Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 4, 2019

The Twittering Machine

Filed under: Internet — louisproyect @ 2:05 pm


Until reading Richard Seymour’s “The Twittering Machine”, my views on social media were narrowly focused on their utility to revolutionaries. I really hadn’t thought much about their impact on the ordinary citizen who has likely never read Karl Marx or any other serious written material. As Richard aptly points out, they do their reading through a smartphone rather than books or magazines. And, if they bother to read anything online, it is only to trawl for some tidbit that they can “share” with their FB friends or Twitter followers in the hope of being validated through a “like”.

“The Twittering Machine” is a book that not only gets to the heart of social media’s deficits but is a joy to read. Richard Seymour is an erudite public intellectual with a Ph.D. to match. He writes books that can be appreciated by Marxist malcontents like myself but the ordinary person whose addiction to a smartphone and social media might be overcome through reading such a book. Dedicated “to the Luddites”, “The Twittering Machine” begins with an author’s note that I urge others on the left to emulate. It would help us reach a broader audience for our ideas: “In writing this book, I set out to avoid burdening it with references and scholarship. I want it to be read as an essay, rather than as a polemic or an academic work.” He succeeds admirably.

Continue reading

October 29, 2018

I run afoul of Facebook Community Standards

Filed under: Internet — louisproyect @ 8:48 pm

On October 22nd, out of the blue, I learned that my posting privileges to FB had been suspended for 24 hours as indicated below.

When I asked one of the FB censors what the problem was, he refused to reply that it was because I had included a picture of Adolf Hitler in a critique I had written of Mark Bray and other “anti-fascists”. In consulting the “Community Standards”, I could find no reference to Hitler photos being banned but surmised that this was the issue. I wondered if my violation rested in posting a hagiographic photo of Hitler. Perhaps if I had used one that showed him in his characteristically psychotic ranting pose as emulated by Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”, there might not have been a problem.

In any case, it certainly took them long enough to act on it, a full year and 3 days in fact. I’m surprised that they didn’t act sooner if the intention was to squelch a fascist takeover in the USA. You’d think that the photo might have become a magnet to attract all the disaffected 28-year-olds in New York with Richard Spencer hairdos and serious Tucker Carlson habits to come looking to me for guidance by this point.

As a programmer, I wonder what kind of artificial intelligence they used to nail me. It must have been advanced enough to weed out anything that showed Der Fuhrer meeting with British royalty. After all, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were two of his biggest fans. But how could you stigmatize the kind of people who are featured in PBS Masterpiece Theater? That would be an abuse of corporate control.

Frankly, I came away from this experience unscathed. 24 hours was not even a slap on the wrist. It was more like someone wagging a finger at me. But long before this “Community Standards” bullshit became codified, Zuckerberg, Inc. was messing with totally legitimate accounts on FB. Four years ago, the Atlantic reported that “The Syrian Opposition Is Disappearing From Facebook”. It seems that dozens of opposition pages, including the Kafranbel Media Center, had been shut down. The article surmises that organized Assadist networks flooded FB with complaints in order to suppress news about government atrocities.

Sometimes the censorship is just idiotic. For example, there’s an iconic photo of young Vietnamese girl fleeing a village that has just been bombed. She is naked and wears a look of utter terror on her face. Her nudity got the photo banned as if it were pornography.

For the millenarian left at WSWS.org and their friend Chris Hedges, this is represented as a totalitarian move against the left. When Google changed its algorithms a while back, it forced someone using Google for a search on “Marxism” to go 3 or 4 pages deep to find a WSWS.org article. Frankly, if I had worked on the software, I would have found a way to put it 30 or 40 pages down or maybe jiggered it to come up on the first page doing a search on “anti-Marxism”.

This August, they reported on FB malfeasance. Reading it with a grain of salt, you do get the picture that something is going on. Perhaps their citation of the Washington Post (they’d be lost without the ability to cite the WP and the NYT) helps lend the article credibility. Dated August 21, the WP states that it had begun to assign its users a reputation score, predicting their trustworthiness on a scale from zero to 1. The Post sizes up this measure:

The reputation assessments come as Silicon Valley, faced with Russian interference, fake news and ideological actors who abuse the company’s policies, is recalibrating its approach to risk — and is finding untested, algorithmically driven ways to understand who poses a threat. Twitter, for example, now factors in the behavior of other accounts in a person’s network as a risk factor in judging whether a person’s tweets should be spread.

I find this all rather laughable. If you step inside social media, it is a bit like that scene in “Trainspotting” when the junky jumps into the worst toilet in Scotland to retrieve a bag of heroin that had accidentally fell out of his pocket:

I try to steer clear of the diarrhea by carefully scrutinizing every FB friend request I get to make sure that there are no links to WSWS.org or Global Research in the requestor’s timeline. Of course, the enduring mystery is why any of these people would have ever taken the trouble to become my friend in the first place. Everybody knows that I am on George Soros’s payroll. In fact, next week I am getting together with George and Leon Botstein at Per Se in order to strategize how to make a color revolution in Saudi Arabia that might be the next Syria. All this furor over Jamal Khashoggi getting chopped up in the consulate? After all, he had it coming by asking Osama bin Laden softball questions 35 years ago.

For all of the dark warnings about FB cracking down on the left, most objective analysts would agree that if there is any bias, it is for liberal causes and against the Republicans. Being liberal does not necessarily mean, of course, that FB would not give me the boot if it saw that as being in the interest of national security.

But I think the most accurate assessment of its bias comes from NY Times opinion columnist Zeynep Tukfeci, who was a co-moderator of the Marxism list that spawned Marxmail years ago:

FACEBOOK is biased. That’s true. But not in the way conservative critics say it is.

The social network’s powerful newsfeed is programmed to be viral, clicky, upbeat or quarrelsome. That’s how its algorithm works, and how it determines what more than a billion people see every day.

The root of this bias is in algorithms, a much misunderstood but increasingly powerful method of decision making that is spreading to fields from news to health care to hiring and even to war.

If these algorithms are not scientifically computing answers to questions with objective right answers, what are they doing? Mostly, they “optimize” output to parameters the company chooses, crucially, under conditions also shaped by the company. On Facebook the goal is to maximize the amount of engagement you have with the site and keep the site ad-friendly. You can easily click on “like,” for example, but there is not yet a “this was a challenging but important story” button.

