No-Platforming and the so-called Left

15 Feb

So the defamation escalates. First you call someone a ‘transphobe’. Then next time you can call them a ‘known transphobe.’ Next, when you’ve called them a known transphobe often enough, they become a  ‘Notorious transphobe’. All without saying a single word, and just because the attackers say it and say it again and again.

Esther Giles

Last night a good friend – still in the Labour Party because he’s too bloody minded to leave – contacted me with a request. Would I post the email he’d just received from a party comrade? Since its themes are issues close to my heart, I’m happy to oblige.

Said issues being:

  • Identity politics diktat, its rise in direct proportion to the suppression of class politics. In a recent post, on Covid-19, I’d spoken in general terms of “rising authoritarianism – some of it in the name of social inclusion”.
  • The conflation of two quite different things. One, refusal to accept that males who ‘identify as female’ are, on that basis, female. (A refusal also known as asserting a truth overwhelmingly backed by science – that sex is biological and binary.) Two, transphobia. Being in the first camp (as I am) does not auto-place me in the second. See my post last March on identity politics.
  • Striking parallels between that conflation and another – support for Palestinians with antisemitism.
  • The circular logic, and other threats to reason and justice, inherent in witch hunts – from Salem, through the McCarthy era, to those which helped to bring down Jeremy Corbyn and now run seemingly unchecked in the British Labour Party.

But that’s enough from me. Here’s Esther Giles in her own words.

No-Platforming and the so-called Left:

The Supposed “Right of Intolerance”

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

This quote, wrongly attributed to Voltaire, was actually written by (would you believe it) a woman, Beatrice Evelyn Hall, in a book published in 1906 about Voltaire. She wrote under a pseudonym because she was a woman.  And, yes, I have met people who will not read anything written by a woman.

Here’s something that Voltaire did write once, in his 1763 Treatise on Toleration:

The supposed right of intolerance is absurd and barbaric. It is the right of the tiger; nay, it is far worse, for tigers do but tear in order to have food, while we rend each other for paragraphs.

I am going to talk to you about:

    • My recent no-platforming experience and the fall out;
    • Why we must fight for free speech and thought; and
    • The New No-Platforming
    • No-Platforming- the Antithesis of Free Speech

Last Sunday evening there was an event about Democracy and Free Speech. This event was put on in defence of CLP officers suspended for disobeying the diktats of the General Secretary by allowing members to debate and/or vote on topics he had forbidden.  The organisers of this event no-platformed someone (me) because someone had lobbied one or more of the speakers. One of the speakers (a prospective candidate for Mayor of Liverpool) told the organisers she would withdraw unless I was removed from the platform.

The organisers feared her withdrawal would spark further speakers pulling out and asked me to withdraw for fear of the whole event collapsing. I pulled out. The event went ahead using a webinar with the chat disabled. The organising group knew their decision to no-platform one of the advertised speakers would be a controversial one, and seen as hypocritical, but they felt either that the event was more important than the principle (of free speech), or that what I was accused of genuinely made me a “persona non grata”.

I think the organising committee was divided on the issue. It has certainly, in the fall-out, revealed deep rifts in groups and campaigns. Importantly, when this happens to you, you find out how people and groups respond to the white-hot flame of the witch-hunt. Some melt away like snowflakes. Some swivel round and stand by the side of the witch-hunters. Some run for shelter, and some stand in the flames by your side (including people you never met before) and become an even more valuable gold.

I want to put this no-platforming in the context of free speech, and explore what no-platforming has now become

Why Free Speech

What does free speech do? It shines a light on bad arguments and hate, rather than letting it fester in dark corners – for example, arguably, the BNP collapsed following Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time in 2009. Free speech allows debate when there is disagreement about ideas and ideologies. It helps us to find the truth by dialectic. It promotes trust, honesty and respect where differing points of view are listened to. It requires confidence to challenge and that the challenge is respectful. It requires time to think and debate.

That’s why, in the Labour Party (for those of us who still have meetings or can go to them) we have the process of motions submitted in good time, and time allotted for debate in a comradely fashion.

The ability to debate competing viewpoints is one of the foundations of democratic society. If dissent is seen as offence, and then elevated to hate speech, the consequences for democracy are alarming – and that is what I think we are seeing now.

What are the limits on Free Speech? It should not (in my view) promote acts of violence. If someone says something a reasonable person would believe to be “so appalling it should not be said”, they should be called out. We should refuse and reject the rhetoric of violence.

