Recently, I have heard a number of commentators assert the power of the Internet to affect social change, accelerate democatization and promote free-thinking and critical attitudes towards power. These themes were raised in relation to the end of the U.S. boycott of Cuba and the fight against ISIS--"Just get the Internet in there and things will quickly move in the right direction." These claims were raised in way to suggest that there is something about the technology itself that promotes these things--regardless of the social, cultural, political or economic context in which they are deployed. The Internet--and I suppose all the associated digital tehcnologies--are supposed to in some way engender forces that inevitably lead towards a more educated, more informed and thus freer and more critical public that increasingly calls power into question.
Of course, we know from the ISIS phenomenon that this narrative is problematic on a number of levels--even if there is other evidence that suggests it might be true--the use of the these technologies by the recent social protest movements such as the Indignadoes, Occupy, Arab Spring, etc. to circumvent traditional repressive measures, etc.
But my question today is about the role or value of the Internet to the revolutionary milieu. It has now been over a decade since the ICC has had a presence on the web and other groups preceded it by several years. I think enough time has passed where it is possible to try to draw a balance sheet of what the Internet has meant for the milieu. Has the Internet promoted its growth and development in an appreciable way? Clearly more people know about and are interested in left communism and the history of the workers' movement than prior to the Internet's development. There is more material available now in a much more easily accessible way.
However, at the same time it is difficult to conclude that the milieu is in a healthier place today than it was before the Internet came along. In fact, it might even be worse off. The existing organizations, depsite a period of initial gorwth, appear to be in decline today--while the Internet appears to promote a certain degree of individualism, where people "perform politics" in a rather atomised way behind the computer screen. Perhaps, one could even say there is a disincentive to regroupement? It is much easier to do politics from behind a keyboard and mouse (or smartphone) than actually come together with others a build an organization. Is there a kind of "pseudo-activism" or "slacktivism" going on that the revolutionary milieu is not immune from?
On one level, it seems kind of "un-Marxist" to attribute a certain power to a particular technology outside of the social relationships in which it is deployed. But perhaps this is just the point, perhaps the Internet and associated technologies are products of the captialist society which gave birth to them and thus they promote particular attitudes, cultures and social practices that fit captialism and are not conducive to the movement against it? There is a new book out--"The Internet is Not the Answer," in which the author points out how intimately tied these technolgies are with the neo-liberal regime of captialism.
I don't know the answers, but I have tended to feel that technologies are not always neutral in their social and cultural affects. Of course, one could also point to the personal automobile as a promotor of individualism--so it is not just the Internet that is in question--but to me, there seems something particularly unhealthy for revolutionary politics in the social, cultural and even psychological effects of the Internet that I am not sure are easily overcome or even severable from the technology itself. Look, I am not trying to construct a neo-Amish Marxism here (after all I am making this post online)--but I think, given the state of the milieu today, the state of the ICC, the failure to capitalize on the surge in interest in revolutionary politics following the economic crisis to make the generational transition, etc., etc. that perhaps it is worth some thought?