Intelligence gathering by Searchlight outside Mother Macs pub behind Piccadilly, Manchester.
Intelligence gathering by Searchlight outside Mother Macs pub behind Piccadilly, Manchester.
This is one of several intelligence gathering videos by the organisation Searchlight.
Unfortunately I am thousands of miles from my copies of Beating the Fascists, No Retreat and Anti-Fascism in Britain which I think would be extremely useful in a full and detailed review of Physical Resistance. I am having to make do with my computerised notes of Beating the Fascists, sadly I chose only to word process my notes after reading No Retreat and Anti-Fascism in Britain. Following reading Dave Renton’s review of Physical Resistance I decided to write down a few of my thoughts of the book and his review. My focus will be on the latter chapters as this is the period where I have mostly researched. I welcome any response and correction.
Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism has given those interested in the study of in militant anti-fascism a wealth of important and interesting events which have laid undiscovered, exciting long oral accounts of former activists and a number of questions to attempt to answer. These long oral and written accounts are woven with Hann’s narrative. Sadly Dave Hann died before he could finish his work but his long term partner, who also writes the introduction, has stepped in and finished the book well with the circumstance. However, as Renton points out there are points in the book which are under-analysed and leave the reader asking for more detail.
Firstly, Renton’s review; I believe it contained a number of factual errors. One such error is the statement of Hann being in the Red Action leadership, my research and interview with former Red Action members (and subsequent communication) did not give Hann as a national figure in Red Action but he was key to Anti-Fascist Action and Red Action organising in Manchester. Renton, disingenuously, says that Beating the Fascists finishes when it reaches the Battle of Waterloo in 1992. In fact, BtF continues for a further 100 pages which includes, amongst other events: the 1993 Welling demonstration, the conflict with Combat 18, the BNP declaration of “no more meetings, no more marches, no more punch ups”, ‘Operation Zero Tolerance’ and the development of the Independent Working Class Association. Furthermore, Renton comments that AFA decayed following the Battle of Waterloo, however, issue 3 of Fighting Talk (June 1992), the Journal of AFA, lists 22 branches by issue 12 (November 1995) the number of branches peaked at 38 until it began to fall.
Renton also says that Hann is a “little self-serving” due to almost all interviews being with militant anti-fascists. Perhaps the subtitle “A Hundred of Militant Anti-Fascism” would have been more apt, but, I think Renton does Hann a disservice. As Renton points out Hann gives kudos to the ANL and other non-militant successes and, even, gives the UAF laurels for the BNPs 2010 local election defeat. I think Renton’s short dismissal of BtF and AFA in this review opens him up to the charge of self-servicing his anti-squaddism.
Turning to the book itself, as I earlier commented I thought the book is under-analytical in places. One such area is the collapse of the National Front following the 1979 general election. A conclusion to whether Hann thought the ANL or Thatcher’s hard talk against immigration was the primary or most important cause for the NF’s demise is not offered. Another section where I was hoping for more evidence, detail and conclusion was the 1988 Red Action split; Renton also says most early Red Action members left. Further information and explanation would have been interesting; perhaps Red Action’s archives will shed some light onto this period. Similarly, the AFA split between Red Action and the anarchist elements is light on details and analysis.
One question I asked during my undergraduate dissertation research was on the divisions between AFA members, particularly women. One of Hann’s interviewees provides a glimpse of a division; that between “hit men” and “foot soldiers”. During my research I was convinced that a division between organisers and fighters didn’t exist, the organisers were also got their hands dirty. The division between the “hit men” and “foot soldiers” also, allegedly, manifested socially as well as tactically. Who were the “hit men”? Red Action members or simply the best fighters.
Regarding women, two of Hann’s female interviewees’ tales tell of a gender role divide of duties in AFA which seems to correlate to my results. That’s not to say the duties of ‘spotting’ or checking out a pub for fascists was looked upon as less brave in fact my results showed my interviewees thought these acts required much more courage than the fighting. Although, more investigation into this by Hann would have proved interesting I think, particularly when AFA and militant anti-fascism is often charged with chauvinism and machismo.
