Media and Socialism

Media and Socialism – In Theory Vs. In Practice

In the United States, media and politics often work together to heighten the status of the each other. For example; a politician may conduct a speech that airs on a news network to promote their campaign, while the network may air the speech to attract viewers. Around the world and throughout history there are examples where government controls what information is released and what people can say about government through media. Socialism has been noted as the reason people lose their rights to speak out against their administrations. Currently in Venezuela, the public airways, along with many other resources of their country are being misused. As for the violent use of power through the media, In Cuba there have been thousands killed and or captured in Cuba for speaking out against Castro’s regime through out his rule and even after his death. Simultaneously in the 1960s, until the collapse of the Soviet Union, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed and exiled if they were believed to be conspiring against the government. Although these crimes against humanity are associated by our society with socialism and communism, media manipulation and censorship has been a form of control since the medieval ages and even before. There are governments that have chosen to abuse their power through socialism and on the contrary, there are counties that have taken advantage of the core, ideal principles of socialism and boosted the moral and economy of their citizens. Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, are prime examples of countries that infused aspects of a capitalist economy with socialist incentives, while broadcasting towards the public’s interest. These nations, along with others have not endured the censorship that has been seen throughout socialist history. Socialism is defined as: “social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”(Weber). Those that abuse their power through media, economy and armed forces do not represent or advocate for the true aspects of socialism and what it was meant to become.

Socialism is the result of many failed attempts at achieving communist states, it is a less heavily handed version of communism. The largest and most powerful communist state took shape following the Bolshevik Revolution in The Soviet Union in 1917. The Soviets were sick of the wealth gap being entirely too enormous and as a result capitalism was feared by the people. “Soviet leaders had been claiming that communism and capitalism could never peacefully coexist”(Edsitement). When Joseph Stalin took power in 1928 he made it clear that he opposed those that had money; he labeled the more well off farmers and workers “Kulak” and demonized them(Rubinstein). In 1932 there was a food shortage in the Ukraine that effected the entire USSR and as a result about 7 million people starved to death within the next 3 years; the kulak were directly attacked by the Soviet government. “In 1932 Stalin raised Ukraine's grain procurement quotas by forty-four percent. This meant that there would not be enough grain to feed the peasants, since Soviet law required that no grain from a collective farm could be given to the members of the farm until the government's quota was met. Stalin's decision and the methods used to implement it condemned millions of peasants to death by starvation. Party officials, with the aid of regular troops and secret police units, waged a merciless war of attrition against peasants who refused to give up their grain. Even indispensable seed grain was forcibly confiscated from peasant households. Any man, woman, or child caught taking even a handful of grain from a collective farm could be, and often was, executed or deported. Those who did not appear to be starving were often suspected of hoarding grain”(Ukraine Famine). There was obvious outrage throughout the the Soviet Union but the fear of being deported, executed or sent to a concentration camp was high. To control the public, millions that were considered a danger to the communist government were seen as enemies of the state and as a result millions were held captive in detention camps located in Siberia, the coldest region of Russia.

Gulag was the system put in place to punish those that opposed or were suspected of opposing communism in the Soviet Union by sending them to prison camps located in Siberia. “It is estimated that there may have been 5-7 million people in these camps at any one time. In later years the camps also held victims of Stalin’s purges, ranging from high officials to intellectuals to ordinary people”(NationArchives). Political prisoners were forced to work long hours with little to no food in blistering cold weather, those that didn’t produce enough were given less food. Stalin’s plan to make The Soviet Union a powerful economic and military force was through industrialization, so it was no coincidence that the prisoners were forced to work on mining and industrial projects(History- Gulag). It was difficult to tell if Stalin was actually paranoid or he just wanted to relive the economic issues the counties have suffered by finding a way to produce without having to pay workers. Nevertheless, innocent people were being sent to Siberia by the millions, an estimated 5-7 million people were spread out to these 49 camps, with about 10% of prisoners dying every year.(NationalArchives). Stalin, with full control of the Soviet media, made sure to paint that there was a plot to overthrow the government. “March 1928 the NKVD (Stalin's secret police) announced they had found foreign spies in the Shakhty mines who were plotting to stop the mines reaching their targets. Fifty-five people were arrested. For the next two months, newspapers, cinemas and billboards all denounced these 'wreckers' and demanded that they be punished. There was no evidence to convict them, but they all confessed to being enemies of the people and 49 were sent to prison camps, five were shot and one was acquitted”(NationalArchives). Joseph Stalin abused his authority and instead of created a society where all people were treated equally, he ruled the country through an authoritarian dictatorship. The Soviet leaders used their power to manipulate the media and control people through fear and this phenomenon continued throughout the Cold War. “The notorious prisons, which incarcerated about 18 million people throughout their history, operated from the 1920s until shortly after Stalin’s death in 1953…But, the camps didn’t disappear completely. Some were restructured to serve as prisons for criminals, democratic activists and anti-Soviet nationalists during the 1970s and 1980s”(History- Gulag).

