There’s this thing going around where someone says, “Would you quit talking about freedom of speech? The First Amendment is only about what the government can do.” This is like saying, “Would you quit bringing up social media? I already said I don’t like LinkedIn.” I mean, it isn’t exactly a non-sequitur, but one feels the question hasn’t been addressed.
There is clearly a great deal of confusion around these issues, and a lot of failure to think things through. There are still those who see free speech as some sort of idealized principle that stands above the class struggle, as well as those who are willing to chuck it out entirely because it’s inconvenient at the moment. In particular, the American Civil Liberties Union is coming under attack from various quarters (including the ACLU in California) for insisting that the government not prevent white supremacist organizations from holding public meetings. I keep hearing the question posed as if the only choices are to use the legal system to prevent them from speaking, or to give them free reign to spread their hate and permit them to grow. I would like to state my vehement oppositions to both of these programs.
Nazis are often spoken of as a hate group that wants to kill people. I think this is because they are. They want to murder African-Americans and Jews, often Muslims and First Peoples, frequently Gays, probably trade unionists, and certainly Communists.
But legally, it gets kinda tricky, on account of they don’t publicly say, “You, in the White Power tee-shirt, go kill that Muslim standing next to the tree. Do it now.” Since, in essence, they are saying that, but couching it in terms such as, “purity of the races,” and “we will not be replaced by Jews,” and, “make America great again,” the law has a bit of trouble.
Many liberals are reacting to this by saying, “If we can establish, through history, and action, and by reading their propaganda, and other means that they really want to kill, and are inciting others to kill, then we should be able to use the law against them. If the law does not, at present, permit us to do so, let’s reinterpret or change the law.”
At which point those of us with even a working eighth-grade knowledge of history become very, very frightened, because we know what will happen when the law changes to permit that sort of interpretation. Hint: It isn’t the right wing that suffers.
But there is good news. Not only is changing the law (or selectively enforcing it, or reinterpreting it) not the only way to fight Nazis, it isn’t even the best. Not by miles. In fact, it may well be the worst.
By using the state against these people, it gives them “anti-establishment” credentials, at a time when millions of people are becoming more and more hostile to the established order. It allows them to pretend to be oppressed, and many people have a habit of giving sympathy to the oppressed.
Nazis and white supremacists prey on the backwardness and ignorance of society, pulling in the most repulsive elements and then recruiting among the hopeless and the angry and those desperate for a way forward. The way forward does not involve relying on the capitalist state—the state that exists to defend the system that gave rise to the very miseries that provide the breeding ground for fascistic elements (as for its opposite, the fight for socialism).
The way forward involves the masses, the oppressed, the working class, organizing and moving directly against white supremecy and Naziism. Anyone who paid attention to what just happened in Boston knows how effective this can be.
To ask the state to use its power against them is to give the state more weapons to use against us. To shut white supremacists down and shut them up with our own power—with the united force of masses—is not only the best way to defeat them, but it is a springboard for further struggles.