In the midst of the polemic over Le Pen’s visit to the Union, a comment piece appeared in the fourth edition of the Oxford Student, which had the courtesy to mention the Oxford Marxists. The article repeated the liberal mantra that far-right populists like Le Pen should be given a platform for the sake of “freedom of speech”. We, the Oxford Marxist society, take issue both with the author’s argument and the criticism of our society.
Far-right parties have thrived across Europe in the wake of the crisis of capitalism. People are looking for alternatives and the traditional parties of the Left that working people used to look up to have capitulated to capitalism and have nothing to offer. In these conditions right-wing bigots find fertile ground for their demagoguery. This does not mean that these parties are in any way respectable or progressive. They divide working people, look for scapegoats among the most marginalised groups in society, and prevent popular anger from being directed against those who are really to blame: the “one-percent” of bankers and big capitalists. At the same time, the Front National has shrewdly attacked the EU technocrats and their neoliberal policies, cashing in on popular hatred of austerity. This echoes what fascists did in interwar Europe. If these far-right parties are not stopped, the decay of capitalism will be expressed not through the unity of the exploited for a better society (the standpoint of Marxists) but in a downwards violent spiral of ethnic hatred, intolerance, and fundamentalism.
The viciousness of this populism should be clear to everyone. But, does this mean that we should stop Le Pen from speaking at the Union? The common stance is that this would compromise freedom of expression. Under capitalism there is no genuine freedom of speech; the media are in the control of a handful of monopolies over which ordinary people have no control and which serve the interests of the elites. The moguls that control the media are more than happy to voice the views of people like Le Pen, while they elbow out or distort the views of those who are fighting the system. Far right populists are already given ample visibility – we can only oppose them at every step and demand the Union does not help boost even further these dangerous reactionary ideas.
The article, though, seemed not to be that concerned with freedom of speech as such, but rather with the fact that it is the “influential and important politicians” of the far right that are being combatted rather than the “ideological evil” of communism. This scaremongering is the real threat to freedom of speech on campus – always happy to voice the views of those who defend the status quo, it vilifies those who fight for a better society. It raises the spectre of Stalin, whose regime “killed more people than all other dictatorships in history combined”. A few historians would take issue with his liberal use of figures. Is it really plausible that Stalin killed more people than all the Fascist and Western-sponsored dictatorships of the 20th century? Indeed, capitalism itself is inherently responsible for horror without end. We merely have to examine the news to see war, poverty, famine, and disease, all the product of the system’s incapacity to provide a decent standard of living for all of humanity.
Stalinism was a dictatorial regime that killed millions of people. Whilst paying lip-service to Marxism and socialism, this regime had nothing in common with the real ideas of Marxism. Stalinism was the product of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution. The revolution was trapped in a poor, isolated, underdeveloped, and war-torn country, surrounded by hostile powers, and, within this context an extensive bureaucracy emerged that imposed its authority and protected its privileges through violence and censorship. At the Marxist Society we stand for genuine, democratic socialism, not for the caricature of our ideas that Stalinism represents. We are passionate about our cause, but we are always up for a friendly discussion, as the author would discover if he came to one of our events.