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What is truly significant is that this “new information” warfare has opened up a new front for

 anti-capitalist struggle. And it has come of age under conditions that were heretofore believed to

 be impossible according to previous norms. During the Industrial Age, progressives, radicals, and

revolutionaries perceived centralized and hierarchical movements . . . as being the best way to oppose capitalism.



Computer-Linked Social Movements


NetWar: The New Threat 

to Contemporary Capitalism

By Amin Sharif


. . . of all the emerging roles of  computer communications in social conflict . . . the most serious challenge to the basic institutional structure of modern society flows from the emergence of computer linked global social movements that are increasingly challenging both national and supranational policy-making institutions . . . The suggestion is that we are currently witnessing an accelerating circulation of social conflict whose participants recognize a common enemy: contemporary capitalism. In their increasingly common rejection of business priorities their struggle cannot but recall Marxist notions of “class warfare.” Yet the common opposition to capitalism is not accompanied by the old notion of a unified alternative project of socialism. On the contrary, such a vision has been displaced by a proliferation of diverse projects and notions that there is no need for universal rule. -- Henry Cleaver, Computer Linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism (1999)


The above quote is literally and figuratively pregnant with meaning for forces for and against “contemporary capitalism.” With the defeat of Soviet-style socialism and the continued co-optation of the communist regime in China, it was thought that the field was clear of any real opposition to the New World Order and hegemony of the United States of America.

But just when things looked best for global capitalist forces a new threat has emerged. The new threat comes, according to Henry Cleaver, from not one single rogue nation or movement (i.e. international communism) as was the case during the Cold War. Instead, the new global threat to capitalism comes from hundreds, perhaps thousands of “information age” organizations with anti-capitalist agendas.

These groups and the individuals within them constitute a “threat matrix” that could one day lead to the direct overthrow of global capitalism. Mr. Cleaver even has a name for the conflict between the “information age activists” and “contemporary capitalism”—“Netwar!”

What is significant for these “information activists” and their anti-capitalist organizations—the new computer linked social movement—to understand is that their activities have already caught the eyes of “independent critical intellectuals, mainstream social scientists and National Security Analysts.”

Cleaver’s paper, itself, is a compilation from various sources. But, from reading Cleaver’s paper, it is clear that he was deeply impressed by the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. These intellectuals were able to transcend “Left notions of structuralism” and “dialectics” and have instead been able to focus on the “micro-dynamics of the individual and the social movements” themselves.

In other words, these men scrapped the old way of analyzing social movements and their participants in favor of different and more revealing analysis. What they have concluded is that there is emerging a global network of progressives, radicals, and revolutionaries linked by modern information technology—e-mail, cell phone, pc’s, etc. that yield power greater than the sum of their parts.

These computer linked social movements include environmentalists, human rights activists, immigration advocates, indigenous peoples’ movements and fighters for freedom in cyberspace. Individually, these social movements might seem weak. But, like individual threads woven together (by websites and the Internet), they undoubtedly constitute a considerable and threatening force to global contemporary capitalism.

To illustrate this point, Cleaver presents an analysis of the “Zapatista Movement”-an armed uprising for land reform and dignity by the indigenous peoples of Chiapas, Mexico in 1994. His paper points out 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 struggle circulated and rapidity of the mobilization of support which resulted.”

This was due, according to Cleaver’s assessment, to the “Internet and the Association of Progressive Communications Network.” Despite the Mexican government’s effort to suppress any and all information related to the Zapatistas, the word still got out through the Internet and the progressive media. This was because Subcommandante Marco [sic] of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in Mexico was able to “utilize a portable laptop computer to issue orders to other EZLN units via modem and to foreign media contacts in order to maintain a favorable international propaganda image.”

Cleaver based his conclusions about the EZLN on a 1995 Defense Department “strategic assessment” of the Internet for the Special Assistant of Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict.

Cleaver’s paper, however, is not merely concerned with an analysis of this new, emerging threat to global capitalism. His paper also suggests a general strategy for waging a Counter-Netwar against these new anti-capitalist social movements. Interestingly enough, the best strategy to defeat the “information age” activist movement is not a military response or more political repression.

Cleaver states that such actions would be “totally inappropriate” considering the “political character of the social conflict” at hand. Instead, Cleaver points out that a strategy for dealing with the new global threat has already been fashioned by international capitalist agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF. These agencies employ a strategy known as “consultation co-optation” when dealing with “information age” organizations who oppose such issues as globalization and advocate Third World debt forgiveness, etc.

Consultation co-optation is a process by which the international capitalist agencies engage social movements in fruitless negotiation aimed at giving the appearance of progress. This strategy has a “triple advantage for agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF: 

1. it gets the activists off the street into the less visible conference room; 

2. it adds to the stock of ideas about how to foster capitalist development; 

3. it bleeds time, energy, and creativity away from any consideration of more radical tactics.”

