At a secret meeting of the white supremacist London Forum, leading fascist and Forum founder Jeremy Bedford-Turner pulled on a Donald Trump mask to address a crowd of around 100 skinheads, conspiracy theorists and far-right flotsam. He thanked them for their support in continuing Trump’s work on this side of the Atlantic, before pulling off the mask to stridently declare: “The West is degenerate, decaying and deracinate… this is the last home of free speech.”
Posing as a white nationalist, I was able to attend the five-hour conference, which was replete with swivel-eyed speeches and anti-Semitic slurs, exposing the fundamental tensions at the heart of fascism. By simultaneously portraying themselves as contiguous with the prevailing political mood and as radicals fighting against a liberal hegemony, the fascists revealed their weaknesses, and indicated how they can be combatted by a united anti-fascist front.
In a speech entitled “Does Mrs May have a cunning plan?”, London Forum member Peter Phillips analysed the extent to which Brexit would really mean Brexit. His speech was wildly inaccurate and peppered with anti-Semitic canards implying Jewish control of advertising and big business, but delivered in more pseudo-rational terms than those rants where speakers claimed to be on a ‘divine mission’ to expose MI5 as a Jewish conspiracy.
“The impact of the main cause of the housing crisis, which is all the migration we had, is just never mentioned,” he whined. “It’s a hanging offence.” Of course, “all the migration” does occasionally get a mention in the mainstream press. In fact, 90% of Phillips’ language was indistinguishable from Ukip-style pro-Brexit discourse. Broadly, the fascists saw themselves as closer to Trump than Theresa May – “Ooh, I wish we had a Trump here,” Phillips cooed – but Phillips’ conclusion was that May would probably deliver a reasonably palatable hard Brexit.
Yet he tossed in sly anti-Semitic references, for example condemning the “excesses of corporate business – [of] a certain group who shall remain nameless.” The room tittered. Anti-Semitic material was repeatedly handled in this wink-wink-nudge-nudge style – ostensibly to avoid exposure by infiltrators, but also to give attendees the thrill of inclusion in a counter-cultural coterie.
Convicted French Holocaust denier Vincent Reynouard, who told the crowd that the Allies “orchestrated propaganda” and falsified the “rumour” of the Holocaust, was greeted with rapturous applause and a chorus of Happy Birthday. “He’s a political dissident, on the run from so-called French justice,” Bedford-Turner brayed. He’s not a criminal, he’s a hero.” It was by seizing on contemporary liberal shibboleths about “free speech” and the need for so-called open debate that craven speakers like Reynouard were able to paint themselves as brave rebels defying the liberal order.
How is this strange marriage of mainstream discourse and radical posturing achieved? The answer lies in the multifarious nature of fascism, and the multifariousness of the Jew as perceived in anti-Semitic thought.
The radical left currently favours a post-Stalinist view of fascism, as the atrophied but logical endpoint of capitalism. But as Anindya Bhattacharyya has written with regards to white supremacist mass murderer Anders Breivik, taken alone such an analysis cannot accommodate the “wildly contradictory and unstable” nature of fascist ideology. Bhattacharyya draws instead on the writings of Leon Trotsky who viewed fascism as a fundamentally petite-bourgeoisie phenomenon, achieving “the direct aim of agitating the petty bourgeoisie to a white heat and of directing its hatred and its despair against the proletariat”.
A full class survey of the attendees was beyond my grasp, but I spoke to or heard from two teachers and a former government employee who had been fired because of their white nationalist views. A London Forum organiser also berated the crowd for showing less solidarity with far-right cleaners sacked from their posts than they might to middle-class professionals. This suggests a broadly bourgeoisie mentality, if not necessarily a petite-bourgeoisie turnout in the mercantile sense.
