No Platform for Marine Le Pen – A Response by Cambridge Libertarians

Marine Le Pen National Front Cambridge

Our statement on Marine Le Pen’s talk at the Cambridge Union Society.

The Cambridge Union Society is once again causing controversy by inviting the French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, to speak in its hallowed debating chamber. This invitation is opposed by numerous student organizations in Cambridge on a ‘No-Platform’ basis, due to her leading ‘a fascist organization’. Whether her views are fascist or not is irrelevant. Her right to free speech, and the right of others to hear her speak, should not be infringed.

The right to free speech is the cornerstone of a free society. The ‘No Platform’ supporters claim that ‘No Platform is about defending freedom of speech’, as ‘Fascists use freedom of speech to spread their message of hate, but destroyed all freedom and democracy when they gained power.’ This argument is a clever case of doublethink, much like Irwin’s paradoxical statement in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys – ‘The loss of liberty is the price we pay for freedom’.

How does one protect a universal right to free speech by taking it away from a select few? Mme Le Pen’s views are deemed distasteful, even abhorrent, by a great many, almost certainly an overwhelming majority of people in Cambridge and this country, but since when was an individual’s right to free speech dependent on the will of the majority? An important part of a liberal society is the appreciation of a variety of different viewpoints, many of which will not be in accordance with your own.

If the Union is ‘promoting’ Mme Le Pen’s ideas by inviting her to speak, surely it is also ‘promoting’ the ideas of its other speakers, which many may find themselves opposed to. I am thinking here of members of mainstream political parties, of Communists, of the religious, and of pretty much every speaker the Union could possibly invite.

Marine Le Pen meets No Platform Protestors

If it is a question of balance, surely a better way to combat this ‘promotion’ of one idea over another would be to invite another speaker, perhaps an avowed anti-fascist, to speak. This would be more in keeping with the Union’s purpose, in promoting debate. Debate and discussion is meaningless if it is only with those with which you already agree.

The proponents of ‘No Platform’ seek to fight what they deem abhorrent views by denying those views an outlet. By closing their eyes and ears they hope the problem will go away. Yet by refusing to engage with those they oppose, they do not tackle the problem of racism and fascism head on. They push it underground, where its effects are even more insidious. A self-confident liberal political philosophy is more than capable of taking on what is at its core a disjointed, contradictory and ill thought out doctrine. A better response would be to make the positive case for liberal democracy, and have a real debate which the proponents of fascism would certainly lose.

In response to the accusations that ‘No Platform’ is stifling free speech, they may argue that all they are doing is preventing one person from joining a rather small group who have a somewhat elevated level of speech. They are free of course to speak elsewhere. What ‘No Platform’ is then doing is not attempting to prevent Mme Le Pen from speaking, but to prevent the Cambridge Union Society from listening. This attacks a core idea even deeper than the freedom of expression, the freedom of thought. Such an argument suggests that if we listen, we will be drawn in by the sweet words and charisma of Mme Le Pen and all become fascists. Such an idea is of course ludicrous; an important aspect of a free society is the freedom of all people to hear all arguments and come to their own conclusions, whether others like it or not.

One does not fight fascism with fascism. One protects free speech with free speech. Mme Le Pen’s invitation to the Union presents an opportunity for all students in Cambridge to tackle her head on, to challenge her views and the views of her supporters. To eschew this opportunity and instead challenge her right to free speech is not only wasteful but detrimental to the fight for freedom and liberty in which many of the supporters of ‘No Platform’ are keenly engaged.

This was written for Varsity, a student-run newspaper at Cambridge University. You can read the response to our article by supporters of No Platform policies here.

Update

Those who did not go to the talk can watch Marine Le Pen’s speech here:

And here is a round-up of interesting articles from the Cambridge “blogosphere” (or lack of) about Marine Le Pen and “No Platform” policies.

Conrad Landin asks why has Marine Le Pen been invited to Cambridge? – “Chanting ‘free speech’ isn’t enough: the debating union has to answer criticisms of its dodgy celebrity invitations”.

This House Would Invite Marine Le Pen – Ben Kentish, President of the Cambridge Union Society, explains why Marine Le Pen was invited to speak at the Union.

Why Le Pen is an absent threat – Chris McKeon argues that the controversy surrounding Marine Le Pen’s recent appearance at the Union overestimates Cambridge’s influence, and underestimates its students’ common sense.

Why We Might Want to Invite Marine Le Pen to Cambridge – Jinho Clement, Chair of iCUSU, responds to Conrad Landin’s Guardian article from the perspective of an international student.

Comments

  1. says

    This is a welcome intervention into an important debate, however, the author makes a number of erroneous or ill-considered claims which need some unpicking.

    There is an undercurrent of liberal idealism in your piece which does a real disservice to many on the libertarian left who would not want to associate themselves with such bland conformism and mongering of the status quo. Your cheerleading for liberal democracy would not sit well with Peter Kropotkin, for example.

    No one, to my knowledge, who supports the ‘no platform’ policy has made the case that the Union is offering ideological support to Marine Le Pen’s cause, but it is offering material support. Herein lies an important distinction with which your discussion of the Union’s decision to ‘promote’ Le Pen fails to grapple. Her appearance affords her a propaganda opportunity which will contribute towards the normalisation and potential legitimatisation of a political agenda predicated upon domination, fear and violence. As Walter Benjamin aptly put it, not even the dead would be safe were this enemy to come to power. Not only does it afford Marine Le Pen a propaganda opportunity, it allows the English Defence League to hang on her coat-tails this coming weekend. Can you be sure that the timing of these two events has not been co-ordinated?

