Many of us Brightonians, myself included, have much affection for the alternative news service called Schnews. It is avowedly libertarian and anarchistic. In the late nineties I sent a copy of its printed edition every week to another Brightonian who was living in The Bronx that year. Not a single copy reached him, although my other correspondence did. It mixes politics with humour in manner often not achieved by many on the Left – see its legendary Crap Arrest of the Week column. Schnews has served us well over the years, with relentlessly well written reports from the front line of direct action. It has kept us well informed and encouraged thousands into political action in a manner not achieved in recent years by more conventional political groups. Although I find myself sometimes in disagreement with the persistency of its hatred of the police, I admire the people who produce it and wish them well.
Yesterday, Schnews tweeted a defence of another group, Worthing Freedom Campaign, which had produced and employed a symbol which was an almagamation of the symbol for Sussex Police and the swastika. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate this newly created image. [Update on 20th June 2012: I found the symbol - that's it there on the right] I gather it was used on a leaflet and originally appeared on the Worthing Freedom Campaign’s website; it’s gone now. @ian_bec had questioned why the swastika had been used in this context. That’s how Schnews’ reply caught my eye:
@ian_bec challenged Schnews about this statement. Having been given a second chance to think about their claim that “the Swstika is shorthand for tyranny these days” (sic), Schnews’ twitter feed declared that the swastika had various meanings and that the meanings of all symbols changed over time:
Many people have complained in recent years of the way in which our culture has been intentionally dumbed down. Nuances in political debate are too often lost. Detailed arguments are now a rarity. I guess they don’t lend themselves to the soundbite or the sales-generating headline. For decades, political protestors have called the police fascists more by way of insult than a reasoned ideological position. Political activists are well aware that there are remedies for the abuse of police power. We might consider these remedies inadequate but the knowledge that, if we do sue the police for false imprisonment or malicious prosecution, they have to defend themselves in court amounts to an acknowledgment that the police forces around the country are not a fascist organisations.
Claiming that something you don’t like is something much worse, even merely by analogy, is not helpful. It is a deliberate polarisation of a debate and designed not to constructively explore the issues involved. In the present case, the Worthing Freedom Campaign blog seems to have come into existence precisely because of the decision by Sussex Police and Worthing Borough Council to impose a Dispersal Order under section 30 of the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003, which is aimed at Worthing town centre.
Here is the Sussex Police press release on the Worthing Dispersal Order. It makes it clear the police did not impose this order purely on their own volition; the democratically elected Worthing Town Council was also involved. Now, I don’t go to Worthing and I don’t know what the town centre is like in the long summer evenings. Pretty much anywhere which lacks youth facilities sees an increase in teenagers and other youngsters enjoying the warmth out on the streets. Where else can they go? Besides, these streets are their streets too.
The Dispersal Order does seem to be a bit heavy handed. It looks like it stems from a classic misunderstanding of street culture by the thieving Tory bastards who run Worthing. Surely that’s at the nub of the dispute between the anonymous blogger behind the Worthing Freedom Campaign and Sussex Police? Unless the ‘Campaign’ can persuade the good folk of Worthing to vote for someone other than the Tories, it seems unlikely that the local authorities will ever do anything positive for the more libertarian minded young people in the area.
This is why I never go to Worthing – it has a nasty, selfish and stuck-up culture, driven by all the bigotry and uncreative tedium constantly spewed out by the Tories. Think I’m being too strong? Think I’m polarising the debate deliberately? Clearly, I am making a distinction between the Tories and the Nazis (and other fascist groups). However, I’ve had plenty of personal experience of the way in which they hold our best values in contempt. What I haven’t seen myself, I’ve learnt from studying politics and listening to other people. Frankly, considering what’ve they done over the centuries, the phrase “thieving Tory bastards” is a moderate one. The NHS founder said:
“No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.”
Nye Bevan, 1897-1960
Of course, the Worthing Freedom Campaign may really believe that we are living in a police state. I’ve visited a couple of places that truly were police states (Russia and Uzbekistan, in 1984, before anyone imagined that the Soviet Union would suddenly come crumbling down one day). There are many shades of oppression between a draconian order preventing protests for three months and an actual police state. Sussex Police left a couple of comments on the blog post linked to above but the Worthing Freedom Campaign deleted them. Lest they delete the entire post, I’ve taken a copy of it:
Let me be absolutely clear: I’ve seen no justification for such a strong measure against our young people. The dispersal order will inevitably be abused. The Worthing Freedom Campaign ought to be able to challenge such an order with ease. There’s no need to stoop to embellishing the nature of the threat by reference to the particular fascist regime which exterminated millions of people in pursuit of a supposedly racially pure society. Piling abuse on top of sensible argument doesn’t help anyone. The specific failings in this blog post in these passages:
- “No justification for this nazi-style approach to policing has been produced.” (5th paragraph)
- “We don’t need this fascist law in Worthing. This is a town not a prison camp! “ (7th paragraph)
- “Join us in our call for this disgraceful and unnecessary police-state order to be withdrawn immediately!” (9th paragraph)
No-one likes being told what to do. Any time the police stop people from acting freely, people feel oppressed. The police also have plenty of form for frustrating legitimate dissent. The UK State has plenty of form for monitoring peaceful campaigners as if they were equivalent to terrorists. When I was active on the ground in Occupy the London Stock Exchange, I saw a leaflet from the City of London Corporation Police which had been sent to City business. It gave advice on how to report our activities to the police, under the headline, “Domestic Terrorism”. Let me completely unequivocal about this: in this country our various police forces have earnt the distrust of large sections of society.
There is some evidence that Sussex Police are attempting to win that trust anew. It is very early days and there is much more ground to cover before we will be able to assess the success of that initiative. As can be seen from the screen dump of the Worthing Freedom Campaign, Sussex Police have attempted to engage with the blogger directly by posting comments on the blog. What is the point of deleting those comments? That can only be described as censorship. They may be justifications for censorship but none appear in the comment thread, as we might expect.
Schnews make a fair point here about the police having previously employed dubious tactics. However, two wrongs don’t make a right. Is Schnews in danger of becoming fundamentalist in how it supports fellow travellers? I do hope not. It is perfectly possible to make constructive criticism. @ian_bec’s right – the swastika is not yet synonymous with all forms of authority. The use of it by the Worthing Freedom Campaign is deeply offensive to many people alive today. The manner in which the symbol was used was a worrying twist on reality. A short apology is in order.
The Left needs to be clever in its politics. We must not accept the dumbing down of our culture. There’s no need for it. Failing to educate people properly serves only to keep them in servitude. Leftist groupings have always praised education for all. One result of education for everyone, is that nuances, political distinctions and fine detail become comprehensible. Political debate and recruitment to that debate becomes easier if we stop treating people like idiots. I hope the Worthing Freedom Campaign and Schnews recognise this as axiomatic? I hope they step back from casually defending the careless deployment of the swastika. It was a silly tactic and bound to drive away the sympathies of older folk. Many of them really do know what fascism and Nazism look like and are very likely to be sympathetic to resisting blunderbus tactics such as the Dispersal Order. Blurring the boundaries between all your enemies is likely to alienate far too many people.
Time for a song.