October 17, 2023
From In Defence Of Marxism
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Across Britain, a movement has erupted in solidarity with Palestine. But this is being met with a repressive response from the authorities, as the ruling class looks to silence dissent and debate. Workers and youth must mobilise in defiance.

[Originally published at socialist.net]

The British establishment has immediately cracked down on attempts by workers and youth to show solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, in a brazen and direct attack on freedom of speech.

In a letter to senior police chiefs, Tory home secretary Suella Braverman urged officers to take action – and use the “full force of the law” – against protestors who wave Palestinian flags or chant certain pro-Palestine slogans.

Those who dare to oppose Israeli imperialism have been accused of racism, with capitalist politicians and media outlets cynically conflating criticism of Zionism with antisemitism.

At the same time, in yet another display of stinking hypocrisy, the Tories and their mouthpieces have denounced supporters of Palestinian freedom as ‘terrorist sympathisers’.

One young protestor in Manchester has already been arrested by the police for wearing the Palestine flag and for ‘breach of the peace’, with other bystanders in St Peter’s Square – home of the infamous Peterloo massacre – threatened with arrest.

The government’s aim is clear: to intimidate and silence those looking to fight injustice; to shut down any debate around the issue of Israeli aggression and the occupation of Palestine; and to provide unconditional, unwavering support to Britain’s imperialist allies in the Middle East.

Campus clampdown

This assault on basic democratic rights is also playing out on UK campuses.

Responding to the latest escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict, in the last few days, student activists organised with the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) have attempted to launch Palestine solidarity campaigns in universities across the country.

This includes: putting out public statements in support of the struggle of Palestinian youth; bringing students along to demonstrations taking place in British towns and cities; and organising solidarity meetings and rallies on campus to discuss the unfolding crisis in the Middle East. But these efforts have been met with a heavy hand.

SB Image Socialist AppealTory home secretary Suella Braverman urged officers to take action against protestors who wave Palestinian flags / Image: Socialist Appeal

Echoing Braverman’s appeal for a hardline approach from the police towards Palestine supporters, Tory education secretary Gillian Keegan has written to university vice-chancellors, calling on them to “act swiftly and decisively” against students suspected of “implicitly or explicitly” backing “terrorism”.

“We have seen evidence of a number of student societies that support Palestinians sending out inflammatory messages that show support for Hamas,” Keegan’s letter to university bosses reads. “This, as you know, is a proscribed terrorist organisation.”

Spurred on by the Tories’ repressive moves, the torrent of imperialist propaganda emanating from the mainstream media (see below), and the pressure of reactionary Zionist students, university authorities and student union (SU) officials are clamping down on pro-Palestine activists and groups.

In University College London (UCL), for example, comrades were ordered by the SU to take down posters and social media posts advertising an upcoming Marxist society meeting (due to take place tonight) in solidarity with Palestine.

According to the UCLSU, the imagery and language used on this advertising could be construed as ‘inciting violence’. This allegation was in reference to the slogan ‘Intifada until victory!’, which accompanied an illustration of an Israel Defence Forces soldier pointing his gun at a Palestinian teenager.

Organisers were told that if these posters and posts were not taken down by midday today, then the society would be immediately suspended.

The comrades refused to comply with this outrageous demand. Subsequently, the Marxist society and its officers have been stripped of their ability to organise activity, host events, and access SU facilities and funding. Meanwhile, the society’s page has been removed from the SU website.

The UCL Marxists are fighting back, however, and are calling on students and staff to defy these repressive attempts by attending tonight’s scheduled meeting. (See below for a statement put out by the Marxist society.)

Similarly, in Hull, the SU wrote to the Marxist Student Federation (MSF), asking that our comrades replace the wording and images on their Palestine posters with something “a little more neutral”. But ‘neutrality’, in this context, is a reactionary utopia; a fig-leaf for supporting imperialism.

As MSF comrades explain in their reply to the Hull SU:

“There is no symmetry here [on the question of Israel-Palestine]. A ‘neutral’ approach, which treats both sides as if they are the same, means de facto siding with the stronger power. In asking us to be neutral, you ask us to side with the Israeli state, which no Marxist could agree to.”

