Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Why You Should Support 'No Platform' for Kevin Scott at the Cambridge Union

The decision of the Cambridge Union Society to invite Kevin Scott, a long-standing regional organiser for the fascist British National Party (BNP), represents an atrocious failure of political imagination on the part of the Union’s elected officers. When Nick Griffin was invited to speak at the Oxford Union in 2007, students and anti-fascists broke up the meeting, breaking through the security cordon to stage a sit-in protest inside the chamber’s not-so-hallowed walls. Kevin Scott should expect the same treatment in Cambridge. Why?

It is no coincidence that Griffin’s invitation to speak in Oxford had been justified on the grounds of a debate about ‘free speech’. Now, the CUS hacks, under the stewardship of President Austin Mahler, have tried to use the same erroneous logic to invite one of Griffin’s erstwhile underlings to Cambridge. Scott recently left the BNP, but not because of a change of heart; he left to join the ‘management team’ for the newly-formed British Democratic Party (BDP) set up by fascist Andrew Brons, the MEP for Yorkshire and Humber, who also resigned from the BNP earlier this year to set up the BDP (formerly, and very briefly, known as True Brits).

The essence of the no platform argument is simple: to allow – indeed, to invite – fascist agitators to enter into the sphere of agonistic, rational debate is to give their ideology of violence, fear and hatred a cloak of legitimacy which it neither merits nor deserves. Doubtless the Union hacks think they have all the bases covered. The arguments of racists are easily defeated, so what’s to lose in subjecting Scott to a thorough grilling at the hands of UK PLC’s brightest-and-best squad? Such self-satisfied complacency overlooks the fact that politics takes place in the real world, which is a world away from the careerist hothouse of the Union Society. These people forget that when Nick Griffin was invited to speak on Question Time, a YouGov poll found that one in five viewers said they would be more likely to vote BNP after the would-be Fuhrer’s appearance.

More recently, the Greek fascist (and ex-special forces operative) Ilias Kasidiaris physically assaulted two female socialists in a televised interview. This descent into physical violence did not have quite the effect that myopic liberal commentators would hope for: the popularity of Kasidiaris’ party, Golden Dawn, has since risen in Greece, and Kasidiaris himself is still ‘at large’ (sitting in the Greek parliament). The complacent assumption that his violent outburst ahead of the June 17th elections would lead to an electoral wipe-out proved false, in part because the commentators who made such predictions fail to understand the true nature of the polarisation taking place in Greece, in a period of intense neo-liberal austerity, ongoing capitalist crisis, as well as continuing decomposition of key sections of the bourgeois state and its apparatus. It has since been made known that Golden Dawn members have infiltrated many sections of the police, which perhaps provides some explanation as to why the warrant for Kasidiaris’ arrest resulted in neither a conviction, nor, even, an arrest.

Turning to Kevin Scott’s previous record, we find that a BBC profile lists two previous convictions – one for assault in 1987, another for using threatening words and behaviour in 1993. In 2001, he penned an article for International Third Position – the journal of a neo-fascist BNP splinter-group – entitled ‘The Final Conflict’. You can guess what the conflict might look like. (The Southern Poverty Law Centre has a useful breakdown of this motley crew of crypto-Strasserites and self-styled revolutionary nationalists.) Apparently, this record makes Scott worthy of an invitation to speak at the Union. 

Why has he agreed to accept the invitation? He must know that he is hardly likely to win the debate, nor is he likely to win any new recruits (unless the Henry Jackson Society have yet to declare their maximum programme). Scott has agreed to speak to the Union so that he can go back out into the world and wear the free publicity given to him as a badge of respectability and normality. He can include the photos in electoral propaganda. He can trumpet his high-profile speaking engagement in mail-outs for his delightful little fundraising operation, misnamed Civil Liberty. The Guardian recently exposed Civil Liberty as a BNP front-group, set up to raise money from far-right nut-jobs in the US. Why should the Cambridge Union Society lend any material support to such an organisation, or its agitators and fundraisers? Such publicity-seeking, ill-reasoned and politically naïve invitations can only contribute to a culture in which fascist ideology is normalised and its advocates made to seem spuriously legitimate.

