The 20th Century has been the century of the Revolution of Information and of Information Technologies. The technological capacities of Humans, our capacity to interact with Nature (and with other humans) has reached a new, qualitatively superior level, as a result of application of abstract Science.
As this happened, and in order for this to happen, the notion of Information penetrated, one way or another, even “hard” Science (Einstein’s “observer”, Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty, the probabilistic description of matter by Quantum mechanics, Statistical Physics etc.).
This process was never about a denial of the existence of objective reality, as some people claim: it rather permitted the description and prediction of reality as a range of probabilities (and possibilities). It sealed the transition from the still rigid, strictly deterministic understanding of the world by people like Newton and Laplace to a more sophisticated, qualitatively different understanding of it, which, in its turn, made possible all the great scientific, technological and even social revolutions of the 20th Century, unparalleled in human history.
In the context of the development of this new understanding of the world (and also of society), the interaction of the “object” and the “subject” (via the information) is taken into account. In this new understanding of the world (and of society) the concept of information and the related concepts of probability, random processes and entropy came to hold a central place. Entropy is the measure of disorder and by using it we can differentiate between past and future, between life and dead matter.
Ralph Hartley’s 1928 paper, Transmission of Information, already uses the word information as a measurable quantity. The notion of information and its related concepts found its great theoreticians in Andrey Kolmogorov, founder of Probability Theory, Norbert Wiener, the founder of Cybernetics, and Claude Shannon, founder of Information Theory.
There is no scientific, productive or even political field which was not “revolutionized” by the direct or indirect introduction of the concept of information and other closely related concepts and related technologies during the 20th Century. Even Lenin (1) used an interactive model of political action far from the strict determinism of Marx’ s Kapital (2). On the other side of the equation, George Soros has been able, by using the same interactive, “learning in action” methods to make possible his enormous financial speculation successes, for which he became famous.
This multifaceted information Revolution made possible the enormous advances of Science and Technology which revolutionized our world during the 20th Century and the latter fed back and accelerated the revolutions in Information Technologies, Communication and Artificial Intelligence. It permitted, during the 20th century, the appearance of a whole range of hitherto unthinkable technologies, productive forces, communication and control possibilities.
This revolution has also produced radio, radars, computers, television, satellite communications, Internet, mobile and smartphones. It is already producing 5G and Artificial Intelligence (like drones). It is finally producing Snowden’s world.
Paradise on Earth?
Humanity acquired, for the first time in its History, the means, in theory, to satisfy all of its reasonable needs. It does not need much more, although maybe it needs something different. The main obstacle to satisfy those needs remains one and only one: the social and international organization of the world and the corresponding dominant civilization “paradigm”. In this context, the results of the manual and intellectual work of humans and of all previous generations are used mainly to enrich and provide enormous power to a very tiny social strata of human beings, even if it costs the future of humanity.
Elon Musk has posed some important questions on Artificial Intelligence. In that regard, he perhaps even proves himself to be a socially sensitive person. But, at the same time, he is using the value and capital provided by the work of millions of people to create his own personal NASA, not to help fight poverty, hunger or the pandemic. He is deciding himself how to use the enormous means he was able to take from the collective effort of society, because of the way society is organized.
And this is the most anodyne example. Another billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, has spent a great deal of his money to insight a war with Iran, even suggesting bombing the country with nuclear weapons! (By the way, Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, a “philanthropist”, according to his biography in Wikipedia, did not feel compelled to censor Adelman’s proposal to nuke Iran).
In theory this “new brave world”, constantly emerging, is producing the means necessary to humanity in order to found a new civilization and realize a fundamental dream of all generations of human beings since the dawn of History, a dream expressed in our religions, ideologies and struggles for freedom: to found a new Civilization of Freedom, Justice and Equality, based on love, knowledge and creativity, the only means Humans know to attain a degree of authentic freedom, meaning and happiness in their short lives. Those new technical means provide Humanity with the possibility to imagine a system of self-governance at all levels and, also, an equilibrated symbiosis with Nature.
