Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

No Platform for Fascists and the International Marxist Group in the 1970s.

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Image result for National front protests 1970s

Smithfield Porters March Against Immigration, 1968

“The fascists specialise in organising street demonstrations, pickets, strikes and petitions in favour of their reactionary policies.”

“The aim of ‘No Platform’ is therefore to deprive the fascists of the weapons they are relying on to develop. The streets, the pickets lines, and the factories must be denied to fascists. That is what ‘No Platform’ means.”

The policy is not “to break up private meetings of the (National) Front”

“The essential aim must be to prevent the major propaganda functions of the Front, marches, meetings and demonstrations”.

Fascism- How to smash it International Marxist Group. October 1974.

From  Anti-fascism, anti-racism and ‘no platformThe Red Mole.

‘BY WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY’: THE ORIGINS OF THE ‘NO PLATFORM’ POLICY. Evan Smith.

In the early 1970s, the term ‘no platform’ was first used to describe the anti-fascist strategy of denying fascist organisations the public space to organise and disseminate their propaganda. The denial of public space had been an integral part of the militant anti-fascist movement since the 1930s, employed by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), various Jewish groups and other assorted anti-fascists.

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The Red Mole was the newspaper of the International Marxist Group (IMG), a Trotskyist organisation that built quickly amongst the student and anti-Vietnam War movements in the late 1960s. In the issue for September 18, 1972, the front page headline declared ‘NO PLATFORM FOR RACISTS’. It described the NF and the Monday Club (a pro-empire and anti-immigration grouping within the Conservative Party) as ‘mortal enemies of the working class’ and stated that these two groups ‘must be stopped in their tracks’. The newspaper argued that these groups needed to be confronted and were ‘not going to be convinced by rational argument’, calling for ‘a concerted counter-attack’ at meetings of both groups.

The IMG proposed that groups like the NF could not be afforded ‘free speech’ because ‘their racist campaigns are a means to destroy the organisations of the working class which defend such bourgeois democratic rights’. The same issue claimed:

the only way to deal with fascist type organisations like the National Front is to break up their activities before they grow to a size where they can begin to smash the activities of the working class.

While acknowledging that ‘[w]e are nowhere near a threatened Fascist coup yet’, but said ‘the methods necessary on preventing such a threat must be explained and demonstrated in practice now… We must begin to adopt the right tactics right from the start.’

Evan Smith is now writing a comprehensive study of No Platform in the UK, titled, “No Platform: A History of Universities, Anti-Fascism and the Limits of Free Speech’.

I have just this to add to the study – something that shows the distance from present debates about free speech and No Platform.

After  the Red Lion Square events of 15 June 1974, in which a student sympathiser Kevin Gately was killed in clashes over the National Front (NF) Meeting in Conway Hall,  in  the IMG stepped up its anti-fascist activity. (1)

Action against the NF was, they explained, not a matter of suppressing ideas that we did not agree with. Nor was fascism an imminent danger.

The threat was of a different kind.

Fascist groups, like the British NF, the Italian MSI, or France’s Ordre Nouveau, were part of a wider push towards a ‘strong state’: they were outriders attempting to build ‘mass movements’ that would demand more and more repressive measures against the working class movements that (in the 1970s) were on the rise, flexing real industrial muscle through strikes (as in mass stoppages and demonstrations against the Industrial relations Act).

Racist workers had struck, the IMG noted in Fascism – How to Fight it – against immigrants, in Mansfield Hosiery Standard Telephone and Cables,  and Imperial Typewriters. There had been strikes against admitting the Ugandan Asians, expelled by the racist African regime. The NF organised public protests against them on a scale hard to gauge today. The first far-right anti-European (EEC) campaigns had begun. There was virulent hostility to Irish nationalism.

For the IMG and others on the left the National Front”s acts could be considered to have some kinship with the ‘strategy of tension’ of the Italian far right, a ratcheting up of social conflict in order to establish itself as an effective pressure group on the state to take repressive measures that would bolster their own strength. It had something in common with the ‘strong state’  developed by the Marxist theorist Nicos Poulantzas, “from a “parliamentary State” to a strong State (Etat fort) in which the executive predominates.” in which the extreme right could play a guiding role.

An IMG education session on fascism that I attended circa 1975 involved showing a film about the French Ligue Communiste’s efforts to present the fascist group Ordre Nouveau from holding a meeting at the salle de la Mutualité on the 21st of June 1973 on the theme of  « Halte à l’immigration sauvage ». Violent clashes took place, which led to both groups being officially dissolved (the LC became the  Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, LCR and ON became the Parti des forces nouvelles).

