Tag Archives: Fascism

On Repressive Tolerance

n 1965 Herbert Marcuse, a left-wing German political philosopher, coined the phrase “repressive tolerance”. I have not read his work in German, so I cannot say if it is more or less turgid than the extracts I have read in English.

He tried to square a difficult circle among left-wingers. What if people, the proletariat, insists in adopting political views that were at odds with those they should be supporting, that is, communism, state ownership of industry, etc, etc?

The solution was the withdrawal of tolerance, and free speech and assembly, from those that do not accept this line. As the views are wrong, ipso facto, it is in everyone’s interest not to allow them to be expressed. Marcuse himself talked of “groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.”

You will see how racial discrimination is conflated with opposing the extension of state benefits, which has an ominously contemporary ring. You can see where this is going. The hard left decided that those who did not accept their views were somehow brainwashed by liberal/capitalist society. It was in their interests to be enlightened, to see the true path, and the way this could best be done was to allow no dissenting views that might confuse them.

Some took this further. Left wing/anarchist movements such as the Baader Meinhof gang in West Germany, who were influenced by Marcuse, thought that capitalist society was by definition fascist, but disguised its real nature to fool the masses and divert them from that righteous path.

Capitalist society therefore needed to be shown up for what it really was. Acts of terrorism could do this, by provoking a backlash.  The repressive state, in acting against those who themselves were acting in the workers’ interests, would be shown to be repressive.

Some who adhered to this philosophy called themselves Situationists. They coined the phrase “commodity fetishism”, the provision of consumer goods to the masses to keep them quiescent.

So you have a political movement convinced that the judgement of democracy is flawed, because the voters are deluded into making the wrong choice. You have the belief that under such circumstances, violence is not only justified, but the only moral course of action.

I am, sadly, reminded of the only political movement today that, outside the fringes of the far right, believes that their opponents are so evil as to be beyond sufferance. That if people with whose views you disagree choose to congregate in Manchester for their annual conference, it is acceptable to threaten them, spit on them, throw eggs at them. “Tory scum.”

And that if the democratic process has failed to provide an administration of your choosing, that process must be defeated by “direct action”. Which sounds ominously like violence on the streets.

Repressive tolerance.


Benn, Crow, and the Nature of Evil

“So far as I am concerned they (Tories) are lower than vermin.” Aneurin Bevan, Labour politician.

I have made an enemy on Twitter. Not difficult to do, I know.

I remarked on the generally favourable comments in the press, even the right wing papers, on Tony Benn and Bob Crow and wondered if, had an icon of the right died, it would have garnered an equally positive reaction from the left. And then answered my own question. The death of Baronness Thatcher.

The tweet was picked up by many who clearly agreed, and by one who responded: “Thatcher did many evil things. Benn and Crow didn’t.”

Now, there have been any number of politicians over the past century who have done evil things. Hitler, Stalin, Mao and their satraps and acolytes. Franco, Pinochet, Mengistu, Pol Pot…. No one rational would put Thatcher among their number.

The exchange highlights an odd fact about British politics, which is not always true elsewhere. The right tend to regard the left as misguided, foolish, naive, overly idealistic. The left, or a significant part of it, think of the right as evil.

It is an item of holy writ in some parts of the left-wing press that David Cameron and his colleagues are in politics to favour their own class, make their friends in the City richer, and make the lives of the poor, whom they despise, worse. You can read this stated as a fact fairly often, and not just in the Loony Left publications.

Anyone who knows any of the current administration knows this is nonsense. I have written this of Michael Gove, a former colleague, before.

It explains the row recently over Ed Miliband’s father. Ralph Miliband, like many of his ilk, died still believing in communism, small “c”, as a creed. Stalin may have gone too far, the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia were a mistake, but yet…

Now imagine a parallel world where David Cameron’s father, about whose politics I know nothing, died an unrepentant fascist. The obituaries would not have read along the lines of, he accepted Hitler went too far and that the invasion of Russia was a tactical mistake but never wavered from his staunch support for the basic principles of national socialism…

And I do not think David Cameron would be prime minister.

Die an unrepentant fascist and you are a fascist. Die an unrepentant communist and you may end up as a national treasure.

On Ukraine. And Crimea. Not My Business.

“All summer they drove us back through the Ukraine/Smolensk and Viasma soon fell/By autumn we stood with our backs to the town of Orel.”

Al Stewart, Scottish songwriter.

Let’s set up a proposition. A Very Large Colonial Power is required, because of global geopolitical trends, to give up control of a state on its borders. Part of that state, geographically, is a semi-autonomous region, the majority of whose population plead allegiance to that colonial power.

Let’s call that colonial power Great Britain. Call the state on its borders Eire, and call that semi-autonomous region Northern Ireland.

Let us suppose that a regime utterly inimical to the UK emerged in Dublin. The concern in London would be its fellow citizens, in reality if not in law, in Northern Ireland. There would be warships off Belfast, troop carriers trundling through the streets of Londonderry. Making a point.

You see what I am saying. I have no huge amount of time for Putin, though his conservative, anti-gay stance seems to be playing well with some parts of the extreme right in the West. The survival of the post-Soviet state is predicated on high energy prices, which may not continue. Or perhaps, given those geopolitical trends, they will.

We in the West fail to understand the Russian mindset. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a sudden, disastrous humiliation which dwarfs the loss of Empire we saw in the 1950s and 1960s. Putin is, cleverly, playing on that humiliation. Strengthening the Orthodox Church, harking back to the days of Stalin, a leader still hugely admired by many Russians.

The great state of Kiev was founded by Vikings. The first ruler was Rurik, a good Norse name. Within two generations, the ruler was Svyatoslav, the first ruler with a Slavic name. Kiev, and Ukraine, is part of the Rodina, Holy Mother Russia.

The Russians will not forget that. Read “Ivan’s War”, by Catherine Merridale, a depiction of the Eastern Front from the viewpoint of the Russian soldier who fought and died to win the war against fascism.

Read it. Then marvel at the triumph of the human spirit, that saw Russians and Germans speaking in a civilised manner within a generation. I cannot decide which I admire more.