The Anti-Nazi League – A solution to Britain’s far right epidemic of the 1970s?

Throughout the 1970s there had been growing racial tensions epitomized by the rise of far right groups such as the National Front (NF) and their infamous slogan ‘Keep Britain White.’ After the NF’s initial formation in 1967, growth was rapid. From 2500 members in 1967 to around 20,000 members by 1974 with 50 local branches. The NF’s core supporters were based in Northern England and were principally concerned with the increasing levels of post-war immigration to Britain. Indeed, the growth of the NF is often explained by the resentful attitudes of blue collar workers who despised immigrant competition in the domestic labour and housing markets. The threat of the NF was finally taken seriously when Martin Webster of the NF won a surprisingly high percentage (16%) of the vote in the West Bromich West by-election of 1973. This election shocked the political and media establishments. Historian Dave Renton has argued that by the end of the 1970s the National Front seemed poised to become Britain’s third largest political party since they had successfully won a small number of local councilors throughout England.

Was there anything the people of Britain could do to prevent this? Enter, the Anti-Nazi League.

anti-nazi league protest

The Anti-Nazi League (ANL) set up in 1975 on the initiative of the Socialist Workers Party, was an organisation aiming to oppose the far right groups in Britain which had been gaining rapid support throughout the decade. These Anti-Fascists argued that groups such as the NF were not just racist but fascist often arguing that the NF pursued a similar racial theory to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in World War II. ¬†From its formation the ANL helped to organise numerous marches and festivals to spread their message of anti-fascism especially among the youth. For example, the ANL allied with the Rock Against Racism (RAR) movement in the 1970s which held carnivals in 1978 involving various bands such as The Clash to disseminate their message of unity, a welcoming spirit and equality for all races.

The ANL presented strong opposition to far right groups in the UK from the mid-1970s onwards.  Their success can be shown by the declining influence of far-right groups from their peaks in the late 1970s. For example, despite winning a number of local councillors the NF failed to ever win a seat in parliament. Without anti-fascist groups such as the ANL to counteract their influence through demonstrations, marches and carnivals who knows what could have happened in the late 1970s. Thankfully, the ANL helped to prevent a far-right upsurge in British politics throughout the 1970s.

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