Make this full screen
Put this in wrapper
The Anarcho-Leninist Debate on the State
Essay 153 Ben Seattle October 20, 2002

Ben's reply to Eric
Politics, Economics and the Mass Media
when the working class runs the show

comment on part 1 Sunday 13-Oct-2002 2:54 pm
eric post # 110-7006
Under the worker's state you envision, do the majority of people still read/listen to/watch mass media? If so, how is the worker's state prevented from controlling content of mass media to help continue its own existence? I guess I'm pretty unclear on what the organization of the worker's state would be.

Hi Eric,

Thanks for your question/comment.

I welcome the opportunity to reply to (a) your question on the organization of the workers' state and (b) your legitimate concern that state control of the mass media might lead to the same kind of corrupt behavior as existed in the former Soviet Union (or the current China) whereby the masses were/are kept ignorant and passive in order to maintain the power monopoly of a relative handful of exploiters. These are very good questions/concerns and I will do my best to answer them here. But first I need to make a quick note to take account of a tactic often used by some of my critics.

blueprints vs. principles

I am often accused of formulating "blueprints" for a future society. I should therefore be clear on this: I am making an effort to engage in scientific speculation on the principles that will guide a country such as the U.S. when it run by the working class. The distinction between blueprints and principles is fundamental and should be clear to everyone. A blueprint for a building, for example, would specify exactly how big the roof might be and exactly what material it is made of. A principle, on the other hand, might simply specify that the building would have a roof that would keep the occupants dry when it rains. In what follows I will try to stick to principles and not speculate (at least not too much) on the kind of details that are not predictable by their nature.

Competition between multiple
political parties or organizations

It is clear to me that there will exist competition between numerous political groups or parties (just as there will be competition in the economic and cultural spheres). This will be fundamental. There will be many contradictions in the society run by the working class and different trends will have different views on the best kinds of principles and policies to apply.

Contradictions in society

What kinds of contradictions will exist? I will list a few here:

1) Consumption vs. investment

What proportion of social resources should be consumed to benefit the population at the present time--as opposed to investing in areas that will only bring a benefit decades (or generations) later? Some people and groups will tend to favor shifts of resources in the direction of more consumption in the present and other groups will favor shifting in the direction of greater investment in the future. This will be a complex question and it includes, for example, questions related to investment in education and culture--which return wealth to society decades or generations later.

2) Local vs. international development

Trade-offs will exist between the kinds of development that raise the standard of living in the home country vs. internationalist aid to less developed countries. This will be a particularly important issue for countries like the US and in Europe which have profited immensely from the rape and plunder of Asia, Africa and Latin America and which have both a huge historical debt--as well as an internationalist duty--to the workers in the rest of the world. Furthermore, the genuine development of the rest of the world is necessary for the most rapid possible development of the world economy as a whole.

3) Ecosystems vs. development

Some kinds of economic projects may diminish some of those remaining ecosystems that have not been totally destroyed during the period of capitalist development. In some cases opinions will differ as to what are legitimate trade-offs and what are not. Ecosystems are immense treasuries of future scientific and cultural knowledge and so the imperative to preserve them can also be considered a subset of the first contradiction above--between present consumption and investment in the future.

4) The "gift economy" vs. other sectors

The fundamental way to escape an economy ruled by the laws of commodity production will be the development of a "gift economy" that does not make use of money or exchange and which will pioneer new "relations of production" (ie: the relationships between people who work cooperatively to create goods and services). However this sector of the economy will initially be small and will likely require many years of subsidies that will in effect tax the rest of the economy. Differences will exist regarding how aggressive to be in trying to develop this sector. (This contradiction, like # 2 and # 3 above, can be considered as a subset of the first.)

Will there be elections?

Since there will be many different groups with agendas that are frequently in conflict I consider it likely that there will need to be elections of some kind in order to measure the popular support of the various competing principles/platforms and determine the popular will. I don't know if these measurements would be called "elections" but I am confident they would not function much like the phony elections we witness under bourgeois rule.

The kinds of elections which exist in capitalist society are engineered to (1) keep people ignorant and (above all else) passive, (2) maintain the myriad illusions of "bourgeois democracy" while restricting the information people receive to that which is acceptable to the bourgeoisie and (3) measure which tools of corporate interests are most skilled at fooling the majority of the population.

My guess is that elections under working class rule would involve formal voting (whether in a polling station or clicking a button on a web page) as well as marching in the streets and vigorous media campaigns and mass debates of various kinds. I imagine that there will be experimentation to find those methods which do the most to encourage the free flow and mix of information from all sides, mobilize the passions and the energies of the masses and involve them in the debates and confrontations of principles.

The three economic sectors:
private capitalist, state capitalist and gift economy

I have already mentioned my belief that one sector of the economy will be a "gift economy" that will initially be small (and require subsidies) but which will eventually expand and absorb the rest of the economy. The gift economy would not use either money (or exchange in any form) or all-powerful central planners to make decisions about what to produce and how to produce it--but would instead consist of a great many interdependent economic units that would both compete and cooperate at the same time.

