A question: What will the communists do about free expression after the revolution?

May 8, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Editors’ note: This article has been added to since it initially appeared on May 5.


During the “battle for Berkeley,” the question has come up: what will communists do about free expression after the revolution, when you are leading the state?

The Reality of Capitalist Dictatorship

It’s important first of all to realize that “free speech” is never absolutely free. Speech and expression are constrained by the division of society into classes. Slave master and slave do not have the same rights and means to be heard, and to have their opinions debated and respected; neither do exploiter and exploited more generally, nor oppressor and oppressed. The vaunted free speech of capitalist society boils down to the domination of the discourse within the terms acceptable and favorable to the ruling class of society, spread by institutions owned and controlled by major corporations (i.e., blocs of capitalist-imperialist capital), and confined to choices which serve those classes.

To the extent there is debate, even sharp debate, this is within the terms and confines of what most serves the ruling class or, as it’s routinely put, “what’s best for America”—a formulation that conceals the fact that America is a) a big-time oppressor around the world, b) itself divided into exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed, and c) that the oppressed people around the world and those within this country have very different fundamental interests than those who control the media. Such debate as there is mainly serves the rulers of the country both by enabling them to go a certain ways to resolving the differences among themselves, as well as promoting illusions among the masses and training people to see things through the eyes of the very people who dominate them.

The ideas which represent the fundamental interests of the oppressed—or ideas which are often just the new or unconventional—must at minimum struggle mightily to even get a hearing and, in the worst cases and all too often, are marginalized or outright repressed—sometimes through de facto censorship and sometimes straight-up violently, through assassination or prison. The truth—and most of all the truth about the bedrock social relations, the true history of this society, and the fact that things do not need to be this way—is routinely suppressed, distorted and lied about. Even when true facts are reported, these are almost always filtered through a lens, or framework of ideas, which takes for granted the “justice” and “right” of this system to rule.

This is a society, after all, which takes as its “bottom line” (if you’ll excuse what is a rather appropriate expression in this context) the right of some individuals to exploit the labor of many others, and thereby climb to the top in power and influence. This is enforced and reinforced by the capitalist-imperialist control of the army, prisons, courts, etc.—the instruments of dictatorship which are the essence of class rule beneath the outer appearance of “equal exchange of ideas, free speech for all.”

In short, we live in a society in which one class (the capitalist-imperialist class) dictates how society runs and to what ends, and enforces this with the armed power of the state. There are democratic rights sometimes extended within that framework, but the underlying framework – a system built on and constantly driven to extend exploitation—is not in question, and any such rights they do extend are subject to that.

(Right now, even these limited rights are under extremely serious assault by Trump and Pence, who are moving to firmly install a fascist regime, with very grave consequences if they succeed. But while there is a battle on, and correctly so, to prevent these fascists from succeeding, as communists our overall goal cannot be the restoration of a more bourgeois-democratic dictatorship, but of a revolutionary society, on the road to communism.)

On the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America

The new socialist republic will also be a state—which means that it too is fundamentally a dictatorship. But it is a dictatorship serving radically different class interests: those of the proletariat, a class that aims to overcome all exploitation and oppression, to emancipate all of humanity, and put an end to the very division of society into classes and the need for a state.

The New Socialist Republic of North America will in some critical respects be different from even the best of the previous socialist revolutions. It will be guided first of all by what Bob Avakian (BA) has brought forward around the need for a solid core, and a lot of elasticity based on that solid core. Getting to an emancipated society requires a solid core of leadership firmly rooted in what we know to be true and determined to advance the revolution up against diehard opposition and real adversity. And it requires a lot of elasticity, including in the form of making room for and fostering dissent and opposition.

This has real implications for how expression is dealt with in socialist society. In analyzing more deeply than anyone before the underpinnings of bourgeois, or capitalist, democracy and in going very deeply into the history of the two major socialist revolutions of the 20th century, Bob Avakian has brought forward a truly new and unprecedented understanding of the significance, importance and necessity of the clash of ideas in socialist society. These lessons are concentrated and concretized in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, which BA wrote and which was adopted by the Revolutionary Communist Party. This will be the blueprint of the new society, so let's get into it.*



First, in Article III, the Constitution… makes clear that the most fundamental right of the proletariat (the exploited within capitalist society, including those who are unemployed) and people very broadly in the new society is the right to “have the fundamentally decisive role in determining the direction of society, and to join in struggle with others throughout the world, in order to finally abolish relations of exploitation and oppression; and to bring into being, and increasingly play the determining role in regard to, government which will be an instrument toward those ends.”

Nothing like this exists in any capitalist society anywhere, nor can it—for how can those who have been exploited have the right to determine the direction of society if there are still exploiters, who by their very position in dominating the wealth can exercise far greater control? For the first time, with socialism, the institutions of the state (including the army) will represent the masses of people in eliminating and getting beyond exploitation.

In the third point of this section, beginning with point A, the principle of freedom of speech is set forth.

Freedom of speech, of assembly and association, and of dissent and protest shall not be restricted, except in cases of violation of the law and through due process of law.

Expression of opposition to this Republic and its Constitution and government—including advocacy in favor of abolishing this Republic and replacing it with another kind of society and form of government—shall not be prohibited, and on the contrary shall be permitted and protected, except as this shall involve the commission, or an active conspiracy to commit, or the direct and immediate advocacy of, violent acts, which are not in self-defense, against the government or members of the government, or others residing in this Republic, or other actions which violate the law (but, once again, expression of opposition to this Republic and its government, or mere advocacy in favor of replacing this with another form of society and government, may not be declared and treated as a violation of the law).

