Don't dare read this!

Even possession of this article could see you prosecuted, warns Eddie Ford

Communists are militant defenders of free speech and democratic rights. Therefore, as consistent democrats, we oppose all forms of censorship - and state bans or prohibitions on ‘extremist’ organisations. We do so not out of libertarianism or a sense of fair play and decency, but because communists oppose all measures which give the authorities the right to decide what can and cannot be said, or to adjudicate as to what is ‘correct’ or not. More concretely, it is in our self-interest to oppose anti-free speech laws and proscriptions - as they will inevitably be turned against us, sooner rather than later.

This should be an elementary proposition for any organisation calling itself Marxist or communist. As argued in the Communist manifesto, in order “to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class” we must “win the battle of democracy” (K Marx, F Engels The communist manifesto London 2002, p243). In other words, communists struggle to extend and broaden democracy to every sphere of life - knowing that the working class can only become a universal ruling class if it masters politics and scientific discourse in general, which in turn requires access to the most advanced theory available. Without the free, full and open clash of different and contending ideas, such theory - so necessary for our self-liberation - can never truly emerge. In terms of classical Marxism, this is very much the orthodox position.

However, for all that, the left’s record on free speech has been pretty atrocious. Indeed, many on the left have been first in the queue when it comes to calling for censorship or greater state powers to curb democratic rights. Rather than an emancipatory socialism from below, we have instead a bureaucratic or elitist socialism - where the role of the masses is to unquestioningly obey this or that sect leader, and uncritically support every new twist and turn of ‘the party’ (or the state bureaucracy).

One of the worst offenders in this respect has been the Socialist Workers Party - and its ‘crimes’ have been exhaustively catalogued in the Weekly Worker. So, notoriously, in 1999 Socialist Worker shrilly appealed for the banning from public libraries of the works of rightwing, ‘revisionist’, historian, David Irving - who was arrested and charged earlier this month in Austria for contesting the nature and extent of the Nazi mass murder against Jews under a 1989 warrant. No doubt the SWP would approve. Back in 1999, in its ‘What we think’ column, Socialist Worker raged: “There is only one reason for denial of the Nazi holocaust. It is to make it possible again ... Holocaust deniers should be confronted whenever they raise their heads, and Irving’s books should be banned from every public, college and school library” (my emphasis, January 22 1999).

Similarly, only a few months later Socialist Worker was bitterly complaining about the fact that “the Nazis are to be allowed to pollute our screens with a free TV broadcast”, and how the editor of The Guardian “gave letter space to British National Party’s ‘publicity officer’, Michael Newland, last week” - where he “was allowed to state unchallenged that the BNP condemned the [Soho nail] bombs” (May 15 1999). In other words, the fringe SWP does not believe that fringe groups should be allowed “letter space” in The Guardian or given access to the TV screens. For the SWP, it seems, some ideas are just beyond the pale and that it is that.

Given the above sentiments, it is hardly surprisingly that some SWPers have privately confided to CPGB members that they favour the introduction of Austrian and German-style anti-free speech laws - meaning that only duly accredited students would be allowed to read Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and ‘holocaust denial’ would be a criminal offence.

Under the German laws, imagery or insignia deemed to be Nazi or fascist is also prohibited - so, for instance, computer games set in World War II must not display swastikas, Nazi regalia, etc. This has led to the absurd situation where the very popular, essentially mainstream, first-person-shooter PC game, Return to Castle Wolfenstein - a supernatural story with World War II as the backdrop - has been stripped of all and any references/imagery that is explicitly Nazi-related and thus had its content effectively denuded (of course, all enterprising German fans of the game need to do is download from the internet a patch or modification that puts back all the swastikas, etc).

Allowing the state such powers is extremely dangerous - and it is a disgrace when sections of the left actually demand that the state adopt and implement anti-democratic and fundamentally Big Brotherish measures. As the Weekly Worker has patiently explained, and will continue to do so, such a censorial approach is underpinned by the assumption that the working class consists of ignorant and potentially wayward sheep, or little children, who must be shielded from corrupting and confusing ‘bad ideas’ - and therefore need the all-wise SWP central committee priesthood to be on permanent guard duty in order to tell them what they should and should not be thinking at any one time.

