By Sitaram Yechury
(The following is the text of the speech delivered by Sitaram Yechury, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) in Kolkata on August 16, 2012 on the occasion of Golden Jubilee of Deshhitaishee.)
REVOLUTIONARY congratulations to the West Bengal state committee of the CPI(M) for successfully completing fifty years of publication of the Party weekly Deshhitaishee. This golden jubilee has come facing many trials and tribulations imposed by evolving contemporary political developments that had demanded many a sacrifice of life and limb of thousands of our comrades. Revolutionary red salute to our martyrs. It is, indeed, a matter of immense satisfaction that we are today commemorating this golden jubilee.
The importance of the Party paper can never be undervalued. Vladimir Lenin who provided leadership for ushering in humanity’s transition from capitalism to socialism had in 1901 said in “Where to begin?”: “In our opinion, the starting-point of our activities, the first step towards creating the desired organisation, or, let us say, the main thread which, if followed, would enable us steadily to develop, deepen, and extend that organisation, should be the founding of an All-Russian political newspaper. A newspaper is what we most of all need; without it we cannot conduct that systematic, all-round propaganda and agitation, consistent in principle, which is the chief and permanent task of Social-Democracy in general and, in particular, the pressing task of the moment … Never has the need been felt so acutely as today for reinforcing dispersed agitation in the form of individual action, local leaflets, pamphlets, etc., by means of generalised and systematic agitation that can only be conducted with the aid of the periodical press… Without such a newspaper we cannot possibly fulfill our task – that of concentrating all the elements of political discontent and protest, of vitalising thereby the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.”
Further he says: “The role of a newspaper, however, is not limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies. A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser.”
Later in “What is to be done?”, Lenin says: “This newspaper would become part of an enormous pair of smith’s bellows that would fan every spark of the class struggle and of popular indignation into a general conflagration. Around what is in itself still a very innocuous and very small, but regular and common, effort, in the full sense of the word, a regular army of tried fighters would systematically gather and receive their training.”
Many, however, say that the civilisational advances of the 20th century, particularly the scientific and technological advances, have so completely transformed the situation that instantaneous communication is today possible in a manner that would be incomprehensible at the beginning of the 20th century. The emergence of radio and television with the latest invasion of cyberspace and cell phones, some argue, has rendered the newspaper as an obsolete means of communication. Therefore, they would ask if there is any point in recollecting Lenin’s views on the Party newspaper.
Notwithstanding these advances, the importance of the Party newspapers does not merely remain but has grown multifold to meet the current challenges. In every age and time, the ruling classes have always consolidated their class rule by exercising an ideological hegemony over contemporary society. As Marx and Engels said, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch, the ruling ideas: i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations; dominant material relations, grasped as ideas: hence of the relations which made the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things, consciousness and therefore think. In so far therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an historical epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age; thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.” (German Ideology, Moscow 1976, p. 67 emphasis added.)
It is this hegemony of the `ideas' of ruling classes that as Gramsci explains is not enforced merely by the State. The State is only the "outer ditch" behind which stands a powerful system of "fortresses and earth works", a network of cultural institutions and values which buttress the rule and domination of the ruling classes.
Under capitalism, while culture as an ideological formation bolsters the rule of capital, the forms of culture go through a process of commodification, as everything else in society. Much has been written about this process and needs no repetition. The cultural products of capitalism are aimed at achieving social control rather than expressions of social creativity. The exchange value of these products always supersede their use value. This, of course, does not hold for those cultural products that emerge from dissent and opposition to capitalism...The cultural hegemony that such a globalisation process seeks is expressed in the need to create a homogenisation of public taste. The more homogenous the taste the easier it is to develop technologies for the mechanical reproduction of `cultural products' for large masses. Commercialisation of culture is a natural corollary of such globalisation.
