Manufacturing Socialism: "cy.Rev" Electronic Journal

Jamal Hannah jamal at bronze.lcs.mit.edu
Thu Sep 14 00:36:21 MDT 1995


Regarding: "cy.Rev", electronic magazine at:
http://www.eff.org/pub/Publications/E-journals/CyRev/

Well it had to happen.   A bunch of industry tech-heads comes along,
presumably after reading enough articles in magazines such as WIRED
that compare the "information revolution" to actual social revolutions
in a casual, kitsch sort of way, so often that it just sinks in: hey,
we're computer users!  We're on the Internet!  We're the real
revolutionaries and we know what's best for the world!  I mean, hey,
a BSCS in computing, or a decent paying network job must make one
smart enough to lead a "proletarian revolution", right?

I remember seeing the little symbol from the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, the fist with the two lightning bolts drawn in it:
"Cyber-Rights Now!" it proclaims.  I always found this rather
insulting... comparing the "right" to net communication
(whether it's faxing memos, or transferring a 1 gigabyte program
over the Internet via FTP) to people's struggles for human rights
and equality.  Something was just darn childish about the whole thing.
Granted, we now depend on the net for quite a bit of free and
open communication, but let's not confuse one struggle for another.

And of course in "Revolutionary" techno-culture zines like MONDO 2000,
the constant bashing of the left (how many times can you count some
reference to "Political Correctness"?) while posing as "radical" and
"avant gaurde".  We get the revolutionary aesthetics, but not the
substance.  I got a distinct whiff of this sensation from cy.Rev
magazine.  A "cybernetic revolution" magazine that calls itself
"socialist?"  Pah-leaze!

Reading through the first article of the first issue of "cy.Rev", I was
impressed with the multitude of carefully-chosen, evenly spaced
"workerist" terms.  As if how many times someone utters the word
"proletariat" indicates some true "Marxist" background or understanding.

Among the articles, thrown in with the usual lefty-slang is a multitude
of those new "hot" words like "radical democracy", "grass roots" (hooboy),
"empowering", "community" and so on. It's hard enough for current lefty
groups to get far riding on  these words alone (yes, it all sounds so
perfect and eloquent.. but what has one done to solve real problems?)
So how can a "cyberzine" expect to win-over the hearts of "the masses"?

What starts out with all the required qualifying "left wing" verbiage
ends up to be just good-old watered down Social Democracy, at it's
best.. and at it's worst, an attempt to pull actual radicals off
the track from realistic progressive goals, and into fighting to
"improve industry" (technology, that is), or "liberalism" discussed
as "socialism".  Perhaps it's not enough that the net should expand
at a regular pace corresponding to market demand: an army of leftists
must be duped into getting giddy about being "wired".  Everyone must
be "wired".  But why?  Who's making money in all this?  Who benefits?
Certainly, the left benefits in very specific ways from the Internet
(the most obvious are mentioned in articles near the end of issue
#1... but these were all pretty obvious anyway.. stuff like online
conferences, or surfing the net for information... gee, If we already
made it as far as this electronic-zine.. why would we need to know this?)

I always wondered just why the WIRED crew and related folks were so
darn eager for everyone to get "wired" one way or another... are we
all part of some huge experiment for these folks?  Let's see what
happens when you shove 6 Billion people onto the same chat-line?
Yes, everyone must be "wired", and accept specific predictions about
exactly what the Information Society is about (predictions made by
marketing researchers, no less) everyone, including those socialist
folks ("ok, so they were doing it on their own anyway, but not
the way WE wanted them to") and even the Natives in the far off
rainforests (why do so many "tech culture" 'zines consistently juxtapose
images of primitives and of nature with electronic hardware? Is this
the marketing drive too?  "Even an Indian can like a Sony Walkman"?)

Social Democracy (basically reformist liberalism) rears it's ugly face all
through the 'zine, in fact, here's one of the more blatant excripts:

  In our view of socialism, we affirm the entrepreneurial spirit, the
  motivating energy of the market and the right of individuals to become
  wealthy through the private ownership of the capital they have helped to
  create. At the same time, we fundamentally reorder priorities in how both
  property and capital is defined. While both personal property and capital
  may still be owned by individuals.  we no longer see ownership as an
  absolute power. Property, especially productive property in the form of
  capital, is to be seen primarily as a social power relation that can be
  guided and regulated, just as other power relations are regulated for the
  common good of society. Incomes are also subject to progressive taxation.

Yep.  We've heard it all before.. it's the "great minds" that produce the
wealth, and not laborers.  But this was being said decades ago, by the
likes of many capitalists (liberal or otherwise)... what makes this
any more valid than before?  If it was actually not true
in the past, then how can we assume they are telling the truth now?
The truth is, social relations have not changed.  The dishonesty
of the past lives on today, but with a shiny new face.

We also know already just how much industry hates taxes, and funds
huge organizations to demonize anyone who effects them.. somehow,
the taxes end up effecting the working class most of all.  But of
course in market-logic, this is "fair".

Here's an even stupider line, from an article in issue #2 titled:
"The Third Wave and the Republicans: Is Newt Gingrich a Closet New Leftist?"

  Newt Gingrich is leading the most successful attack on the capitalist state
  since the 1960s. Tearing apart bureaucracies, desanctifying authority,
  delegitimizing the corporate liberal political system, decentralizing
  power closer down to the grass roots--these are all the battle slogans
  of the first 100 days of power for the new Speaker of the House and his
  new Republican majority.

