When newspapers become parties

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By DÊNIS DE MORAES*

The partisan press at the service of power

In memory of Carlos Nelson Coutinho, present during his eight years of absence.

In the studies that I have been carrying out for a decade on Antonio Gramsci, the press and journalism, one theme is included among those of unavoidable relevance. The Italian Marxist philosopher noticed ties and connections –whether they were disguised, cynically covered or even assumed – between journalistic companies (that is, the media of his time: the written press) and the spheres of power, in different historical conjunctures.

In this text, I return to some premises and seek to examine Gramsci's contribution to the framing of business groups that control the processes of production and dissemination of information as true parties. This results in abusive interferences in political-ideological clashes and in the conformation of lines of force of the collective imagination, translated into discursive strategies that fit the purpose of affirming values ​​and ideas aligned with the order of capital.

Like Karl Marx and Vladimir I. Lenin [1], Gramsci made journalism one of his main activities and thought critically about the press, recognizing its centrality in the arena of ideological and class struggles. He was a journalist by profession, exceptional and engaged, performing multiple functions: columnist, chronicler, editor, literary and theatrical critic, editorialist, editor and editor-in-chief, as well as formulator of editorial projects. The articles he published were laboratories for many of his ideas, having as a point of convergence the understanding of the role they could play as a form of knowledge and conscious intervention in social reality.

The peculiar feature is that Gramsci never worked in the so-called mainstream press; he practically only exercised his profession in publications of the Socialist and Communist Parties of Italy, which freed him from market pressures and ideological controls commonly in force, yesterday and today, in the corporate media. At the same time, it allowed him to develop one of the most incisive and consequential critical analyzes of traditional vehicles.

His link with journalism would only be broken on November 8, 1926, when the fascist dictatorship arrested him based on exceptional measures enacted by Benito Mussolini, after his immunities as a deputy elected by the PCI on April 6, 1924 were revoked. in the barbaric conditions of prison, without adequate conditions for studying, researching and writing, he found the courage to include, among the 2.500 printed pages, notes on the world of newspapers and journalists, not to mention that he read six newspapers a day, eight books a day weekly and illustrated and humorous magazines (GRAMSCI, 2005a, p. 122).

Gramsci wrote around 1.700 articles. Equivalent to more than double the pages gathered in the prison notebooks, written between 1929 and 1935. “In ten years of journalism, I wrote enough lines to fill fifteen or twenty volumes of four hundred pages”, he emphasized in a letter to his sister-in-law Tatiana Schucht, written in the Special Penitentiary of Turi on September 7, 1931. Thematic variety goes beyond the limits of politics (although this is the predominant axis) and encompasses everyday life, philosophy, economics, religion, pedagogy, arts, literature, linguistics, aesthetics, press, morals, etc.

With the different contexts and styles safeguarded, Gramsci's productive impetus reveals ways of feeling and reacting to the injunctions of reality and a combativeness that recall Marx's journalistic trajectory. Both set out to reveal the influence of the press in the formation of consciences, which inscribes it in the field of disputes of meanings and countermeasures that cross civil society.

Repulsion against the bourgeois press

Gramsci places the press at the nerve center of the production of consensus that underlies the exercise of power in capitalist society. He indicates that, in times of crisis in the traditional representative system, journals sometimes go beyond their usual function of informing and have a disproportionate weight in public life, including interfering in the processes of choosing rulers, putting pressure on politically vulnerable governments and benefiting from their relations with economic and financial power. This is what he points out in L'Ordine Nuovo, of September 4, 1920: “Also in this field, the Marxist idea was confirmed that capitalism creates forces that it later cannot dominate. Democratic parties served to appoint competent politicians and make them triumph in political competitiveness; today, rulers are imposed by banks, by major newspapers, by industrial associations; the parties disaggregated into a multiplicity of personal clientele” (GRAMSCI, 2004a, p. 420).

The Italian philosopher draws attention to the fact that the conservative press is always at odds with the wishes and demands of workers and often publishes news that “deceives the masses”. For this reason, he stresses that “it is necessary to make it understood, it is necessary to insist on making it understood that the proletariat today does not have just a private association against itself, but the entire state apparatus, with its police, its courts, its newspapers that manipulate public opinion. according to the discretion of the government and the capitalists” (GRAMSCI, 2004b, p. 75).

There are many times when he accuses the press of defaming and discrediting socialism and the left. It was like this when he contested the pessimism of the Italian newspaper The world on the post-revolutionary Russian economy. In his view, the columnists strictly fulfilled the mission of defending “your beloved regimes in France and England”, limiting themselves to the surface of the facts and depreciating the ongoing mutations (GRAMSCI, 1976, p. 137).

