Friday, January 30, 2009

a militant network of collaborating agents

The role of an online organ should not be limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies.

An online organ is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser.

In this last respect it may be likened to the scaffolding round a building under construction, which marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, enabling them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organised labour. The scaffolding is not required at all for the dwelling; it is made of cheaper material, is put up only temporarily, and is scrapped for firewood as soon as the shell of the structure is completed.

With the aid of an online organ, and through it, a permanent organisation will naturally take shape that will engage, not only in local activities, but in regular general work, and will train its members to follow political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on the various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence those events.

The mere technical task of regularly supplying the online organ with material and of promoting regular distribution will necessitate a network of local agents of the united party, who will maintain constant contact with one another, know the general state of affairs, get accustomed to performing regularly their detailed functions in global work, and test their strength in the organisation of various revolutionary actions.

This network of agents will form the skeleton of precisely the kind of organisation we need – one that is sufficiently broad and many-sided to effect a strict and detailed division of labour; sufficiently well tempered to be able to conduct steadily its own work under any circumstances, at all “sudden turns,” and in face of all contingencies.

Lenin - "Where to begin?" combined with "What is to be Done" and rephrased, slightly

I like the word "agents", because it clearly and trenchantly indicates the common cause to which all the agents bend their thoughts and actions, and if I had to replace this word by another, the only word I might select would be the word “collaborator”, if it did not suggest a certain bookishness and vagueness. The thing we need is a militant organisation composed of a network of collaborating agents.

Lenin, footnote to "What is to be Done?" rephrased, slightly.


Hossam el-Hamalawy said...

Very interesting thoughts Ady.. But I have few questions:
- How can we be sure this "online" organ has "active" members "offline"? Although there are many online activists like you and I are also active on the ground, organizing demos or strikes, but this isn't necessarily the case of all "online" activists.. and there's a good number of them who live in virtual reality.
- How will an "online organ" be built in developing countries where internet usage per population is not as high as in Western countries like UK? In Egypt for example, roughly 10% of the population has cyberaccess. One has to admit, however, that the internet community is increasingly exponentially year by year, but I still don't think we'll reach a 90%+ anytime soon.
- What can be the course of action, if, say, the internet collapsed on a national level, like what happened in Egypt and the ME last month with the Mediterranean cables cut (as I'm sure you read in the news)? Wouldn't that cripple an online organization? In some extreme cases, like in Burma, the govt literally pulling the plug off the web during the 2007 uprising.
-Security? How can we secure this online organization vis a vis Big Brother?

Sorry for bombarding you with these questions.. Keep up the good work..

AC said...

Thanks for your questions comrade. Any online organ is not a substitute for an offline one - its an augmentation of the offline activity. I would not abandon the paper, the leaflet, the poster or the telephone. But all of these media must change as a result of new technology.

The argument for an online organ recognises that within many countries (in the west at least)there are huge numbers of people that do a vast range of things online - essential for us is the evidence that people are using new online social tools to strengthen existing offline relationships with family and friends whilst at the same time form new relationships with people online.

The argument for an online organ recognises that simply transferring the content of a paper organ to a website robs it of all the advantages of the paper publication and does not utilise the advantages of an online publication. It posesses neither the strengths of a paper nor the strengths of a website.
We cannot produce content appropriate for online delivery simply by changing the form, we have to change the practice that creates the content. This would mean, for instance, turning up to picket line with a video camera and interviewing workers.

We should reject the notion that online work is about an alternative form of political activity, a type of "weightless" activism that parallels the idea of a "weightless" economy. Instead it should be seen as a means to strengthen and extend networks whose primary function is to organise resistance offline. In terms of both the west and developing countries the key tool for revolutionaries is not the internet but the mobile phone combined with the internet. So for instance in China protests have been organised using mobile phones:
SMS Texts Energize a Chinese Protest
Asia Sentinel
Friday, 01 June 2007

and in Kashmir mobile phones have been used to record protests and have themselves become a factor in building the movement:
Kashmir's mobile phone chroniclers
Not to mention what Clare Solomon is trying to do here.

In Sri Lanka there is an online publication that is updated entirely by mobile phone via SMS:

Someone asked a question about videos after my meeting at Marxism last year - but the country he mentioned was France. The comrade's point was that the overwhelming majority of the people in the poorer parts of cities did not have internet access and couldn't therefore see the videos produced by video activists working online. My answer is that this is the point of political organisation - to overcome the uneveness in the class not just in terms of the ideas in people's heads but in terms of things such as access to the internet. The solution is for those comrades that do have access to download the films, put them on a DVD, get a cheap digital projector and take them into the poorer areas. This in fact is exactly the approach adopted in this country by Reel News.

The same applies of course to printed material. It only requires one comrade to be able to download the files - whether via the internet or using a peer to peer system with encryption etc, another comrade could print the files. It would combine the greatest flexibility and speed of response with the tried and trusted methods of working.

Security wise I'd say each operating environment creates its own demands - but if AQ and various NGOs can use online methods securely, so can we.

But one thing I have noticed about your work and Wael's is that the internet allows a new approach to security. I see that you photograph the leaders of the strikes, their faces are all over the web, they are publicly present in a way that they would never have been before the internet. This public presence is a form of defence that wasn't available to us before. Their heightened public presence means their absence would also be massively visible - in other words we are no longer at the mercy of the existing media institutions, where being visible was a means of militants being identified briefly so that they could be taken out of circulation. If Wael disappeared off YouTube tomorrow his absence would be obvious in way that it would not have been in the past. Online notoriety has become a form of protection.

I suppose the main point of Leninism 2.0 is this:
The Bolsheviks built a mass party and took state power without the aid of any technology other than the printing press (itself new and revolutionary at that time).

They didn't utilise telephones to ring round their members because the telephone was not a widely available technology in the hands of many millions of people. It was not available to the Bolsheviks and crucially, it wasn't available to any competing political traditions - or the ruling class. But had phones been available and commonplace amongst the workers of Petrograd the Bolsheviks would not have been able to take power without using phones. This is because the SRs would have used them, the Mensheviks would have used them, the Kadets and the factory owners, the anarchists and the monarchists would have used them. By not using the commonly available technologies to communicate to their fullest abilities the Bolsheviks would have abandoned the field to others who would have used the new technology as a weapon against the Bolsheviks.

Its the technological context in which we operate that supplies us with the need to use those means that are broadly available.
Not because those technologies possess any magical powers but because our failure to adopt and use them effectively leaves the field open to other opposing political traditions - and our rulers.
In the battle of ideas that is raging all around us all of the time weapons that are not used by us become weapons that will be used against us.

The power lies with the us, the working class, with real people. The technology is simply a means to communicate with, talk to, influence and learn from the class. And beyond the battle of ideas it is vital that we use the new tools as a means of organising to their fullest capabilities, to extend our reach and to enable us to respond to events as they happen - not just to agitate and propagandise but to organise.

will said...
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