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DSG aims to publish posts and propaganda from various sources as provocation and stimulation. The following text was produced by Paul O’Hagan, a journalist living in East London. He is writing under a pseudonym.
DRINK, FIGHT, FALL OVER
Is there any buzz quite like walking out into the stands of a full football stadium? That point when the grey concrete steps fall from the top of your eyeline, replaced with flashes of colour from thousands of fans, is perhaps a unique experience. You feel a blast of the senses as the rise and fall of competing chants roll around the stadium like a wave along a beach; a general hubbub of nerves and anticipation is subsumed into the spirit of the crowd and, as an individual, a little bit of you slips away. It’s a relief, losing that autonomy and gaining that community, and there are few experiences we have today to match it.
Passing through the increasingly omnipresent police lines that cut across the streets in London I find myself caught up in that sensation more and more. The tone of protest in Britain is changing; not necessarily becoming more radical in any real sense of the word, but certainly more spectacular, and amongst the trainers padding along the concrete and arms raised in expectant celebration or hopeless defiance, I find it difficult to distinguish the hazy line between attending a football match and attending a street demonstration. That important line was completely washed away for me on Saturday 3rd September, as the English Defence League, a anti-Islamisation protest movement, attempted to march on Tower Hamlets.
I don’t want to make the crass observation that EDL are little more than football hooligans. That element should be clear enough to anyone who has encountered them en masse, and, indeed, the group emerged from the organisational structures already existing within the British hooligan movement. The ability to mobilise “firms” into attendance gave EDL the appearance of an early burst of dynamism, with rapidly swelling numbers brought about more by existing loyalties than diligent community organisation.
It is that brand of loyalty that guides the politics of the group, too. Frequently branded as “fascist”, the group actually walks a muddled line between a rather nostalgic provincial patriotism evoked by the apple-cheeked (non-halal) village butcher, and more contested and complicated discourses of liberalism and multiculturalism, such as their LGBT division. This balancing act is ham-fisted in practice– the EDL ranks harbour a good number of hardened fascists from the endlessly splintering history of the British far-right, including BNP, NF and C18. They march uncomfortably alongside rainbow flags and the Jewish Division under the banner “POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY”. However it would probably be more accurate to trace their ideological lineage back to the League of Empire Loyalists rather than National Socialism, lacking as it does any form of revolutionary aspiration or politics. The EDL are extremists, in that their positions are at the uncompromising and super-simplistic end of a discourse on multiculturalism which starts in the centre right, rather than radicals, implying a distinct ideological break with those positions. This is one of the reasons why the rallying cry of “fascism” by their opponents fails to ring true for many- whilst in the EDL drinking grounds and coaches there is no doubt radical fascist opinion, there is little in the EDL’s explicit discourse or propaganda which cannot be found in the dinner parties and clubs of the Tory establishment, or on the pages of the majority of national newspapers.
Indeed the EDL operate not as a traditional fascist party hunting for power, but more as a street pressure group aimed at nudging parliamentary policy and British culture, opening the Overton Window to increasingly aggressive anti-Muslim policies and attitudes. And it is this street activity which offers the members the incentive to join up and turn out. The core activity of the EDL is the symbolic demonstration. Its rituals offer the same rewards of the football match; the traveling and pre-match boozing, the camaraderie, the chants (often taken straight from the terraces), the highs and lows of “the game”, the temporary freedom from the more restrictive social norms, the caricatured enemy and shared loyalties, the anonymity of the crowd and finally the post-mortem pints, the arguments around tactics and management styles.
This attitude to demonstrations isn’t limited to the far-right, of course. I see much the same attitude displayed on the organised Left, albeit with a little more internecine rivalry thrown in, and for some sections of both left and right the ritual of the demonstration ”fixture” remains the limit of social activism, with violence increasing in its intensity as each demonstration decreases in its potential for social change.
Saturday’s Tower Hamlets demonstration between EDL and UAF (Unite Against Fascism, an anti-fascist organisation) reached the nadir of the “demonstration as sporting event”. Both sides established their mythology well before the big derby; for the EDL, this was a “March into the Lion’s Den” of British Islamism. For the UAF, this was nothing less than a re-run of the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when 300,000 people fought off the Metropolitan Police who were attempting to facilitate a British Union of Fascists march through the East End. On those terms it seemed far from a symbolic demonstration; the EDL wanted to march, despite a ban, into Tower Hamlets to threaten and intimidate local Muslims, whilst the UAF wanted to physically prevent them from doing so and demonstrate the unity of the local population whilst doing so. There is much to be said for the large-scale community mobilisation of the counter-demonstration, and I do not want to appear to be deriding such hard work, but I feel it’s important to distinguish between the symbolic demonstration and the direct intervention when it comes to anti-fascism.