Cute how they seem to choose to go the way of news magazines like
TIME and Newsweek, naming their articles with "leading questions",
for which the answer is always an implied (and even blatant, when one
reads the article) "yes".  And since when can Newt Gingrich be
compared to a "leftist" for eliminating social programs? (of course
"Cy.Rev" uses the Conservatively Correct term, "bureaucracies",
to refer to such.)  .. And are we supposed to forget that liberals,
as watered-down as they may be today (well, the fight was kind of beaten
out of them anyway), were in fact further to the "left" in creating
these social programs to begin with?  Of course, when one does
not explain that some government programs are intended to benefit
the poor and working class, they can be thrown into the heap of
a "corporate liberal political system" (gee, these "Marxists" bought
the Republican rhetoric hook, line and sinker...   How stupid
do these people think we are anyway?  If "liberals" were the
cause for _all_ our "bureaucratic" government problems, then who
are we all supposed to be?  Conservatives?  Or did
Alvin Toffler and the rest of the Cy.Rev people vote for Gus Hall
(or any other leftist "leader") when they had a chance?

A heavy emphasis on Alvin Toffler's "Third Wave" is all through the
"cy.Rev" electronic magazine.  So we are supposed to assume that
Toffler, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation were all along
in fact _socialists_, and that in dedicating their efforts towards
the decimation of the basic legitimizations for coherent socialist
activism or critique.  (I still hold the view that Toffler and even
Andre Gorsz' announcement that the "Working class is dead" is
off the mark, though it certainly gives the ruling class a good giggle.)

In fact, Toffler's name and and the name of his book, and the labels that
go with them ("2nd Wave", "3rd Wave") are chanted over and over, like
incantations.  Why bother to call themselves "Marxists" when they are
obviously "Tofflerites"?  We're told, perhaps with some amount of
smug, backpatting glee, that "the 2nd Wave is over and never coming
back", and the 3rd wave, based on information and imagination, is
here to stay.  If this is true, why "dig up" Marxism, instead of simply
relying on one's own original terms?  It seems clearer and clearer
that the whole point of Cy.Rev is to "sell" the bland futurist-
market-society rhetoric of Toffler to an unwitting left.

Fighting for freedom from patents, battling net-censorship, pushing
for improved technologies.. these issues are of interest to professionals,
hackers, programmers, and in general a small number of those "middle-class"
individuals involved in computers.  These issues have little bearing
on the reality of social relations in society.  No amount of science
fiction reading, theorizing, hoping or wishing will turn what is
basically the result of intense capitalist/free-market ideology into
some actual form of socialism... and those on the left who have
studied history know that since the beginning, many have posed as
"socialists" but simply preach reformism and revisionism, no matter
how much they may wrap themselves in "revolutionary" rhetoric
or rationalizations.

It is truly sad to see honest and well-meaning
members of groups such as DSA, the CoC, and the NOC stooping to
collaboration with such projects as "Cy.Rev", rather than producing
their own theoretical journals based on their own platforms and
real-world experiences with working towards socialism using computers
as _tools_, rather than "the next stage of human evolution".
(From a leftist perspective, this is quite premature, considering
how vastly un-democratic society actually is: the vastly larger section is
essentially "dragged" along by a malignant minority), into whatever
future capitalism has in store for us all.)

The very existence of "Cy.Rev", and it's connection with Peacenet (a
network which at least at first seemed blissfully safe from phony
leftists, since it was an enclosed system) only underlines
a problem which should be evident to all leftists on the Internet:
since "net activities" consist of strict propaganda and argument, and since
all terms and concepts are maliable, especially in this post-cold-war
time when there is no longer great reason for the professional class
to put large amounts of energy into demonizing Marx (for fear that
the downtrodden might see the USSR as some possible alternative),
capitalism shows it's hardiness by absorbing all that which it cannot
destroy (observe ideological movements such as "National Socialism" and
"Objectivism" which have both basically attempted to use every aspect of
Marxism which they cannot ignore to their advantage, while discarding the
rest).

Obviously Marxism has, and will endure so long
as capitalism has it's hold over humanity:  some critique will
always be relevant.  Therefor, some individuals claiming to be "Marxist"
or "Socialist" will attempt to push the attributes of Capitalism under
the guise of the labels of "Socialism" or "Marxism" or "Revolutionary"..
other examples include DSA member J. Hughes' web pages; intermixed
are his opinions about race, feminism, enviromentalism, technology,
and indigenous self-determination which quite frankly are in many ways
indistinguishable from the views of the secular ("free-market" trumpeting)
right...
(see http://ccme-mac4.bsd.uchicago.edu/CCMEFaculty/Hughes/Hughes.html)
Is this the "future face of socialism"?  Either the professional
class is so terrified of actually challenging capitalism in realistic
ways that they "pad down" their rhetoric to sound nice, or they
are truly embracing the very things which are responsible for
the repression of most of the people on the planet.

It would be preferable that the EFF kept it's affairs to issues of electronic
privacy, and did not attempt to pretend that it was the "Savior of Mankind"
in doing so.  The "cyber-protagonist" hero was always a mythical, romantic
figure from the start (the "cyber revolutionaries" of science fiction,
who of course have no resemblance to their real-world hacker/programmer/
video-game player counterparts, but which the industry hopes to blur
the distinction in order to boost expectations and ultimately sales)..
but do we really need more manufactured heroes?

 - Jamal Hannah



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