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Should fascists be allowed freedom of speech?

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Issue 2438
Nazi Marine Le Pen
Nazi Marine Le Pen (Pic: Blandine Le Cain on Flickr)

The Oxford Union—a talking shop for toffs at Oxford University—has invited Marine Le Pen, leader of the fascist French Front National (FN), to speak on 5 February.

Unite against Fascism (UAF) has called a demonstration outside the venue to stop the event from going ahead.

Socialist Worker believes that Nazis should never be allowed to speak publicly or organise openly.

People opposing this view say that no one should be denied freedom of speech and that anyway the best way to expose fascists is through rational debate. But Nazis are not interested in debate. They are not like other political forces—or even other racist parties such as Ukip.

Wherever Nazis are allowed the space to organise, they will build a hard core of street-fighting thugs. These will carry out murderous attacks on ethnic minorities and the left and physically attempt to take control of the streets.

The most obvious example of this is Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party in the 1930s. Their army of “storm troopers” attacked Jewish people on the streets and smashed up meetings of trade unions, Social Democrats and Communists.


That is not true of all racist parties. So for instacne the racism of Ukip is vile and they should be opopsed. But Ukip is not out to smother democracy and smash workers’ organisation.

To attempt this today, Nazis need the veneer of respectability that participating in debate can give them. So Marine Le Pen currently claims that the FN’s fascist connections are in the past.

Fascists lie about their ideas and aims in order to pull soft racists around them. This in turn gives hardened fascists the confidence to launch a campaign of violence and intimidation on the streets.

In the early 1990s the British National Party (BNP) were able to organise around a bookshop which served as their headquarters in Welling, south London.

This led directly to a series of racist attacks in the area, culminating in the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. It was people being prepared to challenge them on the streets and expose them as fascists that pushed the Nazis back.

In 2009, presenting himself as a respectable politician after election to the European Parliament, BNP leader Nick Griffin was invited onto BBC’s Question Time.

UAF and other campaigners fought hard to keep him off the air. But the debate went ahead. Griffin was humiliated on the programme as his racist and bigoted arguments were torn apart. But that night a record 3,000 people reportedly joined the BNP.


The BNP is now a shadow of what it was in 2009. But this was because of activists campaigning to smash it—not because it was defeated in debate. The failure of the French left to do the same has allowed the FN to grow into a significant political force.

Of course, Le Pen is not trying to organise in Britain. But her appearance at Oxford Union can help revitalise to Nazis who are.

Two days after Le Pen is due to speak, the racist English Defence League (EDL) plans to march in Dudley. UAF will be organising a counter demonstration there too. Like the BNP, the EDL has been kept in the gutter by anti-fascist campaigning.

But it still has the potential to grow amidst a toxic atmosphere of Islamophobia and racist scapegoating. A success for them in Dudley could give their dying organisation a shot in the arm.

Fascists will take any freedom they are offered and use it to rampaging through the streets as the EDL did in its heyday.

That’s why everyone who hates racism and fascism should join the UAF protests.

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