At the beginning of the 20th century many Socialists looked with unrestricted optimism to the possibilities science and technology are opening to mankind. Marconi believed his discoveries would make wars impossible. Jack London praised radio, film and cinema, because he believed that when ordinary people would see the horrors of war on film, they would rise against any war in protest. Soviet cybernetician Nikolai Veduta struggled to include cybernetics in soviet economic planning, believing it could help both its efficiency and democratic character. The great Marxist economist Ernest Mandel underlined the capacity of long term communication and television to organize quick referenda for various issues, thus making possible direct democracy.
When the Internet appeared, many leftists and anarchists believed it would open the way for full freedom from the control of the State. They did not understand that a new kind of State (of Power) was emerging, much more powerful than traditional states, the world Empire of the Financial Capital and its growing power to shape, control and use for its own ends the simultaneously emerging information and communication power.
There can be no doubt this information revolution is providing us with new formidable and positive possibilities. But, to the extent those technologies are controlled by the world financial capital, their negative potential remains the main and most important factor.
Hell and Paradise are next door!
History and experience has proven many times over that science, technology and new means of communication and of interaction between Humans and Nature and Humans themselves can be used in very different ways, dependent on which social force is controlling and using them and for what purpose. The new productive forces and technologies do not provide only the means to attain freedom and augment dramatically the intellectual level and maturity of humanity, which they do, but they provide also the material, technical possibility of a new totalitarian order, which could make Hitler’s Nazism and Mussolini’s Fascism look like a childrens’ games. They also create the practical possibility of terminating Life on Earth.
The next years and decades will be, to a large degree, a struggle between Utopias and Dystopias, which will decide the fate of Humans. The Old World is rapidly disappearing, but we cannot have any certainty about the New World coming.
Controlling Information and its Impact
It was the control of the flows of information that enabled the totalitarianisms of the interwar period. But these versions of totalitarianism, although sufficiently terrible by themselves, seem quite inferior compared to the possibilities to control people, societies and whole countries provided by modern electronics and, in particular, Internet and artificial Intelligence.
Gutenberg’s revolution enabled the dissemination of ideas and knowledge and made possible the great struggles for freedom (Renaissance, Lumières, French Revolution, Socialism) and deeper knowledge in general. The Internet revolution risks hiding real knowledge and information under an ocean of unimportant noise, disguised in information and even outright misinformation.
This is the result of at least two factors. One of them is the rise of the global power of Finance in the world during the last five centuries. This rise was interrupted and to some degree reversed by the rise of the socialist movement, by the Russian, the Chinese and the national liberation movements which followed, by the imposition of controls on financial activities after the 1929 crisis, by the rise of a massive Leftist movement, the emergence of Gaullism in France and the prevailing of a democratic atmosphere in Western Europe, after the victory over Nazism and Fascism in 1945. But the power of Finance began to grow again with the successive deregulations, beginning with the destruction of the Bretton Woods agreements, continued with the rise of neoliberalism and culminated to the destruction of the Soviet Union and the emergence of “globalization”.
The situation in the communication sphere cannot but reflect the correlation of forces between Finance and Societies. The second factor has to do with the changing technical nature of the communication means.
You need much more money to create a television than to produce a newspaper. Television is able to penetrate much deeper into human consciousness and subconscious and to mobilize the inferior functions of the brain. Of course it is formidable to be able to travel to Chile, New Zealand, Mali or California, while staying home. But your mind has less of a chance to critically treat a strong image projected to you for just three minutes. Those who control the flow of images acquire much more power to bypass any critical function in your mind, than by conveying their ideas by printed matter.
The most impressive (although practically unknown) example is the collapse of the USSR, largely provoked by TV. In 1987, the viewers of the Soviet TV, that is, the whole of the Soviet population, began to receive, practically every day, extremely powerful signals, to which they were completely unaccustomed and unprepared. The majority (although not all) of this was based on facts, but this was of secondary importance, as the problem with every bit of information is, after all, what it means and how to use it.
