The repeal of net neutrality on Thursday, December 14th, allowing corporations to speed up and slow down internet service and charge for access to any number of currently free services, revealed political allegiances across contemporary American society. The far right has a history of defending the removal of net neutrality, and has accordingly fallen in line to defend the rights of Comcast, AT&T, and others to charge more for the same thing. Wherever a sexual predator, murdering cop, or minimally hamstrung corporation cries out for help, the right, “alt” and non, flocks eagerly to their defense and names it, as the FCC named their repeal, a defense of “freedom.” Liberals and moderates on the other hand oppose the motion in all polls, but in an indecisive manner: only 55% of Democrats opposed the removal of net neutrality in a November poll. More troubling still, liberals have rallied around ineffectual call-your-Congressmanism and mega corporations that exploit workers and sell information on a daily basis like Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Google. The American people, of whom an enormous majority support the net neutrality regulations, are once again caught between two kinds of corporate enabling.
We’ve written previously on the Phoenix on the class nature of the net neutrality issue, and how the net neutrality vote represented a key litmus test for the nature of the American state in the era of Trump. The success of this much-opposed and feared repeal occasions a return to these critical concepts, particularly given the insights the vote provides on the nature of capitalist democracy in the United States in 2017.
The fundamentally undemocratic nature of the American political realm has been laid bare for all to see once again, and the democratic will of the people has been ignored for the next and certainly not last time in favor of corporate greed and the long fraudulent notion that more money for Comcast and AT&T means more money for its workers—let alone the rest of us. In our era of coerced votes, and the rhetoric of “not as bad as,” the creation of authentic democracy, a democracy that heeds the will of the people, pursues our interests, encourages us to create freely on any medium, is an essential question. The net neutrality decision proves that American democracy is fatally tied to the selfish interests of the capitalist class, and that this connection must be broken with workplace democracy, community control, and in the case of the internet, nationalization. A medium used by the people to create art, wealth, community, connections, and significant portions of the social fabric must be controlled by the people, not five politicians tied to capitalists by donations and class interests.
The net neutrality decision revealed with little question the dependent relationship between the state and capitalists, a relationship described by Frederick Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, and one with significant implications for political work in 2017 and beyond. For Engels, the state was a historical necessity in a society, “entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel.” The state emerged out of irreconcilable class antagonisms as a tool to assuage class war and establish order, but in an economic system driven to ever greater consumption at human cost, Engels suggests that the state, while “arisen out of society,” will continually “(place) itself above it, and alienat(e) itself more and more from it.”
This is the connection and dynamic that made the net neutrality decision. The FCC called for the input of the people, and it was overwhelming, but the input and political sentiment of the majority of the people in the United States is immaterial to the key function of the state in a capitalist economy. The state alludes to democracy, gives the people ineffectual ways to exercise it, while ultimately serving corporate interests. In the aftermath of an election between a Democrat to the right of Nixon and an aspiring fascist, the repeal of net neutrality, and the continued failure of democrats to fight for national healthcare and against police brutality, it is clear that democracy in America is nothing of the sort.
But the repeal of net neutrality is not just another example of the decay and depravity of capitalist governance, or the impotence of liberal “resistance,” more examples for which emerge nearly every day. The decision importantly underscores the increasingly recognized coalescence of the major issues of American life as issues inherent in the class system and the racist and patriarchal systems that protect it. Drug arrests in Chicago go down class and race lines, Trump’s tax plan benefits the rich over the poor, women are the victims of unpunished abuse and earn diminished wages, and the will of the vast majority of American society is ignored in the case of net neutrality for the benefit of capitalists. The repeal of net neutrality shows the increasingly despotic nature of capital, and the failure of moderate liberal solutions and struggles to mitigate that despotism; it is a question then not only of the problem, but the importance of socialist solutions in the political context of our era.
Moderate solutions fail because they fail to understand the relationship between capitalism and state that was so profoundly proven by the repeal of net neutrality. Failure to reckon this problem leads social democrats and liberals to continue to fight within a state that makes working class participation all but impossible, and in cases like net neutrality, actively ignores our wishes. If there are lessons to be learned from the failure to defend net neutrality, chief among them must be that the solutions to the problems of American society cannot be moderate. Rather than fighting for maintaining half measures, the left must purpose a counter position: in this case, nationalization of the internet and a socialist democracy to enable authentic rule by the people.
One cannot go without the other: to have a true democracy, workers must have a say in their workplace, communities, and in the administration of essential services like the internet, and to nationalize an industry without severing the connection between capitalism and state is useless. These are monumental tasks, but in the words of Fred Hampton, “the people are gonna run it whether they like it or not.” The questions raised by the repeal of net neutrality, the questions of free expression and democracy in the United States, will not be answered by how many fascists we give a stage to on college campuses, but whether or not the people of the United States once and for all expel capitalism from the ever-hampered American quest for democracy.