Will the Revolution Be Computerized?

illustration by Roy Tompkins

Back when this whole World Wide Web thing was just getting off the ground, there was a lot of talk about the Internet's revolutionary potential. Uncensored, far-flung, inherently democratic, there was the gathering notion that the Net just might be the vehicle to finally unite the masses (the broadsheet seeming to have failed). With our most essential communication no longer shackled by the panoptical monied global corporate media interests (or some such formulation), we would finally be liberated. While few of us had our knees planted firmly enough at the altar of techno-worship to believe that load of crap, it's at least a little disheartening to discover that the strongest virtual communities that have so far been formed have done so in the interest of fantasy baseball, sexual fetishes, and dancing babies.

Rather than uniting the masses, rebellion on the Net seems mostly to be a set of isolated screeds against minor nuisances - a sort of "Todd's Home Page/I Hate the V-Chip" aesthetic. Oh sure, there was the great buzz created by the (utterly ironic) fact that untold thousands had read the stilted Unabomber tract on the Web, but that speaks more to a shades-drawn voyeurism into the mind of a murderous loner than a nothing-to-lose-but-your-chains insurgency. Considering all of this, I decided to hunt for real revolution on the Web, to see if I could find the rhetorical bombast and intellectual carelessness that have long been the hallmarks of my favorite rabble-rousers - anarchists, communists, and just plain angry people.

I come to this only half-honestly, with a tainted pedigree. While my father is a not-quite-card-carrying, three-squares-a-day communist, I am at best an armchair reactionary, capable of significant bile but generally content to sit on the sidelines offering sardonic commentary. Perhaps the high-water point of my own personal rebellion came during my first year in college when I laid myself down bodily in front of a university trustee as part of a divestment rally - a cause so dated now that it seems almost precious. (It has since occurred to me that I would have been a poor candidate for armed insurrection anyhow, having no stomach for violence. I've never thrown a malignant punch and can scarcely sit through a gangster movie without going decidedly queasy.) Nowadays the most outward signs of what I still consider an active antiestablishment mindset are an occasional grape boycott and my earth-shattering vote for Ralph Nader in the '96 presidential elections.

I started my search by entering the word "revolution" into one of them high-powered search engines, and I am pleased to report that there are at least 526,000 sites containing the word "revolution." (I am well aware that the journalistic trope of counting hits on a Web search will soon become as tired as the 10th-grade rhetorical device of quoting the dictionary - "Webster's Dictionary defines `revolution' as..." - but I think I may have gotten in just under the deadline.) While I did not have the perserverance to check each of those sites, I did scan the first hundred, finding out at least three things: 1) there have been recent revolutions in wrinkle cream technology; 2) there is a journal of "nurse empowerment" called Revolution; and 3) the word "revolution" is certainly tossed around glibly these days.

Slim pickins, perhaps, but there at eighth on the list was a site called, simply, Revolution ( I clicked. Revolution proved to be a searchable collection of "facts, arguments, and statistics" promising to provide "intellectual ammunition to everyone fighting for more freedom around the world." Hmmm. I clicked more. The putative ammo was contained in a series of links involving Commerce, Philosophy, Living Free, and Firearms. A wealth of information indeed, but it didn't take long to realize that the majority of it was libertarian claptrap - and if there's anything a faded pinko like myself can't stand, it's the idea that the libertarians are taking over the language of revolution.

The Revolution site did provide one fascinating link, however, to a joint called The Atlantis Project ( The Atlantis Project is dedicated to establishing a free-floating Libertarian paradise in the Caribbean Ocean, a self-governing country they will call Oceania. I was particularly intrigued by their "worldwide spy network," which promised "personal information about you collected by our spies." Turns out that all they knew about me was that I was using a Macintosh and an outdated version of Netscape. Yawn. I then decided to peruse their online Constitution, but when I tried to link to "Powers Specifically Forbidden to the Government: Garbage Disposal," I was shuttled back to the main menu. Guess that information is classified.

I left the Revolution site and headed over to the homepage of the Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru (, a slyly sexy site that contains the appealing tag line "welcome to real revolution in cyberspace." I'll tell you now there's something plainly exhilirating about having the ol' sickle-and-hammer jump up in all its blood-red glory on your computer screen, even if it is in the service of such a beleaguered troop of revolutionaries as the Shining Path. It may not be the real revolution, but it is a sharp page, with lots of handy links and smart graphics, proving that someone among the comrades has been taking some html lessons.

