About the Networked Revolution tag and where I'm going with it

Swans, ducks & seagulls in Hyde Park - photo by Andrew FloodRegular readers may have noticed I’ve recently starting tagging articles & blogs with Networked Revolution some of which  don’t appear to have a direct connection to the revolutionary implications of social media. This is because I’m using this tag as a catch all for the blogs & articles I’m publishing questioning how we traditionally understand revolutionary organisation in the new conditions of today.

I’ve expanded this beyond simply being about the technology to the behaviors this new technology makes possible and also the conflicts it is creating. One aspect of this is the material looking as the arguments around what is often called ‘intersectionality’ although in terms of left practice the term micropolitics may be more useful.  In meat space I’ve had a few people asking me what I’m up to, surprised I suspect that I’ve been quite sympathetic to this set of ideas and methods while most on the left (particularly those over a certain age) are unrelenting in their hostility. Someone even told me I’m ‘playing a clever game’ so I thought it might be a good idea to clarify that this is a genuine exploration and explain some of what has prompted it.

The period of the crisis has made it clear that the revolutionary left is broken, broken in quite fundamental ways. It should have been a moment of growth and resistance, of winning people to revolutionary politics but in reality - in terms of orthodox revolutionary left politics including anarchism - this happened nowhere. What interest there was in the left was instead either of a startling new form (around Occupy & horizontalism in general) or where the local depth of the crisis & resultant polarisation was such that left electoralism saw a significant growth, albeit in the mostly passive support that is a consequence of an electoralist focus.

The general and indeed apparent common sense reaction to this from many of the left has been a call for a return to a very much simpler economistic left.  One to be built around sensible demands that appeal to almost all of the working class.  That is a move I’m deeply unconvinced by, at worst its simply a project of nostalgia for an imagined simpler past, one that is in fact responsible for where we are now.

I’m more inclined to see such economism as a dead end for the revolutionary project. Advanced capitalism has proven that when a movement built on that basis surges it can accommodate it and wait for the surge to die down before rolling back on the gains made. From 2009 to 2012 the ruling class in Ireland eroded the gains they had conceded over the previous two decades. The culture of economism is a culture which capitalism can undermine through offering real individual gains in a time of boom, as it did during the Celtic Tiger and in a bust economism to shallow an opposition to build a revolutionary movment around - its not like we didn't try.

The problem with 'the left'

The retreat in the early years of the crisis exposed the left stranded on the beach and its rapidly decomposing corpse did not make a pretty sight. It no longer made sense to make excuses for a left that had reproduced the patricial, racist nature of society in its own structures and methods of operation. And this was a huge weakness, it meant it was overwhelmingly composed of people (straight cis white men) who with economism no longer offering anything had no strong motivation to stay involved with anything like the commitment and energy that was needed to rebuild. Many dropped out of activity and many of those that didn’t tended to be the sort of intellectual ideologues whose learned behaviours make the left extremely unattractive to anyone who doesn’t get their jollies off that particular variety of conflict.  Least this be misread as me being mean lets be clear that I am more or less exactly the straight white cis male who can play the intellectual game I'm talking about.  The left looks far too much like me and operates in a way that I find comfortable but othes don't.  This is a problem.

Beyond this I''ve been arguing that much of left practice, including anarchist practice is no longer fit for purpose because it was formulated under conditions that no longer exist. Or if we are honest were not that great practices in the first place. I’m taking that approach in stark contrast to what I’ve termed the Nostalgic left who simply want a return to the ‘good old days’ - days which were frankly rather awful.  There is a connection between these two problems, a connection that is clearly visible in who takes which sides of the various disputes that blow up around these questions.

These collected blogs and articles are a leap I’m making slowly, slowly because it’s mostly a leap into the dark. But the time for caution is limited because the need for some sort of global revolution is more urgent then ever. We appear to be not far away from environmental catastrophe of the sort that will remake civilization so that whatever comes out the other side will be unrecognisable. I don’t think we will see a complete collapse, and we may even have something much better out the other side. But doing it the hard way through collapse will result in the miserable deaths of billions, including with great likelihood myself. So I’d much sooner we succesfully revolt and avoid that path.  The contradiction between the need to remake radical politics and practise and to act rapidly is a deep one, I have to worry that its too deep to resolve in the time available.

The problem is that if the question of how to have a successful revolution is more urgent then ever the path is now very much darker than what I would have believed 20 or even 10 years ago. The crisis saw a very fundamental failure of the left, not in terms of bad practice or people (which could be fixed/replaced) but in terms of the irrelevancy of the better horsewhip as the Model T swings into full-scale production.  That's why change is as important as action, rapidly producing lots of horse whips would be irrelevent no matter how well organised.

