Political debate is not a bad thing, but essential

By Stephen Wood

While I was selling The Clarion on one of last week’s anti-Trump demonstrations, a young guy in a suit approached me and we got into a discussion about what I thought about Trump, what being a socialist meant and the fundamental of my politics.

The young guy was a Tory civil servant, second generation British Asian, Muslim, who said he opposed Trump and thought it was impressive people had turned out to oppose him in such numbers. He wouldn’t join the protest however because “it would not have any effect. It is for people in the USA to decide how to respond to Trump.”

Our conversation was wide ranging – the role of unions, automation in the workplace, whether the only way to have a good life was to work as hard as possible, put in extra hours and rise to the top in your job (in his case seeking to become a Permanent Secretary), and whether people that didn’t do this were “lazy” and deserved to be attacked by successive governments and the rich.

Throughout our half hour discussion, some other people joined in (all broadly on my side, as you might expect at this demo) and contributed their own thoughts, defended why they were socialists, and so on. Later in the discussion another guy got involved: he got straight into my opponent’s face, pulled out his phone and told him he was broadcasting him live on Facebook, accusing him of being an alt-right troll who was attacking me for being a socialist.

The young Tory was obviously concerned about being filmed and the continual aggression he was being shown. I indicated that I in no way felt intimidated by the discussion, did not feel I was being attacked and that actually if we are to convince people of our ideas we will have to engage in far fiercer and tenser debates than this one! Unfortunately the other person was not convinced: “He’s a troll!” – “I’m sick of these right wing views being the only narrative” – “Fuck off, why are you even here?” – “You are in a minority, people don’t agree with you” – “I suppose you know Milo – are you his boyfriend?”… This was all launched as a tirade into the besuited Tory’s face.

In addition to the implied homophobia in the last remark, what was most striking was this guy’s insistence that the views being given by this Tory were a minority and that being sick of this narrative is sufficient reason to try and shut down debate. Both of these trends are worrying. A huge number of people, including working-class people, would have agreed with many of the anti-socialist ideas that he was espousing and to believe otherwise is foolish but also dangerous.

Moreover, this attitude to debate is incredibly poor. There was nothing wrong with the discussion being had and given other people joining in, it was in fact very useful and probably educative for everyone involved. As someone willing to stand on the street and sell a socialist publication I regularly have discussions with people I both agree and disagree with – we should advocate that we all do more of this, not try to shut it down!

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com

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