Street art in Warsaw, Poland

Street art in Warsaw, Poland, by DALeast. Photo by SAiPoland

 

Street art in Warsaw, Poland,
by artist DALeast.
Photo by SAiPoland.

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Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?

By Thomas Swann On July 31, 2015

Post image for Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?Social media are monitored and controlled by large corporations. Can they also facilitate the kind of self-organization that defines radical politics?

When I started my PhD in 2011 there was a strong feeling that radical politics was changing. On the one hand, there was more of it. The Arab Spring, theindignados, Occupy: they all made it seem like direct action and direct democracy, were moving out of the ghettos of what remained of the alter-globalization movement. With mass assemblies and a radical DIY (or even DIO: Do It Ourselves) politics, something was changing across the world. In the face of austerity and totalitarianism, an actual alternative was being prefigured.

At the same time, the tools of these protests and uprisings came into the spotlight. Not only the democratic mechanisms of decision-making but also the digital infrastructures that, many argued, were facilitating what was so promising in these movements.

Social media was increasingly seen as an essential element in how large groups were able to organize without centralized leadership. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter were allowing people to mobilize not as hierarchical structures like trade unions and political parties but as horizontal networks. Individual activists and sub-groups enjoyed a tactical autonomy while remaining part of a larger whole.

Almost four years have passed, and now at the end of my PhD the gloss to this narrative has to a large extent worn off. Some elements of the 2011 uprisings have been consumed by the tragedy of civil war and renewed dictatorships, while others have dispersed.

But of course, four years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, and the examples of Podemos and Syriza suggest that perhaps these movements are in fact evolving and developing new strategies. While the story of mass mobilization and radical social movements is by no means over, what has been disputed perhaps more than anything else in the last four years is the promise that lay in the tools of the 2011 uprisings.

Social media, once held up by some as the very essence of contemporary radical politics, is now seen in a harsher, less forgiving light. A number of experiences have underlined the implicit hierarchies and inequalities that were reinforced by social media.

Others have pointed towards the ways in which social media exploit, for profit, our online behavior. The Edward Snowden saga has shown how vulnerable our online organizing is, as has the repression of social media-based activism seen inTurkey and elsewhere.

But among these critiques of social media, is there something that can be salvaged? Can platforms like Facebook and Twitter be useful in radical politics, and if so how? Perhaps we don’t need to abandon social media just yet. Perhaps it can, in one form or another, still facilitate the kind of organization that was so promising in 2011 and that continues, in many ways, to define radical left politics.

The promise of social media

Social media platforms are often discussed as means of communication, self-expression and forming public discourse. As well as this, however, social media platforms — and communication practices more generally — also act as infrastructures that support the actions we take. They allow us to share information and resources, and to make decisions that can then be enacted.

In this way, communication practices can also be understood as information management systems. This is a concept borrowed from the world of business and management and refers to any system, normally electronic and increasingly digital, that facilitates organization. Work email and intranets are of this sort. They don’t just let people talk to one another but also contribute to getting tasks completed.

What social media might offer when viewed as information management systems, as platforms that facilitate certain forms of action, is a way to make radical and anarchist forms of organization more like the participatory and democratic structures that characterized the 2011 uprisings and radical left politics since at least the Zapatista rebellion, the alter-globalization movement in the 1990s and, even earlier, the radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Social media can provide the infrastructure for both democratic decision-making and autonomous action, with activists given access to resources and information that may enable them to act in ways that more hierarchical communication structures reduce to command and control processes.

While there are significant critiques of social media from activists and scholars alike (focusing on privacy and surveillance, corporate and state control, the political economy of free labor and the psychology and behavior that is encouraged by the architecture of mainstream platforms), I want to suggest that there is still a potential inherent in social media owing to the nature of the communication practices it supports.

These practices can be described as many-to-many communication. They are potentially built on conversations with multiple actors that reflect some of the necessary foundations of the participatory democracy of radical Left politics. Social media can, therefore, be seen as systems that facilitate radically democratic forms of organization and that can support the kinds of autonomy and horizontality that have in part been seen in the 2011 uprisings.

This is the promise of social media. And it is a promise that may yet be fulfilled. If social media present opportunities for horizontal, conversational communication, and these types of communication are consistent with the ways in which we try to imagine non-hierarchical social relationships and decision-making structures, then social media can be considered as having at least the potential to be a part of a radical left politics.