An interviewee also speaks about AFA’s support for the IRA. Although Red Action’s strong support for the IRA is openly known and AFA stewarded republican marches against loyalist and fascist attacks, AFA was supposed to be a single issue campaign. For this interviewee the extent of the IRA support was uncomfortable. To what extent AFA as an organisation supported the IRA is not dealt with in depth and it does raise an interesting point as to what people’s experiences of IRA support were within AFA.
Hann also gives an insight into the continuation of militant anti-fascism post-AFA. He accounts both No Platform and Antifa, and, I think, it gives the impression that Hann supported the continuation of a violent street strategy and a rejection of the IWCA’s approach of following the BNP off the streets and into the electoral arena. But his position doesn’t seem clear. Any comparison between the post-AFA movements and AFA is also lacking.
To more general points: I’m surprised no Red Action literature appears in the bibliography, I think it’s a shame footnotes weren’t used in the book, as they are so useful to students of anti-fascism, also, there are few details on AFA in Scotland which is a shame. Lastly, there are a few errors in the writing such as Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association is listed as Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Action and the Kindle version is littered with hyphenated words in the middle of the page which I found annoying.
To conclude, the book is a valuable read for all those interested in the Communist Party’s role in anti-fascism, the British volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, opposition to the British Union of Fascists and the later history of militant anti-fascism. An excellent and unmissable source for students and those interested in British militant anti-fascism.
This post contains copies of The Shipcanal and The Hook a left-wing rank and file workers’ bulletin of the Salford Docks.
They have given to me by my grandfather and as they are not available online anywhere else, here they are! Now they’ve been uploaded I intend to give them to the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.
Issue One of The Ship Canal – shipcanal1
Issue Two of The Ship Canal – shipcanal2
Issue Four of The Ship Canal – shipcanal4
Issue Five of The Ship Canal – shipcanal5
Issue One (1971)
Issue Six (1974?)
The Hook Issue 13 thehook13
The Hook Issue 14 thehook14
The Hook Issue 15 thehook15
The Hook Issue 16 thehook16
The Hook Issue 17 thehook17
When left-wing director Ken Loach agreed to make a film about Manchester United fans, it was widely assumed that he’d done so because this gave him the opportunity to work with Eric Cantona. Looking For Eric (2009), his uplifting revenge fantasy about a down-and-out postman played by Steve Evets (a former part-time bassist with The Fall), also deals with the fall-out from the Malcom Glazer takeover. In one memorable pub scene, fans argue between themselves about the merits of supporting breakaways FC United (‘the People’s Club’). But neither the enigmatic presence of Cantona nor the unresolved FCUM dilemma provides the main focus for the film, which is the idea that only through comradeship and solidarity can certain problems be overcome. Moreover, in the climax scene (‘Operation Cantona’), the film seems to suggest that the use of violence and the threat of violence are justifiable in certain circumstances – which isn’t wholly inappropriate for a film starring Eric Cantona. As Eric the postman tells Eric the footballer, regarding his reaction to the Crystal Palace fan who’d been hurling racist abuse at him, ‘That twat got what he deserved!’
Before looking at the film and its contexts in more detail, it’s necessary to look at the historical religious and political background of the Manchester derby. Angel Meadow (to the North-East of Victoria Station) was decribed in 1847 as ‘the lowest, most filthy, and the most wicked locality in Manchester … inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps, and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness, those unhappy wretches, the low Irish.’ The Manchester Irish segregated themselves and were kept at arms length by the native English, who saw them as unclean and immoral. They shared rooms and cellars in the worst slums in the city (Angel Meadow, Ancoats and Little Ireland) and they were often willing to work when others weren’t. The boss of Newton Silk Mill (in Newton Heath) explained in 1834 what he did when his English employees were on strike: ‘I send to Ireland for ten, fifteen or twenty families … the whole family comes – father, mother, and children. I provide them with money … the communications are generally made through the friends of parties in my employ. I have no agent in Ireland.’ Predictably this led to resentment and it’s thought that whilst the presence of Irish labourers didn’t lower wages in Manchester, it probably helped keep them low.