Hypocrisy and repression

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Similar reports are coming in from student activists and groups across the country. And no doubt more will follow.

Already, right-wing rags are accusing “woke” academics and activists of “antisemitism” and “glorifying terrorism”, putting pressure on university bosses to sanction pro-Palestinian lecturers and students.

Similarly, the Tories have condemned the UCU – which represents university staff – for highlighting the role of “decades of brutal occupation” by the Israeli state in a public statement put out by the union.

The hypocrisy of the establishment knows no bounds. It was only earlier this year that the government appointed the first ‘free speech tsar’ at the Office of Students (OfS), tasked with ensuring that ‘all views’ are allowed to be heard on UK campuses.

This new role is part of a range of regulations brought in by the Tories, nominally to defend freedom of speech in universities.

Only a couple of days ago, the OfS free-speech chief was quoted as saying that he would be “completely politically neutral” in relation to controversial topics. “On both sides of any issue,” Professor Arif Ahmed continued, “we will be equally vigorous in defending the free speech rights of students, academics, and visiting speakers.”

“You can speak or write as a Marxist,” the so-called ‘free speech champion’ even stated, “if you do it within the law.”

In reality, however, it seems that these measures are only applied when it comes to protecting those who wish to promote reactionary views.

Those whose interests align with the Tories’ anti-worker, culture-war agenda are provided with every available platform. Those attempting to fight exploitation and oppression, meanwhile, face barriers at every step.

Referring to pro-Palestinian events being organised on university campuses, for example, the aforementioned letter from the Tory education secretary to vice-chancellors states:

“We would also ask that you pay particular attention to any invitations issued by staff or students at your institution to speakers on this subject in order to ensure that any such events do not provide a platform for illegal speech.”

In schools, the government has banned the teaching of anti-capitalist material. On the streets, new laws have been introduced to restrict the right to protest. And in the workplace, legislation is being put in place that would severely curtail trade unions’ ability to strike.

Those demonstrating against the rotten relic that is the British monarchy have already had a taste of the repression that lies in store for workers and youth everywhere, as the establishment closes ranks to defend its power, profits, and privileges.

As ever, it’s one rule for the rich – and another for the rest.

Rise up and fight

We cannot allow these scandalous attacks on our democratic freedoms to stand.

Comrades Image Socialist AppealWe cannot allow these scandalous attacks on our democratic freedoms to stand / Image: Socialist Appeal

Workers and students looking to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Palestine must not bend to the diktats of the Home Office, university vice-chancellors, or student union bureaucrats.

Instead, we must unite and take militant mass action in defiance of the authorities; in defence of our democratic rights; and in pursuit of our common class interests.

Rather than shutting down events, student unions should be uniting with campus trade unions to defend free speech and the right to protest, and to show solidarity with Palestine.

As part of this, progressive student societies should be reaching out to unions such as the UCU, in order to forge a united front of workers and students on these questions.

Methods such as rallies, mass meetings, lecture shout-outs, door-knocking, leafleting sessions, campus stalls, articles in the student press, and public statements should all be utilised in order to tell the truth and express genuine solidarity.

Such a campaign should be linked to the fight against the Tories and university bosses that are complicit in both the oppression of the Palestinian people and the attacks on higher education.

In turn, we must raise the demand to kick capitalism out of education, and for staff and student control over our universities.

There is no force on Earth that can stop the working class, when it is organised and mobilised. No amount of legislation and repression will be able to stop workers and youth, when we rise up, flex our muscles, and begin to move en masse.

Join us to strengthen the voice of communism – a voice that cannot and will not be silenced.


Campaign statement: Defend freedom of speech! Defend solidarity with Palestine!

On 11 October, UCL Marxist Society was suspended by the UCL Student Union. The ‘crime’ committed by the society was to put up posters and posts on social media for a meeting on Palestine that apparently “could be construed as inciting violence”.

Our posters and social media posts showed a Palestinian flag with the slogan: ‘Intifada until victory! The fight for a free Palestine.’ The posters also featured an illustration of an Israel Defence Forces soldier pointing his gun at a Palestinian teenager.

We say: Is it wrong to call for mass resistance to brutal oppression? Is an image of an IDF soldier aiming at a young Palestinian not the sad reality for the Palestinians who live under a violent system of apartheid?