A note on Sources

This collection is not the result of me sitting in a dark corner and searching texts for solutions (although I’ve also being doing that) but primarily a process of discussion, debate and argument with people around me. I’m fortunate in that I’ve contact with a lot of smart people with sharp perspectives on these questions, perspectives that are often different to mine. Much of what is here is a product of me getting my ass kicked hard enough to overturn hard held previous positions.

Central to that is my continued involvement in the WSM and in particular the fact that this means that a couple of times a month I’m sitting in a room for two hours with a dozen comrades and really trying to work shit out. Formal organisation can mean, as it does in our case, an accumulation of trust that allows a good deal of space for experimental discussion.

I was also lucky that as my own realisation of the scale of the problem was developing I happened to be among people who had been thinking about the micorpolitical and intersectional aspects a lot longer than me and in some cases experimenting with organisational methods outside the scope of the orthodox left. When I argued with them, when they challenged me, I found again and again that I didn’t find my own angry defences convincing. Sometimes it would talk a day, or a week, or a month for me to work through to realisation but increasingly I found that the sort of concern with micro politics I’d associated with cultish hippiedom might have something to it after all. You could sum that up as my personal journey towards the realisation of my relative privilege with regard to many of those I’d been working closely with in the previous years.

Those discussions were often less formal if more challenging discussions and some of the material here is strongly influenced by them, particular that around feminist and queer analysis. I’m always a bit stuck on the question of how to credit people for this sort of inspiration in a way that doesn’t suggest they are somehow responsible for the rubbish interpretation I make of what we argued about. So although a lot of what I write is owed to others I take the blame for what is linked here on my own head alone.

Lastly what I write is also based around my life long habit of seeking out and learning from trouble.  I was an Occupy particpant rather than an observer and I somehow managed to take a holiday in Istanbul at the peak of the Gezi park protest in June 2013.  Tear gas & water cannon introduce certain realities into thought as does having journalists sniffing around for the purposes of a smear story (story to be blooged soon) or finding oneself at a moment of a sudden burst of mass tresspass and sabotage.  I can't run as fast these days but I'm glad all the same that those experences are not yet restricted to my rear view mirror - that can lead to a certain conservatism setting in.  On the other hand I'm privileged that while I have avoided serious injury and prison this isn't true of many other people I've worked with.  Struggle continues to carry substantial costs and today it can be much harder to see what the purposes of such sacrifices - made in a cause that appears lost - are.  But of those who are forced to choose, some will choose to fight, regardless of cost.

Blogs V Articles

The material I am publishing here in the blog form is experimental, it's apart of a process of thinking it though and working it out. That can actually prove quite a nerve wracking publication process as I’m deliberately exposing these ideas to see how they are torn apart in the hope that inspecting the remains will provide useful clues. The nature of the process means the blogs posts are liable to be long, rambling and internal contradictory and well as being contradictory across time. And you’d want to see my Facebook arguments..

The material I’ve published as articles mostly represents what I’m more certain about (which can just mean more certain in my wrongness). I’m hoping that unlike the blogs that over time these will become more coherent and less contradictory, perhaps they will even start to resemble something theta looks like a new strategy or a minor contribution to one.  On both blogs and articles I really want to encourage people to comment and comment strongly. Don’t just leave disagreement to Facebook comments that evaporate into invisibility a week or so after they are posted - if it is worth having a go it is worth leaving a record of that for future reference of others.

I’m going to leave commenting open here for as broad a period as is possible - which means a fair bit of tedious labour every day deleting the spam that makes it through Mollum. This means its possible to leave anonymous comments although I’d encourage you to leave a name, in particular if I know you. You can also set up an account to comment from if you wish - if you want to do so and I have new account creation turned off to dodge the spammers just contact me via Twitter or Facebook. I will try and respond to any serious challenges either directly in the comments or via further blog posts if it’s something that requires a detailed response.

It used to read Lord of the Rings once a year, generally as a way of avoiding studying for exams. Now that the films have made the stories within it very much more accessible I want to borrow one aspect from its reactionary but entertaining tales. The LOTR story is set at the moment that the world is changing and in particular the age of the elves is coming to a definitive end. I’ve a sense that the left, as we have understood it, is a bit like those elves. Whatever its wisdom, knowledge and experience it has become less and less relevant to the world around it. There might yet be one last fight to which it will contribute but its time has passed and it in turn is fading away and passing into the west. I just hope we are not heading for the restoration of a well-intentioned and all-powerful feudal monarchy with the ability to keep a careful constant eye on all its subjects.

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

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