Especially in a period of neoliberal austerity, this process of creeping normalisation and legitimation ought to concern us all. Martin A. Lee describes in The Beast Reawakens (1997) how neo-Nazis rebooted their strategies in the early 1980s:

The jackals of the extreme right believed they found the crucial pressure point when they seized upon immigration as the main issue to rally around. While a network of ultra-right wing cadres continued to function as the violent vanguard of xenophobia, some shock troops from Europe’s neo-fascist underground split off to form mass-based political parties.
    One of the advantages of this dual-pronged effort was that it provided an electoral front for hard-core militants, who underwent an ideological face-lift and watered down their pronouncements to conform to electoral requirements.
    By the mid-1980s, a flock of radical right-wing parties had found a nesting place on the democratic landscape. The initial success of the Front National in France and its emulators elsewhere showed that large segments of Western European society were vulnerable to national populists and the totalitarian temptation they embodied.[1]

A public debate about ‘no platform for fascists’ took place in France in the 1980s, addressing the question of whether or not the fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen ought to be accepted as a ‘normal’ part of French political life. The liberals won the day: Le Pen’s ‘shock’ breakthrough into the second round of the presidential election of 2002 did not take place in a vacuum. The liberal 'free speech' arguments paved the way for his success, but the real nature of the French National Front remains clear for those who care – or bother – to look. The National Front is now like a bad smell in French politics which refuses to go away; the liberals are responsible for having boiled up the sprouts.

As far as Scott’s invitation is concerned, the other speakers on the Union’s panel should also pause for thought. If, as the proposition will argue, hate speech is not a human right, how can the decision to share a platform with a fascist appear as anything other than a decision made in abysmally bad faith? On their own terms, they are hypocrites. If they actually believe that hate speech is not a human right – insofar its vocalisation entails the potential for politically dangerous material consequences – they would shun the possibility of sharing a platform with a fascist. One must conclude, instead, that the speakers for the proposition will simply temporarily assume the position for ‘the sake of the debate’, before moving on to give strenuous consideration to the relative merits of blue as opposed to green bottle-tops. The Union’s term-card is deliberately vague, but if Scott is proposed as a candidate for the proposition then the Union’s hacks are not only hypocritical, but suffering from an acute case of historical amnesia.

When dealing with fascist political organisers, such as Scott, the other side of the liberal argument (for which Voltaire provides the well-known locus classicus: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”) requires serious attention, not least because fascist politics has led – and could lead again – to the kind of the violence about which Voltaire offered only hypothetical speculations. François-Marie Arouet did not actually give his life to defend another person’s freedom of speech; but hundreds of thousands died fighting against fascists in the Spanish civil war and during the Second World War. We might do these young men and women the courtesy of remembering that fascism is not a normal, run-of-the-mill form of politics, nor should it be treated as such.

The BNP (and, now, the BDP), along with other neo-Nazi organisations in Europe, pose as legitimate, in order to be allowed to play the representative-democratic game – and they are very bad actors, so the fact that some liberals are taken in speaks volumes – but, as ever, their intention is to change the very rules and nature of the game itself. Theirs is a category of speech which does not merit protection, as the very terms of the Union’s debate seem to acknowledge, at the same time as Scott’s invitation undermines any real commitment to put this acknowledgement into practice.

It is currently left unclear whether any of the Union’s speakers will argue that hate speech is, in fact, a human right. Much will hinge on the precise definition of the category of hate speech. Scott will, one assumes, want to claim that the BDP and its ilk do not engage in types of speech which can be described as ‘hate speech’. Fascist agitators – the clever ones, at least – will know that there are laws which prevent them from giving vent to the full gamut of their political views, so they are forced to fall back on cannier tactics, such as accepting invitations to speak at high-profile public events (as and when the organisers are thick-headed enough to make the offer). Similarly, Nick Griffin knows he is legally disbarred from directly inciting racial hatred, so instead of talking about racial purity, he talks about identity: it is quite a cynical PR exercise; he has said so himself

As the little parable about Kasidiaris should demonstrate, however, when the political context changes, when the barbarism of capitalist crisis suddenly makes the foundations of bourgeois liberal democracy seem somewhat less secure, fascists gain the confidence to start acting out the desires they keep carefully (and not so carefully) pent up. One need only look to the strength of Jobbik in Hungary, an organisation whose members march with side-arms and conduct pogroms against Roma families; or Greece, where Golden Dawn street militias conduct sweeping raids against migrant traders. Why, the hacks at the Union might ask themselves, have they given any quarter to an organisation of this kind? Must they be reminded of the history and origins of the British National Party, an organisation to which Scott belonged for over twenty years? Can they not see that it, and the BDP, are parties which are different from the mainstream bourgeois parties, not only in degree, but in kind? Fascism is a qualitatively different form of political organisation. Those who retain any illusions in this regard need to disabuse themselves very quickly.

