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.