No one can escape the dominant conversation around the ill-defined, oft valorised “movement”. If you were to judge political activism from your country Manor House, detached from real life in city streets, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the prime concern of the class struggle today is social media. Whilst it’d be nice focus on something more vital, it’s an issue that reluctantly must be addressed.
There’s no doubt twitter, Facebook and YouTube have really changed political activism. But it’s not entirely clear whether this is any more than a radical change in form. Despite being the subject of numerous feature articles, television segments and such, what is lauded as the mainstream “bloggerati” offer very little in the way of revolutionised content. The link between a dynamic form and dynamic content that has previously been the hallmark of revolutionary technological change is not at all clear in the current scenario.
The radical, democratised communicative potential that resides in the internet is still largely untapped– whatever you think of them, those who are making their voices heard most loudly (many of whom’s blogs are listed to the right of this post) are not people who would previously have been excluded from representation in mainstream media. In past times they are those who, sooner or later, would have found voice, whether in the mainstream or alternative print press, or other mass media.
The shoots of that potential are showing, but mainly on Facebook. The most interesting exchanges of political expression and tactical planning have been happening on event walls of some of the major protests– at some times cack-handed and naive, at others critical and rich, but always passionate, usually egged on by a surprisingly counter-productive culture of right-wing trolling. These kids are the constituent base of the student movement, and it is they who are the unheard voice of the working-class young people today, more than a single journo could ever achieve. It’s interesting to note that the few journalists who have recognised this shift have been those not primarily engaged in the echo-chamber of the online blogs, old-media journalists such as Paul Mason on BBC’s Newsnight.
The real change will involve a critical change in tone. It’s right to describe the current online student vanguard as “media savvy”. They understand well how media works as a controlling, policy-forming element of capitalist society. Articles, media appearances and blog posts are sharp, directed ( although often ham-fisted ) attempts at a mix of “nudging” public discourse, tugging the heartstrings of middle-England and introducing predetermined tactical veins into the public consciousness. They are rarely expressions of working-class consciousness, aimed at critically debating the issues that effect our everyday lives. They aim to take up a position within the marketplace of ideas, rather than exist outside the world of the liberal media. And, always, with one on possibility of a book deal. Rarely with one eye on a world free of the wage relation.
But the capability of working-class people, especially young people, to take up the potential for revolutionary media offered by the internet remains. It finds its current expression not in a language of class struggle, but in expressions of everyday existence under capitalism. Whilst internecine warfare between London postcodes plays out through gang violence on our estates, it represents itself, its cohesive form, through the social media- and has been doing so for many years. The real change in social media as a radical political platform will happen when we start to see user-generated content from these same voices, expressing not a fetishisation of consumer goods and hierarchy between the powerless, but a critical response to the causes of poverty and discrimination (to be fair, that criticism is already implicit in much output, but is currently easy recuperated- a discussion worthy of many more blogs no doubt) . When we see groups from, say, the Woodberry Down, Pelican or Pepys Estates making that political content (in whatever language) the claims of a YouTube (or, more likely, Ustream) revolution will have more ground.
This is not a million miles away– the make-up of the recent demonstrations and the “don’t give a fuck” attitude of anti-state violence shows that political consciousness amongst working-class youths is rising– anyone involved in political organising on the ground in their communities can well you that. Indeed, the politicians are starting to realise that too, and you can see the fear in their eyes. We all heard the dog-whistle when Cameron switched from “violent minority” (shadowy, nondescript bomb-throwing anarchists) to “feral thugs” (black and asian kids from working-class communities).
We welcome this new upsurge of online angry class consciousness, if and when it comes, on whichever platform. We look forward to the inevitable howls of the right-wing media, mixing crypto-racist anti-gang invective with the rhetoric of anti-leftism. But we will cherish the day in our hearts when the liberal-left media, the nursemaids of the twitter revolution, start wringing their hands with talk of how things have gone “too far”- because that’s the day the proletariat youth will have got sight of their real goal.