Yet if you acknowledge this reality and speak out in defence of the Palestinians you will be vilified, slandered, and censored. The freedom of speech of those showing solidarity with Palestine is under attack, not just at UCL but across Britain.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has stated to senior police officers that even waving a Palestinian flag could be considered a criminal offence. Already, a protestor in Manchester has been arrested for wearing the Palestine flag – supposedly for ‘breach of the peace’, while other bystanders were also threatened with arrest.

At universities, academics and student activists are coming under attack for declaring solidarity with Palestine or voicing opposition to Israeli occupation. Trade unions are also being criticised. This includes the UCU, who have faced backlash for stating how recent events are “part of a continuing cycle of violence that has been the result of decades of brutal occupation.”

We, the undersigned, condemn these outrageous attacks on a fundamental democratic right, freedom of speech, and all attempts to shut down solidarity with the Palestinian people.

We call on all student societies and trade unions, and all workers and students, who are in solidarity with Palestine and want to defend democratic rights to:

  • Ensure that student unions and campus trade unions sign and publish this statement, and pass motions of solidarity in defence of free speech.
  • Hold joint mass meetings to tell the truth about what’s going in Israel-Palestine, and how we can show solidarity.
  • Organise protests on university campuses in solidarity with Palestine and in defence of freedom of speech, including the defence of any staff or students who are silenced or sanctioned on this matter.

UCL Marxist society statement: UCLSU attacks freedom of speech and Palestinian solidarity

UCL Marxist society has received emails from UCLSU demanding that we take down posters and social media posts for our meeting tonight, as they could be construed as “inciting violence”.

By refusing to comply, they have now told us that our society has been suspended, pending investigation.

This is an outrageous attack on a fundamental democratic right: freedom of speech.

Our posters show a Palestinian flag with the slogan: ‘Intifada until victory! The fight for a free Palestine’. Intifadas are mass uprisings against the Israeli state by the Palestinians.

The Palestinian people are treated, in the words of the Israeli Minister of Defence just the other day, as “animals”. The right of any people who are treated in this way to self-defence is enshrined in international law.

The SU also likes to talk about ‘decolonising’ education and the university. Surely the right to fight imperialism and colonial oppression is a basic pillar of human dignity?

A title expressing support for an intifada in Palestine is therefore well within legal, moral, and the SUs own accepted norms.

The posters also feature an illustration of an Israel Defence Forces soldier pointing his gun at a Palestinian teenager. The imagery on the poster is an accurate depiction of the last several decades of relations between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people.

We have also been told that if our meeting is to go ahead, it must follow strict chairing guidelines and also have a ‘security presence’ in the room! This is entirely unfair and unreasonable.

We’ve been hearing a lot from the government and universities lately about freedom of speech on campuses. Parliament recently passed a law on it. And the government has appointed someone whose job it is to make sure free speech is protected at universities.

According to a recent BBC article:

“A new law, passed earlier this year, says universities now have a duty to ‘secure’ and ‘promote the importance of’ freedom of speech and academic expression. Higher education providers and student unions which fail to comply may face sanctions, including fines.”

However, it is clear the SU is failing to secure this freedom by demanding that we take down our posts. And more than that, they are siding with the oppressor by clamping down on showing solidarity with the Palestinian people. Needless to say, we will not be complying with any of these demands.

We condemn this outrageous attack on a fundamental democratic right: freedom of speech. We condemn this attempt to shut down solidarity with the Palestinian people.

We call on students, staff, and all those who want to defend the democratic right of freedom of speech – and show their solidarity with the Palestinian people – to attend this meeting tonight.


MSF reply to Hull SU

Thanks for your message about this.

Can I ask why the posters haven’t been well received by the security team?

The title on the poster references past intifadas (mass uprisings) against the Israeli state by the Palestinians. The Palestinian people are treated, in the words of the Israeli Minister of Defence just the other day, as ‘animals’. The right of any people who are treated in this way to self-defence is enshrined in international law. The right to fight imperialism and colonial oppression is a basic pillar of human dignity.

