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 class regulates the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. (Marx, German Ideology.)
What the Sun says today millions of workers will be repeating tomorrow. If the Daily Mail informs its readers that strikers are greedy and the Daily Express demands that patriots tighten their belts “for the sake of the nation” it is called news, not propaganda. Fed upon lies and distortions, who can blame most workers for regarding the mass media as a source of enlightenment? The distorting mirror of the press was not created by accident: it lies because it is dangerous for its owners to tell the truth. Their power is dependent on a majority ignorance about the nature of social reality.
In Britain three-quarters of all daily newspapers are owned by three companies. Rupert Murdoch’s News International owns the Sun (average circulation of 3,837,000) and the News of the World (4,472,000). These two account for 25 per cent of all national newspapers sold in Britain. Last year The Times and Sunday Times were added to Murdoch’s Empire. Reed International, publishers of the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People, also owns IPC which produces 37 per cent of all consumer magazines sold in Britain. Trafalgar House owns the Daily Express, the Daily Star, the Sunday Express, the New Standard (now London’s only evening paper) and has substantial investments in the Morgan Grampian magazine-publishing corporation. All of these multinationals have investments in capital projects other than newspapers. For example, Reed International receives only about 12 per cent of its profits from newspapers; its main investments being in pulp, paper and packaging, building products and home decorating. Trafalgar House is a major property company, owning ships (including the QE2), aviation projects, hotels (including the Ritz) and investment concerns. Associated Newspapers Group, publishers of the dreadful Daily Mail (1,985,000 copies a day) also owns fourteen provincial dailies, four commercial radio stations, Weekend magazine. National Opinion Rolls, the Wyndham and Picadilly Theatres, the London Cab Company, Teledata, several building and furniture companies and the Blackfriars Oil Company. The men who own the press have a great deal to defend—too much to allow the truth to get in their way. When Daily Mail editorials refer to “our” country the joke is on the readers, not the owners.
The press uses its power to mould working class prejudices. When workers are on strike the press takes the side of “the public” against the “anti-social troublemakers” who have dared to defy their bosses. When any aspect of their system is criticised the critic is immediately attacked as an “extremist”. Submissive wage slaves are “patriots” and political leaders who do not rock the boat are “moderates”. Newspaper editors preach to their working class readers about the need for austerity, honesty and moral righteousness, while the capitalist class live in luxury, deprive the workers of the fruits of our labours and indulge in the morality of a class which can afford to break their own rules. Praising the parasitism of their own class, the newspaper controllers make sure that the term “scrounger” is reserved for the unfortunate wage slave who is caught receiving more from the dole than the law allows. One only has to study the editorials of the press to understand just how much contempt the rulers of capitalism feel towards the working class.
Where the press cannot blind workers to their interests by direct preaching or by fraudulent reporting they do so by sensational diversions. In the 1960s the popular press hit on the idea of printing pictures of nude women to increase their circulation. More recently the fantasies have become more material and daily Bingo numbers are printed in order to con wage slaves into thinking that they too could become a Rupert Murdoch. Horoscopes, racing tips and trivial tales of men biting dogs have become part of the intellectual diet of the working class. The product of this massive outpouring of ruling class propaganda, through the columns of the daily press, is the existence of a class of men and women whose response to their exploitation is almost universal consent.
Experience is the greatest demystifier. Apologists for capitalism may be able to fool most of the people most of the time, but ruling class propaganda cannot perpetually hide the antagonism of interests between those who produce but do not possess and those who possess but do not produce. One recent example is the awakening of working class consciousness in Poland. The newspapers there are controlled by the government and official censors ensure that nothing is published which will expose the exploitative nature of the dictatorship. What passes for “news” is simply government propaganda.
The Polish press “sympathises” with strikers in Britain just as the British media suddenly found itself in militant recognition of the interests of the Polish strikers (while doing everything in its powers to oppose strikers here). The Polish newspapers are full of articles about the need to defend the Warsaw Pact against NATO aggression, just as British newspapers call for NATO vigilance against Warsaw Pact aggression. But despite the government-controlled media and the censorship and the overwhelming forces of indoctrination, the Polish workers did defy their masters. Their experience of poverty led them to go on strike, even though the media claimed that their actions were “unpatriotic”, “subversive” and even “anti-socialist”. The first action of the Gdansk strikers, in August 1980, was to publish a newspaper which would put their views, rather than the state’s. The first issue of Solidarity stated that
The whole country awaits genuine and accurate news . . . but the news in the press, radio and television is both distorted and incomplete. (23.8.80.)
Before long the Polish workers’ hunger for real news led to the creation of a number of new journals which were owned and controlled by the working class. In the northern port of Szczecin, the Solidarity journal Jednosc (Unity) was selling over 100,000 copies each week. It is in this journal that some of the most penetrating analyses of Polish state capitalism by Polish workers have appeared. The new military junta in Poland has banned the publication of all working class-controlled publications, but they cannot ban the ideas which such journals have encouraged in the minds of the working class.
In Britain, the “right” to publish a newspaper is open to everyone, as is the right to rent a suite in the Ritz Hotel. Much as the ruling class remind the workers of Britain about this generous freedom to publish what we like, most workers realise that printers have the freedom to charge what they like. In September 1904 a group of working class men and women did take up the “right” to produce and distribute their own publication. They called it the Socialist Standard, they sold it for a penny and they refused to compromise a single word for the sake of obtaining advertisers or attracting empty-headed readers. Seventy-eight years later the same party is still publishing the same journal the longest-running working class journal in the world.
Why do we do it? Because socialists realise that every newspaper, magazine and book which is produced under capitalism must make a fundamental decision: will it take the side of the capitalists or will it take the side of the workers? 99 per cent of what can be bought on any news stand is unadulterated pro-capitalist nonsense which deserves the contempt and ridicule of the working class. Unlike those journals, the Socialist Standard always takes the side of the workers’ interests. We do so for exactly the same reason as the capitalist press unceasingly takes the side of the bosses: because we share their class interests. The Socialist Party of Great Britain urges our fellow workers to reject the myths of the ruling class press and to join with us in producing and distributing the message of freedom.
NOW IS THE TIME TO
- Take out a subscription to the Socialist Standard. It only costs £3.90. (including post) for a year’s supply.
- Take an extra copy of the Standard to give or sell to a friend.
- Persuade your local bookshop/newsagent/ library to subscribe to the Standard.
- Contact your local SPGB branch or group and help them to sell the Standard.
- Send a letter to your local newspaper/ union magazine urging workers to try the Standard.
- Send the names of local people who may wish to read the Standard to SPGB, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. We will send a free copy to them with a subscription form.