It was clear, monitoring the social media and youtube chatter after the event as well as talking with activists, that the matchday mentality had sunk deep in sections of these groups, with talk about ‘who had won’ (a contested issue) greatly overriding any other issues the day may have raised. In point of fact, this was displayed literally with members of both sides bragging “TH 1 – EDL 0” or “EDL 1 Tower hamlets nil”. But the game on the day failed to live up to the importance of the derby in the hype and mythology of both groups. The EDL barely got to the borders of the borough, let alone to the East London Mosque which forms the target of so much of their venom. For the UAF, the day was far from a “Cable Street” moment; unlike Cable Street, the state were actively preventing the EDL from marching on the East End; it was the Metropolitan Police who ended up scrapping on the street with the “fascists” whilst the UAF stood 100 yards away behind police lines. Both could claim victory in equal measure, but the for the Metropolitan Police it was an almost textbook policing operation that reinforced the state role as arbiters of anti-social street politics and keepers of the peace (much like during sporting events– and it is worth pointing out that policing of football matches is routinely far more heavy-handed than most demonstrators will ever face). It certainly was not a significant and real standoff between two dynamic and radical social movements, with the fascists scurrying off in the face of the might of the organised working class, but rather a victory for state power. A better scoreline would perhaps have been EDL- 1, TH- 2, Met Police- 5.
THE FACEHUGGER MOMENT: When the Real breaks forth, uncontrolled, from the chest of the Symbolic.
The fragile chrysalis of symbolism and self-mythology was only shattered briefly, after the organised mass demonstrations ended. A coach carrying EDL members home was travelling through Tower Hamlets when its learing and gesturing passengers were attacked by local youths, throwing street furniture through the coach windows, until police arrived to arrest and escort the EDL members from the area. This was a breakthrough of the lines and limits of protest proscribed by the state, of the day’s theatrical narrative, and a breakthrough of Real violence out of the symbolic protest. It is this uncomfortable dualistic relationship between Symbolic violence and Real violence that has defined the extra-parliamentary political sphere since the eruption of the Millbank riot last November. Sitting side by side have been the Symbolic violence of the self-avowed “Political” street demonstration with the “post-political” of Real violence, breaking out without context or codification, as a reaction rather than a provocation, both in communities and entangled within political demonstrations.
The street demonstration is the site where symbolic political violence is played out in an ideologically structured and limited environment. The violence of the Black Bloc (for example) isn’t “meaningless”; it is tightly codified and understood within the context of a dying parliamentary system and increasing exasperation and resentment from the populace. The fear for the State is the violence that isn’t limited by these parameters; whether it was the outbreaks of far more extreme violence within the Parliament Square kettle on December 9th, when supposedly apolitical British youth attempted to storm the British Treasury with makeshift battering rams to chants of “We want our money back!”, to barricades across major London roads and street-to-street fighting with Police during August’s riots. Violence without limit, violence without demand, violence without end.
Talking to EDL members and reading their propaganda, it’s easy to see that the social conditions the organised Left blames for creating the August riots are certainly not racially defined but are aggravating factors within the far-right; lack of social cohesion, poverty, unemployment, resentment and immobility. I’m far from sure these are the causes of the riots, at least not exclusively, but increasingly precarious living conditions and resentment of parliamentary politics are rapidly becoming a defining characteristic of the entire working-class in the UK, and I think any prediction that future social unrest will continue to focus on material needs (i.e looting) and anti-police violence would be foolhardy; manifestations of intraclass-war are just as viable.
