Professor of Political Science and somewhat confused columnist, Peter van Onselen (Image via YouTube screenshot)

A prominent public intellectual, senior journalist and Sky News talking head has been taken to task for equating socialists and Nazis in an ill-thought out tweet. However, as political editor Dr Martin Hirst writes this week, instead of apologising, the Professor doubled down on his ignorance.

FASCISM CLAIMED ANOTHER VICTIM this week, but it’s probably not who you think it is or for reasons you might speculate about. In fact, there’s been a bit of fascism stuff going on now for a fortnight and it’s time to get a handle on the outbreak. Is it a virus, or something more sinister?

First, let’s start with Professor of Political Science, columnist for The Australian and occasional presence on The Insiders, The Drum and Sky News, Peter van Onselen.

The fascism epidemic seems to be concentrated on Sky News and in the pages of the Murdoch press. If it is a virus, then this could be the source of the outbreak.

So how did Professor van Onselen become a victim? Well, he let his lack of knowledge about history slip out in an unfortunate tweet that led to several well-informed people offering to correct his mistakes. Because, not only did the Professor display his ignorance of history, it seems he also doesn’t know much about his favourite topic and the subject he teaches at the University of Western Australia — political science.

In a tweet I’m sure the Professor now regrets, he made the extraordinarily wrong statement that

‘Nazism is national socialism which is considered a branch of socialism.'

This is so profoundly wrong and so easily debunked as a serious idea in political science that  fake news-busting website Snopes has a solid entry on the topic.

As a result of this category error, the Professor was subject to re-education at the hands of more experienced students of political science.

You can follow the Twitter discussion via this Moment:

Now angry and, no doubt, severely embarrassed, the Professor announced in high dudgeon that he would no longer be engaging in political discourse on Twitter.

However, this was not to be the end of the story — not by a long shot across the bows. The Professor is back tweeting full steam, despite his threat to walk away.

Professor van Onselen actually doubled down on his “Nazis were socialists” claim, no doubt after a few hours furiously Googling enough dodgy references to cook an argument.

Unfortunately, I can’t link to the Professor’s piece in The Australian because it’s behind a paywall. It can stay there and rot, because, frankly, no matter how many words he writes trying to justify what is actually a stupid and dangerous lie, he is still spectacularly wrong.

It’s important to understand why people like van Onselen and Sky News man-blob Paul Murray have been so keen to push the false equivalence “socialism is the same as fascism” line over the past few weeks.

The genesis of the argument – which is now getting a regular airing on Sky News – is the now infamous incident of Sky host Adam Giles conducting a softball interview with actual Nazi and convicted criminal Blair Cottrell.

The interview blew up in Sky’s pale white face and Cottrell actually referenced raping Sky News reporter Laura Jayes just for good measure. The network was forced into a humiliating backdown. The Adam Giles Show was taken off air for “review”, two new management positions were created to stop such horrors from happening again and – for a few days – Sky News pretended to be chastened and to have learned from its mistakes.

But, there was a fundamental problem, a contradiction, a moment of dialectical uncertainty at Sky and it had to be resolved.

The contradiction is this: Sky News and the rest of the Murdoch empire globally actually believes in and promotes many of the ideas – actual fascist ideas – that Mr Cottrell believes in.

He wasn’t on Sky to be chastised for his offensive racist views or to be gently chided for his violent rhetoric against real socialists, he was on Sky to help the network recruit its viewers to a white nationalist point of view, to inculcate in them a deep hatred of ethnic minorities, and to keep them suspicious of the Left and its spurious “long march through the institutions”.

Only, “oops”, Mr Cottrell went a bit too far, just a teensy-weensy bit too far and the resulting backlash cost Sky some money in lost advertising revenues (thanks to @slpng_giants).

You see, Blair Cottrell’s nasty, hate-filled and violent rhetoric is the logical extension of the Sky News and NewsCorp philosophy. As we’ve been saying at IA for some time, the Murdoch media openly promotes White supremacism, anti-Islamic hate speech and violent retribution against the Left.

We had more evidence of this in the Murdoch media coverage of Senator Fraser Anning’s notorious “final solution” speech, too. After an initial – but weak and flawed – chorus of condemnation from Sky News, the inevitable walk back began.

As Suresh Rajan wrote for us a few days ago, Fraser Anning is only possible because of the normalisation of his abhorrent views on networks like Sky and in the Murdoch press, and of course Pauline Hanson’s regular spots on the Seven Network.

Anning’s chilling maiden speech – in which he called for a return to the “White Australia” policy of the past and for a “Final Solution” to ending Islamic immigration – was white-washed (literally) on several Sky News After Dark programs.

