No platform: not always the answer
All democrats, socialists and democrats should reject efforts by student unions to actually increase state censorship. By Shelley Martin
The NUS has an automatic ‘no platform policy’ in place, which bans all members of the British National Party and the Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir from standing in NUS elections on any levels. It also bans them from participating in any NUS function or meeting. This policy is further enshrined in the proposed Governance Review.
Communists are open to using all sorts of tactics, including ‘no-platforming’ to defeat wrong and dangerous ideas. Sometimes, preventing fascists and reactionary Islamists from speaking on campus is correct. Sometimes, we might use ‘violence’ to prevent them from marching. But sometimes, it can also be necessary to combat their ideas openly – for example, where a wide layer of students has been attracted to them. Banning them from speaking can carry the danger of making them into martyrs.
And for any leftist, our proposals for universal human freedom are a darn lot more rational and attractive than the simplistic ‘rights for whites’ claptrap spewed out by the BNP or the efforts of Hizb ut-Tahrir to establish a new Islamic caliphate.
Communist Students are against automatically banning any groups or any person from speaking on campus or standing in elections. We reject efforts by student unions to actually increase state censorship: University College London is submitting a motion which calls on the government to “remove Redwatch, Noncewatch, Blood and Honour, Stormfront, White Honor and the VNN from the Internet” (no 802) – as if they would not come back tomorrow in some other guise.
Manchester University is submitting a motion (no 718), arguing that ‘no platform’ policy should be reserved “exclusively for fascist groups such as the BNP, and not groups with whom we may have other differences”. We agree that it is wrong to lump together Hizb ut-Tharir and the BNP like this. We are dealing with groups coming from very different traditions and appealing to very different social bases here. But again, there should not be an automatic ban on anybody.
But we also note that a number of local student unions have taken steps to overturn the ‘no platform’ policy, most notably Bilborough College in Nottingham, who in 2007 outlined its ‘Freedom of expression’ policy, which states that “when we provide a platform for those whose views we disagree with, those views should not go unchallenged”.5 This is the correct approach, in our view.
We argue that the NUS ‘no platform policy’ should be scrapped immediately – on a national level. When students opt to no-platform the decision must be based upon a concrete assessment of the situation they face. It is a tactic to be wielded by rank and file students, not student union bureaucrats.