Power to the (right) people

25 November 2006

OK, it's a good month after it first went out, but I was struck by Umair Haque's use of a Lenin quote to kick off a post about the user-generated content revolution:

"...Comrades, working people! Remember that now you yourselves are at the helm of state. No one will help you if you yourselves do not unite and take into your hands all affairs of the state.... Get on with the job yourselves; begin right at the bottom, do not wait for anyone."

According to Haque, when talking about Web 2.0 and the apparent rise of user-generated media, "the great Communist experiment is an almost perfect analogy to draw". I think he's right with that claim but not in the way he intended. The 1917 revolution is a prime example of how people will not only willingly submit to a dictatorship but will help it along given the right encouragement. I've always been more interested in the bits that Haque removed from the November 1917 Pravda editorial.

"Your Soviets are from now on the organs of state authority, legislative bodies with full powers.

"Rally around your Soviets. Strengthen them. Get on with the job yourselves; begin right at the bottom, do not wait for anyone. Establish the strictest revolutionary law and order, mercilessly suppress any attempts to create anarchy by drunkards, hooligans, counter-revolutionary officer cadets, Kornilovites and their like."

Lenin's tenor in that speech - a clear indication that he knew better how to rule than the people he claimed were in charge - has many parallels in the people who tell us that users are now in control of media, when all they are doing is striving to build their own empires. Convincing people they are in charge when all they were doing is reinforcing their own thraldom has proved to be a successful strategy for acquiring and maintaining power, although not so successful at actually feeding or clothing those people.

As the torturer O'Brien opines in 1984: "The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish the dictatorship."

Or as The Who summed up: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"