    You have also overlooked the point that the Union has not organised a debate in this instance; no avowed anti-fascist has been invited to speak, nor would such an avowed anti-fascist agree to share a platform with a fascist, which may cause some problems for your argument. Indeed, other speakers, including the CUSU president, have withdrawn from speaking engagements at the Union in response to the invitation of Marine Le Pen. Her potential speech-acts have already closed down and forestalled others’ rights to enjoy the freedoms (of speech, of expression) which you profess to cherish. This poses a problem for your argument, does it not? Surely, you do not wish to instruct any such person that s/he is wrong to have withdrawn from such a speaking engagement, because who are you to proscribe or prohibit the taking of such a moral stance?

    Moreover, you should not simply assume that winning the battle of ideas involves no more than a process of agonistic, rational debate. A few days’ after Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time in September 2009 – an appearance in which Mr. Griffin made the homophobic remark that he thought the sight of gay men kissing to be “creepy” – a homophobic attack was committed in Trafalgar Square, which resulted in the death of Ian Baynham: . For your case to hold water, you will have to dismiss this homophobic murder as mere happenstance, the timing a mere coincidence. Others, who are somewhat less sanguine about the matter, might then point out to you that those who harbour such homophobic (or racist, or anti-socialist) impulses towards extreme violence are more likely to gain the confidence to act on such thoughts if they feel that such homophobic (or racist, or anti-socialist) views are legitimate and publicly acceptable. Do you think that Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time was more or less likely to encourage such confidence? You might remember that a YouGov poll found that 1 in 5 viewers said they would be more likely to vote BNP after the would-be-Fuhrer’s appearance and the fascists reported a 3000-strong surge in membership. With this in mind, you might want to consider the extent to which allowing fascists to speak on prominent public platforms might have material consequences and ramifications beyond the narrow confines of the debating chamber.

    You suggest that organising a panel discussion, in which a speaker could make the “positive case for liberal democracy”, would then go on to precipitate a “real debate” in “which the proponents of fascism would certainly lose”. The politics of anti-fascism cannot be reduced to the social mores and etiquette of a University debating club. Moreover, you are naïve, or perhaps confused, if you think that Marine Le Pen would openly proclaim her maximum programme, at the present moment and in the present context, in this rather cosy ‘debate’ which you pose as an hypothetical ideal-speech situation. At the present moment, the balance of social and class forces ensure that it would be manifestly impossible for Marine Le Pen openly to make the case for fascism, nor would she be inclined to do so, because she and her co-thinkers behave more tactically than that: she is not seeking to intervene in a debate, as such; rather, she is thinking about how to create the conditions of possibility for new types of discourse to emerge; her strategy is to attempt to shift the political centre of gravity in such a way as to reconfigure the realm of what is considered ‘acceptable’. I will not take the trouble to remind you of the historical consequences writ large when previous fascist movements and parties became ‘acceptable’.

    You assert that the ‘no platform’ policy entails the suggestion that “if we listen, we will be drawn in by the sweet words and charisma of Mme Le Pen and all become fascists. Such an idea is of course ludicrous; an important aspect of a free society is the freedom of all people to hear all arguments and come to their own conclusions, whether others like it or not.” Are you content to leave unsubstantiated your assertion that we actually do inhabit a free society? Here, you are in danger of universalising your own subject position. Sadly, and, of course, thankfully, not everyone is a good, right-thinking liberal like you. More to the point, you do not say why it is ludicrous to suggest that no one will be persuaded by Marine Le Pen’s performance and her rhetoric. Is it ludicrous? 18% of the French electorate voted for her. Golden Dawn, another fascist party, is achieving truly worrying levels of public support in Greece. Why is it “ludicrous” to suggest that such a process could not be replicated here? You fail seriously to consider the ways in which the crisis of capitalism is undermining the ideological and material bases of the very ‘free’, ‘liberal’, ‘democratic’ society which you so noisily and naïvely profess to cherish.

    With this in mind, I hope you will not mind too much if I proceed to probe at one of your more dangerously thoughtless canards: who has suggested that we ought to fight fascism with fascism?

    • James Root says

      Thank you for this reply, it is well thought out, well reasoned and well written.

      My point of fighting fascism with fascism relates to the first paragraph in my piece in which I question the ‘No Platform’ motivations. They claim (quite correctly) that when fascists come to power they restrict free speech. Their response to that in my opinion is also the restriction of free speech, which by their own terms is something fascistic.

      Your point about promotion still does not, I feel, hold water. It suggests that the platform she is being offered is some sort of boost to her legitimacy, a rallying cry opportunity. As you say later in your response, she has already achieved 18% in the most recent French Presidential Election. In her own mind and in the mind of her supporters her views are already normalized. What we are doing here, in a relatively small debating chamber filled with (what I think I can reasonably assume to be) rational, intelligent students, is listening with a historically minded interest to how this woman with her deplorable views has managed to achieve such legitimacy already. To explain this problem may go some way to explaining it away.

