On resigning from Birkbeck Politics…

I’ve resigned from my position in the Department of Politics at Birkbeck because of Eric Kaufmann’s public statements and activities, and because of the impact on Birkbeck staff and students of being in such close proximity to his far-right followers. I’m devastated to be leaving behind such a vibrant and brilliant community of students, but nobody seriously calling themselves a feminist or antiracist can continue in a role which involves selling degree programmes to students who will end up in Kaufmann’s classroom.

To follow are just a few examples of Kaufmann’s recent political activities and their effects, but this is by no means an exhaustive account of my time at Birkbeck. In his own terms, Kaufmann openly advocates for white racial self-interest politics and has been celebrated by the right-wing press as the “knight” of a resurgent white politics.

Just as I started in my post at Birkbeck, Kaufmann was made Head of Department. Soon after this, a high-profile event with Kaufmann and others was announced which posited “ethnic diversity” as a “threat to the West” (later renamed after objections). At this time, students also drew attention to tweets by Kaufmann comparing Black protestors to cattle and complaining about having to mark the work of left-wing (“SJW”) students. Despite all of this, Kaufmann remained head of the Department of Politics for most of the two years to follow.

During these years, Kaufmann’s political project has intensified into, firstly, a more elaborate denigration of left-wing students and colleagues as “SJWs”, “woke fundamentalists”, the “woke Taliban” etc; secondly, into an explicit campaign to roll back equalities efforts, often expressed in the language of incitement around the need to “slay” and “defeat” the “beast” of equalities; and thirdly, a forthright campaign to ban and/or discredit ‘Critical Race Theory’ which has become code for any critical scholarship on race (ie not ‘white racial interest politics’). Almost on a daily basis, Kaufmann makes inflammatory statements about leftists and anti-racists, comparing them to fascists and Islamist fundamentalists, among other slurs, much to the approval of his followers. Further, his anti-equalities statements openly reproduce claims that differences in education outcomes are desirable because of genetic differences which make some groups more intelligent than others.

Kaufmann’s campaign against Critical Race Theory imports the already advanced project of censorship and intimidation in the US, which is aimed at legislation against, and confusion and intimidation around, teaching and scholarship on race. This has been articulated clearly by Rufo, who is regularly retweeted by Kaufmann. This broader project targets my own teaching, as well as that of many of my colleagues in other Birkbeck departments, and has already resulted in students expressing concern over whether it is even legal for them to draw on scholarship which could be perceived as CRT in their assignments.

In contrast to this approach to CRT which seeks to censor and discredit, Kaufmann’s published work openly encourages a good faith engagement with far-right conspiracy theories, specifically white genocide theory. His recent book claims, explicitly in relation to white genocide, that “The simplistic view that every syllable Richard Spencer or Generation Identity utters is a lie is incorrect” and proceeds to evaluate the truth in their claims. This good faith approach to fascist conspiracy theories has earned Kaufmann a solid following among the hard-right which is even noticeable on campus at Birkbeck. For example, a Generation Identity ‘Identitarian Movement’ cell appeared to be operating on the Birkbeck campus and even displayed posters with Kaufmann’s image and quotes from his work on the supposed problems of white population decline. A follower by the name of Roger Hicks, who comments relentlessly on Kaufmann’s Twitter posts (many critical academics like myself are simply blocked by Kaufmann) has allegedly been present for events on campus. Roger Hicks hosts a YouTube show entitled “In Defence of National Socialism”.

Just a few more examples: In a recent article, Kaufmann claimed that the instance of female students refusing to date Trump supporters provides evidence of “progressive authoritarianism” “a belief system that justifies infringing rights to equal treatment… in the name of the emotional ‘safety’ of historically marginalised … groups”. Here, the “rights to equal treatment” is implied as the rights of Trump supporters to sleep with female students; and female students choosing to reject them is “progressive authoritarianism”.

At the moment of the Chauvin trial verdict for the sadistic racist murder of George Floyd, Kaufmann appeared on Fox News to criticise those he claimed were “racialising what is not a racist issue”. He also used this moment to describe one of his research experiments in his own words: “I had half [Black survey respondents] read some Ta-Nehisi Coates [presented as CRT-inspired] and half read nothing and of those who read Coates their belief that they could make their life plans work out dropped 15 points”. Did Kaufmann have ethics clearance from Birkbeck Politics to conduct experiments specifically on Black participants to show how easily duped they are by CRT, with consent to disseminate the findings on Fox News?

In another recent article — this time written just as Indigenous communities were dealing with the trauma of unearthing atrocities against children in Canadian residential schools, those tools of Indigenous genocide — Kaufmann tried to minimise the crimes being uncovered. He claimed that residential schools were intended to “improve [Indigenous children’s] dire economic prospects”, that Indigenous children also “died on reserves” and that Canada cannot be compared with other “genocidal” countries because “Canada’s record is among the best”.

On a personal note, I always find Kaufmann’s statements denying or diminishing racist violence and genocide basically inhumane, but there is something about the timing of these two statements (just as Chauvin was convicted and just as well-documented atrocities against Indigenous children were being starkly evidenced) that adds a particularly incomprehensible kind of cruelty.

There is more to be said about how Kaufmann’s work is reproduced in far-right publications like Amren and Breitbart; about his promotion and signal boosting of figures such as Andy Ngo and Bo Winegard; and about his own use of the antisemitic term “cultural Marxism” in published work. There is also much more to be said about Kaufmann’s paid work for Policy Exchange, whose donors are undisclosed, and other groups and organisations whose interests appear to directly conflict with those of the Birkbeck student community he is also paid to teach.

Overall, Birkbeck appears to take an absolutist approach to free speech wherein all of the above has apparently passed without comment or scrutiny from those in the College who are supposed to prioritise their duty of care to students, protect dignity at work and study, and fulfil the College’s obligations under equalities legislation. Clearly, Kaufmann’s statements and activities undermine all of the latter. Further, there are obvious contradictions between Kaufmann’s freedom without consequence to compare Black protestors to cattle, or to denigrate female students as ‘authoritarian’ for not sleeping with Trump supporters, and students’ freedom to object to what he says. Recent complaints by students about Kaufmann’s activities resulted in a backlash from hundreds of his far-right followers, which included multiple death threats and degrading insults — in short there are painful consequences for students who openly object.

Birkbeck has encouraged, promoted, and enabled Kaufmann over the years, and he is now by far the most well-known member of staff in the Politics Department. From his powerful institutional position as a full professor, he is not only openly seeking to roll back equalities within his own institution, but is active in attempts to bring structural change across the sector in the UK.

As noted, Kaufmann’s project over these past years has earned him the label of the “knight” of white racial interest politics, and this accolade has been won through the regular denigration of minorities (women, Indigenous and Black communities, etc as evidenced above). For myself and many others, this project has created a sickening environment in which the dignity and welfare of such minoritised groups is regularly undermined. Again, I believe there is no way of upholding a duty of care towards students in the shadows of this dehumanising project — the only ethical course of action is resignation. Those euphemistically referred to as ‘culture warriors’ might have made themselves immune from accountability with the ‘cancel culture’ discourse, but they cannot force us to work or study with them.