GBS: So versatile that he loved Hitler and Stalin

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George Bernard Shaw

Dublin-born George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), author of such works as Caesar and Cleopatra, Pygmalion, Saint Joan, and Man and Superman, was widely considered the best playwright of his time, and is often described as the greatest playwright – with the exception of Shakespeare – in the history of the English language.

He was also a man of many opinions. He famously opposed vaccinations and crusaded for simplified spelling, among many other causes. He was an early member of the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party, both of which promoted socialism in the United Kingdom. To his credit, he was an early supporter of women’s rights and interracial marriage. Less attractively, while some intellectuals and artists in the West loved Hitler and hated Stalin or vice-versa, Shaw went on record as admiring both of these bloodthirsty dictators – not to mention Lenin and Mussolini, too.

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“Really interesting statesman”

He called Lenin “the one really interesting statesman in Europe”; in 1931, he met Stalin and came away with the impression that the strongman was “a Georgian gentleman.” Two years later, during the deliberately engineered Ukrainian famine, or Holodomor, in which several million people died, he wrote a letter to the Manchester Guardian defending the Soviet Union from what he called “slander” in the British press.

The same year, he greeted Hitler’s rise to power by calling him “very remarkable,” denied that Hitler was out “to establish a military hegemony in Europe,” and accepted the official German verdict that the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933 – likely a false-flag operation by the Nazis – was the fault of Communist opponents of the Third Reich.

Adolf Hitler, Austrian born dictator of Nazi Germany, 1938. Hitler (1889-1945) became leader of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) party in 1921. After an unsuccessful coup attempt in Munich in 1923, for which he was briefly imprisoned, Hitler set about pursuing power by democratic means. His nationalistic and anti-semitic message quickly gained support in a Germany humiliated by defeat in World War I and the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles and, from the late 1920s, suffering from economic collapse. Hitler came to power in 1933, and persuaded the Reichstag (parliament) to grant him dictatorial powers. He proceeded to crush opposition both within his own party and throughout German society, and set about re-arming Germany. Hitler's aggressive policy of territorial expansion to secure 'lebensraum' (living space) for the German people eventually plunged the world into the Second World War. A print from Kampf um's Dritte Reich: Historische Bilderfolge, Berlin, 1933. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
“I have backed his regime…to the point of making myself unpopular”

“The Nazi movement,” Shaw once wrote, “is in many respects one which has my warm sympathy; in fact, I might fairly claim that Herr Hitler has repudiated Karl Marx to enlist under the banner of Bernard Shaw.” In a 1935 letter to an Austrian colleague, he asked that his best wishes be communicated to Hermann Göring and noted that “I have backed his regime in England to the point of making myself unpopular.”

While he did criticize Hitler’s emphasis on anti-Semitism, Shaw was hardly free of that poison himself. Far from it: as Saul Jay Singer demonstrated at length last year in an article for the Jewish Press, the playwright was “an open and rabid Jew-hater.”

shaw2For example, Shaw accused Jews of “craving for bouquets” and called it “a symptom of racial degeneration.” He called Jews “obnoxious creatures” and pronounced that “it would have been better for the world if the Jews had never existed.” He described Jews as “the real enemy” and defended Hitler’s mistreatment of them as a reasonable “product of mass discontent over Jewish wealth.” And in 1933 letter to the New York Times he proposed that the Nazis should “make it punishable incest for a Jew to marry anyone but an Aryan….Instead of exterminating the Jews, he [Hitler] should have said, I will tolerate Jews to any extent, as long as no Jew marries a Jewess. That is how he could build up a strong, solid German people.”

But if Shaw was awfully fond of Hitler, he was even more of a fan of Stalin. More tomorrow.

Joris Ivens: Stalin’s and Mao’s Riefenstahl

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Joris Ivens

Today, a quick look at Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens (1898-1989). He started out making short experimental films in which he sought to capture atmosphere, much in the way of an impressionist painter. He also helped establish Amsterdam as an early center of filmmaking, and helped bring directors like René Clair and Sergei Eisenstein to the city.

