Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialism and Censorship

Socialists argue against censoring political ideas. It is a long-held socialist principle that workers should hear competing political views no matter how unpalatable or disturbing they happen to be. And there is nothing more disagreeable and dangerous than fascist and far-right ideas and beliefs. These pernicious ideas and beliefs are used to blame minority groups, like refugees in an attempt to divert attention away from today’s real cause of the economic and social problems facing the working class: capitalism.

And socialists have not flinched from opposing these vile and unpleasant ideas and beliefs. The Socialist Party of Great Britain debated against the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s and with the National Front in the 1960s and 1970s. Socialists have a strong and unassailable case against capitalism and against all the political parties across the capitalist political spectrum. Socialists show that the ideas and beliefs of political parties we debate in public are capitalist ideas and beliefs which do not serve the interest of the working class. Ruling class ideas are a material force creating class division rather than class unity and act as a barrier to the establishment of socialism.

Socialists do not confine our hostility to the racism and xenophobia of organisations like UKIP and the far right. We equally oppose the racism and nationalism of the Labour and Tory parties which, when in power, have passed immigration legislation to the detriment of members of our class. State racism associated with the Windrush generation is only one example among many. Remember the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1968 under the Wilson Labour Government, Thatcher’s “anti-swamping” remarks in the early 1980s, Gordon Brown’s notorious “British Jobs for British workers” and the vans commissioned by Mrs May’s Home Office that cruised the streets with their “go home illegal immigrants” written on the side of the vehicles.

Open and free democratic debate must include the opportunity to make statements which are objectionable to sections of society. Socialists, in our position on religion have upset many who hold beliefs in gods, demons and angels. A lot of our political opponents find the socialist case against capitalism objectionable. Yet banning objectionable ideas is futile and only creates undeserving martyrs like Tommy Robinson and his Islamist equivalents such as Anjem Choudary. The National Unity Demonstration Against Fascism and Racism which held a popular demonstration in London in November 2018 may feel the need to save the working class from irrational persuasion but the SPGB has confidence in our fellow workers to listen to both sides of the political argument and to reject the irrational nonsense and hatred of the Robinsons and Choudary’s of this world.

The capitalist left like the SWP, the Socialist Party, Counterfire and a myriad of anarchist groups take an altogether different view than socialists on the question of open debate with fascists and the far right. These organisations want to “smash” the fascists, deny them political platforms and to confront the far right on the street. Here is a typical comment from the SWP:

We need a mass movement to break the fascists’ confidence on the streets and take on the wider racism that fuels them” (Global menace of the far right can be beaten” SOCIALIST WORKER 30th October 2018).

The capitalist left do not want to give far right political groups a platform to say the “unsayable”. They want to censor. They and they alone are to decide who should speak and who should not. They do not want fascists and the far right to be given airtime. People like Tommy Robinson and Steve Bannon of altright and Alice Weidl of the far-right German party Alternative fur Deutschland are not to be tested in debate because the capitalist left believes that risks making their ideas sound reasonable. But surely that is why they should be publically debated: to show their unreasonableness?

Josh Newman of Counterfire defended withdrawing platforms to the far-right on the following grounds:

One of the principal aims of fascism is to destroy the freedoms of minority groups and the left. Sometimes this is promoted by an outwardly reasonable, well-spoken individual. Defeating someone like this in an isolated debating chamber does not make fascism go away. It is right to oppose invitations of this kind on campus, not to restrict freedom of speech, but to deny a group who wishes to forcibly close down freedom of speech and democracy for some the opportunity to promote themselves in a given space” (Global Menace of the far right can be beaten, on-line Counterfire, 30th October 2018).

There are a number of problems with censorship. Once political censorship has been accepted, there is the important question of who is going to do the censoring. Is it the leadership of the SWP or other some other Trotskyist organisation? Will the censorship just stop with anti-immigration groups like UKIP and supporters of Tommy Robinson or would it be extended to any political group or organisation the SWP leadership happened to disagree with? And it is a dangerous step to give the State or the government the power to censor what can and cannot be said in public. The State inflicted censorship on the Socialist Party of Great Britain during the First and Second World Wars: The Socialist Standard could not be sent abroad and socialists risked trial and imprisonment for breaking the Defence of the Realm Act. Never trust the capitalist state with censorship.

