Anti-Nazi League

Last updated

Anti-Nazi League
Anti-Nazi League logo
Type Anti-fascism and anti-racism organisation
HeadquartersUnited Kingdom

The Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was an organisation set up in 1977 on the initiative of the Socialist Workers Party with sponsorship from some trade unions and the endorsement of a list of prominent people to oppose the rise of far-right groups in the United Kingdom. It was wound down in 1981. It was relaunched in 1992, but merged into Unite Against Fascism in 2003.

Anti-fascism Opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals

Anti-fascism is opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals. The anti-fascist movement began in a few European countries in the 1920s, and eventually spread to other countries around the world. It was at its most significant shortly before and during World War II, where the fascist Axis powers were opposed by many countries forming the Allies of World War II and dozens of resistance movements worldwide. Anti-fascism has been an element of movements holding many different political positions, including social democratic, nationalist, liberal, conservative, communist, Marxist, trade unionist, anarchist, socialist, pacifist and centrist viewpoints.

Far-right politics in the United Kingdom have existed since at least the 1930s, with the formation of Nazi, fascist and anti-semitic movements. It went on to acquire more explicitly racial connotations, being dominated in the 1960s and 1970s by self-proclaimed white nationalist organisations that oppose non-white and Muslim immigration, such as the National Front (NF), the British Movement (BM) and British National Party (BNP), or the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Since the 1980s, the term has mainly been used to describe those groups, such as the English Defence League, who express the wish to preserve what they perceive to be British culture, and those who campaign against the presence of non-indigenous ethnic minorities and what they perceive to be an excessive number of asylum seekers.

Unite Against Fascism British anti-fascist pressure group

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) is an anti-fascist pressure group in the United Kingdom, with support from politicians of the three largest political parties in the House of Commons, including the former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and, when he was still alive, Labour politician Tony Benn. It describes itself as a national campaign with the aim of alerting British society to a perceived threat of fascism and the far right—in particular the British National Party (BNP)—gaining a foothold at local, national and European elections, arguing that "there is a real danger that the BNP could get a significant platform in elected institutions".



In its first period, 1977–1982, the Anti-Nazi League was launched directly by the SWP; it was effectively its front organisation. [1] Many trade unions sponsored it, as did the Indian Workers Association (then a large organisation), and many members of the Labour Party, including MPs such as Neil Kinnock.[ citation needed ] According to socialist historian Dave Renton, the ANL was "an orthodox united front" based on a "strategy of working class unity", as advocated by Leon Trotsky. [2] Critics of the ANL, such as Anti-Fascist Action [3] argue that the ANL's co-operation with "bourgeois" groups who work closely with the state, such as Searchlight magazine and the Labour Party, rule out this description, making it a classic popular front.

The Labour Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom that has been described as an alliance of social democrats, democratic socialists and trade unionists. The party's platform emphasises greater state intervention, social justice and strengthening workers' rights.

Neil Kinnock British politician

Neil Gordon Kinnock, Baron Kinnock, is a British Labour Party politician. He served as a Member of Parliament from 1970 until 1995, first for Bedwellty and then for Islwyn. He was the Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition from 1983 until 1992.

Most of the ANL's leafleting and other campaigns in the 1970s were in opposition to far right groups which it claimed were not just racist but fascist, such as the National Front, an organisation led by John Tyndall who had a long history of involvement with openly fascist and Nazi groups. The ANL also campaigned against the British Movement which was a more openly Hitlerite grouping.

John Tyndall (politician) English politician, prominent figure in British nationalism in the second-half of the twentieth century

John Hutchyns Tyndall was a British fascist political activist. A leading member of various small neo-Nazi groups during the late 1950s and 1960s, he was chairman of the National Front (NF) from 1972 to 1974 and again from 1975 to 1980, and then chairman of the British National Party (BNP) from 1982 to 1999. He unsuccessfully stood for election to the House of Commons and European Parliament on several occasions.

