(hit the escape key if you want to turn off the sound)


The Digital Fire

Will the dictatorship of the proletariat
censor the internet ?

How the communications revolution
will transform the ecosystem of groups on the left today
and prove to be a weapon of immense power in workers' hands
after the overthrow of the capitalist system.

"Beam me up Scotty"

Phoenix (NYC) -- Thursday -- October 17, 1996:
"Call a trot a trot"

"Beam me up Scotty"

Ben's reply -- (part 1) -- Sunday -- October 27:
The false choice between eternal capitalism and permanent police state

I have a few points about Phoenix's post.

I am going to make some comments about Phoenix that some may consider harsh. Before I "open up" on him, however, I would first like to make a comment from the perspective of the striving to create a scientific atmosphere here in this forum.

Most of our readers know that it is not uncommon for someone who considers himself to be a marxist to have a high level of passion but a relatively modest ability to understand the fundamental issues of importance to the ideological struggle of proletariat. In simpler terms: under the influence of ideology, sometimes very decent people, who in their hearts want nothing more than to serve the working class, can act like first-class jerks. These people may not actually be jerks, but we wouldn't know it from how they act.

1) Revolutionary culture is scientific and requires humility

In some cases, there is an issue of an inadequate grasp of the nature of revolutionary culture as scientific in its essence. Part of the process of understanding why and when, for example, Lenin's 1917 revolution failed -- is a process of sincere people putting their heads together and sorting out a very complex puzzle. And in order to collaborate in this way, a certain amount of calm and reserve is necessary. People in the real world have emotions and it is far easier (and more productive) to work in a calm atmosphere which is emotionally supportive and in which one's contributions are appreciated (and one's living thoughts and real or imagined errors do not provide occasion for charges of "treason" or other capital offenses). There is a materialist basis for this. The mind works best and is far more powerful when it is calm and better able to simultaneously assess and evaluate a large number of facts and points of view.

2) Marxism is a partisan science
which must struggle for its integrity
against an enemy of immense power

But there is another aspect of this also. Marxism is a partisan science. In fact it is the supremely partisan science. Marxism is the science that serves a particular class of human beings in their struggle to defeat another class of human beings--and to wrest control from this other class--of everything that counts.

And the history of marxism is a history of the bourgeoisie attempting (and in various times, places and circumstances--succeeding, with tragic results) to control and influence this ideological weapon and render it into something harmless to their class interests--and worthless (or worse) to the proletariat. The bourgeoisie do this most naturally. They control just about everything else in society, in order to keep it "smoothly running" (ie: profits smoothly flowing) and most important to the bourgeoisie is the ability to control the ideology (ie: the ability to orient itself) of the class which must inevitably overthrow them.

The bourgeoisie has immense leverage, through its ideology and all its official and unofficial institutions, to corrupt political trends and bend them to its will. And for this reason, so that the immense pressure of reformism can be fought--it is necessary to confront sharply those who would import bourgeois ideology into the marxist movement.

As if this were not enough, we need also to consider two more key factors.

3) The period since the death of Lenin
has been one of extraordinary theoretical confusion

This is a period of "extraordinary" theoretical confusion. The last consistent marxist in this century died more than 70 years ago. The revolution he led was taken over by its enemies and marxist revolutionary theory was severely distorted by a regime that for a long period of time was able to manifest many outward appearances of success. Nor were the stated opponents of this revisionist regime, such as Trotsky, able to shed more than a very dim light on the process. It has taken the blatant collapse of both the Soviet and Chinese regimes into various forms of capitalist economies to wake up many who have considered themselves "marxist".

4) We must develop the technology of confronting denial

Finally we come to a question that may be the most difficult of all. The human mind has a rather extraordinary capacity for self-deception--for denial. The materialist view holds that the major factor dominating our thinking are the ideas necessary to maintain our physical existence. Hence a capitalist, as a general rule, will hold that ideology which proves useful to his existence as a capitalist. But there is another aspect of this. Political groups which come into existence as "marxists" are in a competitive struggle for existence against other groups with whom they must compete for supporters and money donations to support a central staff and newspaper. And the conditions of this struggle for existence creates a very powerful pressure for them to weave together their own mythology which, like a totem of a tribe, plays a role in keeping the organization together.

Hence groups which consider themselves Marxist must fight not only against the pressure of reformism (or fatal kinds of compromise with bourgeois trends, forces and ideologies) but also sectarianism (pitting their existence against other groups in such a way that the common interests of building a movement of the oppressed gets tossed into the toilet as if it were shit).

And on an individual level, this turns into a struggle, not only against the incredible ignorance which is our lot in a culture which deceives us from cradle to grave, but against denial, or the tendency to believe what we want to believe--which is often--the common group myth which holds our group together. And to build a real revolutionary movement, to build a real communist party worthy of the name, we must be prepared to use all means to confront and overcome denial, in others, and, most painfully, in ourselves. And this is not an easy process. Sometimes this requires great courage. Courage is one thing to read about and consider in the abstract. It is another thing to stand up before the entire world and admit that you fucked up.

5) The false choice between eternal capitalism
and permanent police state

I believe that many of the essential views of Phoenix are mistaken. I will show here how it is actually the views of Phoenix which serve the bourgeoisie and help to prop up the thoroughly bourgeois perspective that we can only choose between:

The views of Phoenix are not merely wrong. The views he holds (which are not original with him--which in fact are views which I once held and which date to the 1930's) are obstacles to the re-emergence of Leninism as a modern theory capable of guiding the revolutionary struggle of the working class.

