I Wanna Wanna get the New Model

I had never bought any Apple product before I got my iPhone last year; partly because I didn’t want to betray my open-source principles, but mainly because I was too cheap. I’ve been very impressed with the gadget, but I haven’t been completely converted to the cult of Jobs, and if and when someone comes out with a better smartphone I’ll probably switch, especially if it runs on Android or some other free OS.

I was intrigued rather than obsessed by the fuss surrounding the launch of the latest Apple toy, the already legendary iPad, but now that the details are public I have to confess that I am tempted to buy one, though there is absolutely no way that I could justify the expense, since I would only ever use it in the house, and I already have a desktop and four laptops of varying degrees of obsolescence lying around, as well as the iPhone.

What’s most attractive about the iPad is the promise of instant access to the web, allowing me to fill spare moments with casual browsing, much in the way that I use my iPhone now, but without the eye-straining tiny screen. I have a feeling that I will get one eventually, but I’ll leave it a while to see if any cheaper clones come out.

Or maybe I should just buy some more books, or start talking to people, or something crazy like that.

Here’s the horribly contrived (even by our standards) but musically impeccable video link.

Injustice Unlimited

If our report that the Lindens were running a secret surveillance program wasn’t enough to convince you that Second Life is a virtual banana republic, we now hear, via the Herald, that they have also been covertly sponsoring vigilante goon squad the Justice League Unlimited.

So far the self-styled JLU have mainly confined themselves to low-level harrassment of residents they deem to have breached community standards (with no regard for pinko concepts like “due process” of course), as well as maintaining a Nixon-style enemies list, but the Lab no doubt finds it useful to have a plausibly deniable gang of thugs on hand, ready to help disrupt any organised political opposition that might arise.

Comrade Obama

Well, let no one tell you that we’re not influential here at SLS. Just one day after we called on President Obama to move to the left he has finally started showing his true red colours by declaring war on the banking system.

Next week: Obama orders Secretary Clinton to put the Middle East peace process on hold and concentrate on bringing democracy to Second Life

And the lights all went out in Massachusetts…

Almost unbelievably – or actually all too believably – the Democrats have managed to lose Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat, and with it their fillibuster-proof majority in Congress, severely denting the chances of meaningful healthcare reform, and putting a significant obstacle in the way of President Obama’s legislative programme.

The result suggests that the Republicans are beginning to realise that moving further to the right is not a viable strategy. Scott Brown, their successful candidate, may be a fiscal conservative, but he’s more liberal on social issues (though he may want to rethink his pro-choice position if he harbours any ambitions to be on the GOP ticket in 2012).

While Republicans mistakenly interpreted their defeat in 2008 as a sign that they needed to be more radically right-wing, it looks like Obama may draw the opposite, but equally wrong-headed, conclusion from the disaster in Massachusetts; that he is unpopular with the voters because he has been too left-wing.

In reality, Obama’s quest for bipartisan solutions has been his biggest problem. He has bailed out Wall Street, watered down his health bill and sent more troops to fight in foreign wars, all as a sop to the right, but has seen his ratings slide as he disappoints and alienates his core support. To regain his momentum he needs to start getting more radical not less, but I don’t hold out much hope that he’ll go down that road; it’s more likely that he’ll throw more bones to the conservative dogs as the mid-term elections approach.

It’s all a bit of a disaster for working-class Americans, and shows that trusting a party of the ruling class, even a “progressive” one like the Democrats, is bound to end in tears. It highlights the need for an independent proletarian party in the US; I’m sure that our American comrades are working on that right now.

Just what is it that we want to do?

The answer to that is fairly straightforward – no need to formulate complicated transitional demands, or debate maximum and minimum programmes. We only need to think about the things that SL residents (or SL bloggers at any rate) are always moaning about.

A major gripe is the Lindens’ propensity to change fundamental aspects of the resident experience without involving the user base in the decision process, or at best engaging in some token consultation exercise. A second, and not unrelated, complaint is the belief that the Lab privileges some residents and businesses over everyone else, by uneven application of the Terms of Service, or commercial favouritism, aggravated by their reluctance to adequately regulate commercial relations between residents, most contentiously in the realm of intellectual property rights.

The steps needed to resolve these issues broadly correspond to two features usually associated with western liberal democracy; executive accountability and the rule of law. We can therefore formulate two central demands that, one might expect, would be supported by a majority of SL residents.

  1. An elected forum with the power of veto over major changes in Second Life.
  2. A robust judicial system operating independently of Linden Lab.

Obviously some of the finer details, like suffrage, will have to be worked out, but I think the basic concepts are enough to get the SL democracy ball rolling.

And when we’re done? Then we’ll get loaded.

You say you want a revolution

Woody Allan, in his indispensable Brief Yet Helpful Guide To Civil Disobedience gives the following advice to would-be revolutionaries:

In perpetrating a revolution, there are two requirements: someone or something to revolt against and someone to actually show up and do the revolting.