My fear is that a very real fascist terror will emerge from the very same social and political environment the riots emerged from; seemingly spontaneous within the media narrative, but completely predictable to working-class communities, seemingly apolitical, but laced with fierce social resentment, “disorganised”, but involving mass coordination on a personal and online level. This new fascist threat won’t take the form of either the Blackshirts or the shirtless EDL and their symbolic street demonstrations, but rather in the taster we saw in Eltham, as in the video above, during the riots (which did have EDL involvement). Racial vigilantism, kangaroo justice, small-town micro-fascism, and the insidious, creeping booze-filled street violence of the market-town high street led to what were, for me, the most horrifying scenes of the rioting. If we are facing a growing fascist threat, it is this form of fascist terror that we will find ourselves up against in the coming years, and an organisational legacy of symbolic demonstration and scorecard politics will leave our communities spectacularly ill-equipped.
The ongoing News International fiasco appears, on the face of it, a good old-fashioned scandal, a “Watergate” for our times, as the #hackgate hashtag suggests. This, the story goes, is a case of a brave investigative journalist bringing hitherto unknown corruption to light in the mainstream media, and, in exposing it, raising questions about the hidden links of the rich and powerful. It’s been a nice return to classic Fleet Street values of speaking truth to power, of exposé and outrage, a pause in the running narrative of the past 10 months- austerity, insurrection and cyberwar. So runs the broadsheet analysis. However, it’s actually an integral part of that thread of confusion and worldwide destabilisation running from Wikileaks, through the Arab Spring, and European and US anti-austerity struggles, to Anonymous and the ongoing Cyberwar (beta).
Whilst traditional commentators are keen to accentuate the differences of these struggles, and paint any attempt to analyse their commonalities as self-valorisation of the most obnoxious kind by western activists, we believe that the causes of these worldwide shifts in power are very much linked. The links lie in our changing attitude to extant authority, to our shared relationship with changing trends in international capital and, importantly, in the role of technology in these changes. The hacking scandal isn’t an event that will lead to a cleaning up of the media and a return to the “values” the NOTW hacks seemingly undermined; rather, it is the spreading of a process of delegitimisation running concurrently across societies worldwide, from the authoritarian regimes of North Africa to the War on Drugs in the US, or the rise of Lulzsec.
The link between the hacking scandal and these new currents of political and social change is based around two new models of crisis; models of the technological freeing up of information, and ensuing deligitimisation of those who have controlled that information. Crisis for them, but for us, a possible opportunity. We call these models “The Napster Moment” and “The Wikileaks Moment”.
The Napster Moment
Faced with slightly changing circumstances, a manager is able to make two choices– to modify how her system operates, or to retain the methodologies of the status quo. The brave or foolhardy manager will opt for change; to optimise the efficiency of their operation. Such a move is inherently risky; if the changes result in reduced efficiency, in failure, then she faces the blame as the manager who implemented the system. Those who want a quiet life will take the sensible option– retain the current model, and invest their energies in plastering over the cracks. With any luck, the system will outlive her tenure, and, if worst comes to worst, she can offer the defence that it was the system that was unsustainable– she just happened to be at the helm when it broke, but it’s the system she inherited and it could have happened to anyone.
This hypothesis on the inherent conservative bias in managerial practice can be applied as a general tendency. Complacency as to the efficacy of any given system tends to prevail amongst those who control the system, whether that system is the music industry, the newspaper industry or liberal capitalist democracy. People keep using the system, people keep abiding by the rules, laws and logic of the system– therefore, people must be invested in the system, must believe in the system, right?
Wrong. Whilst the ideological framework of, and popular consent for, any given system might appear to be largely intact, and ticking over nicely, that’s not in itself evidence that its clients are ideologically invested in that system. The managers continue maintaining the system, unaware of the growing contradictions within it that are threatening to realise themselves at any given point. That point occurs with the Napster Moment- the moment when technology allows the clients to circumvent the authority that manages the system. The moment refers not just to the peer-to-peer music sharing software that allowed users to obtain music free of charge (through piracy), but from the situation the music industry found itself in. For an industry that had, for so long, taken its user’s loyalty and expenditure for granted, suddenly the cat was out of the bag. This is the situation that describes The Napster Moment– a point of no-return, where, due to technological development, a defunct authority no longer has the legitimacy to enforce its hold over its users.
This is more than a technological crisis; it’s an ideological crisis. The ability to pirate music, whether through sharing CDs, taping off the radio or pirating in smaller “silo communities” (non-networked peer-to-peer associations, for example) already existed, but Napster offered a technological and ideological structure to turn peer-to-peer music trading into something which offered a genuine popular opposition to the music industry as distributors.
