Isolated and frustrated by the lack of activity, not a few communist militants view social media as a way to channel their energy. But they’re wrong. Getting 15 likes on a comment in Facebook against a Stalinist troll may stroke their ego, but it doesn’t bring us one millimeter closer to communism.
We all have friends like this. They tell us of epic virtual battles as though they were in a Game of Thrones episode; they warmly recount fights between obscure Marxist groups of the 50s as though they were telling us this at a Christmas dinner; they get excited over all of the battles between "tankies" (Stalinists), "libcoms" (leftists) and "leftcoms", between "leftcoms" and anarchists, between different "leftcoms". They love to watch and participate in "debates" that don’t go anywhere, judge the different "characters", try to win the "battle of intelligence" look for the most damning quote, the most venomous insinuation, the definitive "kill blow" of wit and erudition…We can imagine them tagging all of their friends so that they could "join" them in the "war", imagining themselves as the reincarnation of their influences and their rivals as the enemies of their idols. But this isn’t World of Warcraft, neither it is a never-ending fantasy series. This "show" does not even have the merit of attracting a wide audience. These people live in Twitter, in Facebook, or whichever other social media platform.
It is true that discussion and debate is an essential part of militant activity. So is critique (=demolition) of the ideology that surrounds us. But discussion and debate has a purpose for us: it should help us resolve problems, evolve, come to an agreement in order to act jointly and be useful to the development of class struggle and of class consciousness. Do "epic battles" serve for anything when they are conducted with people whose moral and objectives represent the opposite of the class struggle and of class consciousness? Do these battles, the never-ending battles with Stalinist trolls on Twitter, contribute anything, even if in a small-scale? Is arguing with leftist professionals, or those leftists that aspire to be such, to earn a living through the political apparatus of the state, useful?
Critique, the systematic demolition of the ideology of the system, is not a sport either. It has a purpose: it draws the class line which separates the possible and the useful from closed and sterile paths. Critiques clarify what are our tasks are, and serve as tools for real struggles to advance further. If debate is separated from practical and collective activity linked to the real movement, if it becomes a hobby, a competitive sport or a role-playing game, it ceases, from the point of view of the class, to have any utility. These debates would then turn into a mere intellectual exercise that could serve to gain attention, acceptance, or a boost in self-esteem, but they would no longer be sustained by that which we call the communist moral.
What makes a discussion "important" is its usefulness in the collective process that is the development of class consciousness. That process has two dimensions, the extension of a communist consciousness in the course of the struggles in the class as a whole; and the deepening of the contribution of revolutionaries through the construction - organizational and programmatic - of suitable organizations, useful for the class struggle. Do infinite discussions in social networks at least serve to extend consciousness among its spectators? The class does not constitute itself as an aggregation of individuals from their particular trajectories, it is not a "confluence" of personal or group experiences. From the class point of view, the personal is simply alien. That is why consciousness does not extend on the basis of proselytism but of the struggle of one's own class, a struggle which, in order to prosper, calls into question everything established in its practice. Consciousness then appears as a necessity of the concrete struggle, not as Pentecostal nor as missionary magic over individuals.
Do “skirmishes” in social networks serve to programmatically build a suitable organization? Nope, they don’t do that either. Programmatic discussions, essential for solving problems, should not be continually opened up with people with whom we do not intend to work. There is nothing to resolve with those who have proven to be trolls, dishonest, or on the other side of the class boundary. Arguing just to argue not only makes no sense, it also has a demoralizing effect. All these virtual fights, not being based on practical activity and struggle, produce nothing concrete and yet occupy long hours and energies that could be used much more productively. “Internet battles" are not even educational. Many of those who participate in them argue in bad faith and distort anything in order to "defeat their rivals", just like the most vulgar and cynical university "debate club".
Does all this mean that debates must be avoided, that passionate discussions have no bearing on militant life? Not at all. There is room for all the passion in the world and for many hours of discussion...but the discussion should be useful, aimed at resolving differences with comrades in order to work together, to overcome "illusions" and paralyzing deceptions in a struggle. But there is not a minute to lose in putting on a show for an online theatre of boring leftists. Getting fifteen likes in a Facebook comment directed against a Stalinist troll can inflate the commentator's ego, but it doesn't bring us one millimeter closer to communism.