It is not sympathy for the utterly repulsive views of Irving (who, by the way, faces a 10-year prison sentence) that leads us to oppose his arrest under holocaust-denial legislation -though, needless to say, if studied critically and carefully, his extensive and obsessional writings can produce valuable insights into the imperialist machinations of the ‘democratic’ British ruling class. Rather it is the knowledge that, in the eyes of the ruling class, the ‘bad ideas’ that are most feared are those of working class power and socialism. It is true that today such ideas are contemptuously dismissed or ignored, but you can be sure that, when class combativity revives and they become a material force once again, the bourgeoisie will use parallel powers against us.

Similarly it is the CPGB’s commitment to the politics and practice of extreme democracy that explains why we were alarmed by the recent Old Bailey conviction of six men belonging to the neo-Nazi group, Racial Volunteer Force. Five of the accused - all former members of Combat 18 - were sentenced to a combined total of 15 years on the charge of conspiracy to stir up racial hatred. The sixth man, 40-year-old Kevin Quinn, was given a two-year suspended sentence for possession of the anti-semitic pamphlet, The longest hatred: an examination of anti-gentilism.

During the trial, the court heard how the RVF members sung the praises of Adolph Hitler, Rudolph Hess, etc, and generally glorified Nazism. More specifically, the prosecution team claimed that during 2002-03, the five jailed men had been involved in the production of three editions of the fascist magazine Stormer - imported from Poland and named after a 1930s Nazi publication.

The contents of this obnoxious magazine included an article entitled ‘Roast a rabbi’, which detailed how to make an incendiary device and offered “100 team points” for the first person to firebomb a synagogue. In the same vein, another piece was called, ‘How to build a Dave Copeland special’ - that is, it paid tribute to one of their British-born heroes, the 1999 Soho nail-bomber. There were also articles eulogising the murderers of Stephen Lawrence and an editorial saying, “We say fuck the old bill and fuck all their Jewish paymasters” - and so on and on, all rather predictably.

Additionally, it was revealed, when the police searched one of the RVF member’s home, they found a baseball bat with Combat 18 stickers on it and a document calling itself a “federal nigger-hunting licence”. One of the accused, Nigel Piggins - described in The Guardian as a “former turkey catcher” (November 5) - had also admitted to distributing DVD copies of a live gig by neo-Nazi favourites, Screwdriver. Part of the set-list includes a song about Chuck Berry called Johnny joined the Klan - and another song, titled The showdown begins, which enjoins us to: “Send all the niggers, the Turks, the Jews, the Pakistanis, the fucking Poles, the fucking scum of the earth to Europe - then one day the European people are gonna wake up and there’s gonna be a fucking race war” (somewhat ironically, Quinn is Polish-born).

Why should communists be so disturbed by the jailing of a bunch of unrepentent reactionary boneheads? After all, Mark Atkinson - a former dustman - was jailed for 21 months in 1997 for distributing Combat 18 literature which “targeted” Vanessa Redgrave and the news presenter, Anna Ford. Obviously, there can be no doubt that the RVF, like the BNP, are a gang of vicious thugs who hate not only Jews, foreigners, blacks and muslims, but class fighters and communists too. If necessary, we would have absolutely no qualms about engaging in physical confrontation with such forces - aiming to win the debate by sharply connecting their heads to the pavement.

However, we will not be joining the police or the liberal media in ‘anti-fascist’ celebrations of the imprisonment of the ‘RFV Five’ - let alone calling for more prosecutions of this type. For communists, the Old Bailey marks a serious erosion of democratic rights and sets a dangerous precedent.

Thus, in the innocent words of The Guardian, “Some of the material and images were so offensive and dangerous that the police removed them from pages given to journalists after the case” (November 5). This is simply irrational - will the assorted hacks be instantly seduced by neo-Nazism upon flicking through the crazed pages of Stormer? In the future, should all magazines be checked and vetted for “offensive and dangerous” images prior to publication?

You do not have to be a paranoiac to envisage how easily such measures might be turned against the left. The prosecution made much of the fact that the RVF had put most of the Stormer material onto its website. In this vein, Peter Davies, assistant chief constable of Lincolnshire, praised the “meticulous inquiry” that brought the RVFers to the Old Bailey - an inquiry that involved the police closely monitoring websites, and intercepting emails and documents sent through the post. Doubtless, the surveillance techniques and operational skills learnt during tracking the RVFers will be honed and near perfected when it comes to following the activities of left and anti-imperialist groups.

