Paul Mason sees far-right extremism all around – but is he right? Iain Macwhirter reviews How To Stop Fascism

Allen Lane, £20

Review by Iain Macwhirter

Paul Mason is a worried man. He sees signs of fascism all around: Trump, Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro. Anti-vaxxers, Incels, Proud Boys. QAnon conspiracists raiding Capitol Hill; Brexit voters opposing immigration; Islamophobes in the Tory Party demonising people of colour. He even says the environmental movement is being infiltrated by “ecofascists” wanting to establish a green dictatorship. It’s all out there. Fascism is growing fast.
Or is it? Mason, who knows his history and proudly recounts how he fought fascists in streets in the 1970s, gives a rather good summary of the fascist programme. It is “to destroy liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law; to cancel the rights won by women since the 1960s; and to create mono-cultural ethno-states using cataclysmic violence”. I would add that fascists generally believe in racial or ethnic superiority and that their calling card is anti-Semitism.
However, no-one who subscribes to these objectives is remotely near gaining political influence in the UK. The British National Party, arguably the closest Britain has come to a party of the far right, never had any representation in Parliament. Mason agrees that “there is no fascist party with a viable route to power at the time of writing”. So, in the absence of any political expression of fascism in Britain, he seeks it in people’s heads, in ideology. “The ideas associated with the BNP in the 1980s are now mainstream in the Conservative Party,” he announces. He has also claimed that “fascism’s interests are being represented in government, I’m sorry to say, by Boris Johnson”. 
Does he seriously believe this democratically-elected Prime Minister is preparing the ground for the abolition of democracy, human rights and the rule of law? Where is the evidence? When he was London Mayor, Boris Johnson had rather good relations with the Muslim community, despite his infamous burka comments. He argued for an amnesty for illegal immigrants and supported LGBT, to the extent of leading their marches wearing a pink stetson hat. He has since called for tougher legislation on domestic violence, apologised for failure in rape convictions and dedicated his government to going “net zero” by 2050.
You may not like Boris Johnson or his politics, but to accuse him of being a fascist or even preparing the ground for it is ludicrously over the top. I would go further and say that accusing any democratic politician of fascism, without reasonable cause, is irresponsible.
I know Paul Mason personally and have great respect for him as a journalist and polemicist, but he is flirting with political paranoia. There is certainly some weird stuff on the internet, and individuals like the Plymouth Incel killer prepared to act with violence. Yet there have always been crazy conspiracy theories and proto-fascist groups on the remoter fringes of the political universe. Think of Column 88, the Baader-Meinhof Group, Scientology, the Angry Brigade, Branch Davidians and our own Seed of the Gael. The difference is that they now organise in the nastier corners of the internet rather than in small personal networks.
But this doesn’t make them any less fringe. You can’t just round up disparate examples of right-wing or left-wing lunacy and present it as a coherent fascist movement seeking to win power. QAnon, which Mason  repeatedly cites, believes America is being taken over by a conspiracy of satanic paedophiles. This isn’t a disciplined fascist militia preparing to take on the organs of the state but a mob of fantasists in fancy dress.
The curious thing about this book is that it ignores the most obvious groups that conform to Mason’s definition of fascism. The Taliban, who have just taken over Afghanistan, are clearly out to destroy liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law. They will indubitably cancel the rights won by women since the 1960s. Like other Jihadists – Islamic State, al-Qaeda – the Taliban are right now using “cataclysmic violence to create a mono-cultural ethno-state”. Yet there is no discussion of what might be called Islamist fascism in the book.
Does he think they are not our concern? Well, the Taliban were the original sponsors of al-Qaeda, which was responsible for 9/11. Islamic State is profoundly anti-Semitic and has been murdering Jews in France and other countries for years. Islamist fascists also murdered the editors of Charlie Hebdo. The Taliban’s victory has given a massive boost to these organisations which are dedicated to manifestly fascist objectives, including violent anti-Semitism.
This book is an interesting reflection on the history of fascism and the Marxist left’s failure to understand it. It doesn’t need class war or an economic crisis for the far right to get traction, Mason convincingly argues. He calls for a modern version of the Popular Front alliance of liberals and the left in 1936, which he says halted fascism in France before the Second World War. But that was in the face of a fascist movement that was sweeping across Europe, led by Hitler and Mussolini. By Mason’s own admission there is no politically organised fascism today, so how can you mobilise a popular front against it?
Paul Mason is a Marxist who has given up on the working class as the agent of history. He thinks working-class culture, in many areas of the UK, is now “defined by xenophobia, white supremacy, anti-feminism and Islamophobia. It is hostile above all to wokeness”. He describes reporting these communities as like “swimming in a sea of racism”. What he means is that many working-class people vote Tory, support Brexit, don’t follow the obscure language codes of political correctness and resent being accused of racism just because they oppose mass immigration. This is not fascism.
Mason wants an “ideological popular front” to promote a “culture war” against these right-wing ideas, to “deny them a platform”. This sounds like a cancel culture manifesto. He appears to include as proto-fascist anyone who has opposed no-platforming in universities, or has criticised Stonewall, or questioned the woke doctrine of white privilege. That, rather disturbingly, includes me. And I’m not even a Tory.

 

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