Viewed in terms of class hegemony, the culture of globalisation seeks to divorce people from their actual realities of day to day life. Culture here acts not as an appeal to the aesthetic, but as a distraction, diversion from pressing problems of poverty and misery. Consequently, it seeks to disrupt the energy of the people and their struggle to change and improve their miserable existence. As Michael Parenti says, "A far greater part of our culture is now aptly designated as "mass culture", "popular culture", and even "media culture", owned and operated mostly by giant corporations whose major concur is to accumulate wealth and make the world safe for their owners, the goal being exchange value rather than use value, social control rather than social creativity. Much of mass culture is organised to distract us from thinking too much about larger realities. The fluff and puffery of entertainment culture crowds out more urgent and nourishing things. By constantly appealing to the lowest common denominator, a sensationalist popular culture lowers the common denominator still further (media page 3 culture). Public tastes become still more attuned to cultural junk food, the big hype, the trashy, flashy, wildly violent, instantly stimulating, and desperately superficial offerings.
"Such fare often has real ideological content. Even if supposedly apolitical in its intent, entertainment culture (which is really the entertainment industry) is political in its impact, propagating images and values that are often downright sexist, racist, consumerist, authoritarian, militaristic, and imperialist." (Monthly Review, February 1999)
Media culture that globalisation promotes is starkly exposed by the manner in which it underrates or outrightly ignores people’s protests and their conditions of miserable existence. For instance, the very day when team Anna was holding their hunger strike on issue of corruption, over two lakhs of workers at the call of the All India Trade Unions had marched to the parliament in Delhi protesting against price rise and corruption. While the former hogged the headlines and dominated the electronic media, the action of the working class was largely ignored. Adding insult to injury, the Times of India, in an obscure page carried a small news item bemoaning the traffic disruption caused by the worker’s rally in the country’s capital! Yet again, in July this year, the five-day dharna by the Left parties demanding food security for our people was again largely ignored while team Anna’s movement that finally fizzled out taking place next to the Left parties dharna, once again hogged the headlines and the electronic media attention.
Nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, Marx in his analysis of capitalism made a very penetrating observation. "Production not only provides the material to satisfy a need, but it also provides the need for the material. When consumption emerges from its original primitive crudeness and immediacy -- and its remaining in that state would be due to the fact that production was still primitively crude – then it is itself as a desire brought about by the object. The need felt for the object is induced by the perception of the object. An object d'art creates a public that has artistic taste and is able to enjoy beauty – and the same can be said of any other product. Production accordingly produces not only an object for the subject, but also a subject for the object. (Karl Marx, "Introduction" to Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58) (Emphasis added.)
The billions of dollars spent annually on advertising are creating the `subjects' for the `objects' that the system churns out. Likewise in culture. The audience is first created to receive a product of mass consumption. The homogenisation of public tastes is thus created through an advertisement blitz that dullens if not erases critical faculties. It is not therefore, as though, this `culture' is catering to people's taste. Tastes and ideas are being created to accept uncritically the `culture' that is being churned out.
How does one then combat such a cultural onslaught? An onslaught that drives away truly popular people's culture. At the first instance, it is necessary to bring back on to the cultural agenda people's issues, whose obfuscation and erasure is the raison d'etre of the culture of globalisation and communalism. This is paramount to counter the cultural hegemony that they seek.
The current situation in which we are conducting our political activities today is dominated by imperialist globalisation. The CPI(M) 20th Congress Ideological Resolution notes:
“The ideological war to establish the intellectual and cultural hegemony of imperialism and neo-liberalism has been on the offensive during this period. Aided by this very process of globalisation and the vastly elevated levels of technologies, there is convergence of information, communications and entertainment (ICE) technologies into mega corporations. This monopolisation of the sphere of human intellectual activity and the control over dissemination of information through the corporate media is a salient feature of this period that seeks to continuously mount an ideological offensive against any critique or alternative to capitalism. The cultural hegemony that such a globalisation process seeks is expressed in the need to create a homogenisation of public taste. The more homogenous the taste, the easier it is to develop technologies for the mechanical reproduction of ‘cultural products’ for large masses. Commercialisation of culture is a natural corollary of such globalisation. Viewed in terms of class hegemony, the culture of globalisation seeks to divorce people from their actual realities of day to day life. Culture here acts not as an appeal to the aesthetic, but as a distraction, diversion from pressing problems of poverty and misery.”
