Social networks and classes: war fronts far beyond Ukraine

Image: Alexey Demidov
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By LÚCIO FLÁVIO RODRIGUES DE ALMEIDA*

The correlations of forces are increasingly unfavorable to workers, even with “social” networks

The “Ukraine” crisis has original and very important characteristics in relation to the last 85 years, that is, since the end of the Second World War. Next to her, the “missiles” in 1962 was a misunderstanding.

It is the first time, since 1945, that a conflict of such magnitude takes place on the European continent and directly involves most of the imperialist powers, but, until now, in a differentiated way. With the exception of Russia (a capitalist country), they have resorted, again, until now, to all their means of confrontation, except – sleep! – the direct military.

Penultimate novelty: until today it is the first time that an “Eastern” country, China, objectively constitutes itself as an arbiter of conflicts involving all the world powers, with the right to the customary unequal distribution of pitos so that everyone behaves. Peace or war of the end of the world mainly depends on China.

The latest news is the discreet return of an old acquaintance: the crisis of liberal democracy in the so-called advanced societies. I will make some remarks about her in this article.

 

Metamorphoses of the total

It was only after World War I (the “total war”) ended that the expression “totalitarianism” appeared. Always associated with the “strong state”, it has since had a pejorative meaning, except for Italian fascism and, in a very short period, German fascism, under the influence of Carl Schmitt. I leave Gramsci out, because he occupies a very special place here too.

During the Cold War, Marxists opposed to the course followed by the URRS continued with the theme, but this was increasingly assumed from perspectives influenced by liberalism, with the emphasis on the relations between an omnipresent state and pulverized social classes, including the bourgeoisie. , defeated by the “rabble”; in the amorphous masses, incapable of minimally coordinated political initiative; in a society that, devoid of intermediary instances (parties, press, parliament, sociability networks), becomes inert, with individuals at the mercy of the state's assaults on all spheres of life. Totalitarianism was attributed to the USSR and to movements and governments that, when trying to articulate struggles for national liberation and for the transition to socialism, entered into a collision course with the United States of America, already consolidated as the great power of the imperialist or “Western” world. .

In the post-Cold War period, the political resort to “totalitarianism” has completely disappeared. Cuba, since 1959, is a permanent member of the club; Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates, no matter how hard they try, they can't get in; Colombia is a special case: Latin American champion of state and parastatal massacres, it doesn't know whether to call the militia or go to the mat; and Venezuela, since the recent interdiction of the Nord Stream II gas pipeline, risks being expelled from the select club of totalitarian countries. And, soon, the World Cup in Qatar. Antechamber of paradise or harbinger of a dark destiny for humanity?

 

The (re)production of the West

Since the Russian attack, there remains a gap between the military caution of the imperialist powers and their extraordinary ideological offensive. Strange war: those who don't fight don't want to stop. Even those who do not fight and compromise the existence of the people they govern. Those who want to change the world, although they are aware of the different objectives of each litigant, are also aware of the growing risk of a barbarism with no return.

So many criticisms of Eurocentrism and this ideological construction (the West) returns, with the speed of a zap, now in expanded mode.

The doors of happiness open and we, mere “Latin Americans”, “Japanese” and a growing part of the “Slavs”, are challenged as members of the community. Poor Samuel Huntington who even drew one world map with nine colors to clearly explain that western civilization was one thing and, his expression, “the rest”, was almost the entire planet. Including us, the minister and the maids who, according to him, had fun at Disney.

Now the traditional means of communication, in gigantic unanimity, defend an immense “West” presented as a homogeneous and harmonious entity. And, on the opposite side, an individual – Putin! – whose evil designs, known only to him, could end the world. Even Žižek, who knew, defended, with weak arguments, support for the “West” (Slovenia included) in the fight against… Putin![I]

I skip the important studies on the dissolution of the (bourgeois) public sphere and/or the transformation of the mass public. I adopt the hypothesis that a trail of this process of infantilization started from the US institutional policy and penetrated, unevenly, in Western Europe in the late 1970s. It arrived late in Brazil, where it consolidated after Fernando Collor's electoral campaign. When popular and proletarian movements and parties were showing signs of exhaustion in Europe, here, in the dark of the 1970s and throughout the “lost decade”, there was a strong advance in these struggles, including on the political level.

