Charlie Hebdo & "Freedom of Speech" in Capitalism

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Charlie Hebdo & "Freedom of Speech" in Capitalism
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As a left communist just wanted to say a few things...

There's a lot of debate around these shootings regarding the "freedom of speech" of the cartoonists. Everyone is in agreement that - sure - these guys have the "right" to draw whatever they want. At a certain level this makes sense.

But like everything else in capitalist society there are class implications of all these things, and surprise, surprise, they are the only things being left out of the popular discourse on the Charlie Hebdo murders right now.

All the terms I've just written that one normally glosses over - freedom, rights, etc. - these are all privileges handed down by the bourgeoisie to everyone else. So when we talk about "freedom of speech" in capitalist society, we're just talking about the privilege to talk about things the ruling class is cool with us talking about. This "right" disappears very quickly in many situations, which is why I call it a privilege.

So how to deal with this? I think as communists we have to reject the notion of "free speech" entirely. Not all speech is free. Some speech is meant to be oppressive and we should oppose it. This is the framework for saying, "fuck no nazis dont deserve the right to march freely in the streets", and also "yes people can draw whatever they want" as long as it isn't repressive to others.

Yes, what is repressive and isn't will always be a matter of controversey, but I would hope that in an internationalist society without cut throat imperialist and class tensions that these issues could be solved with intelligent discussion and words instead of bullets.

I do not agree

“Everyone is in agreement that - sure - these guys have the "right" to draw whatever they want.”

Certainly not, I do not agree. Charlie Hebdo is a racist paper that distills hatred and fear against Muslims in France. It was the spearhead to make acceptable Islamophobia in the left. It participates in the ideological offensive in the "struggle against Islamic fundamentalism", which involves all the French mainstream press and which is nothing but the ideological cover for imperialist wars against Afghanistan, Mali or Iraq.

Take Charlie Hebdo drawings, replace Muslims by Jews, and you exactly get the anti-Semitic cartoons that came with the development of the German militarism in 1930s.

The Charlie Hebdo front page is also parodied by an openly anti-Semitic French website: If you can laugh at Muslim Egyptian massacred by the army on the Tarhir square, why don't you laugh at Jews murdered by the Nazis in the gas chambers?

Translation of the Charlie Hebdo front page:

“Slaughter in Egypt: Quran is shit, it doesn't stop bullets.”

Translation of the parodic “Shoah Hebdo” front page:

“Miracle at Auschwitz: Talmud is magic, it transforms water into gas and gas into gold.”

What's the difference?

So what? Ten islamophobic war propagandists are killed in their headquarter? This war has already caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. The establishment will obviously seize this small attack to mount a huge deal against Muslims. Everyone already cries: "I am Charlie", future slogan for the present imperialist war. “Union sacrée” for the french secular republic, for the democratic principles, against the horrific Muslim [German] barbarians? No thanks, we've had our fair share of that! No question of paying for this rehash of the Sarajevo attack!

To deflate the myth of the terrorist threat in France, let's see some details of the operating mode of the terrorists:

  • They first went to the wrong address, visiting the No. 6 building (the archive) instead of the No. 10 (the head office).
  • They forgot an identity card in the vehicle they abandoned.
  • They attacked a gas station to steal gasoline and food. Apparently they had also forgotten to buy sandwiches and to carry cash before their attack.

All this proves that we are dealing with very high-class terrorists. All together in the National Unity to crush the Muslim barbarians in Europe and overseas! Et vive la France!

Note: I'm French and I have already read Charlie Hebdo.

Important discussion: I think

Important discussion: I think we should see these events in a broader context. Just the day before the Charlie Hebdo shootings, there was a footnote in the US news about supposedly very well attended rallies in Germany against the supposed "Islamization" of Europe. This comes on the heels of the supposed "terrorist" attacks in Canada in October, the controversy over the film the Interview, as well as the continuing controversy in the US over police violence against African American men. How is this last thing related? I'll get to that below.

On the issue of free speech: I too found it somewhart ironic that Charlie Hebdo has somehow become an icon of free speech for democratic ideology. Its cartoons were often salacious, deliberately provacatice and sometimes just in poor taste. Of course, that could also be said of the nearly canceled film The Interview, which openly contemplates the murder of an actually living human being--a lunatic dictator perhaps, but a human being nonethless. Still, somehow Charlie Hebdo and The Interview have become symbols of all that is great about Western democracy--the right to say whatever one wants, whenever one wants about anyone without fear of state repression. I know Charlie Hebdo has a long history in France and may express something peculiar about French culture, but personally I found The Interview deeply troubling--an expression of a real decline in culture. This, of course, didn't stop the American bourgeoisie from seizing on the cyber attack against Sony (a private corproration that used to be based in Japan) to ramp up its imperialsist rhetoric against North Korea. Very strange times that we live in indeed.