Internal and external communication practices

As part of my PhD research I interviewed a number of activists involved in the Dutch radical left and anarchist scene. The pictures they provided of the communication practices of the groups they were involved in can be used to work through some of the ideas around many-to-many communication, its relationship to radical politics and the promise of social media.

Internally, the radical left groups in question all more or less conform to the many-to-many communication model. Much of this communication is done through face-to-face meetings at which members aim to reach consensus on the topics being discussed and the decisions that need to be made.

In terms of social networking technologies, however, activists spoke of the email listservs and online forums that have been common to radical left politics at least since the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and the beginnings of the alter-globalization movement.

While none of the groups used newer, mainstream platforms like Facebook in their internal communication practices, one of the groups did use the alternative social networking site Crabgrass as a core part of their discussion and decision-making infrastructure. Crabgrass was developed by people connected to the RiseUp collective that provides secure email addresses for activists. It aims to facilitate social networking and group collaboration with a specifically radical, left-wing bent.

Externally, many-to-many communication practices became much rarer. While most of the groups use Facebook and Twitter, they use them primarily as extensions of their websites, which in turn act mainly as extensions of their printed newspapers.

The three exceptions to this highlight the abilities of both mainstream and alternative social media platforms to play this role. One group, involved in community organizing, was active on Facebook not only in sharing articles and announcements but also in responding to comments and engaging in discussions with other users.

Another made use of crowd-sourced mapping in a way that reflects the scope of many-to-many communication to support autonomous action. The third example of using social media in line with this participatory ethos came from one group that printed comments and responses from Facebook and Twitter in their newspaper, facilitating some level of conversation between the group and those outside it.

Institutionalizing autonomy

The many-to-many communication social media facilitates, insofar as it allows for conversation rather than merely the broadcast of information (or even orders), is intimately connected to a radical left and anarchist vision of organization. If prefiguration, the realization of the goals of politics in the here and now, is taken as one of the core concerns of radical social movements, then a commitment to many-to-many communication might need to be seen as just as important as the commitment to democracy and equality.

It has the potential to empower activists to take autonomous action and the bedrock of participatory democracy. In this way, social media platforms can contribute towards freeing activism from the top-down structures of political parties and trade unions.

But is there another way of looking at these types of organization and of the structures suggested by social media and many-to-many communication? I mentioned at the start of this article that social media and the examples of the 2011 uprisings have lost some of what made them so attractive at the time. Activists are, it seems, increasingly (and perhaps rightly given the limitations) wary of both networked organization and networked communications. In the last year or so, however, radical politics has shifted somewhat.

In place of social movements that are completely opposed to, and autonomous from political parties, the rise of Podemos and Syriza, and indeed the surge of support for the Greens in England and Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland, might point to a return of the mass party as an element of radical left social movement strategy.

Podemos and Syriza, by many accounts, have become the institutional articulations of mass social movements. They haven’t replaced them and are clear that they aim to act as parliamentary wings subservient to those movements (although the current tensions in Syriza suggest that this is much more problematic that some might make out).

In the case of Podemos, this has meant a continuation of the radical, direct democracy of the 15-M movement and the party has relied on social media and many-to-many communication not in getting its message across to voters but in defining the very content of that message and of its policies.

Social media might continue to have a role in radical left politics after all. The many-to-many communication practices it supports can be, at their best, prefigurative of the goals of radical politics, of democratic and participatory decision-making. As information management systems, facilitating concrete action, the examples of the radical left groups involved in my PhD research point towards this conclusion.

Both mainstream social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and alternative platforms, such as Crabgrass and n-1, can be an important part of radical left politics, whether in the form of mass social movement mobilizations or the articulation of those movements in more democratic political parties.

Thomas Swann is a PhD student in the University of Leicester School of Management and member of the Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy. His research focuses on radical left organization, social media and organizational cybernetics. Follow him on Twittter via @ThomasSwann1.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/social-media-organization-movements/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Fifty years on: Medicare under assault

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31 July 2015

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare, the national health insurance program for Americans 65 years of age and older, into law on July 30, 1965. Medicare and the accompanying Medicaid health program for the poor were the last major social reforms enacted in the US and came at a time of intense crisis for American capitalism.

The mid-1960s saw a nation gripped by the civil rights movement and militant struggles by workers for higher wages and improved social conditions. Two weeks before Johnson signed the Medicare bill, a riot broke out in Harlem, New York following the shooting of a black teenager, one of the earliest of the numerous urban rebellions that would erupt over the next three years.

