Using the Master’s Tools – Reflections on a post by Sketchy Thoughts blog

October 11, 2009 at 10:10 pm (Uncategorized)

There’s an interesting post at the Sketchy Thoughts blog called Using the Master’s Tools on the effects of internet technology on activism. The piece offers some observations and technology and activism. 

I got my first email account in 1994 and used the net for the first time the same year. My initial feeling was that this was a tremendous asset for radicals. Imagine, being able to send documents and communicate across the globe in second, free of charge., It made the possibility of international organization and more importantly collaboration a reality unlike at any time in the past: I was a member of Trotskyist organization at the time, and email and the internet (such as it was at the time) essentially allowed us to plan international meetings and function as a collective organization. I recall reading Trotsky’s volumes of correspondence with his followers and imagined how difficult it was to sustain using snail mail along. 

When I began to publish Red & Black Notes a few years later, a lot of the early ‘filler’ content was acquired through the internet. In addition, discussion lists like aut-op-sy and others allowed me to make contact with a wide number of activists and similar thinkers.  

This exchange of information led to a massive availability of ultra-left material on the web. Once upon a time, these documents were only available as yellowing archives; now anyone could discover them.

As a digression, I should say that Geocities should get a lot of credit  – many of us used its pages to post material. With its disappearance later this month, it si a real loss – fortunately Lib com has archived much the material)

The internet nad email certainly has use as an organizing tool. Shortly after I started R&BN, I worked on a solidarity tour with the Women of the Waterfront, a support group for striking Liverpool dockers. Eugene Plawiuki n Edmonton, TJ Baker in Vancouver, Bruce Allen in St. Catharines and me in Calgary largely put the thing together. This is probably immodest, especially as many more were involved in Ontario. Nevertheless, the point is that we were able to organize the thing with the use of this fairly new technology.

However, around the same time people also began to talk about cyber-picket lines. The idea was that cyber-blitzs and I suppose hacking and crashing sites could be an effective tool for activism. Unlike email, I was a little more skeptical about this. Call me old fashioned, but class struggle, strikes, demonstrations etc, exist in a real world not a virtual one. And this is the seductive danger of the internet, the notion that this can replace actual struggles. (the notion of the armchair revolutionary is replaced by the keyboard communist)

It’s easier to bang out something on the internet than to engage in person. Discussion lists, flames and the like are so much easier to wage from the comfort of one’s keyboard. And, on a purely financial note, I should mention that when I wound up R&BN in 2005, the significant part of the production cost was the mailing.

Sketchy Thoughts points to the re-emergence of the flash-mob as a possible organizing tool. Maybe. I remember a friend arguing about eight years ago that the flash mob was the next big trend, only to see it disappear. It seems to me that the flash mob type of action can be very useful as emergency happening, although it seems to be nothing more than a more efficient version of the phone tree.  I don’t know of any leftist groups using twitter 🙂  But maybe I’m wrong.

Rejecting evolving technology  leads into dead ends. Technology is not  neutral, yet, we cannot ignore it. As Sketchy Thoughts note, sometimes it’s a question of how to use the master’s tool.

PS. I am reminded of an issue of the now defunct De Leonist Society Bulletin. Shortly before the year 2000, they published an article about Y2K and noted they were not particularly concerned. Probably because their leaflets were still produced on a typewriter. Not a healthy indication.


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