The far right is on the rise across the world—even here at Monash.
The first day of semester 2 saw the re-appearance of Nazi propaganda on campus, threatening the arrest and deportation of Chinese students, and calling for a whites-only Australia.
Last year, Donald Trump won the most powerful election in the world by promising to deport immigrants and ban Muslims, while boasting about his past sexual assaults.
In Austria, the Netherlands, and France, fascist parties have come dangerously close to forming government. In Greece and Hungary, the neo-Nazi thugs of Golden Dawn and Jobbik have attacked migrants, Roma and their political enemies, and have gained a footing in parliament.
And right here in Australia, Pauline Hanson is back in Parliament, denouncing Muslims, migrants, and autistic children. Fascist and fascist-sympathising groups, such as Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front, have been organising anti-Muslim street mobilisations since 2015.
Their beliefs are hardly radical. Flag-waving, Muslim-hating, migrant-bashing, homophobia and sexism are promoted everywhere from the Herald Sun to the House of Representatives. The “radical” right just amplify the prejudices already promoted by the mainstream, and take them to their logical conclusions.
The student world is no exception. Universities aren’t the enlightened havens of intellectual progress that some like to imagine. The snobbery and social privilege of many university students translates easily into far-right, and even fascist, worldviews.
Far-right activism is experiencing a mini-revival on some Australian campuses. In some places, it’s the pathetic and resentful antics of “Men’s Rights” clubs. Increasingly, it’s the vilification and intimidation of Muslims. At the University of Western Australia a severed pig’s head was left outside the Muslim prayer room in 2015. A few months later at the University of Sydney, the Muslim room was trashed and threatening racist notes left.
In New South Wales earlier this year, posters were put up around campuses celebrating the forty-year fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, where tens of thousands of dissidents were killed, opposition parties banned, and women excluded from public life. For some years now, pro-Nazi leaflets have been distributed annually throughout universities.
At Monash this year, we’ve seen the emergence of the Monash Right, whose posters around campus have celebrated Trump and denounced alleged socialist conspiracies. And at the start of semester 2, “Antipodean Resistance” made a splash with their Chinese-language posters threatening to arrest and deport international students, alongside other, even more disgusting posters calling for all non-whites to be banned from Australia.
These aren’t all the same. There’s a difference between hyped-up conservatives and outright Nazis. But the right as a whole are increasingly promoting anti-migrant, anti-women, and anti-left sentiments on university campuses.
What to do?
Some argue that people who oppose fascism and the far right should ignore them and they’ll remain small and irrelevant. But we can’t wait for fascists to build up their forces before we take them on. If we do, it means those who stand up for egalitarianism and democracy are passive, while those who stand for oppression and discrimination promote their worldviews and organisations. The left, Muslims, women, LGBTI people and anyone else who oppose the Right have a reason to be concerned and take the threat of a growing right seriously now, not later once passivity has allowed them to grow to the extent they have in other parts of the world.
Others hope that we can bully the right into submission, or hide from them.
“Safe spaces”—including literal rooms devoted exclusively for the use of oppressed groups like women, LGBTI people, and people of colour—may be comforting to small groups of students, but they do nothing to stop the spread of right wing ideas in the world outside those tiny rooms. By retreating into our own inner lives, and ignoring the world outside, we give the other side free reign. We have to resist—not retreat.
And we can’t just try to turn the whole university into a “safe space” by demanding security guards and the university shut down our opponents. By calling on authorities to ban controversial speakers, leaflets, and meetings, we allow those who support oppression to act like martyrs of civil liberties.
And neither of these strategies increases the confidence and organisation of our side. Those of us who oppose discrimination and oppression have to collaborate to promote our ideas and activities with more boldness, confidence, and strength in numbers.
Ultimately, no matter how many speakers are banned and how many safe spaces are declared, the only way to defeat the right is by out-doing them on the field of organisation, argument, and activity.
That means we need to defend free speech and the right to organise politically on campus, because we need to use it. The ideas of the Right are promoted by the President of the USA and the columnists of the daily newspapers.
We have to use our resources to promote pro-migrant, pro-women, pro-LGBTI, and pro-equality messages that can win over students: our student papers, our student unions, our campus clubs, and our university spaces.
A battle of ideas is inevitable. The only way the broadly progressive forces can win is by taking a stand with confidence, organisation, and resources. That’s why it’s important to have our collective resources pooled to defend the rights and dignity of students and staff. It’s why taking a stance on controversial questions is important.
Clubs, societies, and student unions can’t afford to be be “apolitical” when Nazis are promoting their beliefs. And anti-fascist students can’t afford to be passive and leave it to others to sort out.
Luckily at Monash we are well equipped with a well-established student union; a number of broadly progressive political clubs; clubs and societies that represent LGBTI students, Muslims, and international students, and others; plus our student journalism and radio organisations, and many other resources.
All these groups, and many more—plus any interested student reading this—can, and should take a public stand against racism and the far right. If you don’t fight, you lose every time.