Retreat reads like a novel and contains stories
that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.
However, it is a serious political tale of 20 years
of physical anti-fascist activity on the streets of
Manchester and other English towns and cities.
a time when racism is a live issue in Ireland this
is a book well worth having a look at, if only to
examine an alternative way of dealing with right wing
has a long history in England and always manages to
find new scapegoats - whether it is Jews in the 1940s,
blacks in the 1970s or asylum seekers now.
Retreat covers the period from the mid 1970s to
the mid 1990s when far-right groups such as the National
Front (NF), British National Party (BNP) and Combat
18 were trying to make in-roads into England's white
working class communities. It details how ordinary
people from those same communities banded together
to fight the fascists, despite being let down by the
middle class English left.
"Squad" and the "Stewards Group"
of the original Anti-Fascist Action were mainly white
and mainly male but it wasn't uncommon to see black
or female faces amongst them. They believed in "the
need to oppose racism and fascism physically on the
streets and ideologically." No Retreat is the
story of how they did just that.
either one of the authors was present at just about
every major confrontation between fascists and anti-fascists
during this period, No Retreat retains an authenticity
that a third party would not have captured. The fact
that physical resistance to the far-right was played
down in the press and has been air-brushed from the
history books means this publication helps keep the
story alive for future generations.
story is dealt with first. It begins with him mistakenly
getting on an NF coach instead of a Man United supporters'
one. The NF coach and its occupants are then attacked
by anti-fascists and Tilzey's life is changed forever.
covers the setting up of the "Squad" by
left-wingers who decided to go on the offensive to
defend their political groups and their communities.
The subsequent battles that ensued include beating
an NF football team (on and off the pitch), bugging
BNP meetings and physically attacking as many fascists
description of the class make-up and fighting spirit
of the Socialist Workers Party in the mid-'70s and
Red Action in the early '80s makes interesting reading
for those aware of the state of these two micro-parties
describes getting jailed for 15 months for being part
of what the judge called "a violent Trotskyist
hit squad." On his first day inside he was confronted
by the chairman of the local Prison Officers Association
who he recognised as a leading light in the neo-nazi
British Movement. The encouragement he received from
hundreds of supportive letters will strike a chord
with any Republican who served a sentence.
story is simple and straightforward; a life of following
Man United and fighting fascists. Hann's account is
much more theoretical, though his approach to confronting
fascism was the same. He details how Manchester anti-fascists
kept the far-right off the city's streets and the
day-trips they made throughout Lancashire and West
Yorkshire to confront the BNP wherever they tried
to leaflet or march.
success of the campaign can be measured by the fact
that the BNP felt unsafe to appear on the streets
by 1994. It is interesting that since Anti-Fascist
Action was wound up shortly after that, the BNP have
had up to 8 councillors in England's North-West.
full chapter deals with the various fascist/loyalist
collaborations and how Irish events in Britain were
a popular target for the far-right. It helps to explain
why loyalists in the Six Counties have taken so well
to racist attacks in recent times.
book ends with a testimony from an ex-fascist who
was on the receiving end of several beatings from
anti-fascists. He explains how they helped him to
realise fascists were not the undefeatable master
race they claimed to be. He subsequently became a
committed anti-fascist and was involved in many attacks
on his former comrades. His story proves how physical
confrontation can change minds.
Retreat highlights the dangers of leaving the
fight against racism and fascism to the placard-waving
middle classes or the professional, well-salaried
in the 21st century is facing similar problems to
the English inner cities twenty years ago. Though
no openly fascist party has successfully organised
here yet, the existence of the Immigration Control
Platform along with the utterances of individual Fianna
Fáil and Fine Gael councillors shows racist
attitudes are already becoming acceptable.
is a big onus on working class Republicans to argue
against racism in our families, on our estates and
throughout our country. We need to stand up to racist
remarks and condemn racist jokes, no matter how awkward
it may be. The political understanding we have of
our struggle and of other anti-imperialist struggles
throughout the world, means Republicans will continue
to be at the forefront of the fight against racism.
If fascism does show itself in Ireland (again) Republicans
need to be ready to smash it (again).
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