In the article “The newspapers and the workers”, published in the Piedmontese edition of the Come on!of December 12, 1916, Gramsci exhorts the workers to reject bourgeois newspapers, maintained by private capital, for favoring the points of view of parties, politicians and dominant classes. Workers must always remember that “the bourgeois newspaper (whatever its color) is an instrument of struggle driven by interests that are in contrast to theirs”. And he goes further: “But the worst lies in this: instead of asking the bourgeois class for money to subsidize the work of defense exposed in its favor, the bourgeois newspaper manages to do it for the very working class that it always fights. And the working class pays, punctually, generously. Hundreds of thousands of workers regularly contribute their money every day to the bourgeois newspaper, increasing its power. Why? If you ask the first worker you meet on the tram or in the street, with the bourgeois sheet unfolded in front of you, you will hear this answer: It's because I need to know what's new. And it doesn't even cross his mind that the news and the ingredients with which they are cooked can be displayed with an art that directs his thinking and influences his spirit in a certain way. And yet, he knows that such a newspaper is conservative, that another is self-serving, that the third, fourth and fifth are linked to political groups that have interests diametrically opposed to theirs” (GRAMSCI, 2005c).

Gramsci reproaches the worker who regularly reads and helps maintain bourgeois newspapers with his money, “increasing their power” and forgetting that, every day, such publications “present facts, even the simplest ones, in a way that favoring the bourgeois class and bourgeois politics to the detriment of politics and the working class”. He exemplifies with the biased coverage: “A strike breaks out? For the bourgeois newspaper, the workers are never right. Is there a demonstration? Protesters, just because they are workers, are always tumultuous, factious, malefactors. Does the government pass a law? It is always good, useful and fair, even if it is not true. Is an electoral, political or administrative campaign developed? The best candidates and programs are always those of the bourgeois parties. And let us not speak of those cases in which the bourgeois newspaper is silent, or misrepresents, or falsifies in order to deceive, deceive and keep the working public in ignorance. Despite this, the worker's culpable acquiescence to the bourgeois newspaper is boundless. It is necessary to react against it and awaken the worker to an accurate assessment of reality. It is necessary to say and repeat that the coin thrown absentmindedly into the hand of the ardina is a projectile offered to the bourgeois newspaper that will later launch it, at the opportune moment, against the working mass” (ibid.)

The conviction about the irremediable ideological conflicts between the working class and the bourgeois press justifies the political attitude that Gramsci considers to be the most consequential: to boycott newspapers linked to the elites, “in a block and with the same discipline with which the bourgeoisie boycotts the newspapers of the workers, i.e., the socialist press. His indication in this regard is peremptory: “Do not contribute money to the bourgeois press that is your opponent: that is what our battle cry must be at this moment, characterized by the campaign of subscriptions, made by all the bourgeois newspapers. Boycott, boycott, boycott!” (ibid.).

The partisan press at the service of power

We prison notebooks, Gramsci qualifies the press as “the most dynamic part” of the ideological superstructure, establishing it as “the material organization aimed at maintaining, defending and developing the theoretical or ideological 'front'”, that is, an ideological support of the hegemonic bloc ( GRAMSCI, 2000a, p. 78).

Thus conceived, the media are fundamental agents of hegemony. They own the means of production, technologies and logistical infrastructure, projecting themselves as managers of news elaboration and transmission processes. We are facing “a central, effective, dominant and efficient system”, capable of defining far-reaching strategies and transmitting “meanings and values ​​that are not merely abstract, but that are organized and lived”, and that can serve to consolidate consensus social (WILLIAMS, 2011, p. 53).

As private apparatuses of hegemony (relatively autonomous bodies vis-à-vis the State in the strict sense, such as the press, parties, unions, social movements, schools and the Church), newspapers and magazines try to “organize and disseminate certain types of culture”, organically articulated with more or less homogeneous social groupings (GRAMSCI, 2000, p. 32).

Not only do they try to synthesize what presumably is most important, but they also try to outline the contours of what the “general will” would be, taking into account what they understand to be the demands of the “common good”. It is a mystification, because they assume they have (and absolutely do not have) social delegation to do so. In practice, what we often notice are intentionalities in statements and approach prisms that distort or hinder the expanded understanding of events.

By focusing on the Italian press of the first decades of the XNUMXth century, Gramsci equates newspapers with political parties, insofar as they spread conceptions of life and accredit themselves as organs of cultural, moral and political direction, overcoming, countless times, the other private devices of hegemony, such as parties and civil society entities, In this sense, they interfere, with specific emphases, in the evaluation of the facts and circumstances of public life.

