Gun-slingers, bounty hunters and sheriffs on the internet frontier

August 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm (geeks, internet, Rosie B, youth)

In Alex Gibney’s film Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets there were scenes of a modest house in Reykjavjik where Julian Assange and some selfless Icelandic volunteers were working on making a video of Americans killing Reuters journalists and other civilians in Iraq.

It turns out one of the selfless volunteers was an Icelandic snitch,  Sigdur Thordarson, who had got bored with being a hacktivist and wanted to move on to something else.

“Unlike many drawn to WikiLeaks, Thordarson does not seem to have been principally motivated by a passion for the cause of transparency or by the desire to expose government wrongdoing. Instead, he was on the hunt for excitement and got a thrill out of being close to people publishing secret government documents.”

Adolescent capacity for mischief to alleviate boredom can end up destroying whole infrastructures for kicks, while taking a few drugs.

Thordarsonassange
Thordarson & Assange – the hackers get younger every day

Thordarson got into contact with another hacking organisation called LulzSec which among other achievements had brought down the CIA website and asked them to investigate the Icelandic government’s attitude towards Wikileaks. He then became an FBI informant himself, and as one of the main men in LulzSec had also been recruited by the FBI, the Feds could then verify his credentials and use him as a Wikileaks insider.

Read the whole article and this one too to get an idea of the mind-spinning world of hacking (dis)organisations and how the American government spy on and recruit their would-be spies and saboteurs.

Wikileaks and the Anonymous style hacking groups seem to be like far left political groups in that they are always being infiltrated by forces of the state, there’s a blurred line between what you could call productive engagement and sheer vandalism in their activities and they are full of in-fighting.

There does however seem to be very little ideological glue holding the hacktivists together. It’s a kind of Against the Man, Fuck the Headmaster attitude. Quite a few of the hackers graduate to becoming security experts for large companies and governments.  On their CVs they list under Achievements:-

  • Broke into Bank of England website and covered it with insulting pictures of Mark Carney
  • Released rogue algorithm onto Amazon database, so those ordering Harry Potter books received 50 Shades of Sado-masochism and vice-versa
  • Hacked Richard Dawkins’s twitter account so he sent out tweets of the Thought for the Day kind, like “At the end of Ramadan, we feel a spiritual closeness to.. ” or “the time of Easter is a reminder of”

and those credentials get you a solid job as a gatekeeper for Big Company Inc or Big State Surveilliana.

In our new digital world the state can often find and even turn the hacking known knowns but there are a mass of known unknowns and unknown unknowns in cyberspace. For an upbeat look at how the rogue Digimeisters like Assange and Snowden are the challenging usurpers of the digital world, have a look at this brilliant essay by Bruce Sterling:-

If you’re NSA, as so many thousands are, you’ve known from the get-go that the planet’s wires and cables are a weapon of mass surveillance. Because that is their inherent purpose! You can’t get all conflicted, and start whining that Internet users are citizens of some place or other! That is not the point at all!

Citizens and rights have nothing to do with elite, covert technologies! The targets of surveillance are oblivious dorks, they’re not even newbies! Even US Senators are decorative objects for the NSA. An American Senator knows as much about PRISM and XKeyScore as a troll-doll on the dashboard knows about internal combustion.

…..

Julian Assange. Yeah, him, the silver-haired devil, the Mycroft Holmes of the Ecuadorian Embassy. Bradley Manning’s not at all NSA material, he’s just a leaky clerk with a thumb-drive. But Julian’s quite a lot closer to the NSA — because he’s a career cypherpunk.

If you’re a typical NSA geek, and you stare in all due horror at Julian, it’s impossible not to recognize him as one of your own breed. He’s got the math fixation, the stilted speech, the thousand-yard-stare, and even the private idiolect that somehow allows NSA guys to make up their own vocabulary whenever addressing Congress (who don’t matter) and haranguing black-hat hacker security conventions (who obviously do).

Sterling makes the point that Assange and Wikileaks had more clout than all the human rights groups put together when it came to rescuing Edmund Snowden:-

 the solemn signatories of the recent “International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance.”

… Obviously, a planetary host of actively concerned and politically connected people. Among this buzzing horde of eager online activists from a swarm of nations, what did any of them actually do for Snowden? Nothing.

Before Snowden showed up from a red-eye flight from Hawaii, did they have the least idea what was actually going on with the hardware of their beloved Internet? Not a clue. They’ve been living in a pitiful dream world where their imaginary rule of law applies to an electronic frontier — a frontier being, by definition, a place that never had any laws.

He sums up:-

Digital, globalized societies — where capital and information moves, and where labor and human flesh doesn’t move — they behave like this. That is what we are witnessing and experiencing.

