From Bob's (unpublished) archive: On Murdering People Whose Politics You Disagree With
As I mentioned already, Laban 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.