Should fascists be allowed free speech?

Reproduced below is a pamphlet written by Mick Barry a member of both Youth Against Racism Europe (YRE) and Militant from October 1993. YRE was a campaign organised by young people across Europe to oppose the rise of far right organisations like the British National Party and the NPD in Germany. The pamphlet deals with the question that came up amongst some young people about whether fascists should be allowed free speech. Should fascists be allowed free speech? The visit of Nazi historian David Irving to Ireland raises the issue of how to combat fascism. Our anti-fascist campaigning work show is that 99% of ordinary people are hostile to fascism. However, people are divided on how to challenge it.

About 60% say, “I don’t Irving’s views, but he has the right to speak, you should debate against him.” About 40% say the should be stopped.” Militant Labour (forerunner of the Socialist Party) and Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) support the second point of view. This article attempts to explain why.

The right to free speech is a very important democratic right. In the old days, the ‘lower orders’ were meant to ‘know their place’ and bow the knee in silent submission to the masters, be they landlords or industrialists. The rise of the modern working class challenged this state of affairs and along with trade union rights and the right to vote, the right to free speech was torn from the upper classes.

The most famous assertion of the right to free speech in Irish history was carried out by a revolutionary socialist. This was when Big Jim Larkin was forced to disguise himself to defy the courts and the police to speak to the workers of Dublin in O’Connell Street in 1913. In more recent times Marxists have been to the forefront of the fight for the right to stop people being ‘gagged’ for providing information on abortion.

So why do we oppose free speech for fascists? Is this not a contradiction?

No, fascists stand for the destruction of all democratic rights. They want to end the right to vote and set up a one party Nazi dictatorship. They want to smash trade unions and end the right to strike. One of fascism’s most famous quotes is Mussolini’s ‘Uno Duce, Uno Voce’ – ‘One master, one Voice’. This is what would happen to free speech in a fascist society. Ultimately all these measures would serve the interests of those ‘upper classes’ who denied the people free speech and democratic rights in the first place.

Free speech for fascists helps them organise. A huge majority will vote against Irving in any debate, but the fascists will target the small minority and move in to recruit. Once organised, the boots, the knives and the knuckle-dusters will come out and the fight against democratic rights will begin.

Therefore, by opposing free speech for fascists, anti-fascists are actually defending the right to free speech and democratic rights in general.

For the record we would deny fascists the right to join a trade union, the right to work or the right to organise a legal political party – strong measures need to be taken to stop them organising.

This is not an academic issue. Fascism triumphed in the 1930s and we can see what it led to. Six million Jews were murdered in the Nazi holocaust. Fascism led to the Second World War in which 55 million people lost their lives.

Adolf Hitler was once asked if the Nazi’s rise to power could have been stopped. He replied: “Only one thing could have broken our movement – if the adversary had understood its principle and form the first day had smashed, with the most extreme brutality the nucleus of our new movement.”

While the struggle against fascism must be a political struggle, with the worker’s movement putting forward a socialist solution to unemployment and poverty which gives rise to fascism there is a lesson to be learnt from Hitler’s statement. That is that only the most determined action will have any effect on the Nazis.

Fascism is on the rise again in the 1990s. Hitler’s words are an unanswerable argument in favour of giving no platform to them. What happened in the 1930s must never be allowed to happen again.

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