In the US pursuit of global domination, on March 8, 1965, 3,500 US Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam, marking the beginning of the US ground war in Southeast Asia. Only two days before signing Medicare into law, Johnson announced the doubling of draft quotas and the dispatch of another 50,000 troops to Vietnam. The war would end in a humiliating defeat for US imperialism a decade later, after the deaths of more than 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese.

As with the Social Security Act under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and the establishment of industrial unions, Medicare was not granted out of the kindness of the hearts of the ruling class. It came as a concession to mass struggles carried out by the working class.

However, by today’s standards, passages from the Democratic Party platform on which Johnson ran in 1964 sound radical. In a section titled “The Individual,” the platform reads: “The health of the people is important to the strength and purpose of our country and is a proper part of our common concern. In a nation that lacks neither compassion nor resources, the needless suffering of people who cannot afford adequate medical care is intolerable.”

From the start, Medicare fell far short of providing free and comprehensive medical care for all seniors. As originally enacted, the program provided for inpatient hospital care (Part A) as well as certain outpatient services (Part B), including preventive services, ambulance transport, mental health and other medical services. Part B has always required a premium payment.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed legislation expanding coverage for those under age 65 with long-term disabilities and end-stage renal disease. Since 1997, enrollees had the option to enroll in Medicare Advantage (Part C), managed care programs administered by private companies. It was not until 2002 that optional prescription drug benefits (Part D), exclusively provided through private plans, were added under George W. Bush.

It is important to note that all components of Medicare, except for Part A in certain instances, carry premiums and deductibles. Despite these shortcomings, Medicare represented an important, albeit limited, advance in health care for seniors that was denounced as “socialism” in many ruling class circles.

The Medicare legislation faced significant opposition in both big business parties. The Democratic vote in favor of the bill was 57-7 in the Senate and 237-48 in the House. The Republicans opposed the bill 13-17 in the Senate and narrowly approved it in the House, 70-68.

Hostility to the legislation among leading Republicans was vociferous. Senator Barry Goldwater commented in 1964: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?”

In 1964, future president George H.W. Bush denounced the impending Medicare bill as “socialized medicine.” While it was nothing of the sort, it was seen by many supporters as a first step toward the establishment of universal health care.

Despite its limitations, it is undisputable that the program has had an immense impact on the health and social wellbeing of the elderly population.

Largely as a result of Medicare and improved medical technologies, life expectancy at age 60 increased from 14.3 years in 1960 to 19.3 years in 2012. Prior to Medicare, about half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance, more than one in four elderly went without medical care due to cost, and one in three seniors lived in poverty.

Some 53 million elderly are currently enrolled in Medicare. Today, virtually all seniors have access to health care and only about 14 percent live below the poverty line. Despite a relentless attack on Medicare services in recent years, Medicare is extremely popular—with 77 percent of Americans viewing it as a “very important” program that needs to be defended, according to a recentpoll.

The program has been under assault from sections of the political establishment and corporate America since its inception. In 1995, under the leadership of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republicans proposed cutting 14 percent from projected Medicare spending and forcing millions of elderly recipients into managed health programs. The aim, in Gingrich’s words, was to ensure that Medicare was “going to wither on the vine.”

In the most open threat to privatize Medicare, in the spring of 2014, Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, released a “Path to Prosperity” budget plan that slashed $5.1 trillion over 10 years. Key to his blueprint was the institution of “premium support” in health care for seniors, essentially a voucher plan under which seniors could purchase either private insurance or Medicare coverage.

Fast-forward to the current presidential campaign. Republican candidate Jeb Bush, speaking at an event last week in New Hampshire sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers, said of Medicare: “We need to figure out a way to phase out this program … and move to a new system that allows them [those over 65] to have something—because they’re not going to have anything.”

Bush and others justify their proposals to privatize or outright abolish Medicare with claims that the program will be bankrupt in the near future. But a recent report shows that projected Medicare spending will account for 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product by 2090, down from earlier projections that it would make up 13 percent of GDP in 2080.

This is hardly an unreasonable amount to spend on the health of the nation’s elderly population. This spending is also not a gift from the government, but is funded through deductions from the paychecks of workers all their working lives. However, the policy decisions of politicians in Washington are not driven by preserving the health and welfare of America’s older citizens, but by the defense of the capitalist profit system.

