False equivalences are conjured today as a way of avoiding a serious point made in a debate by conflating everything together. If you can pretend that everything is the same then your opponent has no merit in their argument. Worse, they’re hypocrites for denigrating you when they’re the same.
It’s easier today to draw up false equivalences and escape with them. Social media does the intellectual heavy lifting for you. A viral circulation supposedly carries with it more value of credibility than actual facts themselves. It’s part of the reason why established journalism have such diminished powers these days. Sometimes it’s possible to deconstruct these popular false comparisons but repeat a lie enough and it’s soon the accepted reality.
Ironically, the masters of this found themselves the victims of it recently. Toby Young, a right-wing columnist for the Spectator, compared the left-wing activist group Momentum to Britain First, doubling down stubbornly on it. It created a storm, predictably, on Twitter and everyone had an opinion. Toby Young, it must be said, is entitled to his opinion but he is ludicrously wrong here.
But there is a danger in making equivalences between the far left and the far right, particularly at the ideological root. When you can seriously compare anti-fascist protesters to fascist movements, you are simply ducking the argument and recalibrating them all to be the same when they are radically different in their belief core. Not only does this smear a group like Momentum by lowering them to the level of Britain First, it also normalises Britain First in the discussion by trying to make them comparable to others, rather than the fascist fringe they should be see as. It’s an easy ploy for the right to simply discredit every socialist argument by tying it to the unspeakable grim horrors of twentieth century communism. It also allows the centre-right to avoid truths about their own rhetoric on topics which can easily inflame the far-right. For all that they might like to think the fascists as somehow separate from them, there is a trail of bread crumbs that could easily link you from the countless Tory criticisms of immigration in the past eight years to the sharp rise of Britain First. This is not something you see on the left, where Ed Miliband could somehow deliver a speech that inconceivably sparks the Stalinist left into some sort of rally.
There is a debate about whether communism can ever be peacefully achieved. The revolutionary essence of it means that violence is always a possibility in it. Its implementation will almost never be done peacefully because of the human capacity for resorting to violence. But there is a wide moral gap between ordinary socialists and genuine fascists. In fact, there’s a gap between socialists and Stalinists given the latter often purged its movements of left-wing thinkers who diverged from its view. The argument to make that Stalin’s communism and Hitler’s fascism are the same is an undeniably correct one given they both subscribed to a fundamentally totalitarian view of running the world. But Das Capital was not a manifesto for mass murder in the same way Mein Kampf was. As the journalist Hussein Kesvani summed it up, you’re comparing “young people who’d like to have cheaper trains, affordable housing and welfare with groups who openly advocate mass deportation and internment.”
Comparing Momentum with Britain First is just an intellectually vacuous one, and historically incorrect if the basis of Toby Young’s argument is that the left simply inspires mass murder just like the far-right does. At the basis of left-wing beliefs are social equality, narrowing the class divisions. More recent political discussions to have animated the left are liberal arguments, over race, gender and sexuality. But at the heart of this are people enjoying equal rights and freedoms. On the flip side, you have Britain First who are openly in favour of inhibiting the rights and freedoms of people who are different to them. They create fear, suspicion, hate and terror, and ferment the idea that Muslims will never truly be British. Whether they are violent in its practice doesn’t matter because their dehumanising of entire groups is what creates an atmosphere where the marginalised can fear for their safety and their existence. Momentum does not create violence. Britain First does. They are ultimately galaxies apart morally, and though I dislike them politically, I would not afraid of Momentum as a brown person. Britain First on the other idea would have me tense, fists clenched and defensive. They would make me fear for my safety.
This basic gut-driven reaction is all you need to know that they are different. Britain First are fascists. Momentum are most likely some of the people who would be on the streets meeting them in resistance.