This setup, rather than the hidden personal beliefs of programmers, is where the thorny biases creep into algorithms, and that’s why it’s perfectly plausible for Facebook’s work force to be liberal, and yet for the site to be a powerful conduit for conservative ideas as well as conspiracy theories and hoaxes — along with upbeat stories and weighty debates. Indeed, on Facebook, Donald J. Trump fares better than any other candidate, and anti-vaccination theories like those peddled by Mr. Beck easily go viral.

The newsfeed algorithm also values comments and sharing. All this suits content designed to generate either a sense of oversize delight or righteous outrage and go viral, hoaxes and conspiracies as well as baby pictures, happy announcements (that can be liked) and important news and discussions. Facebook’s own research shows that the choices its algorithm makes can influence people’s mood and even affect elections by shaping turnout.

For example, in August 2014, my analysis found that Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm largely buried news of protests over the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., probably because the story was certainly not “like”-able and even hard to comment on. Without likes or comments, the algorithm showed Ferguson posts to fewer people, generating even fewer likes in a spiral of algorithmic silence. The story seemed to break through only after many people expressed outrage on the algorithmically unfiltered Twitter platform, finally forcing the news to national prominence.

From my perspective, relying on the “the algorithmically unfiltered Twitter platform” to serve as a detonator to breaking through FB’s algorithms indicates how fucked up things are. In some ways, despite my ubiquitous presence on the net, I mourn the loss of print media. When I was 6 or 7 years old, my parents read 3 newspapers a day. The rightwing NY Daily News and Daily Mirror in the morning and the liberal NY Post in the evening. They had subscriptions to these magazines and like more that I can’t remember: Look, Life, Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, Pageant, Readers Digest and Coronet. This was before we got a television. In the evening, the radio would be on with news shows like Edward R. Murrow and H.V. Kaltenborn reporting on the Korean War.

Things went downhill once we got a boob tube in 1955. When my father finished eating dinner, he’d lie down in his bed and watch TV until 9:30 or so—totally zoned out as if he were in an opium den. I never saw him pick up another magazine from that point on.

The Internet has the promise of lifting up the consciousness of society or dragging it down. Frankly (as Donald Trump puts it), I think it is dragging it down at a breakneck pace. I can even see it in the posts of my FB friends who arguably among the most politically advanced in the USA. They spot some nonsense somewhere about the Pittsburgh killings being linked to Israel’s policies and post a link to it without even considering the possibility that Netanyahu is an alliance with Trump and the Christian right or that it is Muslims who are mostly the target of the alt-right.

I’ll continue to use FB since for the most part it puts me in touch with people who are on the leading edge of social change, especially the hundreds of people living in Idlib who are the 21st Century’s Communards. Long live their struggle!


October 6, 2017

Another way to access my posts, including those that predate my blog

Filed under: Internet,Marxist literature — louisproyect @ 4:42 pm

Long before I began blogging, I was posting articles to my Columbia website as indicated below. Last October, a technical problem involving the newest Apple operating system and the ssh software used to access the Columbia Unix system prevented me from updating the page below, which is at http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mypage.htm. This has now been fixed and as such I have begun updating it again. If you are demented enough to appreciate my writing, you might want to bookmark that page.

Louis Proyect Home Page

Go to Marxism home page

“a revolutionary career does not lead to
banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages.
It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the
unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman




Louis Proyect, Istanbul, 2005

I am the moderator of the Marxism
mailing list
, where my various articles first appear. For information on how
to subscribe to the list, go here.

I first became active in socialist politics in 1967,
the beginning of my 11 years in the American Trotskyist movement.
Despite my profound respect for Leon Trotsky as a Marxist thinker, I
view the Trotskyist movement as such a sectarian mistake. Throughout
most of the 80s, I was active in the Central American solidarity
movement, first with CISPES and then with Tecnica, an organization that
sent computer programmers and other skilled professionals to Nicaragua.
The project eventually took root in southern Africa as well, where it
worked with SWAPO and the ANC. More recently I have given workshops on
the Internet to community and union groups, as well as moderating a
Marxist mailing list on the Internet that can be linked to above.

I have been strongly influenced by the example of The Socialist
Union, a group led by Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman who left the Trotskyist
movement in 1953 in order to create an alternative to the sectarian
“vanguard” model. For six years they published a magazine called The
American Socialist
and worked to regroup the left. Marxmail is a conscious
attempt to link up with their traditions.

I have also created a small archive
of the writings of James M. Blaut, who died in November, 2000. Jim was an
outstanding scholar and revolutionary whose contributions to our movement are
best commemorated through his work.

My articles, many of which appeared originally as postings to
the Marxism list, have appeared in Sozialismus (Germany), Science and
Society, New Politics, Journal of the History of Economic Thought,
Organization and Environment, Cultural Logic, Dark Night Field Notes,
Revolutionary History (Great Britain), New Interventions (Great
Britain), Canadian Dimension, Revolution Magazine (New Zealand), Swans
and Green Left Weekly (Australia).

I am also a proud member of the NY Film Critics Online:


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My articles are grouped in the following categories:

10 most recent posts

Letter to a Bard College professor on climate change (October 18, 2016)

Saudi Arabia, Syria and the smoking gun (October 16, 2016)

Inside the Inferno; Tezoros; Incarcerating US (October 14, 2016)

Is there anything worth salvaging from the Soviet legacy? (October 13, 2016)

Jason Moore’s “Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital” (October 10, 2016)

Films from Iraq, Syria and Iran (October 7, 2016)

Getting Gaddafi wrong (October 5, 2016)

Max Blumenthal follows Ben Norton down the bloody primrose path (October 3, 2016)

The 13th; The Birth of a Nation (October 1, 2016)

Do not Resist; Among the Believers; Hurt Business (September 30, 2016)

March 27, 2015

Big Data

Filed under: computers,Internet — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

On March 24th Art Francisco posted a link to a NY Times article on my Facebook timeline about Facebook hosting news feeds that read in part:

With 1.4 billion users, the social media site has become a vital source of traffic for publishers looking to reach an increasingly fragmented audience glued to smartphones. In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

Such a plan would represent a leap of faith for news organizations accustomed to keeping their readers within their own ecosystems, as well as accumulating valuable data on them. Facebook has been trying to allay their fears, according to several of the people briefed on the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were bound by nondisclosure agreements.

