‘Freeze peach!’ That has long been the mocking, infantile cry of the middle-class left whenever anyone complains about clampdowns on freedom of speech. There is no ‘free-speech crisis’, radicals insist. No Platforming right-wingers on university campuses is not censorship – it’s just students freely choosing not to associate with people who have horrible views. And alt-right types being turfed off Twitter and Facebook is not censorship, either – that’s just private companies enforcing their terms and conditions. (Who knew lefties were so supportive of private property rights?)
Will these censorship deniers change their tune now that the left itself is coming under censorious attack? Amazingly, probably not. But perhaps there will be a smidgen of self-reflection. Some of the left-wing architects and cheerleaders of contemporary censorship, including Britain’s Socialist Workers Party, which has backed the No Platform policy for decades, are now being No Platformed themselves. ‘This is a disgrace!’, they cry, which would be funny if censorship were not so serious. These people helped to build the infrastructure of modern censorship, with its determination to crush ‘hate speech’ and ‘offensive’ views, and now they’re shocked to find themselves falling victim to it? Have they not read any history books at all?
On Friday, the SWP, one of the largest left-wing organisations in the UK, was taken off Facebook. The party’s own page was removed and so were the pages of dozens of SWP activists. The SWP described FB’s actions as a ‘silencing of political activists’. They’re right. This was a unilateral act of ideological censorship carried out by the capitalist elites of Silicon Valley against a perfectly legal party based in the UK. It demonstrated the terrifying power of the Big Tech oligarchy, which clearly has no respect whatsoever for borders, territory or democratically made national laws and feels that it can reach into any nation state it chooses and switch off the oxygen of publicity to any party, group or individual it disapproves of. The attack on the SWP was indeed a disgrace, and it’s good that the SWP’s FB pages have now been restored.
But there is something spectacularly hollow about the SWP’s complaints. The SWP has played a key role in promoting No Platform policies on campus, which essentially blacklist certain groups and individuals from speaking to students, whether that’s leaders of actual racist organisations, like Nick Griffin, or decent, liberal securalists like Maryam Namazie (perversely branded ‘Islamophobic’).
What’s more, the ideological justifications that the SWP and other leftists have put forward for these acts of censorship – the idea that ‘hateful’ speech must be suppressed, the idea that offensive ideas are wounding, the nasty patrician notion that minority groups need to be protected from difficult discussion by the authorities – have helped to shape the broader, off-campus culture of censorship. Modern ‘hate speech’ laws and police interference in discussions about genderfluidity and other difficult topics, as well as Silicon Valley’s embrace of ever-tighter restrictions on ‘hate speech’ and its No Platforming of right-wing presidents or feminists who say ‘he’ when referring to someone who has a penis – all of this has been influenced by the modern left’s cultivation of a new form of therapeutic, paternalistic censorship that is designed to protect allegedly vulnerable individuals from the hurtful ideologies of right-wingers, critics of Islam, ‘transphobes’, etc etc.