      I did not overlook the point that the Union has not organized a debate, rather I suggested that those opposed to Marine Le Pen support the idea of a debate with her. If an avowed anti-fascist refuses to “share a platform” with her then I firstly question the sound nature of that response, and secondly offer to do it myself. Her views cannot be blocked out fully. In the internet era any attempts to repress her movement will be piecemeal. It is my view that instead to point out the glaring flaws in her ideology would be a superior method of challenging her. Your point about speakers pulling out is a bit of a catch-22. The speaker chooses not to exercise their freedom of speech if another is granted it. I would not see this as undermining my point, as Marine Le Pen was not directly responsible for closing down the other speeches due to be given.

      I refuse to use the phrase ‘mere happenstance’ to describe such a horrific attack. However I do question the link you are making. What happened to this man was appalling, and the perpetrators of the attack I condemn wholeheartedly. But as the very article you reference quotes “The perpetrators of this crime were educated in Britain’s education system within the last five years, demonstrating how much more needs to be done to tackle homophobia in our schools before it festers into violence on the streets.” Homophobia is a real, pressing issue in the UK (as I think we have seen recently with the surprising, in my opinion, scale of opposition to gay marriage), but to suggest that it is entirely, or even a significant degree, due to the effects of Nick Griffin or the BNP gives him and his party far too much credit.

      Le Pen and her co-thinkers do “think more tactically than that”, I agree, and I in no way suggest she will voluntarily offer her more abhorrent views. What I argue is that in the absence of a counterweight, someone questioning her head on, these views will not be revealed in a context where they can be challenged. They will instead be revealed at rallies, on the internet and in television/radio broadcasts with no recourse for response and rebuttal.

      I thank you for picking up on my final point which I agree was made in a somewhat haphazard way. This was meant to be a more focused point on her specific appearance at the Cambridge Union. While I agree her rhetoric may have some resonance elsewhere in the country, indeed in my hometown of Burnley I suspect she may win some converts, it is my belief that here in Cambridge and with an audience of Cambridge students she will win no converts. This is an assertion, you may disagree with it if you like and I would be very interested to view polling data afterwards which proves me wrong. However to me a spike in support for fascism in these times of a ‘crisis of capitalism’ suggests that those ‘on the side’ of capitalism (if you will) are failing in their own responses to the crisis, both practically and rhetorically. To resort to the blocking out of Marine Le Pen for fear that she may win converts is, in my opinion, akin to admitting defeat.

      May I once again thank you for your response, this is the kind of debate which we both know would not happen under a fascist or any other totalitarian government. I hope it serves as a reminder to all of the importance of the free exchange of ideas and discussion between equals.

    • Josh Wooderson says

      Again, thank you for your response. I’d like to add a few points of my own, if I may.

      Firstly, I doubt whether many on the libertarian left would want to associate themselves with us anyway, given that we are an avowedly pro-free market society (although of course all views are welcome). It is true that there is no definitive libertarian position on the ‘no platform’ policy, but we feel – or at least this is my own view – that a wholehearted commitment to freedom of speech as an ideal ought to extend to an endorsement of debate that is free and open as possible, rather than mere opposition to state censorship. Whether this is in line with the status quo hardly matters.

      Your reasoning with respect to the ‘normalisation and potential legitimatisation’ of Le Pen’s agenda would, I fear, justify a far more thoroughgoing restriction on the freedom of speech of extreme groups than you seem to be advocating here i.e. government censorship. Libertarians are the first to acknowledge that there is a difference between private organisations’ denying a platform to certain views, and use of the coercive power of the state to repress them, but if the vaguest possibility that their expression might motivate a crime is enough to warrant a universal ‘no platform’ stance (which, I imagine, you believe it is), it is not so clear why the same consideration would not lend itself to the most draconian laws against hate speech.

      Like James, I find the link you suggest between Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time and the later homophobic attack rather dubious, given that there were six hundred or so such crimes that year in Scotland alone, making it not unlikely that one would occur soon after the appearance by ‘mere happenstance’.

      To reiterate what has been said already, one has to bear in mind the nature of the audience in this case, which will be predominantly intelligent, liberal-minded students (most of whom, I suspect, are in any case unable to vote in French elections, meaning that unless support for Le Pen’s views translates directly into votes for, say, the BNP, it would not do much good for the far right). We are also as a country, let alone as a university, a long way from experiencing the sort of economic difficulties Greece is currently undergoing, which tend to be conducive to support for fringe groups.

      We are of course not so naïve as to think that Le Pen will be entirely open about her views (although it is not obvious that they are anything like as extreme as her father’s, let alone extreme enough to warrant the label ‘fascist’), but I strongly suspect that she will face the kind of cross-examination Nick Griffin received during his Question Time appearance, particularly about those of her views that she is reluctant to express.

      One final point: we would, naturally, dispute the suggestion that the current financial crisis is one of capitalism, rather than one predominantly of government intervention. See this report from the Institute of Economic Affairs, for example, for an Austrian School account of the recession: http://www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/Causes%20and%20Cures%20of%20the%20Great%20Recession.pdf

    • says

      What difference would it make if the whole country of France voted for marine le penn, if thats what the people want. What the people don’t want is voter intimidation from left wing labour party proxy groups that tell us they know whats best for us.
      Meanwhile their party leaders become millionaires and we lose our homes,jobs,identity and home land.

