Last Sunday comrades from LAFA gathered outside the Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall to picket & disrupt a fireside reading of “The Doctrine of Fascism”, a seminal fascist work by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Let’s be clear – we’re not opposed to critical analysis of far right literature, quite the opposite in fact – deep knowledge and understanding of these views is a necessary part of antifascist organising. That said, our enquiries made online, with Tea House employees, the local community and the wider theatre scene only confirmed that this was not to be the case. The theatre’s response was also disappointing – we were fobbed off with the excuse that we’d have to get tickets to “see if there’d be critical discussion”, along with a statement they later posted online that sought to mock the concerns of the general public by comparing Mussolini’s writings to racism and transphobia in Shakespeare. On top of this the reading of the fascist doctrine was advertised as a “spine tingling masterpiece.”
The owner, Hal Iggulden, has quite the reputation in the local community for his hateful views, supported by some alarming reviews on the venue’s tripadvisor; one dated October 2019 going so far as to describe him as a “racist, homophobic drunk who hates Jews”. A look into his social media revealed some dodgy tweets taking shots at gay people, disabled people and Muslims. His Facebook still shows the Golliwog photo he’d previously chosen as a cover photo. No surprises to learn that he treats his staff like shit, paying them little and taking their tips, while forcing European workers to put Brexit leaflets on customers’ tables.
The manager, Harry Todd, self-identifies as “alt-right” and was an organiser for the Leave Means Leave campaign. It’s important to note that we don’t consider Brexit voters to be fascists, but the far right are taking advantage of the upsurge in patriotism, using pro-Brexit groups as a recruiting ground.
On the night, the theatre hired two security guards (which negated any profits) and this on top of heavy policing meant the event couldn’t be shut down. It went ahead to 6 of Hal’s friends who’d been bunkered in since before 7 – anyone else planning to attend would have been put off by the protest. Passers-by were largely supportive, recognising the need to challenge fascism in all its forms. (That said, it would be dishonest to say that we did a perfect job – and we apologise to residents who were disturbed by the noise!)
Still, locals joined our picket on a number of occasions and chants of “Mussolini’s hanging off a bridge” managed to largely drown out the readings. The ultra toffs, literal fruitcakes and empire nostalgics inside sat through two and a half hours of boring fascist literature, barely audible due to the protests, after which there was no collective discussion. When asked why this literature was chosen, one “actor” responded that they were “always being called fascists”, so they wanted to better understand the definition of fascism to help them explain how they weren’t fascists. As to how they weren’t fascists, his reasoning was that the texts prove fascism is exclusively Italian and Catholic, just as National Socialism is particular to the Germans, therefore they couldn’t be nazis or fascists as they were Protestant and their politics was in the British tradition of right wing thought. The theatre bosses and friends claim not to be fascists but offered no real criticism of the texts discussed.
With fascism on the rise in Italy, the UK and across the world, we must challenge these views wherever we find them. When a reading of Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism is arranged to be discussed publicly and uncritically by a venue clearly sympathetic to far right views, we cannot allow it to go unopposed. This isn’t a work of literature to be read out on an equal standing with others – especially not on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day. Normalising such violent ideas has devastating real world consequences, including violent attacks on migrants.
While we are mostly seen challenging the far right hooligans on the streets, history shows that fascist ideology lurks in the shadows of middle and upper class society – becoming truly powerful when used as a tool of oppression by the ruling class. Compared with the more visible tactics of other far right groups, this event may have looked harmless to some – but it is this brand of subtle “wine bar nationalism” that when unchecked, acts as a lightning rod for fascist movements. We make no apologies for fighting fascism wherever it rears its ugly head – from the theatre to the football grounds.
We’ll continue to keep eyes on the theatre, but expect that they won’t be so keen to promote far right ideology anymore.