On 10-11th of December the conference Red Mirror – Technology, Late Capitalism and Communism in the 21st Century was held at Kvarnby
Folkhögskola in Malmö. Circa 50 people came and went during two days for a wide variety of talks, discussions, workshops, documentaries and lectures. This is the organizers report from these days, we encourage other participants to write their own reflections and for non-participants to also weigh in.
Overall we are happy with the attendance given the subject, which is not too popular in the radical left in Sweden. However, we are also certain that this points to a larger issue at hand, the lack of strategical reflection and consideration in the movement. We are too focused on fighting short-term struggles without strategical perspectives, and the issue of technology is for us a chance to raise our eyes from the day-to-day fights which, while important, limits us from affecting society on a deeper, more radical level.
One thing we were happy to note was the amount of non-men who joined the conference on a topic which can often be quite gendered (though our experiences with Red Mirror is that we usually have good gender parity in our events). Most participants were comrades from the movement, but to a limited degree we managed to reach out also to groups who we wanted to engage more. This was in particularly tech workers who we wanted to reach as part of building relations to new social groups and people from a more traditional communist background who we wanted to reach as part of a long term ideological project to discuss a communism for the 21st century. On the other hand, we did not manage to reach other groups we aimed for such as gig workers, nor did we manage to reach far outside our typical allies in the radical left (though we love you!). We could have done better social media work as well as advertised the schedule more to make the event more clear to people who might be interested. Still we feel that the conference and the release of the Red Mirror booklet has developed the discussion a lot which we are very happy with.
We were excited and impressed to see very advanced and deep discussions during the program points, from the very concrete things like drone technology to the more abstract. We have decided to write this report in a thematic way to link different talks and lessons into a coherent whole.
Technologies of control and resistance
Kitchen magnet style DIY slogan workshop.
Several talks and workshops related to how technologies are both made to control us using surveillance in different ways, but also create new forms of resistance. For example, in the talk “Activism and Drones“ it became clear that drones are becoming more and more popular with law enforcement, being deployed now in Sweden around poor neighborhoods as well as during demonstrations. The cameras mounted on drones are very powerful in themselves, but can also be outfitted with heat sensors, facial recognition and much more. They offer a new kind of problem for us, but as we have seen around the world they can also be countered and their cost is still steep.
Another way in which technologies further enhance the power of the ruling class is in gig work, a sector which capitalists will grow massively in the coming years. Gig work, however, is not a unitary thing, there are huge differences in technical composition, gender and ethnicity between bike couriers and care work like cleaning. In the discussion on gig work activists and academics came together to discuss potential resistance, if there are emancipatory possibilities in gig work and the particularly precarious role of women in gig work.
Fripost offered a very different perspective as a democratic members association which offers non-commercial alternatives to tech giants products like gmail, which are all part of surveillance capitalism. In a very concrete discussion Fripost explained how to migrate your email and many other services into their infrastructure which is far more safe and doesn’t turn your data into a commodity nor into a piece of surveillance into your, or your groups, life. Of course, you can do the same from home by just going to their webpage (which we hope you do!).
Rhyming with all of these the documentary Hackitat offers a wide variety of practices of resistance, set to quotes of Emma Goldman. These range from fare-dodging by Planka in Stockholm with tools like simple bags to setting up neighborhood Wifi to circumvent state censorship in Cuba. Go see it online!
Technologies in shifts
In many of our program points we were looking at the role of technology both as an instigator of shifts in society, but also as affecting or interacting with larger developments. This is particularly acute in Rojava, something the Rojava Committees raised in a discussion on very concrete technologies such as the potential rupture of a dam in Syria after it’s capture from ISIS. If we are serious about revolution we have to consider what it means to take over a society’s very complex technologies, and while the revolutionaries in Rojava had done so to an extent they were faced with many unforeseen issues. They got some help by internationalist expertise, which highlights the importance of our role in the global north and with experts of various kinds here. This is a form of practical internationalism which we need to practice more and better. The example of Rojava in relation to technology is of extreme importance for us to learn from, even though our technological, social and political situation is quite different.
