The Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was an organization set up in 1977 on the initiative of the Socialist Workers Party with some sponsorship (and a few small financial donations) from some trade unions and the endorsement of a list of prominent people to oppose the rise of far-right groups in Britain. It was at its height between 1977 and 1981.
The initial sponsors included Peter Hain (a former Young Liberal leader; then the communications officer of the postal workers' union UCW, more recently Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), 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 supposedly run by an elected committee nationally and similar committees throughout the country, although in practice many local and National ANL initiatives were launched directly by the SWP. Many trade unions sponsored it as did the Indian Workers Association (then a large organisation), and many members of the Labour Party and MPs such as Neil Kinnock.
The Anti-Nazi League was best known for the two giant Rock Against Racism carnivals of 1978: involving bands such as The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, Steel Pulse, Misty in Roots, X-Ray Spex and Tom Robinson, they saw 80,000 and then 100,000.
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, who had a much more open view to using violence to intimidate groups and individuals they subjectively deemed 'fascist.'
In 1992 the Socialist Workers Party relaunched the Anti-Nazi League due to the electoral success of the British National Party.
Most of the ANL's activities in the 1970s were in opposition to the National Front, an organization 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 allowed to run down in the early 1980s.
The organization was revived in 1992. In the 1990s its main efforts have been to oppose the British National Party, which denies that it is a Nazi Party (while retaining many of the policies and members from the fascist National Front plus newer far right ideologies such the "third position" adopted by many Italian fascists such as Roberto Fiore - with whom the BNP maintain regular contact).
The organization was also critical of the government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which was an alliance of centre-right and far right political parties.
The ANL carried out leafleting and other campaigns against Far Right groups which it claimed were not just racist but fascist; see BNP and British National Front. The ANL was linked to "Rock Against Racism" in the 1970s, and has worked with a similar group, "Love Music Hate Racism", from 2001 onwards.
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 anti-racist 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 hurled at police, who described the rioting as the most violent they have handled in London. Among the demonstrators was Blair Peach, a New Zealand-born member of the Anti-Nazi League. During an incident in a side street 100 yards from the town hall, he was seriously injured and collapsed, blood running down his face from serious head injuries. He died later in hospital.
The Anti-Nazi League alleged that this was from a police truncheon but this has never been proven.
An inquest jury later returned a verdict of misadventure, and Blair Peach remains a symbolic figurehead for the ANL. Campaigns continue for a public inquiry into his death. A primary school in Southall bears his name.
In 2007 the ANL National Organiser is Weyman Bennett, who is a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. Its previous National Organiser was Julie Waterson who is also a member of the Socialist Workers Party and a former member of the National Executive of the Socialist Alliance.
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 claiming both organisations were racist.
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 (December 22, 2006) has supported the ANL's view that the BNP remains a fascist party.
More broadly, the ANL is seen as a united front organisation - a form of anti-fascism that seeks out alliance with a broad spectrum of progressive organisations usually rooted in the Labour movement. Socialist historian Dave Renton, for example, in his book Fascism: Theory and Practice, describes the ANL as "an orthodox united front" based on a "strategy of working class unity", as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Critics of the ANL, such as Anti-Fascist Action 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.
The ANL has been accused of being a 'front' for the Socialist Workers Party; that is, of being controlled by the SWP and having the agenda of recruiting members to that organisation, while giving the impression of being independent. This criticism is generally made by left-wingers who are not associated with the SWP.