This prompted Art to raise the following question:

Facebook is a 21st century social network and news medium owned and operated by our ruling class. Don’t we need a social network and news medium that is for the working class?

Louis N. Proyect, you’re a well known facebook pundit on the left, what do you think? Does facebook serve the needs of the movement, or can we do better?

I was glad to hear from Art since it reminded me that I wanted to write about this matter ever since Greg Grandin’s article on “The Anti-Socialist Origins of Big Data” appeared in The Nation on October 23, 2014. Greg’s article took up in turn a New Yorker article by Evgeny Morozov on the Salvador Allende’s planners making extensive use of computers for economic development as part of Project Cybersyn, the brainchild of cybernetics pioneer Stafford Beer, whose “Designing Freedom”—about his work in Chile—I read some twenty years ago. I was interested in what Beer had to say since my colleagues and I had been involved in a similar project but on a much smaller scale in Sandinista Nicaragua.

We learn from Greg that big corporations appropriated the technology but for contrary ends:

Morozov makes the case that, ironically, it is in Allende’s Project Cybersyn that one can trace the beginning of today’s use of computers by our hyper-linked, consumer-desire economy, by Amazon’s “anticipatory shipping,” Uber and the like, as well as new schemes of “algorithmic regulation” cooked up by neoliberal urban planners, who want to “replace rigid rules issued by out-of-touch politicians with fluid and personalized feedback lops generated by gadget-wielding customers.” Project Cybersyn looks like a “dispatch from the future.” “The socialist origins of big data,” runs a teaser for Morozov’s essay.

Greg supplements Morozov’s customary techno-pessimism by pointing out that computers were used by Pinochet to keep track of the left as part of its overall counterrevolutionary mission.

But there’s a part of the story that Morozov misses, concerning the darker side of the pervasiveness of “big data” in our daily lives. He writes that when Augusto Pinochet staged his Washington-backed coup on September 11, 1973, overthrowing Allende and installing his long dictatorship, he dismantled Project Cybersyn. “Pinochet,” Morozov writes, “had no need for real-time centralized planning.”

But he did have a need for computers, which, Cybersyn notwithstanding, were rare in Latin America in the early 1970s. Washington began to provide Latin America’s right-wing dictatorships with the latest in computer technology, as part of its larger campaign to “modernize” and “professionalize” their intelligence agencies.

Of course, this was not the first time fascists used electronic recordkeeping for repressive ends. Edwin Black’s “IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation” demonstrates that the same tab machines being used by insurance companies and banks in the USA were put to use in the Third Reich’s census, which kept track of Jews.

For that matter, the Internet itself was Satan’s Spawn to begin with, when you stop and think about it. It evolved out of ARPANET, a Pentagon project that was designed to link remote computers through a network using TCP/IP.

Morozov has become something of a prophet of doom when it comes to the Internet. In books such as “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom” and “To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism” and countless articles in Slate, the New Republic, and major media, he issues jeremiads that remind me a bit of the classic New Yorker cartoon with some guy in a long robe, wearing a beard, and carrying a sign—this time with the words “Forsake Twitter to Save Your Soul” or some such thing.

Of course, there’s plenty of grist for his mill with people like Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, and Jeff Bezos controlling much of the software we use to communicate and buy things, plus vultures like Time-Warner and Verizon looking after the infrastructure. In an article about FB banning anonymity, Morozov calls for something that sounds like Art Francisco’s “Don’t we need a social network and news medium that is for the working class?”

It’s time that citizens articulate a vision for a civic Internet that could compete with the dominant corporatist vision. Do we want to preserve anonymity to help dissidents or do we want to eliminate it so that corporations stop worrying about cyber-attacks? Do we want to build new infrastructure for surveillance—hoping it will lead to a better shopping experience—that would be abused by data-hungry governments? Do we want to enhance serendipitous discovery, to ensure exposure to new and controversial ideas, to maximize our ability to think critically about what we see and read on the Net.

Maybe because I was a software developer for 44 years and know what it is involved to create a crappy little financial system for Goldman-Sachs or Columbia University, this sort of proposal strikes me as utterly utopian. As long as we live under capitalism, we are going to have to rely on technology that is a double-edged sword.

It is not only the Internet that is subject to government surveillance. Long before there was an Internet, the left was obsessed over wiretapping. In the SWP, our comrades used to joke about it when we called each other to discuss some antiwar demonstration we were organizing. We were so sure that the FBI was listening in on our conversations, we’d make wisecracks like “FBI, get off our phone call.”

It wasn’t just the phone that was problematic. There was also mail. We assumed that the FBI was opening our mail when it saw fit. But why would we stop using the telephone or the post office to help organize our activity? What would be the alternative? Carrier pigeon? Tin cans connected by waxed string?

I have a different take on these questions, influenced to a large extent by what Lenin wrote (as opposed to what Leninists write.) In “What is to be Done”, he proposed organizational norms that conformed to changes in the mode of production. The “Economists” who preferred struggles to be localized at the plant gate level were a reflection of the more primitive, handicrafts phase of Russian capitalism when shops were smaller and more isolated. He noticed the great concentration of large factories in major cosmopolitan centers and concluded that a more professional and more generalized approach was needed in line with the changed circumstances.

Economism belonged to Russia’s past; orthodox Marxism was the way forward. He saw modern social democracy as corresponding to the highly complex and specialized nature of modern mass production. He saw socialist parties as the working-class equivalent of large-scale industrial plants. A centrally-managed, large-scale division of labor was needed to move the struggle forward, just as it was necessary to construct steam locomotives. Lenin was no enemy of capitalist technology and mechanization. Rather he sought to appropriate its positive features whenever necessary.

If the Social Democracy of the early 20th century was a reflection of “Fordist” advances over earlier small-scale manufacturing, isn’t there a need to rethink how we are organized today in light of post-Fordist production, and networked technologies more specifically? If the bourgeoisie relies more and more on such advances for its own purposes, why should the working class be afraid of “being abused by data-hungry governments” as Morozov puts it?

