Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Putting Radiotheorie into Practice

Nowadays, most socialist organizations profess to be democratic. Judged by the websites of socialist organizations (including the one of which I am a member), however, our practice of democracy leaves much to be desired, in comparison to the best practice of our anarchist brethren and sistren, for example, Indymedia and Infoshop.org. The main difference between anarchists' and socialists' approaches to the Net, in my opinion, is that the former have developed ways of making use of the potential inherent in the medium -- the possibility of enabling decentralized and interactive communication, for which each activist becomes a direct producer of content and through which activists network with one another -- whereas the latter have continued to use their websites as if they were merely digital versions of print publications. That's a shame.

Socialist modernists in the past, unlike today's socialists, understood that each new medium of communication creates -- and even demands -- unprecedented ways of seeing and behaving unavailable through old media, in which they saw revolutionary potentials and which they therefore sought to exploit to their best advantage. Just as they thought that capitalism not only socializes production but also revolutionizes the means of production, which cannot be made use of to their fullest potential under bourgeois relations of production, they thought that capitalism brings forth new technologies whose liberating promises socialists could realize incomparably better than capitalists. For example, observe Bertolt Brecht's enthusiastic embrace of the then new medium -- radio:
As for the radio's object, I don't think it can consist simply in prettifying public life. Nor is radio in my view an adequate means of bringing back cosiness to the home and making family life bearable again. But quite apart from the dubiousness of its functions, radio is one-sided when it should be two-. It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. So here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him. On this principle the radio should step out of the supply business and organize its listeners as suppliers. Any attempt by the radio to give a truly public character to public occasions is a step in the right direction. ("The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication," July 1932)
I have no idea if any of the Bolivarian community radio producers has ever read Brecht's essay on the radio, but it is in Venezuela the spirit of Brecht lives most freely, as documented by Gregory Wilpert, "Community Media in Venezuela" (November 14, 2003) and J.P. Leary, "Caracas’s Barrio Newswire" (March 2004). Perhaps we can learn from Venezuelans, as well as anarchists, to regain lost socialist-modernist insights into the media and put Brecht's radiotheorie in practice on the Net.

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