The real reason the hacks at the Union have invited this fascist to speak is because of the culture of short-term, big-splash spectacularism which prevails there; officers are elected for short periods of time, which encourages the courting of controversy for its own sake, in an attempt to boost membership, as well as in the hope of securing a few extra Curriculum Vitae nectar points. Enough people in the National Union of Students realise the dangers of allowing fascists to speak on University campuses, which is a why the NUS currently supports a principlied 'no platform' policy. On what democratic mandate did Austin Mahler decide to break from this important principle in the student movement?

Scott’s invitation should be immediately revoked; if it is not, students, trade unionists and all those whose interests are threatened by the fascist right should organise to intervene in the ‘debate’ – as if the proposition even needed to be debated in the first place. 

[1] Martin A. Lee, The Beast Reawakens: Fascism’s Resurgence from Hitler’s Spymasters to Today’s Neo-Nazi Groups and Right-Wing Extremists (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 388.


29/12/2012: A message on the Union's Facebook page subsequently confirmed that Scott is "UNABLE" to attend. Griping about the situation on his not-so-Civil Liberty blog, Scott vowed to "[stand] up to the cranks of the so-called 'anti-fascist' movement" and added that his organisation "intend[s] to do it on our own terms". These 'terms' are left unspecified, so they must left to the imagination.


  1. My opposition is mainly to the criticism of the Union for inviting Scott: it's the Union's purpose to create interesting debates, and that almost inevitably involves courting controversy 'for its own sake'. This is the third speaker in two(?) weeks to have aroused controversy and calls for a 'no platform' position. So you may be of the opinion that no platform should be 'reserved exclusively for fascists', but in Cambridge in recent weeks it has been expanded to include rapists and Zionists. That's one issue (and I understand you might not personally support that); it should remind us that supporting such a policy is playing with fire because it can easily extend itself to become simple censorship.

    As for fascism specifically: I might be persuaded to be more sympathetic to protest against Scott than the previous cancelled speakers, because of the dangers of fascism you outline; that said, I'm still opposed to the principle of no platform, although your points have made me think about it in a bit more detail. I admit that I was considering this primarily as a matter of principle, divorced from the politics of the 'real world': but I think there's a danger in ignoring the principle in favour of real world politics, because ignoring the principle can also have real world consequences.

    I think the idea of 'legitimacy' is problematic for the same reason that making an exception to a generally anti-'no platform' position is problematic. Namely, that I don't see that we - or anyone else - should have the power to decide what constitutes 'legitimate' on a national or official level. In his statement, Scott himself refers to protesters as being 'the sole arbiters of who "fascists" and "racists" are': much though the rest of his speech in turns amuses and repulses me, this is an important point. We can reserve 'no platform' for just fascists, but then there's the danger that our definition of 'fascists' might start to spread until it includes other views we happen to disagree with. Or even that we might find ourselves on the receiving end of a no platform policy. What is a 'fascist'? What deserves to be 'legitimate'? And who are we to decide?

    Surely preventing fascists from being seen as 'legitimate' parties betrays a fear that their views will actually be attractive to the public? i.e. that the only thing stopping many people from pledging support to fascism now is that is not considered 'right' to do so, because the parties are still ostracised? Do you think that's really the case? Does that not reflect badly on us, for trying to repress democratic freedom?

    Besides, no platform 'legitimises' fascists parties too: it legitimises their claims that they are different to the rest. If anything, it makes them more attractive to those who are frustrated with mainstream parties (which seems to already be the BNP's biggest voter base). It's fuel for their 'corrupt left-wing politically correct establishment' fire.

