Archive for the ‘freedom of speech’ Category

What is fascism and how to fight it

February 16, 2020

(Talk given to Leicester Socialist Alternative, Feb 2020)

Fascism is one of those political words which is much abused and misused. We need to know its origins and what it represents in order to arm ourselves with the tactics necessary to tackle the threat it represents. We must not overstate and oversimplify events by labelling draconian measures taken by right-wing governments as “fascist”.

The term “fascism” was coined by Mussolini in the early twentieth century. Fasces is a Roman term for a “bundle of sticks”– one stick can be easily broken, but tied together, they are much stronger – like the communist symbol of the fist – one finger can be easily broken, together, they can pack a punch. Fascism deliberately employed socialist iconography in its early days in order to gain a foothold in a section of the working class. It drew support also from the upper-middle class and was funded by donations from big businesses such as IG Farben.

In a short time, it is only possible to give a sketchy outline of complicated and prolonged events – for more inspiration and information – read: Trotsky’s authoritative pamphlet What is Fascism and How to Fight It; Jan Valtin’s, Out of The Night; Jack London’s, The Iron Heel; Clara Zetkin, Fascism

Hitler came to power in 1933. This was only possible due to a smashing of the German labour movement, which made tragic mistakes. Firstly, the premature attempted revolution of 1919 ended in the execution of its leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht.

There was a period of hyperinflation and Germany suffered from the reparations demanded by the West after the First World War. The German Communist Party (KPD) and social democratic parties had a huge base, but the were fighting each other instead of the Nazis, treating them as if they were another democratic party. Fascism is based on violence rather than discourse.

The KPD labelled centre parties as “social fascists”, in accordance with the Stalinist dogma of the time, and attacked their meetings. Trotsky described it using an analogy of cattle being driven to the slaughter house. The fascists are represented by the butcher, the social democrats as the cattle dealer. Let us close ranks and jack this executioner up on our horns. “How is he worse than the cattle dealer who drove us here with his cudgel?” “We shall be able to attend to the dealer as well afterwards”. “Nothing doing”, replied the bulls, “you are trying to shield our enemies from the left, you are a social-butcher yourself. They refused to close ranks. According to the Communists, the choice would be between fascism and communism, once social democracy had been smashed. Their vote in the last democratic elections held in Germany before the Second World War increased and they won 100 seats, but they did not reckon that the Nazis would destroy all open opposition to their regime, executing trade union leaders, attacking and imprisoning the Communists.

After WWII, there was an attempt by capitalism with the UN Declaration of Human Rights to ensure fascism would not happen again. Freedom of assembly (curtailed to specific places), freedom to protest (curtailed by police’s powers to stop public protests). Impossible to overcome the contradictions and limitations of this capitalist system, however. The roots of both right wing populism and ultimately fascism, and are still around today, and the threat of the far right will keep popping up in different forms. You cannot legislate away discrimination: it is illegal to discriminate against people in the UK on the grounds of disability, for example, yet the government do this all the time!

The biggest threat to the working class today is right populism, not fascism in the classic sense. However, fascism still exists in the form of the far-right BNP, National Front, the Golden Dawn in Greece, Austria’s Freedom Party, Jobbik in Hungary, Vox in Spain, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France (who is trying to get rid of her father’s fascist ideology, and trying to portray her party as right-wing populist). It is still a threat. It is characterised by a militaristic presence, intolerance of democratic opposition, and the use of violence. Fascism is a last resort for capitalism, when normal methods of governing – elections, the media, tame socialist and trade union leaders, in the mould of Dave Prentis or Tony Blair – have failed and there is a risk of losing control. It is very unlikely that fascism will consciously be used as a tactic by capitalism and big business again. However, the same processes, due to the acute failure of capitalism to provide for the vast majority of people – are still in play. And the threat of right-wing populism only makes fascist ideology more acceptable.

So what is populism and how is it different? Bolsanaro, Nigel Farage, Trump, Boris Johnson, Modi. How can a political programme which only benefits a small minority sustain itself in a democracy? Capitalism has always divided people by religion, racism, culture, etc. It is in the interests of a small establishment to seek to blame a country’s problems on outsiders and set the working class against itself.

A local example is the Operation Dharmic Vote campaign, set up by a Tory supporter from Rugby, angry at Labour’s proposal to outlaw the caste system, which claims that Hindus, Sikhs and Jains should vote against the pro-Muslim Labour Party. It has campaigned in London and in Leicester East, where Keith Vaz was friendly with Mahendra Modi’s BJP. This is playing a very old and very dangerous game: splitting communities along ethnic / religious lines. Fortunately, the left-wing MP Claudia Webbe was still elected in Leicester East – but across the country Farage’s Brexit Party dealt a blow to Labour’s chances – because of Labour’s muddled position on Brexit, and because the Brexit Party did not stand against the Tories. It shows, for all Farage’s pretence at being in touch with ordinary people, that Brexit’s class interests stands with the bosses.

