Monday, 31 May 2010

Free speech and militant antifascism: Adam Walker and the Red, White and Blue Festival

Whilst the BNP continues to implode following its failure at the General Election, there are two events in the real world which should be a focal point for a 21st century perspective of anti-fascism. They are the Adam Walker tribunal and the Red, White, and Blue (RWB) festival.

The first case, for those who are not familiar, concerns a teacher who faced being struck off for religious intolerance. Walker faced a tribunal by the General Teaching Council following claims that he used a school laptop to post "unacceptable views" to online forums during lesson times. The case became a focal point for attention due to the fact that Walker, as well as being a teacher, is both a former BNP parliamentary candidate for Bishop Auckland and president of the scab* trade union Solidarity.
As it was, Walker was cleared of the charges of racial and religious intolerance. He was found guilty of making personal use of a school laptop during lessons, and will face personal sanctions for "unacceptable professional conduct." On the issue of alleged racism, the tribunal said it was "troubled" by Walker's postings but was not satisfied that the "intemperate" views suggested intolerance.

This verdict, indeed the case itself, evoked a fierce response from antifascists. As well as the protests at the hearings, there were broader calls to ban BNP members from teaching altogether. Any such decision would be a grave mistake, for a number of reasons.

There is the basic point that thoughts are not crimes. Referring specifically to Walker's case, using the laptop and internet forums in school time is unprofessional conduct. However, the actual detail of his posting should be irrelevant. People should not lose their jobs simply for holding "unacceptable views," and there is a distinction between believing that Britain is a "dumping ground for the filth of the third world" and acting on it by, say, treating black children in his class less favourably.

I have made this point innumerable times. Acts of overt racial discrimination should be opposed, and when racists or fascists use violence then force should be met with force. But if the only weapon in use is words, the principle of free speech compels us to respond in kind.

There are also two practical points to be made here. One, allowing such a move gives the state a precedent to dictate which political beliefs are "acceptable" and which are not. I have pointed out many times before that in such an instance "the state is more likely to censure genuine radicalism before it does the reaction of movements such as fascism, and the primary victim would be the ability to question established power."And two, enacting a ban on BNP members teaching would only serve to make them victims, enhancing their credibility and their appeal as "rebels."

At around the same time that the Walker controversy was drawing to a close, the minutes of a Leicestershire BNP regional meeting were leaked to Notts Indymedia. In them, it was revealed that "there will not be a RWB this year, but there will be an event."

The BNP claimed that they were concerned about diverting police money away from fighting terrorism. Notts IMC countered that "large protests at the site in Codnor drove away all but the party's Nazi hardcore." As evidence, they cited the fact that Alan Warner, whose land hosted the festival, "had become tired of protesters who vandalised his property" and told the Derby Telegraph that "I should move on – I have had enough."

But at the same time, it is not unlikely that the party's internal tensions also played a part. And, as one commenter on Stormfront suggested, it "could be security concerns due to the legal requirement to have non white members who may come there simply to cause problems. This was not a factor at the last RWB."

Whatever the truth, the fact remains that the RWB will not be returning to Codnor this year. It is likely that antifascist direct action was part of the reason. The question that follows is whether this should be counted as a victory, and whether action against the festival was justified.

In both cases, I would say that yes, it is. Contrary to the Adam Walker case, this is not a question of free speech, or even of free association. If it was simply a bunch of unorganised Nazis having a party then it would warrant passive opposition and protest, but not direct action. It is the fact that RWB was part of the design of an organisation working to put their fascist politics into practice that justifies a more militant approach.

In the words of the Workers' Solidarity Movement, "we do not oppose the right of racists to free speech," and "The task is not to prevent racists from speaking but to defeat their arguments by putting forward a strong alternative." However, "attempts by fascist groups to recruit members to fascism cannot be tolerated" and such groups "do not have the right to organise, to recruit for such activities."

This, I should note, is entirely aside from the fact that the festival has a reputation for attracting hardcore neo-Nazis. Or that racist jokes and views got a fair hearing there. Such beliefs and thoughts as those above, though unsavoury, are a free speech issue. It is intent and action which justifies militant antifascism. It was because the RWB was part of the organisation and recruitment of a fascist party that it had to be shut down.

The distinction I have made above, between free speech and organisation, is a vital one. Genuine antifascists need to remember it. Our job is to stop fascism gaining a foothold on power, not to push forward censorship by the state.

*See Liverpool Antifascists' assesment of Solidarity here. "Any member of the working class with even an ounce of sense will know not to touch these fascist scabs with a 10-foot bargepole. They are not to be confused with the anarcho-syndicalist Solidarity Federation, whom Liverpool Antifascists consider to be comrades, which actually does have links with the IWW and CNT."