The prosecution team said the Old Bailey case was about the “activities of a small number of people acting together to publicise their collective hatred of non-white people”, while Carmen Daly, head of the Special Crimes Unit at the Crown Prosecution Service, declared of Stormer: “It’s not just the usual cheap and nasty pamphlets that you can throw in the bin” - then added: “In particular, the exhortation to violence is one step away from causing serious unrest, and it is important we take the appropriate action.”

“Causing serious unrest”? Publicising or exhibiting “collective hatred”? If these become criminal offences, then the left could be in big trouble.

In some respects, the two-year suspended sentence handed out to Quinn was the most chilling - for mere possession of a screwball pamphlet, The longest hatred. What leftwing activist does not have stacks of “dangerous” or “offensive” publications? Neo-Nazi goon though he may be, the hapless Quinn was criminalised on the grounds that he might have read a pamphlet, and possibly agreed with some or all the viewpoints expressed in it.

Just to highlight the thoroughly irrational, and anti-democratic nature of Quinn’s conviction, if you Google “The longest hatred” (using the quotation marks) the very first entry gives you immediate access to the full text (www.biblebelievers.org.au/hatred.htm). To be consistent, surely the Special Crimes Unit should be prosecuting everybody - out of research, curiosity or whatever - who has downloaded the contents of the ‘bible believers’ website and those like them.

As for The longest hatred itself, The Guardian may describe it as a “Nazi booklet” (November 5), but in reality it is an almost comical mish-mash of standard, centuries-old, essentially christian-inspired, anti-semitic myths and prejudices - so much so that hard-core neo-Nazis wedded to biologistic rather than theocratic anti-semitism may well find large parts of it rather tame stuff. Published anonymously in July 1991 by ‘Inter-City Researchers’ - though strongly believed to have been written by the late and unlamented Lady Jane Birdwood, who writes the foreword - in its kooky pages we discover that all the banks are controlled by the Jews - “The Kosher Nostra!”, and that the “money gangsters” plan to “enslave us into the “cashless society”. When that happens, “the bankers plan to have every human being invisibly but indelibly marked at birth (by means of laser technology) with his or her own bar code. The six-bar bar code (‘666’) system will encode the individual’s name, address, family antecedents and social security number.”

Naturally, for The longest hatred, “communism is Jewish” - indeed, “Zionism is the mother of communism”. Moreover, we are informed, the “financiers’ participation in the communist take-over of Russia was well known among allied intelligence services, but not a finger was lifted to stop them because they are the real masters of the world”. As for evolutionary theory and Darwinism, that is a “Zionist hoax”, on the following grounds: “It should be remembered that Marx offered to dedicate his new book Das Kapital to Charles Darwin. The theory of evolution forms the foundation stone of atheistic Marxism/communism and humanism and many other ‘isms’ which have plagued 20th century man. Neither should it be forgotten that Darwin renounced and repudiated the theory of evolution on his death bed.”

Finally, the pamphlet makes an excursion into biblical exegesis and informs us that “Jesus Christ was not a Jew”, but rather a “direct descendant of Judah, the son of Jacob, which the Ashkenazim (Khazar) Jews have never been”. In which case, the conclusion is surely obvious: “Jesus was a Galilean, as were all of his disciples, except Judas who was an Edomite Jew. It was the Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees who were Christ’s bitterest opponents and finally had him crucified. Christ himself uttered the most scathing denunciations and rebukes against the Jews which today would certainly land him in the dock under our Jewish-imposed race relations laws” - Christ, after all, “called the Jews ‘a generation of vipers’” (Matthew xxiii, 33).

Now, of course, the ideas found in The longest hatred are weird and profoundly reactionary. Then again, there is a grain of truth to be found in some of its viewpoints - who can deny that the New Testament, and christianity as a whole, oozes with anti-semitism? Did not the ‘Jews kill Jesus’, as the devoutly christian author of The longest hatred points out? Perhaps the SCU will soon be investigating that well-known “dangerous and offensive” publication, the bible - not to mention the Koran.

Self-evidently, the very notion that one should be prosecuted for owning such a pamphlet is frightening - and an idea that communists loudly denounce. One can only wonder, though, what our SWP comrades will make of the RVF case. Should The longest hatred - like David Irving’s writings - “be banned from every public, college and school library” and every trace of it expunged from the world wide web?

And should our readers be rounded up and arrested for “possession” of the Weekly Worker, now that we have reproduced the above quotations?