The Socialist Unity Network

Searchlight are all grasses


One of the most risible myths promoted on the left is that we shouldn't trust the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, because they are grasses. To be fair this accusation is more from anarchists that socialists, but nevertheless it does get a hearing. This hostility goes so far that some anti-fascist campaigners refuse to distribute the excellent anti-BNP material produced by Searchlight.

The accusation from the anarchists and ultra-lefts is specifically that Searchlight cooperate with police Special Branch and inform on left and anti-fascist activist in exchange for information about the far right. Apparently, Searchlight collaborate with the police; and are allegedly completely opposed to any self-defence activity that involves violence against fascists.

Now I don't have any special relationship with Searchlight, although over the years I have had a couple of phone conversations with Gerry Gable, so I don't really know what they get up to. But let us look at how well these accusations stack up.

Searchlight get some information from moles and informants within the far right organisations. Some of these informants, like the recent case of Andrew Sykes the Bradford BNP organiser, cooperate with Searchlight out of principled rejection of far right politics. Other informants sell information to Searchlight for money. Others inform on the activities of rival groups out of spite. Searchlight magazine understandably has a wide readership from the far-right and I am sure that the magazine's researchers learn quite a lot just from their own subscription list! Many individuals on the left also pass tit-bits of information to Searchlight that they pick up, and sometimes employees of Racial Equality Councils include this as part of their job.

In the case of Nazi nail bomber, David Copeland, Searchlight knew more than the police, and it was evidence from Searchlight that helped the police catch Copeland.

In short, Searchlight are much better informed on the far right than Special Branch anyway.

Secondly, what information on the left would Searchlight have that Special Branch would be particularly interested in. Those who have a "squaddist" strategy of direct physical confrontation with the fascists have kept well away from Searchlight for years. Relations are also strained between Searchlight and the SWP, the largest group on the left.

So this two way trade of information seems very unlikely.

And yes, Searchlight do cooperate with the police. This may come as a shock, but most people in Britain think that the police do play a useful role in fighting crime. When Searchlight uncovered the identity of mass murderer David Copeland, they had three options: i) inform the police and help ensure he was captured, convicted and imprisoned; ii) wait until after the revolution and pass the details to a workers militia; or iii) post the details on IndyMedia, or anarchist discussion lists and join in a long debate about whether state violence was worse than fascist violence anyway. Mmmmm. Hard choice.

So are Searchlight opposed to violence against fascists? Strangely the much derided 12 page tabloid that Searchlight produced for the 10th June elections has the answer. Some 13 million of these were produced I believe, paid for by the TUC, and distributed by Labour movement and other anti-racist activist to homes up and down the country. So the contents were anything but a secret - and in there is a full page article on Vidal Sassoon. Hairdressing tips? No, a report of the "43 group" an anti fascist militia originally formed by 43 Jewish ex-servicemen after the second world war. This paramilitary force of up to a 1000 members fought Mosley's newly reformed fascist in the streets of London, smashing up Fascist meetings wherever they could. I quote Searchlight: "Many former 43ers remember Vidal well and his solid reputation for standing firm when the fists started flying ... Inevitably the police arrested hundreds of people during the 5 years of organised violence"

It seems that Searchlight believe in fighting the fascists "by any means necessary", but as Malcolm X explained that does not imply any means at all. "Any Means Necessary" requires us to use the best weapons and tactics for the task at hand: sometimes the leaflet (or 12 page tabloid newspaper) is more powerful than the baseball bat


August 2004


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