Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Some thoughts on social media and organisation (revolutionarysocialism)

Some thoughts on social media and organisation

Revolutionary socialists need to deepen their understanding of social media and how these technologies relate to problems of organisation, argues Mark Bergfeld

There are different and competing interpretations of activists’ use of social media. In a fantastic article in the International Journal of Communication our comrades Miriyam Aouragh and Anne Alexander argue that Egyptian activists used social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as “tools of mobilisation” and “spaces of dissidence” during the revolution.

Paolo Gerbaudo argues in the book Tweets and the Streets that Egyptian, Spanish, and American activists employed these technologies in a very similar fashion during the global wave of protests in 2011. He identifies Twitter as a prime “means for internal coordination” between activists and Facebook as a “recruitment platform” where activists could recruit non-political contacts such as friends and family to their cause. Both these accounts have deep organisational consequences for activists trying to increase their influence inside the movement.

The Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy goes a step further. He writes about how the Revolutionary Socialists have taken steps toward transforming their website into the “collective organiser” for their operation. He acknowledges that this presents new organisational challenges for their media committee as well as for the membership as a whole.

Hossam concludes that the Revolutionary Socialist newspaper still has a role to play for their organisation. The newspaper might have been replaced as the “collective organiser”, but that does not mean political action takes place solely online. Rather, online and offline political actions complement one another as the organisation seeks to gain influence in social movements in general.

There are debates about the extent to which social media and new communication technologies mediate new forms of organising inside social movements. The internet-enabled hybridity as described by Hossam can open up traditionally organised parties. But it can also create subunits that are entirely sealed off from prime decision-making processes inside the organisation. These debates run parallel with a professed democratisation of activist and protest culture, where everyone can blog, tweet, take a photo, shoot a video.

Activists use social media all the time inside social movements to gain wider influence. And radical left organisations are constantly under the influence of other movement forces, including those they find themselves in contention with. Yet no one has started to theorise the use of social media in a serious and systematic way.

This was not the case in the past. Socialists had had plenty to say about their use of daily and weekly newspapers, or about other media forms for agitation and propaganda. Consider Lenin’s writings on the party newspaper, or Gramsci writing about cinema.

But today the question of how social media relates to organisation remains undertheorised and split between cyber-utopian (and cyber-distopyian narratives that dominates mainstream discussions (see Manuel Castells for an example of the first and Eugene Morozov for an example of the second). Marxists don’t have to reinvent the wheel or get distracted by this – but rather built on Marx’s understanding of technology under capitalism.

Science and technology do not develop apart from capitalist society. Technological innovations are shaped by capitalism’s needs. Analogue and digital communication technologies are the products of existing capitalist social relations. Inasmuch as these present themselves to be egalitarian, they mask the continuation of inequality and capitalist dominance. One thing is certain: the technological advances made under capitalism are dripping in blood. In order to use humanity’s creative potentials to the fullest we would require an unprecedented break which would transform the ways technologies have been used in the course of the last 150 years.

That doesn’t mean we should pine for the golden age of the telegram. As Marx writes in The Eighteenth Brumaire: “The social revolution of the 19th century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the 19th century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase.” This applies equally to the revolutioon of the 21st century.

The future of Marxism is unwritten. Only if we don’t shy away from grasping things at the root can we confront certain realities. We need to see both the techno-determinist and the technophobic attitudes as reactions to the way activism and organisations have used and been shaped by technology throughout the last decade.

In fact this is not new. Radical left organisations were shaped by the last round of “horizontalist” and decentralised mobilisations – the alter-globalisation movement – right at the beginning of the 21st century. That doesn’t do away with the necessity for revolutionary organisation, but it does requires further exploration to understand activists’ use of social media and the way this relates to forms of organisations and changes those forms. And this also involves asking whether new forms of leadership can be mediated through the use of digital media.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rant set off by another greed-headed rail fare rise... ;-)

Rail fares 'to rise by 4.1%' in England as unions protest

Rant set off by another greed-headed rail fare rise... ;-)

so, how do we discourage [non-local] car use, with alternatives too expensive?

i've been in hastings 14 years. when i came it was £3000 to get an annual commuter pass to the Smoke on the railways. Now it's more like £6000. hmmm.... yes, most of us are here to stay. fuel is around £1.20/1.40 a litre - we had a petrol strike a decade ago when it had quickly escalated to half that.

the govt are heading for a static population, with no-one able to afford to commute / travel, etc...

not all bad if local economies are thriving. but they generally are not, anywhere [through  a toxic mix of 'recession' and 'austerity', both creations not natural processes]....

so, a static, large, unemployed workforce... who are, apparently, to be blamed for a fate bequeathed them with a vengeance by the very same tory and tory-controlled-media scum that libel them/us.

i do not suggest 'cheap fuel' with the associated rise in CO2 emissions etc as the way out of this mess (a 'solution' offered by fracking, if the european market is able to negotiate lower gas prices from Gazcom, as the US frakking boom impacts the Russian export boom - though, I expect, 'cheaper' natural gas will inflate profits for energy corporations with little reduction for the consumer, especially in England).

As you may read between the lines above, I'd advocate strong local economies with cheap and in-depth public transport schemes, which would include, for example:

scrapping vat on commercial rents, lowering business rates, discouraging 'out-of-town' mega-shopping complexes, pushing local product and skills over non-local...

enforcing (internationally) higher taxes and the payment of higher taxes by top earners (fair's fair: i'm not suggesting 1970s tax rates),

enforcing a living wage (somewhat above 'minimum' wage, and regionally sensitive, not age-related) including for those forced out of the job market,

enforcing rent caps and at the same time forcing local councils to cap housing benefit no lower than the average rent for a given type of property (for example, here in Hastings, the rent cap is about £40 a month, on average, _below_ the average rent for a one-bed; i'd note, too, that bedsits are not a reasonable alternative, though, in the short term, with under-25s getting littler or no support, a positive move would be full HB for 18-25s, nqa, in bedsits, with rent and HB capped [at same level] proportionately lower than one-bed average [half, perhaps]).

working with environmental scientists, internationally, on viable self-sustaining bio-regions (if only to ensure a firm understanding of exactly how far past capacity much of the UK has become - cf: even early 90s 'ghost acres' were scary for the UK [with London's ecofootprint, alone, equal to territory the size Spain], never mind 20+ years on with higher population and lower agricultural output), etc

a charter88 style constitution / bill of rights, with not only the (absolutely non-radical but so blackened in the press no-one takes it seriously except as 'dangerous') 'number of seats in parliament to be proportionate to the number of votes cast' system of voting, but also local public assemblies to decide policy, through direct democracy, with regional, 'national' and supra-national assemblies for non-local decisions that are comprised of fully returnable locally chosen reps with no power to decide beyond explicit local remit and who have to refer back to their local assembly for any decisions outside those previously agreed, etc (it's a form of 'anarchism' [another 'threat' neutered by media lies], guys, cf: Prytr Kropotkin)...

and etc ;-)