British Movement political party

The British Movement (BM), later called the British National Socialist Movement (BNSM), is a British Neo-Nazi organisation founded by Colin Jordan in 1968. It grew out of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), which was founded in 1962. Frequently on the margins of the British far-right, the BM has had a long and chequered history for its association with violence and extremism. It was founded as a political party but manifested itself more as a pressure and activist group. It has had spells of dormancy.

The ANL was linked to Rock Against Racism in the 1970s, which ran two giant carnivals in 1978 involving bands such as The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, Steel Pulse, Misty in Roots, X-Ray Spex and Tom Robinson, attended by 80,000 and then 100,000 supporters. [4]

Rock Against Racism music festival and campaign

Rock Against Racism (RAR), a political and cultural movement, emerged in 1976 in reaction to a rise in racist attacks on the streets of the United Kingdom, and increasing support for the neo-Nazi National Front at the ballot box. Between 1976 and 1982 RAR activists organised national Carnivals and tours, as well as local gigs and clubs throughout the country. RAR brought together black and white fans in their common love of music, in order to discourage young people from embracing racism. The musicians came from all pop music genres, something reflected in one of RAR's slogans: "Reggae, soul, rock'n'roll, jazz, funk and punk". The movement was founded, in part, as a response to racist statements by well-known rock musicians.

The Clash English punk band

The Clash were an English rock band formed in London in 1976 as a key player in the original wave of British punk rock. They have also contributed to the post-punk and new wave movements that emerged in the wake of punk and employed elements of a variety of genres including reggae, dub, funk, ska, and rockabilly. For most of their recording career, the Clash consisted of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Joe Strummer, lead guitarist and lead vocalist Mick Jones, bassist Paul Simonon, and drummer Nicky "Topper" Headon. Headon left the group in 1982 and internal friction led to Jones' departure the following year. The group continued with new members, but finally disbanded in early 1986.

Stiff Little Fingers punk rock band from Belfast, Northern Ireland

Stiff Little Fingers are a punk rock band from Belfast, Northern Ireland. They formed in 1977, at the height of the Troubles. They started out as a schoolboy band called Highway Star, doing rock covers, until they discovered punk. They split up after six years and four albums, although they reformed five years later, in 1987. Despite major personnel changes, they are still touring and recording. In 2014, the band released their tenth studio album and a world tour followed its release. Jake Burns, their lead singer, is the only member to have been with the band during all its incarnations, but in March 2006, original bass guitarist Ali McMordie rejoined them following the departure of The Jam bass player Bruce Foxton after fifteen years.

Alongside the broad "marches and music festival" focus of the ANL, in 1977 the SWP also formed regional fighting groups, initially in Manchester and then elsewhere, known as "squads" to both safeguard the ANL's broad, populist activities, though aggressive stewarding, and also to fight the National Front street gangs whenever the opportunity arose. [5] Although the SWP leadership eventually turned against this "dual track" approach to anti-fascism – expelling many leading "squadists" in a purge in late 1981 – it is said to have proved an effective strategy during the ANL's early years from 1977 to 1979. [6] [ unreliable source? ]

Squadism was the practice of physical, anti-fascist direct action. The term, often used pejoratively by liberal anti-fascists eschewing violence, originated in the Anti-Nazi League, an anti-fascist campaigning organisation dominated by the heterodox Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP formed "squads", fighting units, in 1977, initially to defend and steward meetings against violent attacks from the fascist National Front. However, other anti-fascist squads emerged separately from the SWP, such as the Sari Squad.

