Free Press (and Speech)

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by Robinn
Published: 2023-09-13 (last update: 2023-09-23)
5-15 minutes

The vestiges of the feudalist press and suppression were replaced with free press, free speech, and free expression. These phrases obscured the real essence of capitalism; where the press became an economic institution (the bourgeoisie possessing the masses of capital), it had at once reformed itself into a direct expression of class interest to which the proletariat were excluded on the very basis of their essence as a class.

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“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas”— Karl Marx, The German Ideology

Under feudalism, the framing of history and the press apparatus was not just accompanied by an assumption of the legitimacy of its establishment but, at the same time, adopted its characteristics and mechanisms. The bourgeois revolutions (French, American, etc.), toppling resolute and evident structures of feudalist economic and political control, consolidated, in fact, new and more subversive frameworks of power. The feudal serf, who formerly was condemned to work for subsistence on his own land for a certain duration, and then work for his lord for quite another while, had become familiar with which labor corresponded to his own remuneration, and which labor was solely beneficial to his lord; labor was clearly divided into that which was paid and unpaid. With the emergence of capitalism, the serf became a wage-laborer, and set out to work for his wages with a concrete and final duration of labor undivided. The proletarians’ work, which appeared indivisible, was really a mirror of the feudal system, in that his labor power was again divided into two camps, but that, as a new development, the division had merely become obscured. His paid and unpaid work had become combined, so that his wages appeared as an equivalent of the expenditure of his labor power, while in actuality constituting only a fraction of his labor time, with the capitalist free to take his pick of the spoils. The political system of the bourgeoisie followed suit. The vestiges of the feudalist press and suppression were replaced with free press, free speech, and free expression. These phrases obscured the real essence of capitalism; where the press became an economic institution (the bourgeoisie possessing the masses of capital), it had at once reformed itself into a direct expression of class interest to which the proletariat were excluded on the very basis of their essence as a class. Speech followed suit, as the social formation for the dissolution of ideas expressed in the press and as a reflection of the dominance of a certain class in the historical sense. The class which owns and heads the means of production and its development to a certain degree has its own material sovereignty over ideas, which are only a social expression of these conditions.


“All over the world, wherever there are capitalists, freedom of the press means freedom to buy up newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fake ‘public opinion’ for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. This is a fact. No one will ever be able to refute it”— V. I. Lenin, A Letter To G. Myasnikov

When the bourgeoisie speaks of bringing “freedom of the press”, to which countries are they referring generally? This is a double-edged sword; the latter, duller edge, will be expounded upon later. Socialist nations—those which have reversed somewhat the bourgeois class dictatorship and replaced or are attempting to replace it with a worker’s dictatorship for the suppression of the former—are hounded by the bourgeoisie and its press for certain reasons. The immediate aim of the liquidation of the national bourgeoisie’s political power taken up by the dictatorship of the proletariat is not in any sense removed from bourgeois power elsewhere. This point manifests itself in the consideration of the state of the press, which has more and more become a close link between the capitalist class at large, a class that retains a political dictatorship over the majority of developed nations and several national dictatorships over their respective colonial shares of maldeveloped nations. Owing to the supreme authority of the world bourgeoisie, the proletarian masses who have consolidated political power domestically must suppress the siege on their delicate rule internationally. A workers’ state is necessary to suppress the bourgeoisie altogether, but also to keep the dominant world class from taking hold over the press machine. Having already shown how the bourgeoisie so perfidiously defines "freedom", and in much the same way the bourgeoisie regards their state apparatus a free one [how can this be when the state necessarily arose to suppress class contradictions?], it is no wonder that the bourgeoisie so ruthlessly condemns the proletarian press as “not free.” If there is no free press, if the press is a manifestation of the ideas of a particular class and their political supremacy, and if the press is the organized expression of speech, then how can there be free speech? Kautskyist cries for free speech are only counterrevolutionary ploys adopting the bourgeois linguistic framework to give grounds for assisting the latter. The bourgeoisie refutes this by denying the historical role of the state altogether, regarding it as an impartial organ for the administration of things. That the state only surfaced as a result of the necessary suppression of class antagonisms, clearly evidenced by the maldevelopment of the gentes and the emergence of the patriarchy, must be ignored. The bourgeois press is only free insofar as it is free to express the will of this or that trust and have condemnations of this relegated to weak opinion pieces which serve to consolidate criticism. The bourgeoisie does not need the state to evidently regulate such a thing, since their rule over capital is absolute. The capitalists employed the most vast violence and suppression when overthrowing the past order, this is quite correct, but their guns and batons were cast aside just as soon as they attained their domination, and are taken up again without hesitation each time it is threatened.


“Private property based on the labor of the small proprietor, free competition, democracy, all the catchwords with which the capitalists and their press deceive the workers and the peasants are things of the distant past. Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of ‘advanced’ countries. And this ‘booty’ is shared between two or three powerful world plunderers armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain, Japan), who are drawing the whole world into their war over the division of their booty”— V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism

It is well known that apart from the conflicts between capitalists and conflicts between capitalist and socialist nations, there is also the conflict among capitalist nations, each acting as giant capitalists seizing resources and territory for their national liquidators. Many capitalist nations have placed retroactive restrictions on speech and the press; this is manifested in “first world” nations such as America or South Korea, which the world bourgeoisie largely accepts, but also in “third world” capitalist nations such as Eritrea and Cambodia. These nations are critiqued for being without freedom for a very good reason: capitalist development has been hindered in these places where nationalism is substituted for the melded chainlink of world late stage capital. In this case, censorship is actively employed on the basis of suppressing a particular class where the development of bourgeois rule is tenuous; the methods of the state apparatus in these countries are focused on establishing independence from the capitalist periphery in addition to subduing domestic threats to leadership. We then have on the one hand a class monopoly on speech, and on the other hand, national monopolies of the expression of stronger nations against weaker ones, which reinforces again the part played by the historical development of capitalism.


“These social relations between the producers, and the conditions under which they exchange their activities and share in the total act of production, will naturally vary according to the character of the means of production”— Karl Marx, Wage Labor and Capital

The “press”, of course, has expanded its reach by reintegrating itself with speech, from which several trends may be noticed. Modern technology has, in some ways, opened up the potential of information, which is self-serving for capitalism in certain ways, allowing firms to profit from socialized speech and entertainment through advertisement, but with the effect as well of undermining the press monopoly on information, allowing atrocity propaganda and official narratives to be more easily rebutted through unleashed access to a wider range of information/sources and for capitalist individualism and atomization to be counteracted through the socialization of speech in various platforms, both mainstream and in general. Just as credit in the short term allows for greater profits and expansion under capitalism with the ultimate effect of spreading resources thin and undermining certain long term interests, so too this development of “interconnectedness” favors capitalist expansion for some time but ultimately builds the groundwork for a competing social order; the scale of development of the forces of production creates relations in its image, with these relations ultimately undermining the backward nature of these forces and progressing the overall nature of society.