It was on the 30th January 1933 that Adolf Hitler, flushed with the success of having been made Chancellor of Germany and standing on the brink of what the Nazis termed the Machtergreifung, or ‘Seizure of Power’ called for a great victory parade that evening in celebration of the ‘new era’ that was unfolding. In stage managing the event, Dr Goebbels ordered every SA and SS man to put on their uniforms and take to the streets of Berlin.
In the six weeks leading up to the elections in July 1932, there had been 461 pitched street battles in which over 200 people (mostly Nazis and communists) were killed, hundreds more being wounded. At the first cabinet meeting, five hours after Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor; Goring gave clear warning of his intentions, stating that existing laws and police forces might not be strong enough to maintain order. Using his powers as Prussian Minister of the Interior, Goring banned the protest demonstrations in Berlin, planned for that evening by the communists. This did not however, stop Nazis marching into red strongholds after the parade that night as clear provocations. In one bloody battle with Red Front Fighters in Charlottenburg’s Wallstrasse, the leader of the notorious Murder Storm Unit 33, SA Sturmfuhrer Hanne Maikowski, was shot dead along with a police sergeant. Goebbels, on hearing the news vowed to give the former, “a funeral befitting a king”.
With the Nazi ascension to power, violence dramatically increased, the SA street-fighters now bearing the stamp of state authority. The tide was fast turning against the forces of progress and Hitler, having escalated terror to government policy, was to admit that:
“Only one thing could have stopped our movement – if our adversaries had understood its principle and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.”
Stalingrad for Adolph was but a foreign city on some distant horizon, and he had given the game away for new generations of fascists that had yet to be born. Fascism was heading for a crushing defeat, but in years to come, Hitler’s words would have more relevance to his sworn enemies than for his followers. History can be a harsh teacher, and if we don’t learn the lessons, it will, as Marx suggests, repeat itself, “first as tragedy, then as farce”.
Being an ideology that glorifies violence and combat as part of a social Darwinist struggle for existence, the plunging of the globe into world war was a natural progression from the original street confrontations. As anti-fascism turned to meet this new bloodier phase in the struggle, Chinese republican Soong Ching Ling, fighting both Japanese and Chinese fascism in her native country was to proclaim:
“Labour is fighting in this war, and producing for it, because its hope for a better life is bound up with the beating down of blackest reaction, represented by fascism – fascism that begins by reducing its own workers to helots and then goes on to reduce the people’s of other countries to slavery.”
Confounding any serious radical analysis of the here and now however, is the promotion of the idea that class struggle and indeed class itself has become an outdated notion. On top of this, fascism itself is also now presented as a thing of the past or a term describing those movements that had risen to prominence between the World Wars. Ultimately this viewpoint becomes part of an attempt to hide the true class nature of fascism and its uses to bourgeois society.
When liberal historians have tried to explain what constitutes fascism, they have concentrated on the ideas of the movements rather than the factors that operated at the level of material or historical reality. Fascism in its germinating phase takes the righteous anger of ordinary people, not the rich, and turns these against progressive democratic forces that are interfering in and limiting capitalist profits. Fascist ideas for that reason rise to prominence at a time when finance capital feels the need to protect itself with whatever comes to hand. These ideas are consequently allowed to emerge when they are needed by reactionary class forces.
As the ideology of attack on progressive working class interests, fascism cannot be viewed as just another set of ideas. The pursuance of a tolerant agenda towards fascist groupings then, ranks about as foolish as allowing a rabid dog to live in your home. Within the field of militant anti-fascism, the No Platform for Fascists policy was therefore acknowledged as the one fit response to the prospect of fascist growth. Throughout AFA’s history however, it has been the liberal left that has tended to be our harshest critics, a consensus emerging within this constituency that the No Platform policy is nothing more than a means by which AFA members seek opportunities for violence.
Although AFA does promote the use of violence however, this is merely a means to an end and not a philosophy in itself, the rationalisation of proletarian violence being set against the fascists’ idealisation of violence. Frequently dredged up however, and delivered with the piety of a saint and the certainty of a dogmatist, is Voltaire’s assertion that, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The road from profound wisdom to mindless cliché can be remarkably short and although words such as these once heralded the dawning of the Age of Reason, those who prefer absolutes to guides to action quickly relegated such sentiments to the same stable as, “it’s a funny old world”. Borrowing the voice of another to hide one’s own inability to reason however, is nothing new, and intellectual laziness has often been the hallmark of those whose self-perception of themselves is that of the well-educated and cerebral. This spirited defence of the rights of fascists tends to take the form of indignant emails and postings on the internet, producing a low buzz of white noise that is annoying to AFA’s membership but nothing more.
Ultimately what is given freedom of speech is decided by power struggle. A working class agenda might win itself freedom of speech, but will have to be prepared to be resisted every step of the way by powerful reactionary forces. Of course, AFA has frequently received the indignant question, “who gives you the right to deny fascists their freedom of speech”. This has a simple answer; No one. Around such questions, there are no divine or interplanetary interventions leaving only power struggles between opposing class forces. In spite of the smug claims and self-delusions however, no-one truly believes in unrestricted freedom of speech. When the state wishes to suppress the opinions of those that it disapproves of, there is an attempt to depoliticise the issue beneath the disguise of bad taste or endangerment to law and order. The broadcasting restrictions that were placed on republicans in the liberal democracies that were Britain and the 26 counties of Ireland were another, recent example of this.
