Anti-fascist history time: a story about punk rock, Rock Against Racism, the National Front, and the Anti-Nazi League in 1970s Britain.
‘See Them Ah Come, But We Nah Run’ – A view from the ground of campaigning against the National Front
April 1978 In the middle of 70,000 young people who’ve come to rock against racism, me and two school friends join everyone around us singing, “Sing if you’re glad to be gay…” If we dared utter these words at school we’d be beaten up – which is what happened to two lads caught kissing in the bushes. There’s no sense of threat in this crowd today, singing along with Britain’s first openly gay pop star Tom Robinson. We’ve marched five miles from Trafalgar Square waving Anti-Nazi League lollipop placards to be part of this Carnival Against the Nazis and we will be leaving having expressed our solidarity with gay people. What an amazing day.
Leaving the area is not so much fun. As hundreds of coaches pull away from Victoria Park handfuls of racists crawl out of pubs to heckle the thousands leaving. They are hardly brave to shout at departing vehicles, but the three of us have lost our gang of school friends so we slip past the racists searching for a bus home to South East London. Meanwhile skinheads in a pub in Deptford make one of the local punk bands play “Happy Birthday” for Adolf Hitler. The majority of Deptford voters put their cross against anti-immigrant Nazi parties in the 1976 local elections. People are divided. May 1978 Our 6th Form is 98% white. Racism is not as bad as it was in lower years, but there’s fear and ignorance about immigration.
Inspired by the carnival, me and some school friends agree to leaflet Eltham High Street against the NF. We meet outside the library (we are sixth formers) and an ANL man arrives on a motorbike with a pile of leaflets. As we hand them out some people are hostile, some welcome the leaflets and most don’t react at all. One bloke sees the swastika on the leaflet say National Front is a Nazi Front and sees red. “I fought against the Nazis in the war,” he spits. “We’re Anti-Nazis,” we say. “I don’t care what kind of Nazis you are, bugger off!” When we manage to clear up the confusion and he tells us about chalking slogans on the streets in the 1930s against Mosley’s Blackshirts and sticking posters on the backs of buses.