The current restructuring of capitalist social relations began to develop with the rise of the “information age”, largely due to the growth of cybernetic and related technologies, so it is not surprising that the resistance to capitalism makes use of these tools for its own purposes. What is perhaps surprising, or at least disturbing, is the extent to which these tools have been embraced with no critical examination of the processes which produce these technologies and those under which they operate, nor of the nature of the sort of communication and organization they allow. In fact, it is not uncommon, even in anarchist circles, to come across accolades to the internet that leave the impression that this technology is what has made the organization of current struggles possible, what has allowed the present “anti-capitalist” movement to develop. At times, this praise reaches such a level that it seems to transform the internet into an icon, a symbol of the revolutionary struggle. But to the chagrin of the radical techno-fetishists, the computer lacks the romance of the machine gun, icon of so many revolutionaries of the 1970’s.
In any case, such effusive praise of one specific tool is certainly peculiar, particularly when it is such an integral part of the present social order. The internet has no connection whatsoever to the development of self-organized, autonomous relationships, and from an anarchist perspective, such relationships are central to the struggle against this world. The internet is actually a system that has been developed to serve specific requirements of capital and the state, so it is delusional to think it allows free interaction and association. Its form is conducive to the degradation of knowledge into (much more marketable) bits of information, of thought into binary logic, of relationships into virtual communication—just as the machine gun is conducive to killing.
This is not to deny that within the present social context the internet can serve as a useful tool for anarchists. One can find information about struggles, actions and state repression around the world; one can avail oneself of relatively instantaneous communication often at no cost that could provide a means for coordinating specific initiatives. But this is meaningless outside the context of a real ongoing struggle against the existing the entire network of institutions that dominates our lives. As I see it, this would mean a struggle against the kind of social relations that produced the internet and the technological systems upon which it depends.
But those within anti-capitalist circles who have praised the internet so effusively have seen it as far more than a tool. For them, it is the basis for a global struggle that is non-hierarchical and can lead to a “truly democratic” world. They ignore the systematic control of relations inherent in the technology that makes it hierarchical by nature. They ignore the hierarchy inherent in democracy itself. But above all they ignore the history of the struggle of the exploited against this reality. The internet is a very recent technological innovation, not more than a generation old, and there have been revolts against domination and exploitation from the time the civilized order arose. In the heat of such struggles, people have always been able to create ways to communicate with others in struggle, ways which, though technically less instantaneous than the internet, were far more immediate and truly autonomous. It was self-organized communication, often face-to-face.
As an integral part of cybernetic technological control, the internet is not and cannot be an expression of self-organization. It is qualitatively different from an autonomous assembly, an affinity group or a roving group of insurgent proletarians going to meet with other insurgents to coordinate struggles. The difference is simple to explain. If we make the internet the basis for coordinating our struggles, for communicating our projects, actions and dreams, then our struggles, our projects and all that inspires them will become the kind that can be communicated through the internet—that is, projects, struggles and dreams that can be broken down into interchangeable bits of information where people, their passions and desires are of little importance except to the extent that they are useful in producing marketable bytes. This is because the kind of communication and coordination that can happen through the internet has already been organized before we start to use it, and it has not been organized in our interest, but rather in the interests of the social order of domination. Dependence on that which has already been organized by one’s enemy has two significant negative effects on one’s struggle: it undermines one’s own creative imagination and practical intelligence—one’s capacity for self-organization—and it makes one dependent on one’s enemy in the coordination of one’s struggle, this undermining one’s ability to strike the enemy fiercely.
Those of us who desire a world free of domination and exploitation, and therefore seek to destroy the state, capital and the entire ensemble of institutions that rule us, need to organize our struggles autonomously. This means creating our own tools for communicating and coordinating our struggles. It is necessary to develop relationships of affinity based on real knowledge of each other, of each person’s projects, ideas, capacities, dreams and desires. These relationships provide the basis for developing projects of action and, on a larger scale, informal networks of solidarity. Various encounters, discussions, periodicals and papers—autonomously created projects—can hone our analyses and help us to work out our methods of struggle and coordinate our activities. But the specific details are not as important as the necessity of the self-organization of our struggle. Only with this basis, can we know how to grasp the tools at hand and turn them to our purpose—that of destroying the present society and creating our lives in freedom. In the context of such self-organized struggles, the internet may be a useful tool, but no more than that, and only one among many—one that I would say is destined to fall with the society that spawned it. And in the midst of a real uprising, when immediate communication would be essential, would we want to be sitting at a desk in front of a screen? Or out where the real struggle is going on?