Picking on Solidarity

I usually don’t enjoy polemics with Leninists and Trotskyists. I probably won’t enjoy this, but I took the time to write a response to a L/T article. I’ll repost here.

 

It turns out, Leninists still have yet to learn what freedom of speech means. There isn’t anything new in this article: it basically repeats the arguments of reactionaries as long as their complaints against freedom of speech have been around. In my view, the great argument for freedom of speech was made by John Stuart Mill in his On Liberty, and his fine arguments have yet to be answered.

To the substance of this article: Skerritt writes that it is “absurdly irresponsible” to allow Nick Griffin on BBC. Skerritt knows that the BNP won two seats in the European parliament. Surely, he knows further that it won something like a million votes. Should the media not discuss his views?

Take an alternative question. There’s footage on youtube of him speaking at a conference together with David Duke, where he speaks of his plan to pretend to be more moderate than he is in order to win popular support. Should the media show this footage? Or is this giving him a platform?

Okay, so suppose we grant public exposure can discredit someone. Is it conceivable to Skerritt that holding Griffin’s views to public scrutiny might discredit him too? Or are British people too stupid to be trusted to reject his views for themselves?

On the actual BNP, I’m not sure that it is accurately represented by Skerritt. He says, for example, that it wants to institute a Nazi dictatorship. It is true that he has a conviction for inciting hatred of Jews. Yet he denies that he has is or has ever been a Nazi, or a fascist. I don’t take what he says very seriously, but I would be interested in knowing what evidence Skerritt has for this assertion.

Okay, so what arguments do Skerritt marshall in defence of denying free speech to the BNP? “Nazis who want to crush free speech do not deserve the right to use it.”

Okay, so if this were a serious argument: why not deny freedom of speech to communists? It’s no secret that under Bolshevik Russia, Castro’s Cuba, Maoist China, communist North Korea, Communist Vietnam and so on, there was no freedom of speech. So why don’t we deny freedom of speech to Solidarity, Socialist Alternative, Green Left Weekly and so on? This argument has almost certainly been made no shortage of times in Australia, and the Communist Party came within a whisker of being banned on this argument.

What’s the difference between those who argue against freedom of speech for Nazis, and those who argue against freedom of speech for communists? Personal preferences. There is no difference in principles, it is simply an issue to be determined by who has power.

For those who support freedom of speech, it must mean freedom of speech precisely for those whose views we don’t like. As Chomsky says, Goebbels supported freedom of speech for people he agreed with. This is meaningless: the issue only arises in the case of those whose views we don’t like, who we don’t want to hear, and whose views are unpopular.

At this point, I can only advise the Leninist Trotskyists of Solidarity to read Mill’s outstanding book. There is nothing original in the view that morally pernicious opinions should not be allowed expression. This is why Socrates was put to death.

Skerritt is not content with opposing freedom of speech now, but then realises that socialists (and I don’t think Leninists and Trotskyists should properly be considered socialist, because I don’t think either were socialist) have been accused of “lacking commitment to freedom of speech”. To disprove this, he claims that “Socialists have been on the frontline” of the struggle for freedom of speech. “Lenin and the Bolsheviks defended freedom of religious expression”.

It is hard to encapsulate how outrageous this is. Surely, even Skerritt must know that Lenin and the Bolsheviks constructed a harshly repressive regime that was more or less openly contemptuous of freedom of speech. For example, when Emma Goldman visited Russia, she spoke to Lenin (it’s recorded in her book My Disillusionment in Russia), and he said

““But as to free speech,” he remarked, “that is, of course, a bourgeois notion. There can be no free speech in a revolutionary period.”

And of course she spoke to Russians (which she recorded) struggling against the harsh dicatorship. And the Kronstadt rebellion, drowned in blood. Their second demand – obviously, considered too unreasonable to negotiate on by Trotsky et al – was for “freedom of speech and press for workers and peasants, for Anarchists and left Socialist parties”. How outrageous.

Bertrand Russell also visited post-revolutionary Russia (if the Bolshevik coup is to be considered a revolution). He said that “Friends of Russia here think of the dictatorship of the proletariat as merely a new form of representative government, in which only working men and women have votes, and the constituencies are partly occupational, not geographical. They think that “proletariat” means “proletariat,” but “dictatorship” does not quite mean “dictatorship.” This is the opposite of the truth. When a Russian Communist speaks of dictatorship, he means the word literally”. He went on to note that “Opposition is crushed without mercy, and without shrinking from the methods of the Tsarist police, many of whom are still employed at their old work.” He also noted that “It must be remembered that effective protest is impossible, owing to the absolutely complete suppression of free speech and free Press. The result is that the Presidium of the Moscow Soviet consists only of orthodox Communists.”

This is more or less openly admitted by Trotsky’s adoring biographer, Isaac Deutscher. Deutscher grants the alleged “proletarian dictatorship” would have been destroyed if the “working classes were allowed to speak and vote freely”. As he notes, Lenin banned all organised opposition within the Soviets, and then after Kronstadt “hardened in the conviction… that any opposition must inevitably become the vehicle of counter-revolution.” The Bolsheviks then decided to prevent opposition even within Bolshevik ranks, outlawing “orgainsed groups or factions within the party”.

Who can fail to be dazzled by the open democracy created by Lenin and Trotsky?

But to return to Skerritt. He concludes by saying that “Huge numbers of people are required to mobilise and silnce the likes of Griffin once and for all.” Given the reality of Leninism in reality, why shouldn’t we conclude that he thinks more drastic state action wouldn’t be a good way of dealing with racists? Perhaps Skerritt thinks racists should be sent to jail. Or perhaps after the revolution comes, they should be lined up against the wall. And why just racists? After the revolution, surely there will be those who jeopardise it, so “objectively”, counter-revolutionaries will be equally dangerous. I think such people would do well to read Mill, and his warning about those who confuse their personal certainty with absolute certainty.

And one final gripe. How can Skerritt regard his Marx quote as indicative of any serious support for freedom of speech? I would hope that some of the less ardent Marxists won’t be impressed, except at his obviously deep devotion to Marx. Perhaps next, Mr Skerritt will seek to show his favourite band makes good music by reference to some obscure scriptural quote. This fetishisation of Marx where he is looked to as the fount of wisdom on everything is really little better than a religious cult of personality.

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