One after another, Sky talking heads excused the “Final Solution” line or claimed it had been taken out of context and that, really, Fraser Anning made a series of valid points about immigration and Islam and blah, blah, blah. Here’s usual suspect, Caroline Marcus, playing that role a couple of days ago.

And, part of this campaign of high-level gaslighting of an entire nation, of course we were subject to the trope that socialists and Nazis are actually two sides of the same coin, such as this absolute nonsense from Paul Murray.

Which all leads us back to Professor van Onselen.

He was one of less than a handful of Sky News presenters to actually condemn the Giles/Cottrell interview, but within days he was back inside the NewsCorp tent defending the network from the deserved criticism it was copping.

The signal issue represented by van Onselen’s misjudged tweet is that, for the racist conservatives, promoting actual fascism – you know, stuff like advocating for a “Final Solution” – is, for the moment, a bridge too far.

But at the same time, they want to defend the ideas they hold in common with regard to immigration, Islam and the “culture wars”. They actually agree with much of what far-Right outliers like Fraser Anning say and write in their long, rambling manifestos.

One example is this absolute gem, shared on Twitter by Ben Eltham.

Peter van Onselen would happily have Anning on Sky to discuss his views of Antonio Gramsci and Safe Schools, “cultural Marxism” and limiting immigration to “those who best assimilate”. No doubt, he would nod sagely and pretend he actually knew all about Gramsci and that he had seriously studied the insidious tactics of the cultural Marxists.

We can confidently say this because the “assimilation” line is heard frequently on Sky programs, like the simultaneously juvenile and senile Outsiders.

What likens centre-Right intellectuals like Professor van Onselen to rabid Nazi sympathisers like Fraser Anning is their common and deeply-held belief in capitalism.

At the heart of their ideological belief systems is a commitment to the market and the ability of capital to be profitable. The Left – through the trade union movement and anti-capitalist political formations – is a threat to the economic system. Therefore, centre Right and far-Right operatives can come together in a common cause.

The Left (very loosely defined) is considered a common enemy and this is why Sky News commentators and NewsCorp columnists bang on about it at every opportunity.

It helps their cause to be able to equate and conflate “Left” and “Right” under those circumstances because, while intellectually bankrupt, it provides a good populist trope that’s useful in steering people away from the Left.

However, when we have actual Nazis and far-Right (Alt-Right, and so on) white supremacists organising and gaining visibility, it sort of puts a dent in their “Left is Right” arguments as Peter van Onselen found out when he tried it on this week.

In one tweet he wrote:

'The left right spectrum is more of a curved U leaving extreme left & right with much in common.’

And this was after nearly 24 hours and thousands of responses to his original tweet.

It’s ridiculous and wrong to argue this. This is not the space to refute the whole thing — I will do that in an explainer I’m writing for early next week. However, I will end with a small history lesson — one that van Onselen knows well, but finds convenient to ignore so that he can peddle the “Left is Right” bullshit.

The Nazis came to power in Germany with the explicit financial support of German capitalists because Hitler’s party promised to destroy the trade unions and the leftwing social democratic and Communist parties, which were fighting for higher wages and better working conditions.

The 1920s were a period of revolution in many parts of Europe off the back of the successful Bolshevik uprising in Tsarist Russia in 1917. The capitalist West needed to kill the Russian Revolution and it did so by forming a coalition of 21 nations to attack the Soviets — Australian troops participated in this conflict. The West succeeded and Stalinism was the result.

However, the Bolsheviks inspired workers in other nations, including Germany, England and Italy. The capitalist class turned to the nascent fascist formations in these nations to help them turn back the tide of working-class revolt.

In England, the trade union movement was too strong, and the British ruling class eventually turned its back on Mosley’s fascist mobs, but not until after massive street battles around the country — the Battle of Cable Street was the turning point.

Despite gallant resistance in Germany and Italy, the Left was defeated (partially as a result of the capitulation of Social Democrats), the trade unions and socialist parties were smashed and tens of thousands of worker-militants were murdered.

Fascism can only thrive if the streets are flowing with the blood of working-class militants and socialists.

That is why the lies conflating Left and Right being spread by Professors of Political Science are so insulting to real socialists and to anyone who actually understands the dangers of flirting with fascists.

You only have to read this poem by the German Protestant priest, Martin Niemöller, to know that van Onselen and others who promote the “Left are just like the Nazis” golden lie need to be challenged over every stupid tweet and mis-statement:

First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

A plaque containing these few lines is on the wall of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. That is a fitting place for this reminder that, in order to get to the Holocaust, the German Nazis had to first eliminate those who stood in their way — the parties and organisations of the left.

Peter van Onselen’s disgusting revisionism is an insult to the real victims of fascism.

Lest we forget.

Also, I’m sorry to inflict so much Sky News on you in this piece. It was necessary to make my point, I hope it wasn’t too much for you.

You can follow political editor Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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