  2. says

    The Cambridge union exercises choice over who it invites. Is it denying freedom of speech to all those it chooses not to invite. Your point about debating racists head on rather than banning them is a reasonable one but to call this a freedom of speech issue is disingenuous and bogus

    • James Root says

      It isn’t denying the freedom of speech to those it chooses not to invite, no. But it is not making a conscious policy decision to not invite the rest of the world, this is the point I am making. If the Union were to decide on a No Platform policy it would be actively denying the freedom of speech to a select group.

    • says

      Bob, what’s disingenious and bogus is the lazy and relentless use of terms such as racist/Nazi/facist in desperate attempts to smear your opponents because ur unable to debate

  3. says

    What is this nonsensical ‘legitimisation’ on which those who place themselves on the left consider so important a distinction?

    To whom are they referring when they suggest the fact of her speaking itself legitimises her views in the mind of some theoretical person or group. Have they ever met anyone, who on hearing that a person was to speak, thereby decided that person’s views had merit?

    Can we assume that if a person speaks at CUS to defend the view that 9/11 was a hologram projection or that aliens live among us, that someone not in attendance are thereby slightly more convinced of its truth?

    Further, if we have to consider that in some circumstances it is conceivable that the weak of mind might be inspired by some action of another to commit criminal acts, are we morally obliged to limit our social interactions because of it?

  4. says

    Marine Le Pen is addressing issues that many people wish to hear and discuss. It is not up to those of the left – and it is always those on the left – to decide what can and cannot be discussed by others. if you don’t want to hear what the lady has to say then don’t go!

    • James Root says

      I would condition this point by reminding you that those on the right are just as guilty as those on the left for censorship and deciding what can and cannot be discussed, fascists being the clear example but also Republicans in the USA stifling abortion and homosexuality, and its ‘promotion’ by schools and doctors. Freedom of speech is under attack from all directions. Nevertheless I thank you for your comment.

    • says

      well I don’t see anyone stopping so called ‘anti-facists’ from speaking out. UAF and co remind me of Hitler’s Brown Shirts, used to break up free speech meetings in 1930s Germany. Congrats on an excellent op-ed and having the courage to arrange this event. I hope you have the courage to go through with it

    • James Root says

      Thank you for the congratulations but I have nothing to do with the arrangement of the event, although I will be attending. That is down to the Cambridge Union Society not the Cambridge Libertarians

    • says

      then congrats to them, and hope you firmly suggest to those attempting to prevent free speech that your can make up your own mind on matters and don’t need them making it up for you :)

  5. says

    “Mme Le Pen’s views are deemed distasteful, even abhorrent, by a great many, almost certainly an overwhelming majority of people in Cambridge and this country”.

    How can we know that? How much does the average person know of her beliefs and policies? How will they ever know if she is denied to right to freedom of speech?

  6. says

    This a thoughtful post.

    The pejorative label of “Fascist” is easily thrown about. The reality however is that the Left, in order to distance itself from National Socialism, has defined it as right wing when in fact it sprang from the Left. Eugenics and the extermination of people who hold differing views came straight from the Fabians. G B Shaw, a Fabian Socialist, can be seen here –

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQvsf2MUKRQ

    One description from the OED says ” extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices:”.

    This is just what the Left are displaying when trying to silence people who hold views they do not.

    Name calling, vilification, silencing, persecution are all activities of the Left.

    We should be very wary of allowing the Left to control our rights to freedom of thought, speech and association.

    We have been here before.

  7. says

    This organisation and others like it claim to stand for and protect “free speech”. One assumes they draw an imaginary line on this woolly concept at some point. The EDL regularly organises and celebrates the posting of racist grafitti on the walls of mosques as well as the pages of their facebook group. It is not uncommon for liberals then to argue that freedom of speech is okay so long as it doesn’t break the law – thus this “freedom” is exposed for the worthless fantasy that it is when trumped by the other obsession of this and other organisations – private property.

    The definition of free speech which this organisation subscribes to comes from failure to understand the historical victories of those who stood for freedom to express political views, the dynamics of power in the modern parliamentary democracy and the intentions of Neo-Nazi organisations like Le Pen’s Front National. There is too much ignorance here to redress with one Facebook post but a few comments should hopefully open up the debate a little.

    Firstly we are told that the best way to defeat Le Pen’s fascist views are to address them in argument. That would be the case against a “distasteful” casual racist, perhaps. But in France the FN is a street-fighting organisation. Its self declared strategy is to get into the mainstream of political debate. It has no intention whatsoever of actually winning that debate. It treats debate – as other fascist parties do – with utter contempt. The debate is mere cover so that it can consolidate the gains of its mass organisation of thugs. That is exactly what is happening in Greece right now. I may be wrong, but I doubt this organisation has shown any serious concern for free speech there.

    Secondly, please, I implore you, spare the internet the self-righteous spraff that Liberalism is “capable of taking on what is at its core a disjointed, contradictory and ill thought out doctrine”. Liberalism has failed time and again to do this. Failed utterly. There were many factors which led to the rise of fascist parties across Europe. But the inability of liberals to see the nature of fascism factored into all of them. In contrast in Russia, when General Kornilov attempted the first fascist style coup of the 20th century, the politics of the united front – no platform, a society uniting to exclude the reactionaries and so on – proved remarkably effective. These ideas were applied in Britain, in France, against the NF in the 1970s and against the BNP in the 1990s. They were successful. Your method was not. If you don’t’ believe me, try reading about the period of history between 1939 and 1945. You won’t like what happened to liberalism in that period. There were surely millions of people on bunk beds in concentration camps who were delighted that they had taken the moral high-ground in debates with their butchers.

