Originally printed in the New Left Review, no. 64, , pp. Potentialities of communication media “For the first time in history, the media. Media do not produce objects which can be hoarded. Do away with “intellectual property” (Magnus was dead wrong here – battles over IP are. A Theory of the Media. [ Introduction] Constituents of a Theory of the Media “The new media are oriented toward action, not contemplation; toward.

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Enzensberger was a German theologian and analyst of mass media who worked primarily immediately after the Second World War. This article appeared in Modern Occasions Anthology inpp. The electronic media industry that shapes consciousness has become the pacemaker for the social and economic development of societies in the late industrial age. The author discusses this modern media development with the classical dissemination of information before the modern technologies.

With the development of the electronic media, the industry that shapes consciousness has become the pacemaker for the social and economic development of societies in the late industrial age. It infiltrates into all other sectors of production, takes over more and more directional and control functions, and determines the standard of the prevailing technology.

In lieu of normative definitions here is constittuents incomplete list of thd developments which have emerged in the last 20 years: All these new forms of media are constantly forming new connections both with each other and with older media like printing, radio, film, television, telephone, teletype, radar and so on.

They are clearly coming together to form a universal system. Illustrative material and asides, originally printed in a smaller type, are here enclosed in brackets.

The general contradiction between productive forces and productive relationships emerges most sharply, however, when they are most advanced.

By contrast, protracted structural crises as in coal-mining can be solved merely by getting rid cconstituents a backlog, that is to say, essentially they can be solved within the terms of their own system and a revolutionary strategy that relied on them would be short-sighted. Monopoly capitalism develops the consciousness-shaping industry more quickly and more extensively than other sectors of production; it must at the same time fetter it.

A socialist media theory has to work at this enzensherger. Demonstrate that it cannot be constituentx within the given productive relationships — rapidly increasing discrepancies — potential destructive forces. It is consciously prevented for understandable political reasons. The technical distinction between receivers and transmitters reflects the social division of labor into producers and consumers, which in enzensbegger consciousness industry becomes of particular political importance.

It is based, in the last analysis, on the basic contradiction between the ruling class and the ruled class — that is to say between monopoly capital or monopolistic bureaucracy on the one hand and the dependent masses on the other. This structural analogy can be worked out in detail.

To the programs offered by the broadcasting cartels there correspond the politics offered enzensberged a power cartel consisting of parties constituted along authoritarian lines. In both cases marginal differences in their platforms reflect a competitive relationship which on essential questions is nonexistent. As is the case with parliamentary elections under the two-party system the feedback is reduced to indices. Program 1; Program 2; Switch off abstention.

Radio would be the most wonderful means of communication imaginable in public life, a huge linked constitjents — that is to say, it would be such if it were capable not only of transmitting but of receiving, of allowing the listener not only to hear but to speak, and did not isolate him but brought him into contact.

Unrealizable in this social system, realizable in another, these proposals, which are, after all, only the natural consequences of technical development, help towards the propagation and shaping of the other system. The possibility of total control of such a system at a central point belongs not to the future but to the past.

With the aid of systems theory, a discipline which is part of bourgeois science — using, that is to say, categories which are immanent in the system — it can be demonstrated that a linked series of communications or, to use the technical term, switchable network, to the degree enzejsberger it exceeds a certain critical size, can no longer be enzensbegrer controlled but only dealt with statistically.

Thw monitoring of all telephone conversations, for instance, postulates an apparatus which would need to be n times more extensive and more complicated than that of the present telephone system. But supervision on the basis of approximation can only offer inadequate instruments for the self-regulation of the whole system in accordance with the concepts of those who govern it.

It postulates a high degree of internal stability. If this precarious balance is upset, thelry crisis measures based on statistical methods of control are useless.


Interference can penetrate the leaky nexus of the media, spreading and multiplying there with the utmost speed by resonance.

A state of emergency is therefore the only alternative to leakage in the consciousness industry; but it cannot be maintained in the long run. Every attempt to suppress the random factors, each diminution of the average flow and each distortion of the information structure must, in the long run, lead to an embolism. The electronic media have not only built up the information network intensively, they have also spread it extensively.

The radio wars of the fifties demonstrated that in the realm of communications, national sovereignty is condemned to wither away.

Enzensberger by R.G. Davis

Quarantine regulations for information, such as were promulgated by Fascism and Stalinism, are only possible today at the cost of deliberate industrial regression. The Soviet bureaucracy, that is to say the most widespread and complicated bureaucracy in the world, has to deny itself almost entirely an elementary piece of organizational equipment, the duplicating machine, because this instrument potentially makes everyone a printer.

The political risk involved, the possibility of a leakage in the information network, is accepted only at the highest levels, at exposed switchpoints in political, military and scientific areas. It is clear that Soviet society has to pay an immense price for the suppression of its own productive resources — clumsy procedures, misinformation, faux frais. The phenomenon incidentally has its analogue in the capitalist West, if in a diluted form.

The technically most advanced electrostatic copying machine, which operates with ordinary paper — which cannot that is to say, be supervised and is independent of suppliers — is the product of a monopoly Xerox ; on principle it is not sold but rented. The equipment crops up as if by magic where economic and political power are concentrated. Political control of the equipment goes hand in hand with maximization of profits for the manufacturer.

The problem of censorship thus enters a new historical stage. The struggle for the freedom of the press and freedom of ideas has, up till now, been mainly an argument within the bourgeoisie itself; for the masses, freedom to express opinions was a fiction since they were, from the beginning, barred from the means of production — above all from the press — and thus were unable to join in freedom of expression from the start.