While President Obama and the Democrats seek to distance themselves from proposals to privatize Medicare, Ryan and Bush only openly express what many Democrats are thinking. The Obama administration, with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) leading the charge, is working to gut Medicare and transform it into a poverty program with barebones coverage for the majority of working class and middle class seniors.

In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the ACA would reduce Medicare spending by $716 billion from 2013 to 2022. Under the first four years of the ACA, home health care under Medicare is being cut by 14 percent, including $60 million in 2015 and $350 million in 2016. While doing nothing to rein in the outrageous charges by pharmaceutical companies for cancer and other life-saving drugs, the Obama administration’s proposed 2016 budget includes $126 billion in cuts from what Medicare will pay for these drugs.

In what constitutes a historic attack on the program, Obama hailed as a “bipartisan achievement” passage of a bill in April that expands means testing for Medicare and establishes a new payment system in which doctors will be rewarded for cutting costs, while being punished for the volume and frequency of the health care services they provide.

It is telling that an article in the right-wing National Review, headlined “A Medicare Bill Conservatives Need to Embrace,” hailed the legislation and said the effects of its structural reforms would be “permanent and cumulative.”

The bipartisan backing for the Medicare bill is based on common agreement that Medicare spending must be slashed and a radical shift instituted away from the “lavish” fee-for-service system, in which supposed “unnecessary” tests and procedures are performed on Medicare patients, needlessly treating disease and extending their lives.

The president has claimed that the enactment of the program commonly known as Obamacare is the most sweeping social reform since Medicare was signed into law. This is a cynical lie. The ACA is, in fact, a social counter-reform that was aimed from the start at cutting costs for the government and corporations and reducing and rationing health care for the majority of Americans.

The ACA is designed to encourage employers to slash or end their employee insurance plans, forcing workers to individually purchase plans from private companies on government-run exchanges. The result will be the dismantling of the employer-provided health insurance system that has existed since the early 1950s, a vast increase in workers’ out-of-pocket costs, and a decrease in the care they receive.

Medicare, one of the last vestiges of social reform from a previous era, along with Social Security, is being undermined. The social right to health care—along with the right to a livable income, education, housing, and a secure retirement—is incompatible with a society subordinated to capitalist forces.

True reform of the health care system requires that it be reorganized based on a socialist program that proceeds from the fulfillment of human needs, not the enrichment of a parasitic elite.

Kate Randall

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/31/pers-j31.html

Tracking the Lion Killers Back to the Oval Office

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Palmers’ bloodlust is just the latest exercise in expensive animal sadism to hit the news. Last year a woman posing with a lion she killed provoked internet outrage. In 2012 the King of Spain enjoyed killing an elephant (to the horror of his subject) and the year before CEO of Godaddy.com Bob Parsons videotaped his murder of an elephant. Nice.

In 2006, Country and Western musician Troy Lee Gentry killed a penned pet bear named Cubby on videotape to appear the tough guy. Music critic Peter Grumbine asked if  Cubby had “rolled on his back expecting his usual belly rub that followed his afternoon nap” before the
killing. Others called Gentry a “sad pantywaist” who “shoots caged animals.”

Some try to defend trophy hunting, canned hunting and killing exotic animals as producing money that goes to the conservation of other animals–but most (including hunters who eat what they kill) think it is sick, sick, sick.

There are some laws against the warped acts of big game hunters like Palmer, but groups like Safari Club International (SCI) still flourish.  And some of the world’s top leaders are members.

Few realize that President George H.W. Bush, former Vice President Dan Quayle and the late Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. were proud members of  SCI and pleaded with the Botswana government to keep trophy lion hunts available, for trophy hunters like them. There were reports of lions that Bush and Quayle personally killed in Africa but they remain unconfirmed.

Safari Club International offers a “Bears of the World” award, a kind of National Geographic for the bloodthirsty, in which hunters have to kill four of the world’s eight bear species which include imperiled polar bears. In 2006, SCI defeated an amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the House of Representatives that would have banned the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada.

In an attempt to humanize its image, SCI has run programs like Sportsmen Against Hunger and Sportsmen Against Cancer hoping someone will eat the meat the “hunters” don’t want.