    If this does not convince you (and we may be beyond hope if not) simply consider this – who does Le Pen, Griffin and other nascent fascist leaders hate most – UAF or the Cambridge Libertarians? To whom do they credit their defeats? Of whom are they scared, angered and outraged? Anywhere the fascists fail they immediately round upon the people who have successfully united communities against them. If you were involved in these campaigns you’d know that many people build real democratic confidence through this process. Anti-fascism has strengthened, not weakened democracy.

    Finally I will point out that members of the Cambridge student body will not be stopped by UAF or any organisation from “hearing Le Pens views”. Even if they did (as I hope) stop her from speaking any cretin wishing to read her racist bile could easily get hold of her incessant ramblings on the internet – since she has every opportunity to speak at French rallies protected by criminal thugs and promoted by the incredible power of the French conservative press. It is thus not a question of having the right to speak – but the power. I have the same right to speak as Rupert Murdoch, but he has the power. It is ridiculous to equate our “free speech” because of our supposed legal rights – a mere exercise in willful ignorance.

    In the name of every decent person of France, every immigrant and trade unionist, every Jew or Muslim, every gay and every deportee or homeless person – this invitation should be revoked. Their right to free speech is one which needs real and concrete defence – defence from Le Pen and her goons.

    • James Root says

      So your first argument that the freedom of speech is worthless if it is constrained by the right to private property is quite fallacious. An important part of classical liberalism and libertarianism is of course the commitment to private property, there are a number of rights and freedoms we stand to protect no one of them particularly more important than others. Were Marine Le Pen here with a bunch of goons to destroy the Union building, to deface Cambridge with graffiti or worse, to go on a violent rampage and harm others then of course we would oppose their visit. Obviously this was not what she came here to do.

      I feel I should point out at this moment that I, like all sensible people, abhor everything Mme Le Pen stands for. I completely reject the use of political violence, which her party is indeed guilty of. The perpetrators of these acts of violence have broken the law, and they should be held responsible. There is a fuzzy line around the incitement and encouragement of violence which I admittedly have difficulties with. I think it is perhaps sensible that the incitement to violence is illegal, or rather ordering violent acts be committed certainly should be, but that is not what she was here to do.

      A street fighting organization the NF may be, but can it change? I would love to hear your opinions on the IRA and Sinn Fein. If the NF were to openly and actively renounce violence, but to keep the rest of their political “philosophy”, would you still oppose them speaking?

      You need not talk to me about history, I am a historian. The rise of fascism was not due to their being allowed to take part in debates, it was due to an ineffective effort to stop their political violence and use of fear tactics. I would not say that the state should not stop the rise of paramilitary organizations, or clamp down on extremist acts of political violence. But I believe it is possible to separate these from political debate. Indeed, if their views are restricted from the field of political debate, what other outlet is there but violence? Also, drawing direct historical parallels between the 1930s and now is ridiculous. Could the people of the 1930s possibly imagine the horrors that Nazism would bring? I can tell you now, perhaps they could, but they didn’t. The world is a different place now, while there are those who might still hold abhorrent views with regards to the atrocities committed before and during the Second World War, I think the suggestion that those atrocities could be supported and carried out again neglects the strengthened beliefs in liberalism and tolerance which exist today.

      I am not opposing anti-fascism. As a libertarian I am inherently anti-fascist. I wholeheartedly support the efforts of those who seek to dispel the rhetoric of neo-fascism for the lies it is. What I do not support, as I have said throughout my piece, is the use of “battleground tactics” which seek to undermine fascism through blocking it out. No Platform is what I oppose, not No Fascism.

    • says

      Firstly James, I DO need to talk to you about history – precisely since you are a historian. That’s a bit like saying, don’t talk to me about your problems – I am a therapist! You’ll be familiar with the strategy of both Hitler and Mussolini among others, to combine the use of street violence and a mass movement capable of breaking the power of the working class. Their chief targets were trade unionists, communists, Jews (in Germany) and everyone else who they saw as a threat to the old establishment politics of a bygone era. But they knew that the existing state could not manage the economy, so there could not simply be a reversion to the imperial past. In Hitler’s case it could not manage liberal capitalism effectively. In Mussolini’s it was under constant threat from the Communists. Both men took power through a combination of “legitimate” political means within the parliamentary system and a strong organised violent force on the streets – with acquiescence if not active support of the police, army, courts etc. In both cases however they built a fascist state alongside some of the existing power structures, with the support of the elite (industrialists, Kings, popes, army generals, aristrocrats, bankers etc). What they wished to do was to convince ordinary people that they weren’t to be trifled with. That’s why the carried bats, torches, belts and jackboots and wore uniforms. But they also had to convince the traditional ruling elites that they could look respectable, statesmen-like, genteel, refined. Theri real power was judicial, military, martial. Bu the political , media-propaganda element was a FRONT. Now, the problem is that you say we should oppose their illegal activity but not their political speeches. But yet everywhere it is argued that their violent mobs must be appeased precisely because they get votes. And nobody seems to care that the only reason why they are interested in votes is to build up the confidence of their thugs! They are open about this. Hitler explained it perfectly. “Only one thing could have broken our movement – if our enemies had understood its principle and from the first day had smashed the nucleus of our movement”. But stop listening to me. Stop reading what I say – I will obviously never convince you. Go and read the utter failure of your tactics in Greece right now, today as those who were mere distasteful eurosceptic MPs a few months ago are now a force for murder and torture across Athens. These people are not the right of the Tory party, or UKIP. They are not the some inconvenience. They are the heirs of Hitler’s tradition. And we must treat them as he advised in order to break them.

