The tragic fact is that in the United Kingdom, as in many other countries, there is a fascist presence.
However, fascist parties are fringe organizations; not least in terms of their electoral power.
Yes… over here, it is not merely “bad dinner party conversation” for goose-stepping eagle-polishers to talk about their BNP or National Front membership…
Rather, it is likely to lose them their entire reputation (such as it may be).
Unsurprising. Such parties thrive on hateful rhetoric, being bent on dehumanizing individuals from a wide variety of social groups.
I once contemplated writing an academic essay comparing the two websites of two antifascist organizations. I ordered some BNP pamphlets to see what kind of hateful fascist rhetoric the antifascists were responding to…
How did BNP pamphlets compare with what was on the BNP website?
I practically threw up. Bulls*** binned, no stomach for writing about it.
Yes to Antifascism, BUT…
Still, quite a while later, I decided to write about antifascist organizations here instead. This isn’t an “academic essay” with reams of footnotes and citations.
Instead, I’m discussing my impressions of two prominent antifascist organizations in the UK: “Hope Not Hate” (HNH) and “Unite Against Fascism” (UAF).
Let’s acknowledge, first, the likelihood that antifascist mobilization has contributed significantly to keeping fascist/neo-fascist ideology on the fringes of UK society. This is a good thing.
Admittedly, I’m also concerned about UKIP and their inflammatory rhetoric. I deeply dislike UKIP, and I regard the party as a very negative political force.
Yes, OK, they are not fascists as such, and do seem to be on a different level than the hobnailed thugs of the fascist parties…
Still, that’s setting one hell of a low bar!
But interestingly enough, the continued marginal status of fascism, while a good thing in itself, does not mean that all antifascism is equal.
Admittedly, questioning the wisdom of the notion that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is sometimes a cynical measure…
Hence fascists often conflate opposition to anti-Muslim sentiment with support of political Islamism.
Yet, there are actually genuine cases when being opposed to something evil DOESN’T mean you are on the side of good instead.
Anti-Extremism Isn’t Enough
Hence my comparison of HNH with UAF. Not gonna aim at the low-hanging fruit here: allegations that the UAF are linked to Trotskyites, i.e. the SWP… around which latter group a rape, intimidation and cover-up scandal recently centered.
For, while these matters are indeed serious concerns, it’s all too easy to write about this in detail; and no doubt, accusations of partisanship would easily follow.
Instead, I’m attempting to summarise the distinct ethoses of both HNH and UAF (making all due allowances for the simplicity of this exercise).
UAF strikes me as an organization devoted to “smashing” fascism and fascists. Their policy of meeting inflammatory rhetoric with inflammatory rhetoric is highly Darwinian. It seems to rest on the assumption that every single person involved with fascist groups (whether party-political like the BNP, or non-party-political like the EDL), is an utterly irredeemable moral monster.
Actually, this may well be true of some people. But it is also possible that some individuals are the children of fascists, and got sucked in early…
Or that some of them, after years or decades of being involved in such organizations, are sick of it, and wish they could leave…
If only they knew how.
And the UAF strategy risks appearing (in the eyes of fanatics) to legitimise the very siege mentality that fascist rhetoric itself thrives upon. It is as though fascists can point with glee and say:
“AHA! I told you so! They really do hate us! So we are OBVIOUSLY right!”
On the other hand, HNH seems (at least implicitly), based upon the notion that whether or not there are some fascists (whether street-raiding hooligans or armchair bigots), who are Point-Of-No-Return-Hard-Bitten-Fanatics™, there may also be those who are misguided.
Hence, HNH take the risk of being accused of condescension, and of being dismissed as “bleeding heart liberals.”
So, the words “Hope Not Hate” seem to reflect the fact that rather than dehumanize those who themselves dehumanize others, the organization does regard everyone as human…
Whether fascist or antifascist, oppressors or oppressed, extremists or someone who is standing up against the neo-Nazi thugs harassing them.
This surely doesn’t mean that a supporter of HNH is bound to believe in neocon expansionist rhetoric about “Our Common Humanity.”
But whether or not one believes in “Humanity” in the superstitious sense, it’s pretty clear that Hope Not Hate is devoted to finding “that which is human in everyone” (apologies to George Fox!)
Well, what I’m going to ask now might look like a rhetorical question, or it might not. It even might look like both.
But I ask all of us:
Which style of anti-fascism is more likely to achieve the goal of effectively combating the hateful and oppressive acts and rhetoric that fascists propagate?
By the way, I often find that one can gain ethical inspiration from reading religious texts in an empathetic manner that goes beyond credal or community commitments.
So… you can read the following in a religious manner, a non-religious manner, or any way you like:
And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (Jude 1.22-23).
That’s not just a Christian saying. It’s surely at the heart of what it means to be human.
Maybe we can find something human even in those who dehumanize?…
And if so, isn’t this better (and a hell of a lot more effective) than fuelling hate with hate?