What is the role of “free speech” in Marxist Leninist nations?

To properly understand the nature of this question, first we must examine the implications of Glasnost for the Communist Party and the fall of the Soviet Union:

Glasnost proved to be an equal disaster.

“What happened in our country is primarily the result of the debilitation and eventual elimination of the Communist Party’s leading role in society, the ejection of the party from major policymaking, its ideological and organisational unravellling, the formation in it of factions, careerists’ and national separatists’ penetration of the leadership of the party and state as well as the party and power structures of the republics, and the political conversion of the group headed by Gorbachev and their shift to the position of elimination of the Communist Party and the Soviet state.” Id.

“It’s worth pointing out that Gorbachev never put much meat on the bones of ‘democratisation’. With hindsight, it’s obvious that his use of the term reflected an ideological concession to western capitalism; that he had come to believe that the Soviet Union should aspire to the political norms defined in Western Europe and the US. Such thinking neglects a number of factors that should be well understood by any Marxist:

  1. ‘Free speech’ in the advanced capitalist countries is essentially a piece of attractive icing beneath which lies a bitter cake of plutocratic repression. Via its monopolisation of the mass media, the ruling class dominates the field of ideas almost comprehensively. There is a level of debate and criticism, but only of a few individual policies and not of systemic features of capitalism. As Chomsky famously put it: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum”.27
  2. The political freedoms available in the west are much constrained owing to the correlation between wealth and power. Ordinary citizens have the right to vote, but their choice is nearly always restricted to two or three pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist parties, between which there is little substantive difference (so rare is the appearance of a meaningfully different option within mainstream politics, that when it happens it sends the ruling class into a frenzy of confusion, as is being witnessed at the moment with the rise of the Labour left under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn). Actual power is monopolised by the wealthy, and challenging it can be extremely dangerous, as is evidenced by the treatment of Irish Republicans that have served time in Britain’s colony in the north of Ireland, or the many longstanding black, Puerto Rican and indigenous political prisoners in the US who have spent decades behind bars on account of their struggle for equality and human rights.
  3. In a context of ongoing class struggle waged by the working class of a socialist country against its internal enemies (those that want to restore feudalism or capitalism) and its external enemies (the leading capitalist countries that will inevitably work to destabilise a socialist country), a level of political repression is an unhappy necessity; this is elaborated in the article on ideological deterioration28 in relation to Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin. The needs of the few – to get fantastically rich – can’t be allowed to compromise the needs of the many to enjoy a dignified, peaceful and fulfilling life.” Id.

“Szymanski describes “a few basic assumptions of Soviet society” that were not debated in the press: socialism as a system, communism as a goal, and the leading role of the Communist Party. “These issues are considered to have been settled once and for all and public discussion of them is considered by the regime to be potentially disruptive of popular rule.” This is consistent with Fidel Castro’s famous formula: “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.” These basic assumptions of socialism can be compared with the basic assumptions of capitalism: the supremacy of private property; profit as the major engine of economic activity; exploitation of labour as the source of profit. Id.

“Dissidents and anticommunists were appointed as editors of newspapers and magazines, and were given carte blanche to use their publications to openly attack the basic ideas of socialism and the whole nature of the Soviet system. “Liberal intellectuals were named to run Ogonyok, Sovetskaya Kultura, Moscow News, Znamya, and Novy Mir… The top political leadership had actually given editors, journalists, writers, and economists freedom to write as they wished, using the mass media as their vehicle.” Id.

“Added to all this was the fact that Gorbachev and his allies decided to end restrictions on foreign propaganda, for example putting an end to the jamming of Radio Liberty– a generously-funded propaganda arm of the CIA, focused on spreading anticommunist lies around the socialist countries of Europe. So Gorbachev’s idea of “improving socialism” was in fact based on bulldozing its structures and legacy.

