D&N is honoured to resume its publication with Carfax and continue the work it started some seven years ago with the heroic effort of Aigis. With its frequency of publication secured and the significant resources of the new publisher to back its effort, the journal starts its second period under the best possible conditions. We hope that we will continue fulfilling the hopes of our readers and on our part we promise to continue even more vigorously the exploration of the Inclusive Democracy project and the pluralistic discussion on the meaning of democracy in the new millennium.
The object of this issue is to examine the role that the mass media play in present society and their significance in homogenizing culture, as well as to discuss ways in which cultural diversity and free flow of information could be secured in a democratic society. The interviews with Noam Chomsky and Ken Loach, whose work on mass media and cinema respectively is well known, set the tone for the rest of the issue in more than one ways. First, it is remarcable that, despite their different political bacgrounds, both agree that the alternative to state or private power within which we can see the mass media of the future is none other than an authentic democracy--a position which is also promoted by this journal. However, the differences between them are also striking. For Chomsky, ’the US has achieved high standards in protecting freedom of speech’, and freedom of press is far from a façade, whereas for Loach,‘free speech exists as an abstract concept’ and “repressive tolerance” describes much better the situation. For Chomsky, ‘it might be misleading to say that elites want to impose their own culture on the rest of society’, whereas for Loach, not only the elites force their culture on the rest of society but it would have been inconceivable that they should not. As for the chances for the creation of an alternative culture in a capitalist society, Loach believes that any relevant attempts which are abstracted from revolutionary poiltics are bound to be eroded. Chomsky, on the other hand, believes that the available opportunities are rich and he makes clear that he does not see as alternatives the attempts, on the one hand, to create alternative media or cultural institutions, and the struggle, on the other, to build a new movement for systemic change which will integrate such attempts within a comprehensive radical political program. Finally, whereas Loach believes that the present cultural homogenisation is not reversible within the framework of today’s internationalised market economy, Chomsky does not see any irreversibility involved; in fact, he not only sees significant counterforces at work but he seems to believe that the neoliberal consensus itself is reversible within the existing system.
In my contribution (Takis Fotopoulos) I attempted to provide an analytical framework for the examination of the role of mass media in today’s society.
Carl Boggs and Tina Dirmann, in an excellent analysis of the role of talk radio in today’s ‘democracy’, show that, far from being a potential electronic town meeting, as it was hailed by some, talk radio is nothing than a mode of pseudo-participation which in many ways has done more to encourage withdrawal from, than participation within, the public sphere. As the authors stress, talk radio represents “more than anything else, a convergence of media spectacle, commodified culture, and postmodern diffuseness that in the end helps to reproduce, rather than challenge, overall corporate agendas in the U.S”. So, talk radio is perfectly compatible both with the growing inequality implied by the globalised market economy and the apoliticisation and privacy induced by postmodernism. In the process, the authors effectively demolish the Third Wavers’ myth that electronic technology creates an evolutionary necessity leading to direct democracy. On this, the authors seem to agree, implicitly, if not explicitly, with the position of this journal that an inclusive democracy can only come about through a rupture with the existing institutional framework of market economy and representative ‘democracy’, (i.e. with the control of the economic and political processes by elites) rather than through some sort of technological evolution. Furthermore, as the authors point out, “the new modes of subjectivity that enter the commodified talk airwaves stray far away from the Habermasian ideal of rational communication free from coercive restraints”. The conclusion one may therefore derive from this insightful analysis is that talk radio and, by implication, all forms of what is called ‘electronic democracy’, far from being conducive to direct democracy, in fact, attempt to make the present democratic façade more credible, by providing an illusion of free speech and citizen’s power .
John Ely, in his first contribution for this issue, attempts a ‘civic’ reinterpretation of the historical materialist model, which ‘sees the "crisis" transition between modes of production as a stasis driven period of civic constitutional development’. In a theoretical mix of regulation theory, (i.e. the attempt by Marxist, ex- Marxist, post-Marxist etc academia to derive another ‘grand’ theory of development, in the wake of collapse of the Marxist attempt), with elements of the democratic project, as expressed mainly by Castoriadis, the author derives two main conclusions: one theoretical and one political. The theoretical conclusion is that his mix could fill the supposed ‘gap’ in Castoriadis’ analysis in not providing the dynamic of transition from heteronomous to autonomous modes of society. For the author, this dynamic is provided by the periods of civic stasis or struggle between citizens in the transitions between regimes of accumulation, which for him, are the sources of the ‘utopian imagery of democratic or libertarian socialist revolution’. And the political conclusion is that social democracy has won, the ‘Left’, in the form of the centre-left governments in Italy and Germany is rising, whereas the libertarian movements (including the…‘inclusive’ movement) are receding. But, the theoretical mix is almost by definition contradictory since, as Castoriadis has effectively shown, it is impossible to fit History into the Procrustean bed of historical materialism, (original or reinterpreted, with or without regulation theory). In other words, a proper understanding of democracy as a process of social self-institution, and of History as creation, makes the attempted theoretical mix utterly incompatible with the democratic project (a fact that could also explain Castoriadis’ supposed ‘failure’ to explore the dynamic of transition from heteronomous to autonomous modes of society) and therefore self-contradictory. As regards the political conclusion, it is indeed preposterous to talk about the victory of social democracy, at the very moment of collapse of the old socialdemocratic consensus (with its commitments to full employment, equality, a comprehensive welfare state etc) and its replacement by the present