Fascism and Communism: A Problem of PR?

“Why is it that people are fine to associate with communists, but not fascists?”

Not a question I quite expected to be asked, especially by my friend’s step-father. But asked I was, and I had no answer to give. Nothing. Not even a stab-in-the-dark guess. Five years studying politics, and it’s something I’d never considered.

I suspect that the resignation of David Miliband from the Vice-Chairmanship of Sunderland FC had something to do in prompting the question. Miliband resigned his vice-chairmanship over the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager, who had stated in 2005 that “I am a fascist, not a racist.” Miliband, in protest at such an appointment, quit – coincidently days after he had resigned as MP and planned to move to America. When it rains it pours, eh?

The question I’m interested in was also posed by Norman Tebbit, in his Telegraph column, where he asked “David Miliband resigns his Sunderland post over Di Canio’s Fascism. Will his brother cut himself off from any trade unions with communists on the board?” The question is important – why is it that communism, a system of government which has claimed at least 94 million lives by 1997 (see Werth et al., in The Black Book of Communism) seen as better than, or superior to, fascism? Both have been responsible for numerous, terrible crimes against humanity and yet we see such a disparity between public opinion towards the two groups.

Unite Against Fascism is an example; there is no similar equivalent in terms of guarding against the dangers of communism. In fact, there are numerous communist societies across the country, especially in universities. My own University of Sheffield has a Marxist Society. Imagine the uproar if I wanted to start my own Fascist Society, or a society to discuss the works of fascist thinkers – the society would be banned and I would face a lot of stick.

Indeed, there are countless reports of fascist speakers being banned from giving public talks in universities, epitomised in the National Union of Students’ ‘No Platform’ policy. Again, we see no communist alternative. The far-left has been a recent threat on a local-government level too in the not-so-distant past, for example the Militant Tendency group who dominated the Labour-led Liverpool City Council in the mid-‘Eighties; setting illegal budgets, assaulting workers who crossed picket lines, and picking fights with central government. It seems that the danger of the far-left is much more relevant than the far-right.

Why is this the case though? I think it’s a question of ends, not means. Both systems, when put into practice, saw gross violations of human dignity. However, communism had a strong ‘intellectual’ underpinning, and a positive aim, a utopia to achieve if we just wanted it enough. So no matter what the crimes, and no matter what aberrations were committed, proponents always had an excuse to fall back on – “the aims were good, even if the means were a bit rough”.

Fascists, on the other hand, did not have a strong normative aim. There was no utopian vision that could be appreciated, only an emphasis on the strength of the state and power through unity. Although in the world of realpolitik this might be a useful approach, it simply does not have the same appeal as universal emancipation  So, proponents of fascism didn’t really have this normative justification to fall back on when it all got a bit heavy. Instead, the means of fascism morphed into the ends – these crimes were seen as the raison d’etre of fascism.

It seems that communists are everywhere in the UK – the left wing media, universities, influential trade union bodies. They lie very much outside of public opinion, and their force can still be felt in the Labour Party. This is grossly problematic. Both systems of government have been shown to be dangerous to freedom and liberty, to basic human dignity and to political and civil rights; a simple PR victory should not allow one to remain acceptable whilst the other is shunned.

Update: For a similar case, see Unite’s support for the communist paper The Morning Star – Unite are Labour’s biggest donor. As The Commentator notes: “what would the media’s response be if David Cameron’s biggest financial backer propped up, and was on the management board of a major Fascist outlet, or some other antiquainted ideology that slaughtered millions? Yes, it’d be front page news.”

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