The United States strongly opposed the communism, mostly as a result of the Soviet Union’s antics, which included the greatest “Mexican Stand-off” witnessed in the modern age; The Cold War. The conflict between the two most powerful nations was a result of opposing economic and political ideologies, as well as the fear of the other country’s military and technological capabilities. “The USSR has at present (1951) and will probably have through mis-1954 military strength of such magnitude as to pose a consistent and serious threat to the security of the NATO powers…Politically, economically, and militarily the Soviet Bloc is capable of undertaking a major war”(CIA). In fear of a nuclear breaking out between the two world power, many countries chose sides. The Soviets found an ally in the western hemisphere when Cuba decided to create an alliance between the two countries. The alliance was a precaution to a United States invasion on Cuba, which actually occurred in April of 1961, referred to as “The Bay of Pigs Invasion”. Prior to the invasion, The USSR warned Cuba and eventually became the protector of Cuba. “January 12, 1961, the Russian mission at the United Nations issued a statement which said, ‘The present administration of the United States continues preparations for direct aggression against Cuba.’…Khrushchev had sent a congratulatory message to Fidel in which he declared, ‘The Cuban people can always count on the solidarity and support of the Soviet people in their struggle for independence, freedom, and economic progress’”(Halperin)

Fidel Castro was the leader of Cuba at the time and he was a highly controversial individual. Castro was revered as a revolutionary by many and a tyrant by others but neither opinion is wrong. Fidel liberated his people from a United States supported dictator as a general in the Cuban Revolution, He also implemented educational programs that lead to Cuba achieving the highest literacy rates in the world (99.75%) and the best medical programs in the world(Lit). Fidel Castro in many ways was one of the founders of socialism. When his alliance with the Soviet Union was first formed Castro referred to the USSR as old communist, while he was apart of the new communist, in other word his ideologies were the beginning stages of socialism.(Halperin).

Fidel has been regarded as an amazing public speaker and he often gave speeches in order to gain public support, even when his audience didn’t favor him. “Fidel literally took on about 1,000 prisoners, assembled in a sports arena, in a televised free-for-all discussion…Professor Castro debating a wide range of social, political, and ideological issues…One prisoner asked Fidel if it was true that he was a communist. ‘Socialist,’ answered Fidel”(Rise and Decline). The free-for-all followed the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs Invasion and was an extra-ordinary but it accurately depicted how Fidel wanted to be seen as leader of Cuba. “The television and radio audience for whom he was primarily preforming for could only be convinced that Cuba had a wise and benevolent leader. Even prisoners must have been convinced that he was an unconventional leader”( Halperin). Fidel Castro was using the media that he controlled to convey to the people the people of Cuba that he was a fair and just leader, “He said during a discussion with one prisoner, ‘Now lets be honest, surely you must realize that you are the first prisoner in history who has the privilege of arguing in front of the whole population of Cuba, and the entire world, with the head of the government which you tried to overthrow”(Halperin). In addition to the free-for-all with the prisoners, Fidel Castro negotiated a deal with the United States to set them free. In exchange for $53 million worth of baby food and medicine, he returned the prisoners to Miami but he promised that if another invasion were to occur he would take no prisoners alive (History). At the same time Fidel displayed to all of the world that he was a leader that fought for the people of Cuba and a leader that wasn’t afraid to stand up to the United States.

