Friday, 21 October 2011

Why prejudice against 'left-wing extremism' helps the far-right

This article is aimed at people who are concerned with issues like discrimination and racism, while also being concerned about 'left-wing extremists', possibly believing that 'they are just as bad as the far-right'.

I don't tend to write explicitly about politics here, but in various conversations I have had with people combined with things I have seen in media sources have prompted me to write this article.  Here's why:

I believe an attack on 'left-wing extremism' to be misguided and runs counter to our aims of working against discrimination and for more equal societies.  A prejudice against the left-wing exists that runs counter to the aim of being anti-discrimination, and indeed hinders work against discrimination.  I believe it is better to pay attention on those who actively work for prejudice and violence: the far-right, as well as the mainstream that offers fuel to their fire.  (Regular readers may be surprised to see me use a lot of the imperative rather than the conjunctive case; I do this simply because it seems to read better.)

Don't focus so much on 'left-wing extremism'

The term 'extremism' is a subjective term.  In news reports and by the far-right it is applied to groups and people on the left who have a wide variety of beliefs.  To be 'extreme' means to hold a view outside of the mainstream, as highlighted here on Latte Labour, who goes onto say that surely we need to be extreme about the fact that many in the world lack access to clean water.  It is surely right to be extreme in being against racism.  Having an extreme view is not necessarily a bad thing.

A bizarre example here is that of Ernst Grube.  He is Jewish and was put into a Jewish camp in Munich by the Nazis before being sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.  He survived and was active with the Association of former Nazi persecutees, as well as 'Lion fans (1860 Munich) against the right-wing'.  The Bavarian state authority 'Bavaria against left-wing extremism' contains an open file detailing people considered to be a possible danger.  Ernst, now 78 is on that list, simply as he is a member of the German Communist Party.

Another example is that of the British police, who want people to tell them who are anarchists.  That's one entire political group!  Perhaps here they/we are considered to be 'extreme' due to violence.  Largely I am against violence and have nothing against attacking tactics that cause concern.  Within anarchism there are a wide variation of views regarding violence.  The violence that happened during various anti-cuts protests in GB or at the anti-Nazi protest I attended in Dresden this year led some to blame the  'extremists' on the left, who were being 'just as bad as those on the right', without testing the facts given to them by the media or their own prejudices.

This is a fallacy for the following reasons:

People on the far-right commit more crimes

If you have coloured skin; belong to a non-Christian religion, are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transexual; are disabled or homeless, you are much more in danger of being assaulted by a member of the far-right.  In Wales and England in the 2010/11 period a total of 51,187 'racist incidents' took place (classed as such according to incidents where 'race', religion, sexuality or disability took place.)

While no statistics exist for the 'left-wing extremist' equivalent, I daresay that they follow the pattern in Germany, where extreme right-wing crimes by a wide margin outnumber those of the left.  The great majority of 'left-wing extremist' crimes (based on 2009) are acts of defense against the police at demonstrations (I shall return to this theme later) or the burning of cars, that's according to youth-violence expert Michael Kohlstruck (see same article), who goes on to say that these crimes are largely concentrated in Berlin and Hamburg, whereas right-wing crimes can be seen throughout Germany.  Uwe-Karten Heye (from the initiative 'Gesicht zeigen') highlights the fact that more than 140 people have died in Germany due to right-wing extremists since 1989, while no-one has died due to left-wing extremists in the same time period (ibid.)

Simply by how you are born or due to your life circumstances opens you to being a target of the far-right, and of course this goes beyond GB and Germany.

(2) The police play a part in 'left-wing extremist' crimes

Let's be careful here.  When I worked in GB I had dealings with the police and they were good at their work and helpful.  I have little against the police as an institution.  However, a basic human right is the right to free speech and the right of assembly.  There are countless examples where these rights have been curtailed by members of the police.

This document details (in German) police attacks on peaceful demonstrators at the protest against Nazis in Dresden this February.  One can see a few videos displaying such attacks here, and here.  In GB we have seen the police abusing a disabled man in a wheelchair during a protest.  In Greece we have seen the police hitting a peaceful man with a baton and then firing teargas at peaceful protesters. 

Now, regarding violence against the police, I ask you to look at this video

Yes, people do attack the police.  To tell the truth, in all videos I have seen the worst I have seen protesters do is throw banners.  What you shall notice in the video is that the throwing of banners started after the police charge.  It's the same with kettles (see this article).

