Outside the Greek consulate in London, protesters pack down their tables, signs and tarpaulins under the watchful eye of police officers. The demonstration, organized by the U.K. campaign group Unite Against Fascism in solidarity with groups in Greece protesting against right-wing political party Golden Dawn, has wrapped up peacefully and the crowd is beginning to dwindle, people trudging away through the slush and the snow.
To UAF, the January 19 demonstration at the Greek consulate was an acknowledgement of fascism’s global reach and the troubles sweeping countries around the world, making societies particularly vulnerable to the rhetoric of fascist parties. Golden Dawn makes for a good example; while its popularity is on the rise in its home country, it is now looking to establish a more global presence by reaching out to the Greek diaspora in places such as Queens, New York.
“I think we have to be clear that we live in a period of crisis. It’s not just the left but also the right that has the real potential to grow and we have to guard against it,” said UAF member Samir Carnik Hinks, who was at the protest. “That’s why it’s really important that we’ve got these rooted networks.”
UAF’s strategy is simple: connect as many people and communities together to stand against fascism, which its website defines as an ideology that “stands for the total annihilation of whole communities, freedoms and democratic rights.”
The movement also does not hesitate to play on the public’s impression of fascism by holding events on Holocaust Memorial Day, thus equating fascism with its most infamous — and extreme — example: Hitler and the Nazi Party. Some might see it as a clever move, garnering more support for the movement by reminding everyone of fascism’s shameful past, yet others may consider it to be an over-simplification, glossing over the different forms fascism might take. After all, not all fascists have gone to such lengths as the Nazis, and to paint them as such may obscure real issues that have led to the rise of fascist political parties today.
Technically, fascism refers to a right-wing, authoritarian and nationalistic system of governance. However, fascism has now become so intertwined with the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust that it has become difficult to differentiate it from the Nazi’s racist, xenophobic and racially exclusive ideology. Nowadays, any group or political party perceived to be championing ultra-nationalistic, racist or xenophobic arguments are very quickly and easily labeled as “fascist,” even if that’s not what the term has historically referred to.
Factors contributing to the re-emergence of such fascist parties are also not often addressed. For example, the rise of Golden Dawn’s popularity can be traced back to the Eurozone crisis, the electorate’s disillusionment with the current government (thus leading to protest votes) and the perceived competition coming from immigrants during a period of high unemployment. By capitalizing on these issues and presenting itself as an alternative to the status quo, Golden Dawn has been able to leverage the troubles of the people and gain support, growing its vote-share so much so that it’s become the third most popular party in Greece.
Still, since its inception in 2003, UAF has enjoyed wide support from a variety of politicians in a range of political parties, including the current Prime Minister David Cameron. Originally meant as a counter to the far-right British National Party, the movement has also gone on to strongly oppose fascism and racism in society, taking on organizations such as the English Defence League, which campaigns against the spread of Islam.
The potential of the youth has not been forgotten in the UAF’s efforts to achieve its aims; outreach has taken the form of Love Music Hate Racism, inspired by the Rock Against Racism campaign from the 1970s. Through music festivals, gigs and club nights, Love Music Hate Racism aims to connect with the younger generation through the celebration of music and culture, and has enlisted performances by bands such as Basement Jaxx and Babyshambles.
Also part of the movement strategy is the “No Platform” campaign, in which UAF attempts to persuade or convince media outlets, organizations and associations to not allow fascist groups any space to air their views. UAF Wales secretary Jeff Hurford explained in an email: “We do not argue for No Platform just because we disagree with fascism. By No Platform we are arguing that people exercise their own choice not to allow fascists to speak or use their facilities or to provide an audience for them. We are not asking for them to be banned, arrested or locked up by the State.”
However, this was exactly what they were criticized for in 2011 when they were slammed by The Telegraph’s Brendan O’Neill for praising the government’s banning of an English Defence League demonstration while protesting for the right to their own gathering.
“The freedom to protest must mean that everyone, from worthy Left-wingers to cranky EDL types, should be at liberty to gather where and when they please and to demand whatever they want,” O’Neill wrote. “What UAF is fighting for is not freedom but privilege.”
However, members of UAF are clear on this point: they see no contradiction and no breach of free speech here. “Having fascists on platforms,” said Hinks, “basically says that their views aren’t as bad as anyone else’s when really we have to be clear that fascists pose a massive danger to all forms of democracy.”