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The Limits of Freedom of Speech

Mike Tribe

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I think noticing the similarities between Stalinism and Fascism is one thing. Saying that makes them identical is another. One is a bureacracy which strangled a revolution but nevertheless in its day rested on public ownership of the means of production. The other issued from a counter-revolution and served the interests of the corporations. (That is the shortest version of that argument you are likely to come across!)

To give a domestic example, the health service was never perfect and had many defects. Socialists nevertheless defended the health service and opposed privatisation. The trade unions have many defects and operate in a bureaucratic manner, socialists still found themselves defending trade unionism against the employers (and sometimes against the union leaders ETU springs to mind).

The simple view of the world; "they are as bad as each other" is an unreliable guide to action.

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I think noticing the similarities between Stalinism and Fascism is one thing. Saying that makes them identical is another. One is a bureacracy which strangled a revolution but nevertheless in its day rested on public ownership of the means of production. The other issued from a counter-revolution and served the interests of the corporations. (That is the shortest version of that argument you are likely to come across!)

I admire Derek's ability to concisely argue his point! However, one could argue that in terms of human misery, Stalinism was pretty awful (millions killed for their beliefs, or just being in the way). I agree that in terms of "awfulness" it still doesn't top fascism.

Perhaps you've read about Prof. Churchill at the Univ. of Colorado, whose job is in jeopardy because he compared the workers in the WTC on Sept. 11 to Nazis. What do you folks think of that?

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Perhaps you've read about Prof. Churchill at the Univ. of Colorado, whose job is in jeopardy because he compared the workers in the WTC on Sept. 11 to Nazis.  What do you folks think of that?

Well that certainly is not how I would have expressed it. You have to take into account the large number of innocent bystanders who died. However Americans still need to come to terms with the question "Why do people hate us so?" and the argument about the World Trade Centre is overstated but it begins to address that issue.

If we have no "intelligence" about why terrorism happens we do not have a cat in hell's chance of defeating it.

September 11 was a revenge attack. If the response to September 11 is the massacre at Fallujah there is nothing more likely to spawn a thousand more revenge attacks. A hundred years from now people will still be attacking American targets in the name of the hundreds of unarmed civilians who died in Fallujah and the 100000 who have died in Iraq as a whole.

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There was an interview with Prof Churchill on Democracy Now!


It suggests that what he said has been distorted. For example.

"AMY GOODMAN: What are you saying was in the World Trade Center?

WARD CHURCHILL: There was a Central Intelligence Agency office. There were Defense Department offices. There was, I believe, an F.B.I. facility. All of which fit the criteria of the bombing target selection utilized by the Pentagon. If it was fair to bomb such targets in Baghdad, it would be fair for others to bomb such targets in New York. That's what I'm saying. I don't think it's fair to bomb such targets in Baghdad, therefore I reject New York, but so long as United States is applying those rules out in the world, it really has no complaint when those rules are applied to it. "

Ward Churchill's statements seem to be a legitimate part of the debate. Night after night after night, Fox news has distorted this into a call for further terrorism. Clearly it is no such thing.

American military targets have included:

Baby food factories



Railway stations

hospitals (Fallujah!)

Civilian homes

Unarmed prisoners

It is not "calling for the killing of American citizens" to point this out.

He also referred to some of the victims as "Little Eichmanns". (How often have you referred to a traffic warden or a bossy receptionist as a little Hitler? Has anybody suggested you should be sacked for it?)

"Well it goes to Hannah Arendt's notion of Eichmann, the thesis that he embodied the banality of evil. That she had gone to the Eichmann trial to confront the epitome of evil in her mind and expected to encounter something monstrous, and what she encountered instead was this nondescript little man, a bureaucrat, a technocrat, a guy who arranged train schedules, who, as it turned out, ultimately didn't even agree with the policy that he was implementing, but performed the technical functions that made the holocaust possible, at least in the efficient manner that it occurred, in a totally amoral and soulless way, purely on the basis of excelling at the function and getting ahead within the system that he found himself. He was a good family man, in his way. He was loved by his children, participated in civic activities, was in essence the good German. And she [Arendt] said, therein lies the evil. It wasn't that Eichmann was a Nazi or a high official within Nazidom, although he was in fact a Nazi and a relatively highly placed official, but it was exactly the reverse: that given his actual nomenclature, the actuality of Eichmann was that anyone in this sort of mindless, faceless, bureaucratic capacity could be the Nazi. That he was every man, and that was what was truly horrifying to her in the end. That was a controversial thesis because there's always this effort to distinguish anyone and everyone irrespective of what they're doing from this polarity of evil that is signified in Nazidom, and she had breached the wall and brought the lessons of how Nazism actually functioned, the modernity of it, home and visited it upon everyone, calling for, then, personal accountability, responsibility, to the taking of responsibility for the outcome of the performance of one's functions. That's exactly what it is that is shirked here, and makes it possible for people to, from a safe remove, perform technical functions that result in (and at some level, they know this, they understand it) in carnage, emiseration, the death of millions ultimately. That's the Eichmann aspect. But notice I said little Eichmanns, not the big Eichmann. Not the real Eichmann. The real Eichmann ultimately is symbolic, even in his own context. He symbolized the people that worked under him. He symbolized the people who actually were on the trains. They were hauling the Jews. He symbolized the technicians who were making the gas for I.G. Farben. He symbolized all of these people who didn't directly kill anybody, but performed functions and performed those functions with a certain degree of enthusiasm and certainly with a great degree of efficiency, that had the outcome of the mass murder of the people targeted for elimination or accepted as collateral damage. That's the term of the art put forth by the Pentagon.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people have interpreted this, "if as you said, true enough, they were civilians of a sort, but innocent, give me a break. They formed a technocratic core at the very heart of America's global financial empire, the mighty engine of profit, to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved, and they did so both willingly and knowingly." How many people have interpreted this as that they deserve what they got?

