Friday, July 07, 2006

Redwatch and Freedom of Speech Issues

The website Redwatch has long been a place for socialists to have a bit of a laugh. The site is run by fascist ex-members of the British National Party. Originally it was associated with the terrorist organization Combat 18 which published in newspaper format the information contained on the site. Its goal is to publish the details (names, addresses, contact details and photographs) of anyone working with the labour movement, the socialist movement or within racial equality circles, so as to lay these people open to attack.

As a socialist and former member of the CWI, myself and my comrades regularly checked this site to see if we'd made it to the hall of fame - and many of us in Northern Ireland have, at one time or another. Recently Redwatch was shut down - it's unclear by whom but the site itself and all its mirrors ceased to function for several weeks between May and July. The site is now operational once more. I think it fitting to take this occasion to write an article discussing the relationship between the far right and freedom of speech, and the attitude which I feel all socialists should adopt.

All too often, Marxist-Leninists get attacked for their support of democratic centralism as the means whereby to organize a revolutionary party. In support of this, many (in my view ill-educated) people subsequently point to the degeneration of the Bolsheviks (later Communist Party) into the machine which Stalin used first to kill or exile the Left Opposition and then to repress all other dissenters. While this is not the question with which I currently grapple, nevertheless, it deserves a robust response and there is no better response than that of Lenin himself.

"Everyone is free to write and say whatever he likes, without any restrictions. But every voluntary association (including the party) is also free to expel members who use the name of the party to advocate anti-party views. Freedom of speech and the press must be complete. But then freedom of association must be complete too. I am bound to accord you, in the name of free speech, the full right to shout, lie and write to your heart’s content. But you are bound to grant me, in the name of freedom of association, the right to enter into, or withdraw from, association with people advocating this or that view."

Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume X, pages 44-49.

That said, I feel justified in progressing on to the major point - one of freedom of speech whilst a privileged elite still has control of all the major means of mass communication.

Consider, for example, newspapers. Whether it is the most left wing of the mainstream media (The Guardian) or the most right wing (The Daily Mail or The Sun), the same principles apply. These papers report not that which is news, but that news which they see fit to report. In no part of the media is this more clear than in those parts related to literary, televisual and cinematic reviews. I read The Sun very occasionally but even I noticed the fulsome praise lavished upon the most recent endeavour of husband of Editor Rebekah Wade (Ross Kemp) - which rebounded spectacularly when it flopped in ratings. Anyone who is familiar with the magazine Private Eye will be more than up to speed on the incestuous little world that forms the media.

Freedom of speech results in Nazis making headlines across the country any time there is a riot in Oldham - and frequently the newspapers will use this as opportunity to push a right wing agenda. The old favourite is of course anti-immigration. Never mind that on balance even the Prime Minister (who is trying to look tough on immigration) admits that immigrants are good for the British economy - the media isn't interested in facts. It is sensationalist nonsense - but the best thing about the media is that they have even developed their own political ideology to justify what they do. Pluralism.

I could go upstairs and pull out textbooks and cite definitions but here's the quick capsule review; pluralism is the idea that everyone buys a specific newspaper or watches specific TV programmes because they enjoy them. I don't know about you, but the people I know who buy The Sun don't buy it for the crap that the columnists write, they buy it because the broadsheets don't have huge sports sections and they believe the sports pages aren't made up - not a safe assertion as it turns out. On the flipside, this is the same reason why Londoners buy The Morning Star (the daily of the Communist Party of Great Britain). The difference is one of the above mentioned newspapers lies about everything. The famous series of Wayne Rooney stories - where subsequently it was revealed by the management of the England team that The Sun consulted nobody for their articles, which were, it turns out, nonsense.

The other chestnut I particularly enjoyed was from the New Labour Daily (aka The Daily Mirror) which ran sensational claims all over the front pages that the father of a Big Brother contestant had applied for gender reassignment (to you and me, sex change). The apology for not having consulted any member of that family and for running utter lies was contained in the paper the following day. The bottom line is that these people cannot be trusted to report the news. The divide between what is defined as 'local' news and what is 'national' news highlights this.

In local news, the extent to which many district and borough councils are under investigation for embezzlement, nest-feathering and ripping off the tax payer by not putting contracts out to tender is astonishing. This never reaches the national news. It might actually shock people out of their complacency. Everyone is happy to go to a Live 8 Concert run by big celebrity names who get the politicians some popularity and then fade into the background - but until people sit up and realise the corruption endemic to the system, not to mention the bureaucratic obfuscation, the degree to which our civil rights are under attack and the extent to which this government intends to annihilate what remains of the public sector, we're not going to get anywhere.

When I say free speech is a bad thing, I'm not criticising the absolute right to say what you believe. Free speech in this society should come caged in inverted commas because it is not free speech when a section of the ruling elite decide what to show on Television and what to print in the papers. The most free form of communication available is the internet - and guess what? Money, for the most part, determines what search results you get every time you type a keyword into Google. Free speech doesn't exist, and to relate this back to the issue with which I began this article, free speech for the far right is tantamount to providing a platform for ideas which the media will leap on in order to scare the liberal-left into moving right - which is exactly where New Labour is now.

In conclusion, state sanction is not the answer. Legislation increasing the power of the State is dangerous to all those who wish to see the overthrow of capital, since the State is simply an arm of the capital elite. Direct action is the answer. Comrades in University College, Dublin protested the Students Union until BNP speakers had their invitation to a debate rescinded. Comrades in Coleraine and from across Northern Ireland converged on the site of a racist leaflet drop and march (illegal in this country) to confiscate flags and leaflets designed to encourage harm to the already-persecuted Filipino immigrants who work as nurses here because no one else will. This is not making us authoritarian or 'as bad as the fascists'; it makes us defenders of the organized working class.

That is who these people harm when they inflame race hatred; when they encourage white people to think of Jamaicans or Pakistanis or Indians as the reason for poor wages, they take the focus off the real people responsible - and those people are, in this country, overwhelmingly white males. By curbing their so-called freedom of speech, we level the playing field just a little.

I leave the reader with the following;

"We must say to you bourgeois individualists that your talk about absolute freedom is sheer hypocrisy. There can be no real and effective "freedom" in a society based on the power of money, in a society in which the masses of working people live in poverty and the handful of rich live like parasites. Are you free in relation to your bourgeois publisher, Mr. Writer, in relation to your bourgeois public, which demands that you provide it with pornography in frames and paintings, and prostitution as a “supplement” to “sacred” scenic art? This absolute freedom is a bourgeois or an anarchist phrase (since, as a world outlook, anarchism is bourgeois philosophy turned inside out). One cannot live in society and be free from society. The freedom of the bourgeois writer, artist or actress is simply masked (or hypocritically masked) dependence on the money-bag, on corruption, on prostitution."

V.I Lenin, ibid.

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