In fact the activists using IPhones to record police brutality for Youtube or Facebook to organize protests do not need to read Lenin to get the green light to build movements that take advantage of the Internet. Our task as Marxists is to help the scattered movements unite into a mighty and united force that is capable of transforming society—in essence the same task that existed in Czarist Russia in 1903 but within the context of less advanced tools.


February 20, 2015

Digital Rebellion: the Birth of the Cyber Left

Filed under: computers,Counterpunch,Internet,journalism — louisproyect @ 1:49 pm
Todd Wolfson’s “Digital Rebellion”

Can the Net Drive Social Movements?


Largely through the writings and public addresses of David Graeber, Marina Sitrin, John Holloway and others, “horizontalism” became a buzzword to describe various movements over the past fifteen years or so that were inspired by the Seattle protests and marked by direct democracy, communications through the Internet, militant tactics, and a belief that occupations of public spaces could prefigure a future, more just world. Ideologically, anarchism and autonomist Marxism loomed large—understandably so since the “verticalism” of the old Left seemed to have run its course.

As is so often the case, movements and institutions that appear to contradict each other can often be resolved on a higher level. In this instance, given the exhaustion of “horizontalist” initiatives over the past couple of years, an analysis of the contested ideological terrain is more necessary than ever. As a major contribution to the debate, I cannot recommend Todd Wolfson’s “Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left” highly enough. If you read an excerpt from the book’s introduction on last weekend’s CounterPunch, you will understand that the book is directed to the activist left and is not the typical academic work despite the author being a member of the Rutgers University faculty and the book being published by the University of Illinois Press.

Eminently readable, Digital Rebellion is a mixture of reporting and theory all designed to move beyond the horizontal-vertical duality and achieve a synthesis that draws from the best of both worlds. While the words Syriza and Podemos cannot be found in its pages (and of course Podemos was born after the book was published), their presence looms over its pages. As political parties, they were midwifed by the occupations of the horizontalist left–so much so that at least one well-known autonomist has broken ranks and come around to seeing the benefits of wielding state power, hitherto something seen as anathema. Jerome Roos of Roar Magazine, an autonomist stronghold, gave an interview to Syriza in which he said that “Syriza’s radical internationalism is uplifting and a positive contrast to the neoliberal cosmopolitanism of the business class.” These are welcome words indeed.

read full article

February 17, 2015

A dialectical approach to technology

Filed under: computers,Internet,technology — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

From Digital Rebellion:

This dialectical approach to technology avoids a techno-utopian outlook that imputes naturally given revolutionary character to the Internet. At the same time, this dynamic approach recognizes the critical and likely realist analysis of technology embodied in Dean’s work, while not seeing the capture of technology as complete or given. In this sense, as other research has shown, “if capital ‘interweaves technology and power, this weaving can be undone, and the threads can be used to make another pattern” (Dyer-Withford 1999).

This reweaving of technology is illustrated by Frantz Fanon in Studies of a Dying Colonialism (1965), when he famously described how the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) reappropriated the radio, changing it from a tool of French colonial domination to a fundamental weapon of resistance. As Fanon argues, “[T]he creation of a Voice of Fighting Algeria” (93) and the correspondent construction of an Algerian version of truth put the French truth, which for so long was unchallenged in Algeria, on the defensive. Thus, while in the hands of the French, the radio served to further French domination, obscuring social relations and isolating “natives” from one another, whereas the FLN’s reappropriation turned the radio into a tool of information, connection, and unification by creating a new language of Algerian resistance and nationhood. Thus, it was not radio alone that produced change; in fact, Algerians would not adopt the radio while it was a tool of French domination. It was the social use of radio by the FLN that made it a revolutionary tool in Algeria.

Fanon’s dialectical analysis of radio in Algeria offers an entry point into this complex discussion of technology and social movements. Along these lines, the birth of the Internet serves as a useful example of the dialectical interplay of technological tools and social relations. By all accounts, the development of the Internet as a communications tool was financed, and at times led, by the U.S. Department of Defense, through the Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). DARPA created the predecessor to the Internet, ARPANET, in order to decentralize command and control in case of nuclear attack.9 Developed at the height of the Cold War in response to the Russian launch of Sputnik in 1957, the technology had a singular military purpose. Scholars have shown, however, that in the research and development process, the tech laborers working on ARPANET appropriated the system to create a social-communications network. Correspondingly, much of the original intent was supplanted by the aim of creating a democratic, egalitarian communications network. In this respect, a technology that emerged out of the U.S. Department of Defense became the backbone for a worldwide-unrestricted medium for information and communication. As Hafner and Lyon explain: “The romance of the Net came not from how it was built or how it worked but from how it was used. By 1980 the Net was far more than a collection of computers and leased lines. It was a place to share work and build friendships and a more open method of communications” (1996, 218). In another account, speaking of social networking and successive layers of social usage that engulfed the new technology, Peter Childers and Paul Delany (1994) exclaimed, “The parasites took over the host” (62).

More recently, however, as the Internet has emerged as a central tool of social life, the forces of capitalism have successfully worked to co-opt it and create a technology that prioritizes profit over information sharing. In Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy (2013), Robert W. McChesney details how, for the last two decades, in every major fight that determined the direction of this new communication technology, the forces of capital have won: “The tremendous promise of the digital revolution has been compromised by capitalist appropriation and development of the Internet. . . . In the great conflict between openness and the closed sys-tem of corporate profitability, the forces of capital have triumphed whenever an issue mattered to them” (97). This appropriation of the Internet for the interests of capital is not complete, of course, as there are a host of struggles that will determine the character of this new technology for decades, yet it does offer the central window through which to understand the Web in the second decade of the twenty-first century. In a broader sense, however, the conflict over the Internet yet again illustrates that a dialectical approach to technology offers a framework for studying technological practices as they are tied to social relations and the mode of production, while leaving open conditions of possibility for contravening interests.


April 26, 2014

Boycott Lawrence and Wishart

Filed under: capitalist pig,intellectual property,Internet — louisproyect @ 1:32 pm

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.30.07 AM

* * * * *

Lawrence and Wishart have just proved themselves to be opportunist bourgeois profiteers pimping of the workers movement by denying people access to works from a century and a half ago so they can extort money from, in the last analysis, college students or taxpayers.