While Fidel Castro aimed to help the people of Cuba through socialism but as mentioned before he was seen as a tyrannical figure by many. He had a tendency to abuse his authority of the military and national media to favor his regime. Like his Soviet comrades, Fidel did not take well to people speaking out against the Cuban government very well. He often too in political prisoners leading to many people refraining from sharing their opinions of the Cuban government. “The Castro regime retains the positive support of about 20% of the population, but disaffection is increasing…. Few, however, dare to accept the risks of organized active resistance in present circumstances, for fear of the regime’s massive apparatus for surveillance and repression”(CIA-Cuban). After the Cuban Missile Crisis and the United States placing a trade embargo on Cuba, the country was facing deep economic disparities.

Fidel Castro was struggling to fulfill all the promises of rationed food to it’s people, and the United States was the biggest customer of their greatest industry; sugar. “The United States was purchasing 87% of Cuba's exports and had control over its sugar industry. In the 1950s, Havana's resorts and casinos were popular destinations for American tourists and celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway”(trade emba). It became evident to many Cubans that Fidel Castro, his associates and the young revolutionaries that followed him were naïve and ambitious. The Castro regime was incapable of running a state-owned economy. Fidel couldn’t provide for his country, losing the support of people that once loved and adored him was difficult for the Prime Minister. Many Cubans fled to the United States because conditions of living had become entirely too horrid. “From 1960 to 1979, hundreds of thousands of Cubans left Cuba. Most came from Cuba's educated upper and middle classes. Between December 1960 and October 1962 more than 14,000 Cuban children arrived alone in the U.S”(History). Those that opposed Castro and decided to stay in Cuba were severely punished. “He (Fidel Castro) also closed down opposition newspapers, jailed thousands of political opponents and made no move toward elections”(History). There were efforts made by the United States in an attempt to liberate the people in Cuba that felt oppressed by Castro. A federally funded radio station was started in Miami, which was only about 90 miles away from the coast of Cuba. Radio Marti spoke out against the Castro regime while also providing news, sports and entertainment in spanish.(Ny times). The frequency was often blocked by either a blank signal or a Cuban radio station by the Castro government.

Fidel Castro started his reign as a leader that advocated for the people of Cuba, but as Cuba faced crisis he became paranoid and feared his power would be taken away from him. Castro acted as though the Cuban people were turning against him but evidently he was turning on the citizens in fear of capitalism. Castro’s administration began to kill and imprison those that imposed him, backed by a strong and loyal military presence; there is no exact number of how many people were killed or imprisoned during his time in power because of the lack of documentation but it is believed to be upwards of 75,000 (Gervin). Even following Fidel Castro’s death in in November of 2016, there have been cases where people that have spoken out against his legacy have been imprisoned. “Human rights activist Dr. Cardet is serving a three-year sentence for allegedly criticizing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In May, Cuban authorities told his family they would not be allowed to visit him in jail for six months as punishment for his family’s efforts to raise awareness of his case internationally”(Nauert). Despite the controversy revolving Cuba and Fidel Castro, is core ideologies have inspired many and have spread throughout the world. Venezuela is one of the many countries that have taken lessons from Castro and implemented them into their own governmental system.

Elected in 1999, Hugo Chavez became the the most beloved leader in the history of Venezuela. Chavez used Venezuela’s oil supply, (which happens to be the greatest supply of oil owned any country) to liberate the people of Venezuela. Citgo, a popular gasoline company was purchased by the Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA) in 1990(wash). The revenue from made by the PDVSA accounted for over half of the country’s national budget. When Chavez took power in 1999, he devoted the profit made from Citgo to support Venezuelan welfare programs. “he continued nationalizing the oil industry and used the profit to fund food subsidies, education and health care programs. Under his administration, unemployment and poverty halved, and income per capita more than doubled. “Between 2001 and 2013 Venezuela receives the equivalent of three Marshall Plans in inflation adjusted dollars — that’s for one country of thirty million people,” said Harold Trinkunas, deputy director for the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University”(Nasa). Chavez used the countries financial resources in an attempt to end poverty in the country and the great majority of Venezuelans benefited from his decision to nationalize the country’s oil profits. Every Sunday Hugo Chavez conducted a national program that televised multiple events, including a meeting with Fidel Castro and product give-a-ways; sometimes his programs would air for over 8 hours. Following his decision to have the PDVSA funds go entirely to State, there many employees that were unhappy; as a result, they we laid off publicly on the Chavez’s weekly Sunday television program, about 5,000 people lost their jobs.(John Oliver). There are people that feel that his public embarrassment of the employees was an abuse of power but he justified his decision stating he couldn’t have people he didn’t trust running his company.

