From cyber-libertarianism to national-populism (The many faces of fascism, part 1)

At this year’s Transmediale in Berlin, I did not only give a brief talk about how money is failing, but also was part of a panel titled The many faces of fascism” together with Ewa Majewska and Alex Foti, moderated by Diana McCarthy, at February 1. It was very well attended and some asked me to publish my introductory talk, which I will now do, in two parts.
The second part will go straight at the question of how to understand contemporary fascism. This first part is more of a reflection connecting the topic to the political situation in Sweden, and to the media activist scene to which Transmediale has a long-standing connection.

Part 1

Ten years ago, exactly on this day – the 1st of February, 2008 – I sat on this same stage. It was my first time at Transmediale, and I talked about The Pirate Bay: the famous bittorrent tracker and symbol of file-sharing culture, that had just been indicted by the Swedish state for assisting copyright infringement. I guess that I did somehow represent The Pirate Bay, although I was not directly involved in it. Rather I was part of the group that had started it, and we cooperated in internet activism, sometimes using the frontpage of The Pirate Bay to draw attention to campaigns and pranks. Our identity was that of radical leftists, and we kept a distance to the Pirate Party with its mixture of left-libertarians and right-libertarians. When it came to defending a free and open internet, however, we certainly saw a natural alliance between all kinds of libertarian forces. (Call it cyber-libertarian if you wish.)
We were all opposed to the authoritarians, those who wanted to take control also over flow of information, and to stifle alternative media. We could clearly see this authoritarianism represented by George W Bush and his neoconservatives, by Vladimir Putin and his friend Silvio Berlusconi, by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to just mention a few.
We resisted the attempts of these authoritarian leaders to shut down the digital infrastructure for free and decentralized communications. In that particular context of internet politics, issues rarely had an obvious relation to nationalism or fascism. As it appeared, the national-populists and the fascists did just represent a more extreme version of authoritarianism. And they had not yet entered the Swedish parliament.

That was 10 years ago. Things have changed, for sure.

Last month I visited the website of The Pirate Bay as I wanted to download some tv series episode. I don’t go there very often nowadays, and I must be careful to close the tab immediately; otherwise a javascript will hijack the processing power of my computer to mine some cryptocurrency. Let me add that I don’t know who runs The Pirate Bay anymore. I guess it has fewer visitors than before, but its frontpage has still a significant outreach. So this time I stopped to look at it. Just like in the pranks we used to do, the ordinary logo was exchanged for another image.
It sure looked like a prank, featuring the image of a guy surrounded by a pentagram plus some Hebrew letters. I clicked on it and was filled with disgust as I arrived at a Youtube video. Then guy had his own talkshow centered on national-populist and anti-feminist propaganda, featuring some of the usual alt-right codes. Apparently that is also how to read the Hebrew letters, serving no purpose except that of being open to interpretation as either antisemitic or filosemitic.
The young youtuber, who also declared himself to be a nihilist, looked like the stereotypical hacker guy, precisely the kind that you would previously find in the Pirate Party. He turns out to be a minor star in Sweden’s national-populist counter-culture, using his own immigrant background to accentuate an outsider perspective on a country supposedly taken over by a crazy elite of feminists, who are somehow using immigration to further their own economic interest, at the expense of ordinary working-class Swedes. Paradoxically, he poses as a warrior, talking about class and speaking out for social justice, while at the same time preaching resistance to the so-called “social justice warriors”. Another part of his message is a fierce critique of social media companies like Google and Facebook for, as he claims, designing algorithms that systematically downrate those who dare telling the truth. He finally puts his hope to another youtuber, namely Pewdiepie who have many more followers and who has supposedly been “redpilled”. (This may allude to his antisemitic jokes, his anti-feminist rants, or to something else.) If only Pewdiepie will speak out for the Sweden Democrats before the elections in September, there will be a chance to save Sweden. This was the final point made in the video officially endorsed by The Pirate Bay.

Seeing how The Pirate Bay has now transformed into a propaganda outlet for the Sweden Democrats was a bit shocking in itself, but maybe more noteworthy was how nobody in Sweden really seemed to note it. So many things are moving to the right at the moment. The Pirate Bay, while still used, is not longer considered to be politically interesting. It is associated with the politics of the left/right libertarian alliance of the 00s, which disbanded in the 10s.
After all, there has already been examples of high-profile cyberlibertarians, in Sweden and elsewhere, turning towards the populist right. The list includes the founder of the Pirate Party who was right-wing all along, but at some point decided for a change of alliance. Instead of a libertarian alliance between left and right, a new right-wing alliance was formed between libertarians and national-conservatives.

We were certainly naive, but such a transformation we could not have imagined ten years ago. But in between came Wikileaks and the whole disaster around the person of Julian Assange, who accused Sweden of being “the Saudi Arabia of feminism”. At this point, some male cyber-libertarians were drewn towards a more explicit anti-feminism.

There are numerous parallels outside of Sweden. I could mention the Netherlands, where the whole leadership of the Pirate Party quit to join Thierry Baudet’s new fascist party.
Here in Germany, the leader of AfD’s parliamentary group is invited as a keynote speaker at a large business convention for the blockchain and cryptocurrency community. At the same time, identitarian fascists are reenacting the rhetoric about Stasi 2.0 that used to be a signature of the Pirate Party. Today it seems to be the right-wing that talks most loudly about about “internet freedom”, as they protest new laws that promise protection against hate speech on social media.

To be continued in part 2.

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