Is it possible for people to laugh themselves – unwittingly and by degrees – into fascism? This is a question prompted by having watched a YouTube clip of the rightwing comedian, Konstantin Kisin, performing in an Oxford Union debate last November. The proposition being debated was ‘Has Woke Culture gone too far?’ – and it was carried.
Kisin is part of a wave of rightwing ‘comedians’, whose scorn is directed at a ‘liberal elite’ apparently intent on destroying “Western civilisation” and “our culture.” These opponents of ‘woke culture’ say they want to speak for the rights of ‘ordinary’ people – but claim their right to ‘free speech’ is under attack from a ‘snowflake’ orthodoxy which prevents them saying certain things. Even though, as Stewart Lee noted, around 1hr. 45mins into his ‘Snowflake’ tour that these rightwing comedians nonetheless seem to find plenty of opportunities to say what they’re apparently not allowed to say!
In fact, ‘attack’ seems a gross overstatement, given that it’s difficult these days to find a paper or a TV channel that doesn’t carry at least some ‘anti-woke’/ pro-Brexit/ anti-migrant sentiments. And now these ‘anti-woke’ culture warriors even have their own TV channel: GB TV, which allows that over-privileged ‘man of the people’ Farage – once described by the poet Elvis McGonagall as “The floating jobbie in the toilet bowl of public life that may never be flushed away” – to spout his rants even more widely, and so contributing to what Neil Faulkner described as ‘creeping fascism’:
Previously, Kisin has equated promoting the Covid-vaccine with shooting obese people, and claimed that political correctness is ‘fascism.’ An analysis of his various speeches reveals many contradictions; but he’s not interested in logic – only in getting people to react emotionally. In many ways, he’s a reactionary culture warrior, and his ‘anti-wokery’ jokes feed into the ‘creeping fascism’ which is increasingly staining our political culture.
A verbal soufflé
Kisin’s Oxford Union speech – though undoubtedly witty, slick and impressive – was full of cheap debating tactics designed to obtain an emotional reaction, in which people abandon rational logic. The performance is what the Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers would undoubtedly have recognised as a classic example of rhetoric. According to Aristotle, rhetoric was the art of using the most effective “means of persuasion.” But, for the Ancient World, classic rhetoric also had to be based on logic. And it’s there that Kisin’s speech falls flat on its face.
If one examines and analyses the content – instead of merely reacting emotionally to the cleverness of his delivery – then it appears exactly for what it is: a verbal soufflé! In other words – impressive on the outside, but totally lacking any substance. In that short speech, he managed to pack in an astounding amount of sheer nonsense – despite claiming that he’s going to present a “rational argument.” Firstly, he makes the false claim that the foundation of Western civilisation is ‘free speech.’ Western civilisation is based on much more – including democracy, political liberty, social rights for everyone, and tolerance. Ironically, all those things that, deep down, have always been opposed by those who first began the ‘anti-wokery’ nonsense.
‘Anti-wokery’ and ‘Generation Identity’
Particularly disturbing is that Kisin and his ilk deliberately invoke “Western culture” and push the idea that “our civilisation” is under attack from “enemies” – these also happen to be the main themes of the far-right ‘Identitarian Movement’.
Another of Kisin’s illogical ‘arguments’ is that ‘woke culture’ (based on the idea that we should be tolerant of a diversity of social groups and individuals) should be opposed as it “erodes our culture and confidence in Western values” – and thereby aids people like Putin! The complete nonsense of this becomes clear the second we remember that Putin’s Russia shows his utter contempt of such key aspects of Western civilisation as democracy and tolerance of diversity.
This is followed by the absurd claim that the only way to deal with racism is to deal with people “on the basis of their character” – as if having a discussion about character would have dissuaded a Ku Klux Klan lynch mob in the USA’s Deep South, or have ended any society’s institutional racism. Obviously, changing individual attitudes is important – but the entrenched social and economic inequalities associated with racism were only overturned by collective political action. Yet again, something that, deep down, has always been opposed by the original ‘anti-woke’ brigade – and something they continue to oppose.
