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Fighting fascists in Belfast 

A game of four halves.

12 December 2015

On Saturday 5th December the most extreme elements of Loyalism tried to out-Trump Donald Trump with an outpouring of fascist hatred aimed at preventing the placement of a handful of Syrian refugees locally.

The demonstration was a dismal failure. About 30 racists turned up, unable to mobilize wider sections of the Loyalist right. However the demonstration was far from being a joke, with one of the main organizers a notorious sectarian killer.

What was an outstanding success was a counter-demonstration by an anti-fascist group. Made up mostly of young people, it outnumbered the fascists by almost fifteen to one. Its main strength was its spontaneity - an uncomplicated cry of "non passaran, in a society where turning our gaze away from racism and sectarianism is a conditioned reflex.

In the late afternoon came a second demonstration by Socialist Workers Party/People Before Profit. This focused on opposition to the British government's decision to bomb Syria and claimed to be a drive to build an anti war movement. Its slogan was the nonsensical liberalism of "Not in my name." 

This demonstration was much smaller than the anti-fascist demonstration and this had the effect of underlining the political sectarianism of the SWP in holding two demonstrations where one united one would have been more effective. The claim was that a stop the war campaign was to be set up, but simple preliminaries such as inviting other groups to participate were overlooked.

There was however an underlying political difference. Until very recently all trade union and socialist demonstrations were held early Saturday morning.  The staging of the SWP demonstration in late afternoon indicates that they are in line with local trade unions in following a strategy of avoiding confrontation with loyalist reaction.

In fact this strategy is the main method of containing loyalism is applied by the state - and the campaign is carried on largely invisibly. The only visible aspect was police protection of the loyalists and constraints on the counter demonstrators.

Behind the scenes a torrent of bribes are funnelled to loyalist groups and they are incorporated into every aspect of civic life. This, plus the difficulty in breaking loyalist localism and broadening it into a more general fascist mentality, means that the fascists can be contained.

However this strategy of bribery and containment has been applied since the northern state was firmly established. It does not lead to the withering away of Loyalist reaction.

From time to time the reactionaries flood into the centre of Belfast. The state was able to isolate the fascist detonator on this occasion, but often they simply stand back.

In the meantime loyalist groups are more or less unchecked and carry out routine incidents of sectarian and ethnic cleansing in the areas they control. The small group of Syrian families being admitted are to be housed in carefully selected areas with a special policing unit. The intention is to remain under the radar of the racists rather than confront racism.

In this game of four halves the only new element is the youthful anti fascists. There is much to hope for, but we must move beyond spontaneity to a much more critical examination of the environment in which racism flourishes and to challenge existing forces to put their money where their mouths are and join an active fight against the fascists.

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