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GUEST BLOG: Comrade Dave Brownz – Mediating Marx

By   /  January 19, 2016  /  9 Comments

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There is a big debate, including on TDB, on the bias of the corporate media, and the need for an independent media to correct this bias. Marxists have long debated the role of media in capitalist society, so what do they have to add on top of the usual corporate blah blah and radical alternative arguments?

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There is a big debate, including on TDB, on the bias of the corporate media, and the need for an independent media to correct this bias. Marxists have long debated the role of media in capitalist society, so what do they have to add on top of the usual corporate blah blah and radical alternative arguments?
If you google the internet there is plenty of commentary from all of these perspectives. But there is a singular lack of critical analysis of what the Marxists offer over the radical standpoint. This is not made easier when most Marxist commentators miss what is essential to Marxism and end up as no different from radicals. To get to the root of things radicals have to find the roots, right?
So inevitably it comes down to what one claims are the ‘roots’ of Marxism. It’s easy to see differences between say Hayek,  Chomsky and Gramsci. Hayek leaves everything to the market. Individuals win or lose. So what, let Murdoch rule. Chomsky wants citizens to rise up and replace the corporate media with a popular press to realise democracy. Gramsci says the ruling class uses its intellectuals to create a culture of ‘common sense’ to gain hegemony over the masses. Hayek was a (neo) liberal, Chomsky is a liberal anarchist, and Gramsci was a Marxist. Or was he?
Gramsci was very influential in Marxist media studies because he saw media as the product of class struggle. Yet that struggle was not in the workplace but in the sphere of ‘culture’. Academic Marxism took its cue from this and turned Media Studies into the analysis of the ‘cultural class struggle’ over ideas. In his favour Gramsci held that the battle would be won by worker intellectuals organised in a communist party.  In that he was at least a revolutionary. There were other ‘Marxists’ who watered down Marxism further like the Frankfurt School of Adorno and Marcuse and who claimed that the working class was no longer a revolutionary class and the battle for ideas had been won by a hegemonic bourgeois intelligentsia. To that extent these Frankfurters were not even radical.
My point is that if Gramsci who was true to Marx in much of his writing yet failed to get to the root of the class struggle, then there is much lost that has to be made up. We have to start at the roots and Marx’s point that “being determines consciousness.”
By “being” Marx means working to produce what is needed to reproduce human life. Under capitalism that “being” is alienated since labor it is expropriated by the class that owns the means of production. Instead of labor being seen as the creator of value commodities appear as the repository of value. As Marx says production relations appear as exchange relations which he calls “commodity fetishism”. This inverted representation of “being”  is the basis of “consciousness” under capitalism and is spontaneously created at work each day without the intervention of bourgeois cultural agents or a “cultural class struggle”. Since workers do not see that their labor is alienated, they are alienated from themselves as bourgeois individuals defined only by their capacity to buy and sell in the market.  I buy therefore I am!
Now if we backload Marx into Gramsci we get a better analysis of the media. The media is premised on capitalist alienation unless it penetrates the causes of alienation. The media mediates capitalist hegemony. Of course the corporate media revels in this hegemony so long as even the most radical, independent media does not challenge capitalist social relations. We need to turn Gramsci back on his roots and promote him from the theoretician of  ‘cultural class struggle’ to the theoretician of alienation and commodity fetishism.
So how would we turn this Gramsci loose on the media today? We rip into the corporate media not merely as owned by bosses and serviced by tame intellectuals as if we were Chomsky calling for an ‘independent’ media. We critique the fake independence of all media under capitalism that does not start with investigating “being” and “consciousness”. We don’t go in for fancy analyses of the new media as the new weapon of organic intellectuals, we promote the street level media representation of “being’ in the workplace and in the public squares where our alienated labor is reproduced by the bosses thugs and mercenaries. Live streaming and video uploading mediates the true reality of the ruling class as destructive and fatal to human existence.
This representation of “being” brings with it an escalation of “consciousness” that explodes the ideological subterfuges of capitalism hiding being “democracy”, “human rights” and individual “freedom”.  We rescue from the academic Marxists the Gramsci who from prison spoke of the ‘Prince’ as the communist party of the worker intellectuals that had the power to overthrow capitalism.
Better believe it!

 

Comrade Dave Brownz is a NZ socialist blogger asking hard questions of global capitalism. 

 

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9 Comments

  1. fatty says:

    “We critique the fake independence of all media under capitalism that does not start with investigating “being” and “consciousness”.”

    Yes, but what is ‘being’ and ‘consciousness’ today?

    You suggest that “we promote the street level media representation of “being’ in the workplace and in the public squares where our alienated labor is reproduced by the bosses thugs and mercenaries”…but today’s workplace for many isn’t physical, and if it is, it is precarious. So too our ‘public squares’. The power of protest in its traditional form is often disempowering.

    I’m all for applying Marx’s concepts and theories – God knows we need them. But transplanting those theories to today’s capitalism can be problematic. For example, a traditional protest today is seen as part of democracy and justifies capitalism: the well known example being the 2003 Anti-War protests which Bush then claimed were an example of the strength of our capitalist-democracy.

    I’m unsure how the workplace and public squares can be used effectively today. Sure, they’re major sites for revolutionary change, but I think romanticising them can be problematic.

