PEGIDA’s debut on British soil fell flat on Saturday 28 February, with the counter-demonstration led by Newcastle Unites outnumbering the right-wing protest group over fifteen-to-one.
The build up to PEGIDA’s first British rally was mired in administrative difficulties from the off. The movement’s leaders have recently come under fire, due to the exposure of a number of photographs which have severely compromised the “not racist, not anti-Islam” line that PEGIDA have tried so hard to tout. Meanwhile, a video put up by PEGIDA UK themselves shows a collection of bickering right-wing groups struggling for ascendency over one another. These difficulties, however damaging, pale into insignificance when compared to the statistics from Saturday’s marches.
Vera Baird, Labour Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria Police released the figures via her twitter feed. The numbers add up like this; two hundred PEGIDA, three thousand anti-fascists, and five arrests (all PEGIDA, one for racially aggravated assault). This is in opposition to the BBC’s report, which doubles the number of PEGIDA demonstrators and cuts the amount of anti-fascists by a third. Even this figure leaves a huge void between the rallies, which PEGIDA have struggled to explain away. “Transport problems” caused by Northumbria Police’s decision to stage the event in the morning robbed PEGIDA of a thousand supporters, they claim. This fanciful figure would still leave PEGIDA trailing, by several hundred, on the lowest counter-demo estimates. This demonstrates a crushing victory for unity over the reactionary politics of divide and rule.
What was most impressive about the counter-demonstration, aside from the scale, was its diverse nature. Starting in Chinatown, having been joined by a detachment of students from Newcastle and Northumbria Universities (Newcastle Marxist Society included) and from across the North-East, the procession made its way toward Bigg market, and the un-massed ranks of PEGIDA. All the way, a vibrant and celebratory atmosphere infected the crowd, which held representatives from the trade unions, several faith groups, MPs and a number of instrumental acts. Twenty two speakers were heard, led by Dipu Ahad, the Labour councillor who is a driving force behind Newcastle Unites.
Newcastle’s ability to provide such a strong rebuff to right-wing extremists comes from experience. This is not the first time that the far right have tried to organise in the city and will no doubt not be the last, although this weekend’s show of strength by the local community will give them pause for thought against doing so any time soon. In 2010 the EDL, which has gone into stark decline in recent years, were once again outdone by the anti-fascist movement in what was their first demonstration in the city. This demonstration saw similar figures to those assembled on Saturday with the anti-fascist movement far outnumbering that of the emergence EDL. On the same ground that Mosley’s Blackshirts had been generations before them the far right have failed time and time again to gain any sort of mass support in their attempts to divide our communities.
In contrast, there is evidence of potential widespread support for a genuinely left-wing organisation such as ourselves. Time and again, on campus and at the rally, we were told, “I would like to be politically active, but there is no one who represents me”. This train of thought has swept through society, and it is up to us to make ourselves known to the general public as a reliable option with a clear viewpoint, borne out of Marxist principals which have stood the test of time.
Since 2010 there have been other attempts by the EDL and their splinter groups to organise further demonstrations but these have consistently been of a smaller size.
With this in mind what made the announcement of PEGIDA’s demonstration in Newcastle different than those held before? The fact is these past mobilisations took place in a very different context to the one we are in now. As the crisis of capitalism continues to take us into a phase of profound polarisation and ferment within society, the proximity in time of the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the relative untested nature of PEGIDA on UK soil the potential for a large mobilisation on their part was in evidence.
This threat was taken seriously by those on the left, including Newcastle Marxist Society, who did all they could to build for the counter-demonstration to oppose PEGIDA with as strong of a force as could be mustered.
This building of pressure from the left has shown its success not just in the numbers present on the demonstration and counter demonstration but also in their effect on the actual organising of PEGIDA’s demonstration. This including the scaling back of the plans for the PEGIDA demo from being a march and demo, to simply a static demo, cutting the time they were originally planning on holding this for and then the eventual resignation of the leader of PEGIDA UK in the days leading up to Saturday.
The weekend’s demonstration and counter-demonstration will not be the last. Dipu Ahad left a fitting warning in this regard, “Hate cannot be defeated by one counter demo. It’s a responsibility of each and every one of us to be proactive in countering hate, whatever form this may take”.
Newcastle Marxist Society agree with Dipu Ahad that we must take up the cause against such groups whenever they try to organise but as we made clear in our statement (http://marxiststudent.com/newcastle-marxist-society-against-the-pegida-demonstration-for-working-class-unity-for-socialism/) before the demonstrations:
“In so doing though we must also state emphatically that simply opposing such forces in and of themselves, whilst necessary, is not enough. We must also understand the origins of such groups, their social base and the means by which we fight them in order to stop them once and for all…”
“The existence of Islamic fundamentalism and the rise of the far-right and fascist groups in the modern period are both symptoms of the decaying nature of the capitalist system. The only way to challenge both is to challenge the foundation upon which they are nourished by fighting to destroy the capitalist system at its roots and to replace it with something fundamentally different.”
PEGIDA have several more dates lined up, promising a London march in the wake of the failure in Newcastle. A united force must meet them and wherever these forces try to raise their divisive, reactionary views Newcastle Marxist Society and our comrades in our sister societies up and down the country, as part of the Marxist Student Federation, will be there in the front ranks to challenge them with the only viable alternative on offer.
“The only solution to the social ills which we face, unemployment, poverty, oppression and attacks on the working class in the form of governmental austerity and cuts to their, wages, terms and conditions in the workplace, is to fight for a fundamental change to take place in society. We need a revolutionary socialist transformation which would take the wealth and productive forces out of the hands of the tiny few families of rich individuals who run the world and to place them under the democratic control of the mass of the working class in the UK, Europe and the world.”
“In doing this we would unite all people across religions, nationalities, gender, sexuality and those who have disabilities in a show of solidarity which would lay the basis for a genuinely democratically planned economy providing everyone with the freedom they need for their own self development.”
by Newcastle Marxist Society