Safari Club International also has Disabled Hunter, Sensory Safari and Safari Wish programs to extend the fun of killing to the disadvantaged. On it web site, SCI showed how the Safari Wish program enabled a spina bifida patient to kill a young doe from his wheelchair at a Florida hunt club. The young man missed two hogs eating at the feeder but succeeded in shooting a greyhound-sized doe because “the Hunt Club suspended the deer harvest rules for his hunt” SCI wrote breathlessly. Did someone hold the deer for him while he shot it as is done with blind “sportsmen”?

At the risk of stating the obvious, such “sport” or “hunting” is a mental illness.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

Tracking the Lion Killers Back to the Old Oval Office

What is the pseudo-left?

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30 July 2015

The events in Greece over the past several months constitute a major strategic experience of the Greek working class and youth that is having a significant impact on political consciousness around the world.

The so-called “Coalition of the Radical Left” (Syriza)—despite its use of radical-sounding phraseology and its nominal opposition to austerity—has capitulated entirely to the European banks and institutions. The Syriza government is now implementing policies that will dramatically increase social inequality and turn Greece into a virtual colony of German and European imperialism.

These developments are a striking confirmation of the analysis made by the WSWS over several years, going back well before Syriza was elected in January of this year. In a resolution adopted at the Socialist Equality Party (US) Congress in July of 2012, for example, it was noted that “as soon as Syriza was faced with the possibility of coming to power, its leader Alexis Tsipras rushed to Germany to assure the banks that his party had no intention of withdrawing from the euro zone. It has sought nothing more radical than the renegotiation of the European banks’ austerity program.”

Throughout the spring of this year, the WSWS organized a series of meetings in which the nature of Syriza was analyzed and warnings were made of its plans to fully accept the austerity demands of the European banks.

In the aftermath of Syriza’s final capitulation, many readers have asked how it is that the WSWS was able to predict so precisely the course of events. This experience is a vindication of the Marxist method, which analyzes political tendencies not on the basis of what they call themselves, but on the basis of their history and program and the social interests they represent.

Over the past several years, the WSWS has developed the conception of an international political tendency that we have described as “pseudo-left,” of which Syriza is only one example.

We would like to call our readers’ attention to the analysis made by WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North in the Foreword of his newly-released book, The Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique. North includes a concise and more detailed “working definition” of the “pseudo-left” that will help provide an orientation in the struggle against the influence of these reactionary movements. He writes:

* The pseudo-left denotes political parties, organizations and theoretical/ideological tendencies which utilize populist slogans and democratic phrases to promote the socioeconomic interests of privileged and affluent strata of the middle class. Examples of such parties and tendencies include Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Die Linke in Germany, and numerous offshoots of ex-Trotskyist (i.e., Pabloite) and state capitalist organizations such as the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France, the NSSP in Sri Lanka and the International Socialist Organization in the United States. This list could include the remnants and descendants of the “Occupy” movements influenced by anarchist and post-anarchist tendencies. Given the wide variety of petty-bourgeois pseudo-left organizations throughout the world, this is by no means a comprehensive list.

* The pseudo-left is anti-Marxist. It rejects historical materialism, embracing instead various forms of subjective idealism and philosophical irrationalism associated with existentialism, the Frankfurt School and contemporary postmodernism.

* The pseudo-left is anti-socialist, opposes class struggle, and denies the central role of the working class and the necessity of revolution in the progressive transformation of society. It counterposes supra-class populism to the independent political organization and mass mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system. The economic program of the pseudo-left is, in its essentials, pro-capitalist and nationalistic.

* The pseudo-left promotes “identity politics,” fixating on issues related to nationality, ethnicity, race, gender and sexuality in order to acquire greater influence in corporations, the colleges and universities, the higher-paying professions, the trade unions and in government and state institutions, to effect a more favorable distribution of wealth among the richest 10 percent of the population. The pseudo-left seeks greater access to, rather than the destruction of, social privilege.

* In the imperialist centers of North America, Western Europe and Australasia, the pseudo-left is generally pro-imperialist, and utilizes the slogans of “human rights” to legitimize, and even directly support, neo-colonialist military operations.

North concludes the Foreword to his new book by noting, “The analysis and exposure of the class basis, retrograde theoretical conceptions and reactionary politics of the pseudo-left are especially critical tasks confronting the Trotskyist movement in its struggle to educate the working class, free it from the influence of the petty-bourgeois movements, and establish its political independence as the central progressive and revolutionary force within modern capitalist society.”

The publication of the Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique marks a significant step toward this goal, and the volume will serve as a valuable aid in the coming struggles of the working class.

The WSWS Editorial Board

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/30/pers-j30.html