EH5408P c.1937-1938 Ernest Hemingway with a film cameraman and two soldiers during the Spanish Civil War, 1937-1938. Photographer unknown in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
With Hemingway and two soldiers in Spain

Then, in 1929 and again in 1931, he went to the USSR. He was hooked. And he started making propaganda pictures. Song of Heroes (1931), about industry in the city of Magnitogorsk, promoted Stalin’s Five-Year Plan. In 1936 he relocated to the U.S., where the next year he screened his film The Spanish Earth at the White House. The movie, funded by a consortium of left-leaning writers including Lillian Hellman and John Dos Passos, was a paean to the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Ivens presented the Republicans as uniformly fighting for liberty – ignoring the fact that many so-called Republicans were, in fact, Marxists who enjoyed the support of the Kremlin and who sought to turn Spain into a Communist satellite of the Soviet Union. It was transparent wartime propaganda, but it attracted the participation of many top-flight talents, including Marc Blitzstein and Virgil Thomson, who composed the music, Ernest Hemingway, who wrote and read the voice-over narration, and Jean Renoir, who did the French-language voice-over.

Three years later, Ivens did the same favor for Mao Zedong that he had for Stalin in The Spanish Earth, releasing a film, The 400 Million, that told the story of the Second Sino-Japanese War, emphazing the contributions of Mao, his compadre Zhou Enlai, and their Communist cohorts while underplaying the role played by Chaing Kai-shek and his anti-Communist Nationalists.

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Frank Capra

In 1943, at the height of World War II, American director Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life), who had been asked by the U.S. War Department to make a series of films entitled Why We Fight, invited Ivens to direct a movie for the series about the Japanese. Ivens was soon fired, however. Why? For (no kidding) making the movie too pro-Japanese.

Ivens left the U.S. in the 1940s, and before long was living in Stalin’s newly conquered and Communized Eastern Europe. During the Vietnam War, he made a couple of pro-North Vietnam documentaries. In 1967, he won the Lenin Peace Prize. And he spent six years in the 1970s making How Yukong Moved the Mountains, a more than twelve-hour account of China’s Cultural Revolution, in which millions were removed from their jobs, torn from their homes and families, tortured, “re-educated,” and/or killed. As it happened, Ivens – by now a profoundly convinced Communist and close friend of Mao and Zhou – thoroughly approved.

It is telling to observe that Ivens’s lifelong cinematic efforts on behalf of Stalin and Mao did not prevent him from being treated in his homeland as a local hero. In 1989, he received a knighthood from the Dutch government. Shortly afterwards, he died. Such was the life of Stalin’s and Mao’s Leni Riefenstahl.

The Maoist behind decades of race riots

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Carl Dix

While Bob Avakian has worked hard to make himself the mystery man at the head of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), his co-founder, Carl Dix, who serves at party spokesman, has been the RCP’s public face. He’s led a career crowded with varied activities, though his ideological compass has remained constant: he’s always supported Maoist and Stalinist revolutions (in, for example, Nepal, Peru, and the Philippines), always expressed solidarity with convicted cop-killers (such as Mumia Abu Jamal and Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, né H. Rap Brown), always been determined to stir up violence against the police. As his bio at the RCP website puts it, he “believes in world revolution” and “has actively opposed U.S. imperialism” throughout his career.

In 1981 he moderated an event called the “Mass Proletarian War Crimes Tribunal,” which pretended to prosecute the U.S. government for its purported imperialism and international atrocities. That same year, when some of the Americans who’d been held hostage in Tehran for over a year sued the governments of the U.S. and Iran for damages in a Los Angeles court, Dix and a group of his followers were outside the courthouse accusing the hostages of war crimes.

(FILE FOOTAGE) April 29, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots, when a jury acquitted three white and one hispanic LAPD officers in the beating of Rodney King following a high-speed pursuit. Thousands of people rioted in LA over the six days following the verdict.
An image from the 1992 L.A. riots

In 1992, Dix led a group of RCP agitators who played a key role in instigating the riots in Los Angeles that followed the verdict in the Rodney King case. Flyers distributed throughout the city carried a message signed by Dix calling on blacks to react to the verdict by waging “revolutionary war.” Not only did Dix and his comrades instigate the riots – they took part in them, looting stores and committing arson at several locations around L.A. Before the L.A. riots were over, more than 2300 people had been injured and 58 had lost their lives. (As one news source wrote at the time, the RCP had been “’working’ the various ethnic and immigrant groups for years” and during that time had celebrated every May Day by whipping up violent confrontations with the police.)

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Carl Dix and Cornel West

Dix has long worked in partnership with the so-called public intellectual Cornel West, a former professor at Harvard and Princeton. Together they led a successful campaign to end the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” program, which had helped make New York the safest large city in the United States. In 2011, they founded the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) to “stop the slow genocide of mass incarceration” and “the police murder of Black, Latino and other oppressed peoples.”

