Sectarian smears and fabrications have no place in progressive politics writes veteran British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
The future of progressive politics is under threat, again. But this time from the left. Historically, socialists and greens have made gains by building broad alliances around a common goal, such as the campaigns against the poll tax and the bombing of Syria.
We united together diverse people who often disagreed on other issues. Through this unity and solidarity, we won. The government of the day was forced to back down.
Nowadays, we are witnessing a revival of far ‘left’ sectarian politics and it is infecting the Green Party too. Zealous activists, seemingly motivated by a desire to be more ‘left’ and pure than rivals, are putting huge energy into fighting and dragging down other campaigners. Corporate thieves and war criminals often get off scot-free by comparison.
The issues many of these sectarians highlight are not the mega crimes of mass murder in Syria and Yemen, fuel poverty, unaffordable housing, global hunger, climate destruction or transphobic and racist violence. They prefer to hound fellow activists.
Good people are being forced out of the progressive movement by hair-splitting, holier-than-thou ‘left-wing’ puritans. Their dirty tactics of smears and false accusations are borrowed from the far right, and have a whiff of McCarthyism.
Lenin once wrote a pamphlet called Left-wing communism, an infantile disorder. If he was around today he’d probably add a new chapter about the ultra ‘lefts’ who are sabotaging green and socialist politics with their destructive in-fighting.
The often dishonest, poisonous, aggressive tone of the current wave of sectarian attacks is a total betrayal of the ethics of comradeship that are supposed to be green and left values. People’s good intentions and long radical commitments are dismissed, even ridiculed; often over minor disagreements and sometimes based on distortion and fabrication.
The far right rarely receives the hatchet jobs that sections of the ‘left’ do on their own people who fail to follow the ‘correct’ party line.
These tactics are not only cruel to the individuals who are targeted, they also weaken progressive politics and drive good people away, which strengthens the political right and the power elite. As a left-wing green committed to securing radical social change, this destructive behaviour concerns and disturbs me.
Many progressive people and organisations have been victims of this low politics, including the Iranian communist and feminist, Maryam Namazie and activists in student Atheist Secular and Humanist Societies, who have been falsely accused of racism, anti-Muslim prejudice, neo-colonialism and worse.
I’ve also been a victim. What has been done to me is illustrative of the lying, sectarian denunciations made against many admirable long-standing activists.
A classic example of this dirty ‘left’ politics is the article by Chris Jarvis (Bright Green, 21 February 2016). It is a savage, untruthful attack on my human rights campaigns.
I have no objection to criticism, providing it is factually based and not made up. Just because I’ve been campaigning for nearly half a century does not mean that I should be immune from criticism. My sole objection is to the torrent of untrue allegations.
I am challenging this sordid, baseless ‘left-wing’ political criticism, not only for my own sake but also for the sake of the many honourable activists who have been similarly smeared and traduced by ‘left’ sectarians.
Jarvis starts off by praising me as once being “one of my political heroes” whose “continuing radicalism throughout his long career….at the forefront of radical direct action, and progressive movements” had him “in awe.”
But then the article swiftly switches to denunciation, based on a mix of fabrication and distortion.
The article cites three ‘crimes’ I have allegedly committed and on this basis dismisses my 49 years of human rights activism: “I can’t continue to view you (Peter Tatchell) as an icon of liberation, or a hero of LGBT people,” Jarvis wrote.
Welcome to the ‘left-wing’ world of ‘three strikes and you’re out.” A lifetime of humanitarian endeavour counts for nothing.
Worse still, my three alleged crimes are ugly misrepresentations of the facts.
Jarvis wrote: “The Stop Murder Music Campaign erred on the edges of problematic, as white, westerners argued and campaigned aggressively against black reggae and dancehall musicians’ right to perform and record music.”
This is pure fiction. The campaign was initiated with the Jamaican LGBT group J-Flag at their request. In fact, myself and the UK-based LGBT group OutRage! were, initially, the only non-Jamaican organisation to respond to their appeal. The people who now denounce me, failed to lift a finger. No solidarity at all.
In Britain and other Western countries, Stop Murder Music (SMM) was not a “white Westerners” campaign. It was multiracial here, and in the US, France and so on. Key UK activists were black: Ted Walker-Brown, Simon Nelson, Rob Berkeley and Dennis Carney. Yet critics like Jarvis write them out of the story. They invisibilise black activists. Who’s being racist now?
Jarvis claims that SMM “campaigned aggressively against black reggae and dancehall musicians’ right to perform and record music.” More fabrications. SMM was not directed against all reggae and dancehall singers. It was solely against eight artists because were inciting the murder of LGBT people in their lyrics and public statements, which is a criminal offence.
Jarvis then goes on to write further false stories about my campaigning. He condemns what he calls my “neo-colonial perspective on international aid and LGBT rights that argues countries whose governments abuse LGBT rights should not be granted international aid.”
This is junk worthy of the lying right-wing Senator Joseph McCarthy. I said the exact opposite to what Jarvis claims: that aid should not be cut.
Why did he misrepresent my news release on this issue, which documents my exact words?
This is typical of my ‘left-wing’ critics. They never quote from first-hand sources, preferring to rely instead on someone else’s prejudiced and often distorted account. They ignore my news releases and articles which show what I actually said – because it doesn’t fit their fantasy narrative that I am a racist colonialist.
In this instance, Jarvis links to a partial, incomplete Pink News report.
