Victoria’s Proposed Ban on Far-Right Symbolism Could be Used to Attack the Left.

By Black Freighter

The recent police raids against the National Socialist Network (NSN) in Adelaide, just months after their hiking excursion to the Grampians grabbed the media spotlight, has once again brought the Atomwaffen-affiliated white supremacist outfit to prominence. Perhaps most painful for the organisation has been the unmasking by the White Rose Society and various mainstream media platforms in August of several of its members, some of whom have already faced serious consequences for their affiliation to it. A week after this exposé, the Victorian government announced its intention to ban the public display of swastikas and other hard right symbols by mid-2022. This proposal has gained further traction following the arrest on the 10th of September in Orange NSW of a neonazi accused of preparing to manufacture 3D-printed firearms and whose bedroom was featured in media articles displaying a large nazi flag. While the proposed ban has been rightfully celebrated in many circles, some of which have called for its extension to the rest of Australia, we must review the state’s intentions with a critical eye at all times. 

The proposed ban follows ALP senator Kristina Keneally’s draft motion in February to condemn far-right extremists in Australia. Her draft, which noted the connections between the alt-right and federal Coalition politicians George Christiansen and Craig Kelly, was swiftly rewritten by the government to include “all other extremist groups which seek to promote fascism, communism, anarchism, bigotry and violence in our community.” This revised motion mirrored Trump’s attempts during his presidency to equate the left and right, even as right-wing extremists were storming through the streets of Charlottesville. Unsurprisingly its first endorsement came from arch-xenophobe and failed rock-climber Pauline Hanson.

A further development came in April, with ASIO boss Mike Burgess calling on a parliamentary inquiry on terrorism to ban extremist symbols and propaganda online and to significantly increase ASIO’s powers. This was supported by federal police deputy commissioner Ian McCartney, who stated that the AFP will “strongly support the criminalisation of the public display of flags and other extremist insignia”. More concerning however was the Victorian police submission, which pointed directly at the left-wing broadly as something that may be targeted with these sorts of laws. This would mean that leftists struggling against fascism, capitalism and other forms of oppression would be subject to the same measures as their opponents on the right, or at least in theory. It is more likely that the laws would be used disproportionately against the left, as the extreme right already enjoys significant support from characters such as Kelly and Christiansen. This was the case in 2015 in Ukraine when laws banning both left and right-wing symbols were used to ban every communist party in the country, even as the neonazi Azov Battalion was being incorporated into the National Guard of Ukraine.

In any case, simply banning fascists from using swastikas publicly would do little, if anything, to oppose them. What we have learned from countries that have banned these symbols is that fascists simply invent new symbols and codes that become increasingly difficult for the casual observer to identify. This can allow fascists to reach audiences that might have otherwise dismissed them off the cuff if they’d openly used Third Reich symbolism. We can only guess just how successful the hardline neonazi Golden Dawn party would have fared in Greece’s 2012 elections, in which it came third, had it openly exposed itself in this fashion. In other words, suppressing a group’s ability to express its politics openly simply forces it to disguise its politics. On the flip-side, a ban may even help the NSN, which includes in its activism guide a chapter on media manipulation that clearly states that negative coverage “is a good thing, and media baiting is a huge portion of our recruitment drive”. It goes on to claim that the “young will want to join something that seems new, aggressive and shocking” and that therefore, “(a)ll you seek to do is accelerate (the media’s) production of news articles.” In this sense, banning their symbols outright may even play directly into the NSN’s media strategy to inflame public outrage and draw as much attention to itself as possible.

What do anarchists propose in response? In our belief these sorts of attempts by the state to define what constitutes terrorism and extremism is part of its broader strategy to suppress working class aspirations. As CrimethInc notes in Not Your Grandfather’s Antifascism, “(u)sing the rhetoric of the state reinforces frameworks and narratives that the authorities will ultimately use against us. This is dangerous to our movements and constitutes a betrayal of comrades engaged in struggles we’re often aligned with,” such as the Kurdish YPG, which is routinely described as terrorist for its resistance to genocide at the hands of the Turkish state and its proxies in ISIS. It is worth quoting this article at length. Anti-fascists “should not focus on targeting fascist groups that are so marginal that they stick out from the rest of the political spectrum, but take on the infrastructure through which any authoritarian program will be enacted. That is to say, it should focus on the state itself. If we simply fight defensive battles, the fascists will eventually gain the initiative. We should take the experiences of fighting together that we can experience in anti-fascist struggle and use those as points of departure to work together to solve all of the problems that we have. This is the way to take the offensive and move on to confronting the fundamental sources of oppression.”

We can take as an example of the sort of action needed in the West End community’s eviction of Golden Dawn supporters from Musgrave Park in 2014. Anarchists combined forces with hundreds of local residents and construction workers to militantly remove a contingent of fascists demonstrating for the release of the men who murdered Greek anti-fascist Pavlos Fyssas. This action successfully eliminated in Brisbane the presence of Golden Dawn and their allies in the Australia First Party. The success of anarchists, workers and local residents on that day showed that strong communities are the key to disrupting fascists, not laws introduced from above that will more likely than not be used against the very forces attempting to combat fascism, capitalism and the state itself.

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