The essential views of Phoenix (as a supporter of the theoretical views of Stalin) is what I call the "single-point-of-control" theory--under which workers' rule in a modern, stable society requires the administration of all society (and in particular the media, the culture, the economy and the politics) by a single political party or organization which represses all other (and particularly, all other oppositional) political parties, organizations, trends or forces.

6) The "single-point-of-control" theory
must be smashed

The "single-point-of-control" theory must be smashed. It is part of the mission of cyberLeninism to smash it. This is why I do not simply censor Phoenix's view from my site. It is far more powerful not to censor Phoenix. It is far more powerful to demonstate the utter impotence of Phoenix's views when they are opposed by modern Leninism. Phoenix therefore must have the same right to post here as anyone else. And if Phoenix wishes to reply and defend his views (with or without a greater degree of scientific culture and humility) this can be useful to the proletariat.

Phoenix is performing a useful role in bringing his views here so that in full view of the world (or at least the tiny portion of it which can at present browse the web) it can be dealt with--with precision.

7) Digital Fire

I will make some comments here and hope that some of our readers may feel moved to make comments also. The web, small as it is in terms of the population of the world (or even of a country like the US) will have a tremendous (and ultimately decisive) influence on the re-emergence of Leninism as a weapon which the bourgeoisie will fear. For the bourgeoisie, this is the ultimate nightmare. Digital "fire", or interactivity, has the immense potential of drawing the masses into the decisive struggles of ideas. Mass energy will make this "fire" burn very hot--and as a critical mass is achieved -- we will have a living, conscious force, which no one, not even the bourgeoisie, with all its immense resources, will be able to extinguish.

We have a long road to travel. But even at this early stage, we will witness the power of this "digital fire". Tomorrow it will terrify the bourgeoisie. Today (should we learn respect for its awesome potential--approach our tasks with humility and a scientific attitude--and seek to understand how to use it as a weapon of war against the old world) it will terrify charlatans and will give us the power to burn away all the crud under which Marxism has been buried for more than 70 years.

So with all respect for Phoenix (who is probably a very decent person, and may eventually--but not this year--thank us for correcting him) it is time to show him the difference between revolutionary scientific culture and hot air.

"Beam me up Scotty"

Ben's reply -- (part 2) -- Monday -- November 4:
How transparency will transform the ecosystem of groups on the left

8) How can genuine communist parties be created ?

Phoenix calls for the creation of a genuine communist party. We should give him credit for this. He is correct to say that this is what is important. Everyone who believes that Phoenix is completely clueless should note that he did manage to get this much right.

Furthermore, Phoenix's wish to see the creation of a genuine communist party is going to be fulfilled. In the period ahead we are going to see the creation of genuine communist parties in every country and every region on earth.

Communist parties were created en masse, on a world scale, in the wake of comrade Lenin's 1917 revolution. As this revolution was suffocated under external and internal pressure, there were attempts in the 1930's to create working class organizations uncontaminated by the fatal distortions introduced into Marxist theory by J.V. Stalin. These attempts, often associated with the name of Leon Trotsy, were, in general, unsuccessful. Various groups were organized, with various strengths and weaknesses, but none were able to overcome reformism and sectarianism, strike roots into the working class and emerge with the ability to lead the working class in its struggle. On the whole, these parties and groups were no better, and often worse, than the Stalinist parties with which they were in competition and which remained far more significant to working class politics.

Another wave of attempts to create genuine communist parties was stirred up in the midst of successful anti-colonial struggles and national liberation movements.

The victory of the Chinese communists in 1949, the Algerian revolution against France, the Cuban revolution against Batista, the growing split between the "peaceful road to socialism" of Krushchev and Mao's view that "political power grows out of the barrel of the gun", and the successful Vietnamese struggle against French and then U.S. imperialism -- all contributed to powerful movements worldwide and the emergence of numerous left groups and parties.

What will lead to another, this time successful, wave of attempts to create genuine communist organizations ? Historically, efforts to create communist organizations have been powerful when linked to mass struggle, class struggle and popular revolutions (armed struggles for political power). This factor is key and should not be negated.

But there is another factor to consider also: an aspect of capitalist development.

In particular, the digital communications revolution, still in its earliest stages, will bring "transparency" to the left (and in the process have a transforming effect on the left) in all countries that develop modern communications infrastructure.

While the development of a new wave of attempts to create communist organizations would be enormously accelerated by an upsurge of mass struggle such as took place in the 60's, it is important to see that even in the face of the current lull in the mass movement -- the communications revolution alone will have a very significant potential to magnify the impulses of formerly isolated groups and individuals to link up, coordinate their efforts and overcome the obstacles to the creation of genuine communist organizations.

While it is important not to exaggerate the impact of the coming communications revolution, it is important also to see the forces it will unleash and the new tasks which it places before all those who wish to assist the development of proletarian organization.

Many "new" ("new" because they have formerly been neglected) questions are placed before everyone who considers himself or herself a communist. And, uppermost (at any rate in my own mind) is the question of how to utilize the communications revolution to assist in building communist organization .

And on all these key questions, the contribution of Stalin's "refinement" of Lenin's views -- turns out to be a big fat zero.

