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Vol. 79/No. 46      December 21, 2015

(front page, commentary)

Attacks on right to free speech are blow to the working class

A growing trend among academics, students, liberals and some who call themselves socialists is to threaten and shout down those with whom they disagree. This is an attack on precious political rights won in hard-fought struggles by working people and must be vigorously opposed.

Some students have tried to bar talks and performances by Israeli academics and artists, and those who hold differing views on Israel. At a recent protest at Hunter College against tuition and for cancelling student debts, one group, saying the problem was “Zionist” administrators, tried to drive off four Jewish students who joined with signs backing the action that also supported the existence of Israel.

During recent student protests carried out under the banner of the fight against racism at the University of Missouri, Yale, Cornell and other campuses, the right to free speech became the target, instead of putting forward clear demands to overturn policies that discriminate against Blacks and forge unity in action.

On Nov. 9 when student photojournalist Tim Tai visited a University of Missouri at Columbia public protest calling for more racial awareness, some students told him he couldn’t take pictures because the protest area was their “safe space.” Tai replied that the right to protest and his right to report on the protests were protected by the Constitution, and another journalist supported him. Melissa Click, an assistant professor taking part in the protest, shouted, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!”

Many liberals and leftist groups say — mistakenly — that racist attacks are growing like wildfire, and if free speech must be sacrificed to stop them, so be it. In fact, the mass proletarian movement of African-Americans and their allies in the 1950s and ’60s strengthened the working class and transformed the consciousness of workers of all nationalities. The fight against police brutality and killings over the last year and a half have forced the rulers to indict some cops and take steps to rein them in.

There are fewer, not more, racist attacks today. But because of the changes in social attitude wrought by struggle, they get more publicity and response.

Convinced of the opposite, the Ithaca College student government initiated a witch-hunt “Microaggressions Reporting System” in March, urging students to report “social exchanges in which verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities are committed that marginalize an individual(s) or specific group(s).”

When Cornell University student William Heisenberg posted on Facebook plans for a Nov. 13 action in solidarity with protests against racism at other colleges, he was accused of “microaggression” against “PoCs” (people of color). The Black Students United asked him to cancel the event because of “the lack of people of color in the planning and attendance of this protest,” and Mexican student group MEChA said he “perpetuates a white savior complex, placing the power to decide change in the hands of those not living our realities.”

The Yale University Intercultural Affairs Committee sent an email to students warning them not to wear a Halloween costume that “disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population” and cautioning against “cultural appropriation and/or misrepresentation” — dressing as a person of a different race or culture.

When Yale lecturer Erika Christakis responded, warning that U.S. universities “have become places of censure and prohibition,” some Yale students organized angry protests demanding she resign, which she did Dec. 7.

Reject violence in workers movement

Censorship and thuggery are defended in a Nov. 16 editorial posted on the website of Workers World, the newspaper of the Workers World Party, which calls itself socialist.

Free speech is “racism” and “a tool the capitalist ruling class uses as it propagandizes, organizes and legislates to keep all oppressed people — and emphatically people of color — silent and powerless,” the editors state.

“This world cannot be built using narrow legalities put in place by a bourgeois democratic revolution in the 1700s that framed ‘rights’ as possessed only by white, propertied men,” the editors write, tossing out the window constitutional protections won in blood by working people.

Far from being “narrow legalities” of a bygone era, the gains of the first American Revolution, including the successful fight led by workers and small shopkeepers for the Bill of Rights, written to protect the people from the state; and the second American Revolution, the Civil War, that abolished slavery, initiated Radical Reconstruction and codified emancipation, equal protection, citizenship and suffrage in the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution are sorely needed for working-class struggles today. They aren’t just a concern of “dead white men” and “rightists,” as many on the left argue today.

Violence has no place in the working-class movement. Shouting down speakers, shutting down meetings or banning the expression of opinions you don’t agree with prevents the debate necessary to reach political clarity, build a mighty proletarian movement and fight for political power.

‘Operation Mop-Up’

In the 1970s the National Caucus of Labor Committees led by Lyndon LaRouche — which called itself socialist while on the road to becoming a fascist outfit — announced that groups in the workers’ movement it said were obstacles to the struggle needed to be eliminated. They launched what they called “Operation Mop-Up,” aiming to “pulverize” and “bury” the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party. Armed with lead pipes, nunchucks and clubs, LaRouchite goons in 1973 attacked meetings the groups participated in and members walking home or to work.

The Socialist Workers Party organized a broad political campaign — and united-front defense squads — that beat the thugs back and brought their attacks to a halt.

Only by considering all ideas in an atmosphere of free debate and discussion can working people decide how to effectively oppose imperialism and war; fight for higher wages and unions; push back police violence; win affirmative action in hiring for African-Americans, women and all victims of discrimination; and build a labor party based on the unions.
Related articles:
Chicago actions protest cop killings, cover-up
Justice Dept. announces probe of city police
Baltimore: First cop on trial in killing of Freddie Gray
Fight cop brutality, defend free speech!
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