Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gramsci on Web 2.0

The term "spontaneity" can be variously defined, for the phenomenon to which it refers is many sided. Meanwhile it must be stressed that "pure" spontaneity does not exist in history: it would come to the same thing as "pure" mechanicity. In the "most spontaneous" movement it is simply the case that the elements of "conscious leadership" cannot be checked, have left no reliable document. It may be said that spontaneity is therefore characteristic of the "history of the subaltern classes", and indeed of their most marginal and peripheral elements; these have not achieved any consciousness of the class "for itself", and consequently it never occurs to them that their history might have some possible importance, that there might be some value in leaving documentary evidence of it.

Gramsci, "The Modern Prince" Spontaneity and Conscious Leadership (page 196 of selections from Prison Notebooks, Lawrence & Wishart)

For Gramsci the act of writing about struggle by the participants is central to the formation of class consciousness.

This has implications for the role of the revolutionary publication. It means that a publication is not just vital as a propagandist, agitator and organiser (as Lenin describes in What is to be done?) but actually plays a central role in the formation of the class "for itself".

By writing about their day to day struggles workers connect those struggles with a sense of history. What lies behind documenting your struggles is the understanding that in the future others will learn from them, that your struggle is part of an unbroken thread of resistance stretching back in history and reaching forward into the future.

Once workers think about their struggles in this manner they transcend the immediate demands around which the struggle is fought and connect it with the historical mission of the working class to reshape society in its own interests.

A strike over wages ceases simply to be about the immediate economic interests of the workers involved but instead becomes part of a bigger picture - and in doing so ceases to be an act of "spontaneity" but an act of conscious leadership.

The unavoidable consequence of this is the next step - the joining together of those that see the struggle in this conscious manner in an organisation that seeks to shape this struggle via collective leadership - a party. This is the way that the publication acts as a scaffolding around which an revolutionary party is created.

The implications for the revolutionary publication and the network of agents that create it is that their role is to encourage and develop this process of documentation of struggle and by doing so they directly assist in the formation of class consciousness.

The centrality of creating an organ that is not just read by workers but written by them lies in this fact. Any organ that does not develop a network of workers who write about, film or photograph their own struggles as a central part of the project will not succeed as a revolutionary publication.

Therefore the possibilities offered by the new technologies of the web, the ease with which non specialists can publish online affords new possiblities for revolutionaries to develop class consciousness and consequently presents us with the challenge of developing new models that radically break with those of the present. In doing so the online publication will radically reshape the paper publication and the organisation that creates it.

"As it is, the paper is divided among various writers, each of whom is very good, but collectively they do not permit workers to penetrate to the pages of the Appeal. Each of them speaks for the workers (and speaks very well) but nobody will hear the workers. In spite of its literary brilliance, to a certain degree the paper becomes a victim of journalistic routine. You do not hear at all how the workers live, fight, clash with the police or drink whiskey. It is very dangerous for the paper as a revolutionary instrument of the party. The task is not to make a paper through the joint forces of a skilled editorial board but to encourage the workers to speak for themselves. A radical and courageous change is necessary as a condition of success ...

Trotsky, quoted in Tony Cliff - The use of Socialist Worker as an organiser (April 1974)

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