SAMIZDAT: what it is and why we need it
“Samizdat” is a Russian word for “self-publishing.” It refers to illegal hand-typed dissident literature that was passed around in the Soviet Bloc for several decades. But I will use the term in a slightly broader sense.
This essay should not be taken as praise or criticism of the USSR. In any society, in any culture, capitalist or nominally socialist, dictatorship or nominally democratic, some ideas can be openly discussed and some cannot. The unutterable ideas may be labeled as blasphemy, unpatriotic, treason, disinformation, unverified, nonsense, or the ravings of a crackpot, not worthy of consideration.
Marx said “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” Indeed, the ruling class has control over the production of books, newspapers, movies, television programs, etc. This is part of what Gramsci called “cultural hegemony,” though that phenomenon also includes things like flag-saluting and the prosperity gospel.
Suppression of dissent may be obvious in a dictatorship. It is more subtle in a seeming democracy such as the USA. Chomsky said “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” An example is the contrast between the television news channels MSNBC and FOX, which support Democrats and Republicans respectively. The differences between these channels give some viewers the impression that the USA has complete freedom of speech. But the viewer rarely thinks about issues that the two channels and the two parties rarely discuss: capitalism, war, unnecessary poverty, externalized costs of business. You’re not prohibited from talking about these things, but national television won’t invite for an interview. The First Amendment says we’re free to speak, but it doesn’t say where. “Not in ‘public spaces’!” said our rulers when they evicted Occupy in 2012.
Even the fictions we watch for entertainment are subtly biased. The FBI, the police, the military are depicted as good guys; Russians and Chinese are bad guys. And the future may have more gadgets, but still the same socioeconomic system. Really?
Appendix 1. Some unmentionable ideas. The so-called “Defense” Department is no such thing. All the wars are mass murders based on lies to make a few rich men richer. “Sanction” is actually siege. Capitalism makes the rich richer but makes life harder for everyone else. Poverty is unnecessary. Capitalism cannot be reformed, because it is wrong in its fundamental principles, i.e., putting private short-term profit ahead of all else. Corporate news media cannot be trusted, and recently the corporate social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) have begun increasing their censorship. Regardless of elections, the rich get the public policies they want and the rest of us don’t; that was demonstrated statistically by Gilens and Page. Members of congress support corporations, and get kickbacks in donations and investments. The climate problem is worsening faster than the corporate news tells us; it’s about to explode. Capitalism cannot address climate change, so if we don’t end capitalism soon we’re all going to die. If you like this leaflet, pass it on to others; that’s the idea of samizdat.
Appendix 2. My favorite non-corporate news sources. RT, Counterpunch, Greanville Post, Popular Resistance, Black Agenda Report, Common Dreams, Truthout, Rad Indie Media, Ted Rall, Lee Camp, Caitlin Johnstone, Richard Wolff, Jimmy Dore, Howard Zinn. Links for these sources can be found in the online copy of this leaflet, which is at https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/samizdat.
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2021 Oct 30, version 1.04. The leaflet fits on two sides of 1/2 page.