Free speech and its limitations in response to dealing with the far right

milo yiannopoulos

A short response to the article The Question of Freedom of Speech Facing Socialists, arguing that there is a big difference between state censorship and a direct action no platform approach.

There is currently some discussion about what constitutes free speech, especially in light in recent occurrences of no platforming and the cancellation of Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at Berkeley as a consequence of protests. What current advocates of free speech absolutism don't seem to understand is the difference between censorship, which is state repression, and no platforming or other methods of telling individuals promoting bigotry to shut up. The latter is not censorship.

Censorship is specifically a state/government intervention in preventing people from disseminating their ideas, and this is what the quotations by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Marx cited in the article were referring to. Marx was subjected to censorship, his writings and writings of other communists/socialists being banned in various European countries and the possession of such writings being a pretext to imprisonment. Rosa Luxemburg was ultimately murdered by reactionaries holding similar opinions to those people who contemporary free speech absolutists think should be protected. It was also at the heart of the San Diego Free Speech Fight 1912-1913, which Emma Goldman, the Wobblies and others were involved with, a movement whose members were imprisoned, beaten, tortured and even killed by the police. It is a flawed and disrespectful argument to use Luxemburg, Marx and Berkman, all of whom suffered from actual censorship and real state repression to defend the likes of Milo and other fascists, or to malign protesters who stand up for themselves and other people who are abused by them.

Censorship was not what was experienced by Milo. That was a large group of people who had had enough of the years of his spewing hate and bigotry, showing up and telling him that his presence would not be tolerated, a few days after one of his supporters had shot a protester earlier on his tour. It didn't actually "censor" him, it just prevented him from talking in one particular place. As for him not advocating violence, he was intending to out undocumented students, not only in that place but livestreaming it. I'm pretty sure that throwing people into the clutches of ICE, risking their safety, that of their families, possibly getting deported, counts as violence. There's more than one kind of violence and punching someone in the face is only one of these them. Milo had been exercising his freedom of speech for years, on ever increasingly large platforms, including network news and the BBC and has orchestrated campaigns terrorizing people, mostly women. No-one has censored him. He was banned from twitter because he violated their posting guidelines, it hardly shut him up though. I don't think a primetime HBO invite really counts as censorship.

Fascists, the alt-right or whatever, have been getting an increasingly large platform in recent years. It’s really not hard to see the correlation between their ever increasing ability to spread their malicious messages and the increasing amount of physical violence perpetrated against minorities? The mainstreaming of these views under the free speech argument has undoubtable emboldened people to assault people, burn mosques, burn black churches, threaten Jewish centres with bombs.

Free speech fights have always been about government repression of ideas. It's not about a person's inalienable right to abuse someone else. If someone starts spouting some kind of bigotry in my direction, I can and I will tell them to sit down and shut up. That's what happened to Milo. It's just absurd to think you can debate with these people. The trans student who turned up on his tour to disagree with him in person had her life made so miserable by him and his fans she had to drop out of college. Was that him exercising his free speech too? It's utter liberal claptrap to misuse the concept of censorship to protect these people from the righteous fury of people preventing them, or attempting to prevent them from further spreading their message, opinions which directly target marginalised people and minorities.

There is a rank hypocrisy permeating some areas of the left who celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, who revel in the actions of previous generations who fought fascism but tut tut at poor little Milo turning tail and running or Richard Spencer getting punched in the face, in the name of the principle of free speech. It's a wonder that the people of the East End didn't just pull up a few chairs and have a nice little debate with Mosley. You can't debate these people. Standing up and telling these people to shut up as their hate actually threatens people isn't censorship, it's self-preservation. It would be really nice if everyone were nice to each other but that's not the world we live in. Pick a side.


Mar 16 2017 21:36
Mar 16 2017 22:11
Our article supported free speech and criticized the anarchist tactics of direct action and individual-terrorism, while theirs took the opposite position. Right off the bat, their article is wrong in claiming that “free speech” is only about not being censored by the government, and “censorship” is only about government censorship. That’s a nonsensical view. Any elementary (even bourgeois) analysis, including a Marxist analysis, recognizes that gangs, ad-hoc (spontaneously formed) or not, being violent against people who say certain things is censorship and a violation of free speech, and free speech requires protection from violence. Or is fascist groups going around and beating socialists not a violation of free speech? Please. One may not agree with free speech, but this is what free speech is.

