Monday, November 30, 2009

No Platform for Nazis!


The recent appearance of BNP leader, Nick Griffin, has generated much discussion over the question of his right to a platform on the BBC and, more generally, over the issue of free speech for fascists. For me this is an old question about which I made up my mind in the course of the struggle against the National Front in the seventies. At that time we, Anti- Nazi League supporters and the left generally argued the case for no platform in every student union and trade union we could and pretty much won the argument throughout the labour and student movement. Today there is a new generation of fascists (the BNP, EDL etc) and anti- fascists and we need to have, and win, the argument again. This is my contribution.

The first reason for refusing Nick Griffin and other BNPers a platform on the BBC and elsewhere in public life is simply that they are NAZIS. I am not opposed to giving them a platform because I don’t agree with them or don’t like them. I don’t agree with (and actively dislike) Tories, and indeed Blairites, but I don’t want to no platform them. Its because they are NAZIS i.e. fascist followers of Adolf Hitler. Some people don’t realise this because it has long been Nick Griffin’s strategy to present the BNP as just British Patriots, but in fact Griffin and other BNP leaders, like fellow Euro MP Andrew Brons, are long standing hard core Nazis who go back to John Tyndall, the NF and Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists (Hitler’s main supporter in Britain). Moreover Griffin is surrounded by hardcore Nazi thugs, like Tony Lecomber, with numerous convictions for racist violence and terrorism.

Nick Griffin

John Tyndall on left

Oswald Mosley in the 30s

Tony Lecomber (5 convictions under Explosives Act, 12 convictions total)

Some people who know the BNP are Nazis don’t realise what this means. Nazis are not just people with unpleasant views. They are a political movement bent on winning power with the aim of destroying democracy (and freedom of speech), destroying the labour movement (who are all ‘Communists’ in their eyes) and driving out, by intimidation and force, non- white ethnic minorities. Whatever Griffin may say in public, the BNP aim of achieving a white only, non- multicultural Britain could ONLY be achieved by smashing the trade unions and socialist organisations and violent intimidation and persecution of people of colour, and Griffin knows this.

The second main reason for not giving the BNP a platform is that we are not just talking about words here. Every time and everywhere the BNP gets a foothold or an airing of its views there is an increase in racist violence and attacks. This is what happened in SE London when the BNP had its headquarters in Welling, culminating in the racist murder of Steven Lawrence. Its what happened with former BNP member, David Copeland , the nail bomber who bombed Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho. Griffin will not go on TV and openly urge violence but that’s what his thug sympathisers on the street will hear and act on.

Stopping the BNP (and other fascists) from growing and building influence, including by stopping their marches, and denying them public platforms is therefore both a political duty, a necessary act of solidarity with all vulnerable minorities AND, for everyone of colour, LGBT people, Jews, Muslims, trade unionists, socialists etc a matter of self preservation. To put it personally, if the BNP were in power I, and people like me, would be in prison at best and most likely dead. In a town or community where they were dominant I and people like me would not be safe to walk the streets. Anyone who doubts this should check the historical record and see what the fascists did to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Germany, to Antonio Gramsci in Italy, to Andreu Nin in Spain and to hundreds of thousands of rank and file socialists across Europe, long before they started on the Holocaust.

