Free speech, hate speech, and socialism

BY: Scott Hiley| May 17, 2018
Free speech, hate speech, and socialism
QHello. I am an adolescent who is thinking about joining the CPUSA once I am at the legal voting age. My History teacher told me that in a Communist country, no one has individual rights. I asked her to give me specific examples of what rights I would not have and she said something along the lines of,” We wouldn’t have freedom of speech. Like for example, I wouldn’t be able to say an opinion that was different from how the majority felt.” My question is, since this a progressive party, If we had a Communist President and a Communist country with communist laws, would that mean people who are conservative in any way could not not be able to say or do anything that was politically incorrect? --Madeline
AHi Madeline,

Thanks for writing in, and for a terrific question.  It really got me thinking! In our perspective, dissent, protest, disagreement and debate are a vital part of the democratic process--as vital, in fact, as arriving at and implementing a collective strategy. We don't see CPUSA as ruling a single-party state; instead, we hope to be one of many parties and organizations working together to build socialism.

So, in a socialist USA, will people be allowed to say 'politically incorrect' things?  The short answer is that it depends on what kind of things, and where.  I doubt a government based on our vision of Bill of Rights socialism will be handing out fines to people who use the term 'snowflake', but I also don't think it will issue permits for Nazi rallies, use publicly owned media to promote racist conspiracy theories, or let trolls make rape threats over social media.

There's a lot of gray area there, so it might be useful to think more broadly about socialism, individual liberties, and the fight for equality, beginning with the idea of 'political correctness'.

I think the term 'politically incorrect' is a trap.  It gets used to cover up what we're really talking about, which are patterns of speech that promote white supremacy, male supremacy, and other forms of inequality.  An awful lot of awful conversations wouldn't happen if people had to say "I heard a great joke about how Black people are inferior!" rather than "I heard this hilarious joke, but it's super politically incorrect."

The idea of political correctness also implies a certain kind of censorship and constraint, as if not saying the n-word means I've given up some part of my freedom in response to social pressure.

That Ayn Rand, individual-vs-society line is how the right wing has trained people to think about freedom.  For them, it's not freedom unless it comes at the expense of someone else, the First Amendment was written to protect bigots and trolls, and the whole foundation of liberty is under attack when a university suggests that its students avoid racist stereotypes in their Halloween costumes.  (Seriously, the ultra-conservative Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called that email "an intrusion into the expressive rights of college students that compromised their autonomy.")

Unfortunately, some liberals buy into that idea as well.  They think that shutting down a Nazi rally, or preventing religious fundamentalists from verbally abusing patients outside abortion clinics, would compromise free speech rights for everyone.  It's the 'I don't agree with what you say, but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it' thing.

It's also nonsense.

If our freedom really depended on keeping America safe for racism and misogyny, the Trump presidency would be a golden age of liberty, marked by respect for alternate viewpoints and a commitment to informed political debate. Instead, as hate speech goes mainstream, we see crackdowns on protest, attacks on dissenting voices in the media, and calls to violence against progressive activists.

Watching our country lurch toward fascism under Trump's clique of bigots and billionaires provides a striking confirmation of CPUSA's long-held position: racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression are tools of the capitalist class, used to keep profits up and workers down and divided.  They have nothing to do with freedom, and trying to guarantee them a place in our political life endangers liberty rather than protecting it--including for white, working-class men, who are harmed by everything that keeps the capitalist class in a position to exploit them.

So the real question isn't whether rape jokes and 'I'm not racist, but...' will be allowed under socialism.  It's whether we can even get to socialism without winning people away from the influence of white male supremacy and toward a vision of equality for all.

And the answer to that question is no.

Image: Protestors voice their opposition to Milo Yiannapoulos and his right-wing 'Free Speech Week' at Berkeley University  (Wikimedia Commons).

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