thread themes on outlawing fascistic racist speech

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Thu Oct 29 12:25:51 PST 1998

-----Original Message----- From: Charles Brown <CharlesB at> To: lbo-talk at <lbo-talk at>
> It is common
>knowledge among activists
>that the ACLU does not
>place as much emphasis on the struggle
>against racism as civil liberties issues.

Hmm...the "American Civil Liberities Union" places its top priority on civil liberties? What a shocker. To note a group places its top priority in one area is a very different factor from saying they "do little" in other areas - especially when many people consider the protection of civil liberties key to civil rights, especially given the continual attempts by the government to silence civil rights and antiracism activists.

But then this tautology is followed by:

I said:

>I would venture to say that within the pool of free speech absolutists is
>a dramatically higher percentage of people who confront racists and
>fascists on a routine basis.
________ Charles: "It is not dramatically higher than the militiant anti-racist activists."

The ACLU's commitment to anti-racism is not dramatically higher than "militant anti-racist activists"? Again, militant anti-racist activists by definition should have a higher commitment to such than anyone else (although we can argue about whether the ACLU better serves such struggles than many of those who so self-identify).

>Charles: [The ACLU] don't fight
>fascistic racism directly
>as their position of
>allowing the speech would
>imply. If the way to defeat
>fascistic racists is to allow
>them to speak and then battle
>their ideas, then the ACLU
>should not just defend anti-racists'
>rights to speak (which isn't
>even challenged much) , but
>to fight the racist ideas directly.

It depends. If you think fascists ideas are so naturally attractive that to hear them is to follow them, then the ACLU is not anti-fascist. But if you think fascism breeds in environments of authoritarian repression and closed ideas, then the fight for free speech is itself the most important battle against fascism.

And the attempt to repress fascist speech itself becomes merely a model for fascism to follow when it attains majorities.

- in fact, the -main purpose of defending the fascists/racists is to create an absolutist -space for the Left to defend its activites. ___________ Charles: Yes, the liberal Left fails to see that for members of target groups of the fascistic racists this is explicitly a statement that liberal left is more concerned with protecting the Left's activities than protecting the targets groups from the murders and the rest of the fascistic racists' activities.

Well, I have a broader view of the Left than you, including exactly the targetted groups you mention. It is the first Amendment that protected Martin Luther King from repression in SULLIVAN and that protected the NAACP in the 1982 CLAIBORNE case I cited a few days ago. Racists don't need free speech to murder and repress a minority; it is precisely the minority that needs free speech to fight, boycott and demonstrate.

Charles: But the history of First Amendment jurisprudence shows that the Left has not been protected by the fact that the fascists' speech was protected . All of this period the KKK and Nazis were not put in jail or arrested. (The KKK had big marches in D.C. in the 20's at the same time that Communists were being jailed )

Damn right. Majorities were supporting the KKK and they did not need the First Amendment to march. The First Amendment was largely a dead letter for most of American history and only slowly during the 20th century did it take on much meaning, as unions, black activists and the Left pushed for a new meaning - filling the jails when necessary to force a new definition.

It is hardly an ironclad protection but compared to the beginning of this century (the Palmer Raids and other acts you cited), it is a major advance that is worth furiously defending. ________

>However, it was on this planet that
>the U.S. Supreme Court put the Communist
>Party leadership in jail despite the First Amendment
>at a time when KKK or Nazis were NOT being
>jailed or even arrested ( right after a world
>war with the Nazis).

Stuck a bit in the 1920s, aren't we? And you ignore the same Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the Communists by the end of the 1950s. And as others have pointed out, it was the Communists support for the Smith Act that helped set their own prosecution. They hoped to use the state against their opponents, such as the Trotskyists, and found the weapon turned against them.

A lesson for those who think state repression can be used against fascists and not turn on anti-fascists.

--Nathan Newman

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list