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(en) US, California, The dawn* #3 - Making the World Safe for Fascism: Free Speech and the Worship of Civil Liberties - by Prolecat

From <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(Erik egh-A-the-dawn.org)
Date Tue, 14 Sep 2004 15:44:15 +0200 (CEST)


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Americans are raised to hold some things sacred. God,
motherhood, the flag, and free markets are among the
icons our children genuflect before. As leftists we
question or reject the sanctity of some or all of these
institutions, in varying degrees according to our ideology
and inclinations. And yet we have our own herd of sacred
cattle at whose cloven feet we worship. Chief among
these holy relics is the United States Constitution,
most especially its first ten amendments, known as the
Bill of Rights. In particular the first amendment, that
includes the civil right to the exercise of free speech,
is held sacrosanct.

In the coming paragraphs I will seek to dethrone this
ideological demigod. My argument is not that the principle
of free speech has no value, for it does. Nor will I take
an unrealistic anarchist-purist position that we should
neglect the protection of these rights in the civil arena,
in the court rooms or even the legislatures. Morality
dictates that while the state exists, people need
protection from the state by whatever means are possible
and effective.

Instead, I offer this simple formulation: that the right
to free speech is only one right among many, most of
which are not enumerated in the Constitution. And that
when we raise free speech above all other rights, human
and civil, we sometimes, oftentimes, play into the hands
of our political enemies.

Nobody on the left likes fascists, or others who are
openly racist. We compare George Bush to Hitler, insulting
both. We deplore the racist heritage of the Ku Klux Klan,
and the racist demagoguery of such latter-day groups as
the National Alliance.

Our varied approaches to opposing these organizations may
be summarized as follows: first, there are those who hope
that if we ignore them they will just go away, sometimes
voiced as "We should not give them free publicity."
This school of thought usually dismisses far right
groups as "marginal extremists," and unworthy of our
attentions anyway.

And second, are those who think we should openly confront
the fascists and other racists. (While both of these
categories contain tendencies with varying degrees of
pacifism and militancy, this somewhat strained dichotomy
should serve for our purposes.)

It is to the first category of leftists that I direct
my comments, to those who decline to challenge fascists
on the grounds that they are irrelevant anyway, that
opposition only gives them an inflated sense of importance,
and besides, "They have a right to express their views,
however much I may disagree with them." I believe that
this position typifies much of the left, and that this
view is mistaken, even dangerous.

First, let us quickly consider whether openly
opposing far-right groups is worthy of our time. While
fascist/racist groups may in fact have small membership
roles, this fails to measure their political impact. For
one thing, extremist groups create space in which moderates
can move. For example, when the National Alliance calls
for the forcible expulsion of all immigrants, it makes
it safer for George Bush to propose a racist "guest
worker" program. When taken to task for his racism,
he can respond, "I'm no racist, those guys are the
racists. I have a centrist position." (In a similar
fashion, and whether we intend it or not, anarchists and
communists exert a leftward tug on liberal politics.)

Also, under certain conditions the ideas of extremist
groups can have an impact far beyond the effect they have
on the politics of the mainstream. Consider that in 1840
the American abolitionist groups of the north and the
south, as well as the "separatists" (southerners
who favored secession from the union) were dismissed
as irrelevant radicals. Twenty years later, under the
influence of a peculiar convergence of factors, the entire
nation split along the political lines of these formerly
marginal, extremist schools of thought.

Those who dismiss fascist/racist organizations betray
a lack of understanding of the nature of ideological
struggle, not to mention a certain Pollyannaish pacifism.

Having shown that directly opposing fascists is a noble
and relevant calling, we are now prepared to respond to
claims that this somehow "infringes on their right to
free speech." This mode of thought manifests itself
in ways that often border on the absurd. Every time a
comment is removed from an Indy Media web site, a huge
discussion about free speech ensues (as if the First
Amendment requires citizens to provide a forum for the
ideas of those they disagree with! Controlling the content
of one's own web site or newspaper is not censorship. But
that this argument is so often raised, shows the extent
to which the sanctity of free speech is embedded in our
consciousnesses.)

Less incredibly but still mistakenly, many argue that
staging counter-demonstrations to fascist/racist gatherings
in an attempt to intimidate and silence them, infringes
on their right to free speech.

Before directly addressing this argument, we should pause
to consider exactly what, then, is this "right" called
free speech?

Free speech, as detailed on the First Amendment to the
United States Constitution, is a civil right. That is, it
is a right that accrues by virtue of citizenship, according
to one's relation to the state. This Amendment guarantees
a citizen protection from the government infringing on his
speech. "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom
of speech." There is no guarantee that if you practice
your legal right to speak, your neighbor won't get pissed
off, come over and black your eye! There is an entirely
different set of laws that addresses such an occurrence,
but that have no bearing on free speech. In a similar
fashion, counter demonstrations to fascist/racist rallies
must contend with permits and such, and if violence erupts
there are criminal penalties to consider, but all this
has less than nothing to do with free speech rights. The
government is (supposedly) legally restricted from
abridging free speech. A conscientious human being, on the
other hand, has a moral obligation to oppose hate speech!

Community pressure is a legitimate social
force. Organizations of all descriptions, when considering
where to locate, take into account not just legal zoning
restrictions, but the likelihood of a friendly reception
by the surrounding community. If we allow fascists
and other similar cretin to believe that they are safe
parading through our communities, we have failed in our
responsibilities as members of our community, and we will
pay a price accordingly.

One troublesome aspect of the free speech defense of the
fascists, is the continuing reverence for the Constitution
that it belies. The Constitution is above all a property
rights document. It is not worthy of our respect, much
less our reverence. The majority of our fabled "Founding
Fathers" (always capitalized, like "God" in the
Bible) were slave owners, which is doubly ironic in the
context of the present topic, opposing racists! The Fathers
were neither saints nor prophets, and the Constitution is
not holy writ.

But the most disturbing element of the whole free
speech debacle on the American left, is the measure of
ignorance that it betrays regarding social privilege. If
my great calling in life is the protection of speech,
if I find threats to this right to be the most heinous
crime imaginable, what does that say about my life
circumstances? More importantly, what does it say about
my ignorance of the life circumstances of a huge swath of
American society (to say nothing of the world at large)?

If I value speech above all else, than I must never have
been cold, or hungry, or been forced to drink bad water. If
the worst thing I can imagine a police officer doing,
is preventing me from venting my spleen, I must not have
even the slightest hint of what it must be like to be a
young black person living in a housing project, poor and
without prospects, and guiltily of stealing and selling
drugs until proven innocent. Or to be a Latino factory
worker desperately dodging the immigration officers while
struggling to earn a few dollars to send back home to his
family. Or to be a little black girl, cowering behind a
fire hydrant when the Klan marches by.

It is this incredible gap in experience that lies at the
root of the left's foolish notions about fascism and
free speech. Only someone speaking from the perspective
of comfort and blissful ignorance, would begin to suppose
that the right of some bigot to spread his hateful ideas,
is more important than the right of a young child of color
to feel safe in the bosom of our shared community. The
civil rights of fascists, the aggressors, matter far less
than the human rights of our darker-skinned brothers and
sisters, their victims.

>From The Dawn, September 2004
<http://the-dawn.org/2004/09/free-speech>

==================================
* [Ed. note: The Dawn is an anarcho-communist journal]


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