As a model for crisis, we can start to see it in its nascent form across cyberspace. For example Silk Road, an online anonymous marketplace which runs on Tor anonymity software, enables the trading of contraband, especially drugs and controlled substances, for bitcoins, an online crypto-currency, via mail. It’s highly possible that Silk Road, at least as a model, could spell the Napster Moment for the prohibition of drugs in western democracies. Its position here brings us back to our original point about consent: Napster and Silk Road didn’t arise from nowhere to create the ability for piracy and drug-dealing, but rather made it possible to organise those activities in such a way that their networked nature became an coherent challenge to the concept that the intellectual property regime, or the prohibitions on drugs, operate by common consent of citizens. Will law enforcement agencies now be forced to take the line of the music industry and implement increasingly authoritarian measures – seizing personal computers and mail, tapping phones and checking bank accounts, monitoring bitcoin mining – just to maintain the facade of the War on Drugs?
This is the Pandora’s Box of the Napster Moment– an unleashing of the hidden rejection of the dominant ideology committed through mass disobedience from the privacy of your bedroom. In collective anonymity we trust.
The Wikileaks Moment
If the Napster Moment is a tipping-point for mass-networking information which once crossed cannot be retracted, then the Wikileaks Moment is something quite different; a moment within a process where technology allows the release of previously-limited information that totally strips away the ideological justification for a given authority. The scale of the leak is massive– so massive the content becomes almost irrelevant compared with its effect. How many people know the details of the Wikileaks Cables? The real relevance is that the US rhetoric surrounding foreign policy has been revealed as a political disguise for vicious realpolitik, and those who have claimed this to be the case for so many years have had their conspiracy justified.
This position was recently brought up by theorist and Gaga-botherer Slavoj Zizek during his recent performance with Julian Assange at the Frontline Club. Addressing the importance of Wikileaks, he said
“So, again, what I want to say is, let me begin with the significance of what you, Amy, started with, these shots. I mean, not shooting, but video shots of those Apache helicopters shooting on. You know why this is important? Because the way ideology functions today, it’s not so much that—let’s not be naive—that people didn’t know about it, but I think the way those in power manipulate it. Yes, we all know dirty things are being done, but you are being informed about this obliquely, in such a way that basically you are able to ignore it.”
What Zizek highlights here is that we all hold an understanding as to the nature of power, but it is due to the sheer quantities of specific data and information that, taken as a whole, undermine our ability to accept previously hidden but acknowledged practices. The “moment” of the Wikileaks Moment is the point at which the traditional tactics of defence and apology– for example, what K-punk calls the “individual as scapegoat-trophy in order to deflect from a structural tendency”– fail because the scale and previously-concealed nature of the accusations have dealt a fatal blow to the integrity and legitimacy of the defendant; or rather, to the complex ideology of commonsense and everyday truth they hide behind.
This is the situation Murdoch finds himself in. The criminal nature of the phone-hacks are less relevant than the proof that News International’s patriotic tears for Our Brave Boys have been crocodile tears, and that the Editorial line of any given paper is a creative fiction aimed at building a saleable identity. The joy of the establishment Left at having their anti-Murdoch conspiracies validated was unrestricted, but missed the realisation that not only did this stripping back of the constructed nature of editorialism apply to “their side” too, but that the rejection of the editorial authority will also be applied wholesale. Wikileaks didn’t damage administrations specifically, it damaged the very legitimacy of parliamentary democracy as a model of just governance. Hackgate won’t damage News International alone, but erode the idea of news outlets as agents of truthfulness or honest political analysis. It was the scale of the leaks, and the incessant feedback of networked commentary in the form of twitter, that pushed this into more than a scandal; and the traditional remedy for a scandal within neoliberalism– the rooting out of bad apples and the independent inquiry– will never restore faith, because nobody wants their faith to be restored.
The wider question that has been passing round militants in the DSG network: Is Murdoch’s “Wikileaks moment” symptomatic of the Establishment’s Napster Moment? The corruption and nepotism of the closed circle of politicians, press and police was a disgusting necessity for the efficient running of the state in the interests of the status quo, but it worked because it was hidden, neatly covered with the facade of the consensus of progressive patriotism, classless society rhetoric and the meritocracy. This conspiracy was a vital tool of governance, but now a precedent of bottom-up transparency has been set, whereby those of us who are excluded from the circles of power have the technological tools (and will) for the constant revelation of such scandals. An endless appetite for transparency, causing an infinite loop of scandal, resulting in a revolving door of administrations. The system of parliamentary democracy and capitalist media as it exists in Britain simply wasn’t designed as a transparent system, and technological developments, hitting at the same time as a restructuring crisis, are forcing open those contradictions. Faced with its Napster Moment, the parliamentary system has two options- either to acknowledge the changing conditions, or, like the music industry, to plough ahead with the current model, and use increasingly repressive and authoritarian tactics to enforce its legitimacy amongst its client base.
