2018: Tech battles, Israel exposed and socialism

December 21, 2018

The year 2018 saw the emergence and development of trends that are sure to impact politics in the U.S. and around the world — for good and for bad — for years to come. We asked some of our contributors to write about the ways 2018 will leave its mark on the world. It’s impossible to cover all the major events of 2018, but we hope this series will help provide some perspective on what’s changed in the past 12 months, what hasn’t — and what we need to do to come out fighting in 2019.

In part five of our series, Nicole Colson describes how tech was transformed from a supposedly classless industry to a pitched battlefield, Jonah ben Avraham looks at the disturbing alliance between Israel and anti-Semites, and Alan Maass celebrates the return of socialists to political relevance in the U.S.

Tech Becomes a Battlefield

Nicole Colson | On the list of the “biggest villains” of 2018, a place of pride has to be reserved for corporate tech behemoths like Facebook, Amazon and Google.

They not only engaged in Big Brother-style invasions of privacy and the siphoning off of public dollars for their profits, but in several instances, they used their services and products to aid the U.S. military and security state apparatus.

While the mainstream media was still largely preoccupied with Facebook’s possible role in allowing Russia to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the far bigger and less-reported-on story was the erosion of privacy that the social network routinely and secretly subjected its users to.

SW’s year-end review, left to right: Google workers walk out; Palestinians flee a deadly Israeli assault
SW’s year-end review, left to right: Google workers walk out; Palestinians flee a deadly Israeli assault

Among other things, recent revelations from the New York Times found that Facebook for years gave corporations wide access to its users’ personal data and accounts — including in some cases being able to view individual Facebook users’ messages, see all of the participants on a given thread, receive contact details and friends lists, and more.

Unbeknownst to its users, Facebook fed this information to companies like Amazon, Yahoo, China-based company Huawei and even the New York Times itself.

Amazon, not content to have its tentacles wrapped around every facet of life, went even further this year, pitting U.S. cities in a Hunger Games-style competition to see which U.S. politicians could debase themselves the fastest to promise billions in corporate tax breaks to receive the “honor” of becoming Amazon’s second headquarters.

Amazon’s aim wasn’t only to squeeze billions of dollars in tax breaks from eventual “winners” New York City and Northern Virginia, but also to gather huge amounts of data and insider knowledge about