Awhile back, a website in the US asked me to write something for them about how the Web was being used in the political arena in South Africa, at the grassroots level for organising and mobilising around issues etc. There’s a lot of it in the US but virtually nothing in South Africa. Yes, the gov’s online and in quite a big way comparatively speaking and of course the white minority can have pizza delivered and invest in the global market from the comfort and safety of their suburban clusters.
More’s the pity that most of the population can’t access the Web, as the Web is a fantastic tool for political organising, especially at the community level. Immediate, rich media (text, pictures, video, sound) and above all, inter-active. If we had a ‘wired’ society, I firmly believe that the concept of Masakane (get involved, do it urself) could take on an entirely new meaning.
But South Africa, which probably would benefit the most from such information empowerment lags far behind a country like the US where ironically, most of the population doesn’t even bother to vote! Yet activist websites abound in the US and many at a community level. And in communities, many of which have what amounts to local area networks, that is, the population is wired 24-7 thru high-speed cable links. Concepts like the ‘virtual town hall’ have the potential to transform community involvement and hence empowerment, that buzzword waiting to be made real.
Perhaps part of the answer as to why grassroots Websites are so popular in the US lies in the fact that most people feel entirely out of the loop when it comes to the mainstream political parties (all 2 of em). Hence the emphasis on local politics.
Here, by contrast, with the ANC having a virtual monopoly (no pun intended) when it comes to the political arena coupled to the lack of access to the Web, has dictated an entirely different development of the Internet. Yet the gov has put a lot of emphasis on the use of the Internet as a means of empowering the population as well as the skills aspect, job creation and so forth.
Why electronic syndicalism? Syndicalism was the name given to a branch of the socialist movement that developed firstly and largely in Spain from the 1930s onward where the emphasis was on self-managed, worker-owned enterprises (as opposed to State-owned). Long considered a utopian concept, Syndicalism is an idea that needed something like the Internet in order for it to move beyond being simply a good idea and as an alternative to monolithic state structures, incapable of responding to real needs in a timely manner.
Syndicalism re-interpreted into the present-day looks and feels a lot like devolvement, indeed like Masakane itself but how to implement it without a connected population? Syndicalism or some variant of it, also offers a potential alternative to our current capitulation to globalism or to ‘Gear’ as it’s known locally. Gear by the way, I think represents a desparate attempt by the gov to modernise, a gov, which has, by and large dumped any alternative as unworkable, indeed as embarrassing given the collapse of the so-called socialist states.
Perhaps I’m before my time (again), in advocating such a path but at least why don’t we explore it? A gov which supported local, worker-owned enterprises could kill two birds with one stone. It could plow resources into local development whilst at the same time reducing the state’s vast consumption of the tax base. But rather than just lay off state-employed workers, the vast pool of experience and skills could be re-employed at the local level instead. Not all at once and not by some monolithic, state ‘plan’ (God save us from grand ‘plans’) but in stages, each stage contributing to our common experience, with an electronic network linking the processes together and enabling us to share and compare experiences. The basic tools are now in place but virtually all monopolised by the state, in itself a really scary idea.
Ach – I’m just pissing in the wind. As with other alternatives to a capitalism gone completely bonkers, it will be dismissed as a dream and as unworkable. We have to bow to the power of big business and be ‘realistic’ about what is possible, right? A luta continua?
Copyright © 2000, William Bowles. All rights reserved. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.