In 1867, three Irishmen were executed for their part in the murder of a police officer during a raid on a prison van containing two prominent members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (‘Fenians’). The execution took place outside the New Bailey Prison (in between Salford Central train station and the River Irwell) and the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ became legends, providing the inspiration for the Fenian anthem ‘God Save Ireland.’ The Orange Order was also prominent in Manchester and in July 1888, according to accounts in the Manchester Guardian and the Liverpool Mercury, they were the victims of a ‘pre-meditated’ sectarian attack by Irish Catholics in Ancoats. It’s often claimed that sectarianism wasn’t as big a problem in Manchester as it was in the port cities of Liverpool, Glasgow and Belfast, and this is probably true – but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it is still a big part of Manchester’s history.
Into this heady mix came the two football clubs: Newton Heath were the works team of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railwaymen, whilst Manchester City had their roots in the (Anglican) church. When Newton Heath decided to change their name in 1902, ‘Manchester United’ was only narrowly chosen ahead of ‘Manchester Celtic’ – an indication that even back then, United were regarded as the team of Welsh, Scottish and Irish immigrants. The man thought to be behind the new name, Louis Rocca was the son of Italian immigrants raised in Ancoats. The fact that he was so closely associated with Newton Heath during their period at a new ground in Clayton (1893-1910) suggests a support base within the nearby Ancoats Irish/Italian immigrant communities.
United moved to Old Trafford in 1910 and became the natural choice of club for the Salford dockers, many of whom lived in nearby Ordsall, and workers in Trafford Park, Europe’s largest industrial estate. These were areas which would develop a reputation for industrial militancy and even links with communism, perhaps best symbolised by Yuri Gargarin’s visit in July 1961. Incidentally Maine Road, City’s ground from 1923, was in the heart of Moss Side, a heavily Irish district, which suggests that the South Manchester Irish (now spread out through Chorlton, Levenshulme and Burnage) would be more likely to support City.
As United’s chief scout, Rocca apparently set up a scouting network of Catholic priests to search for the best young players. More importantly he kept in touch with Matt Busby (who played for City from 1928 to 1936) through the Manchester Catholic Sportsmen’s Club and was a key figure in Busby’s appointment as manager in 1945. Busby was a practising Catholic of Lithuanian descent from a mining village in North Lanarkshire. His assistant Jimmy Murphy, also a practising Catholic, was from the Rhonnda Valley (although his father had emigrated from Ireland presumably to look for work in the coal mines). Their club captain Johnny Carey was from Dublin and had begun his career playing Gaelic football.
In an October 2003 article for the Manchester Evening News on the rivalry with Rangers, Stuart Brennan claims that United ‘were perceived as Manchester’s ‘Catholic’ club’ in the 1950s just as Celtic were in Glasgow. Similarly Ed Vulliamy writes in a Guardian article in May 2012: ‘Tensions between loosely Catholic Irish United and loyalist City have dissipated over time…’ This may have been because of the signing (and indeed the success) of Protestant Northern Irish players such as George Best, Sammy McIlroy and Norman Whiteside. However this only really serves to explain why United developed a much broader support base abroad. Within Manchester itself, they were probably still seen as the Irish Catholic team or (bearing Rocca in mind) the team of immigrants in general.
Sectarian tensions re-emerged in Northern Ireland after the attacks on Civil Rights marches in 1968 and the deployment of British troops in 1969. The Birmingham pub bombings of November 1974, attributed to the IRA, increased anti-Irish sentiment in England and many club football fans in England began identifying with the loyalist slogan ‘No Surrender to the IRA.’ The same period also saw the rise of the far right in English towns and cities, starting with Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’ speech in 1968 and culminating in the Battle of Lewisham in August 1977 between the National Front and their anti-fascist opponents. One of the best accounts of the period is ‘No Retreat: The Secret War Between Britain’s Anti-Fascists and the Far Right’ (2003) by Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey, both of whom were involved with the Socialist Workers’ Party but eschewed the more mainstream student-oriented nonviolence approach of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism for a form of direct action resembling football hooliganism and gangsterism in its ultra-violence.
