Mike Gapes' proposal to outlaw Holocaust deniers and revisionists (see WL no. 39) is doomed to have the opposite effect of the one he intends.
Like all attempts to solve a political problem with police measures it can only make heroes and martyrs out of its targets. What such legislation in effect says is: we have no answer to the claims of the deniers and revisionists; we cannot counter their arguments; all we can do is shut them up.
There are difficult cases where the line between protected speech and illegal acts becomes thin. When the American Civil Liberties Union defends the rights of the Nazis or the Klan to march and rally, as it has in several well-publicized instances, one of the issues involved is the "clear and present danger" to the rights of others.
A march or rally, after all, is, like a picket line, an implicit call to action. But we are talking here about books and articles on an historical topic which do not usually even propose any course of action.
To ban such books, and that is what is being proposed, not only sets dangerous precedents which can be used against all sorts of dissent, it also scores political points for the people whose political views are banned.
Fascism is a threat today for the same reason it was a threat in the '30s. Large numbers of people have lost confidence in the traditional political parties and the labor movement is disoriented and in retreat. People are looking for a party or movement that will reflect their anger not try to defuse it. In such circumstances small numbers of disturbed individuals who in more peaceful times would spend their miserable lives ranting on street corners can achieve a mass following very quickly.
To respond to this political threat by appealing to the traditional authorities can only lend credence to the charge that the left and its parties are themselves part of "the system".
That is the trap the German Social Democracy fell into in the '20s. They too tried to suppress the Nazis while propping up the economic, social and political order whose corruption and brutality provided the Nazis' with their supporters. We know how that experiment ended.