Yesterday, somebody who has been posting smears against me on social media for the past 2 years justified their smearing (and my no-platforming) by saying “you are standing with people who really have been unfairly smeared and are completely innocent of all accusations”. This person was saying that they were the arbiter of free speech and that anyone with whom they did not agree should be silenced.

The New No-Platforming

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists – the National Front or the EDL – and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is particularly being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views (many 2nd wave feminists and other sisters and brothers) have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. But they are called transphobes and whorephobes; it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety. And so comrades are prevented from speaking by the opinions of the ideological thugs ((in my case it seems to have been the LGBT+ group, though I cannot be sure). And we know, of course, that critics of Israel suffer the same fate. As someone said to me this week “attacks on free speech and thought about Israel come from without, but the gender debate results in the left eating itself.”

This new no-platforming approach results in people sometimes being disgraced and defamed for the rest of their lives for one comment or incident taken out of context – or even for just having been accused of something. Universities (like the Labour Party) appear to be a mecca for no-platformers – which doesn’t augur well for the future if we don’t address it now. The social justice warriors in today’s universities seem to wage war to out-compete each other in their successes in no-platforming people.

There is a growing list of people who have been “no-platformed” and we are hearing about some of them today – including Ken Loach this week. The Union of Jewish Students and the Board of Deputies called for his no-platforming because he had repeatedly been accused of, and been an apologist for antisemitism. Did you see what they did there? They said he should be no-platformed because he had been accused of something. And the event had nothing to do with what he was being accused of. This is another feature of the New No-Platforming. Anyway, the College (unlike the Labour Party and the Organising Group of the “Stand up for Democracy Event”) stood firm and said that “no-platforming is not… the way to pursue the goals of a free and open academic community (substitute Labour Party community)” The event went ahead. Hurrah for St. Peter’s College.

Again at Oxford University this week, John McDonnell has been urged by the Labour Society not to share a platform with a woman they call a “known transphobe”, Professor Selena Todd, who writes and teaches about class, inequality, working-class history, feminism and women’s lives. The attackers say “the content of the event is irrelevant to the issue at hand, namely that McDonnell is lending his social and political capital to a person whose views actively harm the trans community”. As one of the twitter comments says “I thought universities were about debate not censorship”.

So the defamation escalates. First you call someone a ‘transphobe’. Then next time you can call them a ‘known transphobe.’ Next, when you’ve called them a known transphobe often enough, you become a  ‘Notorious transphobe’. All without saying a single word, and just because your attackers say it and say it again and again.

So, individuals are being no-platformed not because of what they actually say, but because of what people think they think – because they are not ideologically pure according to a particular group with influence. And at the same time other people are blackmailed into withdrawing or requiring withdrawal (of the heretic) for fear of guilt by association and worse.

Conclusion

What does this mean then? It means that if we allow them to, those groups with influence control the narrative. They control what people say, and thus begin to control what people think. It means that people walk and think in fear that they might say something that will damage them for the rest of their lives. It means that ideas cannot be debated in public.

These ideas now include:

    • Palestine
    • Israel as an apartheid state founded on murder and exile
    • Women’s rights (has anyone EVER been no-platformed for wanting to debate trans rights?)
    • Class analysis (talk about IdPol as much as you like)
    • It means that people are not allowed to think and have a say unless within the agreed political narrative. It means that democracy dies. 

And remember. First they came for the TERFs and then the so-called antisemites. And next they will come for you.

Free Speech and Democracy for All

Solidarity

Esther Giles, February 2020

Addendum

I want a political debate about class analysis v gender ideology/postmodernism. I want the Labour Party to debate conflicts between women’s and trans rights and find a way forward – including women’s sex-based rights as set out in the 2019 manifesto and in the Equality Act 2010

 The Labour Women’s Declaration

    1. Women and girls are subject to discrimination and oppression on the basis of their sex.
    2. Women have the right to freedom of belief, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly (Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights).
    3. Women have the right to discuss policies which affect them, without being abused, harassed or intimidated.
    4. Women have the right to maintain their sex-based protections, as set out in the Equality Act 2010. These include female-only spaces such as changing rooms, hospital wards, sanitary and sleeping accommodation, refuges, hostels and prisons.
    5. Women have the right to participate in single-sex sports, to ensure fairness and safety at all levels of competition.
    6. Women have the right to organise themselves, as a sex, across a range of cultural, leisure, educational and political activities.
    7. We condemn all attempts to undermine or limit the rights of women to self-organise and call on the Labour Party and the trades union movement to actively support these essential freedoms.

Statement to the LGBT Network

I stand by the right of every person to live their lives freely and free of discrimination, subject to the Law and so long as they do not transgress the rights of others. This includes the right to stand as a representative in Parliament and the right to housing (I have responded separately to the Labour Homelessness Campaign) and healthcare (I am a member of the Socialist Health Association and worked in the NHS for all of my career). Where there are barriers to equality, then we all need to work to overcome them, so that everyone is able to participate in democracy and society as equals.

 In my bid for Treasurer, I am standing for democracy, socialism and good governance, and I believe that the running of Party finances should be based on the principle that all members’ views and requirements matter, and that we need democratic processes to ensure that these requirements are understood and taken into account.

 I’ve signed up to the principles set out by the Labour Left Alliance (LLA), and which include that the Labour Party’s complaints and disciplinary procedures be overhauled so that disciplinary procedures are carried out in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and be time-limited. I am strongly opposed to witch hunts and the suppression of free speech and thought, and, as such, resist narrative such as that we should “expel bigots”. It is better to engage in respectful dialectic in order to find collective understanding.

 It is also my view that Conference is the supreme body of our Party Democracy, and that as an NEC member, I would be there to oversee delivery on policy (and not make policy) and to ensure that all actions and decisions of NEC are transparent and in line with permissions granted by the membership.

* * *

13 Replies to “No-Platforming and the so-called Left

  1. This is a topic which has recently been prominent within the SNP too, which seems to have a ‘woke’ (as they say – or in this case substitute ‘fascist’ or ‘crazy’) element which is pushing for ‘trans rights’ to take precedence over women’s rights.

    But the main point is clear – democratically based discussion and negotiated agreement must be better than fiats from above (for elsewhere) about what is what and who is who. No platforming is a usurpation of normal democratic procedure. By all means don’t go to listen to someone who seems abhorrent if thats’s your preference, but similarly if you wish to go and differ, you are then free to disagree publicly as much as you like. I agree completely with Phil’s take on identity politics.

  2. Chris Hedges has an excellent piece on this very subject-looking at it from a US point of view. RT published it today.

    ..The ruling elites and the courtiers who trumpet their moral superiority by damning and silencing those who do not linguistically conform to politically correct speech are the new Jacobins. They wallow in a sanctimonious arrogance, one made possible by their privilege, which masks their subservience to corporate power and their amorality. They do not battle social and economic injustice. They silence, with the enthusiastic assistance of the digital platforms in Silicon Valley, those who are crushed and deformed by systems of oppression and those who lack their finely developed politesse and deference to linguistic fashion. They are the useful idiots of corporate power and the emerging police state. Cancel culture is not the road to reform. It is the road to tyranny.

    https://www.rt.com/op-ed/515640-chris-hedges-cancel-culture-liberalism/

    Esther is right. Freedom of thought, speech and debate are absolutely essential.

  3. We are certainly well into malice in blunderland territory when anyone is forced out of an event designed to protect free speech for having be temerity to actually put into practice what it says on the tin.

    Good luck to any “comrades” trying to gain any practical success/traction, electoral or otherwise, outside of their self identified purity spiral echo chamber with that gibberish approach and attendant philosophy.

    The observation of parallels with the AS issue are uncanny.

    In both cases you have a single organised grouping claiming:

    – Monopoly rights to define all terms in the language and the narrative.
    – Monopoly rights to determine what is and is not acceptable ways to think backed up with punitive measures.
    – Monopoly rights to speak on behalf of an entire community on the basis not of the reality of diversity of views but as a single homogeneous and undifferentiated group.

    In both cases anyone from that community who deviates from the dogmatic monopoly of view and ideology of the the self appointed gatekeepers who shout the loudest is denied their identity as part of that community. In the case of the Jewish Community some are shamefully cancelled on the basis of being a “Capo” or self hating Jew. In the case of the gender/sex issue the cancellation goes even further by not even acknowledging the existence of of people such as Debbie Hayton et Al who do not conform to the mob based groupthink.

    The approach to the perceived and monopoly determined “heresies” by anyone echoes the primitive pre- rational basis of events such as the Inquisition and Witch Trials. Objective evidence and standards of due process is rejected. as a matter of course in favour of subjective opinions based on the concocted realities inside the heads of those drunk on their own monopoly power.

    And you end up with people supposedly on the left so desperate to get pips on shoulders that they publicly prostrate themselves by signalling to everyone, including the electorate as well as Party Members, that they have no time for due process, innocent until proven guilty, the right to a defence, or the need for evidence to substantiate an allegation. All that is required is an accusation which is treated as sacrosanct in terms of allegation equals guilty and anyone who attempts to defend themselves is by definitions also guilty.