We note that Hull University likes to make a point of ‘decolonising’ itself. A title expressing support for an intifada in Palestine is well within legal, moral, and the university’s own accepted norms.

demo Image Socialist AppealThe right to fight imperialism and colonial oppression is a basic pillar of human dignity / Image: Socialist Appeal

The imagery on the poster seems to us to be an accurate depiction of the last several decades of relations between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people. We agree that it’s a distressing thing to see. This is precisely the point. Posters depicting child poverty or refugee camps to advertise charity work would also be distressing to see, but we doubt the university security team would have a problem with that.

Given all of this, we can only assume that the security team has a problem with the posters because they don’t align with their own opinions. Or perhaps because they don’t align with the opinions of some (but very far from all) students on campus, the mainstream media, and the government. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But that isn’t a legitimate basis for curtailing the Marxist society’s right to express itself freely.

We’ve been hearing a lot from the government and universities lately about freedom of speech on campuses. Parliament recently passed a law on it. And the government has appointed someone whose job it is to make sure free speech is protected at universities. According to this BBC article:

“A new law, passed earlier this year, says universities now have a duty to ‘secure’ and ‘promote the importance of’ freedom of speech and academic expression. Higher education providers and student unions which fail to comply may face sanctions, including fines.”

We think the university, its security team, and the SU, need to think very carefully before curtailing the rights of students to express themselves freely on this question, especially when that expression is well within legal and moral limits.

You ask if we can find a more neutral approach to this question. Israel has a wealthy, powerful, aggressive state with a strong military and the backing of the USA, Britain, and the entirety of western military might. Israeli ministers have explicitly said that they intend to reduce Gaza to rubble. The Palestinians are an impoverished, oppressed nation, whose people have been butchered for decades in violation of every rule of international law.

There is no symmetry here. And a ‘neutral’ approach, which treats both sides as if they are the same, means de facto siding with the stronger power. In asking us to be neutral, you ask us to side with the Israeli state, which no Marxist could agree to.

We know this probably wasn’t the response you were hoping for. Nevertheless, we’re certain it’s the right one.

Let us know if there’s anything else we can clarify on these points.

All the best,

Marxist Student Federation


Khaled Malachi

If you believed what you read in the mainstream news on the topic of Israel-Palestine, what impression would you be left with? That an unprovoked attack was launched by Hamas, and that Israel is simply asserting its right to defend itself.

This tried and tested formula of the press always makes me wonder: how does Israel have some unquestionable right to defend itself from the Palestinians whose territory it occupies and controls?

But the capitalist media would never frame things this way. The BBC has gone into overdrive to cajole the British public into condemning Hamas, and standing with Israel.

The deafening chorus has commenced: either you stand with the ‘democratic’ state of Israel, or with the terrorists.

They are, quite frankly, asking all the wrong questions. This war was not a bolt from a clear blue sky. It has been decades in the making. Furthermore, you cannot understand the conflict – or ‘pick a side’ – on the grounds of ‘who fired the first shot’. That explains precisely nothing.

It is the everyday oppression, grinding poverty, and occupation that has made war once again inevitable. After 75 years of ethnic cleansing, the powder keg of anger has once again exploded.

This is a struggle of an oppressed people for their homeland, against an oppressive imperialist state. There is no parity whatsoever. And blame cannot be put on both sides.

We must be clear that truth is the first victim of war. And Britain’s role in this conflict has always been one of hypocrisy, cynicism, and dishonesty.

When I joined a rally outside the Israeli embassy on Monday evening, I spoke to two students that had just touched down in Britain. They told me they studied media at university, and were seeing every trick in the book being used by the British establishment.

“It reflects a narrative that people just don’t believe anymore,” one of them said, as was demonstrated by the palpable anger at the rally. “We couldn’t not come after all of the relentless propaganda in support of an apartheid state,” one added.

This is the real mood that exists in society. People are sick to their stomachs of an out-of-touch establishment. Our ‘free’ media in this country is free to reflect the interests of the capitalists and the imperialists.

The best way of undermining the establishment – and cutting across the fumes of Zionist propaganda – is for us to build our workers’ press. Communists must connect with the mood in society, and our paper must reflect it.

We should use every opportunity – in schools, campuses, workplaces – to speak about our analysis, get interviews from radical youth and get people directly supporting our paper.




Source: Marxist.com