A comrade hints that he might be OK with it because they co-published some book about a strike a hundred years ago.

Oh! I almost forgot. Eleanor Marx was involved. In the strike, not the book, but –perhaps– that makes L&W A-OK.

Information wants to be free, especially if it can help working people understand the nature of the system so we can smash it.

David Walters and the MIA have NO CHOICE but to respect this bourgeois “intellectual property,” or the MIA would be shut down. So I totally understand and support them in their stance of respecting bourgeois “intellectual property,” including making nice-sounding diplomatic noises about copyrights, the DMCA, and so on.

But the rest of us are not under those constraints. People should download the material to be censored and share it as widely as possible, especially through torrents, which are a very efficient means of distribution, and through “darknet” sites, though that is quite a bit more complicated.

*  *  *

I’m not just  being ornery or ultraleft. This is the right policy, the right response, to a bourgeois publisher who PRETENDS to be an ally to the socialist movement, but instead seeks to EXPLOIT working people when the opportunity arises.

The argument is that the translations are “new,” even if the works are old, and copyright fees are just because the people who made these new translations have to be paid royalties is 1,000% bogus.

Find me the translator who says they’re getting royalties from sales of Marx and Engels translations and I’ll show you a liar. Or any translator of ANY work. Apart from Gregory Rabassa, the translator of Gabo’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and one or two others, any translator who claims he or she has received one cent from royalties AFTER the initial fee is lying.

I’ve been translating “professionally” (i.e., for money) for more than four decades, and Rabassa is the only one of our tribe that I’ve ever met who got post-publication royalties. And as someone who has been and continues to be a “content creator,” I totally support writers, actors, and everyone else like that who is involved in actually creating “works of authorship” getting paid.

But PUBLISHERS (whether known by that name or others, like Hollywood studios, record labels, TV networks, web sites, content aggregators, or whatever), are parasites. They are the ENEMIES of content creators (authors, translators, editors, film makers, etc.). In the real world, the monopoly that copyright law grants benefits THEM much much more than it does US, and is even a weapon used against us. The media monopoly mafia use their hoards of “copyrights” to tell us we either sell to them cheap, or we won’t sell at all. They have tons of content that they already own and they don’t needs ours.

And because they own the distribution channels, the threat is quite credible.

In practice, this works out to the overwhelming majority of content creators being forced to work under conditions where their EMPLOYER, a corporation, is the “author,” and the actual creative human beings have no rights, none whatsoever, under copyright law.

This corporate monopoly has been based on the capitalist’s control of the means of producing and reproducing works and distributing them.

What gave rise to this sort of copyright law is the printing press. You need to be a capitalist to have one.

We journalists know that “freedom of the press belongs to those that own one,” but the same is true of copyright. Copyright belongs to the capitalists, to the bourgeoisie.

Digital technology and especially the Internet has given regular people –us– tools to begin shattering that monopoly. David Walters and his friends in the MIA deserve credit for using those tools to give untold millions of people access to something that belongs to everyone.

Now, some will say that a publisher, even in this day and age, needs to recoup their investment in these “new” translations, otherwise there will be no more.

But in the REAL world, a publisher pays for a translation on the basis of the expected sales of a book over at most 2-3 years. The reason for that is simple, and mathematical. The money paid out for a translation is an investment, and the value of that investment compounds over time. Because it is a risky investment, it needs to have a high rate of return. Either you make back the money very quickly, or after a few years a $10,000 investment needs to yield double, triple or quadruple that figure (or even more).

Why? To compensate for inflation, pay for the publisher’s bets that didn’t work, provide the “normal” rate of return for a “safe” long-term investment and provide a hefty premium on top of that since this isn’t a safe investment.

But these MECW works aren’t five or ten years old, they were done DECADES ago. And they were not done as a profit-making capitalist venture. The technology available in those days did not allow massive free distribution, but the intent was clear from pricing that was a small fraction of comparable academic editions of other works from previous centuries.

Claiming bourgeois “intellectual property” rights on these works to put them behind a pay wall after they have been freely available for many years is obscene. L&W’s suggestion that this will somehow preserve or guarantee the access to these works is ridiculous. There would be countless academic institutions quite willing to host the entire corpus for free, if given the chance.

What L&W are doing is pure and simple rapacious corporate profiteering by executives who had NOTHING to do with these editions, who contributed absolutely NOTHING, but now want to put them behind a pay wall, to pocket the profits.

So fuck them.

Let’s pirate, not just the M&E collected works, but EVERYTHING under the imprint of these profiteering scumbags.

BOYCOTT anything you have to pay L&W for, unless you’re accessing it to pirate it.

Joaquín Bustelo, Marxmail subscriber

March 11, 2014

A note to trolls, assholes, and company

Filed under: Internet — louisproyect @ 10:30 pm

This blog is not Hyde Park. It is my living room.

It is set up to hold all comments made by first-timers in the moderation queue until I release them. I don’t mind people comparing me to Christopher Hitchens but if this is your first comment here, it will probably be deleted if you, like some moron whose first-time comment is being held, use a bogus email address. By that I mean an address that does not show up on a Google search. It is one thing to be a troll, it is another to be an anonymous troll.

I have been an asshole on other people’s blogs over the years (not so much lately–getting mellow in my old age) but you always knew it was me rather than a sock puppet. If you want to bait me, then your best shot is if you’ve used a legitimate email address with a cyber-trail even if it is associated with a bogus name. Who gives a shit, really? All I can say is that your chances of sticking around are enhanced if you have something intelligent to say about films, music, 20th century history, etc. If your whole purpose here is to play Lenin to my Kautsky, I’ll kick you the fuck out faster than you can say Jack Robinson.

April 3, 2013

Thoughts on Harper’s Magazine and intellectual property

Filed under: intellectual property,Internet,journalism — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

John R. “Rick” MacArthur

This morning Les Schaffer, the technical coordinator of Marxmail, and I got an email from the webmaster of Harper’s Magazine:

Hi there,

I’m the web editor at Harper’s Magazine. I’m afraid we don’t allow copies of our articles to be hosted on other sites. Will you please remove this article — http://www.marxmail.org/EagletonMarx.pdf — immediately? I trust you understand; I’d rather not have to send a formal DMCA notice, but will if necessary.

