Over the years I've been involved in a variety of anti-fascist activities. Some of these were of the more cloak and dagger variety - these involved a lot of skulking about and waiting for things to happen - usually in greasy spoon cafes. In the days before mobile phones became universal much of this bordered on the farcical. Only very occasionally did we ever get to grips physically with the fascists - and although this fuelled the bravado of pub reminiscences for many years to come, the problem was that they tended to be private victories away from the public eye. They served a purpose in disrupting them, but ultimately 'the propaganda of the deed' doesn't really work when nobody is watching. However many more of these activities were of the kind where you march backwards and forwards - usually at a safe distance from the enemy, waving 'down with this sort of thing placards'. It's a ritual - and like many rituals does have some purpose. In the right circumstances in can boost morale by making everyone feel good about themselves and creating a sense of purpose. But also like many rituals it can easily slip into being counter-productive through repetition when it seem hollow and meaningless.
On the other hand, I was up the road in E17 for the anti-EDL protest yesterday - and it was one of the rare occasions when for once everything seemed to work. For starters it was a proper community march and not just the usual suspects of the Left. And most importantly despite some high-handed organisation by the SWP/UAF, the march actually achieved its purpose of preventing the fascists from marching. In part this was through the simple and traditional tactic of blocking a road junction - although it seems difficult to believe that the police didn't just let this happen. (Despite the chants of 'police protect the fascists' I do sometimes wonder if things are as simple as that). But more than this - a alternative route for the march was also thwarted when a smaller group of us managed to slip the main kettle and get to the fascists rallying point. As a result there was a short stand-off with a handful of EDL leaders whilst the main body of their much-smaller-than-expected march was held in the side streets. The warriors of the master race were unceremoniously whisked away in their coaches - and after being briefly held by the police lines, we were allowed to make our way home.
After about seven hours on my feet and without food or drink I got home hungry and shattered but with a rare sense of having actually achieved something. Quite simply the EDL were stopped. And publicly seen to be stopped. And with the overwhelming support of the the local community.