Hugo Chavez created many opportunities for the people of of Venezuela through socialism, including trade with both Cuba and The United States. Their low price of oil forced the hand of The United States into an economic partnership with Venezuela, although they were very against the politics of Hugo Chavez. Once, Chavez referred to George W. Bush as “the devil” and many of his followers called the USA “The Empire” Making a reference to the dark side in “Star Wars”. Furthermore, Hugo Chaves and Fidel Castro formed a partnership in 2000, Venezuela sold their oil cheaply to Cuba in exchange for educational and medical support from Cuba. “Venezuela boosts its oil exports to Cuba in return for more technical personnel from Cuba, including physicians, teachers, and other social-service workers”(timeline). Good times can only last so long and in 2013, Hugo Chavez lost a tough fight with cancer. Despite his previous success, Chavez left the country in a bad position moving forward. Prior to his death, Hugo Chavez stopped saving money that was profited from their petroleum industry and continued to spend all that was being made(Death).    

Nicholas Maduro assumed the presidency, he won by a narrow margin in the 2013 election, receiving 50.6% of the votes. His victory was largely controversial but he promised to continue the legacy of Hugo Chavez, Maduro served under him for 20 years. In 2014, A few months after Maduro’s victory oil prices plummeted; going from approximately $100 a barrel to under $50(Nasa). Prior to the election there were reports of power outages and thief in the Capital of Caracas but the Citizens could never imagine the chaos that was yet to come. Nicholas Maduro started his presidency in a tough position but he made it worse by misusing the funds, media and armed forces of Venezuela. “Venezuela’s Central Bank confirmed on December 30 (2014) that the country had entered a recession due to plummeting oil prices. The inflation rate that year surpassed 63 percent, the highest in the Americas. The government was forced to make cuts in public spending, making it difficult for poor Venezuelans to access food and medicine”(Nasa). The people of Venezuela began to starve and began to become frustrated with the management of their money by Nicholas Maduro. Through social media residence began to organize protests that eventually turned into riots, and the riots continued for 3 straight months. After the death of 43 people due to the violent demonstrations, people began to migrate; about 3 million Venezuelans have left the country and in 2019, an estimated 3 million will evacuate(Nasa). In 2015, 2/3 of the population had lost an average of 20 pounds(Nasa). Maduro continued to use Chavez’s Sunday program to address the citizens but he used it to lie and decive the people of Venezuela. One one episode he states that Hugo Chavez came to him in the form of a bird and gave Maduro his blessing. On several other episodes he has been caught eating on camera, in front of the starving nation. “Maduro would eat charcuteries and cakes as the camera would cut away”(CBS).

In the mist of the chaos that became of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro attempted to stop the bleeding with an extremely ill advised economic decision. Maduro authorized the printing of more money. Printing more money decreases the value of each dollar, meaning; more people will have more and people will want even more money in exchange for goods. The best example of inflation in history can be examined through Germany following World War 1 and The Treaty of Versailles. Images of German people paying for loafs of bread with buckets of bread have been documented. Essentially, as a result a similar situation erupted in Venezuela; vendors began weighing money because counting it would take entirely too long(CBS). After the country elected 112 of 167 legislators that opposed Maduro in an effort to have him removed from office; Maduro created a special counsel. The special counsel consisted of 13 supreme court justices that were all supporting Nicholas Maduro. He began imprisoning those that spoke out against him; although this was done by Hugo Chavez in the past, it was never to the same extent. “During his fourteen years as president, Chávez imprisoned 161 political opponents, a rate of just under twelve per year. In four years, Maduro has imprisoned 104, more than doubling the annual rate to 26. In short, detaining political opponents has increased as a tool of repression under the current government.”(Chacon). Currently, Nicholas Maduro is refusing support for his people from other nations in fear of an attempt to overthrow him. Venezuela has elected Juan Guaidó as their new president in January of 2019 and is acknowledged as the leader of Venezuela by 60 nations, including The United States(Nasa). Despite the election, Nicholas Maduro continues to occupy the office with military support; both him and his military forces fear prosecution if they are to leave office.