Sterling may overstate the uncontrollability of the net.  But most of us with a job know these days if the network goes down, we stop producing. That the security of our bank accounts may be jeopardised. That computers trading derivatives on miniscule profits can go awry and destroy the economy.  It’s a sense of vulnerability. We’ve most of us wandered into our shanty towns at the edge of Digital City, but we have no idea who the mayor is, who the Council is and who runs the police.

H/t John Carter Wood

Permalink 1 Comment

Warlord of the new world

July 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm (film, geeks, internet, Rosie B)

Having read all about Alex Gibney’s film Wikileaks: We steal secrets I went to see it, and recommend that everyone does. It was also great seeing a documentary in the cinema where you can’t be distracted, as when you watch something on the telly or the I-player at home.

The film shapes itself round the story of two men, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.  At the beginning Assange appears admirable.  He’s a dedicated anti-establishment hacker and also a charmer, full of humour. You see him rising from smart-arse hacking in Australia – breaking into government systems because he can – to uncovering corrupt banking in Iceland. He and a couple of co-activists seem like heroes when they work together in a tiny house in Reykjavik to make a video of American soldiers killing Reuters journalists.  (The event had already been documented but it was the video that made the public impact).

Meanwhile Bradley Manning, an American soldier roasting in Iraq, is a figure of pathos.  In a civilian niche working with his considerable computing skills and hanging out with sympathetic friends he would have been fine. But he is a fish out of water, or as he says, “The CPU is not made for this motherboard”.  He finds himself, an effeminate guy with a conscience, in a highly macho environment holding a job which gives him to access to the reality of the war that the USA is carrying out in Afghanistan and Iraq. His sense of isolation, working on his computer in the desert and being horrified at the revelations of civilian casualties, is painful to watch. He starts leaking the material and that increases his loneliness. So he confides in a soul mate he met on-line, Adrian Lamo, who shopped him.

Everyone knows how these stories have panned out, with Assange stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy dodging rape charges and Manning on trial in a military court for aiding the enemy. As for Adrian Lamo, type his name on Google and you’ll get “snitch”.

Assange’s story is a comedy of ironies. He, a hacker with monikers, became a media celebrity with his face on Time magazine.  A transparency absolutist, he pressured his assistants to sign non-disclosure agreements. A pure anti-power activist began misusing his own power. He became an activist rock star who attracted groupies – and, it’s alleged, treated them as rock stars have often treated groupies.

Gibney got an interview with one of the women who made the rape allegations and of course like any woman who annoys males throughout the digital world, she was hideously targetted with rape threats and the usual vile stuff by some sites that would see themselves as progressive revolutionaries.

The most likable character to appear is James Ball, who volunteered to work for Wikileaks, got to know Assange’s modus operandi, and observes that Assange had the delusions of those working for a greater cause – that if they do wrong, it’s all right.  If he tells a lie, something he’s prone to do,  it’s a noble lie.  One of his on-line names was “Mendax”.

Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets is a fascinating story that suggests various themes. It sets up a dozen signposts that could be followed, as distinct from the Adam Curtis style, which acts like a SatNav bossing you along the journey of the theory with your only view being billboards of footage selected to illustrate the point. When Gibney’s witnesses talk about their experiences of transparency, of the power of the state and the organisations that challenge the state, or the flow of information that can empower the small as well as the large, they point to ideas that all could be profitably explored and which are as complex and as in the shades of grey as Wikileaks itself – though some of the USA’s activities are as black as can be.

Gibney touches briefly on Anonymous, the vigilante/resistance (depending on what they have done to you) loose group of hackers who did a DDoS sabotage of PayPal, Visa and MasterCard when the US governemnt was leaning on them to block donations to WikiLeaks. Anonymous form a power base of their own, and though they were right enough to sabotage illegitimate force by the USA government, they can start chucking their digital grenades at any net organisation who has displeased them politically – and your only redress is in fact via the government.  (They have now dumped Wikileaks since it became the Julian Assange show).

So this is the new world of the internet, where Assange was a warlord (or bandit, or outlaw) carrying out skirmishes against the empire. It’s only been in common use for about twenty years. The industrial revolution must have been like that. Suddenly there are new cities, and fast transport, whole different ways of working and whereas the average person once only knew their immediate neighbours, they could now seek out the like-minded. We have only just started to guess how the digital revolution is affecting political as well as cultural and personal life.  For Manning of course it was a disaster.  He made a friend online, and was betrayed online, and to those who don’t spend half their life online “friend” and “betrayal” where you have never met in the flesh may make no sense – but in fact they are emotional tangibilities in the digital world.

Assange knows the internet like a spy knows safe houses and the weak points of the fortress, and how a mechanic knows a car, and this specialized knowledge is one reason for his egomania. His life swimming in the digital world did give him a slightly fantastical way of engaging with the real world, and his superior knowledge of one system gave him an over-estimation of his political judgement, with a callousness about collateral damage as bad as a government’s.  He had his own political view of the war in Afghanistan, and those Afghans who collaborated with the Coalition forms were traitors (to the Taliban?) so never mind if they were killed by careless redacting of the leaked cables.

