On Tuesday 11th October members of Trinity College’s Philosophical Society left a Trinity lecture hall with a silent, traumatized air. In a crowded and emotional public meeting the Phil had been subjected to a harsh berating for inviting Nick Griffin, leader of the racist British National Party, to speak at a debate on immigration.
Socialists and anti-racists on and off campus, staff unions, the Graduate Students’ Union and many student societies formed a broad campaign and, by Friday, had succeeded in getting the invitation withdrawn. There would have been a huge demonstration on the night of the debate and many were willing to block Griffin from speaking if necessary. Thirty anti-fascist activists illustrated this fact to the Phil by occupying their debating chamber on Thursday night.
In the course of the campaign, however, we came up against those who thought that the best way to stop Griffin was to defeat his ideas in a debate. Some claimed that Griffin represents a constituency that should not be ignored.
We responded that the outcome of the proposed debate and the speeches made would have been insignificant. A notorious racist with a neo-Nazi past would have spoken from a respected platform in Ireland; this would have been an inspiration and an organisational focus point for the far-right in this country. Debates like this are a big help to political racists, who usually have serious trouble gaining such publicity. In their desire for controversy, however, student societies quite often remove this obstacle by giving them a platform.
The Phil did ask a Socialist Party member to speak against Griffin at the debate, but he refused the offer. Only as a last resort would he share a platform with individuals like Griffin. We were confident that we should and would get the debate cancelled and we were up-front about that.
Though presented as a “moderate” and “respectable” anti-immigration party, the BNP has a long list of members, former members and even election candidates who have been convicted of racist abuse and assault, arson, terrorism and, in several cases, the sexual abuse of children. There are dozens of examples in the last decade alone. The party’s attitudes toward violence and links to violent groups are disturbing.
We want an open and free debate on migration- not one which assumes that such twisted individuals as Griffin have a valuable contribution to make. When there are no jobs and devastating cutbacks, a significant minority of people will say “we need to look after our own first,” and parties like the BNP, if sufficiently organized, will pick up votes and recruits. In the absence of such a party, anti-immigrant sentiment is unlikely to find an organized channel. This is of crucial importance because a political party provides finance, unity, organisation, publications, and positive reinforcement of ideas that might otherwise never take root.
We demand equal working conditions and fighting trade union representation for all to ensure there is no exploitation of migrants or undercutting of the hard-won rights of Irish workers. We demand a state that can provide homes, welfare and public services for everyone, not one that relies mostly on “the market” to do so, guaranteeing scarcity and therefore conflict.
Whenever we raise the issue of “no platform for fascists,” pundits come out with the same tired old quip: “who are the real fascists here?” Unlike them we have a very specific definition of fascism. Nick Griffin has been an active political racist for most of his life. He is closely linked to extreme violence and has denied the holocaust. Therefore we use the term “fascist” quite correctly.
Nor are we “stifling debate.” Genuine Socialist activists discuss migration with huge numbers of people when we knock on doors and hold street stalls and public meetings, but rational debate is not a weapon worth deploying against a fascist. In a dark alley with a migrant, the weapons of Nick Griffin’s friends are not subtle sociological arguments but the boot, the fist and the pipe-bomb. In inviting Nick Griffin to a debate, the Phil were bringing a knife to a gunfight, and expecting others- particularly migrants from Asia and Africa- to take the bullet.
Thankfully, the far right now understand that any attempt by them to organize in Ireland will be met with uncompromising resistance. However, the most important anti-fascist activity by far remains the struggle against capitalism. When we live in a fair and equal society in which workers democratically run the economy, racism would be eliminated along with the need for mass migration. We must emphasize the need for solidarity between peoples of all races as a weapon against the domination of the world by banks and corporations.