Unlike the previously mention governmental forces, Sweden has managed to use socialism to the benefit to the economy, health and education of their citizen. Sweden has done so without corrupting the nation’s media outlets or imprisoning those that disagree or speak out against the country’s policies. Similar to when Cuba strayed away from communism, Sweden has decided to learn from their own mistakes and the mistakes that other countries have using the socialist ideology. The Nation has become a democratic-socialist country, which has implemented several aspects of capitalism and the government doesn’t control the means of production. The country wasn’t always democratic-socialist, prior to the reform in Sweden, Olof Palme was elected Prime Minister of the country in 1969 and was elected 1982 again after losing the position. Palme was leader of the social democratic party and advocated for social reform to benefit the citizens of Sweden. When the socialist system was put in place, the economy began to fail and that is what lead to him losing election in 1976. “We (Sweden) did have a period in the 1970s and 1980s when we had something that resembled socialism: a big government that taxed and spent heavily." But big government led to problems. "Our economy was in crisis, inflation reached 10 percent, and for a brief period interest rates soared to 500 percent. At that point the Swedish population just said, 'Enough, we can't do this”( Stossel). Although Sweden began to move away from socialism, they re-elected Olof Palme again when Europe experienced a nuclear crisis and Palme promised the people to remove the nuclear power plants from Sweden. “After being elected prime minister again in 1982, Palme tried to reinstate socialist economic policies in Sweden, and he continued to be outspoken on matters of European security. Palme was assassinated by a gunman in 1986, a crime that shocked the country”(Britannica). Palme’s assassination motivated the country to not stray away from his socialist policies but to improve them so that the Government didn’t entirely control the economy and there would be democratically elected officials. “Sweden cut public spending, privatized the national rail network, abolished certain government monopolies, eliminated inheritance taxes, sold state-owned businesses, and switched to a school voucher system. It also lowered taxes and reformed the pension system… (Sweden does) have a bigger welfare state than the U.S. and higher taxes than the U.S. But in other areas, when it comes to free markets, when it comes to competition, when it comes to free trade, Sweden is actually more free market.”(Stossel). The free market in Sweden pays for the welfare program; which includes public interest media, free health care and education.(Stossel). The pensions of Swedish citizens were privatized as a result of the near collapse of the fund; as a result, as the Swedish market does well, the amount of money that people retire with increases. Sweden, a nation with just over 10 million citizens has become one of the richest nations in the world through democratic-socialism without caving under corruption.

Socialism is a concept that intimidates and frightens many due to it violent and controversial history but, the collapse of many nations under socialism has been the result of governmental corruption of the media, economy and armed forces. In Soviet Russia, the Government collapsed because those that attempted to move towards reform were sent to concentration camps as prisoners. In Cuba, Fidel Castro entered power with the people of Cuba behind him in an effort to close the wealth gap and educate citizens, but the Cold War and the trade embargo placed on the nation by the United States depleted their income. In tern Castro turned on his people by killing and imprisoning thousands that spoke out against him when the country took a turn for the worse, instead of modifying the political system. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez stabilized an improvised nation and turned it into one of the richest countries in Latin America through socialist reform. But because of mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy partially by Chavez, almost entirely by Nicholas Maduro and mixed with the decline of oil prices that the nation depended on, their wealth dissipated even quicker that it had risen. On the contrary, Sweden has managed to achieve great success economically and educationally without corrupting the media and using the military to censor and imprison those with different ideas. Theories don’t always workout in practice, censoring isn’t a solution to problems, often time it just creates more; compromise and reform could possibly be a solution. In the words of two brilliant figures in history; Medgar Evers a civil rights activist and Greek philosopher Sophocles “You can a man, but you can’t kill an idea”     

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