In fact, a cruel and unusual punishment for Assange would not to be cooped up in a flat in Knightsbridge with wi-fi, but to be given freedom to roam the United Kingdom – with no internet access. That would be virtual, and real, banishment.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Interview with Alex Gibney, director of ‘We Steal Secrets': Assange as “puppet master”

July 17, 2013 at 12:20 am (celebrity, cinema, Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, Free Speech, Human rights, internet, Jim D, libertarianism, mental health, misogyny, protest, snooping, terror)

From Flavorwire

Flavorwire Interview: ‘We Steal Secrets’ Director Alex Gibney on Julian Assange and the Wikileaks Backlash to His Film

By Jason Bailey on May 22, 2013

In his riveting new documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, director Alex Gibney (the prolific Oscar winner behind Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer) tells two stories: the thriller-like ascendency of the organization and the troubling questions it asks about government transparency, and the crumbling of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, which plays like something out of Greek tragedy — the transformation of an admirable idealist to a paranoid propagandist, injecting his own legal woes into the lofty aims of his organization, and conflating them. Gibney was unable to procure an interview with Assange; “Julian wanted money,” Gibney explains in the film, though Assange was willing to exchange his interview for information on the other people Gibney was talking to. (UPDATE: The organization has disputed this claim. Mr. Gibney notes that they’re working from an “incomplete and inaccurate transcript based on non-final version.”) The filmmaker refused, and We Steal Secrets has been under fire from Wikileaks supporters since it was unveiled at Sundance last January. I asked Gibney about that backlash, the importance of the story, and related troubling matters of transparency in the Obama administration

Flavorwire: When and how did you first become aware of Assange and Wikileaks, and when did you decide you wanted to make this film?

Gibney: I first became aware of him through the collateral murder thing when it was posted on the website before the Afghan and Iraq war logs, and I took note of it as a kind of cool new publishing mechanism for this kind of material. I thought, “Wow, that’s interesting.” I read the piece by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker and then it really exploded, obviously, when the Afghan and Iraq war logs broke, and then the state department cables. It was after that that [producer] Marc Shmuger called me and said, “Would you be interested?” Frankly, I was busy doing some other things. I was just following it as a civilian because I was interested in it and I couldn’t resist. I said, “Yeah, sure. If you can raise the money, I will do it.” Then he went to Universal and we got the money, and off we went.

I really admire the fairness of the film — it champions what Wikileaks is about, while being deservedly critical of Assange himself, or at least the recent iteration of him. How closely does the evolution of the narrative within the film mirror how your own feelings evolved about the story?

I think it did evolve and it did change, and frankly, while we were following the story, the story changed. When we came onto it, Assange was still living in the Norfolk mansion, not yet in self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, so a lot of things were yet to happen. Based on Raffi’s piece in The New Yorker and my first meeting with Assange, I liked him a lot, and I thought it was a pretty simple David and Goliath story. At the same time, it was kind of peculiar because when I came into the story, in media terms, he was becoming a kind of Goliath, he meaning Assange. He was surrounded with a number of lawyers and agents and press people that I had to wade through. It was like trying to talk to a movie star, and so that I think also was tough. I wish I’d met him when he was in Iceland.

Walk me through your communications with Assange during the production — and if you’ve had any since.

One of my executive producers, Jemima Khan, put up some of the bail money for Assange, and so that helped to plug me into his group. And so from the very start, I approached him and told him I wanted to talk to him. I think I may have put him off in the sense that most people [who] were coming to him wanted to make some kind of a deal, like, “Give me access and I’ll go raise the money to make a film about you,” and then Julian would put conditions on the access. I came to him and told him that I was making the film whether he participated or not. I didn’t put it in a crude way — I just said, “I’m doing the film now, I hope you’ll participate.”

I don’t think he liked that very much. He likes to have control. He likes to feel like he’s the puppet master, so nevertheless, I hung on and kept trying over the course of time. You know, he did agree — I have a number of emails saying, “Yeah, sure, we agree to the interview, let’s do it,” and then later on, he decided not to agree. I kept going, so I kept making the film even as I kept trying to get him to talk and [it] was very late in the game when we were close to finishing that I tried one last time and he said, “Well, let’s talk about it.” So I flew over from New York to England and went and visited him at this Norfolk estate that is owned by Vaughan Smith and we had this six-hour conversation where we explored whether or not he would do the interview.

I walked through it, but he wanted certain guarantees, like he wanted to know if he could see cuts. I said, “Look, I don’t do that. That’s not how it works. I don’t work for you.” And then he responded huffily, “Well, I don’t work for you either.” I said, “Yeah, I know, I get it!” I think he wanted a spin doctor. He wanted to be able to say or believe that he could control the message and the messenger. And while I told him that I really wanted his unvarnished views about these issues and really wanted him to dig into detail into the story… ultimately, editorial control rested with me. End of story.