    • Josh Wooderson says

      ‘Both men took power through a combination of “legitimate” political means within the parliamentary system and a strong organised violent force on the streets…’

      Precisely. No fascist or totalitarian government, to my knowledge, has ever come to power through entirely legitimate, democratic means. Most seized power through violent coups. Why you think that accommodating their ostensibly respectable political front is incompatible with preventing violence and ignoring the demands of their violent mobs is beyond me. As for Greece, it is untrue to say that the extremists there (I assume you’re referring to Golden Dawn) were ‘mere distasteful eurosceptic MPs a few months ago’. In June of last year, the party’s leader said ‘“Yes, we are racist and nationalist and we are not hiding that.” Hardly a cunning political front. Also, I think a little more euroscepticism would have done the country some good before it joined the Euro, which is largely responsible for their current situation.

    • says

      I was being flippant when I used the mere eurosceptic bit. The point is that neo-nazi parties pose as respectable MPs but they have their thugs on the streets at the same time. My argument is that you have to treat the organisations as a whole – they certainly do. It uses the two sides in order to obfuscate as well as reinforce. Keeping them off the streets forces them to go the parliamentary route. Keeping them off the platform angers their street fighters. Any increase in the confidence of one strategy makes them look for advances in the other. But a defeat in either arena demoralises them into in-fighting. UAF have done a tremendous job of this. The EDL can barely get 100 people out these days. The BNP are a spent force. The only strategy that has ever worked, the only strategy they fear is all-out organisation to thwart every single activity they organise, every leaflet they print, every argument they raise, every demonstration they have and every attack they launch. Then we can say that we didn’t waste our time on questions of morality and legitimacy and philosophy. We defeated fascism. They are interested only in naked, violent, power. And our interest can only be to stop them.

    • James Root says

      And I am not here opposing the UAF. I am not condemning UAF at all, I agree that it is a valuable organization for challenging fascism. This is not incompatible, in my mind, with opposition to a No Platform policy/argument. What I do not want to see is the UAF becoming a paramilitary force with the aim only to defeat the Fascist paramilitaries. Need I remind you, since you are so keen on historical comparisons, that the Nazis were for the most part of their early existence an anti-communist paramilitary force?

    • Josh Wooderson says

      If by ‘keeping them off the streets’ you mean launching a counter-protest then yes, fine. Actively prohibiting them from marching, though, seems a dangerous tactic for a group of angry, violent men (it is mostly men) with ill-defined grievances. Such marches at least act as a legal outlet for their anger. And I am unconvinced that the BNP’s lack of success has anything to do with UAF, rather than personality clashes within the party’s leadership, financial problems etc., which have been characteristic of the far right in Britain for a number of years, and much less so on the continent.

  8. says

    complexity is often the enemy of truth and those arguing against free speech use convoluting logic to justify their totalitarian viewpoints (see comments here). free speech means what it says – freedom to say what u like and listen to what u like. deciding what constitutes abuse of free speech must be left to the police and courts using clearly defined (and accepted) laws concerning incitement and slander, and not to self appointed mobs.

  9. says

    Ah, Nick – there you go. You have revealed the tainted logic behind your arguments just as I had expected. “Self appointed mobs” are not to make the choice. That should be left to the “police and courts”. Are those people not self-appointed? To who are they accountable? What you really fear is the mass of public opinion and treasure you r”clearly defined and accepted” society of elites. Stephen, you continue to t miss the point. It’s not about views. It’s about belonging to a violent group determined to destroy democracy. You wouldn’t put al qaida on the platform would you?

    • says

      Ah, Brian – I have revealed my tainted logic have I? Yet you give UAF similar moral legitamacy to UK police and legal system, a display of tainted logic on your part… and yes, I would invite al qaida (sic) to speak – and of course be questioned/interrogated

    • says

      Brian, I miss no points. No one except the far left believe that the FN would destroy democracy. The onus is on them to demonstrate that and of course they cannot even begin to without twisting the meaning of democracy to mean other than the right of a people to vote and decide their government.

      As for AQ, I hear this straw man a lot, so I will repeat an earlier comment I made.

      Al Qaeda would not speak on a British university campus as they are both a tiny organisation and one sworn to terroristic activity directed at Western targets. Al Qaeda, for all intents, is largely myth making on the part of USgov. Most others since are Al Qaeda-lite, using the legend as a springboard to notoriety and following on their coat tails.

      British universities though are are rife with radical Islamist groups speaking. the likes of Hizb ut-Tahrir and previously Al-Muhajiroun for example.

      I believe revolutionary Islam is free to speak to all, but not free to incite violence towards British people or British interests. In fact it is to our advantage that they get to disseminate widely. They are though not free to intimidate students or others, particularly women which they have a habit of doing.

