Upholding the free speech principle

This statement has been issued in response to an exclusion by the Unofficial Weekly Worker Readers’ Group on the grounds of ‘transphobic’ speech

Two weeks ago this paper carried an article by Paul Demarty criticising the attempts by Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century to persuade Counterfire to remove an article by Mike Wayne from their website on the grounds of transphobia (‘How not to win arguments’ Weekly Worker February 23). Comrade Demarty’s article expressed the long-standing position of the CPGB and this paper against no-platforming political speech. We are opposed even to no-platforming fascists (as opposed to organised forcible self-defence against fascist forcible attacks).

The evidence of the effect of the no-platform tactic since the 1970s is that it has been totally ineffective in preventing the rise to influence of the politics of the far right. Just consider the relative weight of far-right politics globally, and in the far-rightward evolution of the US Republicans and British Conservatives between 1975 (when no-platforming became politically prominent) and 2023. Leftist no-platforming has also legitimised censorship by the capitalist state and its political agents, as in the campaign since 2015 to no-platform anti-Zionists on the ground of their alleged ‘anti-Semitism’ and thus ‘racism’.

We have also for a long time opposed forms of speech controls on the left in the name of ‘safe spaces’, ‘safeguarding’ and ‘civility’. The arguments can be found in repeated articles in this paper in 2013-14 around Left Unity’s proposed “safe spaces policy”, which we opposed.

It was therefore a matter of concern to the Provisional Central Committee to be informed that the Unofficial Weekly Worker Readers’ Group on Discord had excluded a recognised participant on the grounds of violating this rule: “Keep it comradely! Do not discuss in bad faith, do not discriminate people on any basis, do not dox people, do not engage in verbal abuse, et cetera.” This in the context of a debate on the (everywhere controversial) ‘trans rights’ issue.

This rule is exactly the sort of approach we opposed in Left Unity and elsewhere. Every organisation has the right to decide its own borders, but this should be done on the basis of definite political principles. Not ‘safe spaces’ speech policy.

The specific basis of the exclusion on Discord was (we are told) that the participant in question responded to another participant, who had said that they found the discussion “difficult” because of the recent murder of Brianna Ghey, with: “Do you get that angry when women are murdered every day for being women?” This is no doubt an insensitive form of expression. But, since violence against trans people is a routine (and on a global scale an everyday) occurrence, the implication is that there will never be a time at which it is legitimate for someone who disagrees with specific trans rights arguments to disagree forcibly, since there will always be a recent event which makes disagreement distressing.

The Unofficial Weekly Worker Readers’ Group is, as its name states, not an official organisation of the CPGB or of this paper. Its name nonetheless suggests an association with us. And, since we have had a long-term commitment against speech controls of this type, we cannot avoid the fact that the decision of the group’s administrators is inconsistent with our political principles. Because the group is not ours, we cannot as the CPGB instruct the reversal of the exclusion decision. But we can express our public disagreement with the decision, and urge the group’s administrators and members to think again.

CPGB Provisional Central Committee