Revolution: Fall 2007

Brownshirts in the University

A generation of kids growing up in the 1950s was routinely taught to play the game of "cowboys and Indians" with their friends. Only later did they find out that what they had been playing at was genocide.

Today on campuses around the country, right-wing students are knowingly being organized, and trained, in a much more dangerous “sport.” Like the Nazi “brownshirt” youth of 1920s and 1930s Germany, groups like Campus Watch and the deliberately misnamed Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) are organizing students to spy on, gather “evidence” against, and report faculty who encourage discussion of controversial subjects in their classes, with the aim of having them silenced, or fired. From elite universities like NYU to community colleges, they organize “games” such as “find the ‘illegal’ immigrant” day. At one school they even held a game of “catch the runaway slave,” with students (and faculty) dressed in blackface! They mock the struggle against the oppression of African-Americans and others, holding “affirmative action bake sales” and Republican “coming-out parties.”

At Columbia University these students were turned on fellow students who protested the appearance of the leader of the anti-immigrant, paramilitary Minutemen. The College Republicans at Holyoke Community College waged a month-long campaign to follow around, physically intimidate, and sexually harass the Student Senate president for her efforts to pass a resolution calling on the administration to ban military recruiting on campus.

These right-wing student groups, richly funded and nationally directed by powerful right-wing political forces closely tied to those at the seat of power, are a growing force on campuses around the country that cannot be ignored. They are providing the foot-soldiers for a broad right-wing agenda aimed at destroying academic life, ruining faculty careers, and inciting official and unofficial persecution against targeted professors and students. Those directing this assault on critical thinking and dissent are out to fundamentally change the universities as we have known them, in their internal life and functioning, and in their effect on society, making them zones of uncontested indoctrination in service of empire.

These student bullies and fascists on the campuses create an atmosphere of intimidation among faculty, while cooking up “evidence” of the so-called campus “dictatorship of the left.” They provide the crucial undergirding for the argument by Horowitz, American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), and those in power that the campuses must be “taken back” and their direction fundamentally changed. State legislatures in Colorado and Pennsylvania have had these students testify about the terrible “left-wing bias” in their states’ college and university classrooms. Their evidence is consistently specious and laughable, but the public perception grows that conservative students are being systematically persecuted by their “leftist” professors.

These right-wing students go to seminars where they are trained to take advantage of the relativism which is widely promoted in academia. They are taught to argue that they are simply trying to promote an "alternative viewpoint" (or what some call a "competing narrative"), which deserves to be heard. And all the while, they histrionically complain about their own "persecution." Historically and down to the present day, this whole method of casting themselves as “victims” while representing the views and enjoying the backing of the most powerful forces in the country is the trademark of the reactionaries in power. They are even encouraged to co-opt the language associated with the left—equality, diversity, academic freedom, fairness, etc.

Despite their poses, these forces are not about encouraging a diversity of views to contend. On the contrary, using the stalking horse of “balance,” they have launched an assault on the search for the truth and its exposition. The fact is that there are indeed some things which we can judge to be true—that is, to accurately reflect objective reality. Some of these truths are not only quite established and definite—they are very “inconvenient” for those in power. And it is these inconvenient truths that are coming under attack in the name of balance. The truth about the roots of this country in slavery and genocide, for instance; the truth about the imperialist interests behind the wars that it has fought; or even truths about the evolution of the species. These truths conflict with the agenda of those in power, and so they demand that scholarship which challenges the “official narrative” of U.S. history be “balanced” with conservative professors. For David Horowitz, who actually claims that slavery was good for Black people because they are now “better off” than Africans, the content of such “balance” is obvious. As it is for those who argue that the teaching of the scientific fact of evolution be “balanced” with the dressed-up religious creationism of intelligent design. In both cases, the call for “balance” is a step on the way to suppression of the truth.

We’ve seen this method in operation before. Take the media, where Fox News claims to be “fair and balanced.” This kind of “balance” increasingly sets the terms where even ruling-class liberals like Dan Rather are either forced out or cowed into silence, and where truly radical voices are effectively banned. The right-wing demand for “balance” is not a call for contention of ideas over what is real and what most accurately characterizes reality, be it life on Earth or the history of this country. It is, for the time being, a call for the coexistence of truths, half-truths and lies, as a transitional step to silencing the truth. And in the hands of David Horowitz and Lynne Cheney, the Christian fascists, and Fox News, it is a cover to banish critical thinking from the university, and then from society itself.

These groups are well-funded and ruthless, and they have a certain momentum. But they also have an Achilles heel: they cannot stand up to critical thinking and a genuine search for the truth. They must and can be confronted and politically defeated, exposing the truth about their methods and their real agenda.

[For more on this movement’s ruling class backers, see “The Powers Behind the Brownshirt Movement”]

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