    • dave brown says:

      I don’t think that any changes in capitalism have replaced the workplace or the square as the main, but not only, sites of struggle. By definition the workplace is THE site of struggle between wage labor and capital.
      The “being” is still the exploitation and alienation of the worker from their labor and themselves. Struggle raises the “consciousness” of this and the necessity to step up the struggle.
      The square is the site for the defence of democracy against oligarchy and fascism.
      But they can’t be the only place of struggle because workers demanding democratic rights in the workplace or the squares are met by state repression.
      As a result other forms of protest are necessary to take the struggle onwards. One of these is using media to organise and report struggles to build support and momentum. Another is self-defence, like the Blacks in the US who arm themselves in public against racists and vigilantes.
      All of these forms of struggle advance towards the overthrow of capitalism by raising the “consciousness” of the working majority that capitalism is an exploitative, destructive system and either it dies or we do.

  2. […] 18, 2016 There is a big debate, including on The Daily Blog, on the bias of the corporate media, and the need for an independent media to correct this bias. […]

  3. Great to see the Old Masters mentioned here in TDB, not sure if I agree entirely with the points but the questions posed are really crucial for the Left. I partly agree with your idea that we need street level media reporting which shows the reality and disrupts the hegemonic narrative – good example here would be the latest Gaza massacre, where cell phone footage and internet activism shifted people’s perceptions of what is actually going on in Palestine. Then again, this sort of thing is no magic bullet – street level pictures of Gaza destruction (bombed hospitals, dead kids etc etc) don’t automatically translate into radicalised masses, there is another battle that needs to be fought here at the level of ideas (the legitimacy of the Zionist state, the rights of Palestinians etc) and that is where people like Chomsky are really useful.

    When it comes to the intellectual side of struggle, I reckon there is lots of heavyweight Marxist analysis going on (just check out the likes of ‘Jacobin’ magazine for example), which is a good sign but again not any sort of magic bullet, you need actual grassroots struggle and some kind of power base. More strikes, protests and so on. People don’t need university degrees to see through bourgeois ideology, participating in concrete struggles is way more effective. Then when you get enough momentum hopefully the dialectic actually kicks in and you get more effective radical media, more effective counter narratives and so on.

  4. Nick J says:

    Dave, we have skirmished before on the relative usefulness of Marxian analysis. I contend that Marx was of his era, and his analysis of that era more accurate and prediction of future eras far more prescient than other contemporaries. I read Marx at university, I have read Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci. They are all children of the industrial revolution, that is their frame of reference. My point is that we no longer live in that era, we are post industrial and about to become children of the era of declining resources, in particular energy. Consequently I have doubts about the usefulness of utilising Marxism as a framework for today (dont worry I give Keynesians, Hayek followers etc the same shit because they dont understand that their ideas require growth, and that is over).

    The question for the media to me is how we communicate useful information in an era where we have total domination by capital of the message AND how useful the alternative modes such as blogs really are? I suspect the answer will only come with the failure of corporate business to meet the demands of economic decline, and with the failure of large scale government for the same reason, and with the end of the internet as we know it for reason of energy and resource decline. Who knows?

    Meanwhile I dont forsee a Marxist revolution creating a monolithic state that can contol the media, it simply flies in the face of our current economic / environmental trajectory.

    • dave brown says:

      “Meanwhile I dont forsee a Marxist revolution creating a monolithic state that can contol the media, it simply flies in the face of our current economic / environmental trajectory.”

      What does that mean? If you read Marx you will remember the point is to smash the bourgeois state which represents the 10% ruling class.
      A workers state based on democratic organs such as soviets and councils will represent the 90%.
      “Monolithic” in that context is meaningless unless you mean that the big majority of workers expressing their democratic will is a “monolith”
      in which case bring it on.
      And “our current economic / environmental trajectory” as you call it is definitely a long-term, I would say terminal, crisis of capitalist society and potential extinction of human existence.
      That is more than enough to galvanize the working majority into action.
      Of course we cannot “foresee” the outcome since it depends on the relative power of the ruling class and the working people of the world, and the already built-in inertia of climate change.
      But I’m putting my bet on the working masses removing the destructive capitalist system and increasing our chances of surviving catastrophic climate change.

      – See more at: https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2016/01/19/guest-blog-comrade-dave-brownz-mediating-marx/#sthash.SVqwBewF.dpuf

      • Nick J says:

        Dave “monolithic” refers to our current industrial bureacratic nexus in which we currently have a dictatorship of the executive / political / shareholding / financial classes. You talk of them becoming a proletarian dictatorship with its own elite….”meet the new boss, same as the old boss!” In a world of automatian who are these proletarians anyway?

        Now throw expansion / growth into reverse. Logically Marx’s historic dialectic goes into reverse as well.

        • dave brown says:

          I don’t talk about a ‘monolithic’ state at all.
          I agree it is a dictatorship but of what?
          I talk about the capitalist state that rules on behalf of the capitalist class at the most 10% of the worlds population. No democracy, autocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship, whatever.
          A workers state will represent the working class, the other 90% that has to live by selling its labour in one form or another.
          It will not be monolithic, it will be a workers democracy, a centralised apparatus that can act globally but which is accountable to and recallable by the regional and local democratic organs of the 90%.
          Such as state will act in the class interests of the 90%, expropriate the 10%, jail its thugs and mercenaries, shut down the nuclear plants, end carbon extraction except from the atmosphere, and convert the economy rapidly to one that produces only to meet our basic needs for work, health, education, housing etc.
          I hope that clarifies things.

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