The development of ICE technologies and the control over them, also allows imperialism to develop and maintain sophisticated surveillance technologies. Such technologies are being increasingly used to monitor, influence and sabotage a large variety of popular movements that challenge the hegemony of imperialism.
For instance, the mega corporation Time had earlier merged with the entertainment giant Warner Bros. The information giant American Online Ltd (AOL) has now acquired Time-Warner at a cost of $ 164 million to become the largest ICE conglomerate in the world. Rupert Murdoch now commands a combined news, entertainment and internet enterprise which is valued at $ 68 billion. Likewise, Walt Disney has now acquired Marvel (of Spiderman fame). The cultural products that are universally created are bombarded across the world garnering phenomenal profits. As recently as in January 2011, Comcast Corp has completed its takeover of NBC Universal, creating a $ 30 billion media behemoth that controls not just how television shows and movies are made, but how they are delivered to people’s homes. Comcast, the No. 1 provider of video and residential internet service in the United States (with over 23 million video subscribers and nearly 17 million internet subscribers), acquired a 51 per cent stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. The newly created joint venture is called NBC Universal LLC and its assets include NBC broadcast stations, cable channels like Bravo, USA and E!, the Universal movie studio as well as theme parks among other assets.
Some instances in the Indian context: Reliance Entertainment (formerly known as Reliance BIG Entertainment) is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, its media and entertainment business, across content and distribution platforms. The key content initiatives are across movies, music, sports, gaming, internet and mobile portals, leading to direct opportunities in delivery across the emerging digital distribution platforms: digital cinema, IPTV, DTH and Mobile TV. Reliance ADA Group acquired Adlabs Films Limited in 2005, one of the largest entertainment companies in India, which has interests in film processing, production, exhibition and digital cinema. Having won 45 stations in the bidding, BIG 92.7 FM was India’s largest private FM radio network. Big Cinemas is India’s largest cinema chain with over 516 screens spread across India, US, Malaysia and Netherlands. The chain caters to over 35 million consumers. BIG Cinemas has established leadership in film exhibition in India with 253 screens and accounts for 10 to 15 per cent of box office contributions of large movies. The company forayed into the largely untapped video rental market in India by acquiring Big Flix and started further expansion. In April 2008, Reliance Big Entertainment acquired DTS Digital Images, a digital film restoration company based in Burbank, California. On 15 July 2009, Reliance Big Entertainment and Steven Spielberg announced a joint venture with a funding of $ 825 million. Recently, Big 92.7 FM launched a radio station in Singapore considering 8 per cent of the population residing there is Indian. On January 15, 2010, Reliance reportedly joined the bidding for MGM. On April 5, 2010, they acquired a 50 per cent stake in Codemasters. Reliance had invested about 26 billion rupees in Eenadu Group's regional TV channels when it announced the deal with the TV18 group's Network18 on January 3, 2012. Reliance holds a 100 per cent economic interest in five ETV regional news channels and five ETV general entertainment channels. It also owns a 49 per cent economic interest in ETV Telugu and ETV Telugu News.
Such mega corporatisation of media is playing havoc with distorted dissemination of information and deliberate campaigns of disinformation. The rise of the phenomena of `paid news’ shows the extent of commercialisation of media. Truth and objectivity are the casualties that buttress the hegemony of the ruling classes.
This monopolisation of media as a weapon of ideological hegemony that the ruling classes unleash needs to be combated much more aggressively. New ideological postulates like post-modernism are aggressively propagated. Its main thrust, as with all other anti-Communist ideological expressions of the past, is the negation of classes and, hence, of class struggle. It seeks to compartmentalise society in terms of ethnic, regional and other micro identities and, thus, disrupt the unity of the exploited classes. Such theories, therefore, weaken the class unity of the exploited people and, thus, buttress the class rule of the exploiters.
The Party newspaper, along with other forms of media, today has to rise to meet such challenges and, therefore, act as a powerful weapon in the hands of the revolutionary forces to propagate their ideas, to organise the exploited classes and, thus, to strengthen the struggle for creating a society free from all forms of exploitation – socialism.
I am confident that Deshhitaishee will continue to play its role and will rise to effectively meet and combat the current challenges.