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RUDOLF HOESS was the longest-serving commandant at Auschwitz and the man responsible for introducing pesticide Zyklon B into the industrial killing complex the camp had become.
Despite the horrifying nature of his “work,” documents preserved at the site show Hoess still enjoyed a joke. When former sworn enemies on the German left, from the reformist Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Communist Party (KPD) found themselves imprisoned together at Auschwitz, the commandant relished the irony. Perhaps, he opined, they could use their new proximity to “settle their differences.”
Hoess knew very well that, had it not been for those differences, the nazi regime might never have taken power — nor Auschwitz existed.
The divisions between the two parties were real, and undoubtedly serious, but failure to surmount them would prove literally fatal, both to members of the two parties and millions more across Europe.
The SPD policy of tolerating the National Socialists allowed what had once been a largely irrelevant street movement into political power.
The SPD was also responsible for the brutal extrajudicial murders of hundreds of revolutionaries, including Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
No wonder the communists of the KPD, which had grown from the left wing of the SPD, struggled with the prospect of uniting with them to fight, first, capitalism and then fascism.
As the nazis flourished, communists fought back hard in what was essentially a civil war. Smaller parties of the left, as well as no lesser figure than the exiled Leon Trotsky, urged them to do so in a united front.
As Trotsky put it, there was now only one overriding concern, “The policies of our parties are irreconcilably opposed, but, if the fascists come tonight to wreck your organisation’s hall, we will come running, arms in hand, to help you. Will you promise us that, if our organisation is threatened, you will rush to our aid?”
We know his words fell on deaf ears and the horrors that resulted. We know that fascism poses a threat to the entire working class and labour movement, let alone to the ethnic and religious minorities in our society. Yet there are still divisions among anti-fascists.
Tomorrow, Ukip will march in London side by side with Tommy Robinson and the most violent elements of the far right on the pretext of opposing the “betrayal” of Brexit.
Boris Johnson, knowing this, added fuel to the fire in Tuesday’s Brexit debacle in Parliament by warning, or threatening, of civil unrest if Brexit was abandoned. This was chillingly reminiscent of the 1930s, when senior Tories thought Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts could be harnessed to galvanise Tory support.
The right is uniting on an alarming scale.
I spoke this week to a former Ukip employee, who prefers to remain anonymous, but who watched Batten’s burgeoning relationship with Robinson from its inception.
We have just witnessed Nigel Farage’s last stand against Batten when his no-confidence vote fell and Farage resigned from Ukip. As he sowed, he undoubtedly reaped — the employee tells me Farage had long been aware of Batten’s far right links.
They paint a picture of Batten as a man obsessed with Islam and with a tenuous grasp on reality and recall the panic at Ukip HQ in 2011, when Batten’s meeting with Alan Ayling of the EDL, the city financier then using the pseudonym Alan Lake, was exposed.
Lake was known for suggesting, via his website “4 Freedoms,” that it would be “great” to see those holding supposedly pro-Islamic views “executed or tortured to death.” Among those named were, bizarrely, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Nick Clegg.
4 Freedoms users also posted articles by far-right blogger Fjordman, of whom mass-murderer Anders Brevik was a fan. Lake was subsequently investigated by Norwegian police.
In 2011, Batten issued a statement admitting meeting Lake but denying ongoing links, claiming he had merely wanted to form his “own assessment” of the EDL, which was positive.
“Mr Lake gave me his assurances that the EDL was a non-racist, non-violent organisation … only concerned with combating the ideology of extremist and fundamentalist Islamism and had no prejudice against Muslims as such.”
Batten’s own opinion of Islam has been highlighted by his decade-long campaign to introduce a compulsory “code of conduct” for British Muslims, an idea he recently revisited.
In 2007, Ukip attempted to distance itself from Batten’s so-called “Proposed Charter of Muslim Understanding,” but its website had carried publicity for its launch the year before.
The 32-page “charter” calls upon Muslims to dismiss certain Koranic verses as “inapplicable, invalid and non-Islamic.” It was posted on Batten’s website in 2015, with Sam Solomon credited as its author.
The famously anti-Islamic Solomon claims to be a former scholar of the religion who fled to Britain and converted to Christianity. He has links to Christian Concern, a fundamentalist organisation that opposes same-sex marriage and abortion and has links to the far right.
Tell Mama, the NGO monitoring Islamophobia, notes that Christian Concern co-founder Andrea Williams has credited Solomon with influencing her understanding of Islam and that his charter was posted on their website around 2009.
The same year, Solomon and Ukip’s Lord Pearson, another vociferous Robinson fan, attended an international conference on “Freedom of Speech” alongside notorious US anti-Islamicists Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.
In May 2011, Solomon spoke at the Geert Wilders “Warning to America” rally, held at the Cornerstone Church in Nashville. Event sponsors Tennessee Freedom Coalition openly supports Robinson.
