Free speech and revolution

December 13, 2021

In November 2021, after a “hot” Virginia election issue was banning Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a Texas lawmaker proposed banning 850 books including Confessions of Nat Turner and books on human rights, especially any that mentions LGBTQI people.

Attacks on free speech are not unique to the U.S. Many countries make it hard to communicate radical ideas and censor criticism of the government.

  • According to The Guardian the Russian government extended a law that labels any person that reports corruption and scandals in Russia’s military-industrial complex as “foreign agents” to any non-profit organization receiving foreign donations and influencing public opinion.
  • In Hong Kong, five members of a union were arrested for being behind the production of a children’s book which served as a metaphor for the pro-democracy protesters of Hong Kong.
  • In China, any mention of the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989 is banned. Individuals can be arrested for “subversion of state power” and to “protect state secrets.” China also censors individuals and organizations outside China by threatening their market shares or stakes they hold with business. They force companies to censor individuals that criticize China or its government.

The articulation of ideas is integral to the movement of freedom. It is a necessity for workers to communicate their issues, conflicts and ideas about what can be changed.

Rulers treat any critique or change of existing relations like the plague. If a worker tries to speak about concerns (minor or severe) in the workplace, they’ll either be ignored, laughed at, written up or sent home. Management surveils the workplace with security cameras and managers. Even when management doesn’t actively spy, they give workers the illusion of being watched

To be free, people need to openly acknowledge aspects of their lives which make them unfree, to talk to each other, develop perspectives and organize. As Marx wrote in “On the Freedom of the Press”: “The first essential condition for freedom, however, is self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is an impossibility without self-confession.”

How do we secure freedom of speech? In workers’ movements fighting for freedom and being conscious of this fight can lead to the creation of platforms and organizations that provide workers a voice. Since the beginning of capitalism, people have created papers or flyers and organizations to let others know of their struggles. And yet theory and philosophy are also necessary to help make sense of our actions. Theory, rooted in a philosophy of human activity is a necessity to workers. Intellectuals can play a role if they learn to listen to the workers.

Historically, there’s been a divide between intellectuals and workers. Intellectuals often lack experience of working people’s lives. Many workers lack an understanding of what can help to get at what unifies these issues. The divide between intellectuals and workers needs to be overcome

That requires a dialogue with workers in an organization that allows free movement of ideas without which any movement is left at a massive disadvantage when it comes to revolution. When these divides are overcome, then a revolutionary movement and a better life is within reach.

–Jackie Roving

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