|Keywords: Anti-Fascist Action, militant anti-fascism
Title: No Retreat
Authorst: Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey
Publisher: Milo Books
'The book that launched a thousand arguments' would have made an accurate subtitle for this book, at least judging by the reactions on various online forums, particularly the Red Action and Class War discussion boards. Of this, more later.
No Retreat is written in two parts, with each of the authors taking a turn to tell their story of fighting fascism on the streets of Manchester during the twenty year span from 1977 to 1997. Starting with the Squads, who largely emerged from working class activists associated with the SWP, and moving to the formation and hey-day of Anti-Fascist Action, the book details the militant physical confrontation with fascism which ultimately forced the far-Right off the streets.
The core of the book is a focus on the physical activity of the Squads and AFA. It describes in vivid detail the confrontations with fascists from the National Front, British Movement, C18, Blood and Honour and the BNP. The victories and defeats in this on-going battle, which was largely ignored by most of the Left, are ably recounted. It's a good read, there's no doubting that, though I'm sure that there are plenty of pacifists, liberals and fascists who'd disagree.
However it's not the focus on the violence that has caused the controversy, it's to do with the murky politics of Searchlight and its relationship to the two authors. The collaboration between Searchlight and the State are well-documented, it works openly with the police and has done so for some time. To say that Searchlight is distrusted by militant anti-fascists is an understatement.
Steve Tilzey makes no secret of his involvement with Searchlight. As he shows in this book, he increasingly moved away from AFA and became more interested in 'intelligence work'. Dave Hann also moved away from AFA and Red Action, though in his case it is alleged that he became involved in a mugging that ended up going to court (though of course this in not mentioned in the book).
Aside from the Searchlight connections and the distrust with which the two authors are seen by many ex-AFA activists, what else is there that causes such controversy? Firstly there are many ex-AFA activists who dispute some of the factual content of the book, and more importantly they feel that these errors are deliberate.
Secondly there is a distrust about the motives for publishing the book. Given the BNP's move away from street confrontation and into electoral politics, the need for a purely physical response to fascism has also shifted. The AFA strategy, 'Filling The Vacuum' (1995), talked about a working class political response to the in-roads that fascism was making (and continues to make), pitched street battles will not win the hearts and minds of disaffected white working class communities. Given the Searchlight influence, one has to wonder why it is now that the idea of a physical response to fascism is being promoted.
Finally, there was more to AFA then a series of fights and ambushes. What about the political work? What about the political analysis? What about the activities in different parts of the country and the influence abroad.
Hopefully one response to this book will be to prod an official history of AFA that can encompass more of what made the organisation so successful and also an honest assessment of its ultimate demise.
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