In last week’s Oxford Student, in the midst of the polemic over Le Pen’s visit to the Union, some Jan Nedvidek published an opinion column where he had the courtesy of mentioning the Oxford Marxist Society. His article repeats the hackneyed liberal mantra that far-right demagogues like Le Pen, who he considers to be “one of the most important and influential politicians in Europe”, should be given a platform for the sake of “freedom of speech”. However, he goes a step beyond to claim that if someone should be barred from campus it should be the Marxists – explicitly mentioning our society and our censorable “militant methods” (what those “militant methods” are, he does not explain).
Mr Nedvidek, Le Pen is not a fascist in the style of Hitler or Mussolini, nor a racial supremacist. However, she and her party play a similar role to that played by fascism in the 1930s. Far-right parties have thrived across Europe in the wake of the crisis of capitalism, as unemployment soars, wages fall and working conditions deteriorate, public services are slashed, and the divide between rich and poor widens. People are desperately looking for alternatives and the traditional parties of the Left that working people used to look up to have completely capitulated to capitalism and have no alternative to offer. In these conditions right-wing bigots find fertile ground for their demagoguery, which does not mean, as Mr Nedvidek implies, that these parties are in any way more respectable or progressive. They divide working people and pit the exploited against those who are even more exploited, looking for scapegoats among the most oppressed and marginalised groups in society, preventing popular anger from being directed against those who are really to blame – the 1% of bankers and big capitalists. At the same time, the Front National has shrewdly attacked the EU technocrats and their neoliberal policies, cashing in on popular hatred of austerity. This echoes what the Nazis did in interwar Germany. It is in this respect that parties like the Front National are similar to the fascism of the 1930s. If they are not stopped, they will drag society towards barbarism, as the decay of capitalism will be expressed not through the unity of the exploited for a better society, but in a downwards spiral of ethnic hatred, intolerance, and fundamentalism. Mind you, “respectable” politicians like Le Pen are invaluable allies of Jihadists, further alienating an already marginalised Muslim youth and throwing them into the hands of fundamentalist fanatics. Would Mr Nedvidek be in favour of inviting someone like “Jihadi John” to the Union? We imagine not – although he is just the other side of the coin of Le Pen’s reactionary politics.
The viciousness and danger of this populism should be clear to everyone. But, does this mean that we should oppose Le Pen from speaking at the Union? Surely this would go against freedom of speech? We have already explained that under capitalism there is no genuine freedom of speech, as the media are in the hands of a handful of monopolies over which ordinary people have no control and which serve the interests of the ruling elites. These media empires are more than happy to voice the views of people like Le Pen, while they elbow out or distort the views of those who are fighting the system. With such influential friends as Rupert Murdoch, far right populists are already given ample visibility – we can only oppose them at every step and demand the Union does not help boost even further these dangerous reactionary ideas. Protesting against her visit was the right thing to do. However, Marxists are clear that these right-wing extremists will ultimately not be stopped through small campaigns and protests, but through a bold offensive by the labour movement under the banner of a socialist programme that unites workers of all races and creeds against capitalism.
Mr Nedvidek though seems not to be that concerned with freedom of speech as such, but with the fact that it is the “influential and important politicians” of the far right that are being combatted rather than the “ideological evil” of communism. This McCarthyist scaremongering is the real threat to freedom of speech on campus – always happy to voice the views of those who defend the status quo, a status quo of violence, inequality, and exploitation; it caricatures those who fight for a better society and presents them as dangerous militants. He raises the spectre of Stalin and of the USSR, a regime which, according to him, “killed more people than all other dictatorships in history combined”. A few historians would take issue with his liberal use of figures. Stalin killed more people than all the fascist and Western-sponsored dictatorships of the 20th century? More than Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Hirohito, Trujillo, Somoza, Diem, Suharto, Mobutu, the Apartheid regime, Pinochet, Videla, and the endless number of murderers and tyrants that were backed by capitalism and imperialism, precisely to stop socialist revolution? What about the famines, epidemics, and natural disasters that could have been stopped but about which nothing was done because it was not profitable? (But alas, famines and epidemics are only a political question when they happen in a communist regime, if not, it is simply a natural disaster or a God-sent calamity.) Capitalism is responsible for horror without end, we just have to take a look around us to see war, poverty, ignorance, famine, and disease, that are the product of the rottenness of the system and its incapacity to make use of the existing resources to provide a decent standard of living for all of humanity.
Stalinism was a dictatorial regime that killed millions of people. Whilst paying lip-service to words such as Marxism, socialism, and communism, this regime had nothing in common with the real ideas of Marxism or socialism. Nevertheless, on the basis of a planned economy, Russia was taken from the wooden plough to the spaceship in less than a generation. It is interesting that Mr Nedvidek should feel so offended at communist symbols for the sake of being Czech, when according to a recent poll carried out by the STEM agency, 33% of Czechs consider that communist rule was better than the current capitalist system, while 22% claim capitalism is not better than communism. That is, 55% of his compatriots believe communism was better or the same as capitalism. His laments do not seem to be very representative of the national opinion.
However, despite the fact that the brutality of Stalinism is arguably surpassed by that of capitalism and imperialism, Stalinism has nothing to do with genuine Marxism. Stalinism was the product of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Trapped in a poor, isolated, underdeveloped, and war-torn country, surrounded by hostile powers, where most of the population were illiterate peasants, a hefty bureaucracy emerged that imposed its authority and protected its privileges through violence and censorship, directing its repression first and foremost against those who had carried out the October Revolution and who stood for genuine socialism – the most prominent of whom was Leon Trotsky. Mr Nedvidek seems to accuse the Marxist Society of standing for the crimes of Stalinism. At the Marxist Society we stand for genuine, democratic socialism, not for the revolting caricature of our ideas that Stalinism represents. He also accuses us of “militant methods” – we are passionate and proud of our cause, but we are always up for a friendly discussion, as Mr Nedvidek would find out if he came to one of our events.
by Oxford Marxists