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Let's Tweet Our Way Out of Capitalism!

The recent Guardian article that expresses shock and curiousity about how marxism "is on the rise again" has, by now, made its obligatory internet rounds and succeeded in annoying most of the marxist left who have bothered to read it in the first place.  Aside from the smarmy attitude in which it is written, the terrible (mis)understanding of marxist theory (apparently Marx was wrong because the proletariat are working to keep capitalism alive rather than become its grave-diggers!), the obligatory anti-communist "wisdom" on the comment string (Marx and Engels are outdated and communism was a good theory that was bad in practice!), aside from even its notable ignorance about ninety per cent of the world (marxism, the author does not seem to understand, never stopped being popular outside of the centres of capitalism where, you know, the majority of the global proletariat are concentrated), at the very least it demonstrated that maybe communists at the centres of capitalism are not––as the bourgeois press usually argues––completely bonkers.

My interest in that article here, though, is not the author's ignorance of or curiousity in communism but, rather, the parts of it that paralleled some of the points made in my previous entry.  Namely, the tendency amongst even self-proclaimed communists at the centres of capitalism to substitute the axiom of class revolution for some toothless pacifist understanding of class struggle.  Indeed, one of the people the author interviews claims that "[t]oday not even the Trotskyist left call for armed revolution.  The radical left would say that the break with capitalism could only be achieved by democracy and organisation of working people to establish and hold on to that just society against forces that would destroy it."  And this clever marxist goes so far as to attribute this mindless reasoning to Marx.  Apparently, communists at the global peripheries who are waging peoples' wars don't count as "the radical left" for this brilliant theorist (probably because they are not Trotskyist, the threshold for radicalism that he has, for some reason, set).  Nor does it seem as if he has really considered how his "democracy and organisation of working people" would even be able to "hold on to that just society" without having to defend it violently against bourgeois rule.

This belief in a peaceful transition to socialism, obviously, isn't as new as this pacifist marxist imagines: Eduard Bernstein said much of the same thing in the early twentieth century thus becoming the patron saint of opportunism.  It was revisionism then and it remains revisionism now, no matter how hard a chic new marxist theorist might try to dress it up.  Thus, the only thing surprising about this marxist's attitude towards class struggle is that he acts as if it is new; otherwise, this pacifism is pretty commonplace––it is part of the default opportunism that deforms anti-capitalist movements at the global centres.

At the time I was reading this Guardian article, moreover, I also happened to encounter a debate between internet marxists (a small but vocal population of which I, obviously, am a member) that was yet another perfect demonstration of this revisionist attitude: will the communist revolution of today be led by peaceful social networking means?  That is, the person who had set the terms of this debate was trying to argue that class struggle could be led and won on the internet using such tools as twitter, blogs, facebook, etc.  (Probably hacking and pirating will also have its revolutionary place in an internet peoples' war!)  Again, this is not an entirely new idea; most recently the bourgeois media was making a big deal about "social network revolutions" that, for some reason, it believed was key to the rebellions of Arab Spring.  Forget struggling in the streets and factories––you can struggle as the new proletariat in the comfort of your home, ushering in the revolution on your computer.

Since today's revolutionary tools are twitter and facebook, the revolution is upon us!

To be clear, I am not one of those old-fashioned marxists who dismiss the possible usefulness of the internet and social networking.  Even though I have refused to join facebook since its inception (not for political reasons, mind you, but because I find the entire prospect boring), I do spend a lot of time in the blogosphere and reddit.  Although Lenin never argued that a communist newspaper by itself would win a class struggle, he did think it was important as a tool for agitation and recruitment.  So now we have new tools that, while they shouldn't be treated as replacements for the old tools, should still be utilized as best as they can.  But just as some old-fashioned marxists think that selling a newspaper is, by itself, a form of class struggle, so do some of us new-fashioned marxists believe that internet agitation and debate is also, by itself, class struggle.

We internet marxists like to imagine that what we are doing online is somehow equal to what revolutionary communists are doing in the concrete world, as momentous as mass work and/or agitating amongst the masses, and this is probably why we keep coming up with these neato theories of a peaceful revolution led by the interwebs.  "Isn't this such a cool new theory of class struggle," we keep saying even though it's not new and is really just an expression of our desire to give our internet activities more meaning than they actually have: "Let's tweet our way out of capitalism!"