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Dix and friends in Ferguson

In 2014, it was Dix & co. that fomented riots in New York City, Oakland, and Ferguson, Missouri, after the grand jury decided not to prosecute police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, a black man. Innumerable protesters in these cities carried signs bearing the RCP’s web address, and Dix himself was on the ground in Ferguson, where flyers bearing Dix’s byline described Wilson as a “murdering pig” and called on the public to block traffic, take over university buildings, stay away from work, and so on.

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Dix and Quentin Tarantino marching together against “killer cops”

In 2015, when police officers from around the U.S. called for a boycott of Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie because the director had described cops as murderers, Dix came to Tarantino’s defense, comparing the police to Mafiosos.

Last year he led a group that burned a flag outside the Republican National Convention, explaining helpfully to a reporter that the action was a “political statement about the crimes of the American empire. There’s nothing great about America.”

Debra Messing’s favorite Maoist?

This week we’ve been covering the life of Bob Avakian, longtime head of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP). An ardent promoter of the ideas of Stalin and Mao, he’s been a staple of the left ever since the 1960s.

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Bob Avakian with Cornel West at Riverside Church

And he’s still out there slugging. In November 2014, Avakian broke with his longtime secretiveness to appear onstage with his good buddy Cornel West, the former Princeton and Harvard professor and frequent guest on Real Time with Bill Maher. The event took place at Riverside Church in New York City and was billed as a discussion about “Revolution and Religion.”

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Carl Dix

In fact, there was less discussion than there was haranguing by Avakian. After being introduced by his underling Carl Dix, who told the audience that the RCP leader had “brought forward a new synthesis of Communism,” Avakian – in the windy oratorical tradition of Fidel Castro and any number of other Communist dictators – stood at a lectern and ranted for two hours straight without saying anything particularly interesting or original. (Israel, he charged, is guilty of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.”) Then he and Cornel West sat down together and talked for almost two more hours, with Avakian, again, taking up most of the time pontificating. The RCP paid $70,000 for a full-page ad in the New York Times promoting the event.

mao-zedong1In June 2015, a student journalist at Harvard, Gram Slattery, probed the RCP, which drew his interest because of its bookstore in Harvard Square. Despite efforts to arrange an interview with the Dear Leader, he didn’t get to meet Avakian, but did get a sit-down with another party leader who, echoing RCP doctrine, dismissed the “narrative that Mao was a mass murderer, that he was personally responsible for 50 to 100 million deaths,” and asserted that Avakian “has dedicated himself to looking at what actually happened” in Mao’s China. Avakian, stated the RCP member, is “precious for humanity.” The RCP, reported Slattery, clung fast to “its reverence for Mao” and its defense of Stalin. (In the party’s view, “the Soviet Union went downhill once Khrushchev took over.”) Slattery also pointed out that the RCP, for a long time, had regarded Peru’s Shining Path terrorists – who “executed thousands of peasants and even took to torturing deviant Marxists in the early ’90s” – as role models.

inthenameofhumanityposter17x22-600-enAvakian ain’t down yet. He and his party have made a big splash since the election of Donald Trump. It was the RCP that was behind a widely published campaign to stop a Trump presidency before the inauguration.The centerpiece was an ad headlined “We REFUSE to accept a Fascist America!” It was signed by (among others) actor Ed Asner, activist Bill Ayers, comedian Margaret Cho, playwright Eve Ensler, director John Landis, actress Debra Messing, novelist Alice Walker, and (of course) Cornel West. One wonders how  many of them knew they were part of an initiative run by unreconstructed Maoists.  

To promote the campaign, West and RCP co-founder Carl Dix appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News on January 5. You can watch the interview below. Perhaps the highlight was when Dix likened Trump to Hitler. Interesting words indeed from a representative of a party that still celebrates the glorious legacies of Stalin and Mao.

Which, by the way, brings us to the question: what is Carl Dix’s story? We’ll get to him tomorrow.

The man who’s even too radical for The Nation

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Bob Avakian

Yesterday we met septuagenarian Bob Avakian, who’s spent his adult life as a Communist radical. Since 1975, he’s been head of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP), which holds aloft the torch of Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong – and, not least, of Avakian himself, who has striven to make himself the center of a personality cult modeled on those of Stalin, Mao, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and the Kims in North Korea.

Cornelius Pettus, owner of Payless market, throws a bucket of water on the flames at next-door business Ace Glass on 4/30/1992. Hyungwon Kang / Los Angeles Times.
An image from the 1992 L.A. riots

A high point for the RCP was the 1992 race riots in L.A., in which party members – who had relocated from Massachusetts to southern California for the purpose – sought to stir up racial discontent and transform it into full-fledged revolution. That’s not all. One reporter has conclude that in the 1990s, the RCP probably “penetrated the underground punk rock world” and even “owned a punk rock club in Houston.” In a 1994 interview with SPIN, Tom Morello, the lead guitarist of Rage against the Machine, apparently recommended an RCP bookstore and “vigorously” defended Shining Path – leading one to wonder whether Morello had fallen under the influence of Avakian and company. Another punk group, Outernational, featured RCP spokesman Carl Dix in a music video. The cultivation of celebrities and the effort to develop a personality cult around the founder are among the things that can make the RCP look very much, at least from some angles, like Scientology.

