Monday, January 7, 2008

Chinese Media and Socialist Values by Norman Markowitz

Joe Sims post, The Great Electronic Wall of China: When Will They Ever Learn? got me to thinking about something and I had seen recently on C Span, A review of 2008 by Chinese Central Television.

Before I get to that, let me say that I strongly agree with Joe.

Intellectual freedom, meaning free thought and expression, is much more important for a socialist society than a capitalist one, where thought, like everything else, is commodity to be sold, either as commercial advertising or political propaganda, or art and culture for elites. In a socialist society, as it develops, people can be trusted to distinguish sense from nonsense, and free thought is really essential if social and economic planning is to advance and the socialist ethic of comradeship, for the whole society, not for party or organization members, is to advance. In that sense, intellectual freedom, not its pretense which we have in capitalist societies (although, frankly, if one looks at U.S. media, there isn't even so much of a pretense) serves the development of socialist culture.

China is the largest country in the world. It suffered the crimes of imperialism for more than a century, from the Opium War of 1839-1842 to the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. It suffered greater losses in WWII than any other nation except the Soviet Union. One should also remember that from 1949 to 1971, the U.S. government blocked it from attaining its seat in the UN, sought to punish nations which engaged in trade with China, and supported the military dictator Chiang K'ai-shek in both sustaining his remnant regime on the island of Taiwan and launching various provocations against the Chinese mainland, even risking what could have resulted in a major Asian and possible world war in conflicts over Chinese off shore islands in 1955 and 1958. The Peoples Republic of China has no reason to have any respect for the developed capitalist countries, particularly the United States, which only "embraced" it at the end of the 1970s when China was seen as a "strategic ally" against the Soviet Union, and China embarked upon its present mixed economy or "social market economy" path.

But Chinese who believe in socialism might look at their own general news media and ask if it is developing a socialist understanding of events. The Year In Review program which I saw on C-SPAN frankly disappointed me greatly. First, a good deal of the program was devoted to the successes of Chinese "entrepreneurs" as they developed relationships with fellow entrepreneurs in other countries. Also, a review of major international events, while generally even handed, appeared to focus more sympathetically on European and Asian leaders of capitalist countries. I was struck by what I regarded as a somewhat unsympathetic brief reference to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, accompanied by an unflattering picture. The reference simply said that Chavez had suffered a major defeat in a referendum.

Although George Bush and the U.S. government was not at all treated in a sympathetic light, I was somewhat shocked by references to U.S. European relations, which were fairly sophisticated in terms of contemporary politics but analyzed the bond between Europe and the U.S. as rooted in the post war era, when the U.S. "helped war torn European countries rebuild" and(I swear) the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan led the U.S. and the Europeans in "winning" the cold war.

If Chinese media is not interested in remembering the Korean War, or for that matter the Vietnam war, or the reasons behind the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan and the NAT0 alliance, I can't step them, or even
deny that they certainly have the right to their interpretations. If Chinese media, wish to say that Reagan's policies resulted in "winning" the cold war, as if the "cold war" was merely about U.S.-Soviet great
power rivalries, I can't stop them and they certainly have the right to their interpretations. But I have the right to say that these interpretations as I see have nothing to do with any socialist analysis of events by any definition of socialism, and that if media is to serve in the development of socialism, it should at least look at the world in which socialist countries came into existence and their struggles against their enemies and the larger capitalist world system.

Intellectual freedom will help Chinese people understand the achievements of their revolution and its struggle to find a socialist path of development, by showing both the strengths and the weaknesses and the context in which both advances and errors were made. Intellectual freedom will also gain China far more respect in the eyes of the world's masses, if not its elites, as it continues to develop in the 21st century.

Although this year in review was in English and obviously aimed at English speaking audiences abroad (I frankly don't know how Chinese Central Television deals with news in Chinese for the Chinese people) it was, as someone who has defended the Peoples Republic over the decades and still looks to contemporary China as both a large part of humanity and a nation whose future is irrevocably intertwined with socialism's future, I was frankly dismayed by the program as I am dismayed by these restrictions on the Internet. The former can only encourage capitalists to see China as a good place to invest. The latter can only encourage people everywhere to see the Chinese government as repressive, which is objectively bad for socialism everywhere.

1 comment:

normanmarkowitz said...

A nasty typo. I meant of course a review of 2007, not 2008. If they were reviewing 2008, they would be entering the world of prophecy