I believe that the rest of the economy will consist of two sectors: the private capitalist economy and the state capitalist economy. What will be the distinction between the private and state capitalist sectors?

In the initial period following the victory of the working class over the bourgeoisie many (or most) of the large capitalist corporations will be expropriated. The speed at which this expropriation will take place will depend on many factors, including how quickly the workers can learn to effectively run these corporations so that (for example) grocery stores and gasoline stations still function and the population can continue to eat and travel.

It is very important, however, to understand that the corporations that are expropriated by the state will continue to represent a form of the capitalist mode of production. For example many of these corporations will still make use of money or capital (to some degree) to guide decisions concerning what goods and services to produce, how to produce them and how many workers to hire or fire. Corporations that are run by the workers' state will in many ways be run better than corporations run by the bourgeoisie. But we should not kid ourselves--the opposite will also sometimes be true: state appointed bureaucrats will not prove to be immune from incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption. In many cases the workers will be able to run these corporations themselves and elect their own supervisors (or eliminate the distinction between supervisors and the supervised) but my conclusion is that this process will be limited as long as money is used to make decisions. (Nor will various barter systems as many have proposed provide a solution either. Barter is a less advanced form of a money economy and barter systems all fall prey to the laws of commodity production.)

This is the reason I am convinced that the "gift economy" sector will be the fundamental way out. There will almost certainly need to be a state until such time as the overwhelming majority of all goods and services are created in the "gift economy" because the other sectors will continously and spontaneously create new privileged strata against which the rest of society would need a state to defend itself.

I will also note that althou I have described three fundamental sectors of the economy I am not claiming that the boundaries between these sectors will always be clear. For example in the software sector today the Linux operating system (or GNU/Linux as purists like to call it) functions as a gift economy in miniature and is at the same time surrounded by a halo of capitalist corporations that seek to make a profit thru a relationship with Linux. This illustrates that the different sectors of the economy will function as parts of a complex ecosystem.

[Note: I have added as an appendix to this essay a chart (see below) in which I make an educated guess as to the relative percentage of the entire economy that each of these three economic sectors will occupy as a function of time following the overthrow of bourgeois rule. -- Ben November 3]

The evolution of the mass media

Under the worker's state you envision, do the majority of people still read/listen to/watch mass media? If so, how is the worker's state prevented from controlling content of mass media to help continue its own existence?
-- Eric

Before attempting to reply I have to note that the definition of "mass media" is likely to evolve considerably between now and the time that a genuine workers' state emerges. The internet is destined to merge with the mass media and as a result of this the mass media (even under bourgeois rule) will become more interactive.

commercial, state and free media

I believe that under workers' rule there will be different media sectors which I am calling the commercial, state and free media sectors. The analogy to the three sectors of the economy I have described above is not a coincidence.

The free media sector

I have already described, in part 1 of my reply to Irving (see: "The future proletarian state and the media") the "free media" sector as consisting of media productions created thru volunteer labor (ie: as opposed to paid labor--because there is a fundamental distinction between the media you create of your own conscience and the media you create for someone else in order to earn a living). Media created thru volunteer labor would neither exist as a commodity nor be backed (ie: paid for) by corporate interests in order to serve corporate agendas. Rather, media in this sector would be created for the purpose of free distribution to readers/listeners/viewers. Media in this sector would also be free in the sense of being free of state regulation (ie: censorship) as a result of the principle of "separation of speech and property". This sector of the media would function similar in some ways to how individuals (and small groups) create leaflets or web sites under bourgeois rule today. There would be at least two major differences, however:

(a) this sector would be far more vigorous and popular than it is today under bourgeois rule, and

(b) copyright law could not be used to restrict what appeared in this sector.

The absence of copyright restrictions, in particular, would make it easy for activists in the free media sector to appropriate and improve media created for the commercial or state sectors.

The commercial media sector

The private capitalist economic sector would have its own commercial media but this would be subject to state regulation. I would imagine that this state regulation and control would probably eliminate things like advertizing for unhealthy products like tobacco and unhealthy food (ie: a major factor in conditions like heart disease and diabetes and in undermining the health of the population in general). The state would also likely find means to prohibit the kinds of ads which bombard us with images of women's bodies in order to sell commodities. These kinds of ads have caused anorexia to become a growing problem amoung young women and are the reason that an estimated 80 percent of women are unhappy with how their body looks.

More than this any ads (or programming or content) which is emotionally manipulative or promotes slimy insincerity would likely run into trouble. Examples of this kind of crap surround us constantly: commercials in which some announcer pretends enthusiasm for a supposed "great deal" (as if he were a friend of ours or gives a shit whether or not the deal is so great) or commercials which slickly attempt to falsely link our deepest aspirations (like the need for acceptance and appreciation from our peers) with the purchase of some commodity like a brand of soap or a car. Today, under conditions of bourgeois rule, crap of this kind bombards us with the bourgeois world-view and has the effect of undermining the consciousness and self-confidence of the individual as well as contributing to all kinds of mental and emotional problems.