The importance of these events for the LCR is outlined here:  Dissolution de la Ligue communiste (1973)

For the IMG  their action gave us a way of putting the importance of street battles with the far right.

Whether the IMG was right, wholly, or partially misguided, – all at the same time, perhaps, given the arrival of Thatcher – one can see a gulf between the strategy of ‘No Platform’ of the time and the controversy today.

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(1) RED LION SQUARE AND THE DEATH OF KEVIN GATELY

Note: I was at the Red Lion Square protest.

 

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

February 7, 2018 at 6:43 pm

6 Responses

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  1. A fascinating historical account. As you note, Andrew, the reasoning behind “No platform for fascists” put forward by the IMG (and others) in the 70’s was quite different to that currently being utilised within the student movement, to restrict free speech for ideas considered “unacceptable”, etc.

    As Evan Smith notes, in the passage quoted in your post:

    “The IMG proposed that groups like the NF could not be afforded ‘free speech’ because ‘their racist campaigns are a means to destroy the organisations of the working class which defend such bourgeois democratic rights’. The same issue claimed:

    the only way to deal with fascist type organisations like the National Front is to break up their activities before they grow to a size where they can begin to smash the activities of the working class.”

    In other words, ‘No Platform’ was a form of what might be termed ‘pre-emptive self defence’ against fascists (and *only* fascists and ultra-reactionary forces as close to fascism as made no practical difference) on the specific grounds that their rallies and meetings were used to stir up violence against the labour movement and minorities. I was in the IS at the time, and we made the point that ‘No platform’ was *not* a means of denying free speech to people whose ideas we found offensive, and so would not be applied to ‘ordinary’ racists, sexists, the Monday Club, etc,etc.

    I don’t recall the “strong state” argument (ie as you put it, “outriders attempting to build ‘mass movements’ that would demand more and more repressive measures against the working class movements”) being used at the time, but that too would be a valid argument for no platforming fascists, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the grounds currently being used to silence people that some self-appointed guardians of student morality regard as beyond the pale.

    Jim Denham

    February 8, 2018 at 10:52 am

  2. An interesting statement and that’s all that section of the left ever contributed, statements. I was involved in east London against the NF throughout the seventies, I lives there from 1947 until 1995, and do not recall the IMG ever being involved in anything. The left used to turn up on a Sunday morning at the top of Brick Lane for a couple of hours chanting slogans and then would disappear as soon as the pubs opened. The defense was done by local people most of whom weren’t in any party and the Bangladeshis.

    This looks like another fictitious account of events to suit a party line rather like ” When We Touched The Sky” by Dave Renton. His version of what happened in Tower Hamlets is more or less complete fiction written to suit the IS/SWP history.

    Dave Roberts

    February 8, 2018 at 11:34 am

  3. Much earlier, of course, but we should never forget the 43 Group, who really did do the business:
    https://amp.ibtimes.co.uk/vidal-sassoon-sasson-nazis-mosely-blackshirts-jews-339572

    Jim Denham

    February 8, 2018 at 11:58 am

  4. Thanks Jim and Dave.

    Dave I attended a lot of demos and pickets in London from around 1973 to 1976 but was not centrally involved so cannot judge.

    I could have talked a lot more about serious community based activism in the West Midlands and in particular the Leamington Spa Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Committee’s politics, but I concentrated on those initial years in the 70s London IMG because that it when the line of No-Platform came to be important.

    I think the strong state line was a Fourth International view taken from the LCR, which was probably more important in my mind because two people in our Central London ‘cell’ were French (Fred LePlat was one).

    Andrew Coates

    February 8, 2018 at 2:28 pm

  5. The strong state was a term much used by Mandel in his writings in the early seventies.

    nollaigoj

    February 8, 2018 at 5:36 pm

  6. I have the 43 Group book by Morris Beckman on my shelf as I type this. Still worth a read and should be available from East End Books in Brick Lane. Also essential reading for comparison are ” Our Flag Stays Red” the official CP history by Phil Piratin and “Out of The Ghetto” by Joe Jacobs which is what actually happened. Another good read for the later period of the hypocrisy and lies of the CP is ” My Family and Other Communists” by David Aaronavitch.

    Dave Roberts

    February 9, 2018 at 6:46 am


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