social-liberal consensus, which is defined by the neoliberal agenda of flexible markets, deregulation, safety nets and so on. Furthermore, to describe, as the author does, the Greens in the German government or the ex-communists in the Italian government as parts of the Left is a clear indication of the present degradation of this historical term, a degradation which indeed raises the question whether the terms ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ have any meaning anymore. As far as the receding of the ‘inclusive’ (democracy) movement is concerned, it is really betraying bad faith, to say the least, to characterise something in decline when it has not as yet walked its first steps! Finally, D&N would like to dissociate itself formally from the concluding remarks in Ely’s article that describe the criminal US role in the Gulf (supported in various degrees by the equally criminal European centre left governments and the miserable German Greens), which has already resulted in over a million of lives lost, as ‘guarantor that Arabian peninsula oil will not fall into dangerously despotic hands’. The same applies to his description of the semi-military Turkish regime of torture and genocide (presently against the Kurds) as ‘a full fledged liberal democracy‘, or of the alliance of the Turkish elite with the Israeli apartheid regime as a positive step ‘vis-a-vis dictatorial middle eastern states (Syria, Iraq)’—presumably in contrast to the… democratic pro-Western regimes in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia etc. This sort of political stand may be perfectly compatible with the thinking of the Washington based Institute for Near East Policy (a think tank financed by the powerful pro-Israeli lobby, a lobby which is well known that it determines US foreign policy in the Middle East) but it is certainly utterly incompatible with the aims and political stand of this journal .
Michael Albert’s contribution attempts to show the role that the institutional framework plays with respect to media institutions and it rightly stresses the similarities between them and other capitalist economic institutions, in terms of their common hierarchical internal structure and profit-maximizing goal. However, one may have serious reservations on whether these similarities are enough to explain the present role and function of mass media, in view of their crucial ideological function in reproducing the dominant social paradigm. It is this specificity which sometimes overrides the profit-maximizing goal of media institutions and often differentiates them from other economic institutions, particularly as regards the centralization issue. According to Albert, whether the mass media are owned by 100 or 10 owners does not matter ‘for most purposes related to trying to win social change or understand its content and impact on knowledge and culture’. This gives the impression of a monolithic conception of capital which ignores the important (and often contradictory) rifts within it on important policy issues which, if made widely known, may indeed affect the struggle to win social change, through their impact on knowledge and culture. Not all sections of capital, (to give a general example), are in favour of promoting nationalism, and/or even religion, or (to give a more specific example) not all European capitalists are in favour of the Euro. It is divisions of this sort that allow the public, provided that the media are as decentralised as possible, to have a glimpse on the significance of the monopolisation of power by various elites. Of course, this does not mean that decentralisation of power in the mass media industry (or anywhere else) represents by itself, even potentially, a radical social change leading to an authentic democracy. Also, one may object to the relativist stand adopted with respect to cultural preferences. Obviously, the issue is not whether almost all cultural preferences could be declared as rational on the basis of some sort of rationality criteria, directly or indirectly implied by the existing institutional framework. The real issue is which of our cultural choices are consistent with the values of a truly democratic society. On the basis of such a criterion one can surely distinguish between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ choices and delineate a way beyond postmodern relativism and inexpensive populism. Furthermore, there is a question mark concerning the way in which the operation of the mass media would be determined in a democratic society. Should it be determined by the councils of media workers and the consumers’ councils, as suggested by the participatory economics proposal, or, should instead be determined by the citizen’s assemblies, as the inclusive democracy proposal suggests? This is not just semantic since the media is a case par excellence where people as citizens, expressing the general interest, could define their overall functioning, leaving the determination of their detailed operational functioning to the media workers’assemblies. Finally, the belief that the building of the infrastructure of future media institutions could simply be effected by the politics of ‘example’ and of incorporating into them the values and principles we value, sounds at least utopian. This is nothing more than the necessary condition for a real change in the media to make them compatible with a democratic society. The sufficient condition is that any attempts for the building of alternative media should be part of a comprehensive political program aiming at the total transformation of society into a true democracy. This may be the only way to avoid the present marginalisation of alternative media, or even their assimilation by the present system, as it has historically been the case.
John Ely’s second contribution for this issue is a review article on the very interesting book by Pierre Leveque and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Cleisthenes the Athenian. This historical excursion to classical Athens gives the opportunity to the author to explore the impact of ideologies in creating new hierarchical structures in terms of the ‘elites of the spirit’ and ‘subjects’ respectively. Although one may express serious reservations on whether the analogy between religious and political ideologies is valid, given the irrational element in the former –a topic we examined in the last issue of D&N-- still, it is difficult to deny the sectarianism which is abundant not only in the Marxist movement but even in the anarchist movement. And if Marxist sectarianism is something one may expect from a movement that is founded on the false idea of ‘scientifying’ the socialist project, it is indeed sad that the same applies to parts of the libertarian movement today, particularly, those who attempt to base their choices about the future society on some sort of ‘objective’ interpretation of the ethics implied by the laws of Nature-- an old trend within the libertarian movement which started more than a century ago with Kropotkin.
Takis Fotopoulos, Editor