Anti-Imperialism – Bankruptcy of the Left? (2016 Version)

It’s a tale from another century – when most people who situated themselves on the radical left also felt they were part of a world civil war. It was a war between good and evil, the oppressed vs. the oppressors, the proletariat vs. the capitalists, the countries of the periphery vs. the centre. Support for anti-colonial struggles and for the Vietcong as well as the various Latin American guerillas was based on a wide consensus, and was in many cases the starting point of individual and collective politicisations. This consensus seemed to override the knowledge and assessments of the crimes of Stalin and Mao, and many other ‘details’. Apparently the way towards socialism was not a straight road, it could be a zig-zag at times. The more the Western proletariat seemed uninterested in revolution, and the Eastern Bloc seemed a bureaucratic aberration, the more the national liberation movements in the ‘backwards’ countries became the global hope of Western middle class ‘revolutionaries’.

The root of this idea goes back to the Conference of Baku in 1920 and the second congress of the Communist International in the same year.
This is when Lenin revised the Marxist slogan ‘Workers of all countries unite!’ and changed it to: ‘Workers and oppressed peoples and nations of the world, unite!’
This slogan significantly changed the direction of the ‘official’ communist movement. Workers are members of a class and at the same time individual human beings. In oppressed peoples and nations the individuals are absent.

In point 11 of his Preliminary Draft of Theses on the National and Colonial Questions, Lenin proclaimed that Communist parties in ‘backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate (…) must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement’. But at least he recognised some of the dangers, and stressed ‘the need for struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements’ as well as the ‘need to combat the Pan-Islamic and similar trends which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc.’

This advice was heeded less and less as the Soviet Union degenerated – and in fact even less so by those who accused the SU of ‘social imperialism’ and supported a Maoist alternative to the Russian line, supporting shameless nationalist dictatorships with a ‘communist’ cloak in Albania, Kampuchea or North Korea. [Read more →]

Wikipedia – A Vernacular Encyclopedia (Datacide Version)

Wikipedia evolved from a different project Nupedia which focused on engaging with highly qualified academics who, it was hoped, would apply their scholarship to the development of an online encyclopedia. However, right at the beginning of this project Wikipedia was set up as a piece of cyberspace where people could experiment and develop material for the main project . . . but the open framework of Wikipedia meant that it attracted a much broader range of contributors. Something fell into place as the level of participation enabled a viable form of crowd-sourcing to emerge. Soon the vernacular offshoot overshadowed what had been considered the main project. (For more info see HERE).

The Reformation Version of the Vernacular

I am using the term “vernacular” in order to contextualise various phenomena which have been described as the “knowledge revolution”, the “information revolution” or the “digital revolution” in a broader historical framework. Whereas the new cyber-entrepreneurs wish to stress how their technological innovations are new!-new!-new!, I look at the impact of new cyber-technologies principally in terms of European religious reformation and the advent of the book.

Max Weber pointed out some time ago in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism how capitalism is linked to the development of reading. Here he reflects on Luther’s notion of beruf, or calling, and focuses on the importance of the book. This view was then turned inside out by Marshall McLuhan, who identifies technology as the motor of social change. The predictive quality of his books The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Understanding Media (1964) – which in many ways foresaw the culture of the internet – make his view quite seductive. And it is more than understandable that such a fetishised view of technology should prove attractive to the cyber-entrepreneurs: the gleaming new commodities magically transform society, through a sleight of hand where the role of human beings as human actors has been replaced by simulacra, by automatons. [Read more →]