“A story of beauty and disgrace”
A brief post- a recommendation to listen to yesterday’s Novara show from Resonance FM, featuring Federico Campagna of Through Europe giving a fascinating history and analysis of the Italian workerist movement, Autonomia and its continued relevance and resonance within anti-austerity movements today- more so than the insurrections of France in 1968. We really cannot recommend this enough- following our recent post on Antonio Negri, this programme provides a wonderful introduction to the subject.
We’ve also provided some links to further reading and ideas touched upon in the programme-
When Insurrections Die (Gilles Dauvé)- an analysis of the failure of workers movements throughout the 20th Century
The Workerists and the Unions in Italy’s Hot Autumn (Steve Wright)- chapter from “Storming Heaven” on the industrial unrest of 1969
The birth of Italian Workerism (Steve Wright)
- Autonomia and Workerist theory
Franco “Bifo” Berardi– Selected Berardi texts
Mario Tronti– Selected Tronti texts
Antonio Negri– Selected Negri texts
The Grundrisse (Marx) From the late 60’s, new translations of Marx’s earlier writings became available across Europe, and formed the basis of a new critique of political economy, aimed equally at the Soviet system as the burgeoning consumer democracies of the West. Marx’s “Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie” (Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy) was highly influential within Autonomist currents- not least the section…
Fragment on the Machines (pdf)(Marx), which continues to inform ideas and critiques of the General Intellect and post-fordist labour today
Domination and Sabotage (PDF) (Antonio Negri)– fascinating Negri text
Fighting for Feminism– Letters from Lotta Continua regarding Women and revolutionary struggle in Italy
Feminism, Workerism and Autonomy (Patrick Cuninghame)– Overview of the struggle against unpaid reproductive labour
Let’s Spit on Hegel – Rivolta Femminile manifesto
Auto-Reductionism in Turin, 1974 (Cherki and Wieviorka)– Account the auto-reduction of prices, collectively bargaining for reduced living costs in everyday life
Cultural manifestations / Mao-Dadaism
Radio Alice– An interview with Franco Berardi on Radio Alice
Transcript of Radio Alice broadcast during a police raid
A Laughter That Will Bury You All (Patrick Cuninghame)- a survey of the creative and cultural aspects within Autonomia
Il Trasloco (Federico Campagna)- Article about Bifo’s wonderful film
Legacy / Side Notes
The Free Association– British affinity group influenced by autonomist ideas
For further reading, libcom.org has an indispensable library of material
And lastly- the incredible youtube video of the funeral of Enrico Berlinguer, PCI General Secretary, that Federico mentioned…
June 30th marks a very considerable mobilisation of industrial action in Britain, in the shape of a large public sector strike. The Trades Unions are making their first tentative steps towards politically motivated action for a generation, with a massive withdrawal of workers labour in response to government plans for pensions reform; whilst the pensions dispute is the legal justification for industrial action (under Britain’s strict, Thatcherite anti-strike legislation), in reality the issue is the tip of the iceberg. The consensus behind the strikes is that of a political fight against the cuts in general. The range of action we will see on June 30th will stretch far beyond those “directly” affected by pensions plans, with a cross-section of those worst hit by the cuts expected to engage with the day of action– the disabled, those who face massive reductions to vital welfare benefits, students, schools pupils and parents and other public-service users.
The participation of these groups raises old questions about how people not traditionally represented by and outside of trade-union structures and activities can appropriately take direct action if they cannot withdraw their labour. But it also raises other issues that need to be addressed; notably, how changing conditions of production and employment in a 21st century, late-capitalist economy have affected the viability of the mass strike alone as an effective tool of social struggle.