In the aftermath of the Paris shootings, we once again have all the mouthpieces of the bourgeoisie returning to the theme of "Islamic question." What is wrong with these Muslims? Why aren't they OK with people making fun of their prophet? Why do they have to result to violence? The same questions were asked of the North Koreans over the The Interview.

Of course, one has to wonder just what the reaction would have been if there were a movie made about assasinating Obama or Bush or if instead of cartoons featuring scatological humor about the prophet it was Jesus instead? Wasn't it Rudy Giuliania himself who threatned to prosecute artists who produced works disrepsectful of the saviour? (Remember "Piss Christ"?)

So what does this have to do with the protests over police violence against African Americans in the US? Well, the facts appear to show that most of the recent "terrorist" attacks carried out in Western countries were accomplished by native converts or by those who grew up in those countries. Many of whom are alienated, un or under employed, etc--much like the experience of many African American men in the United States. While there may be certain hsitorical and cultural differences between the various national contexts, which make Islamic fundamentalism a more viable path of seeking redemption and transcendence of these wrongs in Europe than in the United States (although remember the Tsarnayev brothers)--its clear that the impetus animating these various expressions of frustration and anger is roughy the same: the inability of the dominant society to integrate a large percentage of its young people and the state violence and harrasment that often result. (It may be the case that in the current case, the borthers in France may have had more than mere Internet contacts with real jihadis, but that seems like a detail).

But back to free speach: I think Jamal is right to denounce the bourgeois-democratic rhetoric about free speech, as it is used as a propaganda tool today. However, I don't think we should be so quick to dismiss the principle in and of itself. Rosa Luxemburg always defended the right of freedom of spech as a material necessity of the proletairan revolution. We aren't going to figure out how to transcend captialism without the widest possible discussion about how to do it. For this to happen, we have to know that we can say what we think. We have to know that we can be wrong without suffering punitive consequences for it. Freedom of speech, even if it was an invention of the progressive bourgeoisie which is no longer capable of advancing it today in a meaningful way in decadence, has to be '"taken over" by the proletariat as a principle of its revolution.

Excellent post jk, and you

Excellent post jk, and you are right to commend  Jamal too for his contribution.  But it is Tagore2's post that took my breath away, and really made me think.  

OK, so the Giulianai thing

OK, so the Giulianai thing was him threatning to cut funding to the Brooklyn Museum and take it over if they didn't stop exhibiting a protrait of the Virgin Mary stained with elephant dung (1999).

But some of the history of Piss Christ is illustrative (From the Wikipedia Entry):

In 1987, Serrano's Piss Christ was exhibited at the Stux Gallery in New York and was favorably received.[10] The piece later caused a scandal when it was exhibited in 1989, with detractors, including United States Senators Al D'Amato and Jesse Helms, outraged that Serrano received $15,000 for the work, and $5,000 in 1986[11] from the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts. Serrano received death threats and hate mail, and he lost grants due to the controversy.[12] Others alleged that the government funding of Piss Christ violated separation of church and state.[13][14] The work was vandalized at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, and gallery officials reported receiving death threats in response to Piss Christ.[15] Supporters argued that the controversy over Piss Christ is an issue of artistic freedom and freedom of speech.[15]

Sister Wendy Beckett, an art critic and Catholic nun, stated in a television interview with Bill Moyers that she regarded the work as not blasphemous but a statement on "what we have done to Christ": that is, the way contemporary society has come to regard Christ and the values he represents.[16]

During a retrospective of Serrano's work at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1997, the then Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, sought an injunction from the Supreme Court of Victoria to restrain the National Gallery of Victoria from publicly displaying Piss Christ, which was not granted. Some days later, one patron attempted to remove the work from the gallery wall, and two teenagers later attacked it with a hammer.[17] The director of the NGV cancelled the show, allegedly out of concern for a Rembrandt exhibition that was also on display at the time.[13]

Piss Christ was included in "Down by Law", a "show within a show" on identity politics and disobedience that formed part of the 2006 Whitney Biennial. The British Channel 4 TV documentary Damned in the USA explored the controversy surrounding Piss Christ.

On April 17, 2011, a print of Piss Christ was vandalized "beyond repair" by Christian protesters while on display during the Je crois aux miracles (I believe in miracles) exhibition at the Collection Lambert, a contemporary art museum in Avignon, France.[18][19] Serrano's photo The Church was similarly vandalized in the attack.

Beginning September 27, 2012, Piss Christ was on display at the Edward Tyler Nahem gallery in New York, at the Andres Serrano show "Body and Spirit."[20] Religious groups and some lawmakers called for President Barack Obama to denounce the artwork, comparing it to the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims that the White House had condemned earlier that month.[21]

Wow, such disagreement. Are

Wow, such disagreement. Are you pleased, Fred?!

I have to say Tagore's post did not take my breath away. A version of these ideas is a view that part of the ruling class also shares. I'm also sad he hasn't picked up on the ironic tone of that part of what I was writing. The idea that "these guys have the 'right' to draw whatever they want” is the narrative put forth by the ruling class and I was being tongue-in-cheek about it. Also English sucks with plural pronouns.

