From Bob's (unpublished) archive: On Murdering People Whose Politics You Disagree With

I've got no time for blogging at the moment, so thought I'd publish a few things from my archive, but with a slight difference: these are posts I never got around to finishing, let alone publishing. This one is from just over a year ago, May 2012. I've cleared up the typos but not edited it into a coherent post. It seems kind of relevant now, as political violence seems to be on the rise again in the UK. 

As I mentioned alreadyLaban Tall has blogged about one of my old posts (actually Michael Ezra's old post, and specifically Waterloo Sunset's comments there). It's about the morality of killing fascists, basically, and the morality of even debating the morality of it. Peter Risdon, another right-of-centre libertarian blogger who I have considerable respect for, made similar points in the comment thread last week, so I have him in mind as much as Laban in this reply. 

Personally, I can't really imagine killing anyone ever, and wouldn't tactically or morally condone killing British fascists. However, I do support a certain level of physical violence against fascists, at least in certain contexts, and think that we shouldn't wait until they are actually in power when it would be too late to stop them.

And I do think there are at least some circumstances when actually killing for political reasons is justifiable. I don't think that there is any real danger of fascism coming to power in the UK in the near future, but looking at the growth of far right politics across Europe I don't think we can be too complacent.

I don't for one minute imagine convincing Laban - or, for that matter, people like Sarah or Flesh, who participated in the comment thread - of this position. However, I wonder if I can make the argument that it's not just homicidal immoralists that think using violence for political reasons is worth discussing. I don't think it is that odd to think it is OK to use violence politically. I can't think of a single ideology (apart from pacifism of course) that can be said not to endorse violence.

Among Laban's political heroes, according to his Normblog profile, are Winston Churchill and Tony Martin. Tony Martin, of course, was a killer. Whether he was right or not to kill one of the burglars who broke into his house is something that can be debated. Considering him to be morally justified is well within the bounds of normal discourse. In my view, it is similarly appropriate to debate the morality of killing people who advocate racist violence.

Winston Churchill is an even better example. Churchill was an appalling person in many ways, a great one in others. One of the reasons he deserves to be regarded a hero is for his recognition that the only way to stop the rise of fascism in the 1930s was through violence. But he also advocated  - and used - violence for political ends at other times. He believed that Bolshevism should be strangled in its cradle, and attempted to do so by sending British forces to fight on the White side in the Russian civil war and then arming the Polish army when it invaded the Ukraine. I believe he also was instrumental in setting up the Black and Tans to strangle the Irish republic in its cradle, and defended its policy of reprisals. He famously also attempted to strangle Arab and Kurdish freedom in its cradle, advocating air attacks and possibly gas attacks on rebellious tribes. These are all essentially political, and not in the least acts of self-defence.

In 1926, Churchill "was reported to have suggested that machine guns be used on the striking miners... he argued that "either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country" and claimed that the fascism of Benito Mussolini had "rendered a service to the whole world," showing, as it had, "a way to combat subversive forces"—that is, he considered the regime to be a bulwark against the perceived threat of Communist revolution. In short, if you're outraged about even imagining killing people for political reasons, then Churchill is an odd choice of hero.

Two months before Laban nominated Tony Martin as his political hero, incidentally, Martin (a nephew of pioneering British fascist Andrew Fountaine) had publicly endorsed the BNP and its policy of voluntary repatriation for immigrants. Among other things, Martin was reported as saying: "There is going to be a dictator in this country, but there are such things as benign dictators. Too much liberalism is worse than too little. The politicians as we know them are already anachronisms. There are things that want doing today, right now. A dictator is the way to go. For instance, we must keep out of Europe. We are a unique island people."