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Michelle Goldberg

After a period of relative quiescence, the RCP jumped back into action after 9/11, becoming a major behind-the-scenes player in such antiwar groups as Not in Our Name and ANSWER. One antiwar group, The World Can’t Wait, appears to have been “entirely a creation of the party.” All these groups, notes Gram Slattery, “managed to rise to prominence in large part because few people actually knew of their affiliation with the revolutionary left.” Even a columnist for The Nation, Michelle Goldberg, had harsh words for the RCP, writing in 2002 that its members “aren’t just extremists in the service of a good cause – they’re cheerleaders for some of the most sinister regimes and insurgencies on the planet.”

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Todd Gitlin

Goldberg wasn’t alone in her criticism: over the years, Avakian gradually came to be viewed by many on the left at as something of a relic, an oddball, and an embarrassment to the movement. A decade or so ago, Todd Gitlin, the prominent sociologist and former SDS leader, cited him as an example of “the ludicrous feebleness of the unreconstructed left.” But while Avakian may be a bit of a clown, he’s no fool: a few years back he managed to get plenty of well-known academics to sign a New York Review of Books ad defending his right to free speech – even though nobody was trying to deprive him of free speech.

America’s #1 Commie

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Cornel West

Cornel West, the former Harvard and Princeton professor and author of Race Matters, has called him “a long distance runner in the freedom struggle against imperialism, racism and capitalism.” Howard Zinn, the late author of A People’s History of the United States, praised his memoir as “a humanizing portrait of someone who is often seen only as a hard-line revolutionary.” Among his other admirers are Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, the author of Race Rules, and activist Cindy Sheehan.

The man in question? Bob Avakian, longtime chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP). Now 73, he’s been a veritable Zelig of the American far left, described in a 2005 profile as “the marathon man of the international anti-imperialist struggle.”

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Bob Avakian

Attracted in his youth (he was an undergraduate at – where else? – Berkeley) to various New Left groups – among them the Students for a Democratic Society, the Free Speech Movement, the Weathermen, and (although he’s white) the Black Panthers – Avakian became a community organizer in Richmond, California, where he sought to convert workers to Communism. In 1968, he and several Bay Area comrades founded their own organization, the Revolutionary Union, which took its inspiration from both Stalin and Mao, whose deadly Cultural Revolution was then in full swing.

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Mao Zedong

During a 1971 visit to China, Avakian experienced the Cultural Revolution firsthand, finding it “wondrous”; four years later, under his leadership, the Revolutionary Union morphed into the Mao-besotted RCP. Though upset by Mao’s death the next year and by China’s subsequent embrace of capitalism, Avakian soldiered on, declaring that, with Beijing’s betrayal, he and his RCP brethren were now “the true upholders of Maoism” on the planet. Around this time, the RCP shifted its emphasis from “workplace organizing [to] an increasingly hysterical militancy in the streets”; after he and other party members were arrested for rioting, assaulting cops, etc., etc., during Deng Xiaoping’s 1979 visit to Washington, D.C., Avakian skipped bail and fled to France from what he has called America’s “suffocating climate of intolerance.”

stalin1Ever since, Avakian has consistently insisted on the greatness of Mao and Stalin. “If the bourgeoisie and its political representatives can uphold people like Madison and Jefferson,” he wrote in his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond, “then the proletariat and its vanguard forces can and should uphold Stalin.” And he’s devoted his life to the RCP, which runs a newspaper, a website, and a chain of stores called Revolutionary Books, all of which serve to advance the cause of Mao and Stalin.

But in addition to promoting Mao and Stalin, Avakian has unashamedly promoted himself. As Mark Oppenheimer wrote in a 2008 profile, the RCP – thanks in part to Avakian’s Stalin-like purges of other party leaders – gradually became “a cult of personality focused on him.” One tool in Avakian’s effort to turn himself into a cult figure was invisibility: for a long time almost nobody knew where he lived, and he never appeared in public; in his frequent writings (as in North Korea and Mao’s China, the shelves of his bookstores groan with copies of the Dear Leader’s works), Avakian continued to describe himself as being in exile, even though all charges against him were dropped in 1982, and even though he returned to the U.S. from Europe some time after the turn of the century. As Oppenheimer put it, “the chairman is still on the run, even if nobody is chasing him.”

