This book is the first to outline the history of the tactic of ‘no platforming’ at British universities since the 1970s, looking at more than four decades of student protest against racist and fascist figures on campus.
The tactic of ‘no platforming’ has been used at British universities and colleges since the National Union of Students adopted the policy in the mid-1970s. The author traces the origins of the tactic from the militant anti-fascism of the 1930s–1940s and looks at how it has developed since the 1970s, being applied to various targets over the last 40 years, including sexists, homophobes, right-wing politicians and Islamic fundamentalists. This book provides a historical intervention in the current debates over the alleged free speech ‘crisis’ perceived to be plaguing universities in Britain, as well as North America and Australasia.
No Platform: A History of Anti-Fascism, Universities and the Limits of Free Speech is for academics and students, as well as the general reader, interested in modern British history, politics and higher education. Readers interested in contemporary debates over freedom of speech and academic freedom will also have much to discover in this book.
Table of Contents
1. ‘No Platform’ in Historical and Contemporary Context 2. Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Free Speech before ‘No Platform’ 3. The Student Movement and the Prelude to ‘No Platform’ 4. The National Union of Students and ‘No Platform’ in the 1970s 5. Expanding ‘No Platform’ in the 1980s 6. Hard Right Politicians and Student Protests at Universities in the 1980s 7. Into the Twenty-first Century 8. Why ‘No Platform’ Matters
Evan Smith is a research fellow in history at the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University in South Australia. He has published widely on the history of political extremism, social movements, national security and borders in Britain, Australia and South Africa. He is the author of British Communism and the Politics of Race (2018) and co-editor (with Jon Piccini and Matthew Worley) of The Far Left in Australia since 1945 (Routledge, 2018).
"No platforming is the subject of much polemic but very little in the way of grounded knowledge. No matter how many times activists remind us that choosing not to give a racist, sexist or transphobic speaker a platform is not the same as censoring their words, free speech absolutists say the contrary. In No Platform, Evan Smith has given us a detailed reconstruction of the history of the principle in Britain, avoiding the very polemic that its defenders are accused of, and using student and activist accounts to read ‘against the grain’ of a ‘prevailing narrative’ that constantly undermines the fight against gendered bigotry and racial hate. At a time of rising openness to white supremacism, No Platform is a must-read for all who seek to learn from the past in order to build for a more just future." - Alana Lentin, Associate Professor of Cultural and Social Analysis, Western Sydney University
"Evan Smith’s No Platform is an essential read for anyone interested in the contemporary reactionary context. Smith offers a lucid, powerful and thoroughly researched history of the no platform tradition and its impact on the moral panics created by the right and the shaping of much of our political discourse today. It is not just an exceptional academic work, it is an incredibly useful and empowering account of why bad ideas cannot be allowed to thrive unchallenged and how they can and should be defeated." - Aurelien Mondon, Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath (PoLIS Department)
"Evan Smith’s authoritative account of ‘no platform’ politics is both a compelling contribution to the field of far-right studies, and a critical contemporary intervention. Contrary to the lazy assumption that the tactic is nothing more than an anti-democratic refusal of thought and engagement, his nuanced account of its shifting and conflicted historical shape reveals it as a focus through which situated understandings of free speech, democratic expression and political equality have been consistently formed and negotiated." - Gavan Titley, Senior Lecturer, Department of Media Studies, Maynooth University
"This book provides a historical intervention in the current debates over the alleged free speech ‘crisis’ perceived to be plaguing universities in Britain, as well as North America and Australasia. No Platform is for academics and students, as well as the general reader, interested in modern British history, politics and higher education. Readers interested in contemporary debates over freedom of speech and academic freedom will also have much to discover in this book." - Kirk Meighoo, New Books Network.
"Evan Smith’s thoroughly researched and highly engaging new book, places ‘no-platform’ into its proper historical context and charts the ways it has, as a tactic and a policy, been changed and contested over the course of the twentieth century. The book...makes use of the student press, left-wing publications, parliamentary debates, and other sources in order to demonstrate ‘no-platform’ has a much longer and more complex history than current discourse acknowledges whilst avoiding being merely a polemic on the contemporary situation." - Hallam Roffey, Twentieth Century British History.
"Smith's account is helpful for those who need to understand the historical developments and key moments in greater depth, and this account offers a valuable addition to the growing number of books on British fascism and anti-fascism - and post-1945 radical politics more broadly." - Paul Jackson, Searchlight.
"Evan Smith looks at a type of antifascist organizing in No Platform...Smith centers his history on one particular institution as a commentary on the broader social movement: the National Union of Students....No platforming itself has become central to discourse on antifascism, so the book’s insights extend far beyond the campus. Instead, they look at the way that “speech,” as an amorphous context, is heavily political, both in who has access to speech and who doesn’t....What No Platform makes clear is that this debate started decades ago and is happening all the time, right now, as social movements attempt to meet their goals in a changing environment." - Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today.
"Smith's book demonstrates that the far-right has always played the victim card when it comes to free-speech....In No Platform Smith restricts himself to a factual chronology of several decades of campus activism. It makes for a valuable – if slightly dry – introduction to the subject." - Houman Barekat, Red Pepper.
"Smith’s book starts in the 1930s, decades before the NUS adopted its no platform policy, with the growth of British fascism and its opposing force, anti-fascism. It then briefly considers the under-researched re-emergence of British fascism in the 1940s and 1950s....Universities come to the fore only when the book enters the early 1960s. These antecedents and others in the late 1960s and early 1970s...show that the NUS’ no platform policy did not suddenly emerge from nowhere. Rather, it was an attempt to adopt a formal approach to controversial speakers after, in Smith’s words, numerous "ad hoc", "localised" and "arbitrary" protests." Nick Hillman, Times Higher Education.
"No Platform follows a broadly chronological structure. The first sixty or so pages look at Britain prior to the evolution of a language of “no platform” in the early 1970s. What Smith argues is that long before this happened, the left had developed a practice of seeking to close off opportunities for fascists to organise and to speak....At its spring conference in May 1974, the National Union of Students passed a motion, committing the NUS to a policy of no platform for racists and fascists. Ever since then, Smith writes, the Union has had a consistent policy supporting groups who oppose inviting racists and fascists to speak on university platforms and that this is turn has given moral encouragement to any number of anti-racist and anti-fascist students. Their protests have popularised the concept of no platform. Meanwhile the phrase has spread internationally and has become part of the anti-fascist lexicon, in Smith’s Australia, in the US, and elsewhere." - David Renton, author of No Free Speech of Fascists.