They become supporters of prominent positions in political, business and financial circles, as he points out when assessing the representations of interests: “Is political action (in the strict sense) necessary for one to be able to speak of a 'political party'? It can be observed that in the modern world, in many countries, the fundamental organic parties, due to the necessity of struggle or for some other reason, have been divided into factions, each of which assumes the name of a party, and even an independent party. . Therefore, the intellectual staff of the organic party often does not belong to any of these fractions, but operates as if it were a directing force in its own right, superior to the parties and sometimes recognized as such by the public. This function can be studied more precisely if one starts from the point of view that a newspaper (or a group of newspapers), a magazine (or a group of magazines) are also 'parties', 'party fractions' or 'functions of certain parties'. See the function of Times in England, which had the Corriere della Sera in Italy, and also the role of the so-called 'information press', supposedly apolitical, and even the role of the sports press and the technical press” (GRAMSCI, 2002a, p. 349-359)

It is a press that deploys its heavy artillery against alternatives capable of jeopardizing the foundations established by the hegemonic bloc. Whenever necessary, newspapers and magazines launch, like authentic parties in political duels, forceful attacks, orchestrated campaigns and diversionary maneuvers against the targets of the contestation. For example, in the last 20 years, we have witnessed in Latin America opposition campaigns and systematic destabilization actions against progressive governments (Venezuela with Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro; Argentina with Néstor and Cristina Kirchner; Bolivia with Evo Morales; Ecuador with Rafael Correa; Brazil with Dilma Rousseff; Uruguay with José Mujica and Tabaré Vázquez; Mexico with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, among others) [2].

In comparing the Italian and French presses, Gramsci highlights elements that characterize his country's newspapers as counterparts of parties, filling the void left by associations not sufficiently structured for an extensive and effective political intervention: “Italian newspapers are much better done than the French: they fulfill two functions – that of information and general political direction, and the function of political, literary, artistic, scientific culture, which does not have its own widespread organ (the small magazine for the medium culture). In France, by the way, even the function was distinguished in two series of everyday: those of information and those of opinion, which, in turn, either depend directly on parties, or have an appearance of impartiality (Action Française - Temps - Debate). In Italy, due to the lack of organized and centralized parties, newspapers cannot be dispensed with: it is the newspapers, grouped in series, that constitute the true parties” (GRAMSCI, 2000a, p. 218).

Gramsci also points out that, in Italy at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the opinion of each newspaper was identified with defined intentions and ambitions. Several periodicals represented tendencies of the Liberal Party, to which the politician Giovanni Giolitti, Prime Minister of Italy in five different terms, was affiliated. The Tribune, in Rome, was linked, according to Gramsci, to bureaucracy and protectionist industry. The print, from Turin, bulwark in defense of the “free market”, wanted to influence the workers and assumed more reformist positions in the periods when Giolitti was in power. The print was still part of what Gramsci called the “journalistic trust”, along with the morning, The nation e The Rest of the Pug. The II Corriere della Sera, anti-Giolittian, had links with the textile and automotive industries, behaving as a “guardian of national values ​​above the different currents” and trying to be in Italy what The Times it was in England – the classic conservative opinion-forming daily. The Giornale d'Italia he spoke for the great landowners of Emilia, the Center and the South of the country. Other newspapers followed the trend of political alignment, some more to the right, such as The Rest of the Pug; others from the center, such as The world; others further to the left, like The country (ibid., p. 219).

These newspapers are not neutral, impartial or independent, as they would have you believe; they are partial, they have a side. This is the case of publications that promote the market economy, private initiative and political conservatism. István Mészáros cites as an example the weekly magazine The Economist,, edited in London since 1843 and classified by him as “apologetic-capitalist”. The Hungarian philosopher recalls that, at the height of the global financial crisis in 2009, the magazine launched a cover demanding from the leaders of world capitalism: “Save the system” (MÉSZÁROS, 2015, p. 27).

Imbued with purposes similar to those of parties, the broadcasting bodies become pressure elements at the service of classes, groups and institutions, to which they are linked by mutual convenience and convictions. This type of selectivity translates to the way in which certain meanings are emphasized, while others are neglected. In response to the criticisms they take sides, journalistic companies claim that they only manifest themselves in editorials – most of the time, summaries of guiding principles. But scores of an ideological nature can be located in the hierarchization of themes, in the approaches of the articles, in the titles, in the editing of images and even in the composition of their teams (editing directors, editors, editorialists, columnists, special reporters, etc.).

Gramsci demonstrates an exact notion of the bourgeois press as the ideological headquarters of the hegemonic bloc, launching its tentacles into the political, business, financial and cultural circles: “Everything published is constantly influenced by an idea: to serve the ruling class, what is undoubtedly translates into a fact: fighting the working class. And, in fact, from the first to the last line, the bourgeois newspaper feels and reveals this concern” (GRAMSCI, 2005c).

He repudiates the way in which the newspapers with the greatest circulation disqualify popular demonstrations, stating that “they hate any struggle as a possible start of vast social events, they seek to preventively devalue the effectiveness of the new organization that is being constituted, drowning the news and discussions in a swamp intrigues and charlatanistic verbiage” (GRAMSCI, 1976, p. 291-292).