In the case of Second Life it’s fairly clear what needs to be overthrown – the tyrannical rule of the Linden clique – but much less obvious who might be capable of carrying this out.

In the real world much ink has been spilt – indeed much blood has been spilt – in the debate over the revolutionary potential of the various social classes. Any account of this I give here is bound to be hopelessly reductive, but I’ll try to summarise.

The bourgeoisie may initially take the lead in a movement for democratic change, either in the context of a struggle against feudal social relations – the prime example being the French Revolution – or, more relevant to the modern world, in the fight for national self-determination of colonies dominated by foreign imperialism. However history has shown that, once in power, the bourgeoisie will not carry through the revolution to its conclusion, for fear that extending full democratic rights to the masses will undermine the dominance of capital, but will instead come to an accommodation with the old regime that maintains the conditions for capitalist class rule.

A classic Marxist position would hold that the only class with true revolutionary potential is the proletariat. This is uncontroversial in advanced capitalist countries like Britain or Germany, but less clear in places where the proletariat is relatively small in comparison to the peasantry – pre-revolutionary Russia for example, or economically underdeveloped colonies.

This has led to the idea that communists should support the bourgeois revolution, then wait until the development of capitalism has produced a numerically significant working class, before moving on to the next step of proletarian revolution. Counterposed to this stagist position is the concept of Permanent Revolution, summed up by Trotsky thus:

The perspective of permanent revolution may be summarized in the following way: the complete victory of the democratic revolution in Russia is conceivable only in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, leaning on the peasantry. The dictatorship of the proletariat, which would inevitably place on the order of the day not only democratic but socialistic tasks as well, would at the same time give a powerful impetus to the international socialist revolution. Only the victory of the proletariat in the West could protect Russia from bourgeois resoration and assure it the possibility of rounding out the establishment of socialism.

The important points here are that the proletarian party must maintain its organisational independence, and be at the head of the revolutionary movement, and that the survival of the socialist revolution in a country where capitalism is relatively underdeveloped is dependent on successful revolutions in more advanced countries.

In the Russian context the latter hope receded after the defeat of the German revolution in 1923. In the wake of this the Russian Communist Party under Stalin came to follow a position of “socialism in one country”, and the Comintern accordingly adopted a more stagist outlook, notably in China. The Communist Party of China was encouraged to cooperate with the nationalist Kuomintang, a policy which ended badly for the CPC with the Shanghai massacre of 1927. Following this setback Mao developed the the view that the peasantry, as opposed to the urban proletariat, was key to the revolutionary struggle, a perspective which has been hugely influential in anti-colonialist movements in the developing world ever since, and which does have a good record in military terms, though perhaps less so in advancing the socialist development of post-revolutionary societies.

Does any of this illuminate the situation in Second Life? Not exactly, since the class identity of SL residents will depend on their real life situation, rather than their status on the grid. By this reckoning I would think that most residents would be proletarians, though I’m sure that not many would consciously see themselves as such. However I think that it is possible to broadly map out virtual class divisions in SL, and I would propose the following taxonomy:

  • Feudal aristocracy –  The Lindens
  • Bourgeoisie – Business-owning premium account residents
  • Proletariat – Non-business-owning premium account residents
  • Peasantry – Basic account residents

The latter three classes would clearly benefit from an increase in SL democracy, but, in line with the real world experience, I think that only the virtual proletariat are likely to see the process through. The entrepreneurial classes are likely to want to limit any reform that may threaten their economic interests, and while the peasants might provide the numbers, they lack the developed class consciousness required to give leadership to a revolutionary movement.

So in practical terms I think we need to agitate widely around democratic demands, work with the bourgeoisie as far as they will go while maintaining an independent proletarian party, and providing leadership to the peasantry. The immediate task is to work out how to start spreading these ideas around the grid. I’ve a few thoughts on that, which I’ll outline next time.

What’s up

M Linden has a “What’s ahead in 2010?” post over at the official SL blog site, and, as one might expect, it’s the usual “bigger, better, faster, more” stuff. What’s interesting is that amongst the questionable self-congratulation (the adult content changes were a big success apparently) and the borderline-delusional optimism (“Second Life [will become] a standard in business, education and government”) there isn’t a single word about introducing more democracy into the user experience.

This seems a strange omission, given that the Lindens are always keen to make out that the Second Life grid is just like a real country, with lots of landmass, millions of residents, and the GDP of Guinea-Bissau. They’re content to impose taxation, in the form of subscription charges, tier payments and the cut they take from L$ transactions, but representation is clearly not on the agenda.

Are we going to let them get away with this? Or are we going to draw up our own revolutionary roadmap? Watch this space.

[When I was composing this post in my head I was thinking that Bigger, Better, Faster, More! was the title of an album by The Sugarcubes, but I had it mixed up with Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!; BBFM! is by the rather lamer 4 Non Blondes. Yet another sign that my brain is slowing up as the years pass by. Still, the lyrics of 4NB’s big hit are at least tangentially relevant.]