Several hundred anti-racist protesters rallied outside Victorian parliament on Sunday and successfully prevented two far right groups, the United Patriots Front and the True Blue Crew, from rallying at parliament or marching through the city.

The groups – which sit on the fascist fringe of the far right – had called on their supporters to rally at Parliament House at 11:30. But at the appointed time there was not a fascist in sight, and the steps of parliament were dominated by left wing banners, the Aboriginal flag, and anti-racist placards.

Media outlets, in particular the Herald Sun, predictably focused on a few isolated scuffles between a dozen or so masked anti-fascists and the police. But these took place far away from the centre of the city, in the Exhibition Gardens, where the fascist dregs had been forced to retreat.

The real story of the day was that anti-racists carried off a peaceful protest that prevented fascists from marauding through the CBD. As the fascists trailed off to get on their bus and slink out of town, hundreds of anti-racists marched down Bourke Street and then to the State Library, to drive home the message that the hate and violence of the far right will not be tolerated on the streets of Melbourne.

This victory wasn’t achieved by capitulating to the hysterical campaign in the media and from liberal politicians and commentators who argue that the left needs to avoid confrontations with the fascists. Quite the opposite. The fact that anti-racists made it clear that we would stop any fascist march made it impossible for the far right to rally and ensured a largely peaceful day.

Because the police knew that we would not meekly sit by while the far right marched, they eventually decided to keep the fascists in the gardens behind parliament. From there, despite a few desperate scuffles, they were forced to march away from the city.

It won’t always be the case that a determined show of strength will force the fascists to retreat and guarantee that there is no confrontation. Sometimes, as was the case in Coburg a month ago, it will be necessary for the left to engage in militant tactics to deny the far right the ability to march.

The media have done everything in their power to smear the anti-fascists. They have argued that racist and anti-racist protesters are basically the same; that we are all mask-wearing thugs. These are facile equations designed to play down the real and dangerous threat of neo-Nazism. There is a world of difference between those motivated by a desire to halt Muslim migration and whip up violent racism towards refugees, and those who are oppressed by racism and want to see a world free of it.

The establishment media, the police and conservative politicians are cynically using these protests as part of their campaign to force the Andrews Labor government to give police even more powers and reinstitute the anti-protest laws introduced by the last Liberal state government.

Shadow attorney-general John Pesutto was quoted in the Age as saying: “Police no longer have the powers they need. Labor dramatically weakened the tough move-on laws of the Coalition, and what we have seen is the spate of violent protests”.

The left has to oppose all such measures. They contribute to an increasingly draconian anti-protest culture and will affect all people who want to challenge injustice. We also have to keep up the anti-fascist organising. Better to be pilloried by a cynical media for doing so than to allow Nazis the space to grow.