The past few years have seen the far right increasingly pick up the mantle of “free speech” in response to any and all criticism of their ideas. Absurdly, we are informed that us telling them they’re wrong in their racism is an attack on freedom of speech as opposed to a simple exercise of that freedom. Yet the absurdity of the far right’s whining and complaining should not drive us into complacency. The left must be steadfast in our defence of freedom of speech: it is a democratic right that has been won against the state and against the ruling class and as with all rights it rests upon the willingness of the oppressed and working class to fight for it. Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern have thrown this issue up once again in Aotearoa. Their disgusting rhetoric screams out to be countered and resisted. The question is by who and through what means?
A lay of the Terrain
Currently, Stefan and Southern are in Australia, spreading their “controversial” ideas to anyone who will listen, controversial here being the politically correct term for “racist” for fear of offending the far-right. If things continue as planned they will be in New Zealand for a week near the start of August, having just received work visas to do so. But they will not be speaking at the Bruce Mason Centre after Auckland Mayor Phil Goff cancelled their booking. So, instead they will have to locate a private venue, a series of events which shocked Don Brash into discovering that he was in fact, and we are lead to assume has always been, a principled supporter of free speech (unless it means people speaking te reo Māori in our primary schools). Brash acted upon his new found principles to establish the “Free Speech Coalition” with a view towards frustrating the ban on Molyneux and Southern speaking at the public venue.
The point has been made extremely clearly by Spinoff contributor Hayden Donnell that in fact many of the members of this Free Speech Coalition have long histories of opposing freedom of speech, for example Stephan Franks calling for legal penalties for burning flags and or when Brash obtained a High Court injunction to delay the publication of Nicky Hager’s 2006 book. Yet the vacuousness of the right-wing’s claims to be supporters of freedom of speech should not drive us to abandon our own. We never supported freedom of speech so that we might be “fair players” in the marketplace of ideas. We support freedom of speech because we are opposed to state repression and support the rights of the oppressed to be heard and, perhaps most pertinently of all, because we demand the right to tell Molyneux and Southern exactly where to shove their disgusting ideas.
What tactics and why?
There are three things we require from tactics in response to mobilisations of the far right: that a clear alternative to them is presented, that we do not empower the state to set standards on what speech is acceptable and what not, and that we lay the grounds to build a movement capable of ending the reactionary institutions and structures that provide fertile space for the far-right’s ideas. Only mass mobilisations, of our side against theirs, are capable of providing a comprehensive strategy against the fascists, the racists and all the other scum who resent being correctly identified under those names.
It might seem that the state silencing them is sufficient, that all we need to do each time is contact the correct representatives and inform them of how horrid these ideas are so that they will be pushed back into the margins. However, this view presents no hope for a better world – it simply asks that we defend the current state of our racist, transphobic, and misogynistic social order from attacks. We must insist a better world is possible and having fighting tactics in light of that fact. We don’t need the state to silence fascists for us and we should fear it when they do, because they will be more than willing to use those tools and the normalcy of state repression against us when our time comes.
Whatever day they choose, whatever venue they hovel in – with Goff’s permission or not – we will be there to tell Stefan and Southern that their views aren’t welcome and to demand a world in which they’re rendered incomprehensible.
We can make the far-right fear freedom of speech again.