One of the biggest issues with Tagore's post is his generalizations, he lumps all muslims into one big category in order to fit this giant imaginary homogenous group of all "muslims" perfectly into his narrative. This is the same kind of democratic ideology the ruling class uses! Also since when did "jew" and "muslim" become racial terms? You can have latino, black, asian, and white muslims and jews can't you?

I'm not an expert on French politics but I don't see the consequences being as dire as Tagore envisions when he says things like the "establishment will...mount a huge deal against Muslims." Just like basically anywhere else these events do foment racist ideas and some times violent reprisals. But the states always puts forth an "anti-racist" position and then subliminally uses these racist undercurrents to foster support for imperialist conflict in the Middle East or for supporting Israel, etc.

I was born into a muslim family that is very conservative in some ways, I could care less what Charlie Hebdo publishes. I'm sure some of it's funny and people need to find a sense humor sometimes instead of shooting each other. I mean shows like Family Guy in the US regularly depict God himself being drunk, hungover, going to bed with fat chicks, etc. Is that racist against christians?

French muslims are an opressed section of French society without a doubt. I've been to France, my brothers engaged to a French person, I think the comparison to African Americans in Ferguson and elsewhere is fair. I understand the point about liberal bourgeois media picking on the little guy, but I think it just distracts from the inter-class tensions and the underlying workings of the "democratic" capitalist state.

The last point is that when we denounce democracy in capitalism are we dismissing the whole principle of democracy? Like many things "free" in capitalism, do they mean free as in libre, or free as in gratis? I think "freedom of speech" is a democratic illusion and can't be anything more in capitalism. Freedom, equality, blah, blah these days it's all sounding like bourgeois bullshit. And if I'm not mistaken Rosa Luxemburg defended free speech in the context of militancy being outlawed. If it was illegal for me to post this I would probably be advocating free speech too, haha.

As I posted on Libcom...

This warrants a news thread but the Belgium General Strike of last month, fuck all.

As an aside, 'Freedom of the Press' is the freedom of the richest to brainwash and confuse the masses. It's a bourgeois shiboleth. Down with 'Freedom of the Press', down with all capitalists! 

i had not even heard of that

i had not even heard of that strike, though in many ways it's easier to debate the freedom issue, some legitimate,,,

'chains just stated the best way to summarize IMO, freedom of the press is a freedom of capital. i don't mean to sound too leninist, but in what way does it help militants to have a free "press"? that's an amusing aside, how there's a scramble by the media to rally around a publication they usually wouldn't agree with.


FWIW as someone who never says he is a communist, except tongue in cheek...

I don't think freedom of the

I don't think freedom of the press and freedom of speech were shibboleths for the ascendant bourgeoisie. They were vital weapons in its fight against the decaying fedual system and the establishment of a real bourgeois democratic public sphere. They were part of a broader advanement of culture and humanity in general in the context of a progressive captialist system--the so-called democratic heritage of modernity. Social democracy and the development of unions were functions of this period, so the working class benefited from and was able to use these tools itselves in establishing the workers' movement.

But, of course, we know as Marxists that these things were never applied evenly and without the qualifications and restrictions necessary for a class society to function. And we know that once captialism became decadent the public sphere itself tended to collapse into the state, producing a general tendency towards state capitalism that made these democratic principles increasingly illlusory and "democracy" became more and more an ideology.

I think it is certainly true that the proletariat cannot develop its consciousness today by adopting the discourse of democracy and liberal rights. This is unlikely to get it very far. But I think it is also true that there are important elements of the legacy of the bouegeois revolutions that cannot be shrugged off as a mere ploy, ideology, etc. They form a vital part of something like a broader "emancipatory tradition" or something like that, which the proletarian revolution is the ultimate expression of. Freedom of speech is one of these that the proletariat will have to find away to express in its own terms in the course of its own movement to transcend captialism. This is not a normative, moral or ethical issue alone--its a material necessity in its own right. Its not about petitioning the state for rights, its about making sure the proletariat's own organs function according to those principles which are most likely to create the conditions through which the ultimat goal of transcending captialism can be achieved. How can we have the broadest possible disucssion and exchange of ideas without some guarantee, some respect, for freedom of speech? 

Tagore raises some

Tagore raises some interesting points about the confluence between the antisemetic carricatures from the far-right and the various Islamophobic presentations that this magazine apparently propagates. I have no idea if this is accurate or not, but it does raise a very fundamental question that has already been touched on by Jamal and jk1917.

Jamal is right, of course, about what "free speech" means in bourgeois society: the freedom to speak what the bourgeoisie and the state lets us speak. The freedom to be monitored and infiltrated if your views fall even slightly outside the mainstream and could be a threat.

