The Paradox of Tolerance. Resisting Nazis.

There are Nazis vandalising schools and trams in Melbourne. There are even Nazi training camps in regional Victoria. There are proud fascists murdering people on the streets of the United States. Welcome to 2017, the year of Trump.

Of course Trump is both the cause and the symptom. No doubt his election and his rhetoric have emboldened racists, nationalists and right wing extremists of every kind. His open advocacy of violence towards journalists, protestors and alleged criminals in speeches since he began running for President has certainly fuelled the fire of extremism and broken the liberal consensus of major parties. Yet Trump’s election is purely a symptom of a broken system.

The neo-liberal capitalist system that most of the west have embraced in the late 20th century justified inequality in the name of growth. Yet wages growth remains at record lows while the business profits boom to record highs. It was highly predictable that this would lead to social and political instability. Indeed before he became Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis argued that the inequality in Europe would create the conditions for increased riots, even civil war. Such a collapse of social order, he said, would only benefit the “Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs”. In other words, as any historian of the twentieth century can tell you, disorder can lead to fascism.

Varoufakis went on to argue that, in the absence of a powerful left wing social movement ready to seize revolutionary control out of the disorder, the left had to focus on reform in order to save the system from itself – Franklin Roosevelt style. Unfortunately, the system is not for saving. For, not only are the neo-liberal elites highly resistant to reform, those same liberals are also proving to be most resistant to fighting the fascists.

Many, obsessed with the liberal notion of free speech, believe that it would be a “thought crime” to do anything to stand up to these neo-Nazis. This New York Post opinion piece asserts that to use force against a Nazi threatens their “fundamental America right”. This claim is reminiscent of Australian Attorney General George Brandis’ claim that people have a “right to be a bigot”. I absolutely dispute the idea that people have a right to be a Nazi. Yet apparently it’s not just that they have a right to be a Nazi. In the name of “fairness” we now have journalists going out of their way to give these people a platform such as when Triple J broadcaster Tom Tilley interviewed one of the organisers of the Charlottesville terrorist attack.

So we’ve got a situation where the privileged and powerful are knowingly preserving an economic system that is creating the conditions for social instability and at the same time are actually giving a voice to the neo-Nazis and fascists who are despicably looking to exploit the situation to bring about some Fourth Reich. We’ve been here before.

During the Second World War, notable liberal Philosopher Karl Popper came up with his famous Paradox of Tolerance. The paradox states that if a society is tolerant without limit then its ability to be tolerant will eventually be destroyed by the intolerant.

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.” (The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945)

This seems right to me. We cannot accept Nazis training camps in our state. We surely would never accept al-Qaeda camps here. We have come too far to go back to the nineteen thirties. The liberal elites don’t take the Nazis seriously because they’re not directly threatened. So far neo-Nazi hate has been directed at socialists, trade unions, LGBTI people and people of colour. But remember the old poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And so leftists now have two jobs. Firstly, to continue to build Corbyn style social movements that can end neo-liberalism and promote equality and social order. Sally McManus is leading such a movement in Australia, join your union and jump on board. Secondly, leftists must directly resist the fascists and Nazis and prevent their acceptance within the mainstream.

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