This article was written on the 5th of April 2017, before the first great rectification campaign from early 2018 and does not necessarily reflect the current views of the author
-Concerning the public sphere, real and fake news
Written by an activist in Tjen Folket.
The media say they are scared of ”fake news”, but is it really the case that their news portrays reality in a truthful manner? In reality, the bourgeois public sphere is so entangled in capitalism and liberal utopianism, that it really never can work truthfully and democratically.
Not so long ago Dagbladet, VG and NRK released their fact-checking collaborative project called «Faktisk». On the initiative’s website, they claim to be a «unique, historic and non-commercial collaboration», with the goal to «fact check the public debate and reveal fake news that spreads throughout Norwegian society». An effort to remedy the «crisis of trust» which apparently occurred as a consequence of Trumpism and the new, digital media, and which presumably may work as a comfort blanket for (petite) bourgeois politicians and commentators with concerns for the «post-factual».
The fake news «corrodes the trust between voters and elected officials» the party secretary of Arbeiderpartiet Kjersti Stenseng claimed earlier this year. Something which according to her leads to demobilization and ultimately a weakened democracy. 1 A trend that doesn’t get better when we as consumers are each presented with our own reality through even more personally adapted news and media channels.2
The reality is however that Trumpism, rather than representing any distinctive political break or shift towards the «post-factual», brings the always latent denial of reality within the bourgeois public sphere to the surface, and perverts it. There is no accountability or truthfulness under capitalism – only degrees of deceit.
The Truth Category and Utopianism
It’s probably more honest if we explain what we mean when we say «truth». This is primarily a historical-philosophical category, which has only to a marginal extent manifested itself on the field which concerns the history of the Press. When the first Norwegian newspaper Norske Intelligentz-Seddeler was established in 1763, it was not in the interest of «the truth». It was partially done of national interests, partially of religious interests. Both Denmark and Sweden had long ago had their own newspapers founded within each respective country, so Norway had to show that it was as good. Another prominent argument was that religious writings would instil people with Christian piety.
It is first under Struensee and the freedom of the press that the truth category seriously starts to emerge within Norwegian literature, and contributes here to the restructuring and incorporation of the old language into the «modern». Through the bourgeoisie’s free and relentless exchange the language would be emptied of its obscure and prejudiced content, and in this way be subordinated to reason and the service of brilliant progress. Not only does a new array of words come into existence (mainly borrowed from French and English), but also old ones disappear or change the meaning. In short, it is here that the Norwegian public sphere becomes the Norwegian public sphere.
The truth category has thus become seriously corrupted: Not only as a result of its central role in the creation of what we today can call the bourgeois public sphere, but because this same public sphere, in its turn, has had an effect on truthfulness, and dominates it with its own, newly acquired notions and fantasies about «beautification» and «improvement».3
While the early modern concept of truth was tied explicitly to bourgeois-liberal strategies for well-being, upbringing and enlightenment,4 it appears that late modernity’s truth strategies are specifically related to the petite bourgeoisie’s purely (pre) managing and information mediating errands. Hence the formidable expansion of state institutions over the last fifty, sixty years, and in its turn, the entry of the people’s of measurement and regulation into the political public (i.e. political scientists, psychiatrists, special educators, communication counsellors, etc.). While the old bourgeoisie’s motto was «Dare to know!», it seems like today’s petite bourgeois motto is «Relax, don’t think about it…». Implied: «Rather let us who know this think for you».
However, in the absence of genuine political self-confidence the petite bourgeoisie puts themselves in the service of the bourgeoisie, where their governing and controlling competences can come to full advantage in terms of identity production, and as a cover for the objective fact that these identities – the liberal ideal bourgeoisie – is not only utopian but is a direct investment in the suffering and lack of freedom for the world’s oppressed and exploited.
If the public sphere, therefore, is to function truly democratically, we first must take into account that currently, it is fundamentally anti-democratic, and meticulously entangled in the violence of the capitalist apparatus.
