This article began as one of my longest (series of) Tweets, and I am very aware it raises some emotive issues. The purpose is to expand on a deeply important matter in a political context in the UK that is fast becoming farcical and out of my real fear for the direction of travel. Over the past few days I have seem some very awful responses to this issue and do not want to be responsive for perpetuating that
We live in very dangerous and difficult times. In the UK we probably have the most right-wing government for some considerable time. We are not alone; the rise of Trump, the election of Bolsonaro, Hungary, Turkey. The rise of right-wing populism is all around us.
As someone who is sympathetic to a Marxist interpretation of history, I believe it is important to learn the lessons of history. Populism is not a recent phenomenon nor a short lived one. The capacity of the human race for division and cruelty shows no signs of disappearing.
Of course, there are reasons why it persists. Some do very well by creating division; we are not all nice guys who want to be kind to everyone. Throughout recent history, the ruling class have used fascism wherever it suits their interests. Europe in the 30s is a case in point.
In a Tweet last week in an attempt to emphasise the lessons of history I pointed out that in the 30s fascism didn’t begin with gas chambers. It started slowly almost imperceptibly with apparently small steps. But as we all know it ended tragically with far reaching consequences.
Most people alive today have no personal experience of the Holocaust and I too struggle to grasp the absolute horror of those times. Truly inhumane. Yet for pointing this out, quite ironically, I came in for a lot of personal abuse.
I am “below the lowest of the low”, “Beyond disturbing and inappropriate“, “an antisemitic bellend”, “Appalling”. One person even asked “What the fuck is wrong with him?”. One of these even came from a history teacher. There were many other comments from questionable anonymous Twitter accounts.
However, I cannot claim originality for the words and the sentiment I expressed. They come in part from The Auschwitz Memorial.
Indeed, similar sentiments on a world-wide scale came from Antoniou Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations.
The comment I made took a similar stance, but made the further point about gradual slow normalisation of discourses, that people never realised where this would lead, step by small step toward an abyss.
Twitter does not help with its character limitation, and we too often see disputes and differences where upon elaboration none actually exists. So, this is my attempt at elaboration.
One of the disturbing discourses I faced was that somehow, I was (irrationally) saying that a head teacher who demanded silence in the corridors was just as bad as Adolf Hitler murdering 6 million Jews. Though of course that was not something I had said, nor something I believe. The leap from what I said to what people wanted me to be saying existed because there is an emotional desire to place me as something other than that which I was. In sociolinguistics this is called expurgation of the other (See John Thompsons Ideology and Modern Culture, pps 60-67)
This argument however does illustrate the way discourses can be constructed and manipulated. In this case through the exploitation of reasonable concerns over teachers’ working conditions. Education is always political; more so when that politicisation is hidden because we can then claim then that we need to keep politics out of education – a technique for obscuring the real role of the dominant class.
This is how populism works by exploiting people’s fears. In this case, real fears about children’s behaviour; particularly but not exclusively children who have suffered enormously from rising child poverty and austerity, even this week with the cut to Universal Credit uplift.
Many responses to the Auschwitz post came from the USA, referring to Trump. Something we in the UK have yet to experience. There is here another lesson from history. Trumpism didn’t start with the storming of the Capitol.
Consider for a moment this graphic from Twitter. Is this claiming Theresa May is just like Joseph Goebbels? Or rather, is it pointing to some similarities in dangerous discourses that start slow, appear rational, and become normalised leading us all to a far different place.
I will finish with two poems from two of my favourite writers and say this. Politics is a deeply personal and emotive issue. Some of us feel very deeply about equity and social justice, indeed it is the driving force of our lives. Let us learn the lessons of history.
Be careful what you wish for. At the end of the day, no children are born hating. Every child is special. Every child deserves to be loved and to be understood.