9) How Stalin's ban on factions in a communist party
is used to justify building organization
dependent on the flimsy shelter of "information isolation"

Phoenix wants to see creation of a genuine communist party but the problem is that he does not seem to have a clue as to how such a party will come into existence or how it will be organized. And one reason that Phoenix is clueless is his reliance on the theories of J.V. Stalin.

No one today has a clear picture of how these things will happen.

I have put forward some preliminary views on how a genuine communist organization will emerge as a result of the principled (as opposed to unprincipled) cooperation and competition of many organizations which consider themselves to be communist in The Party of the Future, written 32 months ago. It is easy for Phoenix to dismiss others as "infantile" for disagreeing with him about Stalin but the irony is that Stalin's theoretical views are an obstacle that prevent Phoenix (and many others, who do not consider themselves to be Stalinists) from seeing how such "principled coopetition" will empower all genuine communists to overcome the twin vicious diseases of reformism (unprincipled cooperation which inevitably leads to loss of an independent, working class stand and subordination to one or another section of bourgeois politics) and sectarianism (unprincipled competition which undermines unity against bourgeois politics).

Shortly after Lenin died, in April and May of 1924, Pravda published a series of lectures delivered by Stalin at Sverdlov University entitled "Foundations of Leninism". These lectures, while containing much that was true and profound, appear to me to represent the beginning of Stalin's war upon Marxism as a science.

Number one on Stalin's agenda against Marxism is his assault on the "division of authority" in the party.

Now there are a number of issues here and I cannot go into all of them in the context of a series of weekly installments (but as interest from readers grows, we can hopefully explore this more fully). But it is important to recognize how Lenin's prohibition of factions in the Bolshevik party (taken in a time of extreme emergency) and in the parties of the Communist International (at a specific time and in specific circumstances) is generalized to apply to all communist parties for all time.

This is the essential trick by which Stalin changes living science into a dead religion at his service and convenience for what would eventually prove to be a counter-revolution.

Now I do not have space (in a short article designed for popular consumption) to go into all the ins and outs of having factions in a communist party. (Note to readers: "factions" are groups within the party organized to do work on the basis of a common point of view on a major question which is in opposition to the view of other sections of the party.) Sometimes factions within a communist party are a very unhealthy development which can reduce the party to paralysis when it must have the ability to act. In other circumstances, factions can be the necessary vehicle by which the struggle of correct ideas defeats an incorrect orientation. The question of factions (ie: openly organized opposing political groups) within a communist party is closely related to the question of internal democracy within a party.

Whether factions are (a) unhealthy or (b) necessary depends on a number of circumstances, including the nature of the particular view that forms the basis of the group and the circumstances of the time. Historically, factions have been used by opportunists and reformists as a lever to derail a communist party from its tracks and destroy it or transform it into something harmless to bourgeois interests. Hence, any realistic discussion of the attitude of a communist party to internal factions must include consideration of the means by which the struggle against opportunism can be most successfully waged.

What is important to see is this:
1) Lenin's opposition to factions was based on the need to defeat particular misguided views that threatened the survival of the revolution in the specific, particular circumstances of "acute civil war" in which it was necessary that "discipline bordering on military discipine" must prevail, and
2) Stalin's opposition to factions was for the purpose of depriving his enemies of the opportunity to openly circulate their views and build support for them once the period of "acute civil war" had passed and a more stable society existed.

Now as I have said, there are a number of related tangents here which are important and which I will not go into at this time (such as the relationship between democracy in a proletarian party and democracy in society under the dictatorship of the proletariat). What is most important to grasp is how these principles are applied today by opportunists who seek to shield their wrong-headed or corrupt practices from correct criticism .

I have used the term "information isolation" to describe how groups with wrong views attempt to protect their views from exposure by cutting the flow of information to their own supporters and discouraging their supporters from participating in lively debate and discussion of living issues. It is important to grasp that "information isolation" is in a great many circumstances an absolutely necessary tactic (from the point of view of opportunist views which serve the bourgeoisie) because an open, principled struggle of correct against incorrect views tends to favor, in the long run, those views which conform to the tasks of building a powerful movement which can oppose the bourgeoisie.

Seen in this light, the efforts of sectarian organizations to demonize their opponents can be seen as part of a necessary maneuver to cut short real discussion of the issues that are decisive for building a revolutionary movement that would have the power to topple capitalism.

As such, "information isolation" is a very common tactic used in many forms by all varieties of opportunism. What is of particular interest to us here and now is as follows: "information isolation" is an indispensible tool of sectarian organizations everywhere and as the "information revolution" begins to transform the left these groups are going to find themselves "shit out of luck".

10) "Transparency" will transform the environment
in which the "ecosystem" of left groups exists

As communist activists increasingly use the internet to communicate with one another and coordinate their activity, a big shift will occur in the "ecosystem" that comprises groups on the left. Up till now, individual revolutionary-minded activists that come up in struggle have felt considerable pressure to align their activity with one or another existing political trends. Part of the pressure to do so is that not very much can be accomplished without combining one's activity with that of others.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of the tactic of "information isolation" frequently means that such activists may end up cut off from views critical of the trend they support.

The communications revolution will assist this situation from several angles:

    1. Activists will, in general, become far more aware of the views of all other trends on all issues

    2. The possibility of coordinating work with other activsts over the internet will considerably lessen the pressure of activists to align their activity with groups which may be sectarian. It will become far easier for activists to:
      (a) conduct work without dependence on sectarian groups and
      (b) to bring new groups into creation.

    3. The regular and systematic clash of views over the internet will accelerate the development of a more educated and scientific political culture among activists and will increasingly make it difficult for groups which survive via evasionist maneuver to hide their bankruptcy and avoid a consequent loss of support. Hence there will be considerable pressure for organizations claiming to be communist or revolutionary -- to conduct themselves (under increasing supervision by activists) more honestly (in the sense of cutting down on sectarian activity and the use of information isolation).

    4. As internet and web based revolutionary work develops -- the increasing possibilities of doing active revolutionary work in a more decentralized fashion will lessen the corrupting pressure created by the need to maintain a full-time staff (which must be supported financially) and a centrally-produced newspaper. Publishing in the left will undergo a shift, initially to a model which is still largely reliant on paper for final distribution but which will be based on an international electronic backbone (ie: a common reference source or database for writers and contributors of leaflets, articles and {eventually} news). Eventually, as the penetration of web-like technology increases from 5% to 20% to 80% and more of the population, an even bigger shift will occur in the publishing model, in which the distinction between active writers and passive readers will be subject to a process of rapid erosion.
Many activists, new to the revolutionary movement, have questions concerning why the various groups on the left do not cooperate to a greater extent. These groups are in a competitive struggle against one another for existence and survival. Part of their public activity is devoted to explaining, in a public way, why their views are correct and those of their rivals are not. These public disputes, or political arguments, are known as "polemics".

Sometimes activists are discouraged by what they see as an excess of polemics. But the real problem here is not that polemics exist but that the quality of the polemics is very poor and they are frequently characterized by unprincipled activity on all sides.

As a participant in revolutionary politics for some years, I have some experience fighting "information isolation". Some conclusions can be drawn about the most common methods by which opportunism seeks to shield itself using "information isolation".

The two principle tactics (out of many) that seem to come up most often from sectarians are what I call "fling shit and flee" and "building straw men". Most readers probably understand that building a straw man refers to distorting the views of one's opponent and then beating the stuffing out of these views that one's opponent does not actually hold. The other tactic, of flinging shit and then fleeing is somewhat self-explanatory. For example, if Phoenix, after denouncing me as "infantile", declines to respond to my rebuttal or my questions (the most probable scenario, by the way) we can surmise that he is avoiding the issues because he knows (or senses, by the peculiar sixth sense that always guides opportunism) that his views will be defeated in open combat with mine.

The proletariat, in the modern age, has little or no need for "information isolation". On the contrary, its interests are served by the opposite principle: "information wants to be free". The open, principled exchange and clash of views -- serves to cast light on the issues and raise the consciousness of everyone involved and is part of the principled cooperation and competition of proletarian trends.

Part of this "principled coopetition" involves representatives from opposing trends publically answering public questions from one another designed to establish the truth about such issues as what principles should guide the development of a genuine communist party and how the "dictatorship of the proletariat" in a modern society might function.

So in the spirit of determining whether my distinguished opponent knows what he is talking about -- or is just full of hot air -- let me ask him now, in full view of the world:

And while we wait for Phoenix's answer (hint to readers: don't hold your breath) we will start a clock. Today is Monday, November 4, 1996. Let's see how many days, weeks, months or years it takes Phoenix (or anyone upholding Stalin's interpretation of Lenin) to answer our simple question.

"Beam me up Scotty"

Ben's reply -- (part 3) -- Tuesday -- November 12:
Will the dictatorship of the proletariat censor the internet ?

11) The dictatorship of the proletariat
in the modern world

Today, any political trend claiming to stand for the overthrow of the capitalist political and economic system is faced with question of what the "dictatorship of the proletariat" would look like in the modern world. In the light of the experience of Lenin's 1917 revolution, and the process of degeneration which led to the establishment of a corrupt police state which savagely repressed the working class and could not compete economically with ordinary free-market capitalism, progressive workers want to know if this is the inevitable fate of all attempts to overthrow capitalism.

In particular, workers have questions--such as whether this dictatorship would necessarily involve the rule of a single political party which would maintain a monopoly of political power (ie: would suppress the political activity of rival or opposing parties) and act as the final arbiter on what is produced in factories, what is taught in schools, and what ideas are permitted to circulate in the mass media.

From a theoretical point of view, it is not the case that the rule of the working class must necessarily involve the rule of a single party. There is a misconception here that is promoted both by the bourgeoisie and also by many political trends which view themselves as marxists.

Lenin, in the 1917 revolution, asserted that his bolshevik party must exercise a monopoly on political power. All other political trends and parties were repressed. Not only this--but oppositional trends within the bolshevik party were also repressed (ie: after 1921--broken up, dissolved, expelled, not allowed to carry out activity to openly circulate, discuss or promote their views).

The bourgeoisie (and its ideological servants) argue that the harsh features of the bolshevik regime which emerged from 1917 are the inevitable result of all successful attempts to overthrow capitalism. "The cure", they argue, "is worse than the disease". The bourgeoisie argues that therefore workers should give up the idea of overthrowing capitalism and the rule of the bourgeoisie. Rather, this argument goes, workers should either:

12) Was Lenin correct to repress other trends ?