By contrast socialists and trade unions emphasise the unity of workers, that we share common concerns and the need for tolerance of different religious and cultural traditions. We oppose racism. We confront fascists and seek to no platform them when they try to speak, by organising mass demonstrations of people, such as when we played a part in opposing the English Defence League when they came to Leicester and we stood with the community of Highfields.

Members of our party have gone over to Ireland in the past weeks to aid in the campaign to re-elect non-sectarian socialists to the Irish Parliament. A small fascist party, the National Party in Ireland reported one of our candidates, Mary Vallely, in Limerick to the police, misquoting “a Trotsky novel” – you can only assume she got Trotsky mixed up with Tolstoy! – as saying, “we need to acquaint fascist’s heads with the pavement”- what the quote refers to is that where persuasion fails, we need to defend ourselves against violent attacks and be wary of the threat that fascism poses to the ideas of socialism and to any civilised society. This has also been summarised more succinctly as “socialism or barbarism”.

The best way to defeat the poisonous ideas of fascism is to build strong trade unions and to develop socialist ideas, to build an international workers’ movement which will be capable of transforming people’s lives across the globe.

Why #SPYCOPS matters

June 27, 2018

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The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) has been in the news a lot in the past few weeks, as a result of the high street cosmetic chain Lush’s highlighting of this issue. The Lush window display originally featured a montage of half a uniformed police officer and half the same person in plain clothes, with the headline “PAID TO LIE”, underneath which some fake police tape said “POLICE HAVE CROSSED A LINE”. It encouraged people to tweet support for victims of #SPYCOPS, innocent people who were “SPIED ON FOR TAKING A STAND”.

This display was later changed, as a result of a backlash from the UK cop humour site, with Lush staff being threatened and harassed. The Lush facebook group (which previously had an 80% approval rating) was targeted, with a slew of negative reviews and threats to boycott the company. Ironically, takings at Lush were actually up 13% during the campaign – brandwatch has done an interesting analysis, explaining that Lush’s customer base and the visitors to the police website were completely different, and Lush’s customers overhelmingly approved of the campaign.

The police units concerned operated since 1968 until at least 2010 and may well still be operating under a different guise today. The tactics which were employed included using the names of dead people as cover identities, without knowledge of the families concerned; having non-consensual sex with victims and in some cases even having children with their targets.

The full extent of the police operation is unknown, but at least 1,000 groups were infiltrated in this way. The only thing all of them have in common is that they are all left wing! Environmental campaigners, trade unionists, socialists, the Stephen Lawrence family, animal rights campaigners all found themselves targeted by the state, including members of the Socialist Party, of which I am a member.

Under pressure, Theresa May began a public enquiry in 2015, but this is not expected to give any answers until 2023, officers have been granted anonymity, and the enquiry does not cover Scotland. There is a petition for full details to be released and for a fair and transparent enquiry, with justice for the victims – https://www.change.org/p/sajid-javid-support-victims-of-spycops-get-access-to-justice

#SPYCOPS matters because we are supposed to live in a democratic country, with freedom of speech, where we have the right to join a trade union and the right to criticise the government. It matters because we need to stand up for the environment, because we need democratic, fighting trade unions to improve our working conditions and to fight against privatisation and casualisation of jobs. It matters because there are victims up and down the country, mostly women, who were left bereft as the men they thought of as their partners led double lives. It matters because the police’s record on investigations is abysmal – e.g. Orgreave, Hillsborough, Jean Charles De Menezes, Stephen Lawrence . . . It matters because police resources were wasted in deceiving innocent protestors rather than targeting criminals.

To read more about the campaign visit campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/

Leicester – a smarter city

June 13, 2018

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To create a smarter city:
Signs are installed,
to attract exhaust fumes
and be daubed with graffiti.

In this smarter city,
the address points forlornly
to Page Not Found.
Your search did not find any results.

To create a smarter city:
The council chops down trees,
holding them responsible
for ‘anti-social behaviour’.

Create a smarter city.
Protect our few wild sanctuaries.
Don’t try to improve on Nature.
Living things should be left
to flourish in peace.

In this smarter city,
we will build cycle paths, not link roads.
We will take our buses back.
We will re-open closed libraries,
use empty offices for housing.

In this smarter city,
people will no longer sleep on streets;
ordinary people will regain their voice
and demand what should be theirs.
We can provide for all.

Bathbombing

June 4, 2018

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Soap suds wash away our cares,
bombs in our bath allay our fears.
Cannot cleanse minds of those
damaged by abuse. Plain clothes
masked their true intent.

Under covers, undercover cops lie.
Working with victims, Lush bravely try
to expose police brutality,
the real casualty is democracy;
bruised and battered and bent.