      Having said this, trying to suggests any equivalency between AQ and the FN is a completely risible comparison. The FN are not would be terrorists. A third of the French population suggest some sympathy with their aims, wet as they are. Perhaps you should familiarise yourself with these policies before making analogies that do you no credit. The left can only hint at what lurks behind the curtain but every time we ask them to lift it, there is nothing there.

      Those most in the vanguard of the No Platform argument, themselves tend to support ideologies implicated in the deaths of multi-millions.

    • says

      It’s no straw man. They are not comparable. I wanted to see how you would attempt to compare them. “Not free to incite violence towards British people or British interest” – what on earth does that actually mean? Le Pen is interested in inciting racial hatred against anyone in her country who isn’t French. Does that fit your description? Perhaos I should familiarise myslef with these policies… What policies? You mean facts? The Vichy government in France also had plenty of support. But it was still worth fighting tooth and nail. “Ideologies implicated in the deaths of multi-millions…” as opposed to Le Pen, who not only advocates fascism but downplays the holocaust as a mere detail, denying it in the hope it can be repeated.

    • says

      It means, not free to stand up and suggest enacting violence against British citizens, or those areas deemed to be vital to our national interests or allies. Quite clear.

      Inciting racial hatred is a crime. Mme le Pen has not been charged with this even under the soft-despotism that is the modern French state.

      Your comments show me that you have no idea of FN policies, none.

      I disagree with Mme Le Pen. I believe that those people in an organic society where ethnicity, history and culture are weaved together down the centuries have both the natural right and also the duty to prevent their own disinheritance from that territory and culture.

      Mme Le Pen, purely believes in a mono-cultural response that grew out of French Jacobinism, such as the secular state.

      [ Here she is:

      Francesca Hill, a former Union President, brought attention to one of the issues many in the audience had come to hear discussed: “How many generations of ancestors does a person need in a country to be able to call it their home?”

      A bullish Le Pen responded, “You are mistaken, Miss.” She went on to say, “Many generations have assimilated into French Culture. What happens now is that individuals are not assimilated individually; we are supposed to be under the obligation of a collective assimilation.“We need assimilation, which requires a lot of effort on the individual level. If they haven’t got a job or housing then it makes it hard. We need to love our country and stop hating France.”

      http://cambridge.tab.co.uk/2013/02/20/le-pen-as-it-happened/ ]

      These Nazi/Fascist/Vichy comparisons are just hysterical, illusionary nonsense to give the modern left something to set the blood racing and feel like they are fighting an epochal battle. Quite ridiculous, those who do not sympathise with these political movements should also be wary of giving any support to their demands.

      Our political dialogue should be expected to be robust and thorough and we should hold no fears from it.

    • says

      Brian Christopher “Also is it not Le Pen who is actually intimidating students?”

      How? By being invited to a private meeting. By accepting and speaking? By those who attend choosing to do so?

      Intimidation is a nonsense, to any rational analysis it relates to a realistic fear of violence or direct threat, neither of which were present.

  10. says

    Well Mme Le Pen spoke and the only thing that happened was the far left showed its true face once again. No doubt though the poster below is scouring the internet for some terrible crime that can be lain at her feet after the attendance – and you are all individually culpable for it!

    For everyone else, perhaps it is time to consider what is achieved when an agitational mob, whose leaders have a taste for violence and the criminal convictions to show for it ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unite_Against_Fascism#Arrests_and_controversy ) intimidate students and create an aggressive atmosphere that has a chilling effect on people’s social interactions. Whether we choose to accept this behaviour as part and parcel of the requirements of a free society or see it as reducing the ability of those in society to go about their lawful business.

    I would of course suggest the latter and that in future, the right to protest is not diminished by keeping an aggressive entity away from the environs of a meeting to which they are opposed. The right to protest is not dependent on being in the same location or in the same time frame.

    For those unfamiliar with the UAF (whose thuggery is underwritten by a range of supposed notables, including our current Prime Minister – http://uaf.org.uk/about/founding-signatories) it might be noteworthy that one of its co-founders is the Socialist Worker’s Party, who apart from desiring some very illiberal measures, are currently embroiled in serious rape and subsequent cover up (AKA perverting the course of justice) allegations. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/01/31/is-the-party-over/

    When you allow the UAF to lead the opposition, these are the sort of people you bring in with it.

  11. says

    Actually, Nick I give UAF MORE moral legitimacy than the UK police and legal system. UAF have never killed anyone, or wrongfully imprisoned them. They do not harass homeless people or shoot-to-kill people on tubes. That is to say I trust more in public opinion manifested in a voluntary organisation than I do in the hierarchies of coercion and violence. As a libertarian you ought to trust the individual (and individuals collectively) more than you do the state. But you see you clearly don’t. You trust the police – who are the most concentrated form repression against individuality. Also, please note that Al-Qaida is one of several recognized standard spellings, more in line with correct Arabic pronunciation than the others.