Was Lenin correct in repressing all opposing political trends, including oppositional trends within his own party ?

I would argue that Lenin was correct.

But contrary to the arguments of the bourgeoisie and its flunkies, this does not mean that the harsh features of the proletarian dictatorship of 1917 Russia are the inevitable features of the proletarian dictatorship in a modern, stable society with a majority working class which is educated and has the potential of being politically active.

The necessary features of workers' rule have everything to do with the time, place and circumstance in which it finds itself. Some times, places and circumstances are harsher than others, and necessitate harsher measures to prevent bourgeois restoration.

It would be difficult to imagine harsher or more difficult circumstances than the bolsheviks faced by 1921. If the circumstances were any harsher, the idea of a "proletarian dictatorship" would have been unthinkable. In fact, it is not clear to many, even today, whether conditions existed for Lenin's revolution to succeed--or whether it would have been a correct course for the bolsheviks (after giving it a try for a few more years and finding that popular support was not forthcoming) to attempt to prepare or organize a retreat from power. The argument goes as follows: If long-term repression of the population was a necessity of economic development--it may have been better to have let the bourgeoisie undertake this task--and to take the credit for it also--rather than to allow generations of workers to associate "communism" with a permanant, repressive police-state.

By 1921 the bolsheviks were very unpopular. In fact, by many accounts, they lost the support of the majority of the population as early as 1918. But by 1921, things were much worse. Any elections at that time, in which opposing parties were allowed to run, would have resulted in a sweeping victory for what Lenin termed the parties of "petty bourgeois democracy". What were these parties ? Essentially they were parties which considered themselves to be in favor of workers and peasants and which opposed a restoration of bourgeois power.

These parties would have come to power because they would have made all sorts of promises of immediate relief to the harsh conditions of the time (famine, acute shortages of everything). And the promises would have been believed by a majority of the population.

Had these parties come to power, Lenin noted, the first thing they would have done would be to remove the bolsheviks from positions of power and authority in the military and civilian apparatuses. And what would have happened next ? As night follows day the bourgeoisie would have moved in to grab power from these parties. It would have been like taking candy from a baby. Lenin described this as seen through the eyes of the bourgeoisie: "If only there is a powershift away from the bolsheviks, no matter whether it is a little to the right or to the left, the rest will take care of itself" because then (referring to what the bourgeoisie would do to the parties of petty bourgeois democracy) "we shall slap down the anarchist pygmies". [see The Tax in Kind, under the subhead Political Summary and Deductions].

The parties of petty bourgeois democracy, in spite of their wonderful promises, would not have known how to be ruthless against the attempts at bourgeois restoration. They would only have known how to be ruthless against the bolsheviks. The bourgeoisie would have done the rest itself. And for this reason, the bolsheviks were ruthless against the parties of petty bourgeois democracy.

13) Would workers' rule in a modern society
repress all oppositional trends ?

However the conditions of 1921 Russia (90% peasant, an economy in ruins, an exhausted population), are very different from the conditions of a modern society with industry, infrastructure and a majority working class which is educated and would have (certainly by the time of workers' rule) a fair amount of political experience.

The proletarian dictatorship in a modern, stable society would be as different from the proletarian dictatorship of Lenin's time as modern social, political and economic conditions are from those of Lenin's time.

At least from the point of view of the workers.

For the bourgeoisie, the proletarian dictatorship in a modern society would be just as oppressive--because it would not allow the former bourgeoisie to restore its grip on the life of society. The proletarian dictatorship would not allow the bourgeoisie to use its still very considerable resources (knowledge, connections and property [not everything could or would be expropriated at once]) to buy and corrupt anything necessary (as they do today) for the purpose of restoring its domination over everything. From the point of view of the bourgeoisie, and its flunkies, this would be very oppressive indeed.

But the necessity of repressing the bourgeoisie as a class, in a modern society, does not require (as it did in the extreme conditions of Lenin's time) repressing all of the political life of society and the open struggle between opposing political trends.

Nowhere does this question come up with greater intensity than in relation to the question of censorship of the mass media. And in particular, in a modern society, the question of censorship of the mass media is inseparable from the question of censorship of the internet--which is rapidly evolving into, and soon enough will become, a form of mass media such as has never before existed--a form of mass media subject to the direct and immediate control of the masses.

14) Will the proletarian dictatorship
censor the internet ?

I believe the answer to this question must be: No--at least as it would apply, in conditions of a stable society, to the expression of views of an individual or of political, cultural or non-commercial organizations.

The proletarian dictatorship will not censor from the internet all political views which oppose it. A number of misconceptions seem to frequently come up in connection with this and we should try to deal with these misconceptions systematically. For example, censorship is defined in different ways by different people. And, according to the definitions of some, the proletarian state will effect censorship and effect it with remarkable efficiency.

The bourgeoisie will find formidable and, ultimately, decisive barriers in the way of its being able to "buy public opinion" or assemble together sophisticated media machines to propagandise its views on all subjects and endlessly advertize how much better the world would be were it returned to bourgeois rule and the rule of the market.

So the bourgeoisie (which will still, and for a lengthy period, have considerable resources and will be hell-bent on restoring "the way we were") will be restricted, decisively, from using the mass media to pave the way to a restoration of its rule. And yet the internet will not be censored ? How, many may wonder, would this be possible ?

