Fw: Computer-linked Social Movements (pt.1)

Michael Pugliese debsian at SPAMpacbell.net
Sat Dec 11 11:42:33 MST 1999

----- Original Message -----
From: Harry M. Cleaver <hmcleave at eco.utexas.edu>
To: <aut-op-sy at lists.village.virginia.edu>
Sent: Saturday, December 11, 1999 10:18 AM
Subject: AUT: Computer-linked Social Movements (pt.1)

> Folks:
> Here's a piece I wrote almost a year ago analysing the emergence of
> transnational struggles and the role of computer communications in them.
> The piece refers to the WTO and the seemingly now forgotten struggle
> against its last meetings in Geneva. As you will see including the events
> in Seattle would add at least a paragraph to this piece, perhaps more, in
> several places.
> Harry
>                       Computer-linked Social Movements
>                                      and
>                        the Global Threat to Capitalism
> Abstract: Of all the emerging roles of computer communications in social
> conflict, this paper argues that the most serious challenge to the basic
> institutional structures of modern society flow from the emergence of
> computer-linked global social movements that are, increasingly,
> both nationa and supranational policy-making institutions. The suggestion
> that we are currently witnessing an accelerating circulation of social
> conflicts whose participants recognize a common enemy: contemporary
> capitalism. In their increasingly common rejection of business priorities
> their struggles cannot but recall Marxist notions of "class warfare." Yet
> the common opposition to capitalism is not accompanied by the old notion
> a unified alternative project of socialism. On the contrary, such a vision
> has been displaced by a proliferation of diverse projects and the notion
> that there is no need for universal rules. In response to these struggles,
> the threatened institutions are responding in various ways, sometimes by
> military and paramilitary force, sometimes by co-optation aimed at
> reintegrating the antagonistic forcs. The problem for us is finding ever
> ways to defeat these responses and continue to build new worlds.
> Recent writings on the spread of widespread, computer communications have
> found them playing new roles in all kinds of social conflict: in the
> activities of terrorists, drug cartels, illegal arms merchants,
> nation-states, advocacy groups and social movements. The content of these
> roles differ --from hacker break-ins and extortion demands, to the
> circulation of information on the Internet-- but they all involve the use
> modern computer technologies as weapons of criminal acts or political
> struggle.
> Clarifying the importance of communications in such conflict areas depends
> on the examination of case studies. Case studies, in turn require us to
> narrow our focus and select a specific area of conflict for closer
> How to choose? In general this question is being answered by individuals
> according to their own interests and by funding agencies according to
> priority of worries. Everyone, I assume, wonders "in which area of
> are the effects of these new behaviors and organizational forms likely to
> the most profound?"
> Of all the areas mentioned above, I argue that the area developing in ways
> most likely to produce profound effects is that of broad-based social
> movements. The reasons for this view are simple.
> On the one hand, no innovation in the organization of terrorism, criminal
> cartels, military operations or any other inter-state interaction
> the socio-economic and political order of contemporary global
> Small groups wield terrorism as a political weapon in the struggle for
> conventional power. For governments terrorism is just another way of
> repressing the opposition or, at an international level, of putting
> on other nation-states. Current efforts to reorganize the military are
> merely designed to make it more effective within the current system which
> includes, and is not threatened by, modifications in nation-state
> relationships. Similarly, the restructuring of criminal organizations
> cartels, arms merchants) is no more mysterious than parallel efforts among
> their more legal corporate counterparts. In all of these conflict areas we
> may well expect innovation and changes in the forms of conflicts that
> citizens will need to take into account, but none of them threatens any
> fundamental change in the current system.
> On the other hand, there is accumulating evidence that current trends in
> large-scale social movements do pose such a threat and hold the
> of coalescing into a deepening and broadening of that threat. Many past
> studies of large-scale social movements have not seen them as dangers to
> current social system but rather as narrowly focused, largely reformist
> movements aimed at achieving particular changes, but not general ones. In
> contrast, this paper suggests that current struggles for particular
> are linking up into a collaboration whose impact may wind up being much
> larger than the sum of the individual influences. One of the most
> dimensions of the movement toward collaboration is its increasingly global
> or transnational character. Local and national movements, which have
> local and national battles, are quite consciously seeking and finding ways
> to make their efforts complement those of others organized around similar
> issues elsewhere.
> Transnational rhizomes, networks or social netwars?