Someone isn't taking criticism very well

Mar 16 2017 22:22

Yeah, there are a lot of logical fallacies in that piece and, c'mon even titling it anti-Marxist as if that in and of itself is a sin is pretty silly.

Chilli Sauce
Mar 16 2017 22:27
prinkyn wrote:
Our reply: posts anti-Marxist polemic

So FWIW - and given the rigor of the linked article, it's probably not worth much - the original article isn't "a libcom article". Such things don't exist. It's hosted by libcom but shouldn't be taken to represent any sort of agreed-on position more than any other individual blog out there in the world.*

Whatever you think about the original article, it takes a lot of fucking chutzpa to make grand claims about "individual terrorist anarchist nonsense" and then call the original a "polemic".

As for the idea that libcom is somehow "anti-Marxist", gimme a break. Libcom, as a site, represents probably the most pro-Marx wing of the English-speaking anarchist movement. Get a grip.

*Reading that other thread, I can see how Steven's use of "official response" might be a little misleading. But, to be clear, unless an article is signed by the group, assume it's the work of one individual. And even articles signed as such only represent the site admins, not any wider movement, organization, or even site users.

Chilli Sauce
Mar 16 2017 22:28

Crossposted with Red and K. Also edited for accuracy.

Mar 16 2017 23:16

fwiw, I'm an extremely Marx-friendly anarchist, I'm currently helping a co-worker work their way through Vol One of Capital atm, which is actually brightening up us going through the inventory of dead stock in the warehouse.

Not sure if I can be bothered to pull apart the response, however as pointed out by Reddebrek, Luxemburg held up an editor at gun point and Marx supported the Paris Commune, which seems at least a little bit like direct action to me. While people misattributing quotes to back up your argument, Voltaire anyone?

As for fascism, it rarely shows up wearing jackboots, except in the movies.

Mar 17 2017 04:18
prinkyn wrote:
Our reply: posts anti-Marxist polemic

If we can't stomach the idea of engaging with right-wing and fascist politics directly via the relatively benign methods of direct action and no-platforming, what do we do when it comes to engaging with them in a revolutionary way? "Oh, ah, we would like to deal the final blow to a stubborn threat to communism, but you see we can't be seen actually trying to win over them and destroying their ability to organize politically and materially, that'd be limiting their freedom of speech you understand".

I see no reason why we should adhere to bourgeois principles like the "freedom of speech" anyway. It expresses, in its highest form, the bourgeois-idealist position that ideas and politics exist in an airy and untouchable place far above mere mortal lives, instead of being the very crude and very material application of power--where power must be met with power. As the old man once said, the weapon of criticism cannot replace criticism by weapons--material force must be met with material force.

Do we sometimes tack onto bourgeois principles, defending against state incursions on our political organizations by using their own words against them? Of course we do, because we can then bring into relief the contradiction that the state can only maintain it's pretense of freedom of speech because it itself pretends to have the only legitimate claim to all material force. Whenever it has been the case that the working class has attempted to organize itself materially, politically, to challenge this pretense of the state, was it not always the state that decisively denied them this much vaunted "freedom of speech"? So we will use their hypocrisy as our shield, weak as it historically has been.

And do we restrict our criticism, both the weapon of and by weapons, only to those whose politics are fascist, fascistic, the most reactionary? Of course not. But because we are not bound by bourgeois so-called principles, we can do the incredible thing of evaluating things on a case by case basis, as they really are, instead of hamstringing ourselves with the restrictions our enemies would place upon us--which some sections of the communist movement would happily accept, calling it more progressive, more revolutionary, to make ourselves less able to fight. We can see that fascist mobilization is a threat to the working class, and therefore we must ourselves organize against it. Is it empirically the most dangerous or the most present threat? Maybe, maybe not; but these are empirical questions, not ones of principle. It does seem, however, that at the moment there can be more effective organization against outright fascists than, say, the capitalist state.

Does this mean that we should engage in this fight? It doesn't immediately mean so; we know the pitfalls that broad "antifascist" politics have gotten us into, how it can lead us farther and farther away from the libertarian communist program. But it does not immediately preclude our involvement either. If we do not present the communist program, who will?

"Hence, nothing prevents us from making criticism of politics, participation in politics, and therefore real struggles, the starting point of our criticism, and from identifying our criticism with them. In that case we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to." Marx, in a letter to Ruge, 1843.

Mar 17 2017 01:06

Damn, that is a hell of a post DevastateTheAvenues!

And welcome to libcom! I like you already.

