Dave Hann, author of No Retreat speaks to Fight dem back.
Scroll down for interview.
Intro from Spike Magazine
Back in the late 70s Manchester was a stronghold of Britain’s premier far-right party, the National Front. As factories and communities went down they went up, recruiting at pubs and football matches, bolstered by a backdrop of fear, poverty, ignorance and desperation. They strutted through the town’s grey streets by day, cudgelling random blacks and gays in dark alleys at night. Kicking around and insulting lefty paper sellers was another hobby. That was until a few young working-class activists, centred initially round the Socialist Workers Party and the Anti-Nazi League, decided to fight back.
“The Squads” -as they became known- eschewed the standard British lefty tactics. They didn’t depend on banners, slogans and face-painting. Men who could handle themselves. “The fash” werenâ€™t used to people fighting back and before long it was they who were on the defensive.
As the NF dissolved into the more openly Nazi British Movement and other warring factions, Anti-Fascist Action grew from the ashes of the Squads, shunned and denounced by the middle-class leadership of the SWP, they still booted the Nazis out of central Manchester and took the fight further out, to the further reaches of the north-west and the country beyond.
No Retreat is a memoir from two veterans of these struggles. While overlapping strongly, the first half is Squad member Tilzey’s story from the late 70s to mid 80s, detailing the collapse of the NF and the rise and fall of the psychopathic British Movement. AFA founder Hann takes over from the 80s to the late 90s, recounting the fight against the new British National Party and their partners in thuggery Combat 18. It describes the movement’s very real successes, but also tells of the setbacks and the infighting endemic to groups of the left.
Dave Hann has kindly given us some of his time for this interview.
You’ve been popping in and out of FDB for a while now, what are your impressions?
Dave: What I most enjoy about FDB is the refreshing lack of petty sectarian bickering on the forum. Similar forums in the UK seem to be full of anonymous snipers and back-stabbers with an axe to grind, a point to score, and nothing helpful to contribute at all. I think the potential of the internet as a tool to aid communication and organisation amongst anti-fascist and progressive groups is enormous, but more often than not, any useful initiatives become bogged down by petty arguments and bickering caused by anonymous gossip-mongers hiding behind their computer screens.
You recently visited New Zealand as well, did you have a chance to get a grasp on what was happening there with the NF?
Dave: Iâ€™ll have to be honest and admit that I didnâ€™t get involved in any politics while I was in NZ, but I have seen photos of Kyle Chapman and agree that he is indeed “rather jolly”.
Talking shop, how do the Aussie and Kiwi fash stack up against the NF/BNP/B&H hordes you took in ‘back in the day’?
Dave: The boneheads in the UK have largely been eradicated, due to the efforts of Anti-Fascist Action in the 90â€™s. They were basically a bunch of bullies who didnâ€™t like it when they were confronted by people who were prepared to stand up to them. I think as far as boneheads and their friends are concerned thatâ€™s pretty much the picture the whole world over. They can look quite intimidating when thereâ€™s a whole mob of them together, but whenever they were faced with equal numbers, or when they were on their own, they acted pretty much like bullies have always done. Mickey Finn, a docker and anti-fascist from the East End of London summed it up pretty succintly when he said â€œthe fascists looked pretty tough customers, some of them even wore para-military uniforms, â€¦but when it came down to it they werenâ€™t very good on the pavement.â€?
Well none of us were full-time professional anti-racists, we were just ordinary people who either worked for a living or were unemployed, meaning we had neither the time nor the resources to partake in expensive, and often futile, propaganda campaigns. I think we always tried to be realistic about what we could achieve, and concentrated our energies where we felt we could make a difference. The fascists at the time had a policy of â€œcontrolling the streets,â€? and thatâ€™s where we took them on. We challenged them on the streets, and destroyed the myth of invincibility that they had built up. We also targeted our propaganda at the potential recruits of the fascist groups, the white, working class. I think there was a real point of separation between AFA and the more traditional anti-racist/anti-nazi groups on these two points. We were the only group willing to tackle the fascists physically, and the only group trying to undercut their support in places they regarded as their traditional strongholds.