Today censorship is threatened by the productive forces of the consciousness industry which is already, to some extent, gaining the upper hand over the prevailing relations of production. Long before the latter are overthrown, the contradiction between what is possible and what actually exists will become acute. The New Left of the sixties has reduced the development of the media to a single concept — that of manipulation.

This concept was originally extremely useful for heuristic purposes and has made possible a great many individual analytical investigations, but it now threatens to degenerate into a mere slogan which conceals more than it is able to illuminate, and therefore itself requires analysis. The current theory of manipulation on the Left is essentially defensive; its effects can lead the movement into defeatism. Subjectively speaking, behind the tendency to go on the defensive lies a sense of impotence.

Constituents of a Theory of the Media

Objectively, it corresponds to the absolutely correct view that the decisive means of production are in enemy hands. There is in general an undertone of lamentation when people speak of manipulation which points to idealistic enzensberrger — as if the class enemy had ever stuck to the promises of fair play it occasionally utters. The liberal superstition that in political and social questions there is such a thing as pure, unmanipulated truth, seems to enjoy remarkable currency among the socialist Left.

It is the unspoken basic premise of the manipulation thesis. This thesis provides no incentive to push ahead. A socialist perspective which does not go beyond attacking existing property relationships is limited. The expropriation of Springer is a desirable goal but it would be good to know to whom the media should be handed over.

To judge by all experience of that solution, it is not a possible alternative. The manipulation thesis also serves to exculpate oneself. If the latter leads to theoru instead of mobilizing the masses, then its failure is attributed holus-bolus to the overwhelming power of the media. The theory of repressive tolerance has also permeated discussion of the media by the Left.

This concept, which was formulated by its author with the utmost care, has also, when whittled away in an undialectical manner, become a vehicle for resignation. Admittedly, when an office-equipment firm can attempt to recruit sales staff with the picture of Che Guevara and the text We would have hired him, the temptation to withdraw is great. But fear of handling shit is a luxury a sewer-man cannot necessarily afford. That is part of their productive power.


In terms of structure, they are anti-sectarian — a further reason why the Left, insofar as hhe is not prepared to re-examine its traditions, has little idea what to do with them. It often seems as if it were precisely because of their progressive potential that the media are felt to be an immense threatening power; because for the first time they present a basic challenge to bourgeois culture and thereby to the privileges of the bourgeois intelligentsia.

At the very beginning of the student revolt, during the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, the computer was a favorite lf for aggression.

Interest in the Third World is not always free from motives based on antagonism towards civilization which has its source in conservative culture critique. During the May events in Paris the reversion to archaic forms of production was particularly characteristic.

Instead of carrying out agitation among the workers in a modern offset press, the students printed their posters on the hand presses of the Ecole des Beaux Arts.

The political slogans were hand-painted; stencils would certainly have made it possible to produce them en masse, but it would have offended the creative imagination of the authors. The ability to make proper strategic use of the most advanced media was lacking.

The obverse of this fear of contact with the media is the fascination they exert on left-wing movements in the great cities. In Western Europe the socialist movement mainly addresses itself to a public of converts through newspapers and journals which are exclusive in terms of language, content, and form.

These news-sheets presuppose a structure of party members and sympathizers and a situation, where the media are concerned, that roughly corresponds to the historical situation in ; they are obviously fixated on the Iskra model. Every foray into this territory is regarded from the start with suspicion as a step towards integration.

Fear of being swallowed up by the system is a sign of weakness; it presupposes that capitalism could overcome any contradiction — a conviction which can easily be refuted historically and is theoretically untenable. If the socialist movement writes off the new productive forces of the consciousness industry and relegates work on the media to a subculture, then we have a vicious circle.

For the Underground may be increasingly aware of the technical and aesthetic possibilities of the disc, of videotape, of the electronic camera, and so on, and is systematically exploring the terrain, but it has no political viewpoint of its own and therefore mostly falls a helpless victim to commercialism.

The politically active groups then point to such cases with smug Schadenfreude. A process of un-learning is the result and both sides are the losers. When the technical intervention is of immediate social relevance, then manipulation is a political act. In the case of the media industry that is by definition the case.

Thus every use of the media presupposes manipulation. The most elementary processes in media production, from the choice of the medium itself to shooting, cutting, synchronization, dubbing, right up to distribution, are all operations carried out on the raw material. There is no such thing as unmanipulated writing, filming, or broadcasting.

The question is therefore not whether the media are manipulated, but who manipulates them. A revolutionary plan should not require the manipulators to disappear; on the contrary, it must make everyone a manipulator. All technical manipulations are potentially dangerous; the manipulation of the media cannot be countered, however, by old or new forms of censorship, but only by direct social control, that is to say, by the mass of the people, who will have become productive.

To this end, the elimination of capitalistic property relationships is a necessary, but by no means sufficient condition. There have been no historical examples up until now of the mass self-regulating learning process which is made possible by the electronic media.

As a historical explanation it may be pointed out that the consciousness industry in Russia at the time of the October Revolution was extraordinarily backward; their productive capacity has grown enormously since then, but the productive relationships have been artificially preserved, often by force.

Then, as constittuents, a primitively edited press, books and theatre, were the key media in the Soviet Union. The development of radio, film enzensberrger television, is politically arrested. Foreign stations like the BBC, the Voice of America, and the Deutschland Welle, therefore, not only find listeners, but are received with almost boundless faith.

Archaic media like the handwritten pamphlet and poems orally transmitted play an important role.

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