This is possible and would follow logically from the nature of the internet itself and the role it will play in raising the consciousness of the masses and mobilizing them into action.

To understand this, let's (briefly) review the most essential issues concerning the role that the internet will play in modern society.

15) The internet will evolve into a mass media
completely integrated into nearly all spheres of
the political, cultural and economic life of society
-- or --
you can't censor the internet
without crippling the economy

The first thing to realize is that the internet will become very highly integrated into all spheres of social and economic life. Any real censorship of the internet would restrict its development, would considerably restrict the flow of information that courses through it. This, by the way, is why the bourgeoisie (in countries such as the US) is stuck with a first class problem when it, as a class, considers the threat that the internet will pose to its class rule, and contemplates (as it is currently doing) the prospects of censoring the internet or attempting to tame it so that in its potential it becomes less "dangerous".

The problem, from the perspective of the bourgeoisie is that all attempts to significantly censor the internet will greatly slow down its growth and development. And the economic repercussions of this are a little too steep for the bourgeoisie to accept--even when faced with its extinction as a class. This is one of those things that is fundamental. For example, the bourgeoisie, in order to pursue its own development, and the expansion of capital, is compelled to create and expand the ranks of the modern proletariat--even though this class is destined to overthrow bourgeois rule. In an analogous manner, the bourgeoisie, of all nations, is, or will be, compelled to foster the development of the internet in order to remain economically competitive with other nations--even though this technology will ultimately arm the proletariat and enormously accelerate the timeframe for the overthrow of bourgeois rule and the ascension, for the first time, of the modern working class to stable political power.

The internet, in the long term, has such a vast potential to create tangible forms of wealth for the capitalists--that the bourgeoisie will find it extremely difficult to unite in the face of this most promising of all threats.

This is why the gigabuck computer industry, together with its allies in convergence, the Hollywood entertainment industry and the consumer electronics mega-corporations, have come out solidly against the "Communications Decency Act" (CDA) in the US. It is the billions (and, ultimately, trillions) of dollars to be made that will motivate the courts to strike down this clumsy and awkward expression of bourgeois fear of a conscious proletariat.

The bourgeoisie, at national and international levels, will make attempts to unite around their common class interests in facing the threat of the internet. This is what is behind the increasing diplomacy directed toward a united front of the bourgeoisie of all the principal industrial nations--to regulate (and to eventually ban) strong encryption that would allow workers to communicate to one another free of the prying eyes of big brother.

On various levels, and for various periods of time, the common class interest of the bourgeoisie will be able to impose various petty restrictions on the use of the internet. The ruling classes in every country, for example, find it relatively easy to unite against unauthorized copyrighted material on the internet.

And in many countries, particularly in the developing countries of Asia, such as China, Singapore and Indonesia, attempts are being made to openly ban any political news or commentary which is critical of the government or government policies.

But the openly political censorship of countries like China or Indonesia can only be temporary--can only last a decade or two. Singapore, being more developed, will likely be forced to abandon censorship sooner. As these counties continue to modernize their economies and compete economically with other nations--a fundamental truth reveals itself that the bourgeoisie will not be able to wish away:

  • No ruling class will be able,
    in any meaningful way,
    to censor the internet without crippling it.
    And you can't cripple the internet
    without crippling the economy.
And this simple truth will apply to the rule of the proletariat with just as much force as it will apply to the rule of the bourgeoisie.

And to this we can add one more simple truth: no regime which cripples its own economy can resist being eventually overwhelmed by a more powerful and dynamic system of economic organization (the former Soviet Union, with its bureaucrat style of state capitalism eventually yielding to more conventional and dynamic free-market capitalism is the example that here most comes to mind).

And so the proletariat, in the period of its class rule, during the transition from a capitalist to a communist political and economic system--will be compelled to restrict the bourgeoisie from dominating the mass media without censoring the internet.

Let's examine how this would work in the modern world. And let's also consider various misconceptions and objections that come up at this point.

16) What is censorship anyway ?

We can start by considering what we mean when we use the word "censorship". Let's start with a simple and clear-cut case:

Case A: A group of workers wish to denounce some government official as a hypocrite and a corrupt liar (or some government policy as a tool on behalf of the interests of some privileged sector). These workers want to upload their views to their web site or send e-mail to various forums.

I believe that everyone would agree that if these workers are prevented from uploading their views, from freely communicating with listeners and readers--this would be censorship.

Case B: Some mega-corporation wants to orchestrate a $100 million dollar campaign to promote greasy food or greasy politics (a la Rush Limbaugh) in the mass media (of which the internet will eventually be part).

If this corporation is prevented from carrying out its campaign--is this censorship ?

I think the answer has to be both yes and no.

To the extent that preventing a corporation from organizing the creation of a slick media machine with a well-paid staff of professional propagandists--and distributing their self-serving nonsense in such a way as to dominate the mass media and culture--constitutes censorship--then to that extent--the proletarian dictatorship will organize censorship. And this "censorship" will be both powerful and effective.

But, we should add, this is not the kind of censorship with which most workers are concerned, in which political trends are suppressed and the activities of oppositional political forces are crushed. Nor is this the kind of censorship that would cripple the internet and, consequently, cripple the economy.

And the issue for the proletarian dictatorship is this: how do you censor one without censoring the other ? Where (and how) do you draw the line ?