Blair Peach killing

In April 1979, an ANL member, Blair Peach, was killed following a demonstration at Southall against a National Front election meeting. Police had sealed off the area around Southall Town Hall, and demonstrators trying to make their way there were blocked. In the ensuing confrontation, more than 40 people (including 21 police) were injured, and 300 were arrested. Bricks were allegedly hurled at police, who described the rioting as the most violent they had handled in London. Peach was among the demonstrators. During an incident in a side street 100 yards from the town hall, he was seriously injured and collapsed after being struck on the head, allegedly by an unauthorised weapon used by a member of the police Special Patrol Group. Peach died later in hospital. [7]

Death of Blair Peach Anti-Nazi protestor killed by the police in 1979

Clement Blair Peach was a New Zealand teacher who died after an anti-racism demonstration in Southall, Middlesex, England. A campaigner and activist against the far right, in April 1979 Peach took part in an Anti-Nazi League demonstration in Southall against a National Front election meeting in the town hall and was hit on the head, probably by a member of the Special Patrol Group (SPG), a specialist unit within the Metropolitan Police Service. He died in hospital that night.

The Special Patrol Group (SPG) was a unit of Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service, responsible for providing a centrally-based mobile capability for combating serious public disorder and crime that could not be dealt with by local divisions.

An inquest jury later returned a verdict of misadventure, and no police officer was ever charged or prosecuted, although an internal police inquiry at the time and not released officially for 30 years, thought he had been killed by an unidentifiable police officer. [8] A primary school in Southall bears his name. [9]

Closing of the ANL

In 1981 with the eclipse of the National Front and collapse of the British Movement the initial incarnation of the ANL was wound up.[ citation needed ]

Some elements within the ANL opposed the winding up of the organisation, including some members of the SWP. After being expelled from the Socialist Workers Party some of these elements formed Red Action and with others organised Anti-Fascist Action. [6]


In the early 1990s, the far right, and in particular the British National Party (BNP) was resurgent both electorally and in terms of racial attacks (from 4,383 in 1988 to 7,780 three years later). [10] Anti-Fascist Action, now the longest established national anti-fascist organisation in the UK at that time, organised well-attended events in October 1991 – a Unity Carnival in East London attracting 10,000 people and a march through Bethnal Green attracting 4,000 people – prompting other left-wing groups to launch anti-racist and anti-fascist organisations, including the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) in November and the re-launch of the ANL two months later. [11]

When the National Front and the British National Party had been led by John Tyndall, his record of involvement in openly neo-Nazi groups made it far easier to assert that the National Front and BNP were fascist or neo-Nazi in nature. Similarly, Tyndall's convictions for violence and incitement to racial hatred provide ample grounds for the ANL to claim both organisations were racist. [12] After 1992, the ANL and other anti-fascists argued that the BNP remained a Nazi party irrespective of the fact that under the leadership of Nick Griffin it adopted what the ANL described as the 'Dual Strategy' of cultivating respectability in the media while retaining a cadre of committed fascists. This position was countered by BNP members who claim that their party is increasingly democratic in its nature. An investigation by The Guardian newspaper (22 December 2006) affirmed the ANL's view that the BNP remains a fascist party. [13]

ANL's relaunch was criticised by other anti-racists. The recently launched broad-based Anti-Racist Alliance said: "The ANL is an exercise in nostalgia. These people are living off the glory of a few years in the late 1970s, when we're setting up a long-term challenge to racism in Europe, an anti-racist organisation that will live in the community and in the mainstream of political life." ARA's chair Ken Livingstone used his column in The Sun to denounce the ANL as an SWP front. Anti-fascist magazine Searchlight criticised the "politics of deceit being practised by the SWP", accusing the ANL of deliberately exaggerating the danger posed by the BNP. [14]

In 1993, the ANL organised a demonstration, attended by up 15,000 people (and marred by police provocation and violence) [15] at the BNP's bookshop in Welling, in the wake of the killing nearby of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, attended by Stephen's mother Doreen Lawrence; ARA held a rival protest in central London on the same day. [16] < [14] However, Doreen Lawrence came to realise that the ANL was a "front for the Socialist Workers Party". She later wrote that "the various groups that had taken an interest in Stephen's death were tearing each other apart and were in danger of destroying our campaign which we wanted to keep focused and dignified", and Doreen and Neville Lawrence wrote to both the ANL and ARA to demand that they "stop using Stephen's name". [17]