Crises, Hysteria and Paralysis
As communists, we know that capitalism incessantly leads to crises and distress – financial as well as human. The need for constant growth carries with it the inherent contradiction that we inevitably produce far more than any of us have the ability to consume. Only then can the capitalists ensure maximum profit and private gain.5 The media are also bound to these dynamics through its production of goods, and through its subordination to the media owners and advertisement people’s demands for profits. Consequently, they are in a crucial way unfree: They’ll never be able to produce enough – and they will never be able to cut the wages enough for those who produce. The same also applies to the state-funded Faktisk-project mentioned above, which actually is a highly commercial and not a «non-commercial» partnership.
But the media is also unfree in another more diffuse way, namely that it is the first and last line defender of the bourgeois and petite bourgeois ideology. As we understand from the above it itself is actually a product of the «truths» that it is set to mediate, and act for that reason always as an obedient defender of the status quo, always reactive and always pacifying: The media is thus not only unfree on two fronts, but knows through its ideological constitution only the language of fear, coercion and control, and will therefore not be able to free itself even if it were to attempt it. Such overproduction in business and industry inevitably creates cracks at regular intervals, with far-reaching crises and distress as a result, similarly, the media and press’ overproduction also lead to periodic outbreaks of public hysteria and subsequently paralysis. Under such circumstances have proto-fascists like Trump in the USA and the FrP here at home in Norway nurtured and continually threatened to turn into open fascism and state terrorism.
Many will argue here that we in Norway and Scandinavia, after all, have state broadcasters that are license-funded and managed by competent and democratic broadcasting councils – and that this at least ensures a certain degree of freedom and criticism in the public sphere. However, this is only partially correct. At the very best license financing (or financing of other taxes) contributes to the softening of the fundamental crisis dynamics of the economy. But this does not guarantee in itself against wage cuts and overproduction.
If one takes the most read NRK publications from last year as an example, it also becomes clear that one can give state broadcasters all the competent and democratic advice one wants. As a consequence of overproduction, it is nevertheless the passive and ideologically reactive substance’s that are consumed first and by far to the largest extent. Publications like «Therefore the mosquitoes choose you», and «Yes, it was I who lost my drivers license after 58 minutes».6 It seems as if what is portrayed as being the «real» news does not necessarily differ too greatly from the fake news. Structurally they are identical, and it is hard to imagine that any of them would have a mobilizing or democratizing effect.
The media in its present form will simply never be able to free itself from its position as capitalism’s and the bourgeoisie’s reactionary defender. On the other hand, capitalism constantly generates new technologies, not least in the media and communications field, which in its turn can grow into real mobilization and to a democracy of an entirely new kind.
A Truly Free and Democratic Society?
However, this is not done by itself. In July last year, it was reported that both Amazon and Facebook went past oil giant Exxon Mobil in market capitalization.7 While the world’s five largest companies a few decades ago consolidated their capital power through direct control of traditional industries and production of goods, today’s «Big Five» companies (Apple, Alphabet/Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook) consolidate their power through indirect data and communication control. The mainstream media have barely begun to discuss the consequences of this, and that primarily within the framework of the bourgeois-ideological area of tension between surveillance and privacy.
On the other hand, in recent years alert organizations like WikiLeaks have provided the ground for cautious optimism. Their work is a good example of what Lenin in his time called the organisation of the «political exposure»8 That is to say, revelations that contribute to awakening the masses to political consciousness and militantism. A prerequisite for such disclosures is currently the environments where open-source coding, data security and anonymity are being developed, and who thus open real channels for informing and dissidence.
More than ever are we in need of such channels. Because more than ever are we in need of the systemic revelations of capitalism and its ravages, and more than ever are we in need of a socialist revolution. Only through system disclosure and revolution can the public sphere be truly opened and work mobilizing and democratically.
Gil Scott-Heron’s classic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”:
Tjen Folket Media trenger din støtte. Vi får selvsagt ingen pressestøtte eller noen hjelp fra rike kapitalister slik som rasistiske “alternative medier”. All vår støtte kommer fra våre lesere og fra den revolusjonære bevegelsen. Vi er dypt takknemlige for dette. Vi overlever ikke uten, og du kan gjøre ditt bidrag ved å støtte oss med det du kan avse.