Letter to Weekly Worker: No Platforming OK

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22/06/2021 by socialistfight

The film was controversial even before its release and has remained so ever since; it has been called “the most controversial film ever made in the United States” and “the most reprehensibly racist film in Hollywood history”.Lincoln is portrayed positively, a friend of the South, unusual for a narrative that promotes the Lost Cause ideology. The Reconstruction period following Lincoln’s assassination, in which Blacks held political offices, is depicted as a time of Black tyranny. This racist view has been denounced. The film portrays African Americans (many of whom are played by white actors in blackface) as stupid and sexually aggressive toward white women. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is a heroic force, necessary to preserve American values, protect the women, and maintain white supremacy.

Tony Greenstein and others certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons at the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech on 13 February. There are two parts to the argument. The first is the right to free speech does not include the right to shout fire in a crowded theatre and the second is the duty of Marxists to physically no-platform fascists.

Four pages of dense text from James Harvey and Jack Conrad seek to demolish this principled stance. And Greenstein’s motion of no platform for fascists won by a far larger majority than the CPGB’s libertarian approach to free speech and fascism. Harvey ridiculously seeks a tour de force by accusing those who took the Marxist position, “In defining fascism as an ever-present, existential threat and thus elevating ‘no platforming’ to a principle, fascism and Nazism were de-historicised and de-contextualised. The result was that the real counterrevolutionary nature of fascism and its relationship with capitalism are ignored. Thus, for these comrades, ‘no platforming’ becomes a moral stance directed against an eternal evil rather than a reactionary movement to be confronted and defeated politically by the organised working class. However, our focus must remain on politically combating fascism and other reactionary movements by convincing their supporters, to use Trotsky’s words, and winning them over to a real alternative to capitalist reaction” Harvey assures us.

Here we see the essential failure to understand fascism; it cannot be defeated simply by political persuasion. Fascism’s central aim is to eliminate by force the organisations of the working class, its trade unions, its political parties, right left and centre and, of course, its revolutionary and centrist in, Marxist terms, leadership in order to restore capitalism’s rate of profit. Victories in violent confrontation encourage the declassed petty bourgeoisie and lumpen workers whom we saw on Capitol Hill on January 6. Trump’s defence in encouraging and directing the coup attempt was his right to free speech.

And then Jack Conrad, in a turgid piece of irrelevant historical assertions seeks to prove that it’s ok to shout fire in a crowded theatre because of the historical context in which the Supreme Court delivered the judgement. Defending Trump’s defence? The other confusion is that the Marxist principle of no platforming is a demand on the state to ban fascists parties.

It is not; of course, we do not demand the state ban fascist marches and parties because we know that such legislation is used overwhelmingly against the left and organised working class. The demand is to organise to physically confront the fascists, to deny them the streets and public platforms because fascists are qualitatively different from all other forms of reaction, as we have explained above.

That Trotsky was willing to appear before the House Committee on un-American Activities does not prove that he was for unalloyed free speech or soft on the capitalist state; his entire history of revolutionary activism gives the lie to that suggestion. As a WRP candidate I shared a platform with a National Front fascist during a husting for the 1979 general election, which included the Tory and Labour candidates. It would have been a foolish ultra-leftism to refuse.

The ‘great Marxist’ Joe Stalin had a similar notion when he persuaded the German Communist party that the Nazis were no danger whatsoever and they inanely parroted “after the Nazis us” when Hitler came to power in 30 January 1933. The main enemies were the German Social Democrats and the ‘Trotsky fascists’, Uncle Joe had convinced them.

 They kept saying it for six whole weeks until Hitler rounded them all up and sent them to the concentration camps. On 8 December 1931 Trotsky had tried to warn them what was coming in, For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism, which clearly does not rely solely on political persuasion:

“Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions; you cannot leave for anyplace; there are not enough passports for you. Should fascism come to power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only a fighting unity with the Social Democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little time left!”

Pleased to see that the initial error in attributing the fascistic The Birth of a Nation to Arthur Griffith, the right-wing founder of Sinn Féin, and not to DW Griffith has been corrected. Coincidentally Arthur Griffith, as editor of the United Irishman, supported the witchhunt against Dreyfus and published articles like the one in 1899 that stated: “I have in former years often declared that the Three Evil Influences of the century were the Pirate, the Freemason, and the Jew.”

Gerry Downing Socialist Fight. ▲

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