June 12, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
For the past few months, and with increasing intensity, outright fascists have attempted to command the public stage and then, when they are met with opposition, have screamed “free speech.” We’ve exposed elsewhere the vicious hypocrisy of this on the part of the fascists and the great danger in the way all too many liberals have not only bowed down to this argument, but vociferously taken it up. (See video of a May 4 talk by Sunsara Taylor at the University of California Berkeley campus: “Battle for Berkeley: Why It’s Right and Righteous to Drive Fascists Off Campus, Out of Berkeley… and Out of Power!”) And we’ve spoken to the need to mobilize people to stand up to these fascists, to unapologetically shut them down and to drive them out of power altogether—and been in the middle of that mobilization ourselves.
At the same time, people raise the question: in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, and in many of Bob Avakian’s other writings, as well as other publications of the Party, the importance of dissent, and the contestation of opposing ideas, is emphasized; but in the recent (and ongoing) “Battle of Berkeley” you argue for not letting people like Ann Coulter speak but instead mobilizing opposition to drive such people off campus, out of Berkeley...and out of power. How do you explain this contradiction?
As a basic principle, it is ideas that are in opposition to the powers that be, and the prevailing norms, and which therefore have a hard time finding means and vehicles for expression, and are often the object of direct suppression—it is precisely those ideas whose expression needs to be protected, not those which have the force of governing powers and institutions behind them.
This general principle should be applied differently in different concrete situations. In today’s circumstances, the purveyors of fascism and proponents of reactionary views and programs (Ann Coulter, for example) are given disproportionate means to spread their ideas. They get all sorts of official backing, media platforms and funds especially with this fascist regime now in power. However, proponents of countervailing, opposition ideas—including views “outside the mainstream” that run counter to those of people in power, and especially the views of advocates for fundamental societal change—are often suppressed and in any case have to wage an uphill battle to be heard and to secure venues and means to spread their message. It is not a level playing field!!—and there is absolutely no need to provide reactionaries, and especially outright fascists, with additional platforms to spread their poison. Indeed, providing such platforms does great harm—it legitimizes and normalizes these views.
So, again, the question is: How would WE would handle the contestation of ideas and dissent and unpopular ideas in socialist society, as embodied in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America. First, this situation is completely different. Why? Because at that point we would hold state power!! Under those circumstances, not only tolerating but even encouraging dissent, and the widespread contestation of even unpopular ideas, would be an integral part of our responsibilities, in line with our strategic objectives and the necessary direction of society towards the full emancipation of all of humanity. That is NOT the situation today, when we all live in societies characterized by oppressive class and social relations which are daily enshrined and reinforced by oppressive power relations (a reality that liberals like Frank Bruni or Van Jones always seem to conveniently ignore and leave out of their assessments when they defend the “right” of fascists to spew their poison).
So let’s look at what the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America does say on how this principle will be applied in socialist society.
Article III. Rights of the People and the Struggle to Uproot All Exploitation and Oppression.
Section 2. Legal and Civil Rights and Liberties.1. In keeping with what is set forth in this Constitution as a whole, and specifically in the above Section of this Article, the orientation of the government, and that promoted in society overall, must be to not only allow but to value dissent, as well as political, philosophical and in general intellectual and cultural ferment and diversity, and to promote and foster an atmosphere in which all this can flourish. This shall find expression and be embodied in government policy and action, as well as in the law, including that part of law and policy specifically intended to protect the legal and civil rights and liberties of the people in this Republic....2. No person in the New Socialist Republic in North America shall be deprived of the rights set forth in this Constitution, except through due process of law....3. The following shall apply with regard to the New Socialist Republic in North America and those residing within its territory:A. Freedom of speech, of assembly and association, and of dissent and protest shall not be restricted, except in cases of violation of the law and through due process of law.Expression of opposition to this Republic and its Constitution and government–including advocacy in favor of abolishing this Republic and replacing it with another kind of society and form of government–shall not be prohibited, and on the contrary shall be permitted and protected, except as this shall involve the commission, or an active conspiracy to commit, or the direct and immediate advocacy of, violent acts, which are not in self-defense, against the government or members of the government, or others residing in this Republic, or other actions which violate the law (but, once again, expression of opposition to this Republic and its government, or mere advocacy in favor of replacing this with another form of society and government, may not be declared and treated as a violation of the law).
This Constitution provides a concrete and visionary “blueprint” and perspective for a truly liberatory society, and is something that people really need to get into.
In sum, what is consistent here throughout is the principle that the proponents of unpopular ideas need to have the expression of those ideas protected. What is different is the application in a society in which a ruling class is enforcing the rule of capitalism, and dominating the media, educational system, etc. in such a way so as to ensure the domination of ideas reflecting and reinforcing its relations and values, especially right now when the outright fascist form of rule is moving to consolidate its domination (including in the sphere of ideas); and a revolutionary socialist state, in which the society is oriented toward human emancipation.