> These tendencies in the emergence and evolution of social movements have
> attracted the attention of independent critical intellectuals, mainstream
> social scientists and national security analysts. Among the former, the
> theoretical work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari has been
> fruitful. In the process of transcending traditional Left notions of
> structuralism, dialectics and a preoccupation with large-scale forces,
> elaborated a number of new concepts to illuminate the micro-dynamics of
> individual psychology and social movements. For my purposes here, the most
> salient of their ideas are the ones based on the metaphor of the rhizome:
> subterranean plant growth process involving propagation through the
> horizontal development of the plant stem.(2) Deleuze and Guattari
> this horizontal elaboration of a multiplicity of underground roots and
> ground stems to more familiar arboreal processes associated with the
> vertical, centralized growth of trees. Through the metaphor of the rhizome
> they explored the characteristics one finds, or might expect to find, in
> horizontally linked human interactions --whether of small-scale social
> groups or large-scale social movements. This work has been taken up by
> activists in such movements and used for thinking about their own
> both locally and internationally.(3)
> In the mainstream, first sociologists and then political scientists have
> taken over from mathematical graph theory the concept of networks to
> a wide variety of social relationships.(4) These have included individual
> behavior, small group interactions, organizational behavior and social
> movements --most recently transnational movements.(5) Of these, the last
> would seem to have the most salience here. Organizational theorists and
> observers have traced the emergence within businesses and to some degree
> state sector, of network forms of organization that appear distinct from
> more traditional hierarchies and market systems.(6) Recent applications of
> network analysis to transnational social movements have drawn on past
> sociological studies of local networks, on organizational studies and on
> empirical work on particular network-based campaigns to knit together a
> synthetic view of "those relevant actors working internationally on an
> issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse and
> exchanges of information and services." (7)
> Among national security analysts, the most perceptive work has been done
> RAND's David Ronfeldt and his co-authors who have examined the
> of the emergence of network forms of organization for the Defense
> Department. Drawing on studies of the changing organization of business
> the state, such as that of Walter Powell, they have taken over the
> juxtaposition of networks to markets and hierarchies and argued that
> contemporary social movements have been evolving into networked
> organizations capable of unleashing "transnational social netwars." They
> emerging transnational networks of "information  age activism" based on
> associations among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with
> modern and postmodern issues such as the environment, human rights,
> immigration, indigenous peoples and freedom in cyberspace.(8)
> The Zapatista Movement
> In much of this recent work, a primary reference point for the study of
> transnational rhizomes or social netwars has been the rebellion waged by
> Zapatista communities in Chiapas, Mexico and the activities of its
> supporters around the world since the beginning of 1994.
> The first activist analysis of communicational dimension of the conflict
> noted that the "most striking thing about the sequence of events set in
> motion on January 1, 1994 has been the speed with which news of the
> circulated and the rapidity of the mobilization of support which
> (9) Modern computer communications, through the Internet and the
> for Progressive Communications networks, made it possible for the
> to get their message out despite governmental spin control and censorship.
> Mailing lists and conferences also facilitated discussions and debate
> concerned observers that led to the organization of protest and support
> activities in over forty countries around the world. The Zapatista
> was weaving, the analysis concluded, a global "electronic fabric of
> struggle."
> In July 1995 a Defense Department "strategic assessment" of the Internet
> written for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and
> Low-Intensity Conflict, quoted an earlier (and erroneous) Army report
> Subcommandante Marco [sic] of the Zapatista National Liberation Army
> in Mexico utilizes a portable laptop computer to issue orders to other
> units via a modem, and to foreign media contacts in order to maintain a
> favorable international propaganda image." (10)
> Two years latter, in a general essay on "netwar," defense analysts David
> Ronfeldt and John Arquilla wrote:
> "In Mexico, a mix of subnational and transnational actors have mounted a
> social netwar against a state lagging at democratization. The netwar
> in the decentralized collaboration among the numerous, diverse Mexican and
> transnational (mostly U.S. and Canadian) activists who side with the
> Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), and who aim to affect
> policies, on human rights, democracy and other major reform issues. Mexico

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