Some Common, but Mistaken, Arguments for giving the BNP a Platform

1. Put Griffin on TV, he’ll only make a fool of himself.
Griffin was bad on Question Time, but the publicity he received enabled the BNP to get 3000 enquiries for membership. Every time Griffin or other BNP leaders get these platforms they get more publicity, become more accepted as part of the ‘mainstream’ and gain support.
2. The way to defeat the BNP is by rational argument. Rational argument will work for some people (mostly people who wouldn’t join or vote BNP anyway) but it will not work for many of those the BNP is trying to attract. The BNP’s essential appeal is not rational but emotive. Their appeal is to bigotry and hatred, to people who are fearful and want scapegoats and ‘strong leadership’. Gaining public platforms, such as on the BBC, increases that appearance of strength, as does successfully marching in the streets. Denying them a platform and driving them off our streets shatters that image of strength. The ‘master race’ doesn’t look very masterful when it is forced to flee with its tail between its legs.
3. The BNP are not Nazis because they British not German. This is an argument based on historical ignorance. The German Nazis are the best known example of fascism, but fascism was and is an international phenomenon and movement, which took power in Italy, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Rumania, Japan and elsewhere, and struggled for power in other countries including France and Britain. Today there are neo-nazi movements across Europe including in Russia and outside Europe, in the USA and India.
4. The British people have too much sense to be won over by the BNP. This argument can seem plausible and hard to answer without attacking ‘the British people’ but it is wrong on a number of grounds. Try out, for example, ‘The British people have too much sense to vote for Margaret Thatcher’. Or ‘The British people have too much sense to interested in trashy nonsense like Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity- Get me Out of Here.’ It is not true that the British have some special gene of common sense, unlike Germans, Italians etc , which makes them immune to fascism. What stopped Mosley in the thirties was not ‘British’ common sense but anti-fascist militancy at the Battle of Cable St. and elsewhere. Also the BNP does not have to win over all, or even most, of the British people (and the same applies to fascist movements in other countries). The fascists in Germany, Italy, Spain etc did not gain power by winning majority support but by being put in power in situations of extreme economic or political crisis by the ruling class of those countries in order to smash the left and the workers movement. For that they did not need to achieve a majority only a credible sixe and strength. This can certainly be achieved by the BNP in the future IF we let them.
5. Freedom of speech is an absolute principle, which must be granted even to Nazis.
No, it is not an ABSOLUTE principle in this or any other society and cannot be. I do not have an absolute, or any kind, of right to turn up at the BBC and be allowed to speak on Question Time or any other programme, I have to be invited and so does Nick Griffin. Even elected MPs cant demand the right to be on TV, much as they’d like to. Try exercising absolute freedom of speech at the Tory Party Conference or the Labour Party Conference (remember Walter Wolfgang who shouted ‘Rubbish!’ at Jack Straw and was manhandled out by heavies.) Try exercising any kind of freedom of speech in a court of law when the judge tells you not to and you will end up in jail for contempt. In fact there thousands of such restrictions on freedom of speech, in the armed forces, in many jobs, on schools, in the police, and so on. You do not have, and should not have, a right to stand in the street and yell racist abuse at people (indeed you can be arrested for behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace for a lot less than this). Yet, although the BNP may choose its words carefully this is essentially what the BNP does. They should be stopped before they get too strong for them to be stopped.

What all the above arguments have in common is that they treat the struggle against fascism as if it were some kind of reasoned debate with victory going to the side that presents the most logical arguments ( ‘Now is mass unemployment in Germany really caused by the Jews ? Let’s examine the evidence’) It is not. History shows that it is a social and political struggle ( an aspect of the class struggle) which if the fascists get strong enough will culminate in civil and world war. Defeating Hitler cost 50 million lives. I say ‘ Never Again! Stop them now – by any means necessary !’

John Molyneux
November 30, 2009

Obituary for Chris Harman

Chris Harman (1942-2009)

Chris Harman was my comrade for forty one years.From 1983 to 1997 I wrote a weekly column for Socialist Worker of which he was then the Editor. Also since the early eighties I served with Chris on the Editorial Board of International Socialism Journal, which in recent years he has edited. To say that his death is a dreadful loss is an understatement. What follows is a slightly longer i.e. uncut version of the obituary that appeared in The Independent on 19 November.

Chris Harman, editor of International Socialism Journal and, before that, of Socialist Worker, and leading figure in the Socialist Workers Party for more than four decades, died last week in Cairo of a heart attack. This was all the more shocking because it was so unexpected. His death came as a real bolt from the blue.

Chris radicalised while still at school, and was an active socialist even before he went to Leeds University in 1962. By the time he arrived to do a PhD at the LSE in 1965
he was already a force on the left and writing for International Socialism. At the LSE he played a key role in the Socialist Society which, in turn, led the LSE sit ins that helped trigger the whole British student movement of that time.

