Oxford students have been struggling in the past couple of weeks with the question of where we should stand on fascism. Apparently, the old antifascist answer – that the best place to stand on fascism is on its neck until it breaks – has become somewhat passé for the Oxford liberal elite. This unwillingness to aggressively smash fascism, whenever it rears its ugly head, reached its logical conclusion last Thursday night – with dozens of Union hacks lined up in the chamber of the world’s most famous debating society, seemingly breaking out into applause for the world’s most powerful fascist politician, either out of ritual or sinister admiration.
Lots of the debate around the invitation of Marine Le Pen has focused on ‘Does she have a right to a platform?’ or ‘Is this denying free speech?’ and crucially, ‘Will this invitation contribute to increased violence towards Muslims?’, but I would rather ask a different, albeit loaded, question: given that Le Pen’s invite has almost certainly contributed to a rise in legitimacy for the National Front and her brand of fascist politics, what would motivate her invitation?
It would appear, given the history of antifascist organising, that inviting Le Pen was never part of some elaborate antifascist strategy to discredit her. Listening to some right-wing students’ experiences of the event, one suspects that she was invited precisely because of her politics, rather than in spite of them.
In much of the commentary on this subject, students have referred to Le Pen as “a prominent politician”, but can never quite bring themselves to say what she really is: a fascist thug who wants to expel migrants and in 2012 attended an event organised by neo-Nazi group the Olympia Society, which bans Jews and women from its membership. When I challenged students on this in the queue, some said they agreed with her on immigration.
The photos of the Oxford Union members breaking out into applause for this defender of ‘free speech’ tell all. Far from challenging Le Pen, and in a symbolic act of respect, she was clapped into the chamber.
A recent witch-hunt against the OUSU demonstration has challenged students to prove their love of liberty by asking, ‘did you support the protests?’ I think a better question for those who attended the debate within the chamber would be, ‘did you clap Le Pen?’
David Browne has written ‘Why we clapped Marine Le Pen’ in response to this article which can be found here.