Mar 17 2017 01:14

Same! Hello smile

Mar 17 2017 04:06

Thanks you two. I've lurked for quite a while and decided to finally give my two cents on something. It bugs me to no end that some are presenting this non-issue as a deeply existential one for communists, when even some sections of progressivism, admittedly the more radical sections, are coming around to the idea that it's fine to punch a fascist. If people are wringing their hands over that, they've forgotten the revolutionary struggles of the past that have involved far more than just no-platforming and can't be counted on to bring things to a revolutionary struggle in the future.

Mike Harman
Mar 17 2017 13:32

That's quite a response, I particularly enjoyed this Very Marxist reading of the US constitution:

While the First Amendment only serves to ban censorship from the government, obviously the meaning of “free speech” and “censorship” for the bourgeois revolutionaries who drafted the U.S. Constitution does not end here. They intended for the government to protect any individual from violence by any other individual..

The 1st Amendment was adopted decades before the abolition of chattel slavery (which was itself not an abolition of forced labour due to the 13th amendment combined with vagrancy laws and Jim Crow). So who exactly do they mean by 'any other individual'?

Chilli Sauce
Mar 17 2017 16:25
Khawaga wrote:
Damn, that is a hell of a post DevastateTheAvenues!

And welcome to libcom! I like you already.

This! DTA, get yourself a libcom blog!

Mar 18 2017 00:24

I posted my comment over at their blog and received a reply. I want to crosspost it here in full, along with my response to them.

Meghany @ Destroy Capitalism Now wrote:
Thank you for your comment. We are interested in a respectful debate.

We have no quarrel with the tactic of no platforming, which as far as I’ve seen means simply refusing to debate certain individuals, and doing anything possible in order to not give them a platform to speak on. That doesn’t have anything to do with violently shutting down a speech by a right-wing individual who isn’t part of an organized fascist violence gang, which is what we criticize.

You work from the standpoint that any action, for example a violent action, will be positive for the left, without considering the character, strategical viewpoints, background, tactical historical background, situation, and other factors of that an action. For example, one interpretation of your simplistic logic could have it that assassinating Trump could supposedly be viewed a win for the left, when actually not only would it be an unacceptable tactic from a Marxist standpoint, not only would it achieve nothing as Trump would just be replaced by some other capitalist politician who would be even more right-wing and motivated by revenge against the assassination, but it would also cause the left-wing to lose credibility and sympathy from millions, as well as create the situation allowing for a massive government crackdown, repression and increasing authoritarianism. An anarchist may agree with such an action, but a Marxist can’t.

That brings us about to the next point: we are against violent direct action in the current situation in liberal capitalist countries. This is not a refusal to use violence if the situation is appropriate, nor any retreat. It is simply the Marxist position on the issue, which follows historical consistency. Marxists and anarchists have historically disagreed on the question of direct action. Generally, anarchists have taken the position that an acceptable tactical strategy is to support any violent and/or terrorist action against any of the representatives or symbols of capitalism, at any point. While Marxists have taken the position that there should be no direct action, no terrorism in a liberal capitalist situation. Rather, the revolution must be organized. If possible, power should be taken peacefully (a position reiterated over and over again by Marx and Engels, though of course both them and us, by extension, are skeptical of how possible and applicable this is): if the capitalist army and police try to violently suppress it, then of course, the working class has to organize militarily against them.

But that doesn’t mean we’re against suppressing fascists violently, within a capitalist society. We agree that fascists have to be suppressed violently, as we understand fascism to be a movement based on violent organized gangs which pose a violent and terroristic threat to the working class and its movements. But for example, if a right-wing politician or individual has right-wing views, like “women belong in the kitchen”, “black people are thugs”, etc. that individual is not a fascist, but merely a right-wing, sexist, racist conservative. While we despise the politics of this kind of individual, we would not agree with terrorist violence against them. It is politically counter-productive, and such actions are not revolutionary under our analysis. Furthermore, we hold indiscriminate murder and violence to be morally wrong, and since under the Marxist view, and by extension our view, such a violent action wouldn’t advance the cause of the revolution, then it is unambiguously morally wrong.

Freedom of speech is not a bourgeois principle, but rather a general principle that is curtailed within capitalist society and would flourish even further within socialist society. Precisely what we must criticize is how limited such rights are in current bourgeois society. Marx, who can broadly be considered to have been vastly influenced by a variant of radical humanist thought, held freedom of speech to be one of the most important rights.