The very materiality, the way it works, of the Covid-19 virus showed the intersection of science and politics in a lecture which particularly looked at how class society accelerated the horror of the virus. Capitalist states either had to let people die, or shut down production and leave masses of people unemployed, but in another society this wouldn’t be needed. The particularly acute character of the anti-Enlightenment right which denies the existence of the virus or human capacity to change it is reminiscent of their view on climate change, anything which threatens this particular capitalist order is denied, downplayed or lied about. At the same time, the “enlightened” center-left governments plays a particularly vile game of vaccine nationalism even while the patent law, which ensures private ownership of the virus, recreates racism in a very concrete form as poorer nations in the global south can’t create or get vaccines cheaply.
The role of technology
Through a form of installation with different “stations” in the room with different content, ranging from the more humorous to the serious,and a discussion between members of Krakel and Autonom Organisering we conceptualized the heart of the conference: what is the role of technology in a future utopia and a present strategy to get us there? Some questions which we put in a black box are posted at the end of this text. Why not take a moment to discuss them in comments?
In the discussion “Fully Automated Luxury Ecological But Some Technologies Are Abolished And Also It’s Ecological Or What Communism?!” two main feminist Marxist perspectives, that of Silvia Federici and Donna Haraway were put in a critical discussion. In the Federici perspective, technology has not meant saving time for people, but rather just a theft of time from – in particular – women and people in the global south, it has meant an erasure of knowledge and of the possibility to consider another world. In contrast, Haraway rejects ideas of a return to a supposedly better past, and instead embraces the dirty, militaristic, patriarchal and capitalist background of most technologies and suggests that we can develop something better through these.
The title of the talk referenced a main issue with how to conceive of a communist society in relation to ecological critiques, even while retaining some of the hope inspired by the slogan Fully Automated Luxury Communism.
The discussion, which was held in small groups with people who came to listen to the introduction, talked about whether we should build a utopian vision for the future through modern technologies like algorithms and automation or if we should instead embrace a broader destruction of technology. These questions raise issues of how we view the future, between a massive world-spanning communist utopia or smaller communes that live in a less developed but possibly more sustainable fashion, it considers issues of how to deal with a looming climate disaster if we don’t radically reshape the world and how issues of energy and power plays into a possible communist world.
What do we do now?
Our conclusion is that we have succeeded with the conference. Though the Red Mirror project as a stand-alone study group is now concluded, we are now considering where to go. We hope that you, whether you participated or not, are interested in developing the question of technology further as we still believe in its acute role in the struggle and in any future society.
We are considering doing the conference again on an annual basis if there is enough interest. We are also discussing developing other forms of communication, from propaganda, to local discussions, perhaps new printed material or whatever else. In the best of all worlds, you who read this text will be prompted to engage further with the technology question and have ideas, input, suggestions, dreams or whatever else. We thank you all!
How do you, particularly in a political group or movement, see the role of expertise? Is it good to foster broad knowledge among many members, or should you instead foster specialists (like graphic designers or fighters)? Can all forms of knowledge actually be held by everyone? When (if ever) does it become a problem?
In a given political group or movement, or any other collective such as at in a workplace, how does technical expertise structure it? Who becomes central? Who loses in influence? Can anything be done about it?
Do you use activist digital platforms (like Riseup.net or Gatorna.info) or do you only/mainly use capitalist platforms (like Gmail or Facebook)? Why? Is it a problem, whether it’s for you as a person or for a collective movement?
Would you like to share your social media accounts to connect with the people around you? Recommend a site or a tool for struggle?
How do you view the Corona passes that crop up everywhere in the world now. What is the situation with them where you are? Are they positive? Negative? Could they be remade into something better?
Why did you come to this conference?