This strategy of co-optation reached its apex when the IMF uses it in dealing with the labor movement in South Korea. As Cleaver points out: “The surprising willingness in early January of 1998 of IMF Managing Director William Camdessus to meet with workers in South Korea who were opposing the government-IMF program to deal with the ‘Asian Crisis’ broke with all previous practice. His promise to set up a permanent dialogue between the IMF and the labor movement is very much in the spirit of the World Bank’s consultation with its critics.”

So, here, we find that under the guise of having a “dialogue with civil society,” agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF seek to defuse the growing militancy of the new anti-capitalist movement.

But, as Cleaver points out, this strategy can only work if these new anti-capitalist forces are willing to move from the streets to the conference room. More and more, the new anti-capitalist forces have chosen confrontation rather than consultation as evidenced by their actions at the WTO meeting in Seattle recently.

Yet, not only is the strategy of consultation co-optation subject to defeat by the new anti-capitalists forces by refusing to enter the conference room, it is also subject to defeat by a preemptive strike by these same forces. Just such a preemptive strike occurred when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tried to negotiate and pass a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) “behind the backs of most of the world’s people.”

The MAI was an initiative that would have defined a set of “global rights” for corporate investors throughout the world. Negotiations for the MAI began in 1995 but did not become public until 1997 when a draft of the proposal was leaked. Cleaver points out that the temporary defeat of the MAI was, in part, due to the “utilization of e-mail and websites to circulate information about the MAI, including circulation of both the content of the agreement and the undemocratic process of drafting it.”

As a result of the effort of “information age” activism, the OEDC halted negotiations in April of 1998 and France pulled out of the negotiations completely.

It is clear from the two examples above that these new social movements engender real power. But, as Cleaver points out, this was not always so. In fact, Cleaver explains, “before social movements demonstrated their ability to organize an embarrassing amount of public pressure, they were ignored.” It was only after these social movements were able to “organize themselves internationally, or globally, in ways that bypassed all layers of mediation that previously protected institutions” that these diverse forces became a concern for contemporary capitalism.

And Cleaver is clear on what moved these heretofore impotent social movements into the role of global antagonists to world capitalism. It was the fact that they used the Internet and websites to construct “elaborate connections and linkages . . . to bring vast numbers of imaginative people into a collective endeavor where their joint creativity challenges . . . power often organized in more rigid and [a] less flexible manner.”

Cleaver continues: “Against a powerful, rulemaking and enforcing institution, grassroots power pits . . . a constituent force, more capable of innovating and elaborating . . . new lines of struggle.”

What Cleaver has described is nothing less than a movement of “information activists” using highly adaptive tactics in waging an asymmetrical war in both the real world and in cyberspace via websites and the Internet against entrenched and inflexible international capitalist agencies.

And, if history has taught capitalist nation states anything, it is that they are not good at fighting asymmetrical wars. One wonders if future generations will one day speak of the battles fought by these “new information” activists the way Civil Rights and Vietnam activists speak of Pettus Bridge, the Freedom Rides, and the resignation of President Johnson.

Perhaps, the confrontation in Seattle against the WTO will be considered just as much a political landmark event as Dr. King’s boycott in the South? Who knows?

What is truly significant is that this “new information” warfare has opened up a new front for anti-capitalist struggle. And it has come of age under conditions that were heretofore believed to be impossible according to previous norms. During the Industrial Age, progressives, radicals, and revolutionaries perceived centralized and hierarchical movements (international communism, civil rights, women’s rights, labor and anti-colonial struggles) as being the best way to oppose capitalism.

These movements sought ideological purity and brooked no deviation from policy. If ideological differences arose these movement simply purged the offending members or in the case of the USSR sent them to gulags or killed them. In other words, these adherents to “centralized” control of organization and thought precluded any kind of real democracy ever being practiced.

But the new “information age” organizations present a counter-example of how anti-capitalist warfare can be waged. These new “information age” forces, unlike their predecessors, prize decentralization and democratic mechanisms as a means to fight their enemies. As such, by their very existence and mode of struggle, these new “information” based social movements represent a break with most or all of the Leftist notions of “struggle.”

As Cleaver has pointed out, they have supplanted the vision of old style “universal socialism” with their own diverse visions of a new world. So, in the end, it is not simply contemporary, global capitalism that is threatened by these new forces. The old ideologues of social change may also be swept away by a younger, more innovative social movement!

Cleaver does not make any predictions as to whether these new social movements will succeed in carrying out their threat to displace contemporary capitalism. Though Clever is not willing to interpret the proverbial handwriting on the wall he is at least willing to admit that such writing exists. And, in the end, it will be the new “information age” movement itself that will have to decide how far it is willing to go.

But there can be little doubt that this new force antagonistic to capitalism has decided for now that it will continue their net war against international capitalist agencies such as the WTO, IMF, OECD who seek to continue to oppress millions around the world. If they succeed in doing nothing more than tying the hands of these international tyrants then these “information age” activists will have still performed a heroic service for the oppressed peoples of the world.

posted 2003

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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update 17 April 2012




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Related files: NetWar: The New Threat    We Sing the Revolution Electric!   Notes from the Digital Revolution  Third World CyberActivists  A Post Industrial Blues   The World to Come