Mediating Marx

Gramsci film

There is a big debate, including on The Daily Blog, on the bias of the corporate media, and the need for an independent media to correct this bias. Marxists have long debated the role of media in capitalist society, so what do they have to add on top of the usual corporate blah blah and radical alternative arguments?

If you google the internet there is plenty of commentary from all of these perspectives. But there is a singular lack of critical analysis of what the Marxists offer over the radical standpoint. This is not made easier when most Marxist commentators miss what is essential to Marxism and end up as no different from radicals. To get to the root of things radicals have to find the roots, right?

So inevitably it comes down to what one claims are the ‘roots’ of Marxism. Its easy to see differences between say Hayek,  Chomsky and Gramsci. Hayek leaves everything to the market. Individuals win or lose. So what, let Murdoch rule. Chomsky wants citizens to rise up and replace the corporate media with a popular press to realise democracy. Gramsci says the ruling class uses its intellectuals to create a culture of ‘common sense’ to gain hegemony over the masses. Hayek was a (neo) liberal, Chomsky is a liberal anarchist, and Gramsci was a Marxist. Or was he?

Gramsci was very influential in Marxist media studies because he saw media as the product of class struggle. Yet that struggle was not in the workplace but in the sphere of ‘culture’. Academic Marxism took its cue from this and turned Media Studies into the analysis of the ‘cultural class struggle’ over ideas. In his favour Gramsci held that the battle would be won by worker intellectuals organised in a communist party.  In that he was at least a revolutionary.

There were other ‘Marxists’ who watered down Marxism further like the Frankfurt School of Adorno and Marcuse and who claimed that the working class was no longer a revolutionary class and the battle for ideas had been won by a hegemonic bourgeois intelligentsia. To that extent these Frankfurters were not even radical.

My point is that if Gramsci who was true to Marx in much of his writing yet failed to get to the root of the class struggle, then there is much lost that has to be made up. We have to start at the roots and Marx’s point that “being determines consciousness.”

By “being” Marx means working to produce what is needed to reproduce human life. Under capitalism that “being” is alienated since labor is expropriated by the class that owns the means of production. Instead of labor being seen as the creator of value commodities appear as the repository of value. As Marx says production relations are appear as exchange relations which he calls “commodity fetishism”.

This inverted representation of “being”  is the basis of “consciousness” under capitalism and is spontaneously created at work each day without the intervention of bourgeois cultural agents or a “cultural class struggle”. Since workers do not see that their labor is alienated, they are alienated from themselves as bourgeois individuals defined only by their capacity to buy and sell in the market.  I buy therefore I am!

Now if we backload Marx into Gramsci we get a better analysis of the media. The media is premised on capitalist alienation unless it penetrates the causes of alienation. The media mediates capitalist hegemony. Of course the corporate media revels in this hegemony so long as even the most radical, independent media does not challenge capitalist social relations. We need to turn Gramsci back on his roots and promote him from the theoretician of  ‘cultural class struggle’ to the theoretician of alienation and commodity fetishism.

So how would we turn this Gramsci loose on the media today? We rip into the corporate media not merely as owned by bosses and serviced by tame intellectuals as if we were Chomsky calling for an ‘independent’ media. We critique the fake independence of all media under capitalism that does not start with investigating “being” and “consciousness”. We don’t go in for fancy analyses of the new media as the new weapon of organic intellectuals, we promote the street level media representation of “being’ in the workplace and in the public squares where our alienated labor is reproduced by the bosses thugs and mercenaries. Live streaming and video uploading mediates the true reality of the ruling class as destructive and fatal to human existence.

This representation of “being” brings with it an escalation of “consciousness” that explodes the ideological subterfuges of capitalism hiding being “democracy”, “human rights” and individual “freedom”.  We rescue from the academic Marxists the Gramsci who from prison spoke of the ‘Prince’ as the communist party of the worker intellectuals that had the power to overthrow capitalism. Better believe it!