The attack on the party went so far that Fidel Castro, in December 1989, at an event commemorating the 2,000-plus Cubans who died in the course of their heroic internationalist duties in Angola, was moved to remark:

It’s impossible to carry out a revolution or conduct a rectification without a strong, disciplined and respected party. It’s not possible to carry out such a process by slandering socialism, destroying its values, discrediting the party, demoralising its vanguard, abandoning its leadership role, eliminating social discipline, and sowing chaos and anarchy everywhere. This may foster a counter-revolution – but not revolutionary change… It is disgusting to see how many people, even in the Soviet Union itself, are engaged in denying and destroying the history-making feats and extraordinary merits of that heroic people. That is not the way to rectify and overcome the undeniable errors made by a revolution that emerged from tsarist authoritarianism in an enormous, backward, poor country. We shouldn’t blame Lenin now for having chosen tsarist Russia as the place for the greatest revolution in history.” Id.

Gorbachev then began a full scale assault on reducing the power of the CPSU, the communist party, in an attempt to consolidate his own power. But by weakening the party he left there no gatekeepers of communism in the society. The party had always been the heart of the worker’s revolution and the keepers of the spirit of Marxism. Once it was destroyed the system was doomed.

In China they did the opposite. There was no criticism of the party. All attempts were made to preserve the power of the communist party. There was no trashing Mao or the founders of the government. There was no obsession with supposed crimes committed by the leaders. Economic reforms were slowly rolled out, and with careful deliberation and consultation with economic planners and members of the party. Serious attempts to reduce corruption and maintain ideological purity were made. Market reforms were introduced, but the economy remained primarily a planned economy. The government controls over 75% of the businesses and has party cells in most. Plans are made to develop future industries, such as high tech, solar energy, A.I., robotics, automation, and others.

Money was put into improving the educational system. The reforms were enormously successful. The economy has grown so quickly that it will overtake the U.S. by 2032. The standard of living for all Chinese people has risen.[1]

A Marxist Leninist state is a socialist bridge toward achieving full communism. We lack the technological ability to eliminate most forms of labor. Our levels of automation are limited. Scarcity of resources still remains a reality. In capitalist societies the real power lies with those who own the means of production. Wealth is power. Wealth is freedom.

In the U.S. and other bourgeois democracies there is no effective “freedom of speech” because there is self censorship built into the structure of the system. In fact, the corporate mainstream media has tight informal restrictions on free speech.

There are unofficial “filters” by which the prevailing values of the capitalist system are promoted. Therefore, there is no need to censor anything. In fact, it is more believable when it is not censored. Nothing seems more authentic than someone tells you something they actually believe.

“Manufacturing Consent,” a documentary about the Chomsky Herman propaganda model

The other issue is concision and drawing the boundaries of discussion ahead of time. This is important.

Most of this was described by Noam Chomsky and Ed Hermann in Manufacturing Consent.

  1. The mainstream media is owned by a few very large multinational corporations. These corporations are interconnected with other areas of the economy.
  2. These mainstream media outlets are not going to voice opinions which hurt the business of their owners.

3. Advertisers pay for individual programs. If something is said that offends the advertisers, such as something that will cause a public outcry, then advertisers pull their support, and a show will be cancelled.

4. Journalists and media personalities are hired based on their adherence to the underlying assumptions of the corporate system. For example, a reporter who is a hard core communist or Islamic extremist is not going to be hired, because they might say things that offend people and the advertisers. So this filter acts as a way to keep dissent away.

5. News shows are called “content.” They exist to keep people watching them so advertisers can market their products. Real news isn’t important so much as getting people to view the ads. So the media gravitates toward stories that get attention, such as violence, fearmongering, anger, and things that are entertaining.

6. Your average person goes to work and comes home. He or she isn’t interested in checking the foreign press, double checking sources, and seeing independent media. He or she passively listens. If the source is something like NPR for liberals or Fox News for conservatives, they go along with it. They have “trust” in that news source. But watching the stuff that they are saying and checking it shows how unreliable, propaganda filled, and sensationalized it actually is.

In fact, a study was done that showed that viewers of Fox News were actually less informed than those who didn’t watch.

And this is not to say that Fox News is the only bad one and others are ok. Far from it. Recently the BBC was covering the coup in Venezuela. They reported the large crowds as being “anti-Maduro supporters.” In fact, all other media outlets revealed that the protesters were out because it was a national holiday commemorating their freedom. NPR during the 2016 election was predicting the morning of the election that Hillary Clinton had a 78% chance of victory. They were even guessing who the cabinet picks might be.