Of course, free speech does mean something to the bourgeoisie as well, because it relates to the political nature of the bourgeois state. In order to function as a mediator of the collective interest of the ruling class and also as a mediator of the bourgeoisie's relationships with other classes, it has to appear impartial. One of the serious problems that has developed for the bourgeoisie in decomposition, particularly in the US, is the way that the state has been hijacked to serve the particular interests of various bourgeois fractions rather than the capitalist interest as a whole. The endemic corruption and self-serving mediocrity of the Bush administration was one example of this problem but it's no different in the UK with public sector contracts being won and loss on the basis of personal ties with ministers and senior civil servants than on any more rigorous basis.

But a far more interesting question is a how a post-revolutionary society would deal with the question of "free speech". In previous discussions on this board, about the nature of political parties and the councils, I strongly defended the idea that workers must be able to express all political viewpoints within the councils, even ones that are thoroughly anti-proletarian.

Jamal is mistaken when says Luxemburg's comments "defended free speech in the context of militancy being outlawed". In fact, Luxemburg's most famous comments on the question were a criticism of the Bolshevik party and the way it began to suppress dissent after the Revolution: "Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of “justice” but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when “freedom” becomes a special privilege."

Later, she becomes even more explicitly critical: "In place of the representative bodies created by general, popular elections, Lenin and Trotsky have laid down the soviets as the only true representation of political life in the land as a whole, life in the soviets must also become more and more crippled. Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously – at bottom, then, a clique affair – a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense ..."

One can certainly be critical of Luxemburg's attraction to "general elections" and for not fully understanding the role of the Soviets, but she's right on the money when she says that without real freedom to say what we think, the working class will never be able to confront all the reactionary tendencies (both collective and individual) that exist within it and never truly become a revolutionary class. All that is left is the brilliant leaders with the right ideas.

Then and Now

Important discussion in both its immediate and historical dimensions. Briefly:

I’m in sympathy with much of what Tagore2 writes. There’s no doubt the bourgeoisie in France is making a huge noise over this to promote, on one hand, national unity and, as a by-product, stirring up a divisive racial hatred with the other, an aspect that is Europe-wide from Sweden through Germany, Italy to the UK.  We know that the state is the biggest terrorist and communists should denounce such hypocrisy as vigorously as we’ve done in the past.

I also agree with Tragore2 – and, I think, what underlies JK1921’s contribution in post #3 – that the perpetrators in France hardly qualify as ‘terrorists’ in the sense of state-sponsored factions or regional gangsters (despite their past record of trying to facilitate Jihad in Iraq). Better to describe them as the deadly products of decomposition for all the reasons JK cites.

Where I depart with Tagore2 is in his somewhat crude dismissal of the havoc these now-murdered déclassé elements have wrought: “So what? Ten islamophobic war propagandists are killed in their headquarter? This war has already caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.” So we should celebrate, or condone through silence, a further ten victims of imperialism in decay? We promote individual acts of terrorism as a way to undermine the state when in fact they strengthen it as we can see today? I don’t agree.

The other aspect of the discussion concerns ‘freedom of the press’, and the ‘right to free speech’. Here I tend to agree with Jamal. Within the working class, of course, every voice, every opinion, must be heard. After the revolution, within the workers councils and territorial soviets, its true: the widest discussion between non-exploiting strata must unfold. But we are here talking, lets, remind ourselves, of a ‘period of transition’ between capitalism and communism, a time when, certainly in its early stages, the political power of the bourgeoisie may have been smashed but the material conditions on which they thrived – scarcity, the law of value, decentralised production, etc, etc – still pertain. The suppression of the voices of the ex-ruling classes – while this presents dangers to the communist project – is indispensible. For them, there will be no  freedom of speech, no newspapers urging counter-revolution, overtly or covertly.That’s why they also name this period the dictatorship of the proletariat. I’ve long forgotten the specific instances which caused Luxembourg to write the words quoted above. But in censoring the right of exploiting strata to free speech, I’m with Lenin and Trotsky.


I agree with Jamal that there

I agree with Jamal that there is a lot of clumsiness in the way these issues are discussed. Last time I checked Islam was a religion not a race or ethnicity. The media loves to quote the fact that there are six million Muslims in France. Really? Do all of those people go to the Mosque? How many actually practice the religion? I believe that there may be six million people reated to other people who came from countires where the dominant religion is Islam, but do all those people identify themselves as Muslims in more than an abstract way?

Of course, I am not sure in real life that it plays out this way in France, where Islam seems to serve as a kind of stand-in for race and ethnicity in the American sense. It was always a staple of my French classes in school that..." in France race and ethnicity don't really matter--anyone can be French as long as they accept the values of the Republic and speak French. Americans and Brits are racist, the French are culturalist."

The point is that while the specific historical context may vary from country to country, the underlying issue appears to be the same--the progressive difficulty of the captialist nation state to integrate the younger generations into the economy and the subsequnet break down in the legitimating ideologies of the state. While it may be overly dramatic to say that there is a crisis of the nation state form going on, there does appear to be a growing gneralized problem for the dominant class in integrating late captialist societies behind the state.