In places where these policies were properly implemented in the 80â€™s and 90â€™s, itâ€™s a fact that the fascists have never really recovered, even when they are doing well elsewhere in the country. We took out a whole generation, and in places like Manchester there is no organisation or infrastructure for potential new recruits to join.
I think thatâ€™s the most important point Iâ€™d like to get across. Set yourselves an achievable target, work out the best way of achieving it, and then keep on going for it until the jobâ€™s done.
Reading through No Retreat, they sound like some crazy days. My favourite anecdote was when you cleared the BNP from the Rochdale Town Hall steps and were swamped afterwards by groups of Asian kids paying “respect”. Do you think that anti-fascist groups need to do more to build links with the communities most affected by racist violence?
Dave.:Iâ€™d better explain that the events in Rochdale took place on the day of the local elections in May 1994. We had plotted up in a pub near the Town Hall, which was where the election count was taking place. We were hoping to ambush the BNP candidates on their way into the count, but this plan was foiled when the three candidates and their election agents were escorted into the Town hall in the back of a police van. However weâ€™d been in the area all day, and had picked up reports that a busload of fascists had been spotted in the area, although we couldnâ€™t track them down. Incidently, weâ€™d cut the phone lines of the BNPâ€™s North-West Election HQ earlier in the day and that had apparently thrown their plans into complete disarray, so we thought that maybe the mysterious busload of fash had been unable to make contact with their people and had gone home. Shortly after 11pm, and with no sightings reported for 5 or 6 hours, we decided to get in our vans and head for home ourselves.
On our way out of town, we drove past the town hall again and spotted a big mob of fash moving into the area. The van drivers screeched to a halt and we steamed out, charging straight into the back of the fash mob, scattering them in all directions. It must have looked like a cunningly executed plan to draw the fash out into the open and ambush them, but it was all a complete accident. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the fash got battered, and were chased all over the place.
There were a number of Asian youth in the area who joined in on our side, but on the whole, the Asian community was very wary of getting involved in anti-fascist activity because of fears that they would be singled out and targeted by the police. On the few occasions when contact was made, this is precisely what happened, and it was a very difficult situation to work around.
How much of a gutless wonder was Ian Stuart (lead singer of infamous neo-Nazi band, Screwdriver)?
Dave: Stuart was a coward who couldnâ€™t fight to save his life. The fascists might regard him as some kind of nationalist super-hero, but he was just another bully who didnâ€™t like it when the odds werenâ€™t heavily in his favour. He was ambushed several times by AFA activists in London, and eventually fled to Derbyshire in order escape the constant attacks. Hardly the actions of a brave street-fighter. A couple of friends of mine jumped him before a Blood and Honour gig at Swiss Cottage, and managed to hit him a couple of times before he ran away. At the gig afterwards, he deliberately left the blood to dry on his forehead, so that he could appear more heroic, and then went on stage and claimed that he had fought off a whole mob of â€œredsâ€? single-handedly.
Did you ever go toe-to-toe with Nicky Crane?
Dave: No, and Iâ€™m glad I never had to. He was one of the few genuine hard men on the bonehead scene. I came across him twice. The first time was at the Main Event in Hyde Park, where he disembarked from a mini-bus with a dozen members of Skrewdriver Security. He immediately jumped back onto the bus when he saw the posse of anti-fascists charging out the park at him. The other occasion was when he was heading home from the West End one evening with a number of rent-boys in tow. We followed him for a while, but lost him at Charing Cross station. The interesting thing about Crane was that he was openly gay, but was never challenged about it by his bonehead mates until he was physically weakened by AIDS . He apparently renounced his fascist past during his dying days.
In Australia, we’re currently dealing with a racist academic who feels that his right to free speech guarantees that he should be able to publicly claim that Africans are genetically inferior to “other groups” and that Australia should stop importing third world immigrants less we become a “colony of the third world (wait it gets better), a colony ruled over by super-intelligent Asians who kick everyone’s arse in their exams.
His comments have hurt many members of the Australian community and have been the impetus for increasing racial violence against Sudanese refugees. In light of this, do you believe that Prof Fraser can take his right to free speech and shove it fair up his arse?
