English Defence League: Cultural Campaigners or Racist Thugs?

Contemporary Britain is a multiethnic, multi-cultural society and in keeping with the doctrines of political correctness we are told to celebrate and respect the cultures of all national, ethnic and religious groups, especially those that originate in the ‘third world’.

And if we are supposed to respect all cultures no matter how stupid and reactionary they may be, why can’t we also celebrate and respect Englishness (whatever that means) without being labelled as racist and xenophobic? Within the logic of multiculturalism, the English Defence League (EDL) may appear to have a point.

Founded in 2009, they claim to welcome all those who irrespective race, colour or faith, wish to defend English values against the perceived threat of radical Islam. Unlike the traditional groups of the far-right they they ostensibly condemn racism and anti-semitism. They even claim to have a Jewish division and say that moderate Moslems are welcome within their ranks.

Allegations that they are racists and neo Nazis are robustly denied.

EDL Demonstrations

So are the EDL just a bunch of harmless secularists who are just a little over-anxious about the Islamist threat to the UK? Further examination of their activities and literature clearly indicates that the answer is no. Apart from the semi literate rants of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis that adorn the EDL’s web forums, their own texts use language that has much in common with the traditional farright.

An article about the recent EDL demonstration in Bradford labels the counter demonstrators as ‘communist filth’.1 But more significantly the EDL seek to foster an extreme sense of nationalism and create divisions within the working class. Support for ‘our boys’ doing British imperialism’s dirty work in Afghanistan and Iraq is fundamental to the EDL project, and it would appear that a significant number of EDL members are ex-squaddies.

Over the last year the EDL have held a series of demonstrations against Islamists in a number of English towns and cities, the most recent one being held in Bradford at the end of August. According to The Guardian, those involved in the demonstration included a number of British National Party activists and members of football hooligan firms (some of whom sign themselves clearly as such on EDL web forums).

It is clear that these demonstrations which claim to be against Islamic fundamentalists are intended to intimidate Asian immigrant communities in general, and foster division within the working class on the basis of race and ethnicity.

By doing this the EDL carry out exactly the same function as every other far right organisation from Mosley’s Black Shirts to the BNP; that is to scapegoat racial minorities, especially immigrant workers, for all the ills in society. The few backward elements within the working class that buy into this reactionary ideology see other workers as the problem rather than the solution. To the extent that these divisions are effective they serve to strengthen the domination of capitalism over the whole working class. Just as in the 1930s these racist groups get a hearing within sections of the white working class who have been hit the hardest by the capitalist crisis (but hit hardest of all are those from ethnic minorities). The simple solution that it is the fault of the immigrants or “the enemy within” is easy for these groups to make. In dividing the working class these groups do valuable work for capitalism. The real problem of the system is that the working class create the wealth which is then used against them by their exploiters (as we can see clearly at the present time). Workers everywhere from China to Chingford have the same interests which is to fight for a society which abolishes that exploitation for all. In this sense “workers have no country” (Marx) and we always put class before the capitalist concept of nation.

Anti-fascism or Anti-Capitalism?

The laws of physics state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Likewise it can be said that for every fascist there is an anti-fascist; in fact in many ways they are two sides of the same coin. Just as the far right divert the working class into the dead end of racism and xenophobia, so the anti-fascists of the Socialist Workers Party and Unite Against Fascism also seek to divert the working class away from the struggle against capital by fixating on the evils of far-right and calling for the defence of democracy. But the democracy they are defending is not workers’ democracy but the sham democracy of the bourgeois state. These leftist organisations are thus calling on workers to support the state in the name of antifascism, the same state which itself is prepared to foster racist divisions within the working class when it suits its purpose (see our article Immigration or Global Capitalism in Revolutionary Perspectives 39 or go to).

Make no mistake, far right organisations such as the BNP and the EDL pose a real danger to immigrant and migrant workers and the CWO does not criticise those workers who organise to defend themselves against these odious and often violent racist thugs. But the fringe politics of the far right are just a more extreme version of the politics of oppression and exploitation practised by the mainstream political parties and implemented against all workers every day. Get rid of the BNP and the EDL by all means, buts let’s not forget that we will not get rid of racism until we organise and unite to get rid of capitalism altogether.


(1) The EDL demonstration in Bradford was a disaster for them, showing their real level of support.

Claiming that they would have 5000 from all over the country (i.e. UK - the English Defence League has its Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts) they could muster only a few hundred. Hemmed in by the police against a building where a wedding was taking place they distinguished their “Englishness” by defecating and urinating (or should that be, in defence of Anglo-Saxon, pissing and shitting?) where they felt fit. On the opposite side of the square a few score anti-fascists were also hemmed in against another building where another wedding was taking place (it was a bad day for nuptials as well as the EDL in Bradford!). The one thousand plus police drafted in to deal with the demonstrators easily outnumbered the combined totals of both demonstrations in the city centre.

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