Challenging “Woke Neo-McCarthyism” at an Arts Event

Last week, I went to a small event on Censorship in the Arts organized by a literary organization. I broke open some discussion of the harm of the “woke neo-McCarthyism” that Bob Avakian critiques so sharply... and I think there's something important to learn from the experience, and the response.

The panelists at the event spoke mainly about the history and evolution of censorship. But at one point, the moderator asked one of the panelists whether there was an analogy to be made to the McCarthyist blacklist of the 1950s (which targeted communists and progressives, preventing them from working in Hollywood for years) to a new blacklist today, focused on men who are accused of sexual assault, often without due process, and the new cancel culture... is there an analogy there?

The panelist said they didn't think an analogy could be made. He chalked up the “anti-wokeness” to just being a trope of the fascists and that there isn't a real problem here. He took the example of Harvey Weinstein, where there's a criminal case happening and he was already convicted, so these charges don't seem to be made up. Whereas the blacklist of the ’50s led to careers decimated for association with progressive causes and to some spending time in prison because they wouldn't cooperate with Congress about the role of communists in Hollywood.

The moderator took this further—making a comment about the comedian Louis C.K. being allegedly cancelled but meanwhile, he was just nominated for a Grammy and sells out arenas—basically making the point that he's not really been “cancelled.” I spoke from the floor, disagreeing with what had been said about this. I talked about the work of Bob Avakian, the revolutionary leader and author of the new communism, who has made the point that this fascist lunacy—which is using the law and state to actively censor progressive voices—is in a reinforcing dynamic or “feedback loop” with this “woke neo-McCarthyism.” I brought up the filmmaker Nate Parker (who was cancelled because of allegations of sexual assault, which he'd already gone to court for and been found not guilty) whose film The Birth of a Nation about Nat Turner leading slave rebellions was actively boycotted, and whose ability to work has been stunted. The overall climate of censoriousness and cancelling people accused of appropriation, gutting due process, gutting the whole concept of art and cowing people into silence. Yes, there's been discrimination, but the answer to this isn't revenge, which is what this wokeness is about, just turning the tables.

There was some discussion about this on the panel, citing the difference between the state censoring people, and the difference between that and people voting with their feet (or funds). One of the panelists defended the fact that Hollywood is run by private business interests who listen to the market (vs. censorship). Another panelist spoke about the “pigeonholing” that can happen if women are slated to just tell women’s stories (and if different people of different “identities” can tell any and all stories), but didn't go beyond that. Another panelist raised some concern about this “censoriousness” and the silencing of voices but again, didn't really go much further.

But after the panel, at least eight people came up to me to thank me for my comments. (This was almost half the small audience!) This included some of the event organizers and people in the audience. A woman who works in the arts critiqued this idea that all accusations must be believed and we're not even allowed to question them. She said she's been watching things like, “oh shit, we're really doing this... and we can't even talk about it.” But then also feeling afraid to say anything for fear she'll come under attack. We talked about the harm of this.

I passed out palm cards for The Bob Avakian Interviews on The RNL Show and especially encouraged people to dig into these—that there's nothing else like them—and I talked more about the dangerous polarization, with the fascists on the march, moving determinedly towards an all-out white supremacist, male supremacist society while the “decent people” are being stifled, suffocated and paralyzed by this wokeness. In a time when revolution is so necessary, but also more possible, we have to break through this urgently.

I talked with one artist about BA and how he speaks to the harm of this in terms of the fight for the truth, and for revolution vs. revenge. She said she was glad I brought up Nate Parker and has been thinking about what happens to these people who you just never hear from again. And really, who benefits from this kind of silencing? (In his case, the film about Nat Turner not being seen.)

A few other people expressed a real desire to break open this discussion—to even be able to talk about these things. One woman told me it was so refreshing to hear someone just speak frankly to the harm of this. We talked about the potential for various panels or group discussions on this going forward. And afterwards, I sent people The Bob Avakian Interviews and some of his writings on this—which are like nothing else in fighting for a scientific understanding of the struggle to break all the chains of oppression.

This was a small sample of people, and a certain demographic (where no one came forward to straight up defend this wokeness), but this experience underscored the urgent need—and potential—to break this debate open... and to break the stranglehold this woke lunacy has on people who care.

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