We’ve also seen the limitations of these lofty ideals in the world of Hip-Hop, whereby a middle class driven, moral panic was set in motion, the practitioners being demonised and, Tipper Gore, stepping out from her husband’s shadow to crusade on behalf of the “little ones”, invoked her status as a parent to render her demands infallible. As part of this politically motivated crusade, Charlton Heston, who had appeared at an NRA meeting, holding aloft his rifle and reciting the redneck anthem of, “I will give up my gun when it is pried from my cold dead fingers” also felt the need to step forward. Ice T’s protest song against police brutality, ‘Cop killer’, we were told, moved him and many others, to resolutely condemn and demand the censorship of this song, comparing the anti-police sentiments, bizarrely, with anti-Semitism. Although Heston was happy to wave guns around in front of his associates, the prospect of black people from the projects, singing about using guns to protect themselves from both racist and police brutality caused uproar. This was a recurring historical theme, Malcolm X himself once complaining that,
“‘Malcolm X Advocates Armed Negroes!’ What was wrong with that? I’ll tell you what was wrong. I was a black man talking about physical defence against the white man. The white man can lynch and burn and bomb and beat Negroes – that’s all right: ‘Have patience’… ‘The customs are entrenched’… ‘Things are getting better.’ Well, I believe it’s a crime for anyone who is being brutalised to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself. If that’s how ‘Christian’ philosophy is interpreted, if that’s what Gandhian philosophy teaches, well, then, I will call them criminal philosophies.”
Black working class culture then, is more threatening to the likes of Heston and his class, than white racial murder. However, fear of the working class youth of whatever ethnicity, has also led to numerous campaigns for restrictions to be put on violent films and video games as these supposedly could endanger the fabric of society when the lower classes are ‘over stimulated’. Censorship then, no matter what the protagonists might think, always has a distinct bias within it.
The bourgeoisie in general and as a result, do not see or acknowledge the antagonistic nature of class society, preferring to see only differences between the haves and the have-nots. Therefore, the middle class idealists see only differences in ideology, the No Platform policy being an example of intolerance of other people’s opinions. More important however, are the class forces that lurk beneath. As Mao Tse-tung observes:
“In class society everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.”
Consequently, because every ideology has a class character, and while fascism is the ideology of the bourgeois attack on the working class, militant anti-fascism is the ideology of working class self-defence. In class struggle there is no rulebook, nor indeed anyone to enforce any generally accepted rules, the state setting the parameters for mainstream debate depending on its own class character. Struggles for power between different class forces thus tend to be either in conjunction with, or in opposition to, the state.
It was the Italian semiologist Umberto Eco that said, “I see no real difference between the skinheads and neo-Nazis of today and the Nazis of a generation earlier… There is the same kind of stupidity and determination to destroy; the same hatred of others and the will to destruction.” This class prejudice that refuses to see that all fascists are not ignorant working class skinheads carries over to the working class opposition. Viewed by most within AFA as nothing more than a flimsy guise to cloak indolence, the aftermath of an AFA activity is always hallmarked by the previously mentioned, much posting across the internet as many step forward to blindly grope in the darkness of inexperience and intellectual drudgery for a stick to beat AFA with.
At the centre of the Nicaraguan city of Managua stands a statue. Fashioned in the soviet style, it depicts a worker holding a pickaxe in one hand and brandishing a Kalashnikov above his head. Etched in the statues plinth are the words of Augusto Sandino declaring, “Only the workers and peasants will fight to the end”. Sandino was no socialist, being himself a revolutionary nationalist fighting US domination of his country. The cold reality of political struggle however, moved him to recognise and acknowledge this fundamental truth.
The middle class idealists then; want the rain but fear the thunder and lightning, clinging desperately to the idea that harming another person devalues any struggle, irrespective of how much harm is inflicted by the status quo. Such an approach however, issues from the reality that the cause of anti-fascism is not as important to the middle class as to the proletariat. This leads to laziness and a lack of serious ambition, another result of liberal anti-racisms class make-up, ensuring that there is much theory with no real or effective practice. The upshot of this is that when one person’s idealised theory is set against another’s practice, the latter inevitably bears birthmarks, errors and the scars of first attempts. To the middle class liberals, their ideology is a precious commodity, requiring protection from the realities of the world we all have to live in. Preferring then to pursue a ‘less abrasive’ path, whether or not this brings defeat; such forces, in their denunciations of AFA, ignore the cause and concentrate purely on the form that militant anti-fascism takes. This inherent fear of getting blood on their hands permeates the class character, and as anyone who has avoided work may tell you, “If you do nothing, you don’t get your hands dirty”.