Denying it a platform will not make Fascism go away. Fascism and xenophobic ideas are generated by capitalism and the failure of the profit system to meet the needs of all society. Therefore it comes as no surprise that in an era of forced austerity, poor housing, of cuts in health and education, and insecure and unpredictable employment, immigrants and others have been singled out for blame rather than capitalism itself. And unfortunately the demagogues are finding a willing hearing from some sections of the working class.

In the last year there have been three big London demonstrations and many smaller protests organised by the far right Football Lads Alliance and its successor, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance. The biggest of these in June drew up to 15,000. Tommy Robinson, the figure at the centre of these movements, has a large and growing following on social media.

The organisers claim their demonstrations are for free speech, against terrorism and the sexual grooming of children. These three political baits are used as hooks by which to catch the unthinking but willing ears of some non-socialist workers. However the marches were organised and addressed by leading figures from the far right ranging from Dutch anti-Muslim leader Geert Wilders to organisers of the white supremacist network Generation Identity. Trump’s former advisor, Steve Bannon sent his greetings to one of the demonstrations as he tries to carve out a trans-European far right movement.

Socialists are told that we cannot defeat these fascists by reason and debate but only through street protest and violence. We are told that you cannot have a free exchange of ideas with fascists. Street fascism or extreme right wing demagogy and xenophobia are already causing violence against minority groups and immigrants so socialists, we are told, cannot have the luxury of having debates with them. The capitalist left go on to say that fascism expresses itself as violence not as ideas in debate. Ideas are part of fascist violence and extreme right wing policy like caging children in the US or erecting razor wire around borders to be patrolled by armed guards and dogs. We are told that Fascists can only be violently kicked not debated with. But they can and should be debated with. Workers have to be persuaded to become socialists and this can only come from debate, not the end of a boot.

And make no mistake: the far right groups all stand for capitalism. They are anti-socialist although they have no case against the urgent need to establish socialism. They are racists but race is not grounded in scientific fact. They want “British jobs for British People” but there is no such thing as a “British job”. They call themselves “White Nationalists” but that is meaningless in a class-divided country. They deride socialists who oppose them as “race traitors” but “race” has no basis in fact because we are all part of the same species, whatever colour or gender or sexuality we happen to be. And they want to get rid of immigrants and those who do not fit in with “Englishness”, so as to reduce unemployment, conveniently forgetting that economic crises, trade depressions and periodic high levels of unemployment have occurred with or without immigration. They want to “Put Britain First” yet the majority of these groups do not own Britain but are part of a propertyless and exploited class forced to sell their ability to work on the labour market in exchange for a wage or salary.

The far right groups do not have rational arguments or a case that can stand up to scrutiny. They are weighed down by irrational conspiracy theories, hatred and ignorance. Not so the leaders of these groups. They know what they are doing. They have their own political agenda which is distinct from that of the membership and supporters. However these leaders have an Achilles heel. They want to debate; they want their ideas scrutinised under the banner of “freedom of speech”, well, bring them on. A socialist would have no difficulty exposing their anti-working class ideas and showing to their working class supporters that they do not serve or articulate their class interests. And do not forget that the majority of the membership and supporters of the far right and fascist groups are members of the working class: the same class as ourselves.

The sole enemy of socialists is capitalism which pursues profits instead of meeting human needs. We are hostile to all defenders of the capitalist system of class exploitation, whether they claim to be democratic or from the far-left or right. No defender of capitalism can achieve power without the support of a majority of the working class. To end capitalism, working class ideas must change and workers need to organise themselves consciously, politically and democratically to replace the profit system with socialism. . The battle, then, is over the minds of the working class which cannot be done by violence on the street or by preventing political debates taking place.

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