Have you heard anything from him or anyone that’s still in the organization since? Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 1 Comment

The PRISM slides, as shown to the National Security Agency

June 8, 2013 at 10:52 am (Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, internet, Jim D, law, science, snooping, terror, United States)

I’m honestly not sure how significant this is, or how worried we should be. GCHQ has been using the information gathered on British citizens. It’s all over today’s Guardian , but the PRISM Power Point slides, as shown to the US National Security Agency, were first revealed to the public by The Washington Post (below):

******************************************************************************************************

Through a top-secret program authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the U.S. intelligence community can gain access to the servers of nine Internet companies for a wide range of digital data. Documents describing the previously undisclosed program, obtained by The Washington Post, show the breadth of U.S. electronic surveillance capabilities in the wake of a widely publicized controversy over warrantless wiretapping of U.S. domestic telephone communications in 2005. These slides, annotated by The Washington Post, represent a selection from the overall document, and certain portions are redacted. Read related article.

Introducing the program

A slide briefing analysts at the National Security Agency about the program touts its effectiveness and features the logos of the companies involved.

The program is called PRISM, after the prisms used to split light, which is used to carry information on fiber-optic cables.

This note indicates that the program is the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports.

The seal of Special Source Operations, the NSA term for alliances with trusted U.S. companies.

Monitoring a target’s communication

This diagram shows how the bulk of the world’s electronic communications move through companies based in the United States.

Providers and data

The PRISM program collects a wide range of data from the nine companies, although the details vary by provider.

Participating providers

This slide shows when each company joined the program, with Microsoft being the first, on Sept. 11, 2007, and Apple the most recent, in October 2012.

Permalink 4 Comments

Bring back the pamphlet!

October 28, 2012 at 6:07 pm (AWL, Education, internet, literature, Marxism, publications, socialism, students, trotskyism, youth)

By Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty

THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO - KARL MARX FREDERICK ENGELS - INTRO BY LEON TROTSKY P/B

Material conditions for socialist education and self-education are better than they’ve ever been. Much socialist literature which previously you could read only if you could get into a good library is now freely available on the web. Vastly more has been translated.

Thanks to second-hand book sales moving onto the web, printed books which you’d previously find only by searching second-hand shops are now also easily available.

Thirty years ago, if a newcomer started reading the Communist Manifesto, and wondered who Metternich and Guizot were, they were on their own. These days the Workers’ Liberty website alone has more study guides and aids, available free on any internet-connected computer, than the whole of the left could offer then anywhere or at any price.

Even without a study guide, Google will tell you in seconds who Metternich and Guizot were. And Marx’s declaration, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves” — maybe you thought it was in the Manifesto? You can check in a minute where he wrote it, what the context was, how exactly he put it.

Today 52% of young women, and 42% of young men, go through university. Not so long ago, many new recruits to the socialist movement would have left school at 14 or 15, and would at first find the language of the Marxist classics difficult.

Today many socialists have been trained as teachers, learning techniques which they can bring over from their paid work into our study sessions. In the old days it was often the straight lecture, or just collectively reading aloud.

It’s a lot easier to be a well-read socialist now than it used to be. Yet active, intelligent, university-educated young people in the AWL today usually read less than our young activists did 35 or 40 years ago. (We collected statistics).

Even the better-read young activists do not own their own little library of the classic Marxist texts, ready to lend out to new people who show interest, as they automatically would have done decades ago.

To do better, I think, we have to make a deliberate effort to bring reading pamphlets back into daily political life.

The root of the problem, I think, is that social science and humanities university education today often works to deter people from serious study rather than help them towards it.

I have a daughter about to finish a university degree in psychology. She is a conscientious and competent student. Yet her course has never required her to read a single book on psychology, rather than bits and pieces from the web.

Her university campus has a good library. The newer campus of the same university has a library with hardly any books. Most of its space is taken up by computers.

With the huge expansion in academic publishing, no university degree can cover more than a small fraction of the literature in its subject. So lecturers go for the easily available, the quick summary, the overview, the extract, the digest.

Research shows that on average people reading things from the web take in only one-sixth as much as when reading print. So what? The skill of quickly skimming a range of material, taking in a suitable one-sixth of it, and rehashing it fluently in an essay or assignment, is what employers want, not deep specialised knowledge.

The system thus works to deter people from deep study of substantive texts, rather than processed rehashes, and to train them in the idea that the deep study is too difficult.

Then, if the student comes into the socialist movement, the way to seem on top of the current debates is to skim blogs and Facebook, not to read books.

