In the soccer stadium bleachers, in the section where the young militant "skinhead" groups cluster and stomp and short, recruiters for Britain's neo-Nazi parties spread racist leaflets promoting a white England. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Campaigning equally hard at the other end of the political spectrum, organizers from the Socialist Workers' Party visit inner-city neighborhoods helping blacks and others to form "defense committees" as a counterforce to white thugs and the police.
With Britain now fallen on hard times, extremist groups on both the right and left have found fertile ground for militant activity and greater opportunity, police say, to foment trouble. The recent riots that struck more than 30 British cities, while rooted in economic frustration and a sense of racial alienation among some of the country's minority groups have been blamed by authorities partially on extremist political factions.
These factions, even when taken together, claim a relatively tiny membership and seem on the surface to pose no real threat to the major political parties. Both the right-wing National Front and the several main Marxist parties on the far left did poorly in the 1979 national election, which saw one of the largest entries of antidemocratic party candidates in recent times.
But, having done badly at the ballot box, there are suggestions that the more combative elements on the left and the right have taken to the streets. There has been a reported rise in the number of racist attacks and -- correspondingly perhaps -- a show of greater militancy by Britain's blacks and Asians.
Responding to complaints, the Home Office is now studying what is behind the racist attacks. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party last week issued a pamphlet entitled "Extremism and the Left."
"Britain is reonwed among nations for its high degree of constitutional stability and the absence of violent political conflict," it begins. But, the report says a few paragraphs later, "Today, Britain faces more varied and extensive threats to its freedom than at almost any time since the war. . . . One symptom of these underlying crises is heightened activity by extremist groups."
Although evidenty intended to call attention to leftist extremists inside the opposition Labor Party, the report was defended by its author, Peter Shipley, as highlighting a potentially serious development.
"I'm not suggesting we're on the verge of social collapse or revolution or anything like that," Shipley, a Conservative Party reseracher, said in an interview. "But what is in prospect is increased polarization and tension within society. Both extremes, left and right, are trying to exploit the situation in; the inner cities."
Their targets have latey been Britain's restless, embittered and jobless youth. To some unemployed whites, the neo-Nazi groups offer an easy answer and a convenient scapegoat by tyin;g the current unemployment to blacks, Asians and Jews.
The British Movement, which is the dominant neo-Nazi group, looks for new members p articularly among the skinheads -- a working-class-neighborhood youth cult that expresses a fierce sense of solidarity by means of shaven heads, steel-capped boots and aggressive posturing. It has been described as a kind of "white convict" group attempting to make an art form out of macho. A clash between skinheads and Asians in London's Southall district -- in which police found themselves in the middle -- was credited with sparking the rioting there earlier this month.
But not all skinheads are neo-Nazis. A leftist group called the Anti-Nazi League has managed to buld a skinhead team of its own large enough and bold enough to have prompted a few fights in London's East End pubs. The league itself, made up of various political elements, was formed in 1977 by the Socialist Workers' Party to beat back the electoral success of the right-wing National Front.
Leftist groups have found sympathy in inner-city neighborhoods not only for their anti-Nazi views and tactics, but also for their antipolice militancy. In Brixton, the scene of some of the fiercest rioting this month, a Trotskyist faction called the Militant Tendency inspired the formation of the Labor Committee for the Defense of Brixton after the disturbances there in April.
The committee has called for the withdrawal ofthe "massive police presence" in Brixton, the dropping of all charges arising from the riots and a reversal of government cuts in public spending. A similar committee was reportedly formed in Liverpool, which also suffered heavy riot damage.
Whatever political effectiveness either the far left or far right might aspire to is sty;mied by the division and internecine strife evident at both ends of the spectrum.
The far left, diverse in organizations and ideology, includes 25 distinct Marxist-based groups in Britain according to Shipley's report. Best known is the Socialist Workers' Party which has about 4,000 members. Its weekly newspaper, The Socialist Worker, has a circulation of nearly 30,000.
The far right appeared in the mid-1970s to be more united and gaining more supporters, although the phenomenon did not last. The National Front scored substantial vote increases -- though it won no seats -- in a number of local British elections. Encouraged by this, the party entered the largest number of candidates in the 1979 national elections (303) put up by any outsider party since 1918.
But the National Front fared disastrously -- a fact attributed to a heavy countercampaign by the Socialist-organized Anti-Nazi League and to the rightist appeal of the mainline Conservative Party and its leader, Margaret Thatcher.
The overwhelming defeat of the National Front led to a splintering of the party and the three offshoots have devoted much of their time and energy since to stealing members from one another. A number of National Front marches in 1980 apparently were meant to demonstrate the strength of the old party to other right-wing groups, rather than to attract a wider audience. This year the front's tactics have included publication of "hit lists" of opponents' names and addresses.
The quarreling on the far right has allowed the British Movement, which is a more avowedly-Nazi revolutionary party than the National Front, to come forward. Its flamboyant activities, which include the exchange of "sieg heil" and other fascist salutes and obscene chants at soccer matches against black players of opposing teams, have caused a boom in party membership -- from 1,000 in 1979 to 3,000 today, according to most British newspaper accounts.
Those on the far left now realize that by chopping off the head of the more politically respectabel National Front, they have encouraged the more hooligan-oriented elements in the British Movement. But Marxist leaders dispute charges that they were behind Britain's riots.
"The conspiracy theory simply won't wash," said Duncan Hallas, chairman of the Socialist Workers' Party. "We didn't organize the riots. You ask whether we exploited them. So do the police. Law and order is a good way of diverting attention from the real problems of the inner cities. So long as we can, we will continue to organize youth into right-to-work and anti-fascist campaigns."