Chris’s commitment to political activity never weakened. Over the years he could be seen at countless meetings, rallies and demos and he died only hours after speaking at a conference of Egyptian socialist activists. There is no doubt that his main contribution to the socialist cause he served all his life was as a writer and theorist, but like Marx he thought ‘Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it’ and everything he wrote was part of the project of building a revolutionary workers organisation, the SWP, capable of actually taking on capitalism.

As his long editorship of Socialist Worker (1982- 2004) showed, Chris was always a party man fiercely loyal to the SWP, but his intellectual stature was such that he always had an influence beyond party ranks. Everyone on the left who was serious about the Marxist analysis of the contemporary world, had to take Harman seriously. At the time of his death he was, in my opinion, the foremost Marxist theorist in the world.

To justify that claim here is a brief summary of his most important intellectual contributions.

First, his ongoing analysis of Russia and Eastern Europe. He adopted from Tony Cliff, the view that these societies were not socialist but state capitalist and took over, also, the task of applying this analysis to the Stalinist regimes in the period of their decline. In 1967 he wrote ‘Russia: How the Revolution was Lost’, explaining the rise of Stalin in Marxist terms, and in 1970 produced the exceptionally prescient ‘Prospects for the Seventies: the Stalinist States’ which accurately diagnosed their underlying economic weakness and foresaw their fall. This was followed by Class Struggles in Eastern Europe, on workers’ revolts against Stalinism and then by a series of brilliant articles analysing Gorbachev, Glasnost and Perestroika, as they happened, which had the dividend of steering the SWP and its international partners through the rocky waters of 1989-91 that disoriented and demoralised so many on the left.

Then there were three major works of history. The Lost Revolution: Germany 1918- 23 (1982) dealt with one of the most important but lesser known episodes of modern history: the five years after the First World War when Germany was far closer to socialism than to fascism, and when, but for a loss of nerve by its leaders, German Communism might have taken power in a revolution that would have forestalled both Hitler and Stalin.. The Fire Last Time – 1968 and after (1988) was a masterly analysis of all those struggles which had shaped Chris in his youth – the US black revolt, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the student revolt, May 68, the invasion of Czechoslovakia and so on. Of the many books written on that time this is by far the best because as well as capturing the period’s spirit of rebellion it also offered a sustained explanation of it.

However, A People’s History of the World (1999) is in a league of its own. To have condensed the history of humanity into seven hundred pages without dumbing down is feat enough but the book’s centrepiece is an original analysis of the rise of capitalism, which builds on the insights of previous historians, to present the first fully international account and theory of the system’s historical genesis. The People’s History was written for the millennium but will far outlive the moment of its production, providing a vital work of reference for socialist activists everywhere.

Most important of all has been was Chris’s relentless critique of the world capitalist economy. He sustained this at every level from the popular booklet (The Economics of the Madhouse) to the superb synthesis of theory and evidence that characterised his main economic works, Explaining the Crisis (1984) and Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx (2009). Whenever capitalism enjoys a period of prosperity its supporters claim it will last forever and that the spectre of crisis has been exorcised. Chris never countenanced this. Basing himself on the theory of the declining rate of profit in Capital Vol 3, which he defended against all comers, he always insisted that sooner or later boom would turn to slump, and could justly claim that the sudden eruption in 2008 of the worst crisis since the thirties vindicated his arguments. Moreover in recent years he more and more integrated into his economic analysis the threat posed by climate change and how this would sharpen the struggles engendered by the crisis.

These major interventions were accompanied by a ceaseless stream of articles on an array of topics ranging from philosophy to riots. Frequently these would prove to be of central strategic importance. Such was The Prophet and the Proletariat’ (1994) which was crucial in pioneering an analysis of political Islam, even before 9/11, and thus preparing socialists to combat war and Islamophobia.

To write of Chris the private person is less easy because of his deep shyness but sometimes, in the company of friends and after a few pints the reserve would slip, and it should be said he was a kind and decent man who never gave a thought to personal advancement.

At a personal level his partner Talat, and children Seth and Sinead will feel his loss most acutely. Politically it will be shared by revolutionary socialists and Marxists across the world. Nevertheless we retain the example of his unswerving commitment and his rich theoretical legacy and that we can celebrate.

John Molyneux