Book Review (by Glen Phillips, first published on The Blanket website)

No Retreat - The Secret War between Britain's Anti-Fascists and the Far-Right

By Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey
Milo Books (£7.99 stg.)

No 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. At 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 extremism.

Fascism 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. No 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. The "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.

Because 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.

Tilzey's 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.

He 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 as possible. His 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 today.

Tilzey 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.

Tilzey's 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.

The 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.

A 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.

The 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.

No Retreat highlights the dangers of leaving the fight against racism and fascism to the placard-waving middle classes or the professional, well-salaried anti-racist lobby.

Ireland 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.

There 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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