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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting account of street politics over the last 3 decades, 29 May 2013
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This review is from: Beating the Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (Paperback)
This book covers the history of quite possibly the least known anti fascist movements to the general public, Red Action and Anti Fascist Action. The book covers the beginnings of the movement, the expulsion of members from the Socialist Workers Party to the formation of Red Action. It should be pointed out here that although AFA were a broad organisation this book is essentially Red Action in London with mention given to Manchester and the Midlands. Little mention is given to other groups within AFA.

In some ways the book is similar to the book "No Retreat" The "Other" Book on the history of AFA especially in that it is a very no holds barred account of some of the levels of violence inflicted on their right wing opponents and also some of the violence inflicted on them. The author points out that many of the recruits of the group had violent backgrounds (Some having previously done time for armed robbery for example) And where not afraid to use force against an opponent that was happy to use force (And in many cases murder) On others many of whom innocent members of the public.

Some points of criticism of the book are that while it covers the foundation of the Independent Working Class Association there is little of the political ideology of the group, what the aims and objectives are and this may be a very good reason why the IWCA has been not even close to being a left wing alternative to the far right or New Labour and why RA are viewed by many of their left wing opponents as nothing more than thugs.

Another (And similar to above) The book seems absent of any real RA engagement with the community to actually attract the working class to their ranks (Take for example their mini riot with local kids in North London who then brought in a "Black gang for reinforcements" (Presumably the local kids were white?) I am sure setting to the locals with sharpened screwdrivers and jumping up and down on a prone man on the ground won the local community white and black over to the Red Action cause). By half way through the book I ended up with the impression they were very much "Me and my mates against the world" And this can be no better confirmed by the statement of RA that they did not seek out recruits nor ask for any. Its also interesting their unswerving support for Irish republican groups yet seem to be blissfully unaware how this may effect support for them on the streets and estates of mainland Britain.

Perhaps its this lack of any real political insight in the book other than the endless regurgitation of Jewish anti fascists in the 30s as their inspiration that stands out in this book (Stark difference between they and Red Action it seems is that they were from the community and had support amongst the community) In the case of the firebombing squatters they appeared in the book to look like some kind of occupying force in a working class estate.

At the conclusion of a number of chapters in the book RA/AFA seem to be under the impression that their job is simply to physically confront the far right in order for the left to fill the vacuum yet the book is so filled with criticism of the left in general and an utter lack of any political philosophy from AFA in general or Red Action specifically you are left wondering why RA were so happy to physically defeat the far right and then move on only for the far right to come back to the very same area within a few years. I mean seriously, did nobody actually notice this in the 20 odd years of AFA activity?

Combat 18 is given a chapter and while the attempt of this is to dispel the myth of them as some kind of paramilitary super Nazis most of it covers 2 successful attacks by them on RA. Most people will be aware that they were noting more than football hooligans in different shirts but most of the chapter drifts away into conspiracy theories and quite frankly waffle.

This is a fairly well written book and the accounts are fairly graphic. RA did seem to very rarely fight unless the odds were very much in their favour (But then again since when did the far right ever do so? Firebombing innocent shop keepers, stabbing kids walking home at night, actions of cowards) At least once I read a contributor point out that when he saw the odds were even he didn't "Fancy it"

The conclusions at the end of the book cover the rise of the BNP (At the time of the book being written) In comparison to the barely noticeable IWCA. The problem is the author just like many on the left seem to have no idea why and no idea what to do about it. For all the rhetoric of them being from the working class they seem to be as unaware of the concerns of the working class as every other political party (Including the far right whose abject lack of any real policy other than "Blame the immigrants" Became instantly manifest once in any form of political power) For all the books attempt to link the past to present and for all the efforts as fighters eradicating the violent far right from the streets the political void amongst the working class is absent now as it was when RA were active.

I may have mentioned a fair few negatives about the book and there is plenty more good and bad to discuss about this book but it is still well worth a read.
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