Social Media and CPUSA


The policy of the Communist Party USA is that social media, as tools for building personal organizing relationships, are an integral part of a strategy for growth and consolidation in the digital age.  This spring’s national conference (New York City, April 16-17) saw a number of fruitful discussions about the scope and application of this policy, so I would like to briefly recap those discussions for comrades and allies who couldn’t attend and to offer a few reflections of my own.

The principal objection to giving digital organizing a prominent role in Party strategy comes from what one might call a ‘traditionalist’ perspective.  In this perspective, organizing depends on solid bonds of trust and dependability, which are held together, as one comrade put it, “with shoe-leather.” Comrades defending this position caution us, moreover, that the use of social media requires technology to which not all members of the working class have access.

Defending the importance of social media, comrades of a more digital bent remind us that the old opposition between ‘real’ reality and ‘virtual’ reality no longer holds, and that Facebook relationships, for example, are not just pale imitations of offline relationships—especially among youth, who seem to experience online social networks as an extension of, rather than an escape from, face-to-face sociability.

It must be emphasized that no one has advocated an exclusive use of one form of organizing or another; rather, discussion turned around the weight or prominence to give to the respective forms.  As a part of this dialogue and in the interest of promoting a conscious and informed application of our policy, I would like to offer a few thoughts on the subject from a theoretical perspective.

We have to recognize, I believe, that organizing through online social networks is a tactical necessity.  While comrades in cities like New York, Chicago, and St. Louis have the advantage of a strong local club organization, members in smaller clubs or less densely populated areas can use social media to build Party organization without committing to an exhausting and expensive travel schedule.  Moreover, online organizing allows an unparalleled sharing of resources and an unprecedented rapidity of mobilization.

At the same time, we must realize that social networking technologies are products and tools of global finance capital, indelibly marked with the stamp of its goals and practices: the dissolution of all barriers to the flow of money and information, the abstraction and homogenization of all social bonds such that, as Marx and Engels say, “all that is solid melts into air.”  In the celebration of all that is instantaneous, efficient, precisely personalized and at the same time perfectly assimilable, social media reveal their capitalist heritage in ways that should give us pause.

The thorniest question here involves the relation between being seen and being heard, between being present and having a voice.  The supreme challenge to the bourgeois republic and the capitalist order that underwrites it, is the existence of those who go unheard and unrepresented, whose grievances go unremedied, but who persist in the shocking visibility of poverty and marginalization despite all attemps to hide them from view or define them out of existence.   

In this sense, online social networks are capitalism’s magic mirror, showing forth the comforting illusion of a society where the unheard and the unrepresented simply do not exist. The forum is open; everyone can participate... except for those who can’t, for lack of training or access to the requisite technologies.  In capital’s virtual utopia, to be voiceless is also to be absent or invisible, so that those lucky enough to have a speaking part can carry on their business undisturbed by the spectacle of marginalization.

How then should we, as a revolutionary party of real democracy and equality for all people, approach the dangerous necessity of organizing through social media?  One of the central tenets of Marxian thought is that capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction, that it numbers its own days by bringing into existence, populating, and nourishing the class that will overthrow it.  Could we say that social networking technologies are another version of the spinning jenny: good for making yarn and profits, but also good for making revolution?  A mechanism of social control and indoctrination, an ideological apparatus, that workers can seize, democratize, and transform into a tool of liberation?  

In short, yes.  Even now, Party members and activist allies are using social media to organize clubs, spread news of rallies, and carry on all the work of peaceful revolution.  We have to bear in mind, however, that we never simply use anything.  The tools we build with, also build us; they modify our bodies, our behavior, and our thought patterns.  As we forge ahead, building effective progressive coalitions with all the tools at hand, let’s keep in mind that we’re changing ourselves even as we transform the social media landscape. In particular, let’s work to expand access to these new technologies of revolutionary class struggle in hopes that seeds sown online will bear fruit in the street and at the ballot box.  Solidarity forever!