The result of state regulation would be that much (or most) of the commercial media sector would probably be fairly bland. Of course I am speculating as to the kinds of policies the state would follow in regulating the media products created with commercial resources. But the educated guesses I make are probably reasonable. The avant guard, the daring, the controversial, the outrageous and the in-your-face confrontational media works will likely make their appearance not here--but in the free media sector I have already described.

The state media sector

The third sector of the media would be the state controlled (or state-subsidized) media. I would imagine that this sector would be far more vigorous and full of life than the heavily regulated commercial media sector. The state media sector would include within it a very wide variety of different views because the population would demand this. A monoculture within the state media would be deadly dull and I don't believe that the population would tolerate this. Whether thru formal elections or vigorous mass actions I would expect that media activists would mobilize the energies of millions to demand that subsidies be given to those channels in the free sector that have proven themselves deserving. Today, under bourgeois rule, media activists make efforts to reform or improve the media but for the most part the result is as dull and useless as PBS. Under workers' rule all the rules of engagement will be different and the efforts of activists of all kinds will find fertile ground everywhere.

The interaction of the different media sectors

I should briefly discuss the interaction between these three media sectors. It is the free media sector which will eventually become all public media as both the commercial media sector and the state sector are respectively absorbed or whither away. The free media sector will be able to freely make use of any material from the commercial sector (ie: the state will not prevent this because copyright laws will not apply to the free media sector). People who liked Napster will understand the purpose and value of this arrangement.

Will this arrangement work in the other direction? Will the commercial sector be able to freely make use of material from the free sector? I am inclined to doubt it. I am not clear on the details of how this will work out but the commercial sector will be regulated by the workers' state and the state will likely take steps to ensure that the commercial sector is not free to rip off and exploit media created in the free sector. This will probably be appreciated by many people of my generation who are somewhat outraged at how classic sixties rock tunes are being used to sell cars and deodorant.

This raises an interesting question. If a commercial outfit wanted to buy permission to use a song or image created in the free media sector--to whom would it pay the money? If the company pays money to the individual or group which created the media product--we have a big problem--because that song or image has just become a commodity (note: commodities are anything that has been created for the purpose of sale or exchange). And commodities, by definition, are not part of the free media sector but instead fall into the commercial sector where they are subject to regulation and control by the workers' state. So, as I see it, an individual or group in the free sector might give permission to a company to use their songs or images--but no money could be paid directly to this individual or group in exchange for this. (The money might instead go the state where it could be used to help subsidize the gift economy as a whole. Even under such an arrangement as this care would need to be exercized because an opening exists thru which the laws of commodity production might operate to introduce corruption as the "money producers" within the free sector begin to demand special privileges and act and think like corporations.)

I have already mentioned (above) that some of the better projects in the free media sector would receive state subsidies and encouragement of various kinds. At a certain point a project that is heavily subsidized by the state may become dependent on the subsidy and become, in effect, controlled by the state. This arrangement has benefits but it also has dangers in that even a workers' state is not immune from incompetant or hypocritical officials or policies that would suck the life out of whatever they touch. The main antidote to the dangers--is a powerful free media sector--which would be able to appropriate anything of value in the other sectors and use this material to create works of genuine value to the masses.

Returning to Eric's question

So, to get back to your question, Eric, the workers' state will be prevented from controlling the content of mass media for corrupt reasons by at least two different kinds of processes:

(1) the policies of the workers' state will be controlled by democratic means (whether by elections or mass protests or other activist campaigns) and

(2) competition from the "free media" sector which will include the aggregated efforts of large numbers of like-minded people who combine their energies to create a large number of channels with a mass audience. This sector of the media will be free from state control and would win a mass audience all the more quickly if the state media were a boring monoculture.

Does this look like bourgeois rule?

Before ending this essay I will make a comment concerning a criticism that "cargo cult Leninists" (activists who quote Lenin without having a clue what the words mean) sometimes make of my views. My description of competition between different independent organizations and the open struggle of ideas on the cultural, economic and political fronts--is often criticized for sounding like bourgeois society. My cargo cult opponents are more comfortable with a semi-fuedal society in which a ruling party does the thinking for everyone. However I believe that most readers can understand that there are profound differences between what I have described above and how politics, economics and the media function under bourgeois rule.

-- Appendix --
Economic Sectors in the Transition Period

(appendix added November 3)

I have added a new chart with my guesswork as to the relative size (ie: as a percentage of the economy as a whole) of each of the three economic sectors as a function of time following the overthrow of bourgeois rule. Obviously, any chart like this will turn out to be wildly inaccurate, but it can help to illustrate the dynamic relationships between the different economic sectors, and the logical culmination of humanity's progress towards a self-organizing "gift economy".