As the effects of the Great Recession linger, the ruling rich are making every effort to ensure that the working class bears the brunt of the economic crunch. In this atmosphere, elements of the extreme right feel emboldened to promote their reactionary wares.
the increasing visibility of right-wing websites like
breitbart.com, to well-publicized speaking tours by conservative
ideologues like Milo Yiannopoulos and others, to former Breitbart
editor Steve Bannon’s attaining the status of presidential advisor,
the message from the top is clear: racism, sexism, and xenophobia
will all be used to divide and oppress the 99%. Meanwhile, these same
poisonous sentiments are used to divert attention from those actually
responsible for and benefiting from the current crisis.
natural for any compassionate, thinking person to be angry at the
notion of a Yiannopoulos, Bannon, Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Coulter,
O’Reilly, or Trump being given a prominent platform to promote
their reactionary ideology. The question is: what should we do about
it? What’s the best way to counter right-wing propaganda?
can we most effectively shift the narrative from the phony answers
offered by the right to the genuine solutions championed by the
revolutionary left? How can we best ensure that the
right-wing talk doesn’t
become right-wing action?
And critically, how can we best harness the power of the 99%—the
working-class majority—in this ideological, social, and economic
Jan. 20, Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak before a sellout
crowd of 700 at the University of Washington in Seattle. Outside,
protesters gathered. Some in the crowd began throwing bricks,
fireworks, paint, and other objects. One protester was shot by a
Trump/ Yiannopoulos supporter. Despite the disturbance, Yiannopoulos
was able to complete his talk.
Feb. 1, Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the University of
California, Berkeley. Some among the 1500 protesters at the event
threw rocks through campus windows, causing a generator to catch
fire. University officials claim $100,000 in damage was done. The
police responded with rubber bullets and locked down the campus. The
event was cancelled before Yiannopoulos could speak. Afterwards, some
protesters smashed commercial storefront windows and car windshields
and clashed with police. Later, Yiannopoulos was quoted as saying
that “the left” was “terrified of free speech and will do
literally anything to shut it down.”
April 15, protesters clashed with participants at a pro-Trump rally
at a park in Berkeley. Fireworks, bottles, trashcans, and traffic
cones were thrown. Eleven people were injured; seven were taken to
the hospital. Police used pepper spray on the crowd.
the aftermath of these events, dozens of mainstream as well as right
wing outlets rushed to proclaim:
riot lays bare liberal hypocrisy on free speech
Hypocrisy on Freedom of Speech BRUTALLY Exposed
Imitation Game – How the Left is Silencing Free Speech
hypocrisy of ‘love trumps hate’ liberals
responsible for violence?
narrative that grew out of these events was a gift to the right and
corporate elites, making it easier for the powers that be to turn
reality on its head.
a fact that our society is characterized by rampant inequality,
where wealth and power reside in the hands of a tiny minority. But
such an imbalance is unnatural and can only be sustained by the use
of force. No privileged minority can maintain its rule over the
majority without resorting to repression and violence. In a true
democracy, with full respect for democratic rights and civil
liberties, the majority would quickly do away with any dictatorial,
exploitive, parasitic minority.
is the 1% and defenders of minority rule who are responsible for
violence and exploitation today. The war, racism, sexism, mass
incarceration, police brutality, austerity, destruction of the
environment, and attacks on civil liberties that are so
characteristic of modern capitalism benefit only those at the top.
course working people—the majority—have every right to defend
ourselves from those who would use force to exploit us. But in the
process, we should not carelessly hand propaganda victories to our
enemy, muddying the waters as to who are the real perpetrators of
gains for the working class
speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and other civil
liberties are vital, hard-fought gains for working people. Each of
these rights is constantly under attack, although to date none have
been decisively reversed.
is easier for us to fight against the rule of the 1% with the tools
of civil liberties in our arsenal. If we were forced to fight for
fundamental change against an overt dictatorship—if we were
compelled to function as an illegal, underground movement—our task
would be immensely more difficult.
we consider some of the basic civil liberties that are not guaranteed
to Americans today—the right to health care and family leave, the
right to education, the right to form unions, the right to a job, the
right to democratically control our workplaces and our economy—it’s
easy to see how the lack of these rights hinders our ability to fight
contrast, those in power today do not rely on civil liberties to
maintain their rule. In fact, they readily flout
the law when it suits them, and they steadfastly defend
their perks and privileges whether
or not they are strictly legal.
civil liberties are more important to the working majority than the
ruling elites. When democratic rights are attacked, it is always the
working class and progressive movements for social change that bear
the brunt and suffer the most. This is one more reason to guard
against giving the authorities any excuse for restricting our rights.
rights under attack
are many examples of the ruling elites trampling the democratic
rights of the majority as a way of countering dissent and keeping us
example, with the passage of the Espionage Act in 1917, opposition to
World War I was criminalized. To speak against the war was “to
interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the
United States or to promote the success of its enemies.” Socialists
and antiwar activists, like Eugene V. Debs, Kate Richards O’Hare,
and others, were imprisoned for insisting that “the working class
has no interest in the wars declared and waged by the ruling classes
of the various countries upon one another for conquest and spoils.”
characteristic irony, Debs
noted, “… it is extremely dangerous to exercise the
constitutional right of free speech in a country fighting to make
democracy safe in the world.” In the Palmer Raids of 1919-1920, the
U.S. Attorney General sought to arrest and deport as many
left-leaning radicals as possible.
the start of World War II, the government once again acted against
left opponents, sending Teamster activists and leaders of the
Socialist Workers Party to prison on frame-up “conspiracy”
charges. Following the war, repression against the labor movement and
the left was ramped up even further with the political witch hunts
associated with reactionary Senator Joseph McCarthy.