Of course, there is a problem here for Marxists too. Why, faced with the breakdown of the legitimating ideology of the state, do so many turn to utopian death cults rather than towards a questioning of capitalism itself? Then again, how many is many?

I admit it was not very nice

I don't write against you, Jamal. I only use your quotation as a "springboard" for my own argument. I admit it was not very nice from me.

I do not have the feeling of being strongly disagree with any of you, even when some criticize my post. The criticism is rather relevant. This is why I do not weigh down this thread with new considerations.

I only add one thing for the characterization of our super french terrorists:

“Betrayed by phone: Amedy Coulibaly, the author of the hostage-taking in the kosher supermarket at “Porte de Vincennes” on Friday, tried to make a call from the phone groceries. Unfortunately for him, it hung up the phone wrong and the police could hear everything that was going on in the grocery store. The police chose to assault when it heard Coulibaly pray.”

Source (French)

This is pathetic.

"The suppression of the

"The suppression of the voices of the ex-ruling classes – while this presents dangers to the communist project – is indispensible. For them, there will be no  freedom of speech, no newspapers urging counter-revolution, overtly or covertly."

On this point, I largely agree, but the problem will be distinguishing between bourgeois individuals and bourgeois viewpoints, which many in the working class will still hold.

As for the attack itself, I think we can do what we always do in these circumstances: condemn the anti-proletarian ideologies of both sides, while deploring the tragic waste of human life.

The ICC is looking more and more prescient when it adopted a point explicitly condemning terrorism into its basic positions, back in the late 80s: "Terrorism is in no way a method of struggle for the working class. The expression of social strata with no historic future and of the decomposition of the petty bourgeoisie, when it’s not the direct expression of the permanent war between capitalist states, terrorism has always been a fertile soil for manipulation by the bourgeoisie. Advocating secret action by small minorities, it is in complete opposition to class violence, which derives from conscious and organised mass action by the proletariat."

From what I’ve read of this

From what I’ve read of this issue on libcom most of the discussion, following leftism pure and simple, while denouncing the killings, is centred on the racism of Charlie Hebdo. While there’s maybe a discussion to be had on this question and more generally on the question of “satire”, the weight of the discussion is secondary to the real issues involved – and really, the world of capitalism is now beyond satire with the possible exception of the art of Franz Kafka.

The major issue here for me is the campaign launched by the bourgeoisie – events in Paris have been manna from heaven for them – there is now a real offensive from the bourgeoisie. They started to launch an international campaign against the working class with the Sydney siege about a month ago – politicians joined across nations, pompous, hypocritical vowing to defend the values of civilisation. But though the hostage-taker was waving the black flag of Isis he was obviously a pathetic, mentally ill individual with violent tendencies. The Australian “example” also failed somewhat when the news emerged a day or so later that an Australian mother had killed eight of her own children taking most of the bourgeois gloss off the siege effect.

But this event has really taken off and the media is full of strutting politicians, specialists, security people and the painful interviews with people not least any muslims who are asked to condemn the attack. It should be noted also that a day after Paris at least 2000 men, women and children were slaughtered by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The Nigerian military has responded with air strikes and we know what that means. But that’s small beer compared to Paris and in a way that’s true.  Events here were certainly shocking but they are not surprising and, as we’ve said many times, for various reasons the war on terror comes back to the heartlands and, at the same time, all the major imperialisms have their own terrorist factions that they back.

As I say above one of the sickening things is how muslims are demonised and this is clear in the reporting from France. it’s exactly the same as the campaign against muslims (or foreigners of a different colour to white) that’s been going on in Britain for years. It’s done under the title of “inclusiveness”; are you British first and foremost? The question raised is one of nation not class. The French claim to “secularism” is pure lies. The French state has always supported the Catholic Church as a rampart against the working class. Just like Britain, its secularism is just a means to add another particular level of oppression on the muslim section and, therefore, on the working class as a whole. And while the French Republic of the late 1800’s had elements worth defending for the working class it ended its life shooting down striking workers under the heading of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”.

Not only are the bourgeoisie unleashing a massive ideological assault on the working class in the west, they are using these events to step up the militarisation of society. They will show renewed interest in “anti-state” activity that will not be limited to possible terrorists.

Who decides?

Demogorgon wrote:

On this point, I largely agree, but the problem will be distinguishing between bourgeois individuals and bourgeois viewpoints, which many in the working class will still hold.

That's the crux of it. As LBird liked to say "who decides?" Still, its also true that even the bourgeoisie today recognizes that unimitigated free speech is a danger to "democracy" even in the limited sense of complicating its ability to get the electoral resuls it wants--witness the uproar in the US over the Citizen's United Supreme Court decision, which allows unlmited spending in election campaigns. The underlying assumption here is that those with resources will always be able to exert an undue influence on the way others think and act through their control of the "means of informtion."