In the 1960s, by contrast, socialist meetings would have stalls piled with pamphlets. For Trotsky and Luxemburg we depended on pamphlets printed in Sri Lanka, which at that time had the world’s strongest English-language Trotskyist movement, but we had them.

The serious activist would always have one or another pamphlet in her or his bag or coat pocket; anyone who attended socialist meetings at all often would check out at least the main pamphlets.

There is no cause to idealise the system of socialist education which depended on pamphlets. Still, pamphlet-reading did something. It inserted serious study into the main flow of socialist activity. The pamphlets were in every activist’s bag or coat pocket, on every stall. If you wanted to know more than the minimum, your course of action was clear and ready to hand, and involved serious study, not one-in-six skimming. It gave a frame of more-or-less known references for debates.

We should use the new possibilities, but also bring back the pamphlet.

Permalink 56 Comments

Hearsay, pure and simple

March 13, 2011 at 11:02 am (anti-semitism, cults, internet, Rosie B)

Here’s John Pilger really pissed off with the liberal press:-

On 3 March, the Guardian announced that Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks would be making “an investigative thriller in the mould of All the President’s Men out of its book WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. I asked David Leigh, who wrote the book with Luke Harding, how much DreamWorks had paid the Guardian for the screen rights and what he expected to make personally. “No idea,” was the puzzling reply of the Guardian’s “investigations editor”. The paper paid WikiLeaks nothing for its treasure trove of leaks. Assange and WikiLeaks – not Leigh or Harding – were responsible for what the Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, has called “one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years”.

[To do these parasites justice, they did have to read masses of fragmentary documentation and make some kind of sense of it.]

The Guardian has made it clear that it has no further use for Assange. He is a loose cannon who did not fit Guardianworld, who proved a tough, unclubbable negotiator. And brave. In the Guardian’s self-regarding book, Assange’s extraordinary bravery is excised. He becomes a figure of petty bemusement, an “unusual Australian” with a “frizzy-haired” mother; he is gratuitously abused as “callous” and a “damaged personality” who was “on the autistic spectrum”. How will Spielberg deal with this childish character assassination?

[Actually, the book says a lot about Assange’s courage, brilliant brain and indifference to comfort and material possessions.  When I’d finished reading it I admired Assange more than I had before.]

On the BBC’s Panorama, Leigh indulged hearsay that Assange did not care about the lives of those named in the leaks.

Assange‘s indifference to the lives of those named in the link turns up on p111 of the book.  The Afghan war logs in Wikileaks’ possession mentioned “names of informants or those who had collaborated with US troops. . .”

I [Declan Walsh, one of the Guardian team sifting through the leaks] told David Leigh I was worried about the repercussions of publishing these names, who could easily be killed by the Taliban or other militant groups if identified. David agreed it was a concern and said he’d raised the issue with Julian, but he didn’t seem concerned. That night, we went out to a Moorish restaurant, Moro, with the two German reporters. David broached the problem again with Julian. The response floored me. ‘Well, they’re informants,’ he said. ‘So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.’ There was, for a moment, silence around the table. I think everyone was struck by what a callous thing that was to say.

In the event the names were redacted.

As some commenters in the thread point out, Pilger misuses the word “hearsay“.  David Leigh heard these remarks of Assange with his own ears.   It wasn’t reported to him by someone else, which is what “hearsay” means.  There were three other witnesses there who heard this as well, and in the thread David Leigh names them.  However Pilger has been indulging in “hearsay” himself since he presumably is going by what Assange has told him what was said at this dinner.

As always with Assange and Wikileaks, there is a lovely irony in this.   The creed of St Julian says “We believe in raw data, unmediated and unchannelled.  Cover us with data, oh Lord, so we can save our souls.”   In this instance Leigh is the man who holds the raw data bleeding and dripping in his hands, Pilger has had it cooked and processed.

Pilger also says:-

As for the claim that he had complained of a “Jewish conspiracy”, which followed a torrent of internet nonsense that he was an evil agent of Mossad, Assange rejected this as “completely false, in spirit and word”.

[Pilger, once a courageous reporter who would travel  to war zones, evidently hasn’t been around the internet much.  It’s perfectly possible that you will be attacked as an evil agent of Mossad because your leaks don’t deal much with the insanity-inducing obsession, Israel, while you agree with a view that has a fairly broad consensus, that the world is ruled by a Zionist entity via its partner, the USA.]

Pilger does not address the most damning charge against Asange’s political and moral judgement in the Panorama programme,  his dealings with the obsessive anti-semite and general loon, Israel Shamir.  A useful summary of this association can be found here by Nathalie Rothschild, though no doubt many will find her surname suspect.

The words “Julian Assange” are as reliable a nutter magnet as “Israel and Palestine“.  In the Liberal Conspiracy thread on Private Eye’s revelations about Assange’s belief in a Jewish media conspiracy people turn up to say that (a) Private Eye must have been hoaxed or is telling lies; (b) Assange was only saying what’s true anyway.  The same calibre of commenter turns up at John Pilger‘s thread saying (a) David Leigh was telling lies; (b) what’s wrong with killing informants anyway?