In a group or movement, what communication tools do you use internally and externally? Does the use of these center some members and possibly marginalize others? Why? What can be done?
What do you think of reformist, or even liberal projects, such as the Right to Repair that tries to enforce laws onto companies to get rid of planned obsolescence (where f.ex a phone breaks after circa two years) and give the owner of the device the right to repair it?
Which digital tracks did you leave on your way to this conference?
How can we fight the development of police surveillance technologies like facial/body recognition cameras in demonstrations?
Name a moment when technological solutions in your life completely failed, whether it was mundane or dramatic.
What was the most interesting thing you heard at this conference?
Is the Kurdish liberation project limited by it’s material circumstances such as lack of modern large-scale industry or anti-aircraft weapons? If so, what can be done?
What would you say in a flyer or campaign that tried to offer a vision for a positive future and a better life for all?
What skills or what knowledge should we gain if we hope to understand and affect the high-tech modern world?
How do we do antifascism online? The antifa movement is good at countering street Nazis, but what about fascist YouTubers or similar who seem quite difficult to tackle.
How do we together continue this work on technology after the conference? What would you like to do?
Are there strategical groups of workers we should try to organize with?
Pineapple on pizza?
What should we do in the struggle online? Build massive accounts on Instagram? Try to move into YouTube? Create our own digital spaces? What is lacking in what we do now?
Which everyday technologies do you do gender with? Think of things like makeup, weights at the gym, clothing. Does it take a lot of energy for you? Do you take pleasure in it?
Can we build a revolutionary research and development branch? What sort of things do we need to learn to overcome cops and bosses? How would we learn those things in a long term project?
Do you know which logistics of capitalism which supplies the area around you? How could those logistical networks be blocked?
Which massive polluters exist nearby where you are? How are they linked together with other companies and areas? What could be done about these?
What do you think of nuclear power?
The Coming Insurrection makes a point that war destroys social movements due to how militarization is connected to hierarchies. The role of weapons as a specific technology play a big role here. Warfare seems to be becoming both decentralized, like the Israeli, American or ISIS war machines suggest, but technologies that remain central to warfare like war planes require a great deal of hierarchal structure. Is war the doom for social movements today or do you envision the revolution as building the Red Army?
In a revolutionary situation, how would we get food?
Do you wish for a transhuman future with the capacity to modify our genes or develop our cyborgs selves into something beyond human?
Would you rather be a cyborg or a goddess?
In a given group or a movement, what technologies should you be good at to be considered to be a good activist? Think of the role of f.ex the baton or the fake Facebook account for antifascism, the people’s kitchen for a local movement or the role of the newspaper for Trotskyite weirdoes. How do such technologies impact or structure a group or movement? Can that be changed?
Can you disrupt the nature/culture divide in your long-term political work? How can you theoretically and practically do so (if it is possible at all)?
With the rapid digitalization of money, how can we hope to avoid surveillance from the state in our spaces? Abolish digital money like Syndikalistiskt Forum in Gothenburg? Use BitCoin?!
The Marxist scholar Christian Fuchs suggests that we should call for a “wages for Facebook” since we as users of Facebook and other social media platforms do work by interacting, and our interactions becomes commodities to sell to marketing companies. Do you think this is a good idea?
What did you really not agree with that you heard today at the conference? Why?
What’s something that you usually don’t think of as technology but which very much is?
How do you use technological systems to avoid working at your job?
What do you think of primitivism?
What do you think about accelerationism?
Is the issue with technology just that it is in the wrong hands or being fettered by capitalism? Or are there also other issues with technology?
Will 3d-printing bring an end to capitalism?
Consider the geographical area where you live in, why does it look the way it does? What is the role of cars? How does capitalism play into where people live or move?
What technological tools does your enemies have at their disposal? Think about enemies concretely in terms of a campaign or a movement. How can these technologies be countered?
Are there some struggles in the tech sector where you are? What do these look like? Can we build relations to these or connect with them?