David Karvala and Julie Sherry, joint coordinators of World Against Racism and Fascism (WARAF), comment on the challenges around the world, and how this network is responding.
World Against Racism and Fascism, the international network of united movements against the far right and all forms of racism, held a successful coordinating meeting on Sunday 22 October, both physically in London and online.
With the participation of activists from movements in Belgium, Britain, Catalunya, Denmark, France, Japan, Poland and the US, and with movements in several other countries also being active in the network but unable to attend, it was another step forward in the development of global coordination against this growing threat.
World Against Racism and Fascism (WARAF), has been built gradually through a decade of collaboration and joint mobilisations between movements in different countries. From its beginnings in the movements against racism, fascism and the far right in Europe, it now involves people and campaigns from all the continents of the world.
A global problem
Racism as we know it emerged several centuries ago, to excuse Europe’s colonisation of the Americas — with the genocide of the indigenous peoples — and then, crucially, to try to justify the slave trade, the mass kidnapping and transportation of African people. In Europe, in the last century, the already existing antisemitic racism was used by the Nazis as the thin end of the wedge to open up a much wider attack, and led to the horror of the Holocaust. Those terrible events should have led the world to abide by the principle of “Never Again!”. However, as we know, racism never disappeared and has actually been worsening over recent decades.
In Europe and North America, it takes the form of increasingly militarised and deadly frontiers, alongside racist policies directed against different groups inside those countries. This goes from the police racism denounced by Black Lives Matter to the pandemic of Islamophobia, as well as Romaphobia and even a resurgence of Antisemitism and conspiracy theories. Islamophobia, in particular, has been intensified during the “war on terror”. It has been at the forefront of the racist offensive, along with the targeting of refugees and migrants in many countries. This has meant serious attacks on civil liberties, both for Muslim people and the rest of the population.
All this both encourages and is worsened by the growth of various types of far right parties, with fascists even leading the government of Italy.
However, racism and the far right and fascist forces are a growing threat worldwide.
Jair Bolsonaro, who thankfully failed to win a second term as President of Brazil, is just the best known of a number of far-right figures making headway in Latin America. At the time of writing, the far-right Milei — who seeks advice from his dead pet dog via a medium — may well win the presidential elections in Argentina. The Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean, is seeing appalling levels of racism towards people from the adjoining Haiti.
Even in South Africa — scene of the emblematic anti-racist struggle of the second half of the twentieth century, which overthrew apartheid — vicious xenophobic hatred has emerged against migrant workers from other African countries, with both violent street groups and exclusionary measures by the government.
These are just a few examples, but the danger of both racism and the far-right is truly global. Around the planet, both governments and far right groups are taking their cue from Europe and promoting the politics of hatred. Just like in Europe, they use divide and rule to try to push ordinary people into blaming migrants and/or racial minorities for the increasing grave crises that afflict our world today.
A united response
Each case, of course, has specific local aspects, and requires a locally rooted response. One strong point of the WARAF network is precisely the fact that it is made up of movements based in each country, not “subsidiaries” of a head office in some capital city in the global North.
That said, there are points which are very broadly shared within the network.
Firstly, the spirit of the famous words of Pastor Niemöller: “First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew…”. Opposing racism and other types of oppression is not a matter of charity; it is of vital importance for all ordinary people, whether or not they are subjected to that specific oppression.
Of course we should reject all forms of oppression on principle, but it is also true that if you sit by while they attack some oppressed group today, then the day will come when the attacks are against you. So, whether you are black or white, you have an interest in fighting racism. Whether you are gay or straight, you have an interest in fighting LGBT+phobia, and especially the transphobia that the right wing media are pushing so much. And so on.
Given the existence of a shared objective interest — often not recognised by many people; that is exactly the aim of the politics of divide and rule — we can and must build united movements to combat racism and the far right.
It goes without saying that each person and organisation will have many other opinions and causes beyond those expressed by a united movement against fascism and racism; they can and should continue to promote them in their own name. Unity in action doesn't mean a grey uniformity of opinions; it just means joining forces where we agree, and agreeing to differ where we don't.
Proven in practice
This is not just a theory; the effectiveness of this strategy has been shown repeatedly in practice.
The Pastor Niemöller poem was the touchstone of the Anti Nazi League, the united movement founded in 1977 to fight the then National Front in Britain. At the time, this fascist party was much stronger than the smaller group led by Jean Marie Le Pen that followed its lead in France. The British NF was defeated by 1981. Not so the French FN which didn't have to face such a sustained united response. Since then, each successive attempt to build a fascist organisation in Britain has been defeated by united protest campaigns, currently under the banner of Stand Up To Racism.
But it is not only Britain.
The united movement in Greece, KEERFA, managed to push back the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn from its high point of perhaps 70 local offices and 21 MPs, closing down their offices through broad local campaigns and, incredibly, promoting the prosecution that put the neo-Nazi leaders in prison.
In Catalonia, Unitat Contra el Feixisme i el Racisme (UCFR, Unity Against Fascism and Racism), formed in 2010 with a central objective of fighting the fascist party "Platform for Catalunya", had decisively defeated this party by 2015, following which the movement focussed more on opposing racism, especially Islamophobia. For some years, UCFR has also been promoting the #StopVOX campaign.
Building unity globally
The challenge is to extend this spirit of united struggle — always taking into account the specifics of each situation — to more territories around the world.
To close, we will mention some of WARAF’s proposals for future actions.
Our recent meeting touched on many aspects of the current grave situation in the world, focussing above all on the dramatic growth of racism and the far right. We agreed to call for international coordinated action around two key dates.
Firstly, actions on or around the 18 December, to mark International Migrants’ Day. These actions could also be linked to the Amnesty International investigation into the tragic massacre of 600 people in the Mediterranean, off Pylos in Greece, with an AI report due to be delivered to Greek authorities on 14 December. The anti-racist movements in France are already preparing demonstrations across the country around 18 December, as they did in 2022; in other countries the actions could take many forms.
Secondly, the central annual action of the network, around UN Anti-racism day, officially 21 March, in memory of the 69 people killed by South African police in Sharpeville in 1960, while they were demonstrating against apartheid. WARAF agreed to call for protests in the maximum number of countries possible, during the week beginning 16 March 2024, as part of the strengthening and extension of the international network. This yearly event has grown to involve actions in perhaps 60 or more cities around the world; one objective now is to involve more people and movements from outside Europe, as well of course as to strengthen and extend the movements within Europe.
The experience of World Against Racism and Fascism has shown the possibilities of working together between very different people and organisations, on the basis of shared concerns, while recognising and respecting the differences that exist. And, in contrast with many international organisms, we have done that with almost no money or infrastructure!
There is, sadly, a lot to be done, but we are convinced that we are going in the right direction, and urge more people to join the united struggle against racism, fascism and the far right: working locally and networking globally.