Permalink 11 Comments

Time to ditch the paper: the Leftover Left and the newspaper

January 28, 2011 at 6:42 pm (AWL, bloggocks, internet, Max Dunbar, media)

This is a guest post by Mikey

Last night I went to a debate between Laurie Penny and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (“AWL”). Others can write about what went on in the meeting, I just wish to rant about one point, an elaboration of the one I made from the floor:  the redundancy of the printed newspaper for revolutionary socialist organisations.

Looking back over the last quarter of a century, Marxist parties have not grown: they have either become smaller or struggled to remain the same size.  This is despite the fact that the key aim for a Trotskyist party is to build the party for the forthcoming revolution.

A standard method for recruitment, one that has remained unchanged since prior to the Russian Revolution in 1917, is that of publishing a newspaper and selling it. The acceptance for the need of the newspaper to spread ideas about the party and the revolution is unquestioned.  The party is as wedded to the newspaper as a heroin addict to a syringe. Arguably more so: heroin addicts have been known to break their addiction.

Despite the fact that sales of national newspapers have been in a substantial decline,  AWL have made the flabbergasting decision to increase the frequency of distribution.

Last night it appeared accepted by the majority that the revolution could not happen by anarchists on Twitter, those dubbed “Anarcho-Tweeters” by Laurie Penny. A vanguard party was needed for, if nothing else, to produce placards for demonstrations. I do not wish to discuss the need for a vanguard party, but simply whether the vanguard party needs a newspaper.

I list below some of the objections to doing away with a newspaper that I have heard, including some from last night, together with my own retorts:

1:      Not everyone has access to the internet.

This is true, but most people do.  In fact far more people have access to the internet than have access to the newspaper. This is because AWL do not have newspaper sellers all across the country. Far from it: the coverage of the country by AWL newspaper sellers is miniscule.

2: You need a newspaper for those without access to the internet.

If one were to take that argument to the extreme, then one could say that you need to produce a newspaper in numerous other languages for those that do not speak English and an audio version for the partially sighted and for those that cannot read and write.

3:      Not everyone can afford to have an Internet connection.

This is certainly true. But what makes one think that if someone cannot afford an Internet connection that they can afford to purchase a newspaper. Yes, it is true that the cost of a subscription to a weekly produced revolutionary newspaper is a lot lower than the cost an internet connection, but it is not massively so. If finances are so tough then items likely to be cut from weekly budget are likely to include the newspaper.  This is aside from the fact that by the end of this year all libraries should have free internet access. I very much doubt that all libraries subscribe to Solidarity, the weekly newspaper of the AWL.

4:      People do not read articles on the Internet.

This is a myth, they do. One can consider the Guardian’s Comment is Free web site where not only are the articles widely read but thousands of comments are left per day on the Internet published articles. It is aside that I believe that if AWL spent some time redesigning its web site it might pick up more readers. A simple change for the better could be ensuring that instead of articles having over  25 words per line as they currently do, a more standard 12-15 words per line were used.

5:      People are more likely to read an article if they pay for it.

I am not sure there is any good current evidence for this for articles that someone is interested in and are brought to their attention. I read far more articles that are free to me on the Internet than ones that I pay for.  Besides, how many people take a subscription to a journal and get so behind in their reading that copies remain unopened from one week to the next to the point where the backdated copies are simply thrown away?

6:      Selling newspapers is an excuse to chat to people about politics.

I have news for those who make that claim. I, like many people, have spoken for numerous years to different people about politics and have never once tried to sell any of them a newspaper.

7:      When the revolution comes, the ruling class will cut off access to mobile phones and the Internet.

This argument was provided from the floor last night. By this logic I should use candles to read with because come the electricity strike my electric lights will not work. It is a ridiculous argument. Even revolutionary socialists must accept that the conditions are far away from the working class starting a revolution. Besides, just as I can keep candles in a bottom draw to be prepared for an electricity strike, revolutionary parties can keep their printing presses on standby for the eventuality that the Internet is switched off.

8: You cannot express complex ideas in a Tweet that is restricted to 140 characters.

This was another argument from the floor last night. This is true but Twitter allows links. As such, in less than 140 characters, a Tweet can be written suggesting an article is read with a link provided to that article.  As an example: “Read this article on the UK Uncut campaign.  Great Interview with activists. http://tinyurl.com/ukuncutinterview #ukuncut”

9:      Selling newspapers is a discipline. Party members need to be disciplined and selling newspapers, tough as it is, shows commitment.