Listen to those who were spied on,
who were raped, lied to. The baton
raised against those who dared
raise a dissenting voice, who aired
concerns for the environment.

Ordinary folk, who put up a fight,
for basic justice, human rights,
to freely express their legitimate view
without fear of the boys in blue.
Relax, pause; breathe in the scent.

Time to reflect on hidden oppression,
fifty years of state’s secret obsession
still lingers on. The racist Prevent agenda,
unsubtle government propaganda.
Burst blue bubble, smug and complacent.

 

This poem is dedicated to those campaigners whose lives were ruined by police oppression. There has been a brave and timely campaign by Lush to expose 50 years of secret police interference with the lives of protestors, environmental campaigners, trade unionists, socialists. Many victims were deceived into relationships with those they thought they could trust.

More information – https://tombfowler.wixsite.com/spycops

Please sign the petition – https://www.change.org/p/sajid-javid-support-victims-of-police-spying-get-access-to-justice

 

Should Ken Livingstone be expelled from the Labour Party?

May 14, 2018

The furore over alleged “anti-semitism” in the Labour Party stems from accusations following Labour MP Naz Shah sharing a facebook post, suggesting that Israel be relocated to the United States, as this would save the US billions in defence expenditure, in other words pointing out that Israel is a client state of the US. Shah apologised for any offence caused and after a period of suspension she was readmitted to Labour.

Ken Livingstone stepped into her defence in a radio interview with Vanessa Feltz. After this interview, John Mann, a Blairite Labour MP, angrily confronted Livingstone, hectoring and bullying him. If you watch the televised coverage of their argument, Livingstone is admirably restrained in his response. He says “it is a matter of historical fact”, “should I apologise for saying that the Normans invaded England in 1066?” and he does not deny that the Holocaust happened. Yet, he is accused of being mentally ill, “you have lost the plot”, “you need some help”; of being a Nazi apologist and of being a conspiracy theorist – he is guilty by association!

Livingstone claimed that there was a secret meeting between Nazis and Zionists, at the time of the Nazis coming to power, to discuss the removal of Jews from Germany. He points out, in a later interview, in 1935, Hitler banned flags from flying in Germany, except the Zionist blue and white flag and the swastika. He said that Naz Shah was “over the top”, but she was not being anti-semitic, adding that, in over 40 years of membership of Labour, he personally had not encountered anti-semitism. There is a medal with a Nazi insignia on one side and the star of David on the other:- http://northshorenumismaticsociety.org/little-known-medal-marks-nazi-zionist-co-operation-in-1933/

Livingstone explained, “Hitler was a monster from start to finish”. But, however unpalatable it may be to the Labour right, there is strong evidence that the Nazis engaged in secretive deals to relocate German Jews to Palestine (the Haavara agreement of 1933). You can argue that this may have not been the most diplomatic argument for Livingstone to pursue, but he has facts on his side, even if he was slightly muddled in the details, having being pounced on by Mann. Hitler was not above accommodating those who he vehemently disagreed with; the infamous Hitler – Stalin pact is clear evidence of this.

For pointing out these links, Livingstone was accused of not knowing his historical facts, being anti-semitic, a holocaust denier, believing in conspiracy theories and being a Nazi apologist. Who is behaving like a school bully, bringing the Labour Party into disrepute here? Isn’t this a calculated effort by a Blairite MP to bring down one of Corbyn’s most articulate allies?

This is an important attack, not just on Corbyn, Livingstone and the Labour left, but also on freedom of speech. It is not anti-semitic to criticise the Israeli government’s policies, to point out the American defence budget contributions, and the way that the state has attacked unarmed Palestinian protestors.

Ken Livingstone should be reinstated as a Labour party member. John Mann and the other Blairite MPs, who have constantly sought to undermine Corbyn at every opportunity, are the ones who should be subject to deselection, as they have “brought Labour into disrepute”.

Opposing hatred and bigotry in Leicester

May 29, 2016

Leicester has been in the news a lot recently, because of the unprecedented success of its football team. However, we have seen the far-right attempt to jump on this bandwagon, oblivious to the multicultural nature of both Leicester and its footballing heroes. This was the scene last weekend:

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photo – Leicester Socialist Party – see more details

For two weekends in a row, the people of Leicester have successfully defended the city centre from Britain First, a far-right splinter-group which crawled out of the wreckage of Nick Griffin’s BNP. They claimed to be campaigning for the EU referendum, but their literature is full of lies and hatred, targeted at Muslims in particular. The Another Angry Voice blog has posted a useful guide to their brand of hatred.

Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in Britain and has a proud record of standing up against racism. Dividing people in terms of their race is a convenient smokescreen for the ruling class. If working-class people are made to view each other as the enemy, then they are not blaming the real causes of their problems. These include attacks on services and jobs which the Conservatives are carrying through nationally, but unfortunately the local Labour council are passing these on to the people of Leicester and the shortage of council housing due to a lack of investment in public housing over decades.