All media has some bias.

Chomsky also talked about a thing called “concision.” This means that because there is only so much time between commercials on news programs to squeeze in content, they could only have guests that spoke about things which contained conventional wisdom because explaining real alternatives would take too much time.

Another failed technique is the media using “balance.” This means having two opposing viewpoints, even if the opposing viewpoint is not considered valid. This is designed to give the viewer the idea that the journalism is fair and balanced. But it really just legitimizes views which are not equal to what is actually true. Consider climate change. The vast majority of scientists believe climate change is real. Yet the news media presents the views of some skeptics who in real scientific circles aren’t taken seriously.

Actually getting the truth is a lot of work. You have to look at several sources, including the foreign press, independent media, and synthesize all this information to find the truth. It is not something most people want to do with their busy lives. But the danger is that they will become propagandized and ill informed. And this leads to a serious erosion of our democracy. Voters must be aware to vote for the right people and push their elected representatives in the right direction. If not, dangerous demagogues with simple answers to complex problems can exploit them. These people becomes Presidents, and this can be a dangerous situation.

Sadly, in the U.S. the political parties also act as filters to promote candidates that serve the needs of the capitalist military-industrial complex. The media often ignores independent candidates, so voters then ignore them. Then you have an ignorant populace picking candidates for the wrong reasons while the rich elites laugh all the way to the bank.

In Summary

China seems to do a very reasonable job of maintaining the right balance between protecting the masses against Western bourgeois propaganda and promoting lively debate.

In the U.S., “freedom of speech” only applies to the prosecution by the government against a person for violating “free speech” laws. Private actors like social media companies—i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc. provide no “freedom of speech” whatsoever. Private employers can also restrict certain forms of speech in the workplace, as they are not governmental actors. Corporations are unelected, unaccountable, private tyrannies. They are hierarchical private power structures which control the U.S. economy. Large corporations and the oligarchs of the U.S. own and operate the entire system.

In the U.S. and Western capitalist nations journalist and public speech which threatens the power of the elites is punished very harshly. For example, the persecution of Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden has been shameful.

Western “democracies” also have very harsh informal punishments for anyone who is caught saying something offensive in public. For example, the celebrity Roseanne Barr had a few too many beers and posted some offensive racist jokes. Her lucrative television program was cancelled and she was immediately blacklisted. The career of Michael Richards, former “Seinfeld” character “Kramer” found his career destroyed after he lost his temper while being heckled during a stand up comedy performance. Chris Matthews, a journalist on TV for decades with his own show was also forced into retirement for making the wrong offhand comments on air. The owners of the U.S., the corporations, don’t want to associate themselves with anything which might reduce their profits and harm their “brand.”

The brilliance of the Western bourgeois “democratic” system is that most of the journalists are true believers. If they were they wouldn’t have been promoted to their positions. The narrative of Western “democracy” moves the entire system forward. And that narrative is born of the capitalist system and the modes of production. The belief systems of the bourgeoisie become the basis for the belief systems of the whole system.

Is it whataboutism?

No. The reason I mention the nature of Western “democratic” free speech is that the modes of production really determine the nature of public speech. If you permit unbridled public speech in a Marxist Leninist state you are going to see a weakening of that system. In a capitalist system “free speech” is an afterthought because self censorship, corporate control of media, wealth inequality, and other informal “filters” protect the capitalist system and enable the narrative to continue effectively while the people remain soundly propagandized against socialism and even voting for their own interests.

A Marxist Leninist system should be as such:

“Szymanski describes “a few basic assumptions of Soviet society” that were not debated in the press: socialism as a system, communism as a goal, and the leading role of the Communist Party.

“These issues are considered to have been settled once and for all and public discussion of them is considered by the regime to be potentially disruptive of popular rule.”

This is consistent with Fidel Castro’s famous formula: “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.” These basic assumptions of socialism can be compared with the basic assumptions of capitalism: the supremacy of private property; profit as the major engine of economic activity; exploitation of labour as the source of profit.”

Footnotes[1] Alexander Finnegan’s answer to Has Russia been able to fully pull away from communism?

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