The field of liberal complaint as a result, becomes a vocation more than an all-important struggle, the middle class’s generous attitude towards fascism and the tendency to cite Voltaire in the defence of the fascists’ freedom of speech being due to the fact that they do not feel under threat, either from racial attacks or class-based political oppression. With the same intonation as a teacher would adopt when admonishing a young pupil who comes to them complaining of bullying, the solution is ““to just ignore them”. Given what history has taught some of us, such advice would fall heavily on the shoulders of a near dead concentration camp victim.
In attempting to foster a climate of tolerance, in a society where racial frictions are rife, the same forces that concentrate on making the public at large feel sorry for refugees also tend to be those that will condemn any who attempt to resist their own or another’s oppression through violence. Desiring victims with which to sympathise, if these do not peacefully make themselves into the passive, non-threatening victims that are required, interest rapidly wanes.
Furthermore, the middle class also lacks the greater tendency towards practicality inherent through necessity, within the working class. It is thus the maintenance of its working class perspectives that leads AFA to its position of not being content to participate in the ‘good fight’ against fascism. Given the seriousness of the struggle, nothing short of victory will suffice. In pursuit of concrete results rather than self created comfortable illusions, it is necessary to reject the extreme idealism of liberal anti-racism. Sacrificing our own safety for someone else’s abstract principles and conscience is not a working class position and so consequently, such notions must go to the wall. It would therefore be fair to say that it is exclusively to the working class that AFA would appeal, as these, ultimately are the targets, and indeed the true enemies, of fascism.
AFA has in the past also taken some criticism for our frequent denials of a platform to such racist organisations as the Immigration Control Platform (ICP), usually in their formative stages. Such a position we believe, has gone some way to allowing us to avoid having to deny a platform to fascism itself at later stages. This denial of a platform to the likes of the ICP therefore, must not be seen in the same light as our ‘No Free Speech for Fascists’ policy. While we deny fascists a platform on principle, we will also deny a platform to racists for strategic reasons when they are deemed to pose some kind of a threat.
Another constant problem and indeed irritation has also come from university student societies that will insist on inviting foreign fascists like David Irving, Jorg Haider and several BNP members to their meetings. The epitome of Voltairesque poseurs, these tend to offer as justification for their attempts to provide platforms to such controversial figures, the claim that the members of the societies will somehow overwhelm any reprehensible ideas that their exciting guests might espouse. There has never been any evidence that they would follow through with such a policing exercise however, suggesting that the class-based interests of those involved are questionable. Although defensively claiming that they would treat any fascist ideas harshly, this does not prevent many from espousing right-wing elitist sentiments, giving them new names and, among their favourites, expressing their “concerns about immigration”.
Defensively claiming that it is possible and desirable, to criminalise those that have lost the brilliantly put across arguments of the middle class liberal agenda, the theory here is that the intelligent will vanquish the ignorant. This however, ignores the reality that not everyone seeks truth from facts, fascism itself being an avowedly irrational philosophy. Rather, certain class-based interest groups will inevitably seek tautological evidence to support their desired conclusions. AFA however, does not wish to criminalise our opponents; our opposition to fascism is quite clearly political.
In any struggle it is then, always important to define who your friends and who your enemies are. While those within our ranks will have disagreements on how the working class agenda may be put forward, these contradictions are non-antagonistic. AFA’s contradictions with fascism however, are antagonistic and consequently, our differences cannot be reconciled.
Further complicating an analysis of contemporary times however, is the widely promoted assertion of Francis Fukuyama that we are now at the ‘end of history’. The collapse of the Eastern European regimes and the ending of the cold war struggle between alternative systems led the exponents of finance capital to declare themselves to be the natural order and indeed the last phase in human development. A corporate controlled media was only too eager to hail capitalism’s victory, effectively over working class aspirations, as total, confirming the delusion that the future belongs to those that control the present. However, it is a long time since Marx made the observation, “every shopkeeper is very well able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he really is, our historians have not yet won even this trivial insight. They take every epoch at its word and believe that everything it imagines about itself is true.”
The contradictory nature of class society remains however, and it is a fact that the antagonistic class differences, far from being resolved, continue and will continue, to surface. In the words of Lewis Carroll, “It’s a poor sort of mind that only works backwards” and the future, with all its struggles and counter-struggles, spans before us.
The problem of racism and indeed fascism in Ireland therefore, requires a willingness to stare cold-eyed at the problem, drawing a line between the guilt-based middle class liberalism with its tendency to substitute emotion for scientific analysis and the promotion of a genuine pro-working class agenda. As Georgi Dimitrov warns, “Whoever does not fight the reactionary measures of the bourgeoisie and the growth of fascism at these preparatory stages is not in a position to prevent the victory of fascism, but, on the contrary, facilitates that victory.”
There is of course no guarantee of how fascism may manifest itself in the future, but the reality of past fascist regimes and the fact that these were orders of governance consciously pursued and created makes it foolish to play according to someone else’s definition of fairness in our opposition. We can all propagandise in theoretical ether, but ultimately, conscious of what happened before and aware of what may lie ahead, on the ground and in the here and now, we pursue our policies resolutely in praxis.
This was originally published in AFA Ireland’s No Quarter No.2..