  2. I must admit to a certain level of hypocrisy here, in that I did support shutting down David Willetts' speech on the grounds that he could use it as another feather in his cap in order to claim support for his policies in Cambridge University. But I think there are two important differences:
    - Willetts did not need the university to give him a platform; as a government minister, he has every opportunity to be heard, and we all know what his policies are. Therefore, it's more important to get the opposition heard, to prove that he /isn't/ unopposed. That's not so relevant with Scott: everyone knows there is widespread opposition to fascism, and he is not taken nearly as seriously as Willetts.
    - Willetts was giving a talk; Scott would have been participating in a debate. Therefore the Willetts example would have been far more one-sided, with little if any opportunity to defeat him in rational argument.

    Alex linked to a possible argument given by Chomsky: holocaust denial is legal in the US, but nobody cares or takes it seriously; in European countries where it's illegal, it reaches the front pages every time; so we should just ignore neo-fascist groups. I'm not sure I agree with that entirely (using holocaust denial as the example is perhaps misleading, as Germany, Austria, France etc. have reason to be more touchy about it than the US), but it's true that, ideally, we wouldn't be having this discussion in the first place: Kevin Scott would never have been invited because nobody would know or care who he was. Unfortunately, that's not the case, despite widespread no platform policies. Does that not suggest that the policy doesn't work?

    If I've understood your argument correctly, it hinges on the idea of fascism as a unique - and uniquely threatening - force, principally because of its willingness to assert itself with violence. While it might not be the case that fascists are the only political force willing to use violence (, I can certainly agree that it has formed the basis of most examples of fascism, historic and modern, and this is the part of your argument that I struggle to find fault with. But it still means 'us' imposing our views on 'them'. I agree with your concerns: and although I question whether no platform is the right way to combat fascism, I can't really think of any other way. The only effective way to address the problem of fascism is to address the issues that contribute to its support among the public. To take a historical example: there is a good chance that if Gustav Stresemann hadn't died in 1929, the Nazis would never have come to power, because of his efforts towards sorting out the German economy, renegotiating the terms of reparations to the Allies, and generally giving the impression of Weimar Germany's government as stable, in command and able and willing to solve social, economic and political problems. When the Nazis were granted power, they were actually losing votes, because the country's situation was beginning to improve. Current fascist parties feed off instability and government weakness or ineffectiveness in the same way: that's more significant than their violent elements.

    I don't mean to suggest that fascists SHOULD be given a platform so much as I think they should NOT be denied one: yes, it would be counter-productive for the anti-fascist movement itself to provide a platform, but I don't think you can fairly deny it and simultaneously claim to be in support of a free, open and inclusive society. Is that what it comes down to - we impose our dictatorship on them, because the alternative is them imposing their dictatorship on us?

  3. It is true that the Union has a historic commitment to defending free speech and, yes, Scott is the third 'controversial' speaker in as many weeks to have had a speaking engagement cancelled. In the first two instances, however, the Union’s official position makes no mention of the political agitation surrounding the invitations. Assange cancelled for technical reasons, whilst the Israeli ambassador was called way for diplomatic reasons. This is the official line, and, in all honesty, as much as we may will it to be the case that political campaigning caused the dis-invitation of these speakers, we do not know this to be the case, nor can we honestly claim that it is the case. With Scott, once again, matters are somewhat different: he has effectively acknowledged on his blog that he had his invitation revoked. I think, perhaps, we are in danger of construing a run of luck as something more than it is, or might be.

    I agree that the 'no platform' policy can be used in bad faith, hence my view that it needs to be reserved exclusively for fascists. A recent example of a bad-faith invocation of the 'no platform' policy concerns the attempt by the right-wing Labour party careerists in the NUS to implement 'no platform' policy against George Galloway and Tony Benn. Galloway is clearly an idiot -- he is reaping the fruits of his idiocy with the implosion of Respect and he should have retracted his comments about Assange a long time ago, as did Tony Benn. By the same token, the attempt to 'no platform' Galloway was little more than an opportunistic attempt by certain sections of the Labour Party machine in NUS to silence sections of the left within NUS. It is playing with fire to the extent that censorship can just as soon be used as a tool by the ruling class against those on the left who oppose the state. (Then again, one might say that such ideological censorship is a de facto norm in our society anyway: when was the last time you read an honest critique of the present crisis in the Daily Mail, for example?).

