To judge from my social media feeds, the protests at Berkeley that prevented white supremacist neo-fascist Milo Yiannopoulos from holding a rally have led to a lot of confusion and disorientation. Here is my view:
I unconditionally defend the legal right of Yiannopoulos to speak, and Berkeley’s right to give him a platform.
I unconditionally defend the right of protesters to shut him down, drown him out, and interfere with his ability to spread his filth. Arguments that protesting against him “gives him attention” are bunk: every rally he is permitted to speak at gains him forces among the despairing, especially among the most frightened elements of the petty bourgeoisie.
I believe making these protests violent, at this stage of the struggle, does nothing more than open us up to police attacks and provocateurs, and so is ultimately reactionary, however well-intentioned are those engaging in it.
I’ve said before that freedom of speech is an important right, gained in the struggle against autocracy, and must be defended; we must never, ever, appeal to the courts or the laws or corporations to silence our enemies for us. But freedom of speech is not a magical principle that somehow exists apart from the class struggle. To fetishize it, to view it as separate from the fight of contending classes, to raise it above society, is philosophical idealism at its most destructive. The ideas of Yiannopoulos reflect material forces, and are used to rally and organize those forces. In this fight, they have the guns, the courts, the jails, the major media; we have our social position as the creators of all wealth, and our numbers.
When you say, “But if you have the right to use mass action to shut him up, doesn’t he have the right to use mass action to shut you up?” I say, yes, he has that right. Bring it on. At that point it becomes a test of strength, and I have confidence in our strength.
The desire to shut up Yiannopoulos is entirely healthy, and I salute the protesters who did so.
Such protests, however, are inherently limited. To move forward from here requires more than outrage, and even more than a willingness to take to the streets; it takes a perspective, a scientific understanding of the social forces at work, and a clear notion of where we’re going. The spread of overt fascism, along with the actions of the Trump regime and the cowardly caving in of the Democratic Party, whose leaders are rarely even making a token resistance, is a clear signal that we need to prepare to carry this fight through to the end, and that means building a leadership within the working class to fight under a revolutionary socialist program.