The same church also hosted an event on the “threat” of Sharia, with guests including Christian Concern’s Paul Diamond, the barrister who had the previous year defended Batten’s wife in 2010 over an unpaid TV licence.
Christian Concern was criticised in the high court this year for its role in the case of Alfie Evans, the two-year-old boy with a neurodegenerative disorder whose life support was withdrawn by Alder Hey hospital after a protracted legal struggle.
The judge condemned the role of his parents’ representative Pavel Stroilov, whom he called a “fanatical and deluded young man.” Stroilov formerly worked for Batten.
On becoming Ukip leader, Batten broke cover on his links with the far right via Robinson, whom he tried to adopt into membership.
When the party’s NEC overruled that, he employed him as an unelected “special adviser”
Batten seems unwilling to dismiss Robinson from this role, in spite of objections by members and Robinson’s recent smearing of the bullied Syrian refugee schoolboy in Huddersfield, which seems likely to result in defamation action.
The Ukip source believes that, rather than Robinson being, as I had assumed, Batten’s “useful idiot,” it’s quite possibly the other way round, dismissing Robinson as “a grifter.”
When asked how Batten fell under his spell, they remember it all began when Robinson first appeared on Newsnight. “Jeremy Paxman destroyed him, but Batten … seemed almost to fall in love. From that moment he wouldn’t stop talking about Tommy. He became extremely angry when reminded Robinson was a former football hooligan with convictions for violence.”
Whatever the motivation behind Robinson’s Ukip appointment, it aligns with an ongoing international campaign by some powerful actors to push previously untouchable far-right extremists into mainstream political power.
I’ve written before about Robinson’s comeback from washed-up street fighter to far-right rock star and the role of “think tank” Middle East Forum (MEF).
This spring, MEF founder Daniel Pipes flew to Europe on a “fact-finding” mission, meeting Austria’s Freedom Party (FPO) among others.
The FPO was founded in 1956 and its first leader Anton Reinthaller was a former minister in Austria’s nazi government. It is known today for its belligerent stances on Islam and immigration and has been repeatedly accused of racism and anti-semitism.
During the last year alone, FPO officials have been suspended for a bizarre series of incidents involving nazi salutes, nazi-referencing T-shirts and anti-semitic song books.
Pipes has been clear about his plans to develop the political power of militant groups opposing what he calls I&I — “immigration and Islamisation” — saying Western political leaders must work with the far right, not marginalise it.
Encouraging neofascism is not, according to Pipes, a problem, saying: “I&I are not only more urgent than neofascism, but the latter can rather easily be undone.”
Another Robinson fan is Raheem Kassam, former London chief of Breitbart. Kassam claims to have paid for the “Free Tommy” rally in the capital this summer, and has praised the far right “taking their countries back” in Italy, Poland and Hungary, urging Britain to do likewise.
He recently self-published a hagiographical biography of Enoch Powell, entitled Enoch Was Right: Rivers of Blood 50 Years On.
Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former ideologue, who sent a message of support to the Kassam/Robinson rally, has also been on something of a grand tour this year, speaking in France, Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic, and here, in Edinburgh and Oxford.
Other vocal Robinson supporters are Belgian MP Filip Dewinter who has called for a “white Europe” and Geert Wilders of the racist Netherlands Party for Freedom (PVV).
Wilders is among those working to unite the far right across Europe, as alliances taking place between, among others, France’s Front National, Italy’s Lega, and the aforementioned FPO in Austria.
What we are now seeing is the result of years of work and planning, behind as well as in front of the scenes, by powerful players and a dizzying cast of characters.
They have adopted the concepts of internationalism and cross-national solidarity once so key to the left. This is not to say their cohort isn’t riven with disputes and personal animosities, as the Batten/Farage farrago shows, but they are prepared to steal the left’s concept of the united front as a means to an end.
The left’s response must be to unite — and urgently. Where demonstrations are called we must march together and not divide ourselves. Unless we set aside sectional disagreements, the consequences for some of us could be literally as well as politically fatal.
If anyone knew this, it was Antonio Gramsci, who saw sectarianism in the Italian Communist Party fragment the left and allow Mussolini to take power.
Arrested by the fascists in 1926, Gramsci spent most of the rest of his life in prison, reflecting on what had gone wrong and how it could be avoided in future. His words apply as much today, as we face an Establishment allying with the fascist enemies of workers. “To defeat our class enemy, who is strong, who has many means and reserves at his disposal, we must exploit every crack in his front and must use every possible ally.”
Whether it’s on social media, at mass demonstrations or in our streets, we can all fight fascism in our own way and we all must.
We cannot afford to lose.
Join the Unite Against Tommy Robinson demonstration on Sunday December 9, at 11am at the BBC, Portland Place, London. For more information visit www.standuptoracism.org.uk.
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