One former leading activist within AWL informed me of a fact that makes logical sense—selling papers costs more members than it gains. For every new  member attracted to the movement as a result of purchasing a newspaper, more than one drops out as they get fed up spending their Saturday afternoons standing outside Sainsbury’s or knocking on doors  trying to sell the blasted things. The revolutionary parties could make the revolution fun, but that is not what they want to do—they want to make it miserable. Perhaps the revolutionary parties could ponder this point.

In so far as discipline, members can be encouraged to engage in politics on line by writing blogs, commenting on other people’s blogs, entering into debates on Facebook and Twitter, things that many members possibly do already and do not mind doing. In such discussions, members can encourage others interested to attend a party meeting and potentially even join the party.

10:  Both can be done. We can produce and sell a newspaper and encourage members to have an online presence.

I do not think you get the key point above—people do not enjoy selling newspapers. They might enjoy talking to people about politics, but they do not need to sell them a newspaper to do that. It is not a necessity of a political conversation that a newspaper changes hands.

It is true that people could spend, for example, four hours a week involved in on line debates and two hours a week selling newspapers, but if you cut out the time selling newspapers they could spend six hours a week in on line debates. Two hours of on line time I would think should be much more productive than two hours knocking on doors.

None of what I am saying stops the party asking members to hand out free flyers to people on a demonstration inviting them to attend a party meeting on a given subject;  it just removes the dreaded paper sale. I know, I expect to get a comment on this article from the one person who loves going out in the snow and selling newspapers for the party they devote their life to. I ask them to consider not just themselves but all the other party members. Unsold newspapers stacking up under the beds of party members have been a long running truism for many in Trotskyist parties.

Laurie Penny has over 12,000 followers on Twitter. Her high profile cannot simply be put down to the fact that she is a journalist for the “bourgeois press.” There are plenty of other journalists for that press, including senior journalists who have nowhere near the amount of followers that she has. Part of the reason that she has gained so many followers is, without the benefit of a party, she has been very active tweeting about anti government demonstrations for the benefit of activists.  

The official Workers’ Liberty Twitter account currently has a grand sum of 65 followers. Had less time been spent on producing and selling a newspaper and more time on developing an Internet presence, this sorry state of affairs might not have occurred. Someone might even have found the time to use the account to send a Tweet advertising last night’s debate.  

Rant Over.

Permalink 57 Comments

Four ways to help Labourstart

January 13, 2011 at 7:39 pm (internet, Jim D, solidarity, unions, workers)

Labourstart, probably the world’s leading trade union website, has been around so long that many of of take it for granted. But we need to actively support this unique and irreplaceable service, and here are four ways of doing so (from Eric Lee, founder of Labourstart):

The social network for trade unionists – a LabourStart project.

A message to all members of UnionBook

To all UnionBook members -First of all, a very happy new year to you all.

I’d like to ask for your help with four things — and doing all four will only take a few moments of your time:

1. If you’ve not yet filled in our annual survey of trade union use of the net, please do so today:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/7X728DF

2. If you’re a member of Facebook but have not yet joined the LabourStart group there, please sign up now:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=4247627245

3. You can help LabourStart by signing up as a volunteer correspondent so that you can post news about your country and your union. More details are here:

http://www.labourstart.org/newcorrespondents.shtml

4. Finally, please recruit others — share this email message with friends, co-workers and your fellow union members.

Thanks very much!

Eric

Visit UnionBook at: http://www.unionbook.org/?xg_source=msg_mes_network

Permalink Leave a Comment

Time for Wikileaks to sack Julian Assange

December 7, 2010 at 6:56 pm (Afghanistan, internet, Max Dunbar, Middle East)

There’s an interesting fault line opening up on the left between Julian Assange the Wikileaks hero and Julian Assange the potential rapist. Cath Elliott makes some good points in response to John Band’s nasty, dismissive piece about the Assange rape allegations. Of course we know that leftwing males will indulge misogyny when it suits them – we know that from their response to female dissidents from the Islamic world. The point here is that LibCon writers could just say ‘I applaud Wikileaks commitment to freedom of information, but I don’t trust Assange the man.’ Unfortunately there’s still a tendency to hero worship that gets in the way of rational judgements.

Assange over recent months has become a celebrity in his own right. He’s like a Benny Hill version of the Scarlett Pimpernel. Possibly it has gone to his head. Serious reports suggest that all is not well at Wikileaks Towers. The Independent‘s sources paint a picture of a transparency organisation hijacked by one man’s ideological crusade. An Icelandic freedom of information campaigner and ex-Wikileaks volunteer told the paper that ‘Key people have become very concerned about the direction of Wikileaks with regard to its strong focus on US military files at the expense of ignoring everything else’ – particularly ‘the dramatic increase in submissions from whistleblowers within closed countries, dictatorships and corporations.’

