We need mass mobilization and solidarity

May 4, 2017

The far right has targeted Berkeley, California, and its University of California campus in a campaign that uses the camouflage of defending free speech to attack left-wing politics and the struggles of the oppressed.

On April 15, the reactionaries showed how little they care about free speech when they mobilized hundreds of goons from up and down the West Coast for a violent rampage through Berkeley's downtown. And on April 27, when Ann Coulter had been scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley, there was another mobilization of the far right, while Coulter and the College Republicans relished even more media attention for their complaints about being silenced after UC Berkeley officials vacillated on unilaterally canceling her appearance. Meanwhile, the strategy of some anti-racists to invite physical confrontation with the far right was shown to be inadequate in successive confrontations where they were outnumbered and outmaneuvered.

How should the left respond? On April 27, the International Socialist Organization held a rally and press conference to make the case for an "Alt Right Delete" conference to challenge the right. Here Mukund Rathi, a UC Berkeley law student and ISO member who spoke at the event, makes the case for organizing large numbers who oppose racism to challenge the right, while championing free speech as essential for the left, in an article that appeared in a previous version in the Daily Californian.

IN THE past four months, Berkeley has witnessed and experienced the disturbing growth of a far right that is a threat to us all.

We cannot depend on the campus administration to defend us. The absurd back and forth over whether the racist Ann Coulter will be allowed to speak at UC Berkeley proves this point. The administration, purposefully or not, has impeded Coulter's visit through bureaucratic means such as declaring a lack of appropriate venue. This has allowed Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) and its far-right allies to pretend they are carrying on the legacy of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley.

The reality is that BCR and the far right are antithetical to the FSM, which was led by militant civil rights activists and socialists.

In the 1960s, the UC Berkeley administration cracked down on campus speech to snuff out civil rights activism by students, who were becoming a thorn in the side of the California ruling class. It is absurd for white supremacists such as Nathan Damigo, Ann Coulter and their BCR supporters to claim this legacy.

Student activists speak out against the far right at UC Berkeley
Student activists speak out against the far right at UC Berkeley

Free speech is a necessary protection for the oppressed, whose rights are always first on the chopping block. The administration's suspension of a student-led course on Palestine is proof of this. (The course was later reinstated after widespread criticism.)

This absurdity, however, has dominated mainstream discussions of the far right in Berkeley. And it has done so because there is no organized movement of the mass majority of solidarity-minded people that is pushing the truth.

This is the problem with depending on the administration to defend us. Not only are its anti-free speech maneuvers dangerous to our side, but the administration is fundamentally incapable of mounting a consistent defense. Its record is clear: hostility toward Palestine solidarity activists, student workers and survivors of sexual violence. The only people who can defend us are ourselves.

Moreover, the fights on the streets of Berkeley on April 15 showed that we also can't depend on a small group of anti-fascists to rebuff the far right alone.

The Berkeley community rallied with us against Donald Trump on January 20 and in defense of the campus against Milo Yiannopoulos on February 1. But without an organized mass movement, those who want to confront the far right will conclude that the only available choice to fight back is property destruction and street fighting, while others will conclude that this is no choice at all.

The ISO in Berkeley is preparing for an "Alt Right Delete" conference that will be dedicated to developing a strategy that can win. This is the strategy of mass mobilization, organization and commitment to the politics of solidarity. Such a campaign needs discussion and debate to help it understand the growth of the far right, the left's long history of anti-fascist organizing, the importance of free speech as a principle of the left, and proposals for how we should move forward.

We will proudly declare and defend UC Berkeley as an anti-fascist campus by working to build an organized movement that will outnumber and out-mobilize the far right whenever it rears its ugly head.

An earlier version of this article was published by the Daily Californian.

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