Workers’ Voice Speech at Rally Against Neo-Fascism in Berkeley
August 5, 2018
Here we are once again standing up to the hatred and violence of neo-fascist groups that have grown emboldened by the failure of neoliberal capitalism and the decadence of the Trump regime. And once again they try to shield their McCarthyist “No to Marxism” event by posing as defenders of Free Speech and Civil liberties. Their main tactic is to plant confusion by appealing to a perverted notion of Free Speech to seek cover for their genocidal, white supremacist politics. So I want clear some things up about what the real struggle for free expression and civil liberties looks like.
I am a socialist. And let me tell you that, throughout the history of this country, socialists have always defended free speech and civil liberties. Because we fight for a society without exploitation, without racism, and without economic inequality, we have always been the target of censorship and repression by the state and the 1%. From the movement against World War I to the labor struggles of the 1930s, from the witch-hunt of McCarthyism in the 1950s—when Leftist artists and intellectuals were blacklisted—to the FBI’s war on the Black Panther Party and the assassination of its leaders in the 60s and 70s, we have fought for people’s right to contest power and to express radical ideas without being repressed by the ruling class.
But there is a fundamental difference between our defense of civil liberties and the grotesque spectacle of the Alt-right and neo-fascists. Because, as socialists and Marxists, we have always understood that free speech does not operate in a vacuum and for most people in the world, the freedom to express ourselves is curtailed by many structural factors that have little or nothing to do with the first amendment. For starters, everyone knows that, in this country, speech and access to platforms and microphones is proportional to wealth. The vast majority of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV networks are for-profit corporations owned by the 1%. And we all know that political parties and campaigns are overtly bought and funded by big capital. So it’s obvious that the voices of the wealthy are always amplified while those of the oppressed are hidden and forgotten. What’s more, the pervasive police intimidation and violence that black, brown, and trans communities are subjected to every day; the second-class treatment that undocumented workers have to endure; and the daily pressures of surviving on poverty wages, working two jobs to afford tuition, or battling an illness without adequate health insurance, all work to stifle and repress the speech and civil rights of marginalized people.
So you cannot de-link the defense of democratic rights from the broader struggle for social justice. You can’t defend free speech while supporting a corporate plutocracy;
You can’t defend free speech while supporting ICE raids, deportations, and the separation of immigrant families;
And you most certainly can’t defend free speech and support transphobia, misogyny, and white supremacy!
Unfortunately, this analysis is just too sophisticated for some University and City administrators. They insist on living in a fantasy world where structural inequalities have magically disappeared and they get to play the role of a neutral authority that guarantees everyone’s access to platforms regardless of their views. But let’s be clear, when any state or University authority uncritically accepts the neo fascists’ perverted conception of free speech, when they trivialize the material effects of white supremacist violence by telling us we need to be resilient against ideas that are simply “hurtful” or “upsetting”, when they act as though the people behind Breitbart and the marginalized communities they attack are on some kind of level-playing field in their ability to express their ideas, they are siding with white supremacy and turning their back on the working people they claim to represent. “When you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
What about the free speech of Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, a Palestinian American woman, and preeminent scholar of Palestinian studies who is being sued by right-wingers who want to get her fired from her job at San Francisco State University because of her defense of palestinian freedom? I don’t see the alt-right rallying behind Rabab and condemning Zionists like David Horowitz for trying to silence her and prevent her from o teaching. In fact, they invited to Horowitz to speak at their so-called Free Speech Week last year at UC Berkeley. Why does the Alt-right champion people like David Horowitz who makes a career out of shutting down the speech of people like professor Rabab? The answer is obvious. Because they support the apartheid policies of zionism and oppose
Does Donald Trump and his neo-fascist supporters think that Colin Kaepernick should have a right to free speech? Trump thinks those athletes should be fired. These are the people whose freedoms of expression are under attack every day. So let’s just be real: This is not about free speech and civil liberties. They don’t like our emancipatory ideas and we don’t like their genocidal ideas and we will shut them down. The entire political project of white nationalism needs to be thrown in the garbage can of history. And there’s a political reason they are targeting Marxists and socialists. Because fascism has always been closely associated with state violence, and the interests of the 1% and the ruling class. Like McCarthyists in the 50s, like the FBI in the 70s, they target socialists and labor unions because we fight to build the power of working people, because we are a threat to the injustice of the status quo and they want to keep workers, POC, and oppressed communities intimidated. We won’t stand for that.
So our message to the Alt right is this: We don’t want to shut down your pathetic speech. We want to shut down your ideas and defeat your entire political project. Shutting down the ideology that white people deserve to be on top because everyone else is lazy, or the idea that the communities who grow our food and make this economy function are less deserving of being in this country than white supremacists, those are the ideas we will shut down. And in place of those ideas, we propose free public education, socialized medicine, workers’ rights to unionize and strike, and an end to exploitation, institutionalized racism, homophobia, transphobia, nativism, ableism, and all forms of oppression!
Now, In order to continue our struggle for the world we want, we must defeat the fascist assault on our city. How do we do that? Ignoring it will not make it go away. We must build a united front, where socialists, anarchists, progressives, people of color, queer and trans people, people with disabilities, workers, students, faculty, etc. come together to defeat the rise of neo-fascist movements. We must mobilize, outnumber them and show that we will protect our communities and reclaim our spaces every time they try to intimidate us and normalize their bullshit. This is the work we have tried to do with SAFEBay. Today is a beautiful expression of that united front. And I have no doubt that if we continue to organize and remain united, we will prevail.