Free Speech, Democracy, and “Repressive Tolerance”
There has been, recently, controversy on the Left over “free speech.” Should radical leftists and anti-fascists disrupt speeches by right-wingers? Should leftists break up such meetings, charge the stage, and smash windows? Or should the leftists limit themselves to counter-demonstrations, boycotts, protest leaflets, and, perhaps, heckling? The controversy is not so much over public events by fascists—U.S. Nazis or Klan members, for example—but over right wingers who claim to not be fascists but “conservatives” who value free speech.
In working out an approach to this issue, a number of leftist thinkers—anarchists and Marxists—have revived interest in the ideas of Herbert Marcuse (1969). In 1965 (updated 1968), Marcuse wrote an influential essay, “Repressive Tolerance” (which appeared with essays by two others in the little book, Critique of Pure Tolerance). Marcuse (1898—1979) was one of the most influential Left theorists of the ‘sixties and ‘seventies. A member of the Frankfort School, he was a scholar of Marx, Hegel, and Freud. Marcuse had an enormous impact and following. Given the general ignorance and muddle of much of today’s radical thinking, it is not surprising that there has been an attempt to revive Marcuse’s ideas about free speech and the limits of “pure tolerance.”
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SAFTU: The tragedy and (hopefully not) the farce
The labour movement has been unable to de-link itself from its archenemy: capital. As its structures bureaucratise, as its leaders become career unionists, as it opens investment companies and pays staff increasingly inequitable salaries, it increasingly mirrors the very thing it is fighting. If the South African Federation of Trade Unions is to meet its promise, it must be fundamentally different from the organisation it was born out of.
“History repeats itself first as tragedy, second as farce” – Karl Marx
The tragedy of the disintegration of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) happened slowly. As tragedies go, COSATU’s has been far less dramatic than most; it has rather been a sad slow and painful unravelling of a once vibrant and powerful organisation over 20 odd years. The unravelling of an organisation that forgot that the whole is made up of the sum of its parts; that continuously made the mistake of allowing personalities to undermine democracy, ambition to undermine equity and bureaucracy to undermine equality and democratic participation.
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