There is no doubt that the withdrawal of labour is still the primary tactic working people have in defence of their interests, and as a process that broadens understanding of the dynamics of a class society through praxis; that is, in the very act of striking we can begin to understand our position and our potential for re-imagining social relations outside of the wage relation. But society today isn’t encapsulated by the unionised mass worker, but rather by the short term contract, the service industry worker, the temp and those whose labour isn’t rewarded at all. How are those most badly affected by cuts- the single-mother and the unpaid carer- supposed to withdraw their labour? It’s simply not possible. The difficulties faced by those in precarious jobs, with short term contracts, alienated and disconnected from their workmates and threatened by aggressive management, are similar. Simply calling on them to “unionise! don’t work!” is rhetoric, not a tactic.
Widening tactics of dissent, refusal and disruption of capital is vital. It is within these two defining conditions – the Europe-wide anti-austerity struggle, and the post-fordist economic model– that the concepts and tactics of the new models of the “cyberstrike” are emerging. Predictably, like almost all developments within cyberspace, they are being misunderstood, misrepresented or usually ignored by the mainstream press, who, in Britain, seem to have fallen back on the idea that anything related to the internet is the domain of friendless teenage virgins. It seems completely beyond their understanding that those whose voices have previously been absent from direct industrial action may be starting to be empowered to organise and agitate via the internet.
So how might the June 30th strike play out online? Given the current climate, recent online events and the speed of development, only an idiot would make concrete predictions, but there are a number of tactics and scenarios which are now distinct possibilities. These range in intensity from essentially political pressure (a “hashtag revolt”) right through to acts of illegalism– even mass illegalism– in an attempt to shut down production in the economy.
Surprisingly, considering the hype and confusion in the media regarding hacker group Lulzsec at the moment, a “cyberattack” in the form of a DoS (Denial-of-Service) action or security leak by a hacktivist group has not even been raised as possibility in the press. In Britain especially, security for government computer infrastructure is notoriously weak (as the Lulzsec NHS leaks prove), and a pre-planned action by a hacker group with a sympathetic ideological leaning could produce significant embarrassment for the Government at just the moment where it vitally needs to uphold it’s “legitimacy”. More than this, a DoS attack, or a series of attacks, upon Government websites could produce far more damage to production and inconvenience to management than 1000 picket-lines. It hardly needs pointing out that such online action is highly illegal, but whilst the Government and Police have invested significant time and resources into contingency planning for civil disorder on the streets they have been highly complacent over the prospect of widespread cyber-disorder.
Whether groups do exist with the ideological leanings towards taking direct action in support of striking workers is unquestionably complicated to assert. Defining the identities and motivation of online activists and/or hackers is not as easy as saying X is “in it for the lulz”, politically-motivated or just “trying to meet the rent”, or they’re a member of either Anon, Lulzsec or Cult of the Dead Cow, or they’re left-wing, libertarian or anarchist. To search for a definitive identity and ideology amongst cyber-identities is like asking “Are you a teacher, a mother, or exhausted?” “Are you a student, a call-centre worker, or indebted?” “Are you a Tory, a banker, or a bastard?”. However, as we’ve reported previously, there has, over the past year, been an increasing move towards politicisation within hacker groups, especially Anonymous.
That politicisation has resulted in widespread and practical actions across the world, from mass-faxing the Wikileaks Cables to Egypt after the government cut the internet, to attacking and defacing government websites and facilitating proxies for twitter etc. And these actions were not, as is often reported, limited to “The Arab Spring”- they also took place in support of “Indignados” movements across Europe. It is not inconceivable that Anonymous or related groups may draw similar links to the UK and undertake actions here.
A tactic similar to the small hacker-groups, but capable of being utilised by larger networks of less-skilled activists, or even ordinary members of the public, is the DDoS (Distributed-Denial-Of-Service) attack whereby groups utilise tools such as network attack applications like Low Orbit Ion Cannon to target a website and force it offline. However the DDoS as a tactic has precedents within online activism. The “online sit-in” from the late 90’s/early 2000’s was essentially a “tool-less” DDoS attack whereby thousands of internet users loaded, and reloaded, the same webpage repeatedly, draining the server of bandwidth until the website crashed or became too slow to use through overuse (we all remember those bad old days). These processes require incredibly basic skill sets, making them open to utilisation by exactly the people normally excluded from direct action.