This adds some context to a remark of Laban's that particularly bothered me:
the idea that the BNP, English Democrats, UKIP or any other of the anti-immigration, anti-EU parties can in any sense be compared with the Nazi Party, amounts to a disgusting libel on the British people. The kind of vileness in that comment thread is an affront to the peaceful tradition of British, and especially English, political history since the Civil War.
No-one in any comment thread here has ever argued for violence against UKIP or compared them to Nazis. While some foolish leftists do see UKIP as basically fascist, anyone with any historical or political sense would see a fairly strong contrast between UKIP and the BNP, with the latter being rather more than simply an "anti-immigration, anti-EU" party. The BNP are part of a very British tradition of fascism (a tradition that included Martin's uncle Fountaine), some parts of which (including many BNP members) have been actively pro-Nazi. We are not too decent to have bred fascists.

And nor is our political history since the Civil War exceptional in its peacefulness. It's simply that a lot of the violence we perpetrated (as in Churchill's story) happened overseas. Our industrial revolution was built on the profits of a slave trade in which millions were killed. We bled India dry, killing or allowing millions to die through economic policies that directly led to mass starvation. In counter-insurgencies, such as Ceylon in 1818, Kabul in 1842 or Kenya in the 1950s, we massacred civilians.

The imperial nostalgia that animates today's Churchillians has to repress this story, just as those in the political mainstream who try to make excuses for the BNP and EDL as simply honest salt-of-the-earth anti-immigrationists have to repress the story of British fascism. These stories do not necessarily justify political violence by anti-fascists, but we need a bit more honesty and historical perspective if we want to debate it properly.


Waterloo Sunset said…
Laban's highly unlikely to get involved in this debate. I suggested he should head over here to debate with me when he was being precious about this on HP, but no response. (As I pointed out on the other thread, Laban doesn't actually object to discussions about whether killing people is morally justified. As long as it's "multiculturalists", not the poor ickle fascists. Laban does moral outrage, not debate.

Peter Risdon would be more interesting if he sees this and wants to get involved, I think.

Specifically I'd be interested in how he reconciles his libertarianism with the seeming belief that the state should have a monopoly on violence (assuming he's not a pacifist).

Also, he is named after someone who was an officer in the New Model Army. (I've always preferred old Abiezer Coppe meself, but John isn't bad either).

Really, I think we should wait and see if any opposing arguments turn up before I get into the meat of this. Without that, it will just be you and me arguing about nuances and semantics.
Waterloo Sunset said…
As an afterthought, we often hear "let history be the judge". And it's interesting how often we see groups being rehabilitated decades later. The 43 Group are the obvious example. They get praised by some people who throw their hands up in horror at the same tactics being used today. (Well, similar. Less knives and razor blades). We even seem to be starting to see that from some quarters with AFA. This amuses me.
Sarah AB said…
I'll approach this from a sideways angle by invoking an exchange I had with someone on Twitter. It was about theocracy and democracy , secularism. He seemed unsure whether he was fully supportive of secularism/democracy against theocracy. I suggested (he is a Muslim) that he'd like secularism a whole lot better, probably, than a theocracy which sought to impose Christianity on all. So, although I can just about imagine limited circumstances where violence might be appropriate or at least understandable/forgivable (certainly when coming to the defence of someone under attack) I suppose I am inclined to go along with the idea of the state having the monopoly on violence. The state does seem to me to have a real degree of legitimacy. I've raised the point before that the far right might just as sincerely as the left see the state as a danger to be opposed at all costs. Perhaps the answer to that is that picking a side one thinks is right is more important than being coolly consistent though.
Waterloo Sunset said…
@ Sarah

For you to see the state's monopoly of violence as justifiable is consistent I think. From other stuff you've said, I think it's fair to say you're quite statist in generally politically. So that at least makes sense to me, far more then it does from someone claiming to be a libertarian.

Historically, the far right has gone through phases of anti state propaganda (the Third Positionists et al), but have almost always made their peace with it when they've had a chance of power. There are some exceptions to that, but they've been utterly crushed. Romania's Iron Guard are the main example.

Even if we took the far right as being sincere in their anti state position however, that doesn't make an inconsistency. The reasons why something is opposed is equally important. In the same way we'd both (I assume) be against the Islamist far right. But it's not inconsistent to be against the BNP at the same time.

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