Here as there, the exponential advance of new information technologies has been inserted in relationships marked by a profound atomization of popular classes, especially from proletariat, an aspect that cannot be reversed only (or mainly) in the space of so-called social networks. Networks of undeniable importance for the resumption of struggles, but fundamentally subsumed by the reproduction process of capitalist social relations in neoliberal times.

Once again, the fundamental determinant is not technological, but sociopolitical, which is made explicit in the interactions of the old with the new media. Printed newspapers, which were already old when they acted in the 1954 and 1964 coups, did very well circulating on youtubes, whattsapps and the like during the 2016 coup. In the name of freedom and against state tyranny.

Even far from this problem and unable to properly use a simple Windows10, I perceive an extraordinary competence and creativity in countless people who use platforms and networks, including for the production of new knowledge. They will be indispensable for new forms of democratic, popular and proletarian struggle, which does not imply fundamentality. However, I do not understand that “only” this necessarily transforms its users into contestants of capitalist exploitation and domination relations. The “new networks” and their platforms are or integrate ideological devices, that is, of (re)production of social practices, predominantly (not only) of order. Upon hearing, for the twentieth time, a competent specialist telling me to restart the machine, I argued that we are the “restarted” ones.

Members of what several authors call the precariat, in a situation of dehydrated, hungry, overexploited, outsourced, monitored, exhausted... penultimate generation. But it remains very difficult to grasp the links between the “Ukraine war” and the insertion of workers in the webs of oppression and exploitation that extend at municipal, national and international levels. At what time do they discuss, involved in collective struggles, the meanings of “the West”, “democracy”, “freedom”, “state”, “class exploitation” and “political power” (and how to fight against both)?

Impossible? I do not believe. Experiences of this type were experienced in this country, for example, in the late 1970s during that “lost decade”. I watched, in cubicles or churches in the South Zone of São Paulo, countless analyzes of the situation made by young workers, not infrequently without completing primary school. Then, in camps and universities, alongside young and old people from the MST, semi-literate or master's students (today doctors), largely camped (and women not wanting to settle down so they don't go back to washing men's underwear). They demonstrated impressive leadership skills and – again – did excellent analysis of the situation. Marching through that country, they reached Brasília and imposed the first defeat on neoliberalism.

Without any technological determinism, let alone unicausal, it should be noted that the extraordinary diffusion of new “social” networks in the first two decades of the XNUMXst century ran parallel to the dismantling and weakening of the struggles against capital-imperialist domination (hello, Virgínia Fontes!) . Cell phone without fighting also rhymes (rich). But, again, no solution.

The analysis of the current process of (re)production of the “West” may provide a reexamination of the theses about civil society as a space of freedom against the tyranny of the state. I'll play some raw signals.

 

State and society, all together and structured

This process is driven by strong national-state and/or national-suprastate action. For example, the initiative to interdict the canals RT (Russia Today) to  Sputnik, both funded by the Russian state, was the initiative of the German and then the French state. The UK and US did the same. Of course, the optimist would say, this is something of those Jurassic institutions that refuse to leave the scene.

The problem is that the thickest shot came from the very advanced European Union and, in a single shot, hit all 27 member countries. On 01/03/2022, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, delivered a speech from which I have selected an excerpt that would make military dictatorships jealous: “we suspended licenses in favor of the Kremlin propaganda machine. Today e Sputnik, media belonging to the Russian state, as well as all its affiliates, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify the war led by Putin and to divide our Union.”[ii]

The leader of what many consider a “supranational community” did not present any atom of factual reference that could justify the vulgar barrage of curses. Perhaps it doesn't matter, but as a regular video viewer of RTFrance, I consider its programming to be of superior quality to that of other channels I usually watch. And much better, also in terms of information objectivity, than the main TVs operating in Brazil. But, as the incurable optimist would say, it can always be argued that there is something state in the direction of the European Union and that the most important thing is in civil society organizations.