This is an important question because the proletarian dictatorship most certainly would suppress the $100 million ad campaign. But the question that comes up--is how do you do this without creating machinery that could easily be abused by corrupt officials who will inevitably be bought off or influenced as long as the bourgeoisie (or former bourgeoisie) have the resources, money (money cannot immediately be abolished) and influence to do so ?

How do you censor the bourgeoisie without censoring the proletariat ? How do you prevent the former bourgeois from dominating the mass media without creating the machinery that some future would-be Stalin could then seize in order to drag all of society into darkness? Three concepts may be key here:

17) Bourgeois ideology will be opposed but not censored

  • Freedom of political expression on the internet
    will serve the dictatorship of the proletariat
    and mobilize mass opposition
    to bourgeois, reactionary and backward ideologies.
It appears to me that it would be both futile and counterproductive for the workers' state to attempt to keep the internet free of bourgeois views and ideology.

Such an effort would be futile because bourgeois (and counter-revolutionary) views would always filter in from various sources. Such views would be opposed but not censored. An example of how this might work is this web page itself. Phoenix's views are wrong. He has the same right to post them here as anyone else. But I also have the right to make clear to one and all that his views amount to nonsense and that he is unwilling or unable to defend them in an open and unrestricted forum.

It would be counter-productive to attempt to keep the internet free of bourgeois ideology because the problem of determining what is a "bourgeois ideology" is, in many cases, insoluable. Attempts to keep bourgeois ideology (or even, more generally, "wrong ideas") off the internet are counter-productive because they would inevitably restrict the expression of views by workers, who must have the right to express wrong or misguided views--to participate in the open clash of viewpoints--and to learn from their own mistakes (often the most solid way of learning anything).

The proletarian state will clamp down on slick and expensive bourgeois campaigns to promote bourgeois ideology--but when these same ideas are expressed by individuals--they will be opposed not by "big brother" but by "little brother" (ie: individual participants in the various forums where ideas will appear). This opposition by "little brother" will, from time to time, be misguided, but at the same time will tend to be self-correcting. Wrong ideas, in the hands of many, will occasionally cow or intimidate correct ideas in the hands of a few--but the long term tendency in such encounters--will be for the correct ideas to "kick ass".

Hence the concept here is not that of a "bubble boy" (a term derived from certain infants born without an immune system who had to be kept in a special sealed case to be protected from all contact with germs)--but rather of a healthy immune system. The proletarian dictatorship seeks not to isolate the political, cultural and economic spheres from bourgeois ideology but rather to engage it decisively in thousands, millions or even billions of encounters in which the masses are actively mobilized. The concept here, as I see it, is not one of "information isolation" but "information supremacy" which would consist of the hegemony of key principles in the most important and decisive public forums and centers of opinion. Such "information supremacy" would be based on the active participation of the masses in various forms of "information warfare" (ie: the struggle of ideas fueled by the passion and the consciousness of the masses).

The proletarian state will therefore make it one of its highest priorities to ensure that all members of the population old enough to read and write will also be able to browse the web and post their own pages. Most likely, in the more developed countries, this task will be largely accomplished under capitalism well before the working class seizes power. But whatever sections of the population have been disenfranchised is this regard under capitalism, will be enabled relatively quickly. And the more developed socialist countries will certainly make it a prioritiy to give assistance to the less developed countries in regard to this essential communications infrastructure.

And a key point comes up in connection with this: the proletarian dictatorship maintains its power and position through relying on the masses and empowering the masses in their millions. The masses must be active. The masses must be conscious. There is no, and can be no, substitute for this. No series of top-down structures, rules or system of administration can compensate for this factor if it is absent. If the masses are not mobilized, if they are not conscious--the revolution will fail. It will fail along one path or another. This is a key lesson from the 1917 revolution (where in the face of extreme hardship it proved to be difficult or impossible to maintain the support of the masses) and the story of how it could be so easily strangled.

18) The media spectrum:
High-ratio vs. Low-ratio

The proletarian dictatorship will not and can not immediately abolish capitalism. This follows from the simple fact that the revolutionary proletariat and its leadership will not and can not immediately understand how to organize the entire economy without capitalism and capitalists. Hence, for a period of time, capitalists will be functioning in some capacity and will, true to their class nature, attempt to impose their ideology on society and restore their former position. And the proletariat must defend against this. The question is: "how ?"

One principle that it is useful to introduce is the distinction between what I call "high ratio" media productions from "low ratio" productions. The "ratio" in this case is the ratio of labor hours contained in the media production to the average time it would take for a consummer to read, listen to or watch it. For simple (but well-written) text this ratio might be 10 to 1. For an movie which consumes a lot or resources, the ratio might be 100,000 to 1.

Another important distinction is that between media productions which contain paid labor and those based on volunteer labor.

Simply put, the proletarian state will regulate and restrict and censor media productions which are "high ratio" and are based on paid labor. The proletarian state will not need to become involved in regulating or restricting media productions which either are low ratio or contain only volunteer labor. It would be foolish for me to speculate much further concerning details of exactly where and how a line or lines are drawn. Conditions will vary and people at the time will do what they damn well believe is best. But clarifying the basic principle that will be at work can help us today see these issues with a bit more clarity.