But is the situation the same in a post-revolutionary society? Is the threat of counter revolution from a deposed class that no longer is possessd of the state worth the possbile chilling effect in society at large that repression inevitably raises?

Yes, obviously the context of

Yes, obviously the context of "free speech" in capitalist democracy and in a revolutionary/post-revolutionary situation are entirely different.

Your question "Is the threat of counter revolution from a deposed class that no longer is possessd of the state worth the possbile chilling effect in society at large that repression inevitably raises?" this is, of course, the question we have to grapple with.

I'm tempted to say that we've already seen the consequences of the "yes" answer to that question in the form of decline that characterised the Russian Revolution. Of course, the Bolsheviks themselves were traumatised by the memory of the crushing of the Paris Commune and were determined not to let that happen to them. It seems depressingly possible that each revolutionary movement will be haunted by the mistakes of the previous one and be so desperate to avoid being burnt alive in a fire similar to the last one that they run around with fire extinguishers during a flood.

Nonetheless, if one has confidence in the capacity of the class to develop a truly class consciousness, the fear of dangerous ideas is one we'll just have to live with.

Regarding the specifics, I think Tagor and Baboon are right in that what will be most important about this whole ghastly episode will be the use it's put to by the ruling class.

Isn't the well-worn concept

Isn't the well-worn concept "free speech" a bit like "human nature"?  We all assume we know what it is and that we all have it or can engage in it when needed. 

But living in class society, and under a dominant ideology that controls just about everything in society, apart perhaps from left communism, in what sense can our speech, which kind of reflects our thoughts, be free?  Most of us just babble away happily without giving a thought to what we say, and just go on repeating endlessly the same boring old cliches as if we just made them up in some amazing feat of original thought.  To discover what "free speech" might really be like as an experience, don't we have to wait as usual - as we do for all the best possibilities the life can give us -  till we finally get rid of capitalism snd live in a free, that is to say classless, society? 

"But living in class society,

"But living in class society, and under a dominant ideology that controls just about everything in society, apart perhaps from left communism, in what sense can our speech, which kind of reflects our thoughts, be free?"

The question isn't whether there is  genuine freedom of thought / speech under capitalism. We all agree that there isn't. The political structures of capitalism are there to present the illusion of free-speech, not the reality. And the economic structures and ideological forms that emerge from them truncate thought in deep and profound ways that we're not even aware of on a conscious level - what some Marxists refer to as reification.

The question at issue is whether there are genuine gains in the bourgeois political revolution (what JK referred to earlier as the "emancipatory tradition") that a proletarian revolution should look to. Is "democracy" and "free speech" just a load of crap to manipulate the lower orders? Or does it have a progressive core that cannot be realised by capitalism but can in communism? If we reject these concepts (as opposed to its implementation in bourgeois society) then what do we offer in its place?

"To discover what "free speech" might really be like as an experience, don't we have to wait as usual - as we do for all the best possibilities the life can give us -  till we finally get rid of capitalism snd live in a free, that is to say classless, society?"

Sounds great, except that you're making the assumption that communism will have free speech. Earlier Jamal said "I think as communists we have to reject the notion of "free speech" entirely." For him, the entire concept seems reactionary and I don't think he's changed his mind on that yet although he can clarify that if he wishes. JK1917 and myself aren't so sure.

The classless society you refer to isn't going to materialise out of nowhere but out of the conscious and unconscious actions of real human beings influenced by ideas, true or false, about the revolutionary content of things like democracy, dictatorship, justice, terror and all the rest.

And yet, even on this board, where we have fairly close political agreement there appears to be a disagreement about a fairly fundamental vision of what communist society will be like. Now, it may be that this disagreement is simply one of nomenclature and there is indeed a debate to be had about the term "free speech" and what it actually means - or at least how the different participants are using the term.

But I certainly don't think that the question has been settled even on this thread, let alone in the wider class.

Thanks for this rich thread,

Thanks for this rich thread, comrades.

Today we all live under capitalism. Free speech in capitalism is as Demo stated "the freedom to speak what the bourgeoisie and the state lets us speak. The freedom to be monitored and infiltrated if your views fall even slightly outside the mainstream and could be a threat."

Free speech, in the context it's currently being used in relation to the shooting events in France, is a bourgeois idea, a bourgeois conception all the way through. And in situations like this we see how it has the potential to become a shrapnel grenade thrown into discussion and solidarity within the the wider working class. This is of course part of the nuance of "free speech" in capitalism, part of its usefulness to the ruling class.

Since we reject the idea of reform in this period of capitalism, since we reject notions like "tax the rich" and "fight for democracy", on this same basis we have to reject the idea of "defend free speech" because we would be defending a bourgeois conception. We have to reject the idea of free speech as it exists in the minds of most people today, because the way it exists in the minds of most people today is as a bourgeois conception. The last time speech was truly "free", what our capacity was to even use language is still being explored and debated scientifically. One could probably argue that free speech, speech without the shackles of class society has never truly existed. As Fred points out this is just like our discussion on human nature.

