“The vote does not turn evil into good.”
Nearly eighty-three years ago, on 10 September 1933, a group of about two hundred uniformed members of the British Union of Fascists marched through the streets of Stockton-on-Tees, a small, economically depressed market town in the North East region of England. Their goals were simple: to make a show of strength, to intimidate the anti-fascists who had heckled them at previous demonstrations in Stockton, and to rally the support of politically uncommitted citizens. In other words, they wanted to emulate their brown-shirted brethren in the Nazi party, who had risen to power in Germany by simultaneously frightening their opponents and inspiring admiration in the financially struggling Germans.
What the BUF found in Stockton, however, was a welcoming party of two thousand anti-fascist protesters, armed with staves, sticks, pickaxe handles, and even potatoes with razor blades inserted in them. A pitched battle ensued on the streets, in which the BUF was soundly beaten, finally having to flee under police protection. This scene was nearly repeated about three years later in London’s East End, in the famed Battle of Cable Street, except this time the anti-fascists fought the BUF’s police protection. The BUF themselves decided not to show, on orders from their racist, classist leader, Oswald Mosley. The Battle of Cable Street led to the Public Order Act of 1936, which forbade the wearing of political uniforms in public.
The fascist and Nazi legacies live on today in the ranks of Marian Kotleba’s LSNS, who have their own uniforms and insignia which show a distinct continuity with those of the Hlinka Guard. I have been asking everyone lately why a political party needs uniforms; no one has been able to give me an answer, and I get the disturbing impression that it’s because no one has ever stopped to think about it. The British government, however, seemed to see the uniforms as an integral part of the problem—indeed, after the passing of the Public Order Act, the BUF steadily declined in popularity, until they ended in disgrace. It was as if their power had been taken away from them.
Lately, it seems Mr. Kotleba and his ilk have packed away their uniforms, but as Bertolt Brecht, no friend of the Nazis, would say, “Let no one deceive you.” Hitler and his creatures used the same strategy in 1933, reverting to suits and ties as they ascended the ranks of conventional politics, until, in a situation eerily resembling the unstable coalition politics of Slovakia today, the Nazis, democratically elected to the Reichstag, prevented time and again a stable government from being formed. In this atmosphere, President von Hindenburg was urged to appoint Hitler chancellor, to demonstrate to the people of Germany that their country had moved on from the corrupt establishment politics of the past. (Sound familiar?) A smiling, suited Hitler accepted the president’s appointment. Within twenty-four hours, he was back in the uniform of the SA. Within a year, the presidency was dissolved and Hitler was proclaimed Fuehrer. Goodbye to corruption, goodbye to the old-style politics, goodbye to greed, hello to the New Order. I will not make the mistake of the average German in 1933: no matter how many times Mr. Kotleba appears in public wearing a suit or a polo shirt, I will never forget he wore a uniform, and I will never forget it’s hanging in a closet somewhere. I will not forget the uniform and neither should you, for the truth is in the uniform. Res ipsa loquitur. (Latin for “the thing speaks for itself”)
The Nazis of 1933 Germany were
democratically elected to the Reichstag. The Nazis of 2016 Slovakia were democratically elected to the parliament. In terms of morality and ethics, how evil gets its hands on power is immaterial. Democracy in action does not bestow moral credibility on an immoral organization. The vote does not turn evil into good. LSNS was put in power last month by 200,000 wrongheaded, misled people. Numbers in the area of ethics are meaningless. 200,000 Slovaks are now morally culpable in quite possibly bringing this country back to the darks days of the 1930s. If Marian Kotleba’s star continues to rise, this country’s democratic principles, moral credibility, and maybe even the lives of its citizens will be jeopardized, and each of those 200,000 Slovaks will be guilty as sin for it. The roads history takes do not change direction. Fascism ends in the storming of Madrid, in a country held hostage for half a century, in riots in Rome, in Vichy France, and in the ovens of Auschwitz.
Or else it ends in the streets of Stockton-on-Tees, with courageous people who say, “They shall not pass,” and back it up. While I do not agree with the methods of pickaxe handles and razor bladed potatoes, I do agree with the stand the anti-fascists took. They instinctively knew what was at stake, what fascism would bring, and they said, “No!” They taught us that fascists, like all bullies, will turn tail and run like cowards when strong-willed people put up a fight. We now in 2016 do not need to trust our instincts: we have the brutal, practical example of recent history to show us what fascism means. LSNS means fascism, and I say, “They shall not pass.”
Tuesday 29 March 2016 | text Christopher Helton foto heritage.stockton.gov.uk