It also cast suspicion on journalists who, in their eagerness to defend Turin's industrial patronage, ignored data on the increase in production at the Fiat factories during the period when they were under workers' management, at the threshold of the 1920s. The same journalists, in their understand, acted in bad faith by blaming the workers and factory councils for obstacles that affected the pace of production, referring, in particular, to strikes or stoppages in defense of rights and better working conditions.

In retrospect, we can conclude that, from the Gramscian perspective, the press and journalism, each in its particular dimension and in movements of mutual fertilization and complementarity, plays a key role in the arduous and fierce battle of ideas for cultural and political hegemony. At the L'Ordine Nuovo of April 26, 1922, Gramsci stresses that cultural and symbolic production at the service of big capital is intensified through information manipulation. And he makes a withering shot: “Capitalism's newspapers make all the strings of petty-bourgeois feelings vibrate; and it is these newspapers that ensure the existence of capitalism the consensus and physical strength of the petty bourgeois and imbeciles” (GRAMSCI, 2004b, p. 116-117). As we have seen, such newspapers express, along with public opinion, positions similar to the dominant gears, which presupposes neutralizing as much as possible the contradictory and dissonances, through the control of information and opinion.

Journals appear, as a rule, as poles of production, framing and distribution of content, guided by ideological compasses that define what will be propagated, diluted or concealed. They carry out mediations between effective experiences of reality and their interpretations, which, at their discretion, should prevail. It is therefore a question of highlighting the dimension of the business press as a sounding board for values ​​and propositions whose ultimate purpose, in most cases, is to obtain social consent to the assumptions of power and capitalist exploitation to which they are associated.

* Denis de Moraes, journalist and writer, he is the author, among other books, of Media, power and counterpower (with Ignacio Ramonet and Pascual Serrano, Boitempo).

This text is based on questions developed in the books Media criticism and cultural hegemony (Mauad) and Media power and ideological disputes (Consequence).

References


BUEY, Francisco Fernandez. Reading Gramsci. Barcelona: El Viejo Topo, 2013.

COUTINHO, Carlos Nelson. Gramsci: a study of his political thought. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1999.

GRAMSCI, Antonio. prison notebooks. Org. by Carlos Nelson Coutinho, Marco Aurélio Nogueira and Luiz Sérgio Henriques. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1999 (vol. 1), 2000a (vol. 2), 2002a (vol. 3), 2001 (vol. 4), 2002b (vol. 5) and 2002c (vol. 6).

______. prison letters. Org. by Luiz Sergio Henriques. Rio de Janeiro:

Civilização Brasileira, 2005a (vol. 1: 1926-1930) and 2005b (vol. 2: 1931-1937).

______. Political writings. 3 vols. Org. by Robert Paris. Paris: Gallimard, 1975, 1977, 1980.

______. Political writings (1917-1933). Introduction by Leonardo Paggi. Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno, 2007.

______. political writings. Org. by Carlos Nelson Coutinho. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2004a (vol. 1: 1910-1920) and 2004b (vol. 2: 1921-1926).

______. Political writings. Org. by Paolo Spriano. Lisbon: Seara Nova, 1976.

______. “Newspapers and Workers”.Marxists Internet Archive, 2005c, available at:

https://www.marxists.org/portugues/gramsci/1916/mes/jornais.htm

LAPONE, Leonardo.Young Gramsci: five years that seem like centuries (1914-1919).Rio de Janeiro/Brasília: Counterpoint/Astrojildo Pereira Foundation, 2014.

MESZÁROS, István. The mountain we must conquer. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2015.


MORAES, Denis de. Media criticism and cultural hegemony. Rio de Janeiro: Mauad, 2016.
______(org.). Media power and ideological disputes. Rio de Janeiro: Consequence, 2019.

WILLIAMS, Raymond. Culture and materialism. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2011.

Notes


[1] I refer to two related texts of mine: “Karl Marx, journalist”, available at:

https://aterraeredonda.com.br/karl-marx-jornalista/; 'Lenin and the Revolutionary Press', available at: https://blogdaboitempo.com.br/2018/11/29/lenin-e-a-imprensa-revolucionaria/

[2] Although there is no purpose here to deal with the desolate media scenario in Brazil, it could be illustrated by mentioning the “partisan” performance of the main communication vehicles in favor of privatizations, privatizations and neoliberal deregulations (in the two terms of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 1995 -2002), the overthrow of former President Dilma Rousseff (2016) and the aberrant labor (2016) and social security (2019) “reforms” or counter-reforms, not to mention the support, disguised or explicit, of a majority of them for the presidential candidacy of Jair Bolsonaro (2018), among many examples of synchrony with the hegemonic class bloc.

 

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