Over the last couple of weeks, @ian_bec, a history teacher, and SchNews, a Brighton based direct action campaign group, have been debating the correct meaning of the Nazi Swastika. The full details of the dispute to date are contained in my post Sussex Police, Worthing Freedom Campaign, SchNews and the Swastika, yesterday’s guest post by Ian Beck: If you’re not pissed off, you’re not paying attention and their respective twitter feeds in general. The nub of the dispute is SchNews’ assertion that it is acceptable to deploy the Nazi Swastika to criticise people other than Hitler’s followers, for example Sussex Police. The history teacher says this insults all those still alive who suffered under the Nazi’s war, occupation & genocide and misrepresents the differences between Hitler’s insane cult and other forms of authoritarianism. SchNews says that the Nazi Swastika’s meaning has changed over time and now represents all tyranny.
Reading through the tweets from @SchNews in this debate and generally, two important points emerge. These points typify the crisis with the Left in British politics today, which revolves around a chronic shortage of analytical sophistication. Far too many of our good people see every dispute in the most polarised form possible, with the result that we consistently fail to recruit people who regard life’s little details to be important.
Firstly, @SchNews has consistently defended SmashEdo against mindless criticism from Brighton & Hove Conservative Party. SmashEdo has demonstrated every week since May 2004 against the EDO arms factory, which supplies bomb guidance equipment used by the Israeli military to attack the people of Gaza. Its equipment has also been used in Iraq. SmashEDO is borne out of a very long standing tradition of peace campaigning in Brighton. The local Tories have characterised SmashEDO as anti-semitic, as if any criticism of Israel’s military policy towards the Palestinians is anti-semitic. You can’t expect too much in the way of detailed political analysis from the thieving Tory bastards – that’s not their job. Their job is to promote the interests of the rich and ruin the planet along the way. Plainly, they do this very well. Arms dealers have always been their friends. Witness David Cameron flying to Egypt soon after the success of the first wave of the Arab Spring to sell arms to the Egyptian military. Having painted SmashEDO with the racist brush, the Tories have crudely carried on vandalising local political debate by slurring everyone else who @SchNews defends as being anti-semitic. Unfortunately, @SchNews has become used to the routine nature of these misguided attacks. I’m surprised they respond at all but they do.
Secondly, @SchNews seems to have taken @ian_bec’s point as being an attack on the Worthing Freedom Campaign, which originally deployed the Sussex Police Nazi Swastika combo logo. Reading through @ian_bec’s tweets and post on this blog, it is clear that his beef is with @SchNews for refusing to condemn the misuse of the Nazi Swastika. @SchNews has refused to accept that point and has countered that @ian_bec and myself are wasting time and effort by criticising a grass roots campaign. @SchNews seems to have fallen into the trap set by the Tories, which is to see everything in the simplest terms possible. That is a terrible error and bound to lead to injustice because it fails to recognise all the wonderful creativity we have at our disposal. All blanket judgments are wrong. Every case must be decided on its own merits.
If we cannot accept criticism, we are unable to rectify our mistakes. Last night I asked a psychiatrist why people are so often unable to admit any errors. She said it was because there were so many people around with low-self esteem. She explained that people with high self-esteem are much more able to accept that they might have made a mistake because it won’t ruin their expectations of success. Ever since Thatcher broke the backbone of the trades union movement, the Left in the UK has suffered from chronic low self-esteem. We have given up believing we can win. Despite that pessimism, we carry on the struggle. As @ian_beck argued in his guest post, the spirit of Dunkirk is our creation myth too!
Recruitment of activists is the central problem for the Left today. We have the ideas, we have the creativity, we have the skills. Whatever philosophical deficit we may have once suffered on the issue of inequality has been finally laid to rest by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their must read book The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better For Everyone. Our problem is not the strength of our arguments, it is how we forge the practical bonds which create solidarity in our communities. Without that solidarity we cannot hope to achieve political success.
Solidarity is not successful if we are obliged to be fundamentalist about it. Plainly, fundamentalism turns people off politics. People who would otherwise be active. We must be able to discuss issues within our communities openly without fear of being accused of siding with those who would have us reduced to empty souls endlessly searching shopping malls for consumer heaven. Discussion is healthy. Admitting errors is healthy. We must learn to accept criticism from our comrades and take a step back before reacting. Recognising the distinctions between one form of culpability and another is important because it helps us understand that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the Tory philosophy.
@ian_bec is right to say that the Nazi Swastika should not be misused, at least whilst there are still survivors of that terrible time alive. He made his point most cogently in yesterday’s guest post. Yet @SchNews reacted by saying that the entire exercise was a waste of time which could have been better spent by abandoning twitter and leafleting. Ten million Britons use twitter actively. Only nine million read a daily paper. How many people on the streets will accept a leaflet? All political activists are on twitter for this very reason, including @SchNews. @SchNews said we should be helping a grass roots campaign rather than criticising it. This answer missed the point completely. The criticism was help. There will be holocaust survivors in Worthing and elsewhere (including twitter), who took refuge in the UK from the Nazis. Muddling the specific symbol of their oppression with our present day issues is unlikely to recruit them, let alone allow them to feel sympathetic. More than likely, it is likely to prevent them from becoming allies in the struggle. @SchNews should not need to suffer from political low self-esteem. It has been a very successful campaigning organisation. However, conflating all forms of excessive authority with Hitler’s Nazis is a grave mistake and an insult to our intelligence. Will it accept that was an error?
Having signed off his guest post from Cardiff, it should have been obvious to @SchNews that @ian_bec does not live anywhere near Worthing. @SchNews insists that it read the post. Therefore, @SchNews’ call that he abandon twitter to go leafleting was a fatuous remark. Nevertheless, @ian_bec charitably offered to advise the Worthing Freedom Campaign about future leaflets.
@SchNews still sees the debate purely in terms of an attack on the Worthing Freedom Campaign. It seems unable or unwilling to understand that its own declaration that the Nazi Swastika is a symbol for all tyranny ramped up the offence caused. Evidently, @SchNews is getting bored of this debate. Here’s its last tweet on the subject (at the time of writing).
Assuming that @SchNews reads this far, let’s be clear. The criticism is aimed at @SchNews. It ought to know better. It’s current jokey stance is a serious misjudgment and those of who care deeply about this subject, lest we forget, need to hear @SchNews throw the towel in on this one. Then we can get on and work together.