Thanks very much.
Jeremy Keehn
Harper’s Magazine

There were a couple of things that popped into my mind right off the bat. How in the world did Keehn get wind of my “pirating” their intellectual property? Did one of my thousands of enemies snitch on me? Or is part of Keehn’s job description to police the Internet to make sure that nobody is purloining Harper’s material? I am sure that the actual web chores take up little of his time since the Harper’s website is notoriously underdeveloped, a policy decision made by their publisher John R. Macarthur, about whom I will have more to say momentarily.

The first thing I did was Google DMCA. What the hell did that stand for? Don’t Mess with Corporate Assets? Dickwad Micromanaging Commodified Archives?

It turns out that this stands for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, legislation enacted in 1998 to protect the rights of “content providers” in danger of being hijacked by people like me. What makes the legal focus on Youtube, bit torrent, and other Internet technologies so interesting is that it can’t  possibly be argued that anybody is benefiting financially by putting the Eagleton article, a Bob Dylan performance, etc. online as if my posting an article will rob Harper’s out of millions of dollars. In reality, they will benefit from my posting of an article since the average Marxmail reader or Facebook friend has no idea what Harper’s Magazine is about. Maybe they’ll buy one because they liked the Terry Eagleton article. After all, the music industry figured out that Youtube clips were a good way to boost revenue by raising awareness about an artist. Too bad that Harper’s is so backward that it can’t see an upside to my bad behavior.

Harper’s has been published since June 1850. I have been a subscriber since the early 80s and have stuck with the magazine over the years because of the occasional investigative journalism piece like one on mountaintop removal in West Virginia from about a decade ago. But the real attraction is the British-style “difficult” crossword puzzles that I enjoy doing. The Nation Magazine has them as well and I might even shell out money for an electronic subscription just to be able to do them even if it means putting up with all the “why Obama should do this or that…” manure.

The Atlantic Monthly used to have those kinds of crossword puzzles as well but discontinued them a few years ago. Speaking of which, all of the Atlantic Monthly’s content is online and they are running a profit unlike Harper’s that relies on John R. MacArthur’s largesse.

John R. “Rick” MacArthur is the grandson of John D. MacArthur who died in 1978 at the age of 80. He established the MacArthur Foundation in the year he died. It sometimes sounds like half the shows on PBS are funded by this foundation that is also known for its yearly “genius grants”. In 1980 Rick engineered a takeover of the magazine by the MacArthur Foundation. Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s inherited wealth keeps The Nation afloat, just as Rick’s does for Harper’s. At least with Harper’s you don’t get the pro-DP slop even though Thomas Frank, one of his top editors, made the case for an Obama vote in 2011.

All evidence points to MacArthur being primarily responsible for the strict DMCA enforcement his webmaster is carrying out. He really seems to hate the Internet:

This for-profit theft is committed in the pious guise of universal access to “free information,” as if Google were just a bigger version of your neighborhood public library. Acceptance of such a fairy tale lets parasitic search engines assert that they are “web neutral,” just disinterested parties whose glorious mission is to educate and uplift.

This is nonsense, of course. Google’s bias for search results that list its own products above those of its competitors is now well-known, but equally damaging, and less remarked, is the bias that elevates websites with free content over ones that ask readers to pay at least something for the difficult labor of writing, editing, photographing, drawing, and painting and thinking coherently. Try finding Harper’s Magazine when you Google “magazines that publish essays” or “magazines that publish short stories” — it isn’t easy.

Oh well, now that my favorable references to Harper’s articles will be coming to an end, there’s at least one less route to his magazine that can be relied on.

I first began to question MacArthur’s competence after I discovered that he had fired his very capable editor Roger Hodge in 2010. Hodge was the author of a very good critique of Obama that I reviewed for Swans in 2011. In an interview with Guernica, Hodge described his differences with MacArthur over the web:

Guernica: What are your thoughts on the current state of Harper’s and its prospects for the future?

Roger D. Hodge: Frankly, I despair for the future of Harper’s Magazine. Although I am grateful for all the money Rick MacArthur has contributed over the years, it’s just not possible to publish a great national magazine in 2011 using a business plan that was devised in 1984. The world has changed; the audience has changed. Harper’s used to be at the heart of the national debate. It was also the most vibrant and exciting literary magazine in the world; nowadays many people don’t even realize that it still exists.

It’s a damn shame. And the story didn’t have to end this way. Harper’s remains a very good magazine—it still publishes excellent journalism and fiction, outstanding literary criticism. And, with the exception of the cover, which has been outsourced, it’s the most beautiful magazine I know. But all those riches are hidden from view. The newsstand industry is dying; direct mail is a failure; the Internet in all its gaudy diversity is the only hope. Contrary to the assertions of Harper’s management, magazines truly are using the web to build circulation. The Nation has a very successful model; the Atlantic, after a long struggle, is turning a profit; Mother Jones is thriving and has raised millions of dollars. There are people out there who know how to use the web to connect with readers. Some of them used to work for Harper’s.

At the risk of getting a cease-and-desist DMCA letter from N+1, the spunky magazine that I began subscribing to last year, I am going to quote from a piece that appeared in issue number 15 that deals with print publications and the Internet. I couldn’t have put it better:

With enough money, you can force the past into the present, or at least hold the future at bay. Harper’s, it turns out, is the Petit Trianon of publishing. Marie Antoinette had her artificially aged cottages and working dairy farm, and MacArthur has his fully operational magazine, which both embodies and celebrates the values of his old Chicago newsroom. At Harper’s, the administrative staff is largely female, the board is entirely male, the writers are almost all male, and the internet barely exists.

It would be one thing if Harper’s nostalgia were only a question of office culture or distribution. But it permeates the pages of the magazine, determining not only the approach to subject matter but what subjects are worthy of being included at all. Although Harper’s circulation is small, its reputation is such that it continues to have a say in what counts, and what subjects are worthy of serious thought by serious people: in other words, what constitutes the nation’s public life — and, by extension, which lives constitute “the public.”