    Yes, it is the Union's prerogative to organise controversial meetings. To take Taub's case, though, is it not indicative of a certain measure of hypocrisy for the Union to invite a senior representative of the Israeli state, only days after yet another brutal and unjust assault on Gaza, whilst simultaneously to refuse any representation to a speaker from the Palestinian side? I know for a fact that the Union was approached, at very short notice, with an offer of just such a speaker (I can forward the email correspondence...), and yet this speaker, who was ready to speak at short notice via video-link, was turned down because the Union deemed him to be too controversial. This does not signify a commitment to the values of free speech on the part of the Union; it signifies the basest hypocrisy. For that reason, I am glad that everyone was spared another bout of Taub's hasbara. One hears enough of it from the White House as it is.

    If you are more sympathetic to the idea of 'no platform' for Scott than for the other speakers, then perhaps we are in agreement? As I have tried to make clear, I do not agree that 'no platform' arguments should have been invoked for either of the previous two speakers, nor did I make such arguments at the time, although I would have expected sizeable protests in both cases. You do say, though, that you cannot support the principle of 'no platform' in the abstract, at the level of principle. By contrast, I am trying to stress the importance of thinking about the policy in concrete and material terms. Perhaps if you were to specify what dangerous consequences you envisage from "ignoring the principle" (I presume you mean the principle of universalised free speech here, because surely you would be happy if everyone ignore the 'no platform' principle, as then it wouldn't be implemented...) it might be easier to answer your qualms?


    1. [...]

      On the topic of legitimacy, no one decides, as such, what constitutes a legitimate or non-legitimate political party. Bourgeois parliamentary 'democracy' dictates that legitimacy is granted for fixed periods of time to certain parties for which people take the time and trouble to vote, although this is hardly a democratic process, at least not in the sense that I think of democracy. Another way of thinking about this is to acknowledge that the real arbiter of legitimacy, when it comes to the narrow terrain of electoral politics, is the state, particularly in the form of the electoral commission. That is the only legalistic way of approaching the question. Now, this poses all manner of problems for those who are committed to a kind of politics which seeks to overthrow the said state, because one can hardly expect the personnel and apparatus of such a state to acknowledge such aims as 'legitimate'. Leaving these legalistic questions aside, one is forced to acknowledge that legitimacy is only really ever made manifest through the formation of social consensus, the key word here being formation, which implies that social consensus, and, by extension, the recognition of political legitimacy, is a process which involves debate and argument.

      In this context, it is useful to think about such debates and arguments as taking place on two levels: certain issues and topics may be addressed (climate change, global politics, domestic issues, etc.) and a range of viewpoints expressed on these issues, but, any particular debate will also have certain discursive limits and parameters, which are perhaps not immediately obvious or manifest. Current convention dictates that it is frightfully bad form to use racist language in public, for example, although that has not always been the case. So, when considering questions of free speech, I think it is useful to ask the very supplementary question that you do ask: who sets the parameters of the debate, who defines its discursive limits? The reason why I advocate 'no platform' for fascist agitators is because their aim is to fundamentally re-configure and re-define the discursive limits of what constitutes the realm of the acceptable. It is not simply that they have controversial opinions; rather, they seek to shift society's political centre of gravity so far to the right that suddenly it becomes viable to implement a project of putting Jews into concentration camps. The attempt to polarise, or shift, a society's political centre of gravity in this way is so unacceptable, so beyond the pale, that these kinds of discursive interventions must be regarded as off the spectrum of rational, 'legitimate' discourse. Of course, Scott was hardly likely to get up and advocate ethnic cleansing, because, as I have previously tried to suggest, he knows he would be imprisoned for saying such things. In the mean time, he can only 'legitimately' set out to prepare the ground, to send out subtler hints, to soft-peddle his racism and Islamophobia. However, if it is taken as read that his long-term goals might not necessarily tally up with the rhetoric he would have been obliged to use at the Cambridge Union, the case for no platform, I hope, becomes a little bit clearer.

      What my analysis and argument eventually rests on is a conviction -- based on empirical evidence -- that the fascist organisations which exist in Britain would seek to implement a campaign of terror and violence on a par with previous such campaigns were they ever to achieve political power in this country. As Walter Benjamin aptly put it: not even the dead would be safe were this enemy to come to power. In the mean time, I am of the opinion that fascist agitators should be given no material support whatsoever in attempting to prepare the ground for their project. This extends to speaking engagements.


