Brownshirts under the bed

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How to Stop Fascism

Paul Mason, Allen Lane, 256 Pages, £20

KEN BELL finds a noted Labour intellectual fighting an imaginary enemy

Paul Mason is one of those interesting characters who now seem to pop up everywhere, telling the rest of us what to believe. In his student days he was a member of Workers’ Power, a Trotskyite grouplet that never had any actual workers in it. After a period as a teacher he moved into the media, first as economics editor of BBC Newsnight, then switching to Channel 4 in a similar role. He is now a freelance writer who pops up often in the Guardian, and his work seems to influence today’s left, which is probably why Labour keeps losing elections.

His latest offering, How to Stop Fascism, is a case in point. It argues that there is a new, fascist menace in Britain which must be rooted out. However, he presents no evidence to back up that claim, but then it is quite likely that he doesn’t need any. Mason’s works are clearly aimed at a particular middle-class readership – people who are convinced that working people are a racist tribe to be overcome.

That does not stop him from looking around to find evidence of this threat, and funnily enough his working class enemies always turn up to illustrate and confirm everything he is saying to his readership. So, in the 2019 general election, he went back to his home town of Leigh to campaign for the Labour candidate in that division, and on the doorsteps he heard “men my own age openly fantasizing about the ethnic cleansing of Romanian migrants.” Of course you did, Paul. My experience of canvassing is that if you can get people away from the TV long enough to open the door they tell you just what you want to hear to get rid of you, before going back to Coronation Street. The last thing you get is anything approaching a political debate.

Fast forward to June 2020 and our hero is in London, “an obviously multicultural city.” On the day that he was there, the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square had recently been defaced by the Black Lives Matter rabble, so understandably, groups of British working people had turned up to protest at that outrage to one of the nation’s heroes. Mason was just outside the square and found that he had

…entered a zone of white monoculture. Suddenly there were no students, no people of colour, no tourists, no out-gay people. I was back in the world I grew up in. White men, working class… shouting profanities and swilling lager.

It really is amazing how this author manages to keep bumping into working class men who confirm his colourful thesis. He even managed to see a postman in the crowd, and you can’t get prolier than that.

He ropes in Donald Trump to help bolster his case, even though he admits that “Trump is not a fascist”. However, he then goes on to say that “there is a plebeian mass base for American fascism, and Trump has chosen to lead it”. It is hard to know what to make of that concept, which reads as if Trump is a sort of Schrödinger’s Politician, simultaneously in two states of being at the same time. I was also taken with his “plebeian mass base” line: presumably he feels that the problem with today’s world is that patricians (like him) do not rule it. Mason goes on to say:

Trump’s victory in 2016 was a turning point. It confirmed that there is a massive constituency in the United States for economic nationalism and isolationism, and forced all other countries to accept deglobalisation as a strategic reality.

Now, given that for most of its history up to the advent of the Progressive Era in the 1890s the USA had been firmly isolationist and had protected its nascent industries behind a massive tariff wall, a very good case can be made for arguing that all Trump wanted to do was to restore the status quo ante, which is hardly the mark of a fascist. More importantly, Mason claims to be a socialist, and since when have socialists been in favour of globalisation? It should be remembered that globalisation is not the same as internationalism. I can remember when Communist shop stewards in British factories collected money to buy bicycles that were shipped to Vietnam. There they were used on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to carry war supplies to the South, as part of Vietnam’s war of national liberation. The aim was not the globalist one of opening Vietnam’s borders to all and sundry, or seeing Vietnamese people flooding over here to provide cheap labour in nail bars. It was the internationalist one of providing help to a people who wanted to govern themselves without interference from outside. (A bit like us with Brexit, perhaps?)

Mason is clearly a great fan of globalisation, since the politicians he hates, specifically Trump and Johnson, are “authoritarian nationalists” who “broke with the globalist consensus in the 2010s”. It is difficult to imagine either man as being authoritarian, with Boris in particular anguishing over the lockdown to try and control the coronavirus and Trump leaving all that up to the states. However, both men did break with the “globalist consensus” and since Mason is all in favour of that consensus it must mean that they are authoritarians. Or something; you can never tell with this author.

He never gets close to actually pointing his finger at any real fascists, or explain what fascism is, so that we can recognise its followers if we ever see them. To get around that problem he tells us,

Once we move beyond sterile definitions and understand fascism as a process of social breakdown…we can see the nit-picking formalism among some historians and the left as an obstacle to comprehension

I hope that is clear to you, because it reads like gibberish to me. The best I can come up with from a reading of the text is that fascists are the socially conservative, perhaps economically radical, “plebeian mass” who refuse to listen to Paul Mason.

Do I recommend this book to my readers? Surprisingly, I do. If you are a Tory worried by the shenanigans of Boris and his surreal cabinet, then you may be worried that your party will lose the next election, so read Mason’s book and put your mind at ease. On the other hand, if you are a Labour supporter who hopes your party will win the next election, you should probably have your hopes dashed now, so you will be emotionally prepared for defeat at the next election. People like Mason obviously detest traditional British values and the people who uphold them, and they now control the Labour Party, especially at local level. They are the ones who read works like this and believe the arguments in them because they tie in with views that the readers already hold. Come the next election, all Boris has to do is point out the contempt and disdain so many Labour intellectuals have for ordinary people – the plebeian mass – and then ask if they want people like Paul Mason ruling over them? I think that the answer to that question is obvious.