Anti-Nazi League

Anti-Nazi League logo

The Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was an organisation set up in 1977 on the initiative of the Socialist Workers Party with sponsorship from some trade unions and the endorsement of a list of prominent people to oppose the rise of far-right groups in the United Kingdom. It was wound down in 1981. It was relaunched in 1992, but merged into Unite Against Fascism in 2003.


The initial sponsors included Peter Hain (a former Young Liberal leader; then the communications officer of the postal workers' union UCW), Ernie Roberts (deputy general secretary of the engineering union AUEW) and Paul Holborow of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

In its first period, 1977–1982, the Anti-Nazi League was launched directly by the SWP; it was effectively its front organisation.[1] Many trade unions sponsored it, as did the Indian Workers Association (then a large organisation), and many members of the Labour Party, including MPs such as Neil Kinnock. According to socialist historian Dave Renton, the ANL was "an orthodox united front" based on a "strategy of working class unity", as advocated by Leon Trotsky.[2] Critics of the ANL, such as Anti-Fascist Action[3] argue that the ANL's co-operation with "bourgeois" groups who work closely with the state, such as Searchlight magazine and the Labour Party, rule out this description, making it a classic popular front.

Most of the ANL's leafleting and other campaigns in the 1970s were in opposition to far right groups which it claimed were not just racist but fascist, such as the National Front, an organisation led by John Tyndall who had a long history of involvement with openly fascist and Nazi groups. The ANL also campaigned against the British Movement which was a more openly Hitlerite grouping.

The ANL was linked to Rock Against Racism in the 1970s, which ran two giant carnivals in 1978 involving bands such as The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, Steel Pulse, Misty in Roots, X-Ray Spex and Tom Robinson, attended by 80,000 and then 100,000 supporters.[4]

Alongside the broad "marches and music festival" focus of the ANL, in 1977 the SWP also formed regional fighting groups, initially in Manchester and then elsewhere, known as "squads" to both safeguard the ANL's broad, populist activities, though aggressive stewarding, and also to fight the National Front street gangs whenever the opportunity arose.[5] Although the SWP leadership eventually turned against this "dual track" approach to anti-fascism – expelling many leading "squadists" in a purge in late 1981 – it proved a very effective strategy during the heyday of the ANL from 1977 to 1979.[6]

Blair Peach killing

Main article: Death of Blair Peach

In April 1979, an ANL member, Blair Peach, was killed following a demonstration at Southall against a National Front election meeting. Police had sealed off the area around Southall Town Hall, and communist demonstrators trying to make their way there were blocked. In the ensuing confrontation, more than 40 people (including 21 police) were injured, and 300 were arrested. Bricks were allegedly hurled at police, who described the rioting as the most violent they had handled in London. Peach was among the demonstrators. During an incident in a side street 100 yards from the town hall, he was seriously injured and collapsed after being struck on the head, allegedly by an unauthorised weapon used by a member of the police Special Patrol Group. Peach died later in hospital.[7]

An inquest jury later returned a verdict of misadventure, and no police officer was ever charged or prosecuted, although an internal police inquiry at the time and not released officially for 30 years, thought he had been killed by an unidentifiable police officer.[8] A primary school in Southall bears his name.[9]

The closing of the ANL

In 1981 with the eclipse of the National Front and collapse of the British Movement the initial incarnation of the ANL was wound up.

Some elements within the ANL opposed the winding up of the organisation, including some members of the SWP. After being expelled from the Socialist Workers Party some of these elements formed Red Action and with others organised Anti-Fascist Action.[6]


In 1992 the Socialist Workers Party relaunched the Anti-Nazi League due to the electoral threat of the British National Party. It worked with Love Music Hate Racism (based on the earlier Rock Against Racism), from 2002 onwards.[10]

In 2004 the ANL affiliated with the Unite Against Fascism group alongside other groups such as the National Assembly Against Racism.[11][12] The ANL National Organiser at the time of the creation of Unite Against Fascism was Weyman Bennett, a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party as was Julie Waterson, Its previous National Organiser.[13]

When the National Front and the British National Party were led by John Tyndall, his record of involvement in openly Neo-Nazi groups made it far easier to assert that the National Front and BNP were fascist or Neo-Nazi in nature. Similarly, his convictions for violence and incitement to racial hatred provide ample grounds for the ANL to claim both organisations were racist.[14]

The ANL and other anti-fascists argue that the BNP remains a Nazi party irrespective of the fact that it has adopted what the ANL describes as the 'Dual Strategy' of cultivating respectability in the media while retaining a cadre of committed fascists. This position is countered by BNP members who claim that their party is increasingly democratic in its nature. Journalistic investigation by The Guardian newspaper (22 December 2006) has supported the ANL's view that the BNP remains a fascist party.[15]


  1. David Boothroyd The History of British Political Parties, London: Politicos, 2001, p.303
  2. Renton, Dave (25 December 1998). Fascism: Theory and Practice. Pluto Press. ISBN 0-7453-1470-8.
  3. Fighting Talk no.22 October 1999
  4. "Love Music Hate Racism". Love Music Hate Racism. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  5. Steve Tilzey and Dave Hann No Retreat 2003
  6. 1 2 Steve Tilzey and Dave Hann No Retreat London: Milo Books, 2003; Sean Birchall Beating the Fascists' London: Freedom Press, 2010.
  7. "BBC 1979: "Teacher dies in Southall race riots"". BBC News. 23 April 1979. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
  8. Paul Lewis "Blair Peach killed by police at 1979 protest, Met report finds",, 23 April 2010
  9. "Blair Peach Primary School".
  10. "Love Music Hate Racism". Love Music Hate Racism. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  11. Tate, David (24 May 2006). "The Guardian: "Unite against Facism: let's hope so"". London. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
  12. "Socialism Today: "The politics of anti-fascism"".
  13. "Julie Waterson (1958–2012)", Socialist Worker, No.2329, 17 November 2012
  14. Sandra Laville and Matthew Taylor, "A racist, violent neo-nazi to the end: BNP founder Tyndall dies", The Guardian, 20 July 2005.
  15. Cobain, Ian (22 December 2006). "The Guardian: "Racism, recruitment and how the BNP believes it is just 'one crisis away from power'"". London. Retrieved 26 March 2010.

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