Diagonal communication

Submitted by AWL on 8 April, 2014 - 5:55

Your debate on organising and the internet has caused me to consider the strengths and limitations of using social media to advance the class struggle. My experience is broadly positive but we cannot assess the merits of the networked culture that mass internet usage is creating without a consideration of the context.

The growth of internet access, mobile telephony, and social media, has not occurred alongside a remobilisation of organised labour. Whilst it has lowered the barriers to entry for individuals seeking answers to the predicament of our class, it is not led to an immediate cultural change within existing organisations, where top-down communication channels have often been defended with expulsions in the name of democratic centralism

Consider the costs in the past of an individual organising unit — a few activists, clustered geographically, and aligned to a certain current in the labour movement — finding out what is going on in other parts of the country, the continent, and beyond. Reports of a meeting in one place — decisions taken, matters discussed — can now be shared instantly. It is now commonplace for conferences to encourage delegates to use a certain hashtag to link text, images, video footage.

The pluralism engendered by multi-channel methods of communication can be escaped by limiting your “friends” or “follows” to people with whom you are in the same organisation, but we wouldn't behave that way in “meatspace” interactions with comrades. On a picket line or a demo, I don't see people from rival organisations refusing to acknowledge each other, reading each other's papers, and so on.

It is true that prior to the internet there were forums for serious political debate – journals, newspapers, meetings – but crucially these tended to be vertical (belonging to the organisation of which we are members) and horizontal (involving only those directly involved in our branch).

Patterns of communication which were vertical are now potentially diagonal. A “status update” I posted to Facebook about my experience as a delegate to the People’s Assembly recall conference prompted responses from comrades who are members different organisations — the AWL, Counterfire, the SWP — and living in different parts of the UK.

The radical transparency enabled by the internet does mean a risk of surveillance, victimisation, and also state repression during periods of heightened class struggle, but I think being open about our politics, and acknowledging where we agree and disagree will be crucial in remobilising the labour movement.

For those of us who have grown up with the internet as a fact of social life, it seems incredible that the networked culture has not been embraced sooner by our movement.

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