March of 1975, a professor at San Francisco State University invited
a member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist White People’s Party to
speak at his class. A small group of ultra-left demonstrators forced
the event to be cancelled. The majority of students on campus, while
condemning the views of the neo-Nazi group, opposed the forced
cancellation of the event, seeing it as the threat to free speech
more generally. University officials used the ultra-left
demonstration as a pretext to go after campus radical and socialist
groups, even attempting (unsuccessfully) to expel several from
recently, the right to speak in defense of Palestinian rights is
under siege. Professors Norman
Finkelstein (DePaul University) and Steven
Salaita (University of IL) were denied faculty positions
because of their support for the Palestinian struggle. The governor
of New York issued an executive
order prohibiting the state from doing business with any
organization or company that supports the Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions movement (BDS). On US college campus and in countries
across the world, restrictions
on the right to speak and organize for BDS are spreading.
attacks on WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and numerous whistleblowers
direct threat to free speech and freedom of the press.
sides of the same coin
reformers have no faith in the ability of the working class to
organize and change society. They erroneously believe that meaningful
change can come through appealing to the better nature of the ruling
elites. This is why they focus their efforts and energy on pleading
with “friendly officials” to grant incremental reforms.
frustrated radicals and ultra-left activists make a similar mistake.
They too have given up on organizing masses of people. Instead, they
substitute their own sensational, often violent confrontations for
the mobilization of the 99% as a whole. Like liberals, ultra-left
radicals hope to shock and shame the corporate establishment into
seeing the light.
an effective movement is not one that is overly concerned with
changing the minds of those at the top; it is one that reaches out to
those at the bottom. The powers that be cannot be moved by moral or
logical arguments because their rule is not based on morality or
logic. It is based on economic and political power.
For this reason, the aim of our actions must be to harness the
countervailing power of millions of working people, and in so
doing force those
at the top to change course against their will.
this clearly in mind, tactics can be chosen which will bring the
maximum number of people into action.
is counterproductive to seek to prevent right-wing ideologues from
speaking. In the first place, it is not their speech that is
dangerous, but their policies and actions. In the second place, all
of the right-wing talking points can easily be debunked by suitable
arguments from the left. Thirdly, history has shown that any
restriction of free speech or other democratic rights redounds most
severely on the organizations and movements of the left.
right-wing propaganda does present a real threat that needs to be
answered. What’s needed is a response that strengthens our hand,
undermines the opposition, makes clear who’s responsible for
systemic violence, and demonstrates which side has the majority.
strategy that fits the bill is counter-mobilization.
Here’s how it works: When a right-wing speaker is invited to
campus, student and community groups should unite in demanding that
an opposing speaker representing a more radical left view be invited
as well. Preferably, the entire event should be turned into a debate.
a right-wing racist, misogynist, or xenophobic speaker is given a
platform, mass protests and pickets should be organized outside. The
point is not to prevent people from attending or to prevent the
speaker from being heard, but to ensure that the speaker’s
viewpoint does not go unchallenged, and to visibly demonstrate which
side has the majority.
right-wingers move into action, the left should build a bigger,
broader counter-action. Right-wing marches and pickets should be met
with larger, broader counter-marches and counter-pickets. There’s
no need to prevent the
right-wingers from marching. Rather, the aim is to dwarf the impact
of the right’s action with a suitable, massive counter-action.
successful example of this tactic took place in 1978, when a group of
about a dozen neo-Nazis marchers in Chicago were met by thousands of
counter-demonstrators, myself among them. After what had been
controversial build-up, the right-wing action was dwarfed by a
united, progressive response. In the end, the Hitler wannabes made
their speeches, but the broader relationship of forces was clear for
all to see.
circumstances when the right resorts to outright violence, the labor
movement and its allies must conduct a defense. Organizers are duty
bound to prepare in advance to defend our counter-mobilizations
against possible attack by reactionary forces.
reactionary, right wing speakers must be challenged. But this is best
achieved in a way that brings the largest possible number of people
into struggle against their ideas and policies. Counter-mobilizing
does this while defending important civil liberties that strengthen
our hand, making it crystal clear that it’s the ruling rich, their
gendarmes, and their right-wing hangers-on who are responsible for
initiating any violence.
>> The article above was written by Bruce Lesnick, and is reprinted from Socialist Action.