A politically motivated online sit-in is a non-violent direct action aimed at causing disruption in order to raise awareness. The sit-in has long been a tool of effective protest, most notably in the civil-rights era in the US. Today governments are working hard, globally, to criminalise this act of non-violent resistance as an act of war before it becomes a viral, popular action; for decades protestors around the world have blocked roads to stop traffic. Whilst illegal, the context is widely understood that the act, though illegal, is hardly criminal. That does not hold true to the online sit-in, blocking site-traffic from reaching it’s destination.
On top of this is the possibility of “socially-engineered disruption”– essentially the computer workers equivalent of the “clog in the machine” or the “paperclip in the photocopier”, a form of industrial sabotage. Within online security jargon, social engineering means gaining access, information or action not through technical hacking but through manipulating the human link in the security chain. Typically this is a malicious action, whether phishing for data from less tech-savvy users, or “baiting”. However, within the context of industrial sabotage, an age-old tool of industrial action, this could just as easily be a worker purposefully disrupting their workplace in order to impede production whilst unable to strike. On June 30th, workers with strong ideological ties could well take part in solidarity sabotage; with many working in the IT professions such action, online or otherwise, could have deferred and untraceable consequences, not least with workers being far more highly-skilled in technical operation than their bosses.
Inevitably the most popular online actions on June 30th will be based on social media. We can expect a whirlwind of twitter updates, yfrog images, online petitioning and concerted attempts to shape mainstream media narrative through “send us your experiences” type citizen journalist initiatives taking place. The efficacy of such actions in terms of impeding production seems doubtful to us, although they will contextualise public opinion. However, we are seeing increased mobilisation through social media which escapes being over-codified with conventional activist rhetoric. This combination of populism and agility may well provide a base for the growth of movements that echo the “indignados” movements occurring in Southern Europe. As we have argued before, there are increasing signs that people are beginning to contextualise the “anti-cuts” movement within much broader issues of anti-austerity and rejection of traditional political structures, from Spain and Greece to the Arab Spring. We believe that this rejection is in no small part due to an implicit understanding that the conditions of our labour are rapidly changing whilst the political representation of the issues which that throws up, from the parliamentary system to trade unions, isn’t.
One thing is now certain- the zones of operation for political action are polymorphous and integrate into all areas of production and reproduction of capital- including immaterial areas such as the internet and IT networks. Contrary to what the mainstream media might print, the working-class are not dinosaurs but the productive class within society, and, as such, the innovative class. Whilst potential direct-action in cyberspace will be criminalised, in press rhetoric if not yet in law, just as IRL direct action against the reproduction of capital has been criminalised for centuries, the idea that criminalisation will prevent it from being utilised in liberatory struggle is unlikely. As austerity bites, as social divisions increase, the reaction of workers, those who can’t find work and those who don’t work will be to see the internet, a place they live and work in as first nature, as a fitting place for everyday struggle.
The longer the command line, the shorter the strike!
(Click through on the images for larger formats for avatars etc- toot toot! next stop, social democracy!)
A brief follow-up…
Last week we published a little expose of a perhaps little “less-than-rigorous” interview Independent journalist Johann Hari claimed to have conducted with Italian communist Toni Negri. A few days later we received an anonymous tip-off e-mail containing a link to a letter sent to The Independent by academics Matteo Mandarini and Alberto Toscano, which The Independent declined to publish and was subsequently published online. It’s a good rebuttal to the original article, taking the paper to task for presenting “views regarding Negri’s political past that in Italy, today, are only held by the fringes of the right”, claiming that Hari’s “reference to (relatives of) Negri’s ‘victims’ is quite peculiar, as no one to our knowledge has yet come forward to claim that status.” The letter is well worth a read in full.
But it was a footnote appended to the post by Rowan Wilson, the publicist Hari mentions within the interview, that particularly caught our eye-
“I was the so-called ‘publicist’ mentioned in the article(I work for Continuum, the publishers of ‘Time for Revolution’,and was innvolved in organising the ICA event). A few minor, but incorrectly reported, details that I have personal knowledge of (eg,there was no taxi called, I didn’t say the things ascribed to me, Negri wasn’t behaving arrogantly as suggested, there was no angry confontation with ICA staff, etc) casts serious doubt on the veracity of anything that Hari says.”
It seems that even the “vivid picture of Negri as a personally rude and rather objectionable man” was a creative embellishment. Which raises the (perhaps sinister) question- what did Toni and Johann natter about over those multiple glasses of wine?
Truth- a slippery business, comrades!