Free Speech, Democracy, and “Repressive Tolerance” 1

A veteran anarcho-communist questions the Marcusean approach appropriated by the Antifa and SJWs.

By Wayne Price

Arkismo.Net

There has recently been controversy on the Left over “free speech” for right-wingers (not necessarily fascists). Should it be supported or physically opposed? Some leftists have revived interest in the ideas of Herbert Marcuse on “repressive tolerance” and why it should be opposed. Marcuse’s theory is reviewed and arguments are raised against it from a revolutionary anti-authoritarian perspective.

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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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