Fascism and free speech: why I’m glad the LD50 gallery is being shut down

The Shut Down LD50 campaign announced today that the fascist art gallery is now closed. Adam DC responds to the Hackney Citizen, arguing that free speech is no reason not to shut it down.

Photo credit: Adam DC

The Hackney Citizen, tribune for hipster hegemony, has been pretty good overall in promoting the demonstrations and covering the recent activities of the fascist aligned art gallery, LD50, based in Dalston. But its recent editorial and story about ‘free speech’ printed after the demonstration against the gallery on 25 February demonstrates exactly why the liberal media, even local, low-budget newspapers, can’t be trusted. The story and its editorial were a fudge of contradictory and woolly thinking which concentrated on a lone ‘free speech’ protester, reportedly from a group known as ‘Free Speech First’, rather than commenting on the fact over 300 local residents and activists had come out to protest against this gallery being used as a place for a new wave of fascists to organise.

On the demo, I met local residents from all sorts of backgrounds and organisations, from trade unionists and two Jewish men who remembered fighting the National Front in the 1970s to one of the founders of Rock Against Racism, members of the local Woodcraft Folk, Black activists, anarchists, socialists and many locals, who marched down the road together from Ridley Road market.

The editorial in the Hackney Citizen says that “the Gallery presents a conundrum for liberals”. However, no such conundrum exists for those at the sharp end of discrimination, hatred and bigotry. For the people of Hackney, who have a proud history of resistance against these corrupting and divisive ideas, and not wanting to see them gain a foothold in our community again as they did in the 1970s, it’s not about free speech. It’s about defending ourselves and our neighbours from abuse and attacks. Free speech is wielded by posh rich boys and naive journalists to silence those of us for whom it’s about making sure that preachers of race hatred don’t do it on our patch.

Liberals may well find it difficult to square the circle of free speech with the “repulsive views expressed by some of LD50’s speakers” as the editorial claims, but that they would defend these speakers on the grounds of free speech is absurd. I don’t hear liberals advocating free speech for Muslim ‘hate’ preachers, or saying it’s OK for paedophiles to view child porn because “they have a right to see and hear what they like”.

‘Free speech’ as practiced by much of the media is hypocritical and self-serving, coming from those who more often than not use their privileged position within the media, celebrity, politics or business to say what they like, but don’t speak for everyone. Where is our right to reply? Where is our freedom to speak on whatever platform, in whatever newspaper, we like? For most working class people it’s an illusion. The field of “free speech” is an uneven one. Socialists are for maximum freedom of speech and expression, but it must be recognised that today, freedom of speech is tilted towards those with power and privilege and those whose views are centred on the ‘common-sense’ values of the liberal elite.

When the idea is bandied about by fascists, it’s used as a foothold to reach this end goal of making their ideas common-sense. When fascists use free speech as a vehicle, it is just that: a means of transport to another place. History shows us that the ideology of fascism doesn’t actually care for free speech or human dignity, but uses access to spaces and platforms to gain power, silencing its critics along the way. Claiming free speech as its own defence is just their latest tactic, fitting neatly into the right-wing media opposition to “political correctness” and “health and safety gone mad”.

Today the racist far-right are using these liberal arguments and cover that an art gallery offers to legitimise their ideas, mainly to the young white middle-class, a group which has expanded massively in the more gentrified areas of Hackney in recent times. The gallery in Dalston shows that this method is moving from the online communities in which it first emerged. The use the far right makes of the discourse of ‘free speech’ is an important means of diverting attention from their racist agenda, and the principal means by which that agenda is introduced to new people and made familiar.

Even more absurd is the idea – that the editorial suggests – that these fascists ideas can be challenged at their meetings. The speakers in question were invited to private gatherings, not public ones, so how could there be a chance to challenge them? When a private meeting of fascists meet to hear a speaker, whether in an art gallery or an upstairs room at the pub, then it’s not a safe place for anyone to challenge their ideas, regardless – I suspect they’d be less restrained than the antifascists who popped a brick through LD50’s window and stuck some stickers on the door.

For a local paper in such a diverse community as Hackney to make the presence of a “lone counter protester” the main thrust of its story and editorial is shameful. lt is hardly a story worth reporting, but it fits with the general media obsession about free speech, a story that allows fascist propaganda to be normalised while demonising and ridiculing the rights of those who oppose it.

Free speech seems only to be free for some. While the right across Europe and the US is in ascendance, it is more critical than ever to continue to oppose the ideas of the soft-right and the fascists, but also the limp liberalism that purports to be the vanguard of freedom while enabling freedom’s opponents to thrive.

 

Read more about Shut Down LD50 at https://shutdownld50.tumblr.com.

There are 16 comments

  1. Nigel

    I found this article on Freedom of Speech or rather the lack of it really helpful in formulating a counter-argument to those who would defend racists, etc. on the pretext of defending their freedom of speech.

  2. Montague Hawethorn, Esq

    I quote “While the right across Europe and the US is in ascendance, it is more critical than ever to continue to oppose the ideas of the soft-right and the fascists” What is the soft-right? Who are they?

  3. amdc101

    I was thinking the soft-right to be the conservative / libertarian strands. You’re right it’s not a very accurate description. I was more interested in using the term “limp liberal” – inliked that.