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  • Good lessons in this
    --jim lane in dallas

    Posted by JIm Lane, 07/07/2011 5:24pm (7 years ago)

  • I feel less marginalized than when my life was primarily ddicated to carrying out the party line according to the club consensus built by the D. O. I knew that my input did not reach the center then. Here's my input once again: US gov must enforce a real Right to Work and real Right to Live by guaranteeing all who apply can earn a livable wage for 20hr/wk or 1000hr/Yr labor. Theoretically the CPUSA is who shd repopularize Marx understanding that increasing tech productivity does not reach the general pop and raise the level of civilization if it does not reduced the standard hours of labor exchanged for subsistence(subsisting at higher standard of living -- 20th c indoor plumbing equivalent to full cyber in 21st). This is not off the wall pipe dream It just needs some collaborators

    Theoretically Marx economics must popularize understanding that tv

    Posted by Peggy dobbins, 07/06/2011 7:41pm (7 years ago)

  • I, too, miss the printed newspaper. However, that is not to deny the vast expansion of readership for the online version. It is NOT true that workers don't "decide on their own to seek out communist websites" As a matter of fact they DO. And what is more they like what they see and they JOIN the Communist Party - right online - and from areas we probably NEVER were able to leave the paper version. You would be surprised how younger workers, especially, find ways to go online - from cell phones to libraries (or other publicly shared computers.) There are so many applications that we have set up a special committee to handle them.
    Esther Moroze
    New Members Committee

    Posted by Esther Moroze, 07/05/2011 3:55pm (7 years ago)

  • While I accept the reality that social media has an important role to play, the CPUSA's decision to replace printed media with online and social media was a move toward irrelevance. Most workers do not decide on their own to seek out communist websites -- if they even have computers. Also, we aren't really doing those who do any favors because social media search is used as a screening tool and a way of monitoring workers by employers and creates a permanent record.
    Yes, there is a reason it's called "virtual." Government and employer monitoring aside, a million virtual "friends" mans absolutely nothing. Better to stick to the website, posting boards and a real newspaper like our sorely missed People's World which can be left in places workers will discover it.

    Posted by Al M, 06/17/2011 8:22am (7 years ago)

  • Ideally, in the "face" of such a stimulating article, we would see our whole Party wildly acclaim it with concrete references and instances of use of such social media like twitter and facebook.
    The present writer, regrets not attending this very exciting and needed Party conference. Certainly, this article by brother Harold Wallace reflects such enthusiasm.
    Hopefully, some form of organization to get this message to members-through clubs will be (is) set-up (along with skill-set).
    Communists like Marx and Du Bois, through their bodies of work-
    reflect this same enthusiasm and confidence in humankind-and we don't tell this enough.
    From the Philosophic Manuscripts of Marx, to the Address from Niagara of Du Bois, this love and confidence are bold and clear.
    Let's facebook and twitter on to win our day.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 06/16/2011 10:45am (7 years ago)

  • It cannot be denied how important Facebook has been in mobilizing the Arab Spring and the masses of people overthrowing their dictators. That being said, I understand the necessity to give an acknowledgment of the fact that many of the most oppressed, alienated and exploited people do not have even the most basic access to information of our day.

    That being said, the great majority of those one face book are Proletarians, alienated in the position of wage-slaves, they seek the experience of life outside to confined of work or school. Certainly this alienation takes form in the useless wandering around the corridors of ones vast picture album, but it can be used to begin a dialogue, and eventually, as shown in Egypt, can be used to mobilize mass action.

    For younger members this tool is an absolute must, and as the future we should use every tool in the box, every weapon in the arsenal and every trick in the book to raise the class consciousness on those who waste precious time on social networking sites and the like. If our profile is raised enough it will attract more and more people to the struggle.

    Posted by Kevin Gustafson, 06/14/2011 8:27pm (7 years ago)

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