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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1924

The New Fascism

The New Fascism

Sir,—Last Monday evening a large body of men and women (whose age, I suppose, averaged somewhere about twenty-one) gathered together in the Gym. to discuss the question of a guarantee for the proposed visit of a Debating Team from the Oxford Union. I need not recall to you the fact that the meeting was packed in the most obvious and unblushing fashion. That, however, is the usual thing.

The following motion was brought forward:—

Moved by Mr. Nicholls, seconded by Mr. Brooker:

"Provided that the motion or motions for debate between the Oxford Debaters and any team representing the V.U.C. Debating Society shall be such subjects for the argument of which it shall not be necessary or probable that both or either of the opposing teams of debaters shall have to advocate, speak in favour of, or favourably comment upon any matter or principle savouring of Bolshevism, Socialism, extreme labour, or the like, or involve the making or upholding of any disloyal or seditious acts, utterances or sentiments; subject however to this and this only qualification that if it is found impossible to arrange for debate as described, then and in such a case the team or teams of debaters representing the V.U.C. Debating Society shall speak only for that side of the motion which does not involve advocating, speaking in favour of, or commenting upon any matter or principle savouring of Bolshevism, Socialism, extreme labour, or the like, or involving the making or upholding of any disloyal or seditious acts, utterances, or sentiments; provided further that all the motions to be debated shall be subject to the approval of the Executive of the Students' Association, who shall decide whether or not they infringe the spirit of this motion."

This farrago of long-winded and ill-digested nonsense was subsequently dropped in favour of an amendment that the approval of subjects should be left to the Executive of the Students Association.

I do not wish to enlarge on the merits or otherwise of the movement that is in progress, of which the above motion is apparently the first shot to be fired. No doubt the dull reverberations, like those of other famous events, will go muttering into eternity. I understand, from the utterances of the mover and seconder and their devoted band of followers—the parallel with Signor Mussolini and his black-shirted band of melodramatic heroes is too obvious to be missed—that they are highly dissatisfied with the tone of page 75 College life. This tone, which in their years at College they have done so much to raise and purify, putting forth all their efforts to make the name Victoria College a symbol of all that is noble and true and dignified in life, has, in spite of their single minded efforts, degenerated. The place, in the minds of the Public, has become a hotbed of sedition, a forcing-house for disloyalty and disaffection, a crawling mass of corruption. Mr. Nicholls, it appears, wishes to dissociate himself, as publicly as may be, from this sinister reputation. Mr. Nicholls, Mr. Brooker, Mr. James, Mr. MacDuff, desire to intimate to the Empire that they are loyal; and that therein they are a true reflex of student opinion. I do not doubt it. These gentlemen bear all the marks of extreme loyalty. As one of them not inaptly remarked, they had not come to the meeting to reason. They showed all that strange and intense delight in mere noise so characteristic of small boys and other primitive minds. Their references to Bolshevism, Socialism, Communism, extreme labour, and other "disloyal or seditious acts, utterances or sentiments," made clear the prolonged study and lucid thought they had given to these burning questions. Their swiftness of apprehension and rapidity of thought were shown by the excellence of their arguments and the apposite nature of their retorts. Their courage and sincerity were evident from the singular unanimity with which they were decided that something must be done at once to free Victoria College from the unworthy aspersions that had been east upon her name. It was indeed evident that they were thoroughly loyal.

So far so good. It is not for me to throw unworthy doubts on any man's reasoned convictions, so reasonably expressed. But what I do protest against, and very vigorously, is the newspaper reports of the meeting that appeared next morning. As there were no reporters present, these reports can only have come from one source. That in the "Times," though ridiculously garnitured and festooned, was in substance correct. That in the "Dominion," on the contrary, contained statements directly contrary to fact. I pass over the question of the ethics of the report in itself. How far private students are justified in handing to the press reports of College proceedings may be a moot point; Messrs. Nicholls, James and Brooker may find their justification in the fact that the report was garbled. I note here three examples of this garbling:—
(1)"Speaking on behalf of the Association, Messrs. Nicholls and James both emphasised that the minds of the public,"etc.
(2)It was decided that immediate steps be taken to assure the public that no such trend of thought existed amongst the students."
(3)"It was decided that suport would be given to the visiting speakers only on one condition, that no arguments of a Bolshevistic or Socialistic nature were made use of."

I hold no brief in this letter for the Debating Society, the first of what I may perhaps call the intellectual clubs of the College to be made the object of this curious attack. The members of the Society who are evidently the object of the attack have both convictions and courage, although they may find a certain difficulty in defending themselves against a rabble that has neither the brains to come to any reasoned conviction, nor, I dare hazard, the courage to maintain one against the weight of a conservative public opinion.

But if reports must be handed to the newspapers of such meetings as this one, surely it may be expected that students will abide by the truth, or at least refrain from wilful distortion. Victoria page 76 College has hitherto had a reputation for clean methods of controversy, even if, as these gentlemen maintain, its reputation otherwise is very shady. The Debating Society may be a sinister organisation—it may even be, though I doubt it, one of the far-stretching tentacles of that evil octopus, the Labour Party, the object, of so much apprehension to Messrs. Nicholls and James; at least, it has never stooped to the depths of unfairness which this report reaches.

"Speaking on behalf of the Association"—the Stud. Ass. must indeed be proud of its new representatives.

There is a constitutional way, Sir (so much admired by the representatives of law and order), of reforming the tone of the College. That is to join the offending clubs, and by strength of personality, by process of clear thought, by overmastering weight of argument, to bear down opposition. It is a process for which the "Spike" has been appealing for some time now. It is a change in the policy of the student body which would be welcomed, not by the "Spike" alone. I hesitate to recommend the writings of John Milton to Messrs. Nicholls and James; though regarded with some admiration now, he was, I remind them, once proscribed as a dangerous revolutionary. I am reluctant to quote so hackneyed a sentence as

"And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?"

I doubt whether quotation carries any weight. And I doubt if the change, so earnestly hoped for, will take place. Direct Action, noise, misrepresentation, is so much quicker, so much more exciting. Your Mussolinis are the only true prophets. We will maintain our College's integrity with noise. We will trample Truth in the mud, for by a singular paradox (I fancy Messrs. Nicholls and James are saying), it is by this method, speedy and infallible, that she will prevail. This is the New Evangel. The Prophets of God have embarked on their ministry.

Sir, be so good as to pardon the length of this letter.

I am, etc.,


Victoria University College, July 29th, 1924.