Noam Chomsky’s View of Free Speech
Noam Chomsky: “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for those we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”. Now, who could argue against that? No one could and that’s because there is nothing wrong with it, just as there is nothing wrong with saying “be nice to everyone” or “love thy neighbor”.
And that’s the problem with a statement like this. It’s a general, abstract and moralistic comment, devoid of any real-life class content or meaning, that puts moral niceties above realities of the society, not realizing that such moral high grounds and ideas are only possible through a socioeconomic transformation that has as its goal the creation of classless society, which can only take place through a revolution, where the point isn’t respect for the “freedom of expression” for the ruling class, but their defeat, with all means available.
Professor Chomsky has made similar comments in more than one occasion, including in reference to Cuban revolutionaries. Such moralistic preachings can only be offered by those who are removed from the actual and day to day responsibilities involved in defeating the rule of capital, especially in the age of world imperialism, which uses all means necessary, including provocation, bribing and sabotage to prevent the success of a socialist state. To abide by such an admonition is to put moralistic ideas above the needs of the socioeconomic transformation, which will surely and necessarily invoke a full fledged and bonafide war from the ruling class – a ruling class which will do everything and use all means necessary to stop and prevent such transformation. It is such transformation that ultimately has as its main goal the creation of a classless society, where such “freedom of expression” can become reality – not just in theory, but in practice, too. What we need to do is defeat those who prevent such eventuality, not concern ourselves with their “freedom of expression”, at all cost, lest we be judged by liberals as non-democratic. Our concern should be the emancipation of the millions, the 99%, from the chains of capital, including achieving their freedom of expression, which only exists in theory in a capitalist society, but is taken away, as soon as the system is threatened. It’s like the kind of insurance that “covers” you, only while you don’t use it and keep paying its premiums. The minute you need it, they give you excuses why they won’t pay, after all. Their “freedom of expression” is an empty slogan and contingent upon its non-use when it’s most needed and when it has the potential to make a difference, that is, when it matters.
To abide by Chomsky’s admonition is to not take the task and needs of the revolution seriously, to invite the class enemy to organize against the revolution and its gains and push to undo those gains, using its incredible economic, political and social prowess, influence and know-how. Latin America has paid dearly for such misguided thinking, most glaringly in El Salvador and Nicaragua. In Venezuela, where the capitalist class has been left intact and free to continue its propaganda, slowly, but surely, and with the help of the CIA, is turning the tide against the unfinished, equivocal and pusillanimous building of socialism. It’s like rising up to drive out an occupying army that’s raping, plundering and massacring people, while at the same time, ensuring that the fight is “fair” and “equitable” by distributing resources and weapons equally among the people and the enemy because if we don’t believe in equality “for those we despise, then we don’t believe in it at all”. The fact is that the class of the 1% has a tremendous advantage over us. They don’t need our sympathy or act of “fairness” or equalization. To not understand revolution as a war is to not understand revolution, “at all”.
In Chomsky’s thinking, if the “freedom of expression” of the class enemy is not respected, then it must be out of hatred – that we “despise” them – and not because we want to uproot the system they represent and enjoy at the expense of everyone else. But, in fact, it’s neither about hatred, nor about some abstract moral idea. It’s about using all means necessary to defeat people’s enemies and build a world where there will no longer be the need for a coercive state tasked with imposing the will of one class over another. Coercive and repressive states are only necessary as a tool in the hands of one class against the other, which becomes necessary only in a class society. Dictatorship of one class over another which is the hallmark of a class society is the main reason for the existence of a repressive state. If the absence of dictatorship is what’s desired, then economic classes must be done away with since it’s class discrepancy, conflict and antagonism that necessitates and creates dictatorship and repression. But, to do away with classes, we must first organize and engage and defeat the ruling class, leaving our concern for “freedom of expression” for the heretofore oppressed masses, not those who have been denying them and want to continue to deny them that freedom. This has nothing to do with hatred and everything to do with fighting for a more just, equitable, peaceful and yes, democratic future world where by eliminating class divisions, we will simultaneously eliminate the need for one class ruling over and exerting dictatorship over another. Until classes and class differences are wiped out, “freedom of expression” will be a noble, but unreachable dream, that will only live in the minds of liberals, but not in real life for the masses.
If all this sounds too academic, consider this: should people let CNN, Fox News and others continue their lies and efforts at defending and supporting the ruling class, during and after a revolution, or should people confiscate their resources and broadcast their revolutionary messages and ideas, instead, in order to try and counter their brainwashing and ensure speedy, total and complete victory for the revolution? If your answer is the former, then you should ask yourselves: what’s the goal? To make sure everyone – whatever their current status, ability, power, class orientation and objectives, and regardless of the outcome of the struggle – has equal “freedom of expression”, or is the goal bigger than that?