  4. [...]

    'We' only have the power to 'win' particular institutions or movements to a consistent no platform position through the formation of social consensus which constitutes the realm of the legitimate. If 'no platform' is deemed to be an illegitimate political position, then, fascist organisations will gain a certain measure of de facto legitimacy which they would not otherwise have had. No one simply decides and imposes the policy; it must be argued for and won through a process of rational debate -- precisely the kind of rational debate from which we would exclude fascist agitators, because of their long-term objectives to shut down such debates altogether, before going on impose their own rule by a process of domination, fear and violent intimidation.

    As regards definitions of fascism, the scholarly literature is voluminous and much of it is in the UL. Personally, I recommend Trotsky, who is also in the UL (although not personally, as he is dead). It is banal, unhelpful and politically dangerous to allow the concept to spread to cover individuals or groups not committed to realising the kind of political programme historically associated with the names of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini (which is not to suggest, sadly, that fascism died when Hitler shot himself nor when Mussolini was executed, hence this debate); to mis-use the term in this way would be to allow an important political concept to degenerate to the level of a name-calling insult. As regards the 'arbiters' of the term, once again, this must involve a process of debate, reading, research and social struggle. Scott gets as worked up as he does about applications of the term because he knows the very word 'fascist' brings with it a certain degree of toxicity in liberal democratic societies, in no small part owing to the history of the twentieth century. For those who follow the movements of Scott and his ilk -- in the real world, as well as on virtual forums -- it is an often comic spectacle to see far-right activists, if we might use that term as a less contentious place-holder for a moment, throwing around the term 'fascist' when applying it in relation to those who might be more widely regarded as anti-fascist protestors. That's really all they've got by way of argument: they can't come out fighting, rhetorically at least, for fascism, so they find themselves forced to distance themselves from the term in some bizarre process of inversion. Yes, we can ask 'who are we to decide?' But can we not also ask ‘what would things be like if a political conjuncture came about in which they were to decide?’ Doubtless all manner of people, from Ed Miliband to Nigel Farrage, would suddenly be derided as a 'fascist', while Kevin Scott & Co. march on towards building their nationalist, patriotic, organicist, racially exclusive, barbaric and imperialist utopia, probably at the same time as rehabilitating some rather dubious insignia and historical personages along the way.


  5. [...]

    The over-extension of the term 'fascist' is certainly a danger -- it was common practice in Stalin's Russia, for example, to conflate 'Trotskyite' and 'fascist' saboteurs, (mostly figments of the Stalinist imagination), primarily as a means of extending the toxicity associated with the fascist enemy (which was a real enemy) in order to liquidate the left opposition within the Soviet Union (who bore no similarity whatsoever to the Nazis in Germany, nor to the fascists in Italy). So, yes, historically there is very good reason to point out the danger that you do. The only real way out of such a problem is work to ensure that political movements of the left are as open, democratic and accountable as possible.

    Also, to express reluctance in saying "I don't see that we - or anyone else - should have the power to decide what constitutes 'legitimate' on a national or official level" is, at least in part, to avoid looking at the fact that, in our society, certain people do have the power to decide what is legitimate on a national and official level, and that these people are generally referred to in radical circles as the ruling class. What does the ruling class do when it rules? It seeks to divide, and rule. 'It' -- we can get into that later, if needs be -- seeks to rule not in the interests of the overwhelming majority, but, rather in the interests of the few who benefit from maintaining the status quo. Of course, this process is incredibly complex and stratified; we are not living in a dictatorship, thankfully, so there is at least a certain measure of free debate in the press (although, again, there are discursive limits). The formation of social consensus is a process in which it is possible for progressive gains to be made; but the odds tend to be stacked overwhelmingly against such estimable abstract principles as liberty, equality and fraternity, let alone full communism and the abolition of property rights. This is all a roundabout way of saying that the question of power cannot be ducked in a naive fashion, nor under the pretence that it is not always already in play.


  6. [...]