  4. James Heartfield

    ‘Socialists are for maximum freedom of speech and expression, but it must be recognised that today, freedom of speech is tilted towards those with power and privilege and those whose views are centred on the ‘common-sense’ values of the liberal elite.’
    So basically you are saying you are for free speech but not

  5. Patrick

    hi,

    i’m unsure from reading this article what the fuss with the ld50 is about?
    there seem to be no examples of what the controversy is/was?

    while i agree with shutting down fascists, the problem is that there are too many people called fascists, altho they may not be.

    i don’t want to defend posh rich boys or nazi’s, but free speech is more important than that.
    ie should someone be stopped from speaking at a university because they don’t agree with gay marriage? (roger scruton). should someone be stopped from speaking if they don’t believe that trans women are women? (G Greer etc)

    The left should defend free speech.

  6. RayB

    Socialists are opposed to allowing fascists a platform to incite and enact violence against the oppressed (or anyone else, for that matter.) Unbelievably, John Heartfield appears to have a problem with this. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a puff piece about LD50 in Spiked already. I wonder if his definition of free speech extends to the Holocaust denial of the convicted liar and Nazi apologist, David Irving? Answers on a postcard, please.

    The LD50 gallery was a front for fascist recruitment meetings. It was trying to build a far right center in Dalston, a well known multi-cultural area of London. A prime location for the far right which has a long history of trying to stir up racial hatred in ethnically diverse areas. The gallery organizers knew exactly what they were doing and made no apologies for it. What they did try though was to convince gullible liberals and apologists like Heartfield that they were just misunderstood. The stock fascist cop out when they’re caught red handed. No one will be shedding crocodile tears for them except, presumably, Mr Heartfield.

  7. RayB

    Patrick, go away! If you think posting a homophobic hatchet job by the Daily Mail is a defense of LD50 which gave a platform to fascists sympathisers of Anders Breivik then you are obviously a right wing troll.

  8. Patrick

    Hi RayB

    i’m not a troll, but perhaps i wasn’t clear or didn’t express my point well. I will try again.

    I want to know who or what organisations or people are subject or should be subject to no platforming.
    I am not saying it is right or not, i just want to know what are the criteria that decide someone should be no platformed. can you provide me the criteria by which RS21 or you personally subject someone to in order to justify no platforming.

    some examples, please answer yes or no if you would no platform them?
    a) Nick Griffin, BNP
    b) Roger Scruton, philosopher, opposes gay marriage, conservative
    c) Germaine Greer, doesn’t believe trans women are women, feminist, leftist
    d) Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad – Islamic preacher, thinks homosexuality is a crime.

    can you or anybody else tell me which of the above a, b, c, and d should be no platformed and which of the above should not be.

    that is all i want to know. the criteria by which you judge someone should be no platformed.

    thanks.

  9. RayB

    I can’t speak for RS21 but I have always agreed with the position of the Anti Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism that fascists and their sympathisers should not be allowed a platform. If a speaker does not fall into that category then the strategy of no platforming does not apply. No platforming is about stopping the fascists promoting their political agenda under the false pretense that they support democratic debate. Scruton and Greer may hold views I disagree with but they are not trying to build a mass movement to destroy democracy as Marine Le Pen would like to do, while lying through her teeth that this is not the ultimate aim of the Front Nationale.

    Having said that, those on the left who are misguidedly trying to widen ‘no platform’ to include people like Greer do not discredit its original intention nor are they the enemy. On the left, we can disagree about who no platform applies to while at the same time uniting together to no platform fascists. The problem for the left are the Blairites and right-wingers who want to discredit no platform by focusing on the Greer issue. They are using the old Telegraph line, “political correctness gone mad” (shamefully promoted by Trevor Phillips recently), to try to undermine the no platform strategy altogether. We must resist this ploy while at the same time carrying on the debate about what no platform actually means in practice. That is the revolutionary socialist position on ‘no platform’ as I understand it.

  10. RayB

    Just to be clear, like Scruton and Greer, al-Haddad is not a fascist building a mass movement to destroy democracy. While his views are abhorrent and it’s right for students to protest against homophobia, this is different to no platforming fascists. Fascism is a political movement, al-Haddad does not represent the views of all Muslims. It is important that the left does not align itself with Islamophobes on the right by singling out al-Haddad and generalising his views to all Muslims. There are numerous examples of Christians and Jews in the UK promoting homophobia who work or speak at universities. Mark Gilfillan is one recent example. If the left no platforms speakers because they’re homophobic then we’ll be very busy targeting the majority the Tory party which negates the purpose of the strategy.

  11. RayB

    Another distinction is that no platform for fascists applies to all fascists. The left can’t hold that position concerning sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia. Such a sectarian approach would mean we could no longer share a platform with those in Labour who support immigration controls even if they were anti-fascist. We would refuse to organise with oppressed minorities, such as Jews and Muslims, against the fascists unless their position on every political issue agreed with ours. The decision to speak at particular events involving specific speakers has to be made on a case by case basis. The same applies to who and what we protest against. This involves ongoing democratic debate. But that does not apply to fascists who we will always protest against and never allow a platform.

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