The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 81/No. 12      March 27, 2017

(lead article)

Debate rages over attack on political rights
at Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Discussion and debate was still raging on the Middlebury College campus and among working people when members of the Socialist Workers Party visited the area March 9-10 after conservative author Charles Murray was shouted down by a large group of students, professors and middle class radicals during a public talk the week before.

The break-up of the March 2 meeting and the physical attack by a small group of thugs on Murray and professor Allison Stanger afterwards gained national and international attention. Stanger, who had moderated the meeting and challenged Murray’s views, which she strongly disagreed with, had to go to the hospital for treatment.

We came armed with the March 20 issue of the Militant, which has an editorial explaining how the “shut them down” strategy promoted by many liberal and leftist students and faculty is a deadly threat to the working class.

The pages of the Middlebury Campus weekly paper were full of articles debating the attack on Murray, who works for the American Enterprise Institute and is co-author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.

Murray was invited to speak by the Middlebury College American Enterprise Institute Club. Student organizations — including College Democrats, Resistance and Wonderbread: White Students for Racial Justice — labeled Murray a “white supremacist” and demanded the event be canceled.

Hundreds of alumni signed a letter printed before Murray arrived, marked by the hysteria about the Donald Trump administration and the anti-working-class view that racism and opposition to women’s rights are on the rise among working people. It said The Bell Curve presents “the same thinking that motivates eugenics and the genocidal white supremacist ideologies which are enjoying a popular resurgence under the new presidential administration.”

When the college administration declined to cancel the meeting, some students and faculty organized to stop it.

Students shouted, “Your message is hatred; we cannot tolerate it!” Another chant was, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray, go away,” which ignored the libertarian’s well-known support for legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage.

In The Bell Curve Murray posits that the rich are rich, and deserve to be, because of their high intelligence, in contrast with low-paid, low-IQ workers. “What’s at issue in The Bell Curve is an attempt to defend the wealth and class privilege of a so-called meritocratic social layer — ‘the cognitive elite’ is the euphemism chosen by the authors,” Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes writes in Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege, and Learning Under Capitalism. “It’s even more about social class than race.”

College officials moved Murray to a studio to broadcast a live-streamed video of the discussion between him and moderator Stanger. Protesters tried to break this up too. Some wearing facemasks held a banner that read, “Choke on your silver spoon, you f---king Nazi.” These were some of those who attacked Murray and Stanger as they left the building.

We talked with students outside the student union and were invited to come inside and continue the discussion over lunch. Our table attracted a number of students with a variety of views. One was wearing a homemade button saying, “Free expression.” He said a number of his friends had asked him to make copies for them.

“I oppose Murray’s politics,” Alyson Kennedy, who ran as the Socialist Workers Party candidate for president in 2016, told Andrew Hennings, showing him the book by Barnes. “This is not an abstract discussion of ‘rights,’” Kennedy said. “It’s a life-and-death question for the working class and its allies, who need the political space to discuss and debate how to build a revolutionary movement capable of taking political power. Shouting down speakers we disagree with, not to mention physically attacking them, closes that space down.

“We lose the opportunity to confront and debate reactionary ideas that are a danger to working people,” she said. “And it introduces censorship over politics that can lead to attacks among us by those who say someone else’s ideas are wrong.”

Working people whose doors we knocked on in town were alarmed by the attack on the meeting. One woman, a group home attendant, said she felt strongly that different opinions should be heard out and debated.

“It was horrible what those students did,” two cashiers at the college bookstore told us. Most students we met said they opposed the physical attack, but many argued that the actions were understandable, saying Murray’s ideas are dangerous and must be suppressed.

“I’ve heard, ‘everyone has a right to their freedom of speech,’” wrote Juan Andrade-Vera in the Campus. “With that, I disagree. Allowing everyone to speak freely, especially on matters of race, creates that power imbalance my peers agreed existed, thus, not providing marginalized groups equal paths to success.”

An op-ed signed by several dozen students studying abroad backed breaking up Murray’s meeting, and charged that criticisms “have de-legitimized this expression of student will, clinging to flimsy free speech arguments.” They demanded the administration “recognize attacks on POC humanity” and “demonstrate a tangible commitment to this college’s marginalized communities.” POC stands for people of color.

Others we talked to disagreed. “Some students say speakers like him should be shut down,” Nathalia González, 21, a psychology student who grew up in the working-class Pilsen area of Chicago, said. “Others say that attending his talk or protesting it just gives him legitimacy. I think different points of view should be heard.”

“I am not convinced by arguments for shutting down this event,” wrote political science professor Erik Bleich in the Campus. “It is all the less persuasive amid assertions that students were just exercising their free speech rights of ‘simultaneous dialogue’ when they impeded Murray from delivering his lecture. This is a fundamental and troubling misconception of free speech.”
Related articles:
Suppression of rights inevitably targets the working class
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