So as communists how can we really say we support something that is either a totally bourgeois device or has never existed in the first place? We reject democracy in this period because it's a bourgeois conception and we should reject free speech on the same basis. I know when asked for example, "Are you against democracy!?", we all have our ways of answering that sticky question. The question of free speech has this same stickiness.

I'm in agreement with KT about the period of transition. At least I think. My gut feeling is that anything bourgeois, anything representing the old order, will urgently need to be suppressed by revolutionaries in this period because it's the period when the working class is the most fragile and the risk of counter revolutionary tendencies taking hold is the greatest. But other comrades have already said this.

My concern is something Demo touches on in the post above this one. He says:

"The classless society you refer to isn't going to materialise out of nowhere but out of the conscious and unconscious actions of real human beings influenced by ideas, true or false, about the revolutionary content of things like democracy, dictatorship, justice, terror and all the rest."

The concern is that all of this is too "modular", too consequential, too situation-specific to form hard stances on. Meaning I fear there could be critical processes in terms of the development and generalization of communist consciousness leading up to and during the period of transition that are supressed along with the supression of the ruling class, it's culture, ideas, in every way. But I think as long as the working class really has healm of the revolution, and is not just taking a back seat, it's experiences during the revolution should foster communist consciousness and as a result, communist society. Or will they not?

How can we make sure the working class gets in the drivers seat and stays there?

Any reading suggestions on

Any reading suggestions on Luxemburg and free speech as it relates to party politics would be much appreciated!

Jamal, Luxemburg's Russian

Jamal, Luxemburg's Russian Revolution, covers some of the issues here. It has to be read in context, of course.

"So as communists how can we really say we support something that is either a totally bourgeois device or has never existed in the first place?"

Communism has never existed, though, and we're all for that. Of course, something called communism also existed as a bourgeois device ... and this is what most people think of when we refer to it.

"How can we make sure the

"How can we make sure the working class gets in the drivers seat and stays there?"

This, of course, is the crux of the problem. But once you start repressing ideas that emerge within the working class, you're talking about workers with the right ideas being in the drivers' seat which is a different thing entirely.

"The concern is that all of this is too "modular", too consequential, too situation-specific to form hard stances on."

This seems to raise another question and that is whether the revolution will be guided by inviolable core principles or whether these principles can be abdicated if necessary (convenient?) to do so.



ICT have issued a statement:
Welcome the statement

I welcome the statement from the ICT - I think that there's a lot more that could be said but this is a good first attempt. I know that this thread is called Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of Speech but I think that the latter is too restrictive and we need a thread that's more open to all the lessons and issues involved here. The question of "freedom of speech" is an important one for all the reasons above but the main issue from "Charlie Hebdo" seems to me to be the wholesale mobilisation of populations by the bourgeoisie for nationalist and imperialist purposes and the greater militarisation of society. I think that the ICT text goes some way to making these essential points.

I don't know about these jihadi elements undertaking these attacks because they "want to provoke a backlash" against muslims - you read this argument a lot in the mainstream press. The "backlash against muslims" has been going on for years now and it doesn't come from minority right-wing elements or parties but from the highest levels of the state apparatus of the major western countries. I think that the text gets this right elsewhere when it talks about these individuals wanting to die and wanting to get revenge. It's twisted of course but these elements are created by capitalism - or, more precisely, imperialism. And also in this respect the text is correct to talk about the economic crisis and the effect that this has on disaffected youth. And as this crisis deepens and more elements of the bourgeoisie become aware that it is only going to get worse, then more elements of the bourgeoisie will glimpse that imperialist war is their only "solution". The mass mobilisations that are taking or will take place, the "unity of the nation", "one people", the "united front" can be see in this context.

I'd also add that this event and the events that are springing from it are, from the specifics to the general, examples of the decomposition of capitalism and the rise of militarisation.

There is a good article

There is a good article entitled  "Free Speech" hypocrisy in the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, on the website of 9 Jan 2015, which also contains a useful summary of the Marxist views of religions.

Mind = Blown

Demogorgon wrote:

"So as communists how can we really say we support something that is either a totally bourgeois device or has never existed in the first place?"

Communism has never existed, though, and we're all for that. Of course, something called communism also existed as a bourgeois device ... and this is what most people think of when we refer to it.

If comrades want we could start another thread, whatever you prefer. Wouldn't want to stifle your free speech.

The ICT's article could have been a post in this thread, a welcomed one. The article was good and brief and there's much left to be said. Interesting to me how it has it's own organic angles from a different left communist perspective. Good to see.

After some consideration,

After some consideration, there are a few historical examples of communism and "democracy" over the ages depending on your interpretations of each. We have things like the Paris commune, the beginning of the Russian Revolution, etc. Freedom of speech is stickier though, isn't it?

