Friday, May 9, 2014

Marx believed in the free press

Brendan O'Neill has a short answer to people who think socialists in general and Marxists in particular want to censor: Marx hated press freedom? Er, I don't think so. He was its most passionate champion. As a young man, Marx said:
The free press is the ubiquitous vigilant eye of a people's soul, the embodiment of a people's faith in itself, the eloquent link that connects the individual with the state and the world, the embodied culture that transforms material struggles into intellectual struggles and idealises their crude material form. It is a people's frank confession to itself, and the redeeming power of confession is well known. It is the spiritual mirror in which a people can see itself, and self-examination is the first condition of wisdom. It is the spirit of the state, which can be delivered into every cottage, cheaper than coal gas. It is all-sided, ubiquitous, omniscient. It is the ideal world which always wells up out of the real world and flows back into it with ever greater spiritual riches and renews its soul.
I linked to the article at reddit, where a commenter suggested censorship was necessary sometimes and cited a demand from Section II of The Communist Manifesto as evidence that Marx had changed his mind on the free press: "Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State." I pointed out:
And how do you interpret that as restricting the press? To me, that means there will finally be the equivalent of a free press for everyone, because under capitalism, as A. J. Liebling noted, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Do you think centralizing transport means denying people the freedom to travel?
Ignore the morality of silencing for a moment and just think about the tactics: when you censor the press, you alienate libertarian socialists, and you make anti-socialists fight you harder because they now have the evidence that your goal is to oppress people in the name of socialism.
The moment you have the power to censor capitalists, they're no longer a major threat. And unfortunately, censorship bureaucracies can live forever. 
Two more nice things about letting your opponents speak: you know what they're saying because they're not forced to create secret networks, and you can counter their arguments for everyone to see.