WARD CHURCHILL: Well, I'm not a judge. I don't make the assessment as to what it is they deserve. I'm simply pointing to the reality of it. I don't know that I even agreed with the execution of Eichmann, per se. I'm not repudiating it. I'm not taking exception to it and defending the man, but I don't make that decision. What I did was posit the reality with the intent of allowing the reader or compelling the reader even to draw their own conclusion. If their conclusion is that if you do these things, you deserve death, then that's the conclusion they've drawn.

AMY GOODMAN: What conclusion...

WARD CHURCHILL: Apparently...

AMY GOODMAN: What conclusion have you drawn about September 11th and the...

WARD CHURCHILL: Well, I posit my conclusions that if you want to avoid September 11s, if you want security in some actual form, then it's almost a biblical framing, you have to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As long as you're doing what the U.S. is doing in the world, you can anticipate a natural and inevitable response of the sort that occurred on 9/11.

(and I suggest you read the whole transcript. Democracy Now! publishes transcripts of all its major interviews)

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I think you have to have experienced hard-left politics in action to assess just how awful they were. I did in 1976 while attending a course at Karl Marx University, Leipzig, lodging with a family: the generally depressing feel of the place, my landlady having to get up at 5 in the morning in order to join the queues for basic foodstuffs such as meat, bread, coffee, etc, constantly being bombarded by slogans extolling the virtues of Socialism, the restrictions imposed on East Germans' freedom to travel - oh, and not forgetting the people that were shot trying to "escape" from East into West Berlin. Hitler's Germany was, of course, worse, but the East Germans learned a lot from him.

I went back to East Germany in 1989 in order to visit students of mine who were studying in West Berlin, followed by a visit to the Humboldt University in East Berlin, where I gave a guest lecture, followed by a conference in Rostock - all of which was taking place during the week following the opening of the Berlin Wall. "Ich war dabei!"


I must put in a request to see my Stasi file sometime...

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Derek - Thanks for the link to the "Democracy Now" site. I suspected Churchill's views were being distorted. I am in total agreement with you as to the need to look at why the US was (and is) a target; and our failure to do so only increases the chances we will continue to be subject to these kinds of attacks. Other people have been making such pleas since shortly after the Sept. 11 attack - Churchill just has the misfortune of having stated his in a way that seems to have hit a nerve - and prompted many people to threaten his job. Thus there seem to be limits to "freedom of speech" in the US - not a surprise to me, having experienced it first-hand. It is, however, worse now than anytime since Vietnam.

My wife told me she's got a catalog that has a coffee mug with "Patriot Act" in big letters on the top. Underneath are listed all our civil rights. When you fill the cup, each of the civil rights gradually disappears, leaving only "Patriot Act". I must get several of these....

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I read an article in Newsweek by Andrew Moravcsik, 31 Jan 2005: "Dream on, America". It's a good read, focusing on why the American Dream has turned sour for many nations that once admired it and - more importantly - why Americans cannot understand why this has happened and why other nations don't want to emulate the USA.

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I think you can find many examples of how freedom of speech has been oppressed by various dicatorships and I think we all know that governments of democratic states are tempted to curtail this right when faced by a major crisi or attack. I do not want to downplay the dangers such actions entail.

But I would like to pick up one thread of this forum again: is a teacher allowed to express his own political views and opinions in class or must he/she remain neutral so that he/she does not influence/manipulate the students.

I - in a way - have never been neutral. I am neutral when I present the facts (though of course I know that selecting facts may be influenced by the aims and the conculsions you want to reach) but once we have reached the stage of taking sides and expressing opinion clearly I do not mince words and for instance say what I think of the things my government does. For me not saying explicitly what my perspective is would mean lying to the students and not being open with them. I try to show clearly (e.g. with the help of words and expressions I choose) what my personla opinion is, what it is based on. My students know that in the lessons or in an exam I would never would mark their opinion only the way they present and explain their ideas.

A problem for me is what to do with the ideas of the far right. One of my politics classes once wanted to do some research on the websites of the neo-nazis to find out how inhuman, dangerous and violent their ideology really is and if they dare to express their ideas openly. When they asked me I mus say I was not very happy and I didn't want to do it because those sites are cleverly made and can be attractive to some ( it was a year 9 class). I first asked the parents and after some consideration we spent some lessons on researching those websites. Important was that afterwards - during the debate in class - everybody could freely express his/her own feelings and reactions to the propaganda and strategy revealed on the neo-nazi websites (Holocaust denial is a staple argument of those sites). None of the students really felt attracted by the slogans and programmes.

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