The problem is the extreme difficulty, especially in monopoly capitalism, of drawing the line that separates all niches of the state apparatus from the actions of capitalist conglomerates, not to mention political representatives strict sense of the ruling class. With regard to the so-called social networks, the novelty lies in the formidable tightening of these links.

 

The nodes of “networks”

The channels of RT are transmitted through platforms such as Facebook (3 billion users), YouTube (more than one billion) and Instagran (more than two), which operate in a large part of the planet.

But I, a Brazilian in a strong identity crisis (Latin American or Western?), cannot watch the channels RT (thankfully there are Globe and CNN!). Worse: they prevented my contact, also via RT, with the very important |Ahi Les Va!, a sociopolitical and cultural commentary channel brilliantly presented by Ina Afinogenova in perfect Spanish and which has already surpassed one million subscribers (I am one of them). For me, it is by far the best program mainly related to Latin America and its insertion in the international system,[iii] Also in this case, nothing comparable I discovered in the Globe and CNN or anyone who represents the interests of US imperialism and the Brazilian ruling class, historically submissive to it.

More problems: these prohibitions were not decided by any apparatus of political representation (with or without liberal democracy), but by private companies, whose main leaders present themselves as the new magicians of capitalism.

Help, Milton and Rose (Friedman)! Where is my freedom to choose?

What right does Zuckerberg have to resolve what the Brazilian people and a huge portion of humanity can watch? What universal interests does this virtuous young man represent and who assigned him the arduous mission? Is there any similarity between it and that dedicated to the ferocious accumulation of capital in circuits of vertiginous financialization? Nothing to do with the state that makes more military interventions across the planet, inside and outside the “West”? Since the selfless young man is so jealous of Ukraine's sovereignty over Crimea, why has he never spoken out about the centuries-old occupation of a piece of Cuba, Guantanamo Bay?

Have more. The company Meta, owner of Facebook, Instagran, Whatsapp and the like, even allowed the first two to post calls for the assassination of rulers Putin (Russia) and Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus).[iv] Does that mean you can judge, condemn and encourage execution? Is it just the militia?

Some would say that not so much, as it appears in the same article, also based on the agency Reuters, that Facebook allowed posts praising the Azov regiment, a Nazi paramilitary group[v].

Regardless of the occasional character of this or that specific practice, what deserves attention is the tendency determined by the relationships that made them feasible.

 

Now yes, totalitarianism?

Undoubtedly, the issue is important and it is up to those who bet on the fruitfulness of the concept to update its explanatory possibilities. The same applies to those who see in these “social networks” spaces of freedom, of revitalization of civil society that make it capable of resisting and even taking initiatives against state tyranny. These ideological apparatuses, as devices of domination, do not contribute to peace between nations, but to the continuation of the political pacification of the dominated and dominated, which reiterates their disarticulation as a class.

If this makes any sense, if correlations of forces are maintained that are increasingly unfavorable to workers, it will not be worth betting on the intrinsically emancipatory character of “social” networks.

On the contrary, without giving up working with them, the focus of democratic and anti-imperialist political clashes should focus on the mobilization of the popular classes. It is quite likely that, in this process, new forms of appropriation of networks will be built that are really about indignation, struggles and hopes, indispensable to social transformation.

* Lucio Flávio Rodrigues de Almeida is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences at PUC-SP.

Notes

[I] Slavoy Zizek, What does it mean to defend Europe? Published on important Brazilian websites, such as Esquerda.net, https://www.esquerda.net/artigo/zizek-o-que-significa-defender-europa/79861

[ii]https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/fr/speech_22_1483 , emphasis mine, LFRA.

[iii] For an explanation of how to watch RT programmes, including the Ahi Les Va! channel, see, among others, the André Nunes website, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SE59ID-89i8

[iv]Power 206010/03/2022. https://www.poder360.com.br/europa-em-guerra/facebook-e-instagram-autorizam-posts-que-pedem-morte-de-putin/.

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