Those messages have transmitted more or less the following message, something even more powerful as it was conveyed by state mass media, controlled by the Ideological Department of the CPSU: “The Soviet Union is a failed state, sometimes even a criminal one and the West is far better”. The immediate result of this campaign was the cancelling of all history exams in Soviet schools, as nobody could be sure what the real History of the country was, if it was good or bad and what was its meaning.
By the way, very few real revelations were actually included in that campaign. Most of the information on Stalinism, for example, was already published at least in Soviet periodicals during the destalinization period. What made the difference were the use of television, of sensational press and the framing of all this information in order to make impossible any other conclusion that the USSR was a failure and the West the solution. The result of this information storm was the same you have if you light a projector inside a dark room. People there do not see better, they are blinded. This campaign did not help Soviet society to search for ways to overcome its crisis, it made it incapable of doing it.
Four years later the USSR collapsed. One reason the Chinese regime did not collapse was that the Chinese CP kept, at the center of its communication strategy, the image of the West as an enemy of China. A new much deeper dimension appeared with Internet where you have a multiplication of incoming messages per time unit which is superior to the capacity of human mind to absorb them and treat them critically and it is also a formidable object to new generations to construct a worldview in their minds, that is the minimum of logical order and vital information necessary to be able to think and resist manipulation. The Internet has already proven a far more powerful way to impose on people views which they consider as theirs and also to spy on them in a way no secret service could even imagine in the past.
This evolution highlights the urgent and crucial necessity of putting the use and further development of information technologies (and also all other new technologies) under social, national and international control. It is also indirectly still clearly putting another question. Do we really need 5G or the Internet of Things, and what for? Do we need to develop all the time new technologies (and productive forces), even if their negative potential for civilization (and even life on earth) begins to supersede possible benefits for humans?
We are clearly at a turning point, in danger of inversing completely our relationship to and become mere objects of the means we developed in order to dominate on Nature, that is of the productive forces, of the Finance, of our Weapons and finally, of an AI system able to impose its supreme will to Humans.
Entering a new era in Human History
The first weapon of Humans to dominate over other humans were brute force. This weapon has never been abandoned in human, social and international relations. As we left the primitive societies of the past, a new weapon of domination appeared: the violence of the accumulated Capital, which acquired an equal and sometimes greater importance than military power. Now, we are entering a third phase of human history where Information control acquires a new dimension, equally or more important than military or economic power (and it commands often the use of economic or military power, like when Soros and the likes are able to direct the “automatic”, “instantaneous” capital flows, or automated drones are winning wars).
This weapon is used, not only to enable domination inside societies, but also to enable domination of certain countries and states by other countries and states. The North tries to dominate the South, but also some Northern countries are dominating other Northern countries and all Northern countries are dominated by Finance.
At the same time, the prospect of a technological penetration of the mind and soul of Man (which tomorrow can be combined with interventions in his own DNA) and the complete control of all the details of personal and social life, of the beliefs and emotions of every human being, does constitute one of the greatest ever threats to civilization, if not, indirectly, even to the survival of the human kind.
The example of the US
For example, recently we saw the owners of US television companies deciding to censor the President of the United States, who is, in theory at least, the most powerful man on the planet. Then we saw two billionaires from California, the owners of Facebook and Twitter, exercise censorship of the President’s accounts. Some days ago Facebook announced that it had decided to censor what it considers as anti-scientific views about coronavirus. In acting the way they acted, Facebook and Twitter did not apply of course only the personal decisions of their owners and managers, but the collective decision and will of the majority of international financial capital.
We have no sympathy whatsoever for Mr. Trump. We believe he is representing an extremist, but more primitive and traditional version of totalitarianism. We find also very worrisome the diffusion of all sorts of irrational absurdities in the Internet, related to COVID and many other questions. Still nobody has commissioned Facebook and Twitter to protect our societies from either Trump or the absurdities in the internet.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and other similar companies claim to be private companies which provide merely technical services to citizens in order to communicate or research for information. This has proven to be a blatant lie. These are private companies, controlled by international financial capital, that is, by the center of world power today, companies which acquired an enormous power to manipulate the views of the population and the information it receives and also to control and collect all sorts of information. No individual or capital holder should be allowed to have such power over society.