We imagine asking Harper’s, What about women? Their response would probably be, Well, what about women? The voice of Harper’s is pitched such that the question can only be asked rhetorically. Matters of gender and sexuality do not actually matter. In one of the few instances where they were even raised, when Thomas Frank wrote about abortion in October 2011, the case was actually made that the pro-life movement is ineffective, and that abortion rights are a non-issue. Frank suggests that what happens on the state level just doesn’t matter, because it’s not on the national stage — an argument that willfully overlooks decades of pro-life activism that has strategically and deliberately built the movement state by state, and that this tactic has accounted for much of its growth and many of its victories.

Finally, and most importantly, MacArthur has operated just like a typical capitalist when it comes to the right of his wage slaves. If writing for Harper’s is just a form of the commodity exchange process, in which everything has a price including labor, it is no surprise that he is taking a stance reminiscent of Charles Montgomery Burns of “The Simpsons” fame. The Maida Rosenstein mentioned in this article, by the way, led a very successful strike at Barnard in the mid-90s that I remember well. You do not want to get on her wrong side:

There will be a few key names missing from the masthead of Harper’s Magazine next month. The non-profit magazine laid off Literary Editor Ben Metcalf and an Associate Editor, Theodore Ross, in January. Harper’s, which has a circulation of 200,000, said it made the layoffs for economic reasons.

“At the end of the day, we are in a difficult economy and we felt that Ben and Ted’s work could be absorbed,” said John Rick MacArthur, who has been the publisher of Harper’s for nearly the past 30 years. “Businesses are often faced with laying off employees and Harper’s is not an exception, although we have had to make very few cuts compared to our peers.”

But the union that has been representing more than a dozen of Harper’s editors since last October said that Metcalf, at least, was let go because he was one of the leaders of the magazine’s recent union organizing drive.

“We believe it’s a retaliatory layoff because he was a very public supporter of the union,” said Maida Rosenstein, the president of United Auto Workers (U.A.W.) Local 2110, which represents the editors. “We believe that layoff should be retracted and he should be brought back.”

Several Harper’s editors expressed an interest in joining U.A.W. Local 2110 last spring, according to the union. Local 2110 said that the editors, who declined requests to speak to WNYC on the record, wanted a union to give them job security and pay increases.

Harper’s declined to disclose salary information to WNYC, but the union said assistant editors start out with an annual salary of $31,000. The literary editor who was laid off on Friday after 17 years on the job, Ben Metcalf, made $99,000 a year, and magazine employees working on the business side of Harper’s make more than $200,000 a year, according to U.A.W.

My final words of advice. Don’t bother with a sub to Harper’s. Save your money for N+1.The magazine has gone downhill over the years, even if the puzzle remains tip-top. Here’s a clue from the latest: “I was fired in just one war—Europe”. The answer: Stoneware. Mystified? Look at it this way: “I was fired in just one war—Europe”.

January 14, 2013

Thoughts on Aaron Swartz’s suicide

Filed under: computers,imperialism/globalization,intellectual property,Internet — louisproyect @ 8:02 pm

On January 9th my CounterPunch tribute to Sol Yurick concluded with this offer:

There are 13 articles by Sol Yurick listed in JSTOR, including the two I cited above. As most of you know, JSTOR has been a kind of battleground over the past several years with a 26 year old Stanford dropout named Aaron Swartz being arrested for downloading all of the JSTOR articles from MIT with the obvious intention of making them available to the hoi polloi—in other words, the opposite of the Athenian ruling class revered by Sophocles.

If there were any justice in the world, those articles above all should be accessible to the kinds of people who would have taken a class with Sol 30 years ago at the Brecht Forum or who are CounterPunch readers today. In the same defiant spirit as Aaron Swartz, but on a scaled-down level, I invite anybody who wants to read a Sol Yurick article without paying 15 dollars for the privilege to contact me at lnp3@panix.com and we’ll work something out. You can get a list of Sol Yurick’s articles doing a search on jstor.com without paying a penny and I encourage you to so without delay.

Two days later the world learned that Aaron Swartz had hung himself. Needless to say, I feel like I have lost a comrade even though I never met him. Like him, I have always believed in sharing JSTOR articles even though I never would have taken the kind of risk that he did. For me, it has amounted to passing along something like 200 JSTOR articles or so since I first gained access to the database as a Columbia University employee in 1991, including a dozen or so Sol Yurick articles in response to those who had accepted my invitation. One of the recipients was a fellow named Nicholas Levis, a Greek-American who chaired the protest against Golden Dawn in Astoria a while back. With his Hellenic ties, it was natural for him to request a copy of Sol’s article on Oedipus Rex. That, in my view, is exactly the kind of connection that Aaron Swartz sought to facilitate—even giving his life in the process. While the N.Y. Times obituary claims that it might have been depression, an illness he had been battling for many years, that caused the suicide, his family and partner thought differently:

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

Like Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz was a victim of a national-security state that is anxious to keep critical information out of the hands of its citizens. Since most of JSTOR consists of narrowly focused, if not pedantic, articles mostly designed to help academics survive the “publish or perish” ordeal, one might wonder if there is any connection between Wikileaks and JSTORLeaks.

In one of a number of memorable tributes to Swartz, Glenn Greenwald explained what was at stake in the persecution of Aaron Swartz:

Nobody knows for sure why federal prosecutors decided to pursue Swartz so vindictively, as though he had committed some sort of major crime that deserved many years in prison and financial ruin. Some theorized that the DOJ hated him for his serial activism and civil disobedience. Others speculated that, as Doctorow put it, “the feds were chasing down all the Cambridge hackers who had any connection to Bradley Manning in the hopes of turning one of them.”

I believe it has more to do with what I told the New York Times’ Noam Cohen for an article he wrote on Swartz’s case. Swartz’s activism, I argued, was waged as part of one of the most vigorously contested battles – namely, the war over how the internet is used and who controls the information that flows on it – and that was his real crime in the eyes of the US government: challenging its authority and those of corporate factions to maintain a stranglehold on that information. In that above-referenced speech on SOPA, Swartz discussed the grave dangers to internet freedom and free expression and assembly posed by the government’s efforts to control the internet with expansive interpretations of copyright law and other weapons to limit access to information.