ANL worked with Love Music Hate Racism (based on the earlier Rock Against Racism), from 2002 onwards. [4]

In 2004 the ANL affiliated with the National Assembly Against Racism to relaunch as Unite Against Fascism. [18] [19] The ANL National Organiser at the time of the creation of Unite Against Fascism was Weyman Bennett, a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party as was Julie Waterson, Its previous National Organiser. [20]


In August 2018, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell called for a revival of "an Anti-Nazi League-type cultural and political campaign" following a number of far-right and racist incidents in the UK, including fascist attacks on a socialist bookshop by members of the far-right and UKIP, marches in favour of far-right activist Tommy Robinson and high-profile Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. [21] [22] This "welcome and timely" call to action was supported in a Guardian letter signed by the league's founders, which included former Labour minister Peter Hain, political activist Paul Holborow and leading musicians from Rock Against Racism. [22]

Related Research Articles

The British National Party (BNP) is a far-right, fascist political party in the United Kingdom. It is headquartered in Wigton, Cumbria, and its current leader is Adam Walker. A minor party, it has no elected representatives at any level of UK government. Founded in 1982, the party reached its greatest level of success in the 2000s, when it had over fifty seats in local government, one seat on the London Assembly, and two Members of the European Parliament.

Searchlight is a British magazine, founded in 1975 by Gerry Gable, which publishes exposés about racism, antisemitism and fascism in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Column 88 was a neo-nazi paramilitary organisation based in the United Kingdom. It was formed in the early 1970s, and disbanded in the early 1980s. The members of Column 88 undertook military training under the supervision of a former Royal Marine Commando, and also held regular gatherings attended by neo-nazis from all over Europe. The name is code: the eighth letter of the alphabet 'HH' represents the Nazi greeting 'Heil Hitler'. Journalist Martin Walker described Column 88 as a "shadow paramilitary Nazi group".

Martin Guy Alan Webster is a British political activist, a former leading figure on the far-right in the United Kingdom. An early member of the National Labour Party, he was John Tyndall's closest ally, and followed him in joining the original British National Party, the National Socialist Movement and the Greater Britain Movement. Webster also spent time in prison for helping to organise a paramilitary organisation, Spearhead, and was convicted under the Public Order Act 1936. Rumours of his homosexuality led to him becoming vilified in far-right circles, and he quietly disappeared from the political scene.

Love Music Hate Racism music-oriented campaign based in Britain attached to the Anti-Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism

Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) is a music-oriented antiracism campaign based in Britain. The campaign aims to bring people together and promote unity through the power of music. LMHR was born in the tradition of the Rock Against Racism (RAR) movement of the late 1970s. The campaign held many successful festivals in the early 2000s such as a Victoria Park carnival and at Stoke Britannia Stadium, at which tens of thousands of people attended and international artists performed.

The British National Party (BNP) was a far-right political party that operated in the United Kingdom from 1960 to 1967. It was led by John Bean. The group, which was subject to internal divisions during its brief history, established some areas of local support before helping to form the National Front in 1967.

The National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR) was a British anti-racist and anti-fascist group.

Anti-Fascist Action

Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) was a militant anti-fascist organisation, founded in the UK in 1985 by a wide range of anti-racist and anti-fascist organisations.

The Battle of Lewisham took place on 13 August 1977, when 500 members of the far-right National Front (NF) attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham in southeast London and various counter-demonstrations by approximately 4,000 people led to violent clashes between the two groups and between the anti-NF demonstrators and police. 5,000 police officers were present and 56 officers were injured, 11 of whom were hospitalised. 214 people were arrested. Later disturbances in Lewisham town centre saw the first use of police riot shields on the UK mainland.

Redwatch organization

Redwatch is a British website associated with members of the far-right British People's Party. It publishes photographs of, and personal information about, alleged far left and anti-fascist activists. It typically targets activists in political parties, advocacy groups, trade unions and the media. The website's slogan is "Remember places, traitors' faces, they'll all pay for their crimes", a quote from neo-Nazi musician Ian Stuart Donaldson.