    Is advocating 'no platform' indicative of a fear that fascist views might actually be attractive to the public, thus implying a profoundly pessimistic view of human nature and the inherently racist nature of the populace at large? No, but it is bound up with a realistic assessment of the nature of capitalism as an economic, social and political system. Capitalism is a system which creates crisis and scarcity, causing fear, division, as well as various forms of social antagonism. In such conditions, people may look to right-wing populists because they think that this is the best way of preserving their own interests (manifest in the form of jobs and houses and food on the table); the tabloid press churns out the type of filth that it does because there is market for it: . If the right-wing populists are shown to be wanting, people may look further to the right, as some are doing in Greece, and as some did in France when they voted for Marine Le Pen. On this empirical evidence, at least, one can only assume that their views are attractive to certain sections of the public, when they are able to gain enough traction to present them. Again, the only bulwark against this is to build movements of the left which are as open, democratic and politically confident as possible. Crucially, though, it must be a movement of the left. Unlike in Greece and France, our task is to prevent in advance a situation in which fascists could become popular, otherwise one is forced to adopt the naive liberal position, investing full faith in bourgeois parliamentary democracy, even to the point where the fascists start winning majorities in elections ("well, that's democracy; the people voted for it, so it must be right!"). The flipside of your valorisation of "democratic freedom" is this: the present system is neither democratic, nor really free. Working to suppress fascism is not coterminous or equivalent with working to suppress democratic freedom; it is a bad analogy, I think. Also, I do think that, given things as they are, much has to do with the formation of social consensus which I mentioned above; to my mind, it is good thing that fascism is considered to be an illegitimate form of politics -- although, if you read into the history of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists, you will see that there was a time when, even in dear old Blightey, fascism won a not insignificant level of popular support -- and we must to keep it that way. As well as participating in the processes which form social consensus, I think we must also work to form the process of formation (which is not a tautology, if you think about it hard enough).


  7. [...]

    The suggestion that 'no platform' might undermine its own objective by lending a kind of pseudo-legitimacy in certain contexts, allowing the fascists to trade on their apparent anti-political, anti-elite stance, is viable, perhaps. Fascists have been known to use the rhetoric of anti-capitalism to try to spread roots amongst the workers' movement. Here, the task, again, is to build a movement of the left which is coherent enough to present itself as the real anti-political, anti-elite, anti-capitalist alternative to the status quo. It is important to remember, here, that fascist currents and parties arose as a response to a period of left-wing insurgency and working-class militancy in Italy, Germany and many parts of Europe in the 1920s, most of which was inspired and sparked off by the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Fascist ideologues were, and are, canny enough to know that their project entails enough of a break with the political status quo that they need to appropriate motifs which make them seem subversive; they cannot afford fully to cede the ground of insurgency to the left, otherwise they might as well just pretend to act like any other bourgeois politician. Those who are frustrated with the mainstream parties have every right to be so: these people are lied to, exploited, taken for a ride, their communities are being attacked, their jobs are being made insecure, the list could go on. The mainstream parties are, to put it bluntly, a crock of the most gnarly shit. Those people to whom you refer, who are frustrated with the status quo, deserve to be given an alternative, and it must be an alternative of the left. That would be where the real battle of ideas would commence, rather than the pseudo-debates that take place in the mainstream press, where everyone dances around merrily, kicking up storm after storm of rhetorical blandishment, whilst maintaining a tactful silence about the fact that everyone is perfectly in accord on the fundamentals: namely, that capitalism is the end of history (Seumus Milne and the occasional Guardian columnist notwithstanding). There is no "corrupt left-wing politically correct establishment"; there is a corrupt liberal politically correct establishment, with quite a few conservative and quasi-authoritarian throwbacks hanging around for good measure, and our task must be to smash it.

    (Willetts is another matter altogether, and this email is already 'quite long'. Much of what would need to be said has already been said (helpfully collected on the donsspeakout blog), so it doesn't need repeating. You articulate two of the key arguments, but Willetts is obviously not a fascist, so no arguments have been made legally, or elsewhere -- (nor, to my mind, should they be) -- that he didn't have a right to the platform. The contradiction here concerns a government minister's right to free speech and a group of protestors' rights to engage in peaceful, effective protest. Jeremy Prynne has rightly pointed out that this contradiction was deftly fudged and smoothed under the carpet by the University's advocate. Willetts left the lecture hall of his own volition, without having made any attempt to engage the student protestors, and yet we are asked to regard him as a democratic politician. This paragraph is a much-reduced, bowdlerised version of arguments better made elsewhere.)