Assange also doesn’t seem to understand the potential consequences of simply releasing everything you find into the public domain. We need to know about NATO crimes in Afghanistan. We don’t need Assange to write the Taliban’s hit list for them. The decision to publish the names of Afghans working with NATO was apparently Assange’s alone – and condemned by Amnesty, Reporters without Borders and many Wikileaks staffers. Icelandic parliamentarian and Wikileaks colleague Birgitta Jonsdottir said ‘We were very, very upset with that, and with the way he spoke about it afterwards… If he could just focus on the important things he does, it would be better.’ The Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr asked Assange in person: ‘What about these named sources? Might [you] have endangered their lives?’

‘If there are innocent Afghans being revealed, which was our concern, which was why we kept back 15,000 files, then of course we take that seriously.’

But what if it’s too late?

‘Well, we will review our procedures.’

Too late for the individuals, I say. Dead.

You can see Assange’s cavalier regard for human life when he boasts about an expose of a corrupt Kenyan politician that apparently influenced the extremely violent 2007 election. ”1,300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced. That was a result of our leak,’ says Assange.’

Of course Wikileaks is here to stay and over time it will become one source of valuable information among many. But reading through his petulant and tyrannical response to criticism from within Wikileaks and without (not to mention his Vogon poetry) it’s clear that Assange the man is an embarrassment who is rapidly bringing the organisation into disrepute. As I write, Assange is on remand in Wandsworth. God knows what his fate is. But whatever happens, I think Wikileaks would prosper if it had a figurehead with a little more steadiness and self-awareness.

Also: read Christopher Hitchens and David Allen Green. And don’t miss this Zionist conspiracy theory, via Martin Bright, from a guy called Tariq Shahid of the Palestine Think Tank who notices one glaring omission in the cables:

Browse through all the news sources available on the latest Wikileaks revelation, and try to find even only one revelation that actually damages Israel, even though so many of the revealed documents are directly or indirectly connected to Middle East politics, and to a large extent to Israeli affairs. Did you find any document among them that either creates difficulties for the government of the Zionist entity, or even slightly embarrasses it? Think about it well, you will find that the answer is a very simple ‘No’.

The plot thickens!

Update: Loads of recommended reading here. Alastair Campbell on Wikispin. US feminist Amy Siskind responds to a weak, stupid satire by Naomi Wolf. Anyone who still doubts the misogyny of many Assange groupies should read Esther Addley’s essential piece.

Amanda Marcotte gets to the heart of it for me.

It’s possible both that Wikileaks is a necessary curative for government overreach and that its leader is out to serve his own ego needs above all. Anyone who thinks that’s impossible needs to think harder about what’s going on when politicians get sentimental on the campaign trail.

Why can’t the left piss and whistle at the same time?

More: Jim Denham highlights a letter in the Guardian that denounces the ‘dubious charges’ against Assange, and is signed by the usual establishment-left, pro-totalitarian scum.

Alan A points out that the Daily Shriek and Socialist Unity’s Andy Newman have basically the same view of the allegations:

An attractive blonde, Sarah was already a well-known ‘radical feminist’. In her 30s, she had travelled the world following various fashionable causes.

While a research assistant at a local university she had not only been the protegee of a militant feminist ­academic, but held the post of ‘campus sexual equity officer’. Fighting male discrimination in all forms, including sexual harassment, was her forte.

-

well at least two of the women who have commented here are radical feminists, who have highly negative views of all men; and one of them has a vendetta against tommy Sheridan.

Permalink 82 Comments

UnionBook: “a powerful tool for our movement.”

January 29, 2009 at 10:19 pm (blogging, Champagne Charlie, internet, unions)

Eric Lee of  Labourstart sends news of a promising new initiative:

This weekend will see the public launch of UnionBook – the social networking site for trade unionists, sponsored by LabourStart.

I wanted to make sure that all our correspondents knew about this in advance, in the hope that you will sign up and spread the word in your unions.

UnionBook, which is located at http://www.unionbook.org, offers many features that you and your union will find useful. Among these are:

* Blogs – build your own blog today. Free, with no ads.

* Groups – create a group to support your union and your campaigns. Groups can have discussion forums and shared documents. They can be public or closed. They’re a very powerful tool.

* Post your profile and sign up your friends – just like in any other social network (with certain subtle differences).

We’re adding more features all the time, fixing and tweaking things, but with over 500 users already using our beta version, we think it’s time to go live and to recruit thousands more trade unionists. UnionBook will never be as big as the giant commercial networks like Facebook, but once we have several thousand trade unionists using it, I’m confident that it will become a powerful tool for our movement worldwide.

We’re not telling anyone to stop using other social networks. If you are active in Facebook or any of the others, that’s fine. But use UnionBook for your trade union activities and see how easy it is to build and form groups, and to publish content online.

Please spend some time on UnionBook.org and explore the possibilities. And then spread the word — because together, we can create something amazing here.

Thanks.

Eric Lee

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 470 other followers