Police tactics often cause protesters to get scared and agitated.  I know this.  I was kettled once.  It does not really result on calming a situation down.  When people get scared or agitated they feel in danger, and are liable to do things that they are not usually likely to do.  I am not justifying violence against the police per se (I admit that a very minute minority of people do go to be violent to the police), just explaining it.  Bear in mind that the fight is not equal.  Police have all manner of protection, and as representatives of the state are allowed to do violence, and often get away with it.  It's called the 'monopoly of violence'.  Of course, it could be alleged that police are actively working undercover in order to spur protestors on to 'violent' acts, thus enabling the police to 'react' and also feed the media with some nice images of those nasty black-block people doing 'violent' things. 

The German philosopher Jan Philipp Reemtsma has written of how one needs both trust in society (in each other, or possibly I may add in state authorities that work on behalf of us, to whom we delegate our potential to violence) as well as an unsparing realism, in order to avoid barbarism.  I would say that many in the mainstream trust the police too much and unquestionably accept what they and the mainstream media says.  This leads to tragic consequences, as any Liverpool fan can tell you.

A young lad told me this year 'People who go to protests should expect that the police may be violent to them'.  Is this the kind of country you want to live in, where the police can willy nilly attack peacefully protesting people?

Focussing on 'left-wing extremist violence' plays into the hands of conservatives and reactionaries, who are fed images of the very few violence incidents (as a proportion) that involve the left-wing that occur and then generalise.  Criticise tactics of some members of the left-wing by all means.  However, a simple prejudice that 'the 'extreme-left are as bad as the extreme-right' adds to what the right wing are doing: trying to delegitimise the left-wing and its assorted aims of working for good hospitals and education for all irrespective of economic status.  A focus on the small minor incidents of 'left-wing extremist violence' by liberals adds to that, and takes away from the message of protests.  

Our attention needs to be elsewhere: 

Attack right-wing extremism...

Aside from the previously given statistics of hate-crimes in GB and right-wing extremist crimes in Germany, we have the obvious example of the murders by Anders Breivik in Oslo.  I wonder if other people noticed what happened after the tragedy regarding the 'ownership' of it.  On Facebook many people put Norwegian flags as their profiles as a way of respect.  This is understandable, it was an attack within Norway, on Norwegians and affected the nation of Norway.  Thing is, these people were not killed because they were Norwegians, they were killed because they were left-wing.

The links of Breivik to the English Defense League have been made clear.  They're another organisation with people with dodgy beliefs in them (from Unite Against Fascism):

There are other examples of EDL-dodginess in England, where this time Labour party members have been attacked.  In Berlin Nazis attacked left-wing counter-demonstrators as well as migrants (This site documents Nazi attacks in Germany)

What you must understand is this: These are just a few examples of something widespread.  As well as hating people with different coloured skin/of different religions/of other sexualities/homeless people, etc. the far-right hate the left-wing.  They are out to get the 'reds' and are quite happy in using violence is doing so.  As is their right, when the police do nothing left-wingers have to defend themselves.  That does not mean 'left-wing extremism'.

Who are you to ally yourselves with, then?  The mainstream?  Thing is, this right-wing extremism is helped by the mainstream:

....and those who help to encourage them

The debacle of Gordon Brown's 'British Jobs for British people' and David Cameron's wish to get ordinary British people to shop illegal immigrants are two examples of how British politicians have added to prejudices about immigrants.  We also had Jack Straw's at best clumsy words about Muslim women.

It is Islamophobia and prejudice against the 'extreme left-wing' that I now wish to concentrate.  In their report, 'The Cold War on British Muslims' Spinwatch has shown that the way in which surveillance of the left-wing during the Cold War period is now being continued with regards to Muslims in GB.

Governmental surveillance of the left-wing

The M15 has been doing counter-subversion of the left-wing since the late 1960's.  Remember that this was the time in which student protests across Europe were criticising the establishment (in Germany this, together with a number of trials in Germany at that time finally brought Germany into beginning to deal with its Nazi past).  Now, branch F of M15 was devoted to monitoring
..activities threatening the security of the state, or well-being of the state and intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means (from the Spinwatch report.)
This led to a monitoring of 'far and wide left' groups and people and therefore a whole generation of people later to be part of the Labour government of 1997-2010 were monitored (Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson, Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman, among others).  In the 1980's they were also to monitor Rowan Williams (now the Archbishop of Canterbury), members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as well as some involved with the Greenham common women's peace camp.  Now, these are not terrorists we are talking about here, they are people using peaceful methods to achieve their aims of peace and social justice

This surveillance led to some strange events: the Communist Party of GB were heavily monitored, even through the miner's strike when M15 themselves admitted that they had played a moderating role; also, M15 decided in 1973 that the Official IRA (which declared a ceasefire in 1972) were a bigger danger than the Provisional IRA (who were about to deepen their armed campaign; in total about 1,800 people were killed by them.)  Why was that?  Well, the Official IRA were left-wing!

My point here is that security agencies and governments can define all kinds of people to be a danger, or to return to the theme, 'extreme'.  So can the media.  Peaceful individuals get stigmatised.