Yet the question of suppressing fascism is no question of speech, but merely a question of self-defense from violence. For example, if some irrelevant individual, within theoretically ahistorical circumstances, who is not part of any organized movement, randomly says “Hitler wasn’t all that bad”, we wouldn’t consider this to be “fascism”, but merely the expression of reactionary views. Of course fascism has to be suppressed, but that has nothing to do with the topic of free speech in general.

But don’t assume that this position means that we’d go beg the police to “protect” free speech of Nazi apologists, for example.

>We have no quarrel with the tactic of no platforming...

First, you and your grouping have no idea what no-platforming is, then. Second, why do you oppose, seemingly on principle, the no-platforming of the non-fascist right? Is it your understanding that they are supposedly less the enemies of communism than the fascists are, simply because they are immediately less violent? Despite the case that they would be just as happy to use physical violence against the working class, just perhaps in the more genteel form of a cop's gun and baton rather than a fascist's?

>You work from the standpoint that any action, for example a violent action, will be positive for the left, without considering the character, strategical viewpoints, background, tactical historical background, situation, and other factors of that an action.

Ah, but here you elude the point regarding principle to say it's all about the tactics, despite both the original article from your group claiming your stance on freedom of speech was an "ethical one" and your article not saying a word about tactics, but much about a supposed "right" to "free speech".

And not only that, you do so by putting words in my mouth and into the mouths of others. You accuse "libcom" of arguing via "obscuring logic, manipulating language, and emotionalistic bullying", but isn't it you who in this very article used the words "[t]he writer [of the blog post on libcom] would probably claim" some position that Fleur never did, and then went on a long spiel against this totally made up opponent. And you're saying that I somehow claim that "any action" would be "positive for the left", despite my own assertion that such decisions are empricical questions rather than based on some "principled" stance; or, to put it another way, they are tactical questions. In other words, you're making up the strawmen arguments you're trying to knock down. Or, to put it yet another way: I obviously don't think that "any action" would be positive for "the left"; for example, I certainly don't think this group's posturing over free speech is at all positive for anybody but the enemies of the communist movement.

And this deception, putting it plainly, continues further with your claims that you are only arguing the "Marxist" position against the "anarchist" one, as if both were monoliths. You forget, say, anarchists texts like "You Can't Blow Up a Social Relationship" (, to be clear, I use only as an example, and not as a statement of my position. You also forget "Marxist" groupings like the German Red Army Faction, which, I submit, could probably be described as having engaged in "individual-terrorism" and "direct violent action". Ah, but perhaps because they were a "faction", and therefore satisfy your fetish for "organization" as the way to purify violence, you are totally okay with them? I only kid, of course; I wouldn't want to put you in the position of having to defend positions you never before stated as having.

And, yet, there does seem to be something there. How is it that the mass gathering of political actors, many of whom were probably socialists or communists, to no-platform Yiannassholish or some Trumpsters somehow counts as "individual-terrorism" and not an expression of the resistance of the working class? Is it because they didn't march under a single banner or party or something? Does some kind of formal "organization" absolve the sin of violence? So much for talking about tactics; indeed, we seem to be going into the territory of liturgy, what with talk of immorality and Christ-like "Marx" and "Engels" setting down all that is good and decent. I suppose that instead of repenting for being a sinner, I should repent for being an "individual-terror anarchist".

But, alas, lest I be accused of defending every violent act, let me preemept that by saying that if course I don't. But, as I said before, by not hamstringing myself to bourgeois so-called principles, I can evaluate an act on a case by case basis. I defend only the idea that violence is not immediately some kind of socialist sin that should lead the whole movement into a bout of navel gazing, certain not for things as minor as a few fascists getting punched and bloodied.

And you say that Marx and Engels were some kind of pacifists, the same Marx that keenly studied every violent revolution and saw in the active defense of the Paris Commune the model of the future movement, the same Engels that personally fought at the barricades. There was the simple recognition by them that no new state of affairs is ever inaugurated without great violence. So much for you and your group flows from being "Marxists", and yet seems to have very little to do with Marx. I suppose that statement of Marx, "ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas marxiste", continues to be ever prescient!

Mar 19 2017 14:47

Hmmm given that so far we've had three guys give statements that don't really mesh very well I guess this is one of those "groups" that has to have an official line and response on anything and everything but hasn't organised itself to the point where that's actually possible.

Oh and I wonder what they'd make of Hegel

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