Saturday, 22 August 2009

Tweeting Trotsky

Clare Solomon, who runs the blog Solomons Mindfield, organised a forum called 'Internet for Activists' earlier this year. She is now preparing a paper on how the left uses (or too often doesn't use) the Internet politically. It's for a conference of the journal Historical Materialism and, in a post titled 'Cyberspace Lenin... absolutely'(the title is inspired by a Slavoj Zizek article in the ISJ), she invites ideas about the topic. The starting point appears to be the inventive use of blogging and other web tools during recent months to build and spread struggles, starting with the student occupations over Gaza (hence the illustration above).

Here I'm developing slightly the comment I've posted on Clare's blog - this still isn't coherent or very theoretical, but as a rough sketch on socialist activists and online tools it'll do for now...

1. The left needs to use the Net far more - and more effectively - than at present. That does NOT mean abandoning other methods entirely. Any organisation needs a strategy that thinks through how to combine a variety of methods so they get the most from all of them.

2. The Net is useful for spreading ideas, connecting people, and promoting activities happening offline. It should not be viewed as a substitute for activity in the 'real world' - it reports on, helps organise, and promotes that activity. Online petitions, for example, have some value, but it's also crucial to make direct contact with people face to face, through street stalls and the like.

3. Most people are now online - it is therefore no longer credible to claim that emphasising it as a political tool is elitist or middle class. It simply isn't. We've reached a point where only a retrograde fool would claim that prioritising the Net is 'anti-working class'.

4. Conservatism in resisting online activism is linked to conservatism in other ways. Bending the stick (in Leninist terms) towards using the Net properly goes together with overcoming conservatism and inertia inside a revolutionary party more generally.

5. It's not enough to merely bung printed material online. We have to utilise the particular strengths of the web - it's more dynamic, immediate, interactive, audio-visual, etc. A website should be created from scratch, with a sharp sense of the peculiarities of web communication, rather than being simply another way of accesing something you can get in printed form.

6. We should utilise the Net's potential to enable people to be particpants not just readers, feeding in their own reports, stories etc and offering own comments. It is interactive not one-way. This is consistent with Lenin's Pravda, but with modern tools, as the Bolsheviks grasped the need for workers in every locality and factory to contribute to socialist newspapers. This enriched the content and helped those contributing to identify themselves with the paper - and therofore the party producing it.

7. Any active socialist who isn't on Facebook should be. It is extremely useful for sharing news, analysis etc (through posting links) and for publicisng protests, meetings and other events.

8. Many non-socialists in anti-capitalist and other movements have been far quicker at getting hang of all this. The left has to catch up. Poor use of the Net is one reason for marginalisation of the left in some campaigns and movements.

9.Video is especially important, e.g. when students at SOAS occupied in opposition to the deportation of low paid cleaners their videos, posted on YouTube, were vital for spreading the message and galvanising support. It's not just about the written word.

10. There are different expectations online when it comes to time frame. If there's an anti-fascist demonstration, for example, reports or videos should be posted as soon as possible (indeed it's possible, via microblogging tools like Twitter, to post updates during the event). This is radically different to the routines of a weekly socialist newspaper.


  1. These are some very useful starting points. I would encourage you to elaborate on all this if you have a mind to.

  2. Excellent summary Alex. I'm sure (actually I know)there's a considerble amount of research that would confirm the points you make here. Alongside the net - and is some ways more important is the much greater peneteration of mobile phones, with the UK having the highest concentration of video enabled mobiles in the world. It is interesting that that you note that the Left's failure to make adequate use of the new tools has left the field open to other political forces.

  3. In support of your argument I have posted a short collection of items detailing the use of the New Tools for protest on my blog Leninism 2.0: