Kings College London: we must fight the right with a united front

On 5 March, students at KCL called a counter-protest against a Libertarian Society event, where speakers included the chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute, Yaron Brook; and alt-right YouTube troll Carl Benjamin, better known as Sargon of Akkad. Both are arch-reactionaries, whose views many students steadfastly oppose and whom we justly resisted. The night’s events demonstrate the need for careful planning and collective action, rather than individualist shock tactics, to effectively defeat the forces of reaction.

While King’s students protested in and outside the venue, members of Antifa (not KCL students) entered the Edmund J. Safra lecture theatre (crossing a UCU picket line in the process) and disrupted the event, resulting in a physical altercation with attendees. King’s students inside the venue acted to peacefully disrupt the talk, as is clear from public video evidence. Subsequently, management has called for a police investigation and threatened “the most stringent measures” against King’s students found to be involved. We stand in full solidarity with all KCL students who attended the demo, peacefully exercising their right to protest. We will strongly oppose all recriminations from the university bosses and any backlash from the right. Resistance against bigotry is one of the most important tasks facing the student left all over the UK, and we will not be cowed.

Management also showed their stinking hypocrisy in their email. Given the free speech policies the university itself has set, which ostensibly prohibit hate speech, neither Benjamin nor Brook should ever have been allowed to speak in the first place. Brook has formerly advocated raining fire on the entire Middle East in response to the European refugee crisis; while Benjamin has called on his female critics to be sexually assaulted. Both of these individuals were deemed fit to speak, whereas Marxist Society speakers deemed “controversial” have been barred entry in the past, simply for advocating for a society in which bosses will no longer be needed.

More alarmingly still, on Friday 9 March, King’s will pay host to Gábor Vona, leader of the ‘Movement for a Better Hungary’ Jobbik party. Despite attempts to clean up its image in recent years, Jobbik is an extremely right-wing organisation that retains strong links to the neo-nazi movement in Hungary, and has participated in anti-semitic demonstrations, as well as pogroms against the Roma people. In 2013, Vona said “I will never be Israel’s dog,” and that Hungary “was not for sale” to Jewish investors. In 2012, Marton Gyongyosi, whom Vona said would be his foreign minister if Jobbik formed a government, called for lists to be drawn up of Jewish government officials and lawmakers because they could be a “national security risk.”” This is another level entirely than Benjamin and Brook, who are mere reactionaries: this is the language of anti-Semitic fascism.

The presence of such scum on campus destroys the pretense that King’s is committed to freedom of speech, and wipes away the crocodile tears they shed over the Libertarian Society having their rights impinged. In their email, management explained that King’s provides a “safe platform for free, peaceful and respectful dialogue.” But in reality, it is a case of freedom of speech if you hate the oppressed, freedom to be censored if you resist the oppressors. Management has failed students on its own terms.

However, the tactics used at the Libertarian meeting, which put students and university workers in physical danger, with one security guard being hospitalized, cannot be condoned. If nothing else, we are opposed to such tactics because they achieved the exact opposite of what was intended. One need only visit King’s Libertarian Society’s Facebook page, or glance at the headlines, to see that Antifa enabled the alt-right to present themselves as the victims. On top of this, the shock-troop measures employed at yesterday’s protest could cause animosity among the student body at large: potentially driving a wedge between an activist layer and the mass of students. This is no way to win people over to our struggle, and could impede the building of a movement against reactionary ideas in the future.

What is required is a long-term perspective of how to build the forces of those who will fight the right, as politics continues to polarize in the period of capitalist crisis. At the moment, the far-right is a small force in Britain, but has been somewhat emboldened and will keep pushing the limits of what sorts of opinions it is able to voice in public. The majority of the student community is deeply opposed to the views advocated by Brook, Benjamin and Vona. The task is to win these students to active resistance in an organized fashion. This will not be achieved by the ad-hoc organising and the masked stunts witnessed on Monday.

Rather, we need outward-facing, collective organising aimed at engaging a wide layer of students and workers. With a patient and political campaign, we might well have been able to take on Brook and Akkad with a united front, rather than a small group of activists. In particular, we have seen in these past weeks a new layer of students energized and politicised by the UCU pensions strike. There was a golden opportunity to build for this counter-demo on the picket lines during the day: and the UCU was already covering the entrance to the Strand Campus where the event took place! Building goodwill with striking workers should have been a top priority.

Linking up with both students and teachers in the strike movement will prove the basis to organise class-based resistance on a mass scale against the far-right. This is the approach that should be adopted in advance of Vona’s visit on Friday. By reaching out to the widest possible layers, we can prevent this fascist from setting foot inside our university. There is only one way to effectively fight the right: a mass movement proclaiming: “You are not welcome here!”

by KCL Marxists