But it is Trotsky’s work on the methods of fascism which especially pertains here. He saw national socialism as attaining power through a dual mechanism; a mass street base steamrollers the left while a ‘legitimate’ front seeks power through formal office. The street thugs feed off the legitimacy of the mainstream, and the mainstream draws its power from the street. It is this logic which unites greasy-haired 9/11 truthers, a faux-erudite Pashtun-speaking white nationalist like Bedford-Turner, and the “Millwall fans in a nearby pub” said to be providing security on the day. The so-called alt-right is simply an alternate face of Dylan Roof/Anders Breivik/Tommy Robinson, conjoined like Janus and gazing hungrily at power.
That said, Trotsky’s materialist analysis is reductive. In What is National Socialism, he writes that the Nazis “borrow[ed] at second hand the ideas of racism”, suggesting anti-Semitism was simply a tool deployed by the National Socialists to fuel their surge to power.
His words were oddly echoed by Reynouard, who told the London Forum that the second world war was an “ideological war to destroy National Socialism”, implying that fighting anti-Semitism was not a key motivating factor. In a sense, he was correct. The causes of the second world war were manifold, but historians must acknowledge that Allied antipathy towards the Jewish cause came from Churchill downward.
Without palpable, personally felt anti-Semitism, there could have been no Third Reich, and this must be incorporated into anti-fascist thought. To Slavoj Žižek, the Jew as anti-Semitically conceived is the archetypal “master signifier”. He emphasises the ambiguity and contradictoriness of the Jew – “understood to be both upper class and lower class, intellectual and dirty, impotent and highly sexed.” Thus, goons can break skulls in the ghetto, even as the National Socialists seize Jewish-owned businesses.
The intentionally vague language most speakers at the conference deployed – “a certain group who shall remain nameless,” “our friends” – not only provided plausible deniability but enabled each of the diversely racist audience members to picture their own, personal anti-Semitic bogeyman. As a result, speakers could variously describe the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, MI5, the CIA, the Remain campaign, the British legal system, the musical theatre industry, the liberal left, Saatchi & Saatchi, Tony Blair and Kraft Foods as fronts for an “evil Zionist elite”.
Shortly after I arrived, I was approached by a fascist clad in Sturmabteilung shorts. Evidently suspicious, he introduced himself as Stead Steadman, and asked me who I was and how I’d heard of the conference. I’d decided I was unlikely to pass muster as a skinhead, and so adopted the guise of a sweaty-palmed back-bedroom fascist, researching the Illuminati and the New World Order on David Icke’s web forum. Steadman evidently thought I was batshit – his concern is a white Britain for the British, not government mind-control programs. But the polysemous Jew served his purpose, attracting fresh meat to his cause. “I’ll write down you’re a free thinker,” he said with a sympathetic cluck.
Stuart Hall has shown that race itself is a floating signifier, and, to a point, all racism functions in a similar fashion – anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were intimately bound up in the speakers’ discussion of Brexit, figured as a defeat both of Jewish corporate elites and of an Islamic takeover of Britain. Žižek himself has been prone to the same hypocritical valence, depicting Muslim refugees as both job-stealers and threats to the Western liberal order, fearing both multiculturalism and non-integration. But the polysemous Jew is the superlative example, a necessary corollary to dual fascism. Žižek explains: “The ‘conspiracy theory’ provides a guarantee that the field of the big Other is not an inconsistent bricolage: its basic premise is that, behind the public Master (who, of course, is an imposter), there is a hidden Master.”
Alison Chabloz is a singer-songwriter currently on bail, accused of recording anti-Semitic songs which ask “did the Holocaust ever happen?” Before singing a parodic version of Je Ne Regrette Rien, she told the London Forum crowd she was breaking her bail conditions to perform, but that she was prepared to go to jail for her beliefs and that she should not be in trouble “just for writing a few offensive songs about Jews.” She then suggested the judge hearing her case was “one of our friends”, prompting audience members to crow “could you tell by the size of her nose?” and “there’s no business like Shoah business.”
In the conspiratorial mindset any setback, any censure, any reprimand is read as further proof that the “hidden Master” holds sway. It is precisely because of anti-Semitism that public debate and legal recourse are toothless against fascism, which takes any defeat as further justification of its own programme. In loss, its radical front gains power: in victory, of course, it assumes legitimacy. Fascism is chimeric, a goat’s head bleating platitudes in the corridors of power and a lion’s maw roaring in the street.