Next I hit the home page of the Pierre J. Proudhon Memorial Computer ( - not much in itself, but it is a decent catalogue of anarchy sites. In addition to a smorgasbord of Kropotkin references, you can find the home page for Heatwave (a communist-anarchist federation out of Dallas), as well as for Revolutionary Unionism 101 - a "one-stop syndicalist resource" committed to "worker self-management and a global federation of free producers." Ah, anarchists: A bit turgid at times, but you have to admire the fierceness of their rhetoric.

It was at this point that I decided to refine my search, adding "+imperialist" to my "revolution" request in order to weed out the noxious microprocessor sites that kept popping up. This brought me down to a manageable 388 sites: Before long, I was supporting a revolution in the Philippines that I was not even aware existed. Even better, the site directed me to the Maoist Internationalist Movement home page ( In addition to Notas Rojas and some disparaging remarks about the white working class, the MIM site held the hidden jewel that proved to be the high point of my search - the Maoist Movie Review page (

From the first line - "In terms of a correct assessment of friends and enemies in advanced monopoly capitalism, Alien3 is pretty much right on" - I knew I was in heaven. The next review confirmed my instant faith: "Contrary to the Batman Returns message, power doesn't mean dressing up in a cat costume. It means joining a revolutionary party to overthrow the imperialist patriarchy." Could Siskel & Ebert come up with such incisive commentary? I don't think so. Perhaps most enjoyable was the review of Independence Day, which pointed out that if the invading aliens were really so advanced, they would have been ideological communists rather than simple warmongers; in the Maoist version of the movie, "the proletariat unites with the space aliens behind the bourgeoisie's back" to bring down the earthly ruling class. Now we're talking blockbuster.

Exhilarated by my success, I decided to make my searches even more specific (and slightly more colorful.) First, I further refined my current search by adding "+scumsucking" to "+revolution +imperialists"; sadly, the search proved too precise and yielded no results. Similarly, I got no results for "+throw+out+the+fat+greedy +bastards," "+you+have+nothing+to+lose +but+your+chains," and "+smitten+by +Fidel." "+A+chicken+in+every+pot" yielded six sites, including the Manotak (Ontario) fishing lodge, but they were all useless. Ever-helpful, my erstwhile search engine suggested I try their "meat recipes" index.

Meat recipes, eh? Always in need of good sauerbraten advice, I was about to give up revolution for recipes when I decided to try one last search: "+subvert +dominant +paradigm." Expecting little, I was naturally overjoyed when the search yielded 64 sites, including three that were titled "Subvert the Dominant Paradigm." The first led to Rob Brezny's Real Astrology site; the second was held by a moody Chicagoan named Chris who offered the following quote from Peter van der Linden: "Dr. Seuss books... can be read and enjoyed on several levels. For example, One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish can be deconstructed as a searing indictment of the narrow-minded binary counting system." I couldn't have said it better myself. Good hits, both of them, but the best was to be found on the third, Alister Air's "Work Is Pointless" home page ( While you could make a sandwich (a good one, too) in the time this took to load onto my screen, it's a helluva fun page crammed with clever graphics, sneering sideswipes, and quaint suggestions that each among us is enslaved by capitalism. The page also gave a number of (mostly Australian) links to anarchist, socialist, and communist pages - not the best collection of links but a lot of fun to look at, particularly if you like watching animated cartoon communists pissing on pictures of corporate fatheads (

Alister Air's page got me to thinking. Earlier I disparaged the isolated screed. And while the "Work Is Pointless" site is certainly a screed, it's not an isolated screed. It's a linked screed. And there, perhaps, lies the "revolutionary" power of the Internet: that this lonely Australian revolutionary (for surely it must be lonely to be a revolutionary in Australia) can build himself a virtual commune that he can turn to for a little have-not camaraderie, Microsoft bashing, and even the occasional open exchange of ideas. It is, admittedly, only a virtual revolution - and what the hell good is a revolution if it's only virtual? - but it does provide some good and honest subversion, the kind we could all use a little more of now and then, if only to liven things up.

As I sat munching on a turkey sandwich, curling my toes up under my desk, and watching Air's devilish graphics unfold on the screen, it occurred to me that, at least for the armchair activist like myself, the Internet is the perfect place to revolt. No blood, no prisoners, no late nights, and you don't even have to pull your boots on. Comrades?

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