Why no platform is still relevant, and the trouble with liberal "anti-fascism"

Why no platform is still relevant, and the trouble with liberal "anti-fascism"

Some on the liberal end of the anti-fascist movement have argued that "no platform" is dead and free speech the best antidote to the far-right. This argument rears its head time and time again, but it bears shooting down every time.

Today, a Robert Sharp posted a short blog on Liberal Conspiracy to argue against no platform. It is, he argues, "counter-productive" because when fascists have a platform "they expose themselves as incoherent and small-minded, and it gives the rest of us a chance to argue against them." It's actually a fairly standard liberal argument.

The reason that it's more significant right now, at least in Sharp's view, is that Hope not Hate mouthpiece Nick Lowles has argued similar in a Huffington Post piece on free-speech:

Quote:
I think you have to look at the mindset at the person behind it. The tweets against Tom Daley were horrible, but some people’s lives are made an absolute misery every day by this abuse. We have to pay that attention.

There’s been a long history in the anti-fascist movement of “no platform”, but a lot of those principles have become outdated, because of new technology, people have a platform online.

I’m not going to sign up to a Twitter debate with Griffin, that’s beyond the pale. But at the same time we need to do more to take on their ideas in the blogosphere, there are ideas are out there in swathes. Or we sit on the sidelines, condemn them, and refuse to engage, that’s when we look like the pro-censorship group.

The more controversial things they say, the more attention they get. It’s actually easier with people like Nick Griffin and David Irving. But there’s mainstream hatred of Muslims all over Twitter. We have to be in the argument, expose their ideas.

The genesis of this idea is in the Enlightenment. In essence, in the absence of censorship, all ideas have to be weighed up on their own merits and against one another. Those ideas with no basis in fact and reason are quickly shot down and people latch onto those which carry weight. Pure reason wins out, without any nasty censorship to tip the playing field.

From a militant anti-fascist standpoint, there are two problems with this argument. The first is that the aim of no platform isn't actually to censor the ideas of the far-right but to prevent them from being put into practice. Which brings us to the second: that we are not merely talking about a "battle of ideas," here, but the struggle against an ideology built upon violence which means to wipe out its opponents.

Taking on the first point, myself and other militant anti-fascists have explicitly argued on a number of occasions against using the state to get rid of fascism. For example, Tower Hamlets ALARM argued against banning an EDL march in their area two years ago. The reasoning, seemingly obvious, being that if the state gets a mandate to ban political groups or demonstrations, it will not limit itself to the fash.

Quote:
State intervention is a worrying turn, the State stepping in and banning EDL protests is not a sign of a left wing section of the State acting, or even an Islamic element gaining strength, it is a sign of a further move to a totalitarian State. We already have the camps in Yarlswood, thug police that get away with murder and an ever watching State gathering information on us. We don’t need to campaign for them to ban political groups. Today the EDL, tomorrow us.

Even before the march took place, this warning was proven to be remarkably prescient. Rather than ban that one march, the police banned all marches across five boroughs for the whole of September. Conveniently, alongside the EDL this caught out a Disarm DSEi protest against the world’s largest arms fair.

Militant anti-fascists have consistently argued against such bans every time they crop up. Because we believe, with good reason through long experience, that the state is not a reliable proxy for anti-fascism. That is the task of the organised working class, through direct action, something which the liberals who would "reason" with the Nazis baulk at. They baulk because for them the whole thing is an intellectual exercise, and they remain divorced from the reality of struggle against fascism.

It must be said, before moving on, that one element of that struggle is propaganda. Contrary to Lowles' arguments, militant advocates of no platform don't "refuse to engage" with fascist ideas but in fact do so in a way that he never would. By arguing against fascism on a class basis, on working class estates, and with the very people the far-right sees as their core recruits.

Because this is a material reality that makes taking of fascism through pure reason nigh-on impossible - class. The far-right, whether in more openly violent form or having traded boots for suits, preys upon the alienation and disenfranchisement of the white working class. We are alienated and disenfranchised because of capitalism, of course, as our communities are torn apart, our jobs go and we struggle to scrape by.

But the system itself uses racism and migration to both divide the class and distract from the real culprits behind our misery, whilst the left is nowhere to be seen. Pretty hard for reason to win out when those offering the wrong answers are the only ones offering answers. Militant anti-fascists do engage and challenge this situation, but it is an uphill struggle we face.

The other side of the coin, in terms of why anti-fascism cannot be boiled down to a battle of ideas is that fascism is an ideology rooted in violence. It is hard to reason with those kicking your head in or gunning you down as you run for your life. And of course it is the white, middle class liberal advocating freedom of speech for Nazis who is least likely to be on the receiving end of such attacks.

