Far-left groups that specialize in technology policy — the most prominent of which is an outfit called Free Press and is led by an avowed Marxist — have the sympathetic ear of the Obama administration and the Federal Communications Commission. And what they plan for the Internet is nothing less than the destruction of the free-enterprise, capitalist system that has brought us the technological wonders of our age.
Click here to read more from The Heartland Institute’s blog, and also read some excerpts below.
Many of the pundits who specialize in technology issues, and blog about it, lean to the left. They are, in general:
- suspicious of free markets
- see broadband as not a product, but a public utility that the people have a "right" to access (ideally for free)
- and demand ever-more government regulation of the Internet because they believe the market manipulates and exploits the people
Among the leaders in promoting this anti-market view is an organization called Free Press, which is not well known by the general public but familiar to tech watchers like me, the Federal Communications Commission and the Obama administration. I’ve been reluctant to characterize Free Press as a socialist outfit — though its criticism of my recent piece on the dangers of "net neutrality" certainly had some socialist characteristics. But as we see from this interview with Free Press founder Robert W. McChesney in The Bullet, a Marxist publication in Canada, I was being too cautious in withholding that dramatic moniker.
Though Free Press has co-opted the language of freedom — starting with its very name, its calls for a "free" and "open" Internet, its stated advocacy on behalf of "the public," etc. — it is no ally of American traditions of freedom and liberty. McChesney is an avowed socialist/Marxist. Through Free Press, he is promoting an agenda that would replace the free market system that has led to once-unimaginable advances in information technology — including freedom of communication — with a state-controlled system directed by government on behalf of "the people." In short: McChesney and Free Press see the Internet as the last, best realm to finally usher in the long-dreamed socialist utopia.
I wish I was exaggerating. This McChesney interview from August 9, 2009 with The Bullet’s Tanner Mirrlees lays bare the agenda — and, more troubling, the Free Press founder’s belief that the stars are finally aligned to bring about "revolution" on the Internet and elsewhere. Here starts Part 1 of several breaking down this remarkable interview.
For starters, McChesney notes "the media is one of the key areas in society where power is exercised, reinforced and contested." And, though McChesney fancies himself a "progressive," he has a great affinity for the media structure of the 19th century.
In the 19th century, a very different media system was in place. 19th century socialists wouldn’t be talking much about the need to criticize the New York Herald Tribune because they weren’t organizing people who read the New York Herald Tribune. It was much easier and more common for the Left to have its own media. The workers had worker papers. They weren’t consuming mass produced commercial media products. But this started changing in the first half of the 20th century. Capital accumulation colonized much more of popular culture and communications. Capitalism became the dominant mode of producing and distributing information in society.
Interesting use of language there. Communication in the hey-day of American socialism was more pure than it is today because it hadn’t been "colonized" by capitalism. Though capitalism hasn’t prevented The Bulletin or The Nation from publishing, and the Internet allows "the Left to have its own media." It is clear, then, that McChesney’s beef is not that the Left can’t communicate to "workers," it is that those who oppose his views are also allowed to communicate. That is why he says:
The challenge for us is to understand, use and struggle to change the existing media.
What’s the problem with existing media? McChesney says it does not promote the interests of the people because what we have today is a "corporate media" (Never mind, I guess, that corporations are comprised of people — from the employees of a corporate media outlet, to the investors in that company).
McChesney, the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has written many books and delivered many speeches railing against the corporate media. And when giving a speech his left-wing audiences would ask: What are we to do about it? We understand, from reading your books and listening to your speeches that the corporate media is "an integral part of how capitalist power is upheld in society." But when we finally "make the [socialist] revolution or the revolution just happens, the problem of the media will be resolved then." Right? Wrong.
This was an unsophisticated answer. Of course, very few people on the Left were that simplistic. Many understood that the battle over the media, just like the battle over the workplace, was a key part of engaging with and contesting power. Educating people about the media and fighting to make changes in the short-term, not just in the long term, became of utmost importance. Instead of waiting for the revolution to happen, we learned that unless you make significant changes in the media, it will be vastly more difficult to have a revolution. While the media is not the single most important issue in the world, it is one of the core issues that any successful Left project needs to integrate into its strategic program.
Chilling. The view of the founder of Free Press is that Americans are mindless drones, slaves to the bread and circuses provided by the corporate media. So the status quo must be destroyed — for the good of the people, of course. And here’s where controlling how information on the Internet is created and managed comes in. Or, as McChesney, Free Press staffers and other leftists put it: "Democratizing" the Internet by having the government mandate "net neutrality" principles via federal legislation, FCC mandate, or both.
Net neutrality, in short, would take away the power of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to manage — in response to the market pressures applied by millions of Web users — the networks they have spent billions to build, maintain and improve. That decision-making power would instead be handed over to the FCC (or another team of bureaucrats detached from the influence of market forces). This socialist, government-planning regime is the dream of McChesney — who has little use for the concept of private property, a basic liberty essential to the political construction our Founding Fathers bequeathed us.
The battle for network neutrality is to prevent the Internet from being privatized by telephone and cable companies. Privatization would give them control over the Internet, would allow these firms to privilege some information flows over others. We want to keep the Internet open. What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility. We want an Internet where you don’t have to have a password and that you don’t pay a penny to use. It is your right to use the Internet. [Emphasis mine]
Water and electricity are public utilities, yet individuals pay for those services. Food is not a public utility — and is obviously essential to man’s survival — yet individuals pay for that, as well. It is too late for leftists like McChesney to correct those crimes of capitalism and impose a socialist system in which the state hands to the people water, electricity and food — each according to their needs. But it’s not too late to bring socialism to the Internet. Establish net neutrality principles by force of law, and the socialist/Marxist revolution (at least online) is underway.
Part Two will follow shortly. Stay tuned to From the Heartland.