Dave: I donâ€™t see how he can be regarded as an academic with theories like that. Itâ€™s a bit like David Irving, the â€œhistorianâ€? who claims that the holocaust never happened. Surely itâ€™s unacademic to skew the facts to fit your own warped politics. I think there should be no right of free speech for ignorant bigots who abuse the right by promoting intolerance and suppression of free speech on the basis of skin colour.
A perspective on the London Bombings. EVERYONE condemns these attacks and Britons of all ethnicities were affected by them. What so far has been the ‘fash’ response to these attacks? We’ve seen some grainy footage of a Bonehead march through Hackney (?) but not much more.
Dave: There was a march by the NF numbering about 100, but more worrying has been the heightened level of racist attacks on Muslims and Asians. The BNP response has been to bring out propaganda saying â€œWe told you so. Donâ€™t get mad. Get even. Join the BNP.â€? The bombing has been a godsend for the BNP, and the more bombs that go off the better, as far as theyâ€™re concerned. I personally believe that the â€œWar on Terrorâ€? will go on for generations. It took thirty years for the Irish conflict to be resolved, and the IRA numbered no more than 600 members, with the support of the wider community in the north of Ireland, and smaller pockets of support in the UK, and the Irish diaspora around the world. The potential support for Al-Qaeda is much, much bigger than that, and I think weâ€™re all in for hard times ahead.
You still keep in touch with Big Nose (co-author Steve Tilzey)
Dave: I still see Steve at the football, although we support FC United these days. Itâ€™s a club set up by Manchester United supporters after an American billionaire bought Old Trafford. Theyâ€™ve started at the bottom rung of the football league, but are still getting several thousand along to matches. Steveâ€™s not really involved in anti-fascism these days, but with a record stretching back 25 years I think heâ€™s earned a rest.
Did you guys REALLY bug BNP meetings with a homemade device and then sit in Tilzey’s car and listen in to their meetings? What was that like? Did you just sit there and cack yourselves stupid over the crap they were coming out with?
Dave: It was more boring than anything else. It was just the turgid predictability of the crap they were spouting that made you realise what a bunch of sad, inadequates some of these people were. Everyone else was blamed for their own failings. If they couldnâ€™t get a job it was because the blacks were taking all the work. If they couldnâ€™t get a council house it was because the council were giving them all to Asians or Asylum Seekers. The Jews were controlling the media and the banks and keeping the country on its knees. Blah, blah, blah.
The fight against the fash has well and truly taken off in cyberspace. Do you feel that this theater of operations has turned the fash into a bigger bunch of cowards now they have a monitor to hide behind?
Dave: Well itâ€™s all so easy on the Internet isnâ€™t it? You can be anyone or anything. Itâ€™s a godsend for your average fascist no-mark. They can sit behind a computer screen and spout off all kinds of crap without any risk of retribution whatsoever.
John Tyndall dead – your thoughts?
Dave In some ways itâ€™s a shame he couldnâ€™t hang on for another couple of years, because he was proving to be a real thorn in the side of the BNP chairman Nick Griffin. Now the field is free of serious challengers for the throne of potential tin-pot dictator of Britain, and Griifin couldnâ€™t look more pleased with himself.
It must have been one hell of a buzz to have Mensi dedicate ‘Anti-Nazi’ to you at the recent Angelic Upstarts gig in Morecombe. What was that like? Are the Upstarts still kicking arse?
Dave Yeah it was nice, although I have to be honest and say that it wasnâ€™t just dedicated to me, there were a few others there as well. The fash had threatened to give the Upstarts a kicking, and I got a few people together to ensure that everything passed off peacefully. Of course, the fash never showed their faces, which is true to form for them these days.
Any other thoughts, things you wish to pass on?
Dave In the words of the Redskins, â€œKeep On Keeping On.â€? The fight is the same the whole world over, and we can all learn from each otherâ€™s experiences. I should also add, that as Iâ€™m typing this out, England have just beaten Australia by 2 runs in the 2nd Test!!!!!