    • says

      We do not need to engage in thought experiments to decide what life without the police would look like. For most of human history there has been no standing police force, nor a nation state to organise it. The London Metropolitan police is the oldest in the world and it has its earliest origins in the private city police of the late 1700s. Nor is mere speculation necessary to see life without the police in the future. Many people live the majority of their lives in convention with social norms and no direct contact with the police for any reason whatever. It’s also true that in many periods of social upheaval the police have been disbanded, excluded, have gone on strike or have been thoroughly infiltrated with lay and civilian elements. This happened in Russia in 1917, in Hungary in 1956 and all over Eastern Europe in 1989. It happens frequently in parts of Latin America both rural and urban, in favelas, prisons just as much as middle class gated neighbourhoods. It happened in my home town in 1969. It is remembered as the most peaceful, law abiding time the city has known. Before the police and army brought violence and terror back to the streets. It is humanly possible, and most probable that future societies, even perhaps capitalist ones, will revert to an alternative form of enforcing its social relations, because it cannot resolve the current contradictions in the present system. The alternatives will most likely be the removal of specialist forces from law enforcement in favour of a compulsory civilian service (we already do this for jury duty and in some countries, the army). This removes the privilege and elitism of law enforcement and gives it an egalitarian character or it could be a reversion to the old system of outright repression (corporal punishment, deportation, execution). Which of these options will depend on who influences the outcome. I prefer the former option. One thing’s for sure, the current system of policing doesn’t work, never has and never will.

      Finally I should remark that you are accurate in that many who professed “left-wing” politics set up, expanded, fed off and enriched themselves through bureaucratic and/or authoritarian states whose bread and butter was ruthless and ceaseless intervention in the every day lives of ordinary people. It should be noted that I obviously deplore these regimes but also that they had or have no civilian character to their police force. They were utterly hierarchical, completely in line with class stratification, opposed to self-organisation and existed for profit and accumulation. They therefore cannot be called “left-wing” any more that the “People’s Republic of China” can truly be said to belong “to the people” just because its master choose that ideological glove for their claws . We should not let mere names cloud judgement of things we are perfectly capable of seeing clearly with dialectical analysis.

    • says

      Brian, annoyingly I saw that my earlier comment was duplicated and in deleting one it actually deletes both. If you receive email alerts on comments and have it available I will repost it.

      Your suggestion that police forces are of relatively recent origin is not quite correct. They were a new answer to earlier systems that were though to have become unfit for purpose as society became more divergent, more geographically and socially mobile. When small communities lived together for most of their lives and shared family and history a JP with some support was generally sufficient to keep the King’s peace, except in times of great hardship. Similarly, preceding this under the feudal system, it is easier to control a population when they are a part of a hierarchical system that provides for their basics needs and where social norms are very clear.

      Modern societies require some level of consensus of behaviour (such as the basics offered in the Decalogue) and a process whereby people who behave contrary to this are punished. Any organisation or grouping to achieve this, will, by the nature of things take on a character and life of its own. Short term civilian responses are soon superseded by more formalised systems. Whatever it is that you consider an example in Russia in 1917 quickly formalised into the Cheka. I do hope that isn’t your ideal..

      I also fail to see the elitism, you see in the police force, apart, perhaps, from that of modern times, whereby senior officers are parachuted in from elsewhere. There are a range of ways that one might make the police force more responsive to civilian concerns. One most recent small step of course, is the election of Commissioners. We await the results. It is though remarkable that only around 15% of the public chose to vote, suggesting it was not a serious concern. A further step might be to add an increased democratic element and the opening up of records to analyse how well they proceed. This is not to say I am unconcerned by our modern political system and the police force that undergirds it.

      I would also criticise your suggestion on opening up the police to civilian input in two main ways. Firstly, as is argued by some conservative and even conservative-liberal thinkers, the removal from society of those intermediate organisations that traditionally stood between the public and the executive branch of government has had the effect of making people more directly reliant on the state to provide for them, growing the state, ever larger, with the corollary that people are not that interested in politics or government and prefer to leave it to the professionals.

      Secondly a more ‘populist’ policing would entail something like The Daily Mail readership on steroids, as well you must surely know. I think the egalitarian character you suggest is wishful thinking.

      Regarding the left’s relation to the state, I do not refer to the old Second World bloc, but to modern developed economies such as the UK, where the modern left now looks to the state to enact its political desires.

  12. says

    The supposed ‘debate’ about the ‘rights or wrongs’ of a small group of students at a place called Cambridge inviting Marine Le Pen is rather risible. Like many institutions of civil and academic society, including the modern state government, these tiny, ritualistic ghettoes of what was once ‘certainty’ and ‘properness’ are groping for influence as the masses of the People become uncoupled from what they do and what they have to say. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of her hypothetical entitlement to speak to some students in a little city called Cambridge, the politics of Le Pen and her father before her have been potent political facts inside the Republic of France for well over 20 years and represent a bloc of voters who are at least 15% of the population. This is a simple fact. The idea of the chattering classes actually thinking they have some form of influence of this rather compelling fact, by preventing her from speaking is absurd. Most traditionalist Leftist hardliner leaders of the 1970s onwards had very peculiar views about Jews and in the case of Gerry Healey the sexual predator leader of the Workers Revolutionary Party, they were in the pay of governments who sponsored terrorism. The modern SWP which promoted No Platform on the 1980s campuses (and actually tried to stop prominent British jews from speaking) has it’s own problems at the moment with internal mismanagement of rape allegations. In a recent footage of a demonstration, SWP supporters can be heard chanting ‘Filthy Tory Jew!’ about a London councillor or politician. We JUST DON’T NEED A LESSON FROM THESE CLOWNS ABOUT WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO SPEAK IN OUR COUNTRY. Most of them don’t believe in countries anyway!

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