“The first characteristic of a really revolutionary party is to be able to look reality in the face,” Trotsky writes. Janus-faced fascism requires opposition on dual fronts.
Firstly, its street face must be broken. Thanks to antifascist activists who shut down their January meeting, the London Forum members were forced to congregate in Green Park before trooping across the city to rendezvous behind closed doors at the Lutheran Swedish Seamen’s Hall in Canada Water. They were scared; violence and humiliation work. Trotsky mocked those too scared to greet fascists with “revolver shots”, writing: “‘We have to deal with the whole system,’ we are told. How? Over the heads of human beings?”
Latterly, the mass working-class antifascist movement which defeated Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts has been absent from the streets, and this work has largely been done by anarchist antifa. This is concomitant with the decline of Labour and the labour movement. A perceptive recent post by the Architects for Social Housing concerned the ANAL squats housing the homeless in Belgravia and Chelsea. It argues that anarchism is so entirely bound up with “political action under the yoke of capitalism” it can offer no real future alternative – but that in the present moment violent, messy, anarchistic disruption is the only thing capable of jolting the political order or “grabbing the attention of the despised of Britain”. Likewise, black bloc tactics seem the only way of heading off contemporary fascism in the street – recent clashes in Croydon and elsewhere have seen anarchists and other leftists stand together to humiliate the far-right.
The press must learn similar lessons. The first person I spoke to at the conference was showing off an Evening Standard cover story, which decried the “rise of the far right” and cited figures showing a quarter of Prevent referrals now came from far-right extremists. “That’s some cheery news,” he said, before pointing approvingly at a story about the murder of MP Jo Cox. He was drawing on the oxygen of publicity – yet the story was deeply necessary as a counterpoint to mass hysteria about Islamist terrorism. The press must find ways to scrutinise, frustrate and humiliate fascists without granting their ideas a platform.
Simply put, no debates, no sympathy, no interviews: each article must function as brutally as a blow to a pomaded neo-Nazi skull. Ageing holocaust denier David Irving was the keynote speaker at the Forum meeting. Beginning by praising the organisers for ensuring “only white faces” were in the room, he then launched into a rambling condemnation of 2017 blockbuster Denial, which he bitterly complained misrepresented his loss in a court case. Using Nazi terminology, he accused the “Lügenpresse” (or ‘lying press’) of not giving him a fair hearing. Good.
But the black bloc alone will not beat back the rising tide of fascism – and media criticism certainly won’t. In his introduction to Trotsky’s Fascism, George Weissman dismisses liberal analyses which define National Socialism through “such terms as dictatorship, mass neurosis, anti-Semitism, the power of unscrupulous propaganda, the hypnotic effect of a mad-genius orator on the masses, etc.” He throws the baby out with the bathwater. Racism and anti-Semitism are not weapons deployed by fascism, of a comparable order to propaganda or oration: they are its very substance. Rosa Luxemburg once observed: “for the disciples of Marx and for the working class a Jewish question as such does not exist.” But it must, alongside the woman question, and the Muslim question, and so on.
The far-right buzzword “cultural Marxism” was bandied about by attendees at the London Forum. By this, they meant a perceived enforcement of political correctness and multiculturalism across the social and cultural spheres, achieved as sleeper-agent acolytes of the primarily Jewish Frankfurt School infiltrated Hollywood, universities, the mass media and so on. It is nonsense, of course. As we saw this week, Britain’s foremost left-wing political figures cannot even mention Marxism in passing without being ridiculed. The daunting task facing the anti-fascist left is to harness a growing public interest in identity politics to a rigorous, materialist analysis of fascism’s re-emergence – and to ensure this message really is saturated through our media, culture and activism. Building a viable, intersectional, socialist alternative to late capitalism is the only absolute act of anti-fascism.