Bad ideas ought to be challenged, yes, and giving the state a mandate for repression is a bad idea in any case. However, this is not an argument against no platform but one in favour of it.

If this seems counter-intuitive, it is because outside of militant circles the concept of no platform has been boiled down to simply not letting Nazis air their views. To liberals, this means censorship. In practice, however, no platform is so much more - namely, direct action that prevents fascists from gaining a platform to organise.

This distinction is key. As the Workers Solidarity Movement put it:

Quote:
There is a distinct difference between the right to free speech and the right to organise. Racist comments and ideas should be challenged and opposed, but a distinction must be drawn between this and incitement to violence/active recruitment to fascist organisations. [...] Attempts by fascist groups to recruit members to fascism cannot be tolerated by an anarchist organisation. If such groups are not smashed when they are small, they will inevitably grow to a size where they will feel confident enough to attack immigrants, workers' organisations, etc.

This is what militants mean by no platform - using all physical and direct action means to prevent fascists from organising and from putting their ideas into practice. It's not easy and it's not pretty. But it's not outdated either, and it will make them think twice about attacking minorities and make it more difficult for them to recruit and organise.

Comments

CitizenSmith
Jan 5 2013 09:53

Sorry - see below!

CitizenSmith
Jan 5 2013 09:51

Thanks very much for putting the No Platform position in a libertarian left context. I have to say, though, I am not convinced of many of the arguments you put forward here, and to what extent they differentiate us from authoritarian left.

Firstly, you recognise that there is a difference between allowing freedom of speech and not allowing fascists to organise. This is an important distinction but you have not illustrated how this can play out in practice. When the BNP started campaigning in my community, as antifascists we had to think long and hard about how to deal with them setting up street stall, or with the old war veteran who was dishing out their leaflets door-to-door. To physically confront them, Antifa style, made us look like a bunch of hooligans who were not interested in giving people their say. This could potentially have alienated local people, most of whom had no interest in politics. At that stage we were wary of giving the BNP publicity ammo which they could exploit by playing vicitim to a disengaged public. This changed over time, however. You say:

[T]he aim of no platform isn't actually to censor the ideas of the far-right but to prevent them from being put into practice.

But where does one begin and the other end? And more importantly, who decides?

Also, it has been widely acknowledged that Griffin’s appearance on Question Time was a tipping point in his demise in the eyes of the public. This is in no way to detract the hard graft that antifascists of all hues had been putting in for years campaigning against the BNP. But in that context, was it unacceptable for him to appear on the show? I would argue that it was a good thing he did. He ended up looking like a right prat. Good.

I fully accept your point about the state intervening in banning marches - this is not desirable for the reasons you suggest. I also agree that antifascist campaigning is not as simple as a “battle of ideas”, with each one on an equal footing. We have seen how Labour politicians used the threat of the BNP to promote, for example, the myth that migrants are a drain on social services. Thus fascism gets a profile that allows it to punch above its weight because it is useful to the state’s divide and rule tactics. However, you suggest:

Pretty hard for reason to win out when those offering the wrong answers are the only ones offering answers. Militant anti-fascists do engage and challenge this situation, but it is an uphill struggle we face.

I fail to see why a No Platform position should be maintained just because our tasks as militant antifascists are difficult. And again, who decides how this position works and against whom it is directed?

This last point is something I’d like to develop further. I have argued that No Platform can be a nebulous concept in practice. But what about fascism? And who decides who is a fascist? Orwell famously wrote that it has become an epithet to refer to anyone who is a bully. As we know it can also refer to Franco-style nationalism, National Socialism and International Third Positionism amongst other things, not always strictly correctly. We know, for example, that the EDL is a classic form of fascist street army strategy, and they contain Nazis, but as an organisation they are hard to pin down. They say they are pro-gay, pro-Jewish etc. This is important because part of BNP and EDL propaganda is to stress that they aren’t fascists, it’s the people like us who are trying to silence them who are. In that context, we need to consider our options carefully, particularly when dealing with a public that is for the most part politically disengaged. No Platform is only one of many we can use.

This is also a reason why I believe the distinction between the battle of ideas and practice should not correspond to liberal/militant antifascist dichotomy or indeed middle class/working class one. As working class people, we are in need of ideas as well as action. The idea that some ideas should be somehow off-limits feels to me like vanguard party style patronage.