Could it just be a trap? In the quote from above, the part where Luxemburg says, "...Not because of any fanatical concept of “justice” but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when “freedom” becomes a special privilege." Who decides what's instructive? Wholesome? Purifying? In the period of transition, it's the revolutionary dictatorship of the working class, right? All these things, what's in good humor, what is salacious or not, obscene, etc...again, who decides? To me it seems "freedom of speech" is a weapon to be wielded by the ruling class, and in the period of transition, that's the proletariat. We will get to set the terms about what is and isn't "free", speech and the press included.

Within a communist society though I have to agree, freedom should never become a special privilege. As we have demonstrated "freedom of speech" is a fancy term for something that exists in bourgeois society and has to be destroyed along with the other archaic vestiges of class society. If freedom truly isn't a privilege in a future society, terms like that won't even make sense to the people living in it.

There are a few threads we could start more specifically on this, but I think if the working class is principled about what is and is not counter-revolutionary during the period of transition, the working class could use these terms to restrict freedom of press, assembly, speech, etc. when necessary.

ICC statement

Here is the link to the RI statement on these events

Bloody massacre in Paris, terrrorism, a manifestation of rotting bourgeois society

We will translate it as soon as we can.


Interesting, they did not

Interesting, they did not touch on the "free speech" issue at all. The article is a denouncement of terrorism and an explaination of its uses in decadent capitalism. They also mention this, which I was not aware of until this morning:

Freaky deaky!

ICC article give not satisfaction

Wow! ICC article give not satisfaction at all to me. I do not criticize it right now, because no french-speaking could not participate in the discussion. But it goes wrong. I hope there will be an answer.

Well, supposedly the rallies

Well, supposedly the rallies in France yesterday were attended by close to 4 million people--described by commentators as the largest rallies in the history of the Republic. Were these really rallies in defense of the nation and nationalism (even if they inevitably had that tone with the waving of the Tricoloeur [and the Star of David]) or were they motivated more by something else--a revulsion in the breakdown of social and cultural values that these kind of mindless death cult attacks represent--behind which lies decomposition? I guess what I am asking is were these rallies in defense of the nation or were they really rallies, albeit in an unconsious and distorted way, against decomposition? Trying to find a positive here......

Free speech is a diversion

Something bothered me about the fixation on "Free Speech" in the discussion above in relation to the events around Charlie Hebdo, and I've remembered what it was. In 1989 (when I was a member of the ICC) the Iranian Ayatollah issued a fatwa on the author Salman Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses, which denigrated the prophet Mohammed. The initial discussion in WR was all about "free speech" (I think we even put an article in the paper along the lines of free speech). As the discussion took off in the Current, WR's emphasis on "free speech" was seen not just as an entirely secondary issue but a diversion away from the real issues of inter-imperialist rivalries and the mobilisation of the working class behind democracy, etc. The errror was quickly rectified with no harm done.


That's why the text doesn't touch on "Free Speech" Jamal.

I agree in that I don't think

I agree in that I don't think the absence to the whole question of "free speech" is necessarily a failing. A statement cannot encompass everything, after all. I think it is an important question in its own right, though.

I haven't read the piece yet

I haven't read the piece yet and will await the ICC's translation but in the meantime jk I think that there was a fair element of genuine disgust at events that brought many people onto the streets. But it was a little shocking to see large groups of young people chanting and sloganeering their support for the police.

Sons and daughters of the

Sons and daughters of the ruling class and middle class most probably and perhaps some from the better off suburbs? I seriously can't imagine working class youth from estates and the more deprived areas cheering on the police!? Young people can be stupid but that stupid!


While awaiting the official translation of the ICC text I want to make a comment about how imperialist rivalries within the western countries undermines the response of the "civlised world" to the jihadi attacks in France. It looked very much to me that the US wanted to launch a major campaign around the Sydney siege last month in order to cohere its position among the English-speaking nations - Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada - around the events in Sydney. These countries, especially Australia and New Zealand, are of inordinate importance to the US in its "pivot" to the Pacific in order to confront China. Unfortunately the perpetrator of the siege turned out to be a deranged individual no matter his race, colour or creed. A day after the siege an Australian woman was arrested for killing her eight children which further punctured the attempt by the Australian bourgeoisie to whip up its imperialist hysteria by giving a sense of perspective that undermined the campaign. The US-led attempt failed to get off the ground

I think the fact that the US took umbrage at this failed attempt is shown by the fact that the Administration sent no-one, no even a junior official, to the Charlie Hebdo "celebrations" while the French bourgeoisie had nominated itself as being in "the capital of the world". Just prior to the attack in Paris, the French military decided to resume air-strikes against the jihadi's in southern Libya and just after, to increase its air-strikes in Iraq.


Thanks to jamal for taking the initiative to translate the article. It has been useful for the 'official' version. let us know if you're looking to do more....

this isn't a tipping point,

this isn't a tipping point, but i'll be damned if i don't feel like it's a beginning !!