The mainstream and Muslims in GB

The Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) ("a non-partisan think-tank that studies issues related to community cohesion in Britain") were founded in 2007.  A click on that link will show you that one issue particular interests them: Islam.  This questionnaire was biased against Muslim students (a mainstream newspaper, the Daily Mail, ran with this in the usual fashion), trying to portray them as being more likely to support violence in the name of religion.  Damien Thompson from the Telegraph is a fan of the CSC and is quoted as saying: 
It is people of his generation who recognise the major threat to social cohesion in this country: Islam.

I know I should say “militant” Islam, but to be honest I’m finding it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the militants and the moderates. 
Add to that the think-tank Policy Exchange ("shaping the political agenda") with links to the Tory government.  It is alleged that they falsified documents that seemed to demonstrate that mosques in GB were home to literature that supports terrorism.  In their report 'Living apart together' a whole chapter is Islamophobia and discrimination faced by Muslims, whereby it is said that both are 'myths' and part of a 'victim mentality'. 

The mainstream and Muslims in Germany 

This article shows that the right-wing blog 'Politically Incorrect' has links to the far-right 'Pro Deutschland', an organisation containing Neo-Nazis as well as 'Die Freiheit', an organisation with links to racists.  Is also has fans among the ruling party, the CDU.  They are connected to the notorious Islamophobe Geert Wilders, through the 'International Freedom Alliance', with with the English Defense League also has contacts.  Of course, in Germany we also have the example of Thilo Sarrazin, who has openly espoused Islamophobic and anti-semitic views, says the Daily Mail (!)  Sarrazin, it should be known, is a member of the SPD (the German Social Democrat Party).  The SPD decided to not throw him out of the party.

Islamophobia is within the German state, I purport.  One question on the Citizenship test (that enables people to gain German citizenship) is "Which religion has shaped European and German culture: (a) Hinduism, (b) Christianity, (c) Buddhism or (d) Islam."  The official answer is of course (b), neatly ignoring, say, the history of Islam in Spain (and the eventual ethnic cleansing by Christians of Muslims) or in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the fact that oranges, sugar, pasta, the Principle of Pendulum, which was used to measure time, among others.  Of course, had the answer been multi-choice it would offer a more realistic answer.  As it is, this test is a form of discrimination against Muslims.

In both British and German examples we see the mainstream (respected intelligent people) providing a forum that the far-right feeds on.  Such examples fan the flames of prejudice.

The 'one must respects all sides of the argument' method is not always the best

I understand the standard liberal need to see 'the other side'.  However, regarding things like racism and state violence, there is no need to respect the other side.  One can respect the humanity of the other person, one can understand how they came to their view/actions, but ultimately I consider it to be a (more well-off person's) luxury to be cautious regarding things like shouty-types, people protesting, people doing things like occupations (here I hold to the maxim that not everything that is legal is good, and not everything that is illegal is bad.)  I know people who are trying to work against racism; trying to help homeless people, working in youth clubs in poor areas, protesting about better benefits for people who are disabled.  They are not violent people.  They are hard-working, unassuming people who don't have the power of the mainstream.  They, and people like them need your support.  Oh, and should you be Christian, please join this group on Facebook.

Thank you for your time.


  1. You're an elegant writer, but your left-wing/right-wing dichotomy is flawed.

    There are many extremist, far-right organisations that carry out acts of violence, but liberal minorities and peaceful protestors aren't their left-wing equivalent. More accurately, left-wing extremists would have to include groups like the Red Army Faction, the Brigatte Rosse, FARC and the Tamil Tigers. All these groups have caused significant bloodshed and would be defined exactly as 'Left-Wing Extremist'.

    Similarly, there are many neo-conservative, right-wing groups that are more in line with the non-violent activism on the left to which you're refering.

    I agree that demonising civil rights activist by labelling them "far-left" is unfair, but I don't think saying that they're less violent neo-nazis is really a fair comparison.

  2. Thanks for the comment and compliment, Tristan.

    My point was that indeed such a dichotomy is flawed, but one which I have seen many believe in ('the far-left and far-right are as bad as each other', said after the mentioned protests).

    You are right, those groups (have you seen the 'Baader Meinhof Komplex film? Indeed, at an anarchist centre I went to in Berlin once I saw a poster saying that the RAF were 'political prisoners' and were generally lionised) have done bloodsheds, to thanks for reminding me about them. Compared to the far-right groups however they have committed a lot less violence and represent less of a threat, I would argue, certainly to the general public.

    Can you give a few such examples of neo-conservative, right-wing groups?

    I believe that, statistically, my claim about the 'far-let' being less violent is valid.

    Thanks for enlarging the discussion to areas outside of GB and Germany (the countries I mostly concentrated on).