As I began collecting my thoughts on the meaning of Aaron Swartz’s death, it began to dawn on me that the stakes are even higher than those set down by Glenn Greenwald. If there was someone with the focus and the Marxist erudition of V.I. Lenin today, a primary task would be to analyze “the latest stage of capitalism” in terms of the evolving character of American imperialism and its cohorts in the advanced industrial countries, for whom intellectual property is beginning to assume the same critical function as a steel mill or a bank did in 1914.

I could not help but reminded of this every time I put a screener from The Weinstein Company, the Walt Disney Corporation, et al on my DVD player in November and December in order to help me nominate best picture, director, actor, etc. for NYFCO’s annual meeting. Every one of them starts with a warning that if I distribute the DVD to just about anybody, I face a 5 year prison term and a $250,000 fine. When I sit through something like “The Dark Knight Rises”, I feel like that is punishment enough.

In 2001 my colleague and friend Michael Perelman wrote a book titled Steal This Idea: Intellectual Property and the Corporate Confiscation of Creativity. You can read an article based on the primary thesis of the book in the January 2003 Monthly Review. Perelman states:

The dramatic expansion of intellectual property rights represents a new stage in commodification that threatens to make virtually everything bad about capitalism even worse. Stronger intellectual property rights will reinforce class differences, undermine science and technology, speed up the corporatization of the university, inundate society in legal disputes, and reduce personal freedoms.

We have no precise measure of the extent of intellectual property, but a rough calculation by Marjorie Kelly suggests the magnitude of intellectual property rights. At the end of 1995, the book value of the Standard and Poor (S&P) index of 500 companies accounted for only 26 percent of market value. Intangible assets were worth three times the value of tangible assets.1 Of course, not all intangible assets are intellectual property rights, but a substantial proportion certainly is.

While the legal protection of intellectual property might seem inseparable from contemporary global capitalism, until fairly recently capitalists were equivocal about such things. During the first six decades of the nineteenth century, corporations in the United States were not inclined to respect such intellectual property rights. For example, they often paid as little as possible, or nothing at all, to inventors. In addition, the United States did not even recognize international copyrights.

The free-marketeers of the nineteenth century vigorously opposed intellectual property rights as feudalistic monopolies. Their view of intellectual property rights mostly dominated political economic opinion in the United States until the massive depression of 1870s weakened faith in market forces. In the context of the economic crisis, business was desperate for anything that would return profits to what they considered to be an acceptable level.

At first, business owners tried forming cartels and trusts to hobble competitive forces. In response to vigorous protests, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act. However, corporations were able to use patents, which were perfectly legal, as a convenient loophole to evade the intent of that law. Through patent pools, they could divide up the market and exclude new competitors. In this way, intellectual property rights were important in establishing monopoly capitalism.

The strengthening of intellectual property rights accelerated once again as the bloom wore off the post-Second World War “Golden Age” and the United States’ export surplus disappeared. Behind closed doors, corporate leaders successfully lobbied the government to strengthen intellectual property rights that would give advantages to their industries. Just as in the late nineteenth century, business saw property rights as a means of increasing profits when economic conditions began to sour. The public never had a clue about the extent to which the government had given away important rights.

With its hold over the developing world becoming ever more tenuous and enforced nowadays more by Predator Drones than boots on the ground, American imperialism must do everything in its power to control information. That information can be the State Department cables that Bradley Manning turned over to Wikileaks. It can also be the JSTOR articles that are stockpiled behind a paywall as if they were gold bars at Fort Knox. Considering the fact that anybody can go to the N.Y. Public Library, take out a print journal, Xerox an article, take it home, scan it, and send it out to thousands of recipients, it shows how vulnerable corporations seeking to leverage their control over intellectual property can be. Since the true model for the Internet should be the Public Library, the powers-that-be have a big job on their hands. They want the Internet to be an open exchange of information since so much of commerce is based on this model, but they want to keep certain parts of it off-limits to the unwashed masses—the very people whose cause Aaron Swartz took up.

Speaking of Monthly Review, it is worth mentioning that John Bellamy Foster, its current editor, and former editor Robert McChesney had some very interesting things to say about the struggle to keep the Internet open and free along the lines of the public library. In a March 2011 article titled The Internet’s Unholy Marriage to Capitalism, they wrote:

This economic context points to the paradox of the Internet as it has developed in a capitalist society. The Internet has been subjected, to a significant extent, to the capital accumulation process, which has a clear logic of its own, inimical to much of the democratic potential of digital communication, and that will be ever more so, going forward. What seemed to be an increasingly open public sphere, removed from the world of commodity exchange, seems to be morphing into a private sphere of increasingly closed, proprietary, even monopolistic markets.

There are many distinct levels at which Internet activity takes place, and all of them are in the process of being commercialized. The second area where conventional microeconomics would raise eyebrows if not ring alarm bells is how capitalist development of Internet-related industries has quickly, inexorably, generated considerable market concentration at almost every level, often beyond that found in non-digital markets. What this means is that there are multiple areas where private interests can get a chokehold on the Internet and seize monopoly profits, and they are all being pursued. Google, for example, holds 70 percent of the search engine market, and its share is increasing. It is on pace to challenge the market share that John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil had at its peak. Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Cisco, and a handful of other giants enjoy considerable monopolistic power as well. The crucial Wi-Fi chipset market, for example, is a duopoly where two firms have 80 percent of the market between them. Apple, via iTunes, controls an estimated 87 percent market share in digital music downloads and 70 percent of the MP3 player market.

As should be obvious from the citation above, Foster and McChesney are obviously looking at “the latest stage of capitalism” even if they probably don’t see themselves as following in Lenin’s footsteps. In a way, this is the logical outcome of being disciples of Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy who could be described as continuing the tradition of Lenin’s classic treatise on imperialism.

As Facebook, blogs, YouTube, and email lists become increasingly more important in connecting the left globally, we can expect more and more efforts to hinder the efforts of those who constitute its vanguard—like the young people who stepped to the forefront in the Arab Spring. Like Mayor Bloomberg forcing antiwar or Occupy activists into penned areas, we can expect the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world to draw closer to those in power in order to keep the left on a tight leash. It is one thing to allow people to put a video of a cat playing with a ball of cotton on Youtube. It something else altogether to use the Internet to build a march on Washington demanding that the government step down. I strongly suspect that the moves against Swartz, Manning and Assange are designed with that future Armageddon in mind.

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