To bring this all together, I feel that No Platform raises more questions than it answers. It should be seen as a tactic that at times is vaulable, but it is not set in stone and it is up to us as militant antifascists to recognise it is not always appropriate to employ it.

working class s...
Jan 5 2013 11:12
Quote:
Also, it has been widely acknowledged that Griffin’s appearance on Question Time was a tipping point in his demise in the eyes of the public. This is in no way to detract the hard graft that antifascists of all hues had been putting in for years campaigning against the BNP. But in that context, was it unacceptable for him to appear on the show? I would argue that it was a good thing he did. He ended up looking like a right prat. Good.

Just six months after that Question Time appearance the BNP won their largest ever general election vote. They got 500,000 votes which was more than double the previous general elction, In fact, Griffins personal vote went up from 9.2 - 16.6% So not sure it did too much damage. Also, the number of BNP council seats has been in terminal decline for at least 5 years, so again, not sure how that can be attributed to his QT performance

Phil
Jan 5 2013 12:50
CitizenSmith wrote:
Firstly, you recognise that there is a difference between allowing freedom of speech and not allowing fascists to organise. This is an important distinction but you have not illustrated how this can play out in practice. When the BNP started campaigning in my community, as antifascists we had to think long and hard about how to deal with them setting up street stall, or with the old war veteran who was dishing out their leaflets door-to-door. To physically confront them, Antifa style, made us look like a bunch of hooligans who were not interested in giving people their say. This could potentially have alienated local people, most of whom had no interest in politics. At that stage we were wary of giving the BNP publicity ammo which they could exploit by playing vicitim to a disengaged public.

I don't see how "playing the victim" allows them to recruit and grow more effectively than getting out their propaganda unhindered. When we shut down BNP stalls, we ended up drawing in the public and having up to 200 people surrounding their stall. Local kids were drawn in and threw eggs and fireworks at them. Our leaflets were snatched out of our hands and tons of people demonstrated their support.

The BNP played the victim to their fellow boneheads, who lapped it up, but it never gained them support. When we did it enough, rather, it stopped them coming out.

CitizenSmith wrote:
I fail to see why a No Platform position should be maintained just because our tasks as militant antifascists are difficult.

This wasn't my point. My point was that the liberal idea of this issue being a debate which could be won out by reason was nonsense. This wasn't the argument for no platform, but to underline why spreading anti-fascist ideas is based on organising rather than "winning the debate" in some purely abstract sense.

CitizenSmith wrote:
As working class people, we are in need of ideas as well as action. The idea that some ideas should be somehow off-limits feels to me like vanguard party style patronage.

Again, not what I said. You read the bit about working to spread ideas, yes? Ideas aren't "off limits," but they're not abstract either. You can't build effective anti-fascism based on pure theory or pure reason - you have to argue why these people are in the wrong, but also have to go and confront them head on.

CitizenSmith
Jan 5 2013 20:56

Regarding the QT appearance, my evidence was anecdotal from people I knew around the country who were disengaged politically. They felt that Griffin did not make a good case for himself or the BNP. This is something I should have made clear in my original post, and I accept it is not necessarily representative. His appearance itself and the attendant media spectacle may have increased their vote but it looks to me that was fly-by-night support. Watching how it has collapsed since then helps to confirm this. Now, if the state via the BBC had decided on a No Platform policy regarding Griffin, then the arguments against this are the same as banning demos. Would we as militant antifascists have wanted that to happen? Of course not. In addition, the Young, Angry and White documentary, (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/young-angry-and-white), showed the protagonist get very disillusioned at Griffin's appearance, and suggests this was representative of large sections of the BNP's core support. So in some ways, it's fair to say he shot himself in the foot.

Phil, regarding your points about the story about the youths surrounding the stall - inspiring stuff. I think part of our problem was confidence. Plus we are based in the city and we would have been outsiders going into communities where we were not known and we were not sure how people would react to the disruption. We stuck with counter-leafleting and awareness-raising gigs instead, (not exactly militant, but at least it was something). This changed over time as confidence grew and concern about the BNP spread to these areas, however. In Wrexham, this one local guy started staring at the BNP who had set up a stall in the town centre. He was joined by others and soon they just literally “vibed” the BNP out of town, (full story here - funny: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pbE-kTEJV0). The point about these anecdotes is that people have to make autonomous choices about the best way to deal with fascists on the ground, depending on local conditions. No Platform is one way, but there are others too and they can be more effective or realistic. I don’t see why it has to be written in stone.

My issue with the “playing victim” card is that people who may not have a clue about what fascism is and see a bunch of masked up people smash up a stall can come over as if the masked up people are the ones who are being “fascist”. I accept your point that this needs to be countered by organising and other forms of engagement, and I completely see what you mean that this is something that liberals do in a very different way, (i.e. by erm….leafleting). The boneheads may bleat but I wasn’t really concerned about them.

In this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1OIm3zgouE) Tommy Robinson gets a free ride on Canadian TV to spout his nonsense with a sycophantic presenter with no-one to counter it. Surely a case for engagement rather than No Platform?

Finally, what about UKIP? A bunch of racist, nationalist, homophobic, socially conservative eejits who are tragically ganing ground in working class communites. But they’re not fascists, and we don’t have a No Platform policy for them. Isn’t that hypocritical? They are gaining round due to the chemtrails left by the BNP, EDL and certain sections of the media. As far as I see it, militant antifascism hasn’t really got a response to UKIP. We will need one. Slightly off subject, but important, I think.

wojtek
Jan 5 2013 22:15
Quote:
In this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1OIm3zgouE) Tommy Robinson gets a free ride on Canadian TV to spout his nonsense with a sycophantic presenter with no-one to counter it. Surely a case for engagement rather than No Platform?

Laurie Penny recently adopted a no platform approach in a feature piece following an interview she did with him, though she did counter some of his arguments. While I enjoyed the piece, I thought it was a missed opportunity and also quite disconcerting to see a journalist so readily adopt it. Maybe she didn't tackle his arguments so well and therefore decided not to print it...?

Aflwydd
Jan 6 2013 19:01

I agree, if the journalist is willing to attack such groups from a class perspective. By speaking to the working class about their concerns, those which are manipulated by the likes of the EDL, we may be able to actually make people who may even be sympathetic to the BNP or EDL rethink their ideas. Living in a working class town myself, the talk about class, even when among my quite left-wing family, inevitably shifts into talk about immigration. My family aren't full-blown 'the muslims are taking over' nutcases, but they have been conditioned to blame immigration -- and by extension immigrant -- for problems that have far more to do with class.

Maybe Laurie Penny realised that a middle class liberal perspective not based on class, and more based on 'these people are idiots' would not do much good. My problem with those who advocate platforms for these types is that they are inherently the types who will not confront the EDL or BNP on a class basis, the best way to really make them look stupid as they're entirely clueless on those matters, but instead will look to assert their intelligence and expose the 'unreasonable' nature of such views, and if there's a way to piss off and disengage the working classes, it's pretentious guff like that.

So, basically, I agree with a compromise between the two, fence sitter that I am. One thing I will state is that I am entirely against the 'platform' given to Nick Griffin on QT. The whole thing was just a waste of time and I don't think anyone gained from it.

Phil
Jan 6 2013 22:01

Nick Lowles has responded to my post, largely missing the point: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/blog/article/2410/why-no-platform-means-something-different-today

organdva
Jan 7 2013 08:56

Dismissing "battle of ideas" out of hand is avoiding the hard work! In conversation with my conservative fellow workers or friends we ARE on "equal standpoint". Conservative should be understanded as racist and sexist prejudices while with fash this are core beliefs not prejudices.
Hard work is actually provide counterarguments not for debate with fash but your colleague workers!

Even if one of worker is fash you need to beat him on equal stand before other mostly conservative workers. In that conversations some liberal argument will also be thrown, so you need a highly inform position, lots of theory, reading, hard work.

I'm embarrassed to admit, but I don't know any libertarian or communist argument defending homosexuals. I know only liberal argument. Don't give me "this is how bosses are keeping us divided shit" because this sounds like conspiracy given the fact that capitalist parties, and organisations are liberal.

Phil
Jan 8 2013 18:06
organdva wrote:
Dismissing "battle of ideas" out of hand is avoiding the hard work!

Err, who's dismissing it out of hand? Read the blog again:

Phil wrote:
It must be said, before moving on, that one element of that struggle is propaganda. Contrary to Lowles' arguments, militant advocates of no platform don't "refuse to engage" with fascist ideas but in fact do so in a way that he never would. By arguing against fascism on a class basis, on working class estates, and with the very people the far-right sees as their core recruits.

Because this is a material reality that makes taking of fascism through pure reason nigh-on impossible - class. The far-right, whether in more openly violent form or having traded boots for suits, preys upon the alienation and disenfranchisement of the white working class. We are alienated and disenfranchised because of capitalism, of course, as our communities are torn apart, our jobs go and we struggle to scrape by.

But the system itself uses racism and migration to both divide the class and distract from the real culprits behind our misery, whilst the left is nowhere to be seen. Pretty hard for reason to win out when those offering the wrong answers are the only ones offering answers. Militant anti-fascists do engage and challenge this situation, but it is an uphill struggle we face.

mister e
Dec 2 2013 00:12

I don't know how i would pigeonhole myself. I have genuine concerns over immigrants, the introduction of Sharia Zones, Militant Islam, jobs going to 3rd world countries, the burkha. But, i also have an acute awareness that some of this is caused by Western interference in other nations, some is caused by corporate greed and some by meddling European Governance.
What does that have to do with providing a platform to fascist groups?
Well i think i have a capacity to see both sides of the coin.
Although there is a point where some need to be denied a platform.
I see a real concern in some issues (which i will not delve into here) but i don't hate foreigners, i am not racist and i am appalled by the lack of understanding and sheer hatred some groups address to Muslims, Blacks, Indians etc
And i think it is the ultra violent that need to be denied any platform.
Where some people i know have similar concerns to me, they can be easily swayed. But if they have no platform they can't be corrected. As an example, social media-so often i see memes going around that are provably false, so i correct them, groups like the EDL certainly they are going to contain a hateful majority, but there are those who support the basic principles because they do not have anything to see them being deconstructed except "excuses" for Muslims. Take Tommy and Kevin (Robinson/Carroll) March to raise money for a child whilst also laying a wreath for Lee Rigby. If you have seen the video, what do they do wrong? Now we could say deny a platform or deny a march, that fails utterly because it then twists the mind of the people who are swayed easily. Oh look they are getting their way "they" being the Muslims etc. In watching that march video, they come off as justified in what they say.
Now had the police asked the Muslim community and anti fascist groups to let them through peacefully, there would be no incident, they could start no trouble, lay a wreath, job done.
THEN they lose their platform by being given one.
The Muslim community could have said, we regret this happened in the name of Islam and support Tommy and Kevin and we will not lay a wreath because we realise this may upset many who perceive us badly, but we express regret and sorrow, and welcome them to walk past our mosque and lay a countryman to rest.
Anti Fascist froups spokes people could have said, The EDL know, in a peaceful march, that the Islamic community welcome them and so do we, we do not wish to fight against people standing against a despicable act, we stand for protecting innocent people who are so often a target of unfair stereoptyping based on the actions of a few. We are sure Tommy and Kevin realise that the actions of 1 person or two people are not representative of a entire group.
The result there, the EDL couldn't utter a single complaint, a peaceful walk is the best they could do, they also couldn't deny the anti fascist remarks else they then tar their organisation as openly racist against all, and ALL members having to be tarred by the worst actions of a few.
Thereby as said, denying fascism a platform whilst providing one.

Secondly, a certain platform is needed for groups that are concerned with the issues such as i mentioned. So they can air grievances or concerns yet then a preparation be made by politicians anti fascists and people in the immigrant community, to raise awareness and open their eyes.
I have a campaign in early stages to push for regulating companies not just upping and outsourcing to India etc. Now this is not because i hate Indians, although by a failure to have an open forum this is often put at the feet of foreigners. My reasoning is, keeping jobs in the UK from companies who take our cash. And, importantly, to put pressure on these countries to demand more anyway for their people if companies do, rather than globally permitting a maintenance of poverty to further profit,
Now, if we allow certain topics a platform, then myths can be dispelled and eyes opened (another eg would be halaal food, it being no worse than our own methods)

The only platform that ever should be denied is a violent, ingrained hatred, THAT you will never change, so the solution is prevent any avenue for pushing any agenda. But give a platform where the nearest ideas to fascism can be destroyed and any real concerns highlighted for what they are, which mainly is nothing to do with foreign people themselves. After all as i myself said to a friend, having worked with Polish people, i was annoyed they spoke no English and all shared a 1 bed flat and claimed all their tax back and would do overtime for free, but as they explained to me, the rate per hour and exchange rate at the time, meant they earned what would be equivalent to me earning £20-£30 ph- And were I offered the same, i would do just as they do, of course that doesnt help me if my job is lost to a Pole, but that is just them looking for a chance to get on in life, i do not hate them for that.
And the hatred never solves anything. A lot i think is stirred up take for example Anjem Choudary, a very incendiary Muslim preacher, and similarly we should deny them voice too, he would have little qualms about sending his own mother to her death if it would ignite a race war he thought he could win. Permitting only the middle ground a voice gives anti fascism a chance to open the eyes of those who could easily be drawn to the wrong side. But it is a hard job and requires Both sides who want extreme hate and violence must be closely monitored. And of course groups like Anti Fascists to be ready to break up any rallies or recruitment chances of fascists, not once it grows so large that the thing becomes a media circus but as best as can be to disrupt any sustained recruitment or campaign to create racial hatred.
Meanwhile trying our best to educate, because that i think is even more important-to educate those who are wavering, what the truth is and why they are wrong to hate any race or religion no matter what a few do in its name.