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The Myth of "Free Speech" -- Part 1 October 3, 2003 by RedStar2000


The abstract value of "free speech" is a relic of bourgeois revolutions and was specifically evoked to counter the restrictions placed upon speech by clerical and aristocratic reactionaries.

In time, of course, the bourgeoisie imposed their own restrictions on speech, usually indirectly by the high cost of media access but often directly as well. It turned out that speech that is felt to be directly threatening to the well-being of the ruling class or its government enjoyed a precarious existence at best and is often brutally and summarily repressed.

But the "myth" has been a useful one and and useful myths are not lightly discarded. Thus it arises even in left circles--there is something "sacred" about "free speech".

There's not...but the argument is difficult for some to follow.


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It would be helpful if some of the folks here could get past "freedom of speech" as an abstraction...since there's never been any such thing and I rather doubt there ever will be any such thing.

Every social order (class society) of which we have record regards certain kinds of speech as unforgivably offensive.

The details vary widely, but everybody does it.

For example, our own capitalist ruling class rarely bothers to engage in formal censorship of our views because we don't have the money to play the mass media game.

But there have been plenty of lefties who've gone to prison for "speech crime"...see the Sherman Austin story for a recent example.

Instead of pretending that we will be "different", it would be more useful to discuss exactly what we will consider "speech crime" and how we will deal with it.

It's not necessary, by the way, to shoot or imprison people for "speech crime"...simply depriving them of access to the media may well suffice.

Or, many punishments may be quite brief and informal; an open racist might be introduced to a couple of large men of color and "strongly advised" of the unacceptability of his views. When he gets out of the hospital, he may still be a racist in his head, but he will have presumably absorbed a knowledge of the dangerous consequences of expressing such views.

The net result will be a decrease in public racism.

The same methods could be applied to any speech that we found to be unforgivably offensive.

In the matter of "pro-capitalist" speech, I would suggest a distinction be made. There will undoubtedly be people who "had it good" in the old order and, being deprived of their wealth and prestige, will wax nostalgic about "things as they used to be". I not only see this as relatively harmless, it could even be encouraged.

Imagine a memoir by the former Lady Richbitch published side-by-side with a memoir by her former servants. The more she was free to reveal her real views about "the good old days", the greater the contrast between her views and the views of her servants...and the plainer and clearer the real gains of the revolution.

And further, nostalgia is not dangerous to us; in fact, it reinforces the demoralization of the old ruling class. Let them celebrate "their glorious past" all they wish...it just makes it all the clearer that it is the past.

It is those who agitate and organize for counter-revolution who are really dangerous; while it's unlikely that they could ever muster sufficient support to threaten the revolution's existence, they could cause material damage and loss of life.

Now and then, it may be regrettably necessary to publicly shoot a few of those bastards. (Long prison terms are expensive, demoralizing to our people, and the imprisoned counter-revolutionary always looks forward to being released by the counter-revolution itself.)

It's occurred to me that one of the most shattering blows to the morale of the active counter-revolution is to take away his children...forever. After this happens a few times, with appropriate publicity, I think few will want to take that risk in order to bring back capitalism. (After the kids grow up, some may wish to contact their fathers; if dad has been behaving himself, then it's ok. If he hasn't, then "the address of this person cannot be found".)

All of which is to say that you don't need a vanguard party, a special secret police, giant labor camps, etc. You need to determine pretty clearly what you want to prevent, what you want to discourage, and how to keep the power to do this in the hands of the working class itself.

It's not that big of a deal.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 24, 2003
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quote:

who decides who is a threat to the proletariat?


quote:

That is decided by Marx's vision and the Communist party. Period.


Which illustrates the sterility of discussions framed in this way.

What a choice! "Free speech" for Nazis or nothing can be said without the expressed or implied approval of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party--and "Marx's vision" doesn't have a vote there, by the way.

Does it take a "rocket scientist" to conclude that both "choices" are flatly unacceptable?
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 25, 2003
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quote:

Then you have made the choice to be one of the background...One of the fence straddlers that cannot make a decision one way or the other.


I did make a decison; I said your "choices" were flatly unacceptable.

Exactly what part of "flatly unacceptable" don't you understand, squire?
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 28, 2003
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The problem lies, as I indicated earlier, in trying to apply an abstraction to the realities of material human existence.

To a capitalist, anyone who advocates socialism, communism, or anarchism "has no right" to "free speech"...such views are "unacceptable".

To a Leninist socialist, anyone who criticizes their monopoly (actual or desired) of political/economic power "has no right" to "free speech"...such views are "unacceptable".

To a consistent communist, anyone who advocates taking power out of the hands of the working class and giving it to a "vanguard elite" "has no right" to "free speech"...such views are unacceptable.

That doesn't mean that capitalists, Leninists, or communists might not grant some limited form of "freedom of speech" temporarily to their respective opponents...especially if they do not feel "threatened" at the moment.

What it does mean is that it is not a matter of abstract principle that is decisive here, or even all that influential...what decides are the real class interests of the contending groups.

When the sheep-herder declares that the "communist" party (he means Leninist) will decide what is acceptable, he's expressing the class interests of his own proposed new ruling elite. When I tell him to shove it, I'm expressing the class interests of the working class at large...who have neither desire nor need for a group of new "red" bosses.

When both of us agree that the Nazis should be smashed wherever they are found, we express the various class interests of the groups we represent: both of us know that the Nazis would kill both of us if they had the chance...and therefore we do not intend to give them the chance to spread ideas that are a deadly threat to both of us.

"Freedom of speech" is a meaningless abstraction. Freedom to say what, to who, under what real circumstances...those are the serious questions.

Very serious!
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 29, 2003
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