People are at the mercy of private landlords, on zero-hour contracts, in insecure employment or are unable to get a job. It is not surprising if the ruling class try to divert their anger on to scapegoats, such as “terrorists” or “immigrants”, rather than admit that the situation we find ourselves in is because of the system of capitalism. This results in an increase in racial attacks and discrimination against minorities.

The Socialist Party in Leicester have a long tradition of holding street stalls in the city centre, every Saturday. When confronted with the bullying tactics of the far-right, we refused to go away. Instead, we called on the public to oppose and surround their stall. We reminded people of the nature of Britain First, and why they do not stand for modern Britain. We pointed out that we need to unite as a community in order to defeat the Tories’ attacks and it is still vitally important to oppose the far-right, just as the people of Leicester saw off the National Front in 1979 and opposed the EDL when they marched through the city in 2012.

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A similar unwelcome reception for Britain First this weekend – picture Midlands Antifascist Network

If they are left unopposed, racist thugs can get away with attacks on Muslims. Britain First has invaded mosques, and its leader Paul Golding has been convicted of harassment. He was arrested again this weekend, after breaking bail conditions by failing to show up to a scheduled appointment in a probation office in Luton, as he was 50 miles north of that city, in Leicester.

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Golding being escorted by members of the local constabulary – picture East Midlands Anti Fascist Network

The far-right have form in this city. In 2010, the EDL broke out of police lines and attacked Big Johns, a local fast-food restaurant, because it was selling Halal produce. In 2013, I wrote about a Leicester pub, “The Globe”, which was attacked on a neo-Nazi website for allegedly refusing to serve members of the armed forces, in case this offended Muslims. As a result, staff of the pub received threats, although the report was clearly completely fake. Britain First share the racist views of the EDL and BNP and have no place in a modern, democratic society.

The principle of freedom of speech extends only to those who will allow freedom of speech to others. In destroying a stall table and megaphone of socialist groups, Britain First showed themselves to be no respecters of the right of free speech. They brought a loud sound system, blaring out patriotic music, in an attempt to drown out the public’s opposition.

Fortunately, they were again sent packing, behind police lines and carrying armfuls of their racist publicity, which they were unable to give out due to being surrounded and outnumbered. The public of Leicester will need to be watchful and ready to mobilise to counter their threat.

The Socialist Party stands for unity of the working class and against any attempts to divide us. We stand against racism, bigotry and intolerance. We are a democratic party and are happy to debate with our political opponents, but we will organise against far-right bullies, who resort to abuse, threats and violence.

The Socialist Party campaigns for a LEAVE vote in the forthcoming EU referendum, but not on the basis of racism and xenophobia. We are for a united, socialist Europe, not the bosses’ undemocratic EU, whose treaties have imposed privatisation and austerity across the continent.

 

 

Leicester political parties to debate future of Human Rights Act

December 8, 2015

A couple of quotes –

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre;
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” (W B Yeats, The Second Coming)

“Liberty, if it means anything, is the freedom to tell people that which they do not want to hear.” (George Orwell)

The first quote is apt, because it describes a process which destroys the established order of things – the idea of social democracy which seemed so dominant after the Second World War is rapidly being dismantled, at the altar of profit and unrestricted, laissez-faire capitalism.

The second quote describes the necessity for freedom of speech, the right to protest, the right to have a democratic voice, to go on strike, to organise in a trade union – to tell those in power what they do not want to hear.

I will be speaking for TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) at a debate on the future of the Human Rights Act on Wed 9th December, the day before International Human Rights Day.

We are broadly in favour of the Human Rights Act, even though socialists recognise that it does not go far enough in guaranteeing people’s economic rights, that it can be superseded by national legislation, and that rights granted under capitalism have to be fought for – having legislation alone is not enough. However, the Tories’ proposal to strip us of basic rights is still an outrageous attack on civil liberties.

We have seen the clamp-down on freedom of speech in the wake of the Paris bombings by Hollande, the so-called “socialist” President of France, with environmental protestors being unable to have any say, even outside the recent United Nations climate change talks.

This is highly ironic, since it was the United Nations which introduced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – in order to set baseline standards of human rights, in an attempt to legislate against the horrific Nazi regime, to simply say that some human rights (privacy, life, freedom from torture, right of privacy, right of assembly) were sacrosanct.

Again, the British government (then New Labour) came up against this in 2004, with their willingness to indefinitely hold foreign prisoners without trial, in contravention of international human rights legislation. The Lords overturned their intent, due to it being incompatible with the Human Rights Act.

So what is the future of the Human Rights Act, and why is it still relevant today? Join in the debate on Wednesday 9th December at the Race Equality Centre, 6.30pm.

Source: Leicester political parties to debate future of Human Rights Act