More tomorrow.

Meet Kenyon’s violence-happy anarchist

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Matytsin wrapped in a US flag

His CV boasts a native fluency in both French and Russian, and he attended high school at the Washington International School, so presumably Anton Matystin is the son of immigrants or came to America himself in his youth. He went on to pursue undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his Ph.D. in history in 2013. After spending a year as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, he began teaching at Kenyon College, a small but storied institution in Gambier, Ohio. At Penn he won the prize for best undergraduate history thesis and two graduate fellowships awarded in recognition of academic excellence.

Unlike many professors in the humanities these days, he teaches a list of courses that sound legit: “Early Modern Europe,” “Imperial Russia, 1547-1917,” “History of the Renaissance and the Reformation: 1300-1648,” and so on. Last year he published his first book, The Specter of Skepticism in the Age of Enlightenment, which “explores the ways in which eighteenth-century thinkers responded to the challenges posed by the revival and spread of philosophical skepticism and details how the debates about the powers and limits of human understanding led to the making of a new conception of rationality that privileged practicable reason over speculative reason.” Serious, solid-sounding stuff.

2006-07 Tuition and Fees: $36,050 2007-08 Tuition and Fees: $38,140
Kenyon College

All of which makes it come as a shock to read Matytsin’s Facebook feed. Matytsin has had a Facebook page for years, but he was almost entirely absent from it until recently. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States appears to have been the event that broke his silence. “If you voted for Trump, please do us both a favor and unfriend me,” he wrote on November 14. “Whatever motivated your choice, I cannot bring myself to respect it, and I find it morally reprehensible. I do not want to share the public sphere with you in either digital or physical form. I have no intention of interacting with you or spending money at your business. I prefer to stay in my echo chamber of sanity. This is miles beyond party politics. This is a moral, not a political choice.” He went on to encourage his Facebook friends to boycott firms that “supported” Trump, and helpfully linked to a list of those firms. He further suggested that “perhaps it’s time to bring back old partisan slogans and great each other with ‘Death to Fascism’ with a response ‘Freedom to the People.’”

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Matytsin: another day, another flag

How, one wonders, does he treat students in his classes who express support for Trump? Or do the Trump supporters who take his classes have to pretend not to be Trump supporters? It seems clear from his Facebook comments that he is incapable of seeing students who did not support his candidate for President as moral and sane. How can such students possibly expect fair treatment from him?

On February 3 he went even further than before, posting the following rant:

We cannot have a liberal democratic state that is run by a corrupt fascist cabal. We cannot have a secular multi-confessional republic when 30% of the population are Bible-thumping bigots who want to impose a Christian theocracy on the rest of us. We cannot have a racially inclusive, cosmopolitan, and multi-ethnic society when a large proportion of the population is composed of racists and white supremacists. We cannot have a functioning democracy when a majority of the population is politically, economically, and sometimes literally illiterate. We cannot have civil debates when our opponents are uncivilized human beings. We cannot remain idealistic lambs among hungry wolves.

In short: Trump people are so morally abominable, so barely human, that something must be done. But what? If Trump’s supporters are “hungry wolves,” and “we,” the people on the side of the good, “cannot remain idealistic lambs”…than what he is suggesting that “we” do?

A few hours later he got even uglier:

Apparently I was not abundantly clear earlier. I will continue the FB cull until there is no more fascist shit in my feed. I don’t care who you are or how far back we go. If you or your friends post racist, sexist, xenophobic, and otherwise ignorant garbage, I will take a big verbal shit on your wall and then block you on here and in real life. So if you are one of those people, spare yourself the cleanup and unfriend me.

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The Milo riot at Berkeley

Only a few hours later, after a violent anarchist riot broke out at the Berkeley campus over the planned appearance of Breitbart writer and Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos, Matytsin wrote: “Brother Anarchists, if you are going to engage in political violence, make sure to claim credit lest the fascists confuse you with the ‘liberal snowflakes.’” And he added: “Brother Anarchists, looking to volunteer.”

In other words, if we take him at his word, Matytsin was announcing his readiness to join the black-clad rioters, cover his face, and take part in the brutal beating of people whose only crime was their interest in hearing what Milo Yiannopoulos had to say. Contemplate the irony: a professor whose first book is all about the Enlightenment has taken his stand against freedom of speech and, in the name of opposition to fascism, is prepared to support a kind of violence that can only be described as quintessentially fascist.