But even this report quotes me as saying that international aid should not go to oppressive homophobic “regimes.” It does not say that aid should be cut – only that the regimes should not receive it.
Contrary to Jarvis’s smears, I have argued that international aid should be switched from tyrannical governments to local organisations that don’t oppress their fellow citizens.
Why did he never bother to examine and comment on what I really said? Why did he not look at my website, which documents all my articles and news releases?
Lazy or malicious? Either way, it is typical of the gutter tactics of the new pseudo ‘leftism.’
Moreover, I lobbied the UK government and secured it’s pledge to “switch aid, not cut it” – in line with the wishes of a coalition of African social justice advocates. But that fact doesn’t get a mention because it doesn’t suit the sectarian ‘left’ agenda.
Jarvis then goes on to denounce my “crusade against homophobia within what he (Peter Tatchell) dubs ‘Islamism.’”
Islamism is different from Islam. Islam is a religion. Islamism is a political-religious movement that seeks to impose a clerical dictatorship, like in Saudi Arabia and Iran, where the whole population is subject to religious-inspired oppression. Of course, like any democrat, liberal or socialist, I oppose Islamist tyrannies. And not only because of their “homophobia” (another Jarvis distortion) but because of all human rights abuses perpetrated by Islamist regimes.
“Tatchell adopts the position of gay white saviour,” claims Jarvis – himself a white man dictating what constitutes the ‘correct’ politics. Pot calls the kettle black!
For nearly five decades, I’ve been motivated by a green and socialist internationalism. All my campaigns have been in solidarity with oppressed people, at their request and in consultation with them. Every initiative has been to support their struggle.
For people like Jarvis, solidarity seems to be a dirty word. Westerners who support freedom struggles in non-Western countries are suspect. Far from being sincere humanitarians, they are de facto neo-colonialists who allegedly cloak their racist agenda in the language of solidarity.
Tell that to the global anti-apartheid movement! Oops! That was another imperialist ploy by ‘white saviours’ according to the ‘left’ sectarians. The same with the solidarity campaigns against the Pinochet regime in Chile. More ‘white savourism’ they say.
Jarvis resumes with further false narratives: “Tatchell’s controversy…(has continued) this time in relation to NUS LGBT+ Officer (Women’s Place) Fran Cowling’s decision not to share a platform with Tatchell at an event at Canterbury Christ Church University….Cowling is free to decide who she wishes to share a platform with and who not to. It is nobody’s God given right to expect people to wish to debate them.”
Who said otherwise? I never did. On Newsnight, RT, the Telegraph and elsewhere I did not say I was no-platformed and I defended Cowling’s right to not share a platform with me.
My objection was to Cowling’s false allegation that I am “racist” and “transphobic” and her equally false claim that she was acting on behalf of the NUS membership who, she dishonestly claimed, believe that I am racist and transphobic. The NUS membership never made any such ruling and I was not on the NUS no-platform list. For nearly three weeks, I privately contacted Cowling seeking dialogue and asking for evidence of her allegations. She ignored my request and refused to speak to me. That’s why I went public.
Jarvis then rebukes me for signing an Observer letter that defended free speech, including the free speech of people I strongly disagree with on trans issues and who I have repeatedly criticised, such as Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer (I’ve also been critical of Julie Burchill on these issues).
This letter did not utter a single word of criticism of trans people, let alone oppose their equal human rights.
Supporting free speech does not mean endorsing the content of that speech. As the German communist, Rosa Luxemburg, argued: freedom of speech means nothing if it does not exist for the person who thinks differently.
Free speech doesn’t equate with allowing bigotry to pass unchallenged. It should always be refuted and protested. The most effective way to do this is by defeating bigoted ideas in open debate and thereby winning the public to oppose intolerance, as Nick Griffin discovered to his cost on BBC Question Time. No-platforms, bans and censorship don’t work. They suppress bigotry but fail to expose and counter it.
Then Jarvis claims: “Tatchell tacitly endorses the idea that people should not be able to collectively decide the people that they chose to invite to speak at events that they are organising in their own spaces.” More nonsense. I defend the right of people to invite or not invite who they choose. What I actually said is something very different: that if one group invites a speaker, another group should not have a right to veto that invitation – unless the speaker is guilty of threats, harassment or encouraging violence – or demands discrimination such as forced gender segregation.
Jarvis carries on with more distortions: “Tatchell has continuously called for the stopping of ‘Islamists’ from speaking on campuses up and down the country for hate preaching.” Not true. I have not called for the banning of mere “hate” preachers. I have opposed platforms being given to Islamists who go beyond hate to endorse the killing of other human beings; specifically the killing of Muslims who turn away from their faith, people who blaspheme, women who have sex outside of marriage, LGBT people and Ahmadi’s and other minority followers of Islam. This is more than just hate. It is encouragement to murder. Endorsing violence is my red line.
The real issue is much more than Jarvis’s article. What he wrote is indicative of a bigger, wider problem that is infecting and damaging left and green politics: the decline in civility and honesty, and the rise in sectarian attacks on other activists. We can never build a successful a mass movement to challenge the Tories, UKIP and the far right if people in our movement are attacking each other and obsessed with minute political purity. The sectarians say: better fewer but purer. I say: unite the many to defeat the few.
Peter Tatchell is the Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation. For more info about his human rights work, to receive his email bulletins or to make a donation visit www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org.