Kisin then goes on to make one of his most ridiculous – and totally false – claims by stating that ‘woke’ is based on the belief that “feelings matter more than the truth.” Given that the entire ‘anti-wokery’ movement is based on (a) pushing ‘fake news’ and false conspiracy theories, rather than the truth (remember Trump? Or Johnson?) – and (b) arguing that people should be free to express their racist/sexist/homophobic views wherever they want to – Kisin’s audacity is truly astounding! The whole basis of what’s said to be ‘woke culture’ is that it’s about waking up to the facts of discrimination, inequalities and intolerance – and then doing something to put things right.
Anti-wokery’ and the Climate Crisis
Then, finally, we get to what is one of the main targets of the ‘anti-woke’ movement: attempts to tackle the Climate and Ecological Emergencies. After making fun of the plight of polar bears (because of the melting of Arctic polar ice, their hunting grounds are disappearing at such a rate to make them one of an ever-growing number of endangered species), he brings out the stock-in-trade Climate Crisis denial trope by (falsely) claiming that the UK is only responsible for 2% of total global CO2 emissions.
Like all the others who claim this – such as Farage – they conveniently ‘forget’ that large parts of the greenhouse gas emissions of China, India and other parts of SE Asia, are actually the UK’s, because UK companies have out-sourced so much of their production to such low-wage countries. According to the UK’s own Climate Change Committee: “If the UK’s hidden carbon footprint were a country, it would rank higher than over 170 other nations in the global tally of the biggest emitters.”
That false claim is then followed by another: that the only thing we can do in Britain, if we are concerned about the Climate Crisis, is to push for currently-unavailable tech. solutions. This, of course, just happens to be the line pushed by the dirty energy companies – as it will allow them to continue ‘business as usual’, open new fossil fuel projects, and carry on making obscenely-high profits.
Contrary to Kisin’s false claim, what we can do in Britain, right now, is to put a stop to all new fossil fuel projects and, instead, put the massive subsidies that currently go to the dirty energy companies into clean renewable energy and home insulation programmes. This is precisely what the climate movement in the UK is pressing for – destroying, in the process, yet another of Kisin’s falsehoods, that ‘wokism’ says we don’t have “agency.” One of ‘wokism’s’ main arguments is precisely that we do have agency. Thus we don’t have to passively accept that the fossil fuel companies can carry on destroying the planet – or that the UK’s government can continue to actively help them to do so.
Another example of his illogical nonsense is the false binary choice he poses about climate action: either stop CO2 emissions and force people to stay in poverty, or just continue current practice. We ‘wokes’ argue that we can actually improve the quality of life for the vast majority of the world’s population via the use of clean energy and a fairer distribution of wealth. No wonder the world’s billionaires are so appreciative of the ‘anti-woke’ brigade that they give them large donations to fund their various ‘news’ outlets!
Finally, Kisin conveniently fails to mention that ‘current practice’ is already condemning millions (mostly the very poor people he claims to be so concerned about) to death via floods, wildfires, extreme weather events and, increasingly, famine – ALL as a direct result of the worsening Climate Crisis.
The origins of ‘anti-wokery’
With the on-going ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis, along with the economic fallout of Brexit, the UK is increasingly witnessing the creation of ideal breeding conditions for yet more rightwing populism – and worse. Reactionary political groups are still alive and kicking, despite – or perhaps as a result of – Brexit having been ‘done’.
Particularly worrying right now is Farage’s hard-right Reform Party which, as the renamed and revamped Brexit Party, is most definitely the ‘evil child of Brexit.’ It apparently already has £millions in its coffers – and, standing at 9% in recent opinion polls, is currently the fourth largest party, and is thus well-placed to pick up voters disillusioned with Starmer’s increasingly-neoliberal Labour Party.
While Farage’s new political venture may pose a threat to the Tories’ vote in ‘Red Wall’ seats, it is much more of a political threat to the left – and to society at large. This is surely precisely the time for the creation of a new radical ecosocialist and anti-fascist party significantly to the left of Labour. For a reminder of the dangers posed by the new hard-right populists like Farage, and new far-right groups, Enzo Traverso’s book, The New Faces of Fascism provides a useful guide:
The term ‘woke’ was first used in the USA in the 1940s, but became more widespread during the Civil Rights campaigns of the 1960s campaign. It referred to someone “waking-up”, and staying “woke-up”, to the level of racism existing in the USA. Now, however, it has become a toxic, heavily- weaponised term, used by the hard-right (and those even further to the right) in all major countries in their ‘anti-wokery’ campaigns. ‘Anti-wokery’ is their Trojan Horse, designed, first of all, to attack all those aspects of a modern civilised culture they find unacceptable: tolerance, inclusivity, diversity, and equal democratic rights for all social groups. But those are only its first targets – once people get drawn into their ‘anti-wokery’ world, the hard-right then try to lure those people into their hidden agenda.
That agenda originated in the US, mostly in the minds of insecure and angry males, who were white suprematists, misogynists and homophobes. They hated the idea that African Americans, women and members of the LQBTQI+ community could have equal rights in law and the workplace. They also resented the fact that verbal and physical abuse of such people were becoming increasingly unacceptable – thus limiting their ‘right’ to utter, in public, bigoted and hateful language about members of such groups. ‘Anti-wokery’ speaks to all those who have never subscribed to the idea of tolerating groups and practices that fall outside their narrow social and cultural confines: white, Christian, same-sex relations. They viewed growing tolerance and equal rights for all social groups with horror – and began to see themselves as victims. Their aim is to restore the power structures and privileges of white, Christian, ‘straight’ males.
Anti-wokery and fascism
It’s important to remember that the Nazi campaign against Jewish people started with words and hate speech. Had today’s ‘anti-wokery’ brigade been about in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, they would no doubt have ridiculed, as ‘snowflake liberals’, those who objected to the insulting and degrading language used by the Nazis. Yet, as History has shown, those words then led on to actions.
It’s no coincidence that the ‘anti-woke’ movement was pushed by Breitbart News – the notorious US far-right ‘news’ website – whose posts have been widely and regularly described as misogynistic, racist and xenophobic. It intentionally publishes ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories. When Steven Bannon took charge, it closely aligned with what he called the ‘Alt-Right’ – and quickly established links to rightwing populist groups in Europe, the far-right ‘Identitarian Movement’, and various neo-fascist groups. Early on, Bannon supported Trump and, later Bolsanaro in Brazil – and even Johnston’s rightwing Brexit rhetoric.
What the anti-woke movement is really all about is dealt with in Mike Wendling’s book, Alt-Right: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/23/alt-right-from-4chan-to-white-house-mike-wendling-review
What is particularly dangerous about the ‘arguments’ of Kisin and the rest of the rightwing ‘anti-wokery’ brigade is that their cheap debating tactics and their memes are deliberately designed to obtain emotional reactions – in which people abandon rational logic and thought, and instead just get carried along by the ‘argument.’ On 27 January – 78 years after the Russians liberated Auschwitz, the Nazis’ most notorious death camp – the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The road to all that horror began with a movement that also used emotional speeches designed to fool people by getting them to abandon logical, rational thought.
Allan Todd is a climate and anti-fascist activist; a member of Left Unity’s National Council; and author of Revolutions 1789-1917 (CUP), Ecosocialism Not Extinction (Resistance Books), Trotsky: The Passionate Revolutionary (Pen & Sword), and the forthcoming Che Guevara: The Romantic Revolutionary
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
About Left Unity
Read our manifesto
Left Unity is a member of the European Left Party.
Read the European Left Manifesto
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
Just Stop Oil – Slow Marches
Slow marches are still legal (so LOW RISK of arrest), and are extremely effective. The plan is to keep up the pressure on this ecocidal government to stop all new fossil fuel licences.
Wed 31 May, 19.00
Trade Union Struggles in France & Britain – Left Unity Public Meeting
Millions of workers in France and Britain are in struggle against austerity -join us for a discussion with: Francoise Baran – CGT & PCF (France) Jim Hollinshead – UCU & Left Unity (Britain)
Sign up to the Left Unity email newsletter.
Get the latest Left Unity resources.