In his review of ‘No Retreat,’ far right commentator and sometime contributor to Press TV, Peter Rushton describes Manchester as ‘the capital of militant anti-fascism.’ The National Front were unable to sell their newspapers in Manchester city centre or outside the football grounds for fear of attack. A South Manchester branch of the BNP was closed down after the organiser decided it wasn’t worth making enemies with these people. It doesn’t come as a huge surprise considering the city’s history that there were close links between local Irish Republicans and militant Anti-Fascism. Manchester United fans were widely seen as more left-wing perhaps because of the club’s historic Irish Catholic links, perhaps because it was the dock workers’ club (note that many of the main left-wing clubs in Europe: Marseilles, Livorno, Feyenoord, St. Pauli, AEK Athens are linked with the dock workers).
Issue 12 of the Manchester United Anti-Fascist fanzine Red Attitude (available online at the Anti-Fascist Archive) contains an interview with Dessy Noonan, which covers the period and the politics. It should be remembered that Manchester in the late-1980s and early 1990s was more famous for its music scene, which began to overlap with the inter-locking gang wars of Salford, Cheetham Hill and Moss Side (which gave the city its nickname ‘Gunchester’). Noonan, whose brother Dominic was head doorman at the Hacienda, gave a TV interview (shortly before he was murdered in 2005) in which he boasts of having ‘more guns that the police.’ [The same programme, A Very British Gangster, features scenes of kids in United shirts playing football in Ringley Street, Harpurhey.] When asked by Red Attitude how Anti-Fascist Action had been able to prevent organised fascist groups from operating in Manchester, Noonan replies: ‘Quite simply because year after year we have out-violenced them. If they can’t operate politically without being attacked then they will struggle to attract anything more than losers and punchbags.’
In November 2004, Spike Magazine interviewed Hann and Tilzey, the authors of ‘No Retreat.’ The interview provides a useful context for the film Looking For Eric. When asked about the people they’ve ‘fought alongside,’ Hann notes: ‘We’ve had lots of football hooligans. Some of them just started out from the standpoint that they didn’t like the way the NF and the BNP were bullying people on the terraces.’ [The villian in Looking For Eric isn’t linked with the far right but he does bully Eric the postman.] They also claim that there is talk of a film being made based on the book, ‘a Ken Loach style thing.’ Whether or not Loach was ever approached about such a project, and we can assume that he may have been, Looking For Eric seems to have been heavily influenced by the idea of United fans coming together to ‘out-violence’ others for a good cause.
In the climax scene ‘Operation Cantona,’ a gang of United fans wearing Eric Cantona masks invade the villain’s house and ‘re-decorate’ it with red paint. After forcing the villain to acknowledge ownership of a gun that he’d been trying to pretend wasn’t his (and destroying the gun with a hammer), the leader of the gang, John Henshaw’s character Meatballs, tells him:
‘You don’t go near that family. You don’t go near them. You don’t look at them. You don’t talk to them. You don’t even think about them. Because you known what’ll happen? … We’re gonna turn up here with ten coachloads and we’re gonna take this house apart, brick by fuckin’ brick … And if you try and run away to some bolt-hole in Blackpool or some rabbit-hole in the Outer Hebrides, we’ll find ya. I’ll find ya – you know why? [raises hammer] ‘Cause I’m a fuckin’ postman!’
At this point, the gang of Cantona-masked intuders break into a round of applause and Meatballs (wearing his FC United shirt) predictably leads them on in a rousing chorus of ‘Ooh Aah Cantona.’
The film’s message is not anti-fascist, it is anti-bullying. But it does raise some interesting questions: Did Ken Loach consider making a film about Anti-Fascist Action? And to what extent was he influenced by the links between the United fans and AFA? I would imagine Loach, whilst sympathetic to the aims and achievements of AFA, probably feels more comfortable with the Ghandi-inspired ideal of nonviolence. Whilst it is incredibly violent, ‘Operation Cantona’ is ultimately a comic scene and Looking For Eric is hardly a left-wing version of The Football Factory.
Meanwhile it seems left-leaning United fans have abandoned the Glazer-owned club for FCUM, where a red-and-black Sandinista banner bears the Anti-Fascist slogan ‘No Pasaran.’
By Tom Riley
This article is from In Bed with Maradona.
This will be a list of academic studies which will be of interest to those wanting to study militant anti-fascism.
If you have written an essay which is of good quality or contains original research please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Principles of Political Violence and the Case of Anti-Fascist Action (The Archivist, 2012)