.
It is to the credit of the UK that (a) it has a history of being very poor at producing full blown Fascist movements and (b) that the stated aims of the EDL were not Fascist but a kind cultural conservatism, of a very British kind, that is, an invented one, like investing the Prince of Wales or Victorian Christmases. The EDL were of course outraged at the lack of respect and patriotism shown by the poppy-burning Islamists, but also at their antisemitism, homophobia and sex inequality – and getting upset at the last three is a fairly recent invention – post 70s I’d say.
They were bigged up a good deal by the activist class, who you could see got a real charge at having something that was tangibly fascist-like to confront. I remember when their Scottish equivalent, the SDL, were supposed to march in Edinburgh. The SWP and other groups turned out. There was a rally in Princes Street Gardens. As it happened, the police bundled the 40 or so SDLers in a pub and sent them off, and the activist websites were buzzing with the overwhelming victory.
I found myself nodding along with an article in Spike by Patrick Hayes:-
The EDL has been a spent political force for a couple of years. In 2011, when it was at its peak, it could get together several thousand people for its demos; today, it is hard pushed to reach triple digits. In fact, you’ll find fewer EDL supporters than police officers on a typical EDL demo today, the police’s primary role being to keep the EDL away from the ranks of anti-fascist protesters that trail around after the EDL like aggressive groupies. The EDL doesn’t even have any real membership base to speak of, often referring to the number of ‘Likes’ on its Facebook page as evidence of its alleged popularity
Robinson’s sudden self-rebranding as a moderate has been as much of a shock to anti-fascist protesters as it has been to his loyal ‘soldiers’ in the EDL. Having spent the past couple of years waving banners comparing Robinson to Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik – ‘different face, same evil’ – anti-fascist commentators are now absurdly claiming that Robinson’s latest move is part of a fascist conspiracy to gain mainstream acceptance. . .
. . .it seems the people who would be most upset if ‘Nazi’ street groups such as the EDL disappeared are the activists, community workers and professional politicians who make a living or gain a sense of moral purpose from ostentatiously standing against such ‘fascism in our midst’. They wildly talk up the EDL’s threat because without the EDL their own political lives would become meaningless.
Cavafy’s great poem Waiting for the Barbarians comes to mind. I have updated it for contemporary relevance:-
What are we waiting for, assembled in the streets?
The Fascists are due here today.
Why are we tense and bracing ourselves?
Why is everyone hiding stones and bottles?
Because the Fascists are coming today.
What else can we do but resist them?
Once the Fascists are here, then we’ll start the struggle.
Why are they there, the newspaper sellers?
Just now, when no-one reads newspapers?
Crying, Smash Capitalism, Smash Fascism!
Because the Fascists are coming today
and this is a time for them to recruit.
It’s known that when the Fascists come
You can sign up so many supporters.
Why have they come out, those speakers?
Crying Islamophobia and anti-imperialist?
Why do they shout, it’s Cable Street again
Why the raised clenched fists, the No Pasarans?
Because the Fascists are coming today
and things like that frighten the Fascists.
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the Fascists have not come.
They are on Facebook and watching X-Factor,
they are in the pubs cheering football on Sky.
And now, what’s going to happen to us without the Fascists?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.