A short response to the article The Question of Freedom of Speech Facing Socialists, arguing that there is a big difference between state censorship and a direct action no platform approach.
There is currently some discussion about what constitutes free speech, especially in light in recent occurrences of no platforming and the cancellation of Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at Berkeley as a consequence of protests. What current advocates of free speech absolutism don't seem to understand is the difference between censorship, which is state repression, and no platforming or other methods of telling individuals promoting bigotry to shut up. The latter is not censorship.
Censorship is specifically a state/government intervention in preventing people from disseminating their ideas, and this is what the quotations by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Marx cited in the article were referring to. Marx was subjected to censorship, his writings and writings of other communists/socialists being banned in various European countries and the possession of such writings being a pretext to imprisonment. Rosa Luxemburg was ultimately murdered by reactionaries holding similar opinions to those people who contemporary free speech absolutists think should be protected. It was also at the heart of the San Diego Free Speech Fight 1912-1913, which Emma Goldman, the Wobblies and others were involved with, a movement whose members were imprisoned, beaten, tortured and even killed by the police. It is a flawed and disrespectful argument to use Luxemburg, Marx and Berkman, all of whom suffered from actual censorship and real state repression to defend the likes of Milo and other fascists, or to malign protesters who stand up for themselves and other people who are abused by them.
Censorship was not what was experienced by Milo. That was a large group of people who had had enough of the years of his spewing hate and bigotry, showing up and telling him that his presence would not be tolerated, a few days after one of his supporters had shot a protester earlier on his tour. It didn't actually "censor" him, it just prevented him from talking in one particular place. As for him not advocating violence, he was intending to out undocumented students, not only in that place but livestreaming it. I'm pretty sure that throwing people into the clutches of ICE, risking their safety, that of their families, possibly getting deported, counts as violence. There's more than one kind of violence and punching someone in the face is only one of these them. Milo had been exercising his freedom of speech for years, on ever increasingly large platforms, including network news and the BBC and has orchestrated campaigns terrorizing people, mostly women. No-one has censored him. He was banned from twitter because he violated their posting guidelines, it hardly shut him up though. I don't think a primetime HBO invite really counts as censorship.
Fascists, the alt-right or whatever, have been getting an increasingly large platform in recent years. It’s really not hard to see the correlation between their ever increasing ability to spread their malicious messages and the increasing amount of physical violence perpetrated against minorities? The mainstreaming of these views under the free speech argument has undoubtable emboldened people to assault people, burn mosques, burn black churches, threaten Jewish centres with bombs.
Free speech fights have always been about government repression of ideas. It's not about a person's inalienable right to abuse someone else. If someone starts spouting some kind of bigotry in my direction, I can and I will tell them to sit down and shut up. That's what happened to Milo. It's just absurd to think you can debate with these people. The trans student who turned up on his tour to disagree with him in person had her life made so miserable by him and his fans she had to drop out of college. Was that him exercising his free speech too? It's utter liberal claptrap to misuse the concept of censorship to protect these people from the righteous fury of people preventing them, or attempting to prevent them from further spreading their message, opinions which directly target marginalised people and minorities.
There is a rank hypocrisy permeating some areas of the left who celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, who revel in the actions of previous generations who fought fascism but tut tut at poor little Milo turning tail and running or Richard Spencer getting punched in the face, in the name of the principle of free speech. It's a wonder that the people of the East End didn't just pull up a few chairs and have a nice little debate with Mosley. You can't debate these people. Standing up and telling these people to shut up as their hate actually threatens people isn't censorship, it's self-preservation. It would be really nice if everyone were nice to each other but that's not the world we live in. Pick a side.