Dave Renton British lawyer and academic

David (Dave) Renton is a British barrister, historian and author. He was a long term member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and has written a number of books including Fascism, Anti-Fascism and the 1940s.

Youth against Racism in Europe

Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) is an anti-racist organisation founded by the Committee for a Workers' International it campaigns among young people in 16 countries in Europe. YRE was launched by an international demonstration of 40,000 people against racism, in Brussels in October 1992.

Socialist Workers Party (UK) political party in Britain

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is a far-left political party in the United Kingdom. Founded as the Socialist Review Group by supporters of Tony Cliff in 1950, it became the International Socialists in 1962 and the SWP in 1977. The party considers itself to be Trotskyist. Cliff and his followers criticised the Soviet Union and its satellites, calling them state capitalist rather than socialist countries.

The Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) was a UK-based anti-racist organisation formed in November 1991. It was formed mainly by black activists in the Labour Party (UK).

On 16 October 1993, an anti-racism march near Welling in South East London turned violent, leading to large-scale clashes between police and protesters which left around 70 people injured. The march was intending to demand the closure of a bookshop which was the headquarters of the British National Party (BNP).

Opposition to the National Front (UK)

Opposition to the National Front involved various actions taken against the National Front, a far-right political party in the United Kingdom.


  1. Boothroyd, David (2001). The History of British Political Parties. Politico's. p. 303. ISBN   1-902301-59-5.
  2. Renton, Dave (25 December 1998). Fascism: Theory and Practice. Pluto Press. ISBN   0-7453-1470-8.
  3. Fighting Talk no.22 October 1999
  4. 1 2 "Love Music Hate Racism". Love Music Hate Racism. Retrieved 26 July 2014.
  5. Steve Tilzey and Dave Hann No Retreat 2003
  6. 1 2 Steve Tilzey and Dave Hann No Retreat London: Milo Books, 2003; Sean Birchall Beating the Fascists' London: Freedom Press, 2010.
  7. "BBC 1979: "Teacher dies in Southall race riots"". BBC News. 23 April 1979. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
  8. Paul Lewis "Blair Peach killed by police at 1979 protest, Met report finds",, 23 April 2010
  9. "Blair Peach Primary School".
  10. Guardian, 20.2.93
  11. Keith Popple (1997) "Understanding and tackling racism among young people in Britain' in Keith Popple, Jan Laurens Hazekam, eds, Racism in Europe: A Challenge for Youth Policy and Youth Work, London: UCL Press, p.20
  12. Sandra Laville and Matthew Taylor, "A racist, violent neo-nazi to the end: BNP founder Tyndall dies", The Guardian , 20 July 2005.
  13. Cobain, Ian (22 December 2006). "The Guardian: "Racism, recruitment and how the BNP believes it is just 'one crisis away from power'"". London. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  14. 1 2 Paul Anderson "Anti-Racists at Odds" New Statesman & Society, 15 October 1993
  15. Transpontine Racist Murder in SE London 8 January 2012
  16. Andrew Hosken, Ken: The Ups and Downs of Ken Livingstone, Arcadia Books, 10 April 2008: Chapter 18: 1985–1994. Ken and the rise of Socialist Action, 1985–1994, p.265
  17. Doreen Lawrence, And Still I Rise, Seeking Justice for Stephen, Faber and Faber, 2006, pii7
  18. Tate, David (24 May 2006). "The Guardian: "Unite against Facism: let's hope so"". London. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
  19. "Socialism Today: "The politics of anti-fascism"".
  20. "Julie Waterson (1958–2012)", Socialist Worker, No.2329, 17 November 2012
  21. Sabbagh, Dan (7 August 2018). "John McDonnell: revive Anti-Nazi League to oppose far right". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  22. 1 2 Sabbagh, Dan (15 August 2018). "Anti-Nazi League founders call for new national campaign". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2018.