Editorial: Reason or Violence
The meeting held by the Fascists on June 7th at the Olympia, was the occasion of disorder that has prompted a shower of newspaper correspondence, questions in Parliament, and the suggestion that the police should have the right of entry into public meetings.
As far as the information goes, there does not appear to be any doubt that organised groups went to the meeting with the deliberate intention of creating disorder. Why, then, is so much fuss being made over the fact that they were roughly ejected?
The outcry comes from such different quarters as Conservative, Liberal, Labour and Communist. The Conservatives have their own axe to grind, and are not anxious to assist the growth of Mosley’s following. The other groups appear to have the wind up.
What is exceedingly curious in the business, however, is the righteous indignation of the Communists—who have gloried in meeting-smashing for years, and promised to suppress all discordant voices if they got power.
In our view, those who went to the Fascist meeting with the intention of creating disorder and making the meeting impossible only got what they asked for, and have no reason to complain if they were roughly handled.
Violence is not a successful method of convincing people of the soundness of a case. In fact, it is usually an admission that the case is threadbare. A case is not destroyed by violent methods, though those who are putting it forward may have to tread cautiously for a while. Anyhow, the use of violence only provokes violence from the opposition.
One thing that stands out clearly, however, is the fact that these methods play right into Sir Oswald Mosley’s hands. He has shown his desire for the spectacular from the beginning, and the nature of the opposition he is receiving is giving him just the advertisement he needs.
The use of violent methods is an attempt to foist on to the majority of people views which they are unwilling or not ready to accept. It used to be a plank in the Syndicalist programme, and has since been the spearhead of the Communists, on the plea that the time for theory is past, and the time for action has come. It fosters the growth of secret movements, and the ubiquitous agent provocateur.
Behind the violent movement stalks the spirit of revenge, and passion instead of reason urges the combatants forward. It plays to the emotions and the worst elements in the population get a footing in the movement, or use the movement to cloak their own actions. This has been illustrated time after time in the history of the working-class movement, and it is therefore essential that those who are genuinely interested in pushing forward the workers’ struggle for emancipation should resist all incitements to violence.
The success of violent movements depends upon frightening people and not upon convincing them. It is as well to bear in mind that it is not the capitalist who is frightened, for he has the armed power at his command to crush out opposition when he desires to do so.
It may perhaps be of some use to point out to those who are following methods that kill free discussion, that they are following in the path of their predecessors in Italy and Germany, and provoking the ogre they fear. The starting-point of the Fascist career in Italy was the seizure of the Italian factories by the workers and the propaganda of violence by the Communists. Germany tells a similar tale. It may be added that the country that gave them the lesson was Russia, and one of the principal defenders of Russian violence —Trotzky—is now wandering about seeking an asylum—a victim of the methods he advocated.
It is only by free and open discussion that the workers can grasp the essentials of their present condition of servitude and the way to abolish it. Until they have this knowledge it matters little which of the capitalist parties they support.
While we are on the subject of “freedom of speech” we cannot help being surprised to find what curious, not to say, suspicious friends, this “freedom” has. We see among them the numerous organs of capitalism, which steadfastly decline to allow the publication in their columns of a statement of the Socialist case. We see the “Morning Post,” which published grossly inaccurate statements about the Austrian Social Democrats engaged in the fighting of February, and then would not publish a correction, although not denying that photographs published in its own pages a few weeks earlier proved the inaccuracy. We see “Forward” which charged us with misstatements about Keir Hardie a few years ago and then refused to let us give evidence to show that we were right. We see also Mr. Hamilton Fyfe, who, as Editor of the “Daily Herald” allowed correspondents to discuss our attitude towards religion, but would not let us intervene to explain our position. Maybe the threat presented by Sir Oswald Mosley’s movement has induced a change of heart, but if so, there is a quite simple method by which the various political parties and papers can help to promote reasoned discussion, that is by copying the example set by the S.P.G.B., and by it alone, of allowing opponents to state their case in our columns and on our platform. At all of our propaganda meetings (although not at formal debates, where time forbids, or occasional commemoration meetings which do not lend themselves to questions), it is the standing practice of this party to allow questions and opposition, without any attempt to select or restrict. If our various opponents, Sir Oswald Mosley, the Liberals, Labourites, Tories and Communists believe that, they have a good case and can answer criticisms, we suggest that they could largely reduce the possibility of rowdy meetings and at the same time promote calm discussion by throwing open their platform to their opponents, as we do to ours.