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Communications in Capitalist Society

In no field do the claims of democratic diversity and free political competition which are made on behalf of the “open societies” of advanced capitalism appear to be more valid than in the field of communications—the press, the written word generally, radio, television, the cinema, and the theatre. For in contrast to Communist and other “monolithic” regimes, the means of expression in capitalist countries are not normally monopolized by, and subservient to, the ruling political power. Even where, as is often the case for radio and television, agencies of communication are public institutions, or mixed ones, they are not simply the mouthpieces of the government of the day and exclusively the organs of official policy or opinions; opposition views are also heard and seen.… The importance and value of the freedom and opportunity of expression is not to be underestimated. Yet the notion of pluralist diversity and competitive equilibrium is, here as in every other field, rather superficial and misleading. For the agencies of communication and notably the mass media are, in reality, and the expression of dissident views notwithstanding, a crucial element in the legitimation of capitalist society. Freedom of expression is not thereby rendered meaningless. But that freedom has to be set in the real economic and political context of these societies; and in that context the free expression of ideas and opinions mainly means the free expression of ideas and opinions which are helpful to the prevailing system of power and privilege. | more…

The Existing Alternatives in Communications

It matters greatly where you start, in thinking about communications. You may start, for instance, in a mood of excitement and even congratulation that at the present stage of civilization there is a communications system incomparably more vast and efficient than could ever have been imagined: that the voice of radio, the face of television, goes into millions of homes, and that we have the most widely distributed press in the world. You can feel this excitement even if you recognize certain little local difficulties such as a cigarette advertisement appearing just before Robin Hood, or a particularly shocking series in one of the Sunday papers, or even the overnight death of the News Chronicle.… On the other hand, you may be starting from the feeling that never in the history of the world has there been so much production of bad culture. Never, it is true, has there been so much production of any kind, but the percentage of this production which is bad is now appalling.… Many people, good people, have this image of a depraved, or largely depraved, population, whom they call the masses. The people are not profiting by the gleaming machine of communication, but are being reduced to what is usually called a near-moronic mass.… My own starting point is distinct from either of these attitudes. In my view you cannot understand the communications system unless you look at it historically, and this as yet we have not really enough evidence for. Very few people have been working on it.… and because of this, such history of the communications system as exists is mostly bad history, bad history which hides from us the factors which could lead to an understanding of the contemporary situation. | more…

Silvertown: The Lost Story of a Strike that Shook London and Helped Launch the Modern Labor Movement

Silvertown: The Lost Story of a Strike that Shook London and Helped Launch the Modern Labor Movement

In 1889, Samuel Winkworth Silver's rubber and electrical factory was the site of a massive worker revolt that upended the London industrial district which bore his name: Silvertown. Once referred to as the “Abyss” by Jack London, Silvertown was notorious for oppressive working conditions and the relentless grind of production suffered by its largely unorganized, unskilled workers. These workers, fed-up with their lot and long ignored by traditional craft unions, aligned themselves with the socialist-led “New Unionism” movement. Their ensuing strike paralyzed Silvertown for three months. Historian and novelist John Tully tells the story of the Silvertown strike in vivid prose. He rescues the uprising—overshadowed by other strikes during this period—from relative obscurity and argues for its significance to both the labor and socialist movements.  | more…

June 2007 (Volume 59, Number 2)

Notes from the Editors

In January 2007 the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre of the UK Ministry of Defence published a ninety-page report, entitled Global Strategic Trends, 2007–2036, highlighting a wide array of potential dangers to the prevailing order over the next thirty years. The report is organized around three “Ring Road Issues”: (1) climate change, (2) globalization, and (3) global inequality (p. xiii). Global warming and the possibility of abrupt climate change, together with the end of “the golden age of cheap energy,” are seen as placing increasing strains on populations throughout the planet (p. 31). The globalization of the world economy, embodying “particularly ruthless laws of supply and demand,” is viewed as creating new interdependencies, contradictions, and conflicts. Expanding global inequality, the UK Ministry of Defence insists, could lead to “a resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies . . . but also to populism and the revival of Marxism” (p. 3) | more…

November 1998 (Volume 50, Number 6)

Notes from the Editors

There’s been a lot of discussion in MR about the implications of “globalization.” We don’t intend to repeat the arguments here, but we recently received a communication that brings into focus one major aspect of this much debated issue: what it means for workers to “think globally, act locally.”  | more…