Monday, 14 February 2011

The Revolution Will Be Televised

I’ve spent the last few weeks dropping in and out of Al-Jazeera’s live streaming news of the Egyptian revolution. Quite amazing footage has flashed across my computer screen of this exciting and moving event, which shows the irresistible force of people power, when the masses unite in solidarity and even the most brutally entrenched governments can be toppled. Great credit goes to the demonstrators, for their bravery, determination and largely peaceful behaviour throughout the eighteen days of passionate struggle.

One of the most interesting aspects of this revolution and the preceding one in Tunisia, has been not only the older media coverage of events, but the widespread use of new media to connect and spread the protests. Blogs, Facebook and Twitter have been used by activists to impressive effect, and the authorities were so afraid of this tactic, that they tried, unsuccessfully, to close down access to
the internet, and we now see why.

Egyptian protesters got around this government tactic, by using old dial up connections and using proxy servers, and so stayed one step ahead of the authorities. That at the forefront of the revolution, it was the young people, who never having known any other government than Mubarak’s, but were crucially encouraged by, and were savvy enough to know the possibilities of new media, helped immeasurably the eventual magnificent success of the people.

They will need to be watchful of the interim military government, and may need to bring people onto the streets again in huge numbers, just to keep the generals honest in their stated intentions to move quickly to a democratic society, but I think they are aware of this, and again new media will play its part in that mobilisation.

What lessons does all of this teach us about protest in the UK then? Well, of course it is already happening. It is doubtful whether we would have found out the truth about the police’s involvement in the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in London in 2009, without the intervention of ‘citizen journalism’ footage of the events leading up to his death.

The website Indymedia, is a hub for activists who are organising direct action protests, and social networking sites, blogs and email lists are widely used in communicating information to and in between activists. I have also heard of plans to make laptops mini portable internet hubs, so information can be communicated amongst demonstrators, even when the authorities close down the regular internet and mobile phone provision in areas where protests are taking place. Tactics are changing too, with smaller ‘flash mobs’ appearing suddenly, and taking the police by surprise, like the UK Uncut protests over corporate tax evasion. And climate activists often operate in a semi- autonomous, horizontal network, that is difficult to monitor and contain.

Internationally, the Wikileaks ‘hactivists’ who closed down corporate websites for hours, and obtained secret information on the true thinking behind our politician’s actions, have changed investigative journalism forever.

The establishment in the UK has much to worry about now, and we can follow up the student demonstrations of last year about tuition fees, by staging even bigger, though more nimble at the same time, protests about the public spending cuts, beginning with the TUC march on the 26th March this year. Look at what the Egyptian people have achieved, the ConDem government should be easy to topple.


Little Richardjohn said...

The revolution was definitely NOT televised on the BBC. We might as well have been watching the radio.

Larry O'Hara said...

It certainly seems the new media have played some part in mobilisation thus far, and the idea of portable hubs to circumvent local internet closure by the powers that be is a good one.

However, there are far more dimensions to social revolution than merely mobilising massive numbers--as Stop the War marches in the UK a few years ago showed. Numbers do not in themselves dissolve power, but may cause the ruling classes to reconfigure their tactics/trsponse. The effective ruler of Egypt is himself a spook! Furthermore, the % who can be mobilised in any one area is limited--Egypt has 85million population for example. Media like Twitter may precipitate many to take to the streets, but will not in themselves educate anybody in anything other than Twitterspeak--short catchy slogans, in fact just the sort of sound-bytes elicited from protesters by the media. For instance, democracy is spoken of--what kind? Direct/indirect? And so on...

Whaty we have seen thus far in Egypt has been an opening chapter in social upheaval--where it ends up will depend on whether activists can transcend the limits of the 'new media' themselves.

Mike Shaughnessy said...

Yes Larry, new media etc is not the be all and end all of a successful revolution, but organisation is crucial, and anything that helps that, must be utilised.

Larry O'Hara said...

I know all technology must be utilised--it is just that new media/technology has its limits and is not socially/politically neutral.

Two points I should have made also:

1) there are strikes etc going on--thus the ruling powers are being challenged more broadly (and traditionally).

2) Loath as I am to quote Lenin, there is one point he would make re current events. "Has the oppressed class arms?". If the answer is no, then that is one kind of (old style) organisational question that again is pertinent.

Finally, the question isn't so much 'organisdation' as such, but what kind of organisation. Against Lenin, I prefer what Adriano Sofri called 'internal vanguards'--without these, revolt will not become successful revolution...

Mike Shaughnessy said...

Of course strikes have been important in the Egyptian revolution, as they should be here in the UK, if we are to challenge the establishment. Whether TU leaders will wear this another matter, but we'll see. Maybe workers at the coal face will do it anyway, again time will tell.

By arms do you mean guns? I'm not sure I want to part of that kind of revolution. Egypt has pretty peaceful by and large.

I'm not sure on the vanguard philosphy. I think it is crucial that we take the people with us every step of the way, Spartacus like leadership.

Larry O'Hara said...

clearly strikes (or even the working class alone) are not enough. My point is struggle confined to the internet and the central areas of three cities is not enough.

Regarding arms, I am not arguing for violence--merely pointing out that no ruling class in history has ever given up power voluntarily. In Egypt, ceding power as such has not even come on the agenda yet anyway.

Re vanguards, I think you will find Sofri's conception was far closer to Spartacus thann Lenin. In any event, Spartacus was a heroic failure, but failure nonetheless.

We need to recognise & learn from failure, not rebrand it as success (as in '10 years of Stop the War: The Movie')

Mike Shaughnessy said...

Yes, there are worrying signs that the army aren't going to change much in Egypt.

All I'm saying really, is that all governments are vulnerable at the moment, our coalition more than most. Intersting times attend, I hope.

Larry O'Hara said...

interesting times indeed: and don't get me wrong, I fully support the revolts.

As for the coalition being susceptible to street protests: only up to a point.

There needs to be a counter-narrative to the gobts that blames it all on a Labour mess, and a counter-narrative to Labour's smug pretence they wouldn't be doing something very similar. The Last Century Left neo-Keynesian mantras are hardly useful, either. I am old enough to remember when the Labour Left did have an Alternative Economic Strategy--sadly, that was 30 yeats ago..

Greens are ideally placed in principle, with our distinctive take on economics, to transcend these failed narratives. Unfortunately, The UK ruling order's overthrow is some way away yet--following Gramsci, in the UK civil society is rather a lot, and it is primarily in civil society that Left Greens need to fight the 'war of position'.

As you say though, interesting times.

Mike Shaughnessy said...

I quite like Gramsci, he wrote of the problems with union leaders too. In a way, I'm trying to use journalism in the same way. This is a call to 'arms'.