Beyond the pale
Alex Davies of National Action has been jailed for eight and a half years. Such legislation can easily be directed against the left and the working class movement, Eddie Ford warns
Last week Alex Davies, co-founder of the Hitler-worshipping and “white jihadist” National Action, was jailed for eight-and-a-half years, with a further year on an extended licence. In May he had been found guilty of terrorism offences and membership of two proscribed organisations - NA and its subsequent offshoot, National Socialist Anti-Capitalist Action (or NS131). Fellow founder member, Ben Raymond, was jailed in December for eight years, with a further two years on extended licence and made subject to the notification provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000 for 15 years. Absurdly likened to Joseph Goebbels during his trial, he once described Liverpool as a city “where every day the enemies of this nation preach their race-mixing communism”.
In court, Davies was called an “extremist’s extremist” and the prosecution described NS131 - which covered the southern part of Britain - as a “continuity faction” of NA. The latter got banned in 2016 for celebrating the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, saying things like “Only 649 MPs to go!” and “Death to traitors” - though Cox’s actual assassin, Thomas Mair, did not have any connections with the organisation. Nor was anybody in NA involved in the murder at all. However, with no particular logic, it was deemed that NA was “concerned in terrorism” - somehow equally as guilty as Mair - and therefore was banned in a form of collective punishment. That made NA the first fascist organisation to be banned since World War II, which for the likes of Davies and Raymond could be regarded as a sort of accolade. In laying an order for its proscription, the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, said the group was “a racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic organisation, which stirs up hatred, glorifies violence and promotes a vile ideology”.
Alex Davies was the 19th person to be convicted of NA membership, amounting to a significant act of state repression. Among those convicted have been British soldier and Afghanistan veteran, Finnish-born Mikko Vehvilainen, and former Metropolitan probationary police officer, Ben Hannam. This led to lurid talk in the press about NA “infiltrating” the police and army, as if the group represented a threat to the authorities - its membership never exceeded 100 and mainly existed online, communicating via social media platforms, encrypted messages, and so on. In other words, the sort of group that is easy meat for the GCHQ and MI5 if they decide to act against it. Showing the milieu they mixed in, one of the group’s associates was convicted of making a “working” pipe bomb. Another was Jack Renshaw, a former organiser for British National Party Youth and NA spokesperson. He admitted plotting to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper with a machete and was jailed for life with a minimum of 20 years (at his trial it emerged that he had been convicted previously of child sexual offences)1. Interestingly, Renshaw’s conspiracy was only thwarted after a NA member grassed him up to the official anti-racist-cum-quasi state body, Hope Not Hate, which dutifully passed the information on to police.
In some respects, Davies is an interesting case study. As a teenager, he had twice been referred to the government’s Prevent ‘deradicalisation’ scheme - which was obviously a great success. The explicit aim of the group was to create a National Socialist, or neo-Nazi, youth movement in the UK, Davies stating: “We’re like the BNP but more radical” - NA regarded itself as a “revolutionary nationalist” organisation. Before it was banned, the organisation was at its most active in Yorkshire, distributing leaflets adorned with swastikas and making Nazi salutes. Almost inevitably, it promoted the idea that Jews were behind the September 11 2001 attack and labelled Jo Cox the “patron saint” of grooming gangs. As for Renshaw, he argued that NA needed a “killer instinct” because “as nationalists we need to learn from the mistakes of the national socialists” - meaning “we need to realise that, no, you do not show the Jew mercy”. NA or NS131 has no problem being described as a “throwback to the 1930s, dedicated to all-out race war” - seeing its primary role as stirring the pot and giving history that little necessary push in the right direction towards the white jihad and the new Aryan world order. Davies proudly called himself a Nazi at his trial.
Now, it need hardly be said that, as communists, we find NA utterly revolting. The CPGB has said before: if someone goes around physically attacking other people on the basis of some twisted, anti-human ideology, then we have no problem with them being found guilty of assault - or murder in the case of Thomas Mair. They deserve to be imprisoned (where they ought to be rehabilitated and where necessary treated for mental health issues).
Doubtlessly some on the left were happy to hear the news that Alex Davies got eight-and-a-half years in the slammer. But that would be profoundly foolish and actively counterproductive. Communists are against jailing people for their political views, no matter how abhorrent - Davies has not attacked or assaulted anybody and now will almost certainly feel that his world view has been vindicated and reinforced. The same goes for Ben Raymond, whose “jihad was fought with words and images”, according to the prosecution. And we are definitely opposed to the banning or closing down of political organisations, whatever their political coloration. As history has shown time and time again, fascist and reactionary ideas in general are best combated in the open - not by being driven underground by the state, where they will inevitably resurface, possibly in a more pernicious form.
After all, look at what happened to NA. Whatever the courts might have said, it just carried on at a regional level, using different names and morphing into new shapes. For example, we had the “identitarian” Scottish Dawn, a “patriotic society for the defence of our race and nation” - with its black ‘life rune’ Nazi symbols. Then there was System Resistance Network, aka Vanguard Britannia, the British chapter of Vanguard America - essentially NA in a different guise. Not to mention Triple K Mafia and, of course, NS131.
More fundamentally still, we know who such legislation would be directed against in rather different circumstances - that is, if the working class movement were on the offensive. Then the establishment would start to jail our leaders and representatives. Therefore it logically follows that communists must be the most consistent and militant advocates of freedom of speech, and political freedom in general - it is the weapon we can wield against the capitalist ruling class, which is inherently anti-democratic. On this basis, Leon Trotsky correctly argued against the banning of the Nazi Party of the United States of America in the 1930s - as “under the conditions of the bourgeois regime, all suppression of political rights and freedom, no matter whom they are directed against in the beginning, in the end inevitably bear down upon the working class, particularly its most advanced elements - that is a law of history”.2
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Raymond trial was the incredible fact that he was prosecuted for possessing two books judged to be “of use to a terrorist” under section 58 of the Terrorism Act. One was basically bomb-making advice by Ragnar Benson called Homemade detonators: how to make ’em, how to salvage ’em, how to detonate ’em! The other was Anders Breivik’s meandering manifesto chronicling all his many obsessions: the 1,518-page 2083: A European declaration of independence. If the bourgeois state can ban books, decide what views are legitimate, then this has obvious implications for the working class movement. What about Che Guevara’s Guerrilla warfare or even the Communist manifesto? How about the call for a popular militia? Or protests by Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain?
Yet, as the CPGB has pointed out before, the left has a dismal record on freedom of speech. In fact, far too many are complicit in the construction of the narrative that certain ideas are beyond the pale and need to be suppressed before they gain a malignant hold over the masses. We shall never forget the crazy spectacle of the Socialist Workers Party telling us that only duly accredited students and specialist academics should have access to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, given its corrupting influence - a bad and dangerous book that should not be available in public libraries or read by the workers, who will inevitably become entranced by such ideas. In turn, the left’s longstanding, unhealthy obsession with Nazis and fascists, real or imagined, has mutated into the idea - if not ‘common sense’ - that these forces are the supreme danger to our movement, which have to be stopped by any means necessary. Hence the left’s acquiescence to state bans on fascist groups, if not active support for such anti-democratic measures.
But this is to totally misread history. The police and the army - the state apparatus in general - are far more dangerous to us than deluded fools like Alex Davies and Ben Raymond.