How will this work out in practice? After all is said and done, will it be the same thing as now, where there is a virtual monopoly by those in power on which ideas get disseminated and in what context, or will the government actually foster and encourage dissent and ferment, as promised?

The Constitution… actually goes further to make clear how this will be led.

In line with the socialist orientation and principles regarding the development of the economy—and with the orientation and principles set forth in this Constitution as a whole—the ownership and use of the major media in the New Socialist Republic in North America shall be in the hands of the government and under its ultimate direction, and specifically that of the Executive Council of the central government. At the same time, as discussed below, various media that are independent of the government shall not only be allowed but, to a significant degree, funded (and otherwise facilitated) by the central government, acting through the Executive Council and agencies and other instrumentalities it may establish for this purpose (see 4, below).

WHY the Socialist Constitution Protects and Fosters Dissent

But why should the revolution not just tolerate but value and foster dissent? This gets to the need for the truth – and the need to get to the truth, no matter where it leads or what it reveals.

What we know to be true is what corresponds to reality as it actually is, through the scientific observation of evidence, the detecting of patterns, and the testing of hypotheses and theories against that reality. If we are talking about getting to a whole new society, the solid core of what we know to be true about emancipating humanity—what humanity has learned (and will further learn) in its titanic efforts to actually do away with the long night of exploitation and oppression—has to ground what we do. Transforming society, getting rid of the cancer of exploitation and all it infects, is serious—and you wouldn’t try to cure a serious cancer just by starting from scratch, with no reference to what anyone has done or learned before, would you?

But not everything is known about what’s involved in actually getting to a fully emancipated society. We do know some principles, though, and those have to be insisted on and applied. But dissent and ferment are absolutely necessary if what is wrong, or incomplete, or just out of date in our understanding is to be broken with and if what is true can be enriched and further developed, if society's understanding is actually going to develop.

Again, why? Most fundamentally, because people who dissent, or people who bring forward something new or unconventional, may be right, or they may at least be getting at a part of the truth. Even people who outright oppose you, who say you’re totally wrongheaded and should be overthrown—they too may have identified something you missed or need to pay attention to or think more deeply about. And in any case, true ideas themselves flourish in the testing of opposed ideas, and the grasp of the truth of those who hold these ideas, or come to them through debate, can be strengthened through this clash. (Of course, that’s not the only way that knowledge grows—people can take up ideas, test them in reality itself through experiment of different kinds, and sift out the lessons from that experience. But debate can clearly be one way that knowledge of the truth grows and deepens, and in the “real world out there” experiment, investigation, and debate are often not so neatly separated.)

Such wrangling also raises the level of consciousness and active participation in the direction of socialist society among all the people—not just those who have been educated and trained to run society, but also those who have been previously locked out of working with important ideas, policies, or the scientific method. Overcoming this gap, on the road to getting to a society without such divisions, is a key task of socialist society. Increasing access to education for everybody and overcoming inequalities as we do so will be one key measure; but making it possible for, and giving leadership to, as many people to wrangle over key issues in society while that is being done is equally as important.

There’s another dimension as well. People in socialist society need to have, and need to feel that they have, room to breathe, to “think things through for themselves.” They have to know that the new state won’t, and can’t, repress them or otherwise make their lives hard merely for expressing thoughts which are unpopular, oppositional, or just simply new or unconventional; indeed, they must be given resources and room to express such thoughts. Otherwise, things will be suppressed, driven underground to fester, and the leadership won’t learn all it can from the process... and the masses will not, in their millions, learn to distinguish wrong from right on any kind of complex level.

This doesn't mean anything goes. Ideas which have been clearly identified as false—creationism, to take one example—don't need to be constantly re-heard and once again disproven. And ideas which have not only proven to be false but actively harmful—for example, the supposed genetic inferiority of different peoples or women—will be called out and actively struggled against (though even here, this will rely on masses of people doing this and not the instruments of the state).

Get into This Constitution!

We have homed in here on one dimension of the new society. But we urge people to read the Constitution… in its entirety—from the basic preamble which sets forth the founding principles of what will be the new state power brought into being by the revolution to the rules governing elections, laws, and the relations between the legislature, executive and courts... from the principles guiding every sphere of society to the ways in which people will be led to overcome the scars of the past (the various forms of oppression and the social inequalities and material disparities which will remain for some time into the revolution, even as they are being overcome)... from the principles on which the new socialist economy will be founded to the ways in which the relations between people in carrying out production, between this country and the world, and between humans and the rest of nature will be transformed... from education to the arts and sciences to national defense and the courts. There is truly nothing as visionary in the world today, or as grounded in material reality and the way the world could be transformed, as this document. A better world is not just possible—the blueprint for it has been charted out.

*This has been gone into in a number of important works of BA, stretching back decades now—and for those wanting to go further into this, places to start would be Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?; Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity (Part 1: BEYOND THE NARROW HORIZON OF BOURGEOIS RIGHT and Part 2: EVERYTHING WE’RE DOING IS ABOUT REVOLUTION); Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy; Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon (Part 1: REVOLUTION AND THE STATE and Part 2: BUILDING THE MOVEMENT FOR REVOLUTION); and—very importantly—The New Communism. [back]



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