To be fair, I really wish we could tweet or blog our way out capitalism––this would make things so much easier as well as giving this blog far more significance than it actually possesses!  Unfortunately, a viral internet campaign, even if it contains actual viruses created by radical hackers, will not bring capitalism to its knees; this is because capitalism depends on material facts that are not internet based.  Furthermore, as much as internet agitation is important in this current epoch, it is also a mistake to imagine that the majority of the proletariat has the same internet literacy, not to mention access to online forums in the first place, as those of us with petty-bourgeois privilege.  Thus, to even assume that internet agitation can be a substitution for all other forms of propaganda is to assume a certain level of privilege that, for the vast majority of the world, does not exist––neo-liberal theories of the global village notwithstanding.

Again, none of this is to say that these avenues of agitation and debate aren't important (they are, they just aren't tantamount to class revolution) and I find it especially funny when super old-fashioned marxists dress and act like they are living in pre-1917 Russia––especially when they are younger than me by a decade!  Indeed, I bet you can chart the nascent luddite disdain amongst marxists by looking at the quality of their internet presence.  Since it is fair to assume that communist movements in the global peripheries have a bad internet presence because they lack access to a privileged form of technology, I am only speaking here of marxists at the centres of capitalism who have the time, resources, and privilege (especially those groups who do nothing but sell newspapers) to exist in the twenty-first century.  Maybe they believe that if they try really hard to make it 1917 they can have their October Revolution just as it happened in Russia.

(By the same token, we can argue that publishing books and papers about marxism, though also important, is often seen as identical to revolutionary action.  Clearly, this is not the case, but it is worth pointing out that the luddite tendency of communism is less dismissive of dead tree literature than blogs, twittter, facebook, etc.  Nobody would argue [at least, I hope they wouldn't argue] that reading Marx's Capital is, by itself, a revolutionary act, but only an anti-intellectual utopian would argue that we shouldn't even try to educate ourselves!  Point being, just as dead-tree literature is important, there is an importance to be accorded to electronic avenues of information.)

On the other hand, the majority of marxist organizations with a hip web presence are the same organizations known for their opportunism.  They might have funky looking websites, but they also equivocate militant violence with police violence, advocate parliamentary stupidity, and use their uber-marxist website coolness to hide their bourgeois respectability.  I would suppose that, if you aren't really involved in class struggle, it's probably pretty easy to work on your web presence.

In any case, to return to my initial point, it is most important to note that arguments for an internet-led revolution are usually just versions of the revisionist revolution-without-bloodshed arguments that communists who live at the centres of capitalism––because of our privilege to live without experiencing the same violent contradictions of capitalism felt by the majority of the world's population––continue to make.  So if we want to have any hope in making the subjective conditions fit the current objective conditions, we need to stop imagining that we're going to have a non-violent revolution, on the internet or anywhere else, and get our shit together.


  1. Thank you for the great post. Another important point to note: that unlike newspapers or journals, which can be produced independently, social networks like Twitter and Facebook are controlled by large companies that have repeatedly censored content, banned users with "inappropriate" content, and shown allegiance to the state and the ruling class. I imagine that if there ever was a revolutionary (Marxist or otherwise) movement actually being organized via social media, in a way that threatened the ruling class, that sites like Facebook and Twitter would shut it down immediately. Even Wikileaks, which is basically a liberal group that seeks to promote "the free flow of information," was targeted/censored not only by the government but by large corporations like Visa and PayPal. As you know, belief in a "neutral" social media, above and beyond class, is as ideological as believing in a neutral police force or neutral educational system. And indeed, this very belief in neutrality itself has a (petty bourgeois) class content. Mao: "In class society, everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class."
    -Joint comment by Analisa and Eric

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I really should have mentioned this point about ownership and how these social media sites can be shut down if they are ever a threat, as you have indicated (like a lot of my posts, this was written without any foresight as to what I wanted to talk about). Generally I was trying to navigate the two positions vis-a-vis social media that I see amongst the broad left: a) it's the best thing in the world and will help us solve capitalism; b) we should ignore it altogether and pretend it doesn't exist.

      Obviously there is the class content behind the ownership of social media sites but, at the same time, they have proven useful for left agitation. So while I agree that these sites are, in the last instance, not neutral, I think that they are contradictory spaces. Much like, for example, a lot of bourgeois rights that were granted in order to pacify the masses, to secure the "equal rights" necessary for exchange, or "free speech" necessary for the bourgeois ideology of a "marketplace of ideas", etc. Of course these rights can be withdrawn but they do permit, for example, the passing out of communist newspapers on the street. Similarly, social media can permit a certain level of dissemination––Blogger, for example, is owned by Google but myself and others are able to use it to publish our anti-capitalist blogs. I think the mistake, though, is in assuming that internet leftism is tantamount to a revolutionary act. For this was the case, then, as you pointed out, the social media sites would intervene.


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