What is important to see is that a set of general principles such as these can be effective in insuring that political dissent by workers (as individuals or in organized groups) would be very difficult to crush--because these principles are easily understood and could and would be vigorously defended by a politically active population.

19) Decentralized censorship

One question that often comes up is: "How do you handle the neo-nazis ?"

There will, for a considerable period, be various forces which will be promoting fairly vicious racist and anti-people garbage. How will this be handled ?

There are a number of issues that come up here that I would like to touch on.

Racist ideology has no "magic power", its strength under capitalism comes not from the ignorance of the masses but from the backing of the powerful and influential (who have a material interest in promoting it). Hence, it is important to see that if a certain amount of this stuff manages to circulate under a workers' state--this is nothing to be afraid of. It is far more powerful for a workers' state to establish the principle that low-ratio, volunteer productions will be opposed by "little brother" (individuals who oppose shit as they encounter it) rather than by "big brother".

In fact it can be useful if some amount of this vile stuff gets around: as long as these attitudes exist at all in society--people should be aware of it--they should have an opportunity to see how vile it is--because this stimulates the "immune reaction" that raises consciousness about the vile nature of racism and further stimulates the deep work and commitment necessary to make anti-racist themes a powerful current in modern socialist culture.

Nonetheless, this stuff is shit--and people will not want to encounter it very often. And they may organize a number of ways to deal with it that do not rely on state intervention.

Censorship that is administered from a centralized source with a small number of decision makers deciding what to censor is inherently more prone to abuse (and easier to corrupt) than censorship exercized by a large number of decision-makers who have disagreements among themselves and who act (and think) independently of one another.

For example, there is nothing, in the face of the passion of the masses, to prevent those who will administer the many thousands (and eventually millions) of relay points on the internet from refusing to forward material which is obviously racist. This is related to concepts of collaborative filtering which are too complex (and undeveloped) to go into here. There is potential for abuse here, of course. But the potential for abuse is relatively small, because correct viewpoints would be extremely difficult to suppress by such means--at least under the proletarian dictatorship, where the mass consciousness would be fairly high. I will point out here, that I am sceptical that arrangements such as these would actually be necessary. But if they were--this is how an informal censorship could be handled without the necessity of setting up a formal centralized apparatus with all the potential for mischief that such a thing would represent.

Under capitalism, such proposals would be of a different nature. For example, the Simon Weisenthal Center recent proposed that independent internet service providers (ISP's) informally agree among themselves (ie: without legal or government involvement) not to carry or relay material from neo-nazis or "hate groups". Such a proposal is fundamentally different from proposals for legal, government intervention (such as the "Communcations Decency Act") but is still, in present conditions, misguided. This is because, in present circumstances of capitalist domination of the culture, many ISP's might not have a high level of consciousness about what constitutes a "hate group". For example, flunkies of the bourgeoisie might accuse sites such as this one of "inciting hatred" against the rule of the rich. And they would be quite correct. In order to insure the maximum possibility of proletarian use of the new communications technologies--the clearest stand, and the easiest to understand and fight for in a period of capitalist domination--is that ISP's should relay everything.

20) This discussion applies to a stable society

This essay is drawing to a close. But I want to emphasize here that this discussion has been of a society that is stable. In any sucessful revolution, there are periods of great uncertainty, in which tactics may be called for which would be incorrect and unhealthy if applied on a long-term basis. The proletarian state reserves for itself the right to use all means necessary to maintain its rule. This discussion of censorship is not in the direction of arguing that the workers' dictatorship does not have the right to censor communications and the media. Rather, I am making a different point. Any exercise of such a right by the proletarian state is fraught with enormous danger. Any exercise of such of such a right on a long-term basis would be a fairly reliable indicator that the revolution is in serious trouble, will have great difficulties in developing the economy and is likely to fail, either through the path of open collapse and bourgeois restoration, or via the more "silent" path of degeneration as happened under Stalin.

21) Guarantees to the working class,
not the bourgeoisie

Another point that is important here is as follows: any program which attempts to discuss the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat as it will exist in modern society--must clarify to workers something of the safeguards that would make if difficult for a future would-be Stalin to murder people in the dead of night and keep anybody from knowing about it. For this purpose it is important to clarify these principles. The bourgeoisie, however, will request of us another kind of guarantee: that they will be permitted to "carry on as usual". We should be very clear on this. The bourgeoisie will oppose the proletariat coming to power. They will break their own laws and make new ones as necessary. They will exercise all means at their disposal to avoid the proletariat becoming conscious and seizing from them control over everything in society that matters. They will not hesitate to employ violence or, if necessary, to see that rivers of blood are shed. The bourgeoisie will do this because they understand that when the proletariat comes to power it will confiscate their wealth and forcibly put an end to their domination of society and smash their attempts of resistance. So as far as making guarantees to the bourgeoisie--we should be clear that we will make only one kind of guarantee--that we will make certain that their class rule is ended forever.

          `6_ 6  )   `-.  (     ).`-.__.`)   
          (_Y_.)'  ._   )  `._ `. ``-..-'     
         ..`--'_..-_/  /--'_.' ,'
        (__),-''  (__),'  ((!.-'
Ben -- Seattle -- 12 Nov 96

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Hi everyone,

This part of this page is being overhauled. If you would like to add your comments about this page, email me at: ben@communism.org

In the meantime, here is a recent email I received.

Ben Seattle
30.Apr.98 ----//-//