  8. [...]

    Back to topic, although the points relate: Willetts didn't need the University's platform; fascists shouldn't be given a platform by the University (that is really just an assertion of the 'no platform' position, for iteration).

    I cannot agree with Chomsky's imputed position that we should "just ignore" fascist organisations. That takes far too much for granted, at the same time as it cedes too much ground to the state as the only arbiter of 'legitimacy'. We need democratic, socially-rooted organs of vigilance; we cannot rely on the state. You can ignore a fascist organisation, but it might not be quite so ready to ignore you (if you are, say, gay, black, Muslim, Jewish, socialist or just a bit different from their projected ideal type). The task of confronting the threat of fascism cannot be ducked by saying: 'it's not really a threat', because these organisations really do attack people, here and now.

    The policy has been shown to work in this particular instance because when its rationale was explained to the Union's officers Scott was dis-invited.

    On violence: true, the article you link to sets this question in more context (with admirable concision). In fact, it deals with this question pretty adequately I think. It's important to remember that violence is a crucial component of fascist political strategy, but it would be absurd to suggest they have a monopoly on violence. Legally, at least, it is the bourgeois state that has a monopoly on violence, so we're back to that old chesnut again. There is a way in which the status quo admits of and generates structural and systemic violence, in the form of imperialist war (Iraq and Afghanistan), blacklisting and excluding militant workers from gain employment (the breaking of the construction industry blacklist, which is being widely reported at the moment), the marshalling of the state’s forces to break industrial militancy (the battle of Orgreave)… clearly, this list could be extended much, much further. The point here is that those who are oppressed and exploited by the present system have a right to resist that system, with a view to transforming it in its entirety. The question to ask about violence is where and against whom is the violence directed? Fascists seek violently to attack workers’ organisations, ethnic minorities and those whom they regard as having non-normative sexual preferences (to name just a few groups). This kind of violence cannot be condoned, and must be resisted, by strength of numbers: the most effective way of doing this is attempt to bring together all those whom fascists seek to divide, and those who suffer injustice and oppression under the present system, which generates its own undercurrents of symbolic, social and physical kinds of violence.


  9. [...]

    You do acknowledge, in your paragraph on violence, that you can’t really think of any other way of combating fascism and, yet, clearly we do need such a strategy. In lieu of another strategy, perhaps you would be willing to accept ‘no platform’ as an effective and successful one?

    Finally, at last, finally, I agree that “[t]he only effective way to address the problem of fascism is to address the issues that contribute to its support among the public”, as I have tried to make clear throughout. I disagree with the specific historiographical point about Stresemann though, primarily because, no matter what his level of expertise, Gustav Stresemann – an individual -- would not adequately have been able to resolve the contradictions and social antagonisms unleashed by the 1929 Wall Street Crash (the year of his death). To put a figure like Stresemann on a pedestal like this is precisely what the ruling class are obliged to do today: we are asked blindly to trust in the technocratic ‘expertise’ of Mervyn King, Ben Bernanke and their kind, trusting that they will resolve the crisis, finding solutions to steer the ship(s) of state into safer waters. But, again, for whom are they resolving the crisis? For capital, or for labour? Are they even ‘resolving’ the crisis? Do they even really know what they are doing? Do they even have an explanatory framework by which they can make sense of the crisis of capitalism (bearing in mind that they are ideologues of capital)? Or, are they not, in fact, so beholden to the main tenets of neoliberal ideology that they are actually unable to perceive the way in which their stock responses are making the situation worse, not better? Similar arguments could be made Stresemann. In short, he was not – nor would he have been – a deus ex machina for capital and ‘stability’; the forces working against him were simply too overwhelming. The rise of fascism in Germany and Europe is a big question, though. It can hardly be dealt with here.

    As to making claims about commitment to the “free, open and inclusive society”, I can only reiterate that I do not think this is a free, open and inclusive society. We may well be working to achieve such a society, but, in my eyes, that will necessarily involve smashing fascist organisations along the way. There is no room for them in such a society, because they advocate neither, freedom, nor openness, nor inclusivity. It needn’t come down to the final antithesis you pose but as things begin to go Greek, the stakes get higher.