According to Brendan O’Neill they are. In a piece on his Telegraph blog headed “A glimpse into the class hatred at the heart of the anti-EDL clique”, the Spiked editor expresses his indignation at a widely publicised YouTube clip in which “anti-EDL campaigners describe a female supporter of the EDL as ‘the most tattooed, horrible scrote of a woman’ they have ever seen and then laugh as they talk about how she was ‘kicked up the arse’ by a left-wing protester”. For O’Neill, the video “confirms what draws many young middle-class liberals towards anti-English Defence League campaigning: it provides them with a semi-legit cover for expressing their fear and loathing of the white working classes”.
The woman in question is named Joanne Dickens and she has been elevated to the status of a national heroine by the EDL following the assault on her. Now I don’t know how much direct experience O’Neill has of the working class, but if he thinks this is the photo of a typical worker you can only conclude that he’s led a very sheltered life. Admittedly, we lack information about Dickens’ precise relationship to the means of production. However, going by appearances, and taking into account historical experience of the forces that have provided political support for the far right, you’d have say that the social category that immediately comes to mind in connection with Dickens is not the working class but the lumpenproletariat.
Writing in 1852 in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx famously included in this category such disparate elements as vagabonds, discharged soldiers, ex-jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, declassed proletarians, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, pimps, brothel keepers, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers and beggars. Today the list would have to be updated – to include coke dealers and money launderers, for example – but the social layers that Marx described as “this scum, offal, refuse of all classes” still exist and continue to provide a social base for reaction. On O’Neill’s reasoning, by using such language about the lumpenproletariat Marx was just demonstrating his contempt for the working class.
In fact, if you want to understand what really motivates anti-racists to oppose the EDL, then you couldn’t find a better illustration than a couple of recent screenshots from Joanne Dickens’ own Facebook page. In one post Dickens writes “fuck all u dirty imagrant, muslim, paki, foreign cunts, get out my fuckin country (england)”. And she follows this up with “bollox 2 all u imagrant cunts!!!! dog born in a stable ain,t a horse, u born in my country, ur not fucking english … now fuck off & die slowly, i luv 2 torture bastards like u”. In another Facebook comment Dickens posts a link to a press report of a young Australian Muslim woman who suffered a horrific death by strangulation after her clothes got caught in the wheel of a go-kart she was driving. Dickens’ response is “Hahahahaha serves her fuckin right, filthy flea ridden bitch”, and she adds “i,d have luv,d 2 have seen that, shame there,s not vid footage 4 us all 2 laugh at pmsl”.
On top of that, the day before O’Neill’s article appeared Dickens posted another Facebook comment giving the names and home towns of the two individuals responsible for the YouTube video. The information was clearly derived from Redwatch, an online far-right hitlist which publishes photographs and personal details of anti-fascists in order to facilitate violence against them. Not that Dickens’ familiarity with this neo-Nazi site is unexpected, given that one of her tattoos is an Odin’s Cross. In response to her posting the details of the two anti-fascists, with the evident objective of encouraging retribution against them, one of Dickens’ Facebook friends, Michael Rafferty, commented “thank you jo”. Rafferty was the head of the EDL Combined Ex-Services section until he was expelled by the EDL leadership following an attack on a Plymouth kebab shop, and he was in court last week having been charged in connection with that incident.
None of this is mentioned by O’Neill. Nor does he refer to the context in which the assault on Dickens took place. Piecing together various accounts, what happened was that a coach carrying Nottingham EDL supporters home after the end of their demonstration drove down Whitechapel Road with its occupants shouting racist abuse at Muslims, including worshippers leaving the East London Mosque after evening prayers. The coach was then attacked by the EDL’s opponents. Dickens somehow managed to get out of the emergency door onto the road where she continued to shout abuse, while the coach drove off leaving her behind. She was punched in the face by a woman counter-protestor and then kicked by furious local youth as she lay on the ground. All of the occupants of the coach, with the exception of Dickens and the driver, were subsequently arrested by the police.
None of this is to excuse the YouTube video applauding violence against a woman, even if the violence was directed against a lumpen fascist like Dickens who had gone out of her way to provoke it. However, it should be pointed out that other opponents of the EDL showed a more responsible attitude. It was stewards organised by the London Muslim Centre and Islamic Forum Europe who rescued Dickens and took her back to the coach. Azad Ali, IFE’s head of community engagement, was quoted as saying: “The volunteers escorted her back to where her coach was. They clearly have ideological differences but these Muslims were willing to protect EDL members from harm.” This aspect of the case is of course ignored by O’Neill, the EDL and all those who who have tried to turn Dickens into a cause célèbre.