    In at least one high profile example that stance very quickly came back and bit a prospective leadership candidate on the backside. Hoist by their own petard.

    Esther Giles suggestion of an urgent need to debate and discuss the impact of right wing based reactionary and regressive pretend philosophies such as post modernism and the damage they have caused by being adopted by sections of the “left” in terms class politics – which is under one’s by the intersectionalist hierarchy of oppression – should be top of thae agenda.

    • Good luck to any “comrades” trying to gain any practical success/traction, electoral or otherwise, outside of their self identified purity spiral echo chamber with that gibberish approach and attendant philosophy.

      Here things get tricky. I keep mentioning false flaggers, which may make me seem paranoid. Be that as it may, responding to your point here I can’t be sure they care whether their views have traction.

      In this I’d draw a parallel with the Labour right, which has shown time and again – you’ll know the cases better but Frank Field’s 1987 call for Wallasey to back Tory Lynda Chalker over Lol Duffy is a good example – that it prefers electoral defeat to a left led Labour government.

      I don’t mean to suggest positions on the trans issue fall neatly along lines of Left or Right within the party. Simply to make a more general point, that motives can’t always be taken at face value.

      • It’s a valid and very real practical point Phil.

        I’d go further, if you’ll bear with me on this.

        Whether this first observation, even if it ends up being clumsily put, is valid or otherwise I’ll leave up to you. It seems to me that the way the term “false flagger” is being used here implies it is coming from outside the fence, to use a metaphor, from where whatever entity/grouping/organisation (Political Parties; the “left” – whatever that means these days – etc) resides.

        Taking the current state of play in the SNP as an example I’d argue there are plenty of people who fall into that category who are not only operating inside that metaphorical fence they are running the whole operation taking place inside that space. From the corrupt abuse of due process which includes suppression of evidence up to and including the threat to jail witnesses for telling the truth – led and supported not just by legends in their own bedroom Twitter warriors but also elected ‘representatives’ at every level, the legal Establishment and the Corporate media old boys club – through to the Hate Crime Bill, and even demands for what are in effect loyalty pledges which seek not to protect the rights of a specific minority but to “increase” them. See here:

        https://twitter.com/KatieHagmannSNP

        As clear an example as you can get of the hierarchy of oppression which lies at the heart of a dogma whose origins lie in the pseudo-philosophy of post modernism and intersectionality purity politics.

        An approach not limited to the SNP in terms of political Party’s.

        Despite being an atheist for as long as I can recall I am reminded of the only occurrence of an enforced Sunday School lesson which actually resonated. Like you I spent a good number of formative years in a children’s home at the other of the country and church attendance was strictly enforced.

        In this instance, and remember the narrator is pitching this at the level of junior school kids, the metaphor went something like this:

        “The Devil/Lucifer had gathered all the other denizens of Hell to tackle a problem. The Christians were being too successful on Earth. How could this be addressed? Ideas were sought from all the high ranking Devils (bloody management hierarchies get everywhere) with each suggestion proving unsatisfactory on various grounds – unworkable, impractical, too complicated etc.

        The meeting was getting fractious. Frustrations were boiling over. Arguments were breaking out. Finally, Lucifer opened the question up to all the minor, lesser and lower ranking devils. Despite the howls of derision from the higher ranking amongst those present one bottom of the pile ‘deplorable’ stuck their hand up and came up with an absolute belter of a strategy.

        “We persuade them to believe in the opposite of what they stand for and believe in.”

        And right now that seems to have been what has parasitically infected the discourse, dialectic and narrative on the “left.” Class politics has and is being salami sliced to a degree which would warm the cockles of Thatcher’s, Reagan’s, Rove’s Hayak’s and Rand’s hearts.

        The regressive and reactionary right wing of politics cannot believe their luck. They’ve managed to persuade a large enough section of the “left” with this phoney reactionary and regressive post- modernist bullshit to believe and act in opposition to what they are supposed to believe in and stand for. To invert their values to an extent that what passes for the “left” these days is eating itself out of existence.

        To the extent that the right can openly extract the urine, without it even registering with these twelve year old management clone numpties running the asylum, by observing that, to paraphrase an observation made in a piece in the bloody Spectator last year, ‘for years the right was in conflict with feminism. Yet, ironically, it took the “left” to come up with the idea of redefining it out of existence.’.

        Who needs external false flaggers when the most effective ones are now running the show?

Leave a Reply to Dave Hansell Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.