Thursday 11 June 2009

Debasing the currency

When words are over-used and mis-used in politics in order to either insult opponents or attempt to blacken them by associating them with certain ideas or actions, it ends up debasing the words themselves. The result is that the words become less powerful when they are really needed and relevant.

Two examples which immediately spring to mind are 'fascist' and 'racist'. Far too many have used the term 'Fascist' as little more than a term of abuse for anyone with right wing views. I'll admit to not having been able to find an entirely satisfactory definition of the term itself, although it's derived from the Italian word which Mussolini and his supporters used to describe what passed for their political philosophy, of course.

Were the Nazis also fascists? They may have shared a certain amount of their political philosophy, but I'm not convinced that 'National Socialism' and 'Fascism' are truly the same thing. And merely having been 'on the same side' in a war doesn’t make them the same thing. There's a danger of over-simplification of history.

Plaid have suffered for many years from the attempt of some in the Labour Party to associate the term with our party. Some of them seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to 'prove' some sort of link between Saunders Lewis and other early Plaid figures on the one hand and Nazi Germany on the other, as though that somehow, even if it were true, can honestly be used to taint Plaid Cymru today.

(Not all Labour people take the same line on this issue, however; I don't want to fall into the same trap of tarring everyone with the same brush. I particularly liked this analysis by Adam Higgitt).

Racist is another word which has been used as a term of political abuse - and again, sadly, there have been people in the Labour Party keen to hurl the term at Plaid, usually when it comes to issues connected with the Welsh language.

The objective of this approach to politics is to use negative labels as a substitute for debate, when we should really be debating the substance.

The problem is that this abuse of the words has debased the currency of the language of politics to such an extent that the accusation can be all too easily ignored. The election of two MEPs from the BNP to represent these islands in the EU highlights the need, surely, for more precision in the use of language in politics, and for moving away from simply hurling labels at each other.

I note already that some have taken to referring to the BNP on every occasion as fascists and racists, and I have a concern that some of this is, again, more to do with labelling and insult than hard political fact. I'm not sure whether or not they are fascists. I don't think that they have any thought through ideology at all; and I'm not convinced that being an apologist for some of the horrendous actions of the Nazis is enough to justify the use of the term.

Racists, anti-Semitists, and holocaust-deniers, however, they undoubtedly are, as their own statements on a number of occasions clearly demonstrate.

Their arguments are dangerous and need to be countered. But they need to be countered by reasoned argument and persuasion of the electors who have been or are likely to be attracted into voting for them. Using words as terms of abuse hasn't worked to date, and it's unlikely to work in future.


Anonymous said...

Good point John. I switch off when I hear anyone call someone else a fascist/racist/nazi. Part of Labour's problem is their supporters have used these terms and others so flippantly, especially in the context of the Welsh language, that it's lost all currency as you say.

I also feel sometimes that for some on the left that fascism is a comfort zone - so much easier than discussing boring things like part-privatisation or what savings need to be done in the health service. 'Fascism' is always so much more exciting ... fascism is always fashionable.

You almost feel had Mussolini and Hitler not been real historical people they would have had to be invented.

Adam Higgitt said...


Thanks for the plug. I agree that "insult inflation" is a problem. With respect, however, I think you may be aiming off in the examples you cite.

I don't see much on-the-ground campaigning, but as far as the "air war" is concerned there seem to be few accusations of racism or fascism directed at Plaid nowadays (Leighton Andrews raised the Saunders Lewis jibe recently - I looked at that as well).

Instead, it is increasingly common to hear the charge of being "anti-Welsh"; inevitably these are directed at the unionist parties, but also at those who question existing Welsh language policies, or are simply lukewarm on the issue of primary powers.

I find this as insidious a charge as that of racism or fascism, and just as unproductive to real debate. There are of course racists and fascists in life, just as there are a few who deny the Claims of Wales (however modestly one cares to define them). By and large, however, these insults are directed in order to bully an opponent into silence.



John Dixon said...


A fair point. Personally, I avoid the use of the term 'anti-Welsh' as a general-purpose descriptor of anyone who does not share my aspirations for the future of Wales.

I think that it is perfectly valid for people to argue that Wales' future might be better secured within the Union - and I don't consider that those who seek to promote the best interests of Wales in that way are in any way anti-Welsh. I think they're wrong - but that's a different matter, and one which I have attempted to address in some previous posts.

Just as the term 'racist' is best reserved for that tiny minority who really are, so also the term anti-Welsh is best reserved for that tiny minority who would wish to eliminate Wales and her language completely. Using either term indiscriminately is, as you say, unproductive.

"By and large, however, these insults are directed in order to bully an opponent into silence."

Couldn't agree more. On this blog, at least, I attempt to debate the substance rather than descending into name calling.

Spirit of BME said...

The National Socialists ,the Communists were Fascist as they would not tolarate counter opinion and strangely those that want to shut down the BNP are aslo - well they don`t embrace the democratic principle.I also came across some in Adran y Menywod in the 80`s -dreadful shower.
Racism is based on superiority of the blood line but should not be confused by the wish of a Nation to live by their values and to win in the world community,after all we go to see a rugby match believing our side is better and urging them to win.If you did not believe in that the stands would be empty.

John Dixon said...


I have a feeling that you're proving the point, rather, if you want to define and use the term 'fascist' as applying to anyone who doesn't 'embrace the democratic principle'.

I'm more than a little uncomfortable with the idea summarised by "to win in the world community". Having winners in that context means having losers as well. Surely the challenge is about how we recognise that we have but one planet and need to live together on a more co-operative rather than competitive basis?

Not sure that I agree with 'believing our side is better', either. Wanting 'our side' to win; yes, of course, and nothing wrong with that, as long as the battles are fought out on the field of play. I can't say that I've noticed empty stands, even on the occasions when we know that 'our side' is far from being the better team, and is headed for a hammering...

Cibwr said...

Its interesting that on the BBC Wales English Language Blog there are a hard core of people determined to claim that Plaid is a Nazi/Fascist Party which is dedicated to linguistic/racial genocide. Recently we have had claims there that the grouping that Plaid belongs to in the European Parliament is made up of "parties to the right of Hitler".

Poppy Seed said...

Good post John. As you will probably know, a misplaced fear of extremism (with the usual insinuations about the 3rd Reich) played a small part in the undermining of the old Plaid-Green coalition of the early 1990s.