Let’s imagine that things had been the other way round. Suppose the May Day march in Warsaw had been dominated by extremists and organised masked hooligans, carrying banners and shouting slogans glorifying Stalinism. They had previously clashed with counterdemonstrators from the right and fought with the police. This year there was no counterdemonstration and the police allowed the demonstrators to organise to their own security. This resulted in the demonstrators burning down a prominent religious symbol, attacking a building belonging to supporters of the conservative right and then surrounding and attempting to set fire to the US embassy. Elsewhere in Poland, members of the same group ended their march at a grave of victims of Stalinist repression and raise dtheir fists. In response the Prime Minister shrugged his shoulders and sighed that this had now become a tradition. The mainstream media invited the organisers of the march to discuss their opinions and air their views. Left-wing publicists downplayed the events and pointed out how the right-wing also has it own extremists.
Such a series of events is of course unimaginable. It is inconceivable that the left in Poland would behave in such a way and even more so that the establishment would react in such a lenient and accommodating manner. The fact that the extreme right is able to march year after year carrying fascist symbols, shouting racist and homophobic slogans and leaving a trail of physical destruction behind it is therefore the result of the political dominance of the right in political and public life. If the left had acted in a similar manner we can be sure that the full force of the state would have been used against it. However, when aggression and symbols of totalitarianism are raised from the right, the response is muted and the state impotent.
The problem of the far-right is of course not a problem confined to Poland. We are now seven years into a global economic crisis, with no end in sight. Living standards are falling, millions are being pushed to the margins of the labour market and social frustration is growing. Even in those countries where the left is strong, the simple solutions offered by the nationalist right have an increasing appeal to many. When the left is weak or incompetent, then the populist allure of the far-right grows.
After November 11 two different responses have come out of the left. On Lewica24 an open letter to President Bronisław Komorowski has been printed, pointing out how the actions on Independence Day were against the country’s constitution and that the reaction of the state to them has been totally insufficient. It argued that the leading authorities of the state should be helping to set the tone of public debate against the far-right; that organisations of a fascist character should be banned and that the state should help to guarantee the safety of its citizens against the violence of these organisations. In response an alternative letter has been published by Nowe Peryferie, which whilst deploring the events on November 11, argues that they should not be used as an excuse to restrict civil rights. It states that the far-right cannot be defeated administratively and that a danger exists that new laws introduced could in the future be used against any organisation that is opposed to the system. It ends with the appeal for the left not to put forward demands that could really lead the country towards fascism.
These letters have been written in an atmosphere of general disgust with the events at this year’s Independence March. I believe that both have been written with the desire to halt the growth of fascism, which is a principle that should unite all progressives. The issues raised in both of them are matters of tactics that are occupying anti-fascist movements around the world. It is worth considering a couple of examples of these. In recent years an alliance of far-right activists and football hooligans in England has been organised around the English Defence League (EDL). The main activity of this group is to congregate in different cities around the country and intimidate Muslim communities. The anti-fascist movement has responded by organising counter demonstrations and at times has called for a banning of some EDL marches as they threaten public order, such as when the EDL called a demonstration in East London. Another example is Greece, where a catastrophic economic collapse has resulted in the openly fascist Golden Dawn becoming the country’s third largest political party. The organisation has a strong paramilitary grouping and alleged connections within the police and army. Golden Dawn has carried out a series of attacks on immigrants and members of the left and in September was implicated in the murder of the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas. The murder of Fyssas led to a furious social reaction, the arrest of many of its leading members and moves for the organisation to be banned.
The tactics of opposing fascism in one country can of course not be translated directly to another. The situation in Greece is particularly dramatic and far worse than anything existent in Poland. However, what it does show is that the anti-fascist movement should consider a range of tactics and not become fixated on any one as being a matter of principle.
The tactic of attempting to block the Independence Day march in recent years was not successful. The anti-fascist movement was too weak to stop the march and was blamed for much of the violence. However, the claims that it was the provocations of the left and police that caused the violence have been shown to be false by this year’s events. It therefore seems perfectly reasonable that the left should now argue for the state to uphold the constitution and prevent fascists and hooligans from running riot. The present right wing status quo, that passively accepts the violent actions of the far-right, should be exposed.
The dramatic events at this year’s Independence March actually show the weakness of the far-right, as it is unable to make any serious political breakthrough and is reliant upon groups of hooligans to fill their demonstrations. The anti-fascist movement has to use this opportunity to further isolate it and utilise the disgust felt by the vast majority of society at Independence Day being used as a platform for intolerance and violence. Exactly how this should be done is a matter for discussion between those who share similar principles and aims. It is a discussion that should begin immediately.