The Glasgow University Rector elections attracted media attention this year, with the nomination of “alt-right” personality Milo Yiannopoulos. The racist, sexist, transphobic and all-things-reactionary Trump supporter drew criticism as he casually insulted students, staff and called for the Muslim society to be banned.
In spite of endorsing this ban and his campaign ripping down other candidates’ posters, Yiannopoulos claimed that his candidacy was all about “freedom of speech”. According to the alt-right worldview, universities are oppressive environments where white, heterosexual men are victimised by professors in thrall to the “Cultural-Marxist” conspiracy to destroy Western civilisation (really). In this bizarre fantasy, the alt-rightists are virtuous white knights armed with free speech.
In the hands of Yiannopoulos and his followers, however, freedom of speech is not a weapon to liberate, but to oppress. It is an excuse to deflect criticism from their toxic ideas. It is like the British tabloids who cry “freedom of the press!” when exposed for publishing lies and distortions. This really means the freedom of the ruling class to exclusively influence the public with its ideological apparatus. True freedom of speech is freedom for the oppressed and marginalised to be heard and fight back. Yiannopoulos and the alt-right are cowards in the face of this freedom, hiding behind the protections of the bourgeois state and online anonymity.
The shallow appeals to free speech are contradicted by the dyed-in-the-wool, proudly reactionary ideas of the alt-right, who reject liberal values like free expression and tolerance. Old social media accounts have revealed that Yiannopoulos used to be an outright neo-Nazi who fawned over Hitler’s Mein Kampf and believed the anti-Semitic, anti-communist “Judeo-Bolshevik” conspiracy theory. That old rubbish – a pillar of Nazism – is now rebranded as the “Cultural-Marxist” plot.
Milo Yiannopoulos made a name for himself as a right-wing blowhard and con-man. He recently toured around the United States instructing conservative students on how to expose their classmates as illegal immigrants and get them deported. Last year, he fleeced his own fans by raising over $250,000 for a fake “Privilege Grant” – intended to be a university bursary for white men – and keeping the money for himself. He also wrote a book of poetry under the name “Milo Andreas Wagner” which was almost totally plagiarised song lyrics and some lines from the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Try not to laugh!
Yiannopoulos’ big mouth finally caught up with him when he made comments in support of paedophilia. A victim of childhood abuse himself, Milo asserted that it was a positive experience that helped him come to terms with his own homosexuality. This was in the middle of a diatribe attacking the idea of consent in sexual relationships and wishing that he could be “cured” of being gay.
After all his bigoted attacks on Muslims, immigrants, transgender people and others, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Yiannopoulos was fired from his job at Breitbart.com – an American conservative “fake news” and conspiracy theory website that has gained attention due to the appointment of its founder, Steve Bannon, to an influential position in the Trump administration. The inglorious sacking of Yiannopoulos was ironically forced upon the company by the threat of a strike from Breitbart.com’s staff!
In a matter of hours Yiannopoulos also lost his book deal and was tossed aside by mainstream conservatives who rescinded their invitation for him to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference. With his career in tatters, a handful of students at Glasgow decided to try and pull him out of the dustbin and nominated him for Rector.
Yiannopoulos’ attempt at a comeback was thoroughly quashed by the landslide victory of Aamer Anwar in the Rector election. Anwar – a famous Scottish human rights lawyer and anti-racism campaigner – won over half of the first preference votes and his victory has been hailed as a statement against Yiannopoulos’ bigotry. He was also retrospectively labelled the “unity candidate”, despite the fact that both of the student unions at Glasgow University endorsed another candidate, the judge Lady Cosgrove. Her support quickly dried up as it was found that she is currently trying to get a student refugee deported – while claiming she would protect refugees as Rector!
We, in the Marxist Society supported the campaign for Brace Belden. Known via his twitter handle “LENIN_LOVER69”, Belden is an American socialist volunteer fighting on the frontlines in Syria with the Kurdish forces of Rojava. The campaign offered students a chance to vote in solidarity with the Kurdish struggle against ISIS and send a message to the University that they reject token representation by electing an absentee Rector.
This resonated with many students who are frustrated with the dire state of student politics at Glasgow. All three of our unions are run by separate cliques that eschew political ideas and offer no opposition to the University administration’s agenda of casualization, fee increases and marketisation. The repugnant candidacy of Yiannopoulos cut across this discontent, however, as many cast their ballot as a vote against him.
A symptom of the disease
Milo Yiannopoulos constantly has to excuse his comments by asserting that’s he’s “just a troll”. Far from deflecting criticism, this admission reveals the truth about him and other alt-right talking heads. They aren’t the radical right-wing political insurgents their propaganda makes them out to be. They are a fringe, minor annoyance that has crept into view due to mainsteam media obsession with trying to find a malignant, outside influence that has elected Trump and thrown the American political system into turmoil.
The wave of reaction doesn’t come from the dark corners of the internet or meddling by Russia, but the rottenness of American capitalism and bourgeois society. Trump is a member of the American elite who has gone rogue and based himself on an unstable alliance of the protectionist wing of American capital and confused, enraged sections of the working class. The American bourgeoisie is as near an open split as it has been since the Civil War. Without an independent working class position and the revolutionary ideas of Marxism, we’ll be caught in the middle.
Capitalism is the disease. Donald Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos, and their reactionary fantasies are the symptom. Socialism is the cure.