The ability of the Internet platforms to censor the President of the United States demonstrates not only that they already hold an unacceptable, essentially monopolistic position in the “market” of ideas and information, it also proves that they have acquired, already, a significant part of the political power in the United States and in the whole world.
These companies also exercise another function. They collect billions of information bits concerning the personal lives, the ideological tendencies, the sexual preferences, the health problems and the financial dealings of the citizens. They use this information, acquired because of their monopolistic position, without compensating those from whom they take them and essentially avoiding paying taxes or copyright royalties for commercializing and using people’s emotions and ideas. But they are not only exploiting economically citizens, they also acquire and exert the capacity to exploit the information they are able to retrieve in order to modify the behavior of citizens against their free will.
They can target the citizens with millions of powerful, even personified messages, using all the power their overwhelming technological superiority and the absence of any competition provides them with. Internet platforms do not just exploit people, they are more and more able to shape whole societies and the behavior of people. Their influence is not exhausted in the economic life and behavior of society, it is extended to the political sphere as the Trump incident has amply revealed.
In other cases it has been proven that Google intervenes by strengthening or silencing and depreciating whoever it wants, through the algorithms of its search engine. The platforms exercise this unchecked, unregulated power, not only to stop crazy theories and clearly fake news (which began only recently by the way). They do it against anybody they dislike, as it was revealed in the case of the US leftist site WSWS.
Although we are not in position to systematically study and prove it statistically, we noticed that last summer, during the crisis between Greece and Turkey, we were receiving in our smart phone, and without even asking for them, a lot of messages from Google Hellas. There were a highly abnormal number of rather belligerent articles among them, many of them portraying war between Greece and Turkey as both unavoidable and easy to win. The political implications were clear. This is a way a multinational can try to accelerate a crisis between two nations.
By the way, using Windows to write in Greek, we noticed that a lot of Greek words are not recognized by the program. The program itself produces a red indication signifying the word is wrong, although it isn’t. This (intentionally or not) has the effect of imposing on the younger generations a much poorer command of their native language, thus diminishing their intellectual capacities, thus diminishing their possibility to resist the new financial, disguised as liberal, totalitarianism.
By collecting personal data, they were able to send millions of personalized messages to voters in the Dominican Republic. Voters who were conservative received messages asking them to go and vote in order not to permit radicals to take power. Voters with radical views received messages urging them not to vote, because all politicians are, after all, the same. Manipulation through Social Media was a crucial factor having contributed to Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil.
Even much more powerful countries like the United States did not escape such methods of manipulation.
Fragmenting the Agora
The gradual, increasing prevalence of Facebook and Twitter in the communication market has not led to the expansion of a collective, national space of ideas, a kind of electronic “Agora”. It led, on the contrary, to its fragmentation, into smaller and smaller “tribes” that are closed in their own worlds and respective “truths” and do not converse with each other.
Today, US public opinion seems deeply divided into many such tribes that can be grouped in two major camps. The one is still relying on getting information from the established media and the world of “political correctness “, the other is retrieving information from sites pretending to challenge the status quo but, in most cases, supporting purely irrational theories and ideologies, in some cases even developing into ideological sects which increasingly acquire religious characteristics.
As a result of this situation, the capacity of US society to understand the meaning of what is happening and, also, to provide real alternatives to the existing system of “governance”, seems to have rather diminished than increased. Of course, the capacity to use the Internet to manipulate societies is dependent also on the maturity, the culture and the intellectual level and tradition of a given society.
For example the French people have been able to use the Internet to express authentic social will instead of being used through it. A group of a few radical intellectuals decided in January 2005 to launch a campaign to vote No in the May 2005 referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty. By using the Internet to send their “Cartesian” arguments to the French people, they were able to win the referendum against nearly all political parties and mass media.
French society was also able to use social media in order to express its will during the Yellow Vests movement, and did not permit efforts of manipulation. Voters in Spain, Britain and France were able to defend themselves against the effort to use suspicious terrorist attacks in order to determine the outcome of elections. However, there are many more examples of deception and manipulation than of positive use of the Internet.
Data dictatorships and data colonies
As we have already said, the most penetrating and dangerous activity of Internet giants, in close cooperation with various secret services, has to do with their capacity to collect and process data about the general population, but also about the elite of a given country, a system already described as surveillance capitalism.
Data collection has already been used to influence, if not decide, the outcome of elections in tens of countries of the world through the cooperation of Google with Cambridge Analytica. It allows these companies to gradually collect all the information about all people. This means that they acquire the material basis of a totalitarianism which makes Gestapo, the Stasi or Stalin’s secret services look like alchemists compared to modern chemists.
They are not able to manipulate only the electoral behavior of voters but also the behavior of politicians, intellectuals, journalists, businessmen, trade unionist military officers and diplomats, thus denying to societies the political, social and intellectual leaders, subjects and tools necessary to express and realize their will.
For twenty years, when a European government has put a subject to a referendum, people have opposed establishment politics. Still, they are unable to find political or social subjects to follow the policies they prefer and they vote for when asked to decide. A reason they are unable to find anybody to defend majority views is the extreme control and the capacity to buy or blackmail, through personal data, the majority of the elite of European societies.
Corruption has become the norm in those conditions, because if you are not corrupted, it becomes more difficult to control you. Those tendencies add also a new dimension to the problem of neocolonialism. As private companies and secret agencies are able, through the Internet, to gather all the available personal information about politicians, businessmen, journalists, military, the intellectuals and their relatives, in a given country, this country is gradually becoming a kind of data colony, it begins to lose any degree of freedom and sovereignty, its own elite is manipulated in a way and depth very rare in history.
Political Correctness vs. Irrationalism
Modern Internet totalitarianism is going deeper than the classical variant in other respects as well, as events in the US are proving. We no longer have the usual conflict about the significance of events, now we begin to have doubts about what the events themselves are. It is not merely propaganda attacking the truth, it is the very notions of truth, justice, progress in general, which come under attack. No illusions are allowed in such a situation. Domination over information and information flows becomes now a tool of economic exploitation and social and political control and manipulation. It becomes a new and powerful weapon to dominate whole societies. The situation can become much worse with the introduction of the Internet of Things and of Artificial Intelligence.
Break the role of Internet platforms
It follows from the above sketch that we must break down, in a decisive way, the role of the private run Internet platforms that are growing like a cancer within the Internet, and, through it, across the whole body of humanity. The platforms now represent a major threat to what remains of democracy, of national independence, of critical thinking and of possibility to counter the established system. They must be nationalized, better “socialized”. “Nationalize facebook” is the radical suggestion of Jeff Spross in the American magazine The Week… but national control of them is not sufficient as they play a global role. They must be put under international democratic control.
We understand that such pursuits seem completely unrealistic to many people. Still, History has proven that Man is capable of performing miracles that no one expected. If it wasn’t that way, we’d still be living in the caves. History always sets traps for its would-be owners.
Westerners hoped, for example, that the entry of foreign capital into China would lead to undermining its regime and its national independence, with China following a course similar to that of the Soviet Union. Neither of the two happened. China remained, in many critical aspects, a non-capitalist country, in spite of a large capitalist sector. It is now becoming a major economic and technological competitor of the West, challenging, even by its mere existence, the project of establishing a world dictatorship of Financial Capital and the United States. It is already largely disconnecting its own internet from the US-dominated one.
Given the global nature of the pressing problems facing humanity, but also the small likelihood that other countries will join the “Chinese internet” (or they will want to do it), even if it does not seem the best option, such decoupling represents a certain reduction of the scope of the current global Internet monopoly.
India, for its part, has made some important proposals to democratize the internet and remove the control exercised over it by the states and companies of the wealthy north and, in particular, the US.
Let us add here that there is a second reason that such miracles can happen. We are going, with almost mathematical certainty, into a series of increasingly serious crises of all types. The coronavirus crisis is only the first of these crises. They will either dissolve humanity completely, facilitating a dictatorship of “superhumans”, or any other monstrosities, pursued possibly by a segment of the current elite, or they will offer the opportunity for great, revolutionary changes that are currently unthinkable. In the coming years and decades we should expect a big War between Dystopias and Utopias.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also made a number of far reaching proposals like instituting a new ‘British Digital Corporation’, which could sit alongside the existing BBC to deliver digital information and entertainment and even set up a social media outlet to rival Facebook. Corbyn said tech firms could pay a windfall tax to help subsidise the licence fee – and he floated the idea of a separate digital service to compete with major streaming and social media firms.
Corbyn also said he wanted to see journalists “set free to do their best work, not held back by bosses, billionaire owners, or the state”. The former Labour leader said that one “radical” idea for the private sector would be to allow reporters to elect their editors “when a title or programme gets particularly large and influential”. He said the plan would leave editors “accountable to their staff – and their journalistic ethics – as well as to corporate bosses and shareholders”.
He added: “To improve our media, open it up and make it more plural we need to find ways to empower those who create it and those who consume it over those who want to control and own it.”
But even if nationalization, under social control, of Internet platforms was possible, it would not be enough. Their international control would also be needed, given the great global consequences of their action.
By far the best solution would be democratization and international control of the Internet. But if this is not possible, then perhaps the countries of the South, as well as the Northern ones which agree to it, should unite trying to create their own democratic Internet. Of course, that requires a serious long-term commitment to a policy of cooperation with each other in order to deal with the exorbitant power of the Western capitalism. Up to now, the absence of such a resolute commitment has undermined most South-South cooperations.
In the past, the nations of the South created the Non-Aligned Movement out of will and necessity, for the nations of the world, to fight against economic exploitation and political domination by Western capitalist states. Now, the battle against information domination acquires an equal and probably even more important dimension. It is high time for the South, in cooperation probably with Northern countries which want to help the South and themselves in this direction, to launch a new great global initiative and to form a huge alliance with social movements, democrats and fighters for national rights around the world, in order to realize, in this new context, the old slogan of a new world order in information, to stop the modern day global totalitarianism. No small or medium nation of the world, in the South or in the North, in the East or West, will be able to survive as even a minimally sovereign country, if action isn’t taken.
(1) Lenin has said of the Bolsheviks that they are the only current in the workers movement able to penetrate all social strata, to influence them and be influenced by them. He was also able to adapt, in a radical way, his revolutionary strategy to what he learned from the evolution of objective situations and thus change his understanding of the upcoming Russian revolution, more in accordance with Trotsky’s scheme of permanent revolution. Thus he left the over-deterministic, ending up in fatalism, model of the German Social Democracy, making possible the Revolution. Ironically enough, the same methods which permitted the victory of the Russian revolution have permitted the victory of the Russian counterrevolution, seventy years later. Gorbachev transformed himself into an (unconscious) “smart missile”, who was able to discover through successive “approximations” (his ill planned and purely executed reforms) the “eigenfrequencies” of the Soviet system and provoke its explosion from inside. This was made possible for three reasons. One was the excellent apparatchik instinct of Gorbachev himself, in which he stored all the information about the way the party – the state system was functioning. The second was the admiration of western capitalism from a part of the soviet nomenclatura and intellectuals. The third was the absence of a deep, elaborated concept of reform from Soviet reformers.
(2) Determinism was the leading theoretical paradigm at the time Marx began writing Capital. This determinism was probably responsible for the fact this work remained unfinished. It proved by definition impossible to finish it because social evolution itself is impossible to be included in a closed system. By the way, Marx himself was far less “deterministic” than he wanted his work to be!