At the height of the civil war within the Labour party that eventually led the creation of the SDP, Shirley Williams issued a warning to anyone complacent about the danger of the extreme left.
‘I was brought up as youngster to learn about fascism. My parents fought against fascism, and they were both on the Gestapo blacklist, so I know something about it. But there can be fascism of the left as well as fascism of the right.’
I was reminded of that quote by events at the Oxford Union yesterday. What we saw was fervent anti-fascists being overtaken by a most fascist impulse. They were so intolerant of those who disagree with them that they were prepared to use force to get there way.
Let’s be clear about this. You have a right to object to Irving and Griffin being invited to speak. You have the right to protest about that decision. But at no point did anyone acquire the right to break the law in order to threaten people attending a perfectly legal meeting.
The views held by Irving and Griffin are indeed reprehensible but this will do nothing to help counter those beliefs. Trying to stop the fascists being heard is a strategy bound to fail. There are a regrettably large number of people who sympathise with them and they will make us hear them one way or another. The way to stop them is not through violent protest but by engaging in the kind of community politics that makes a difference to people’s lives and shows them that there is a real alternative. That requires us to be able to tackle the fascist’s arguments and that requires us to have heard them.
What makes someone a true anti-fascist is not joining unite against fascism or waving placards in the rain but the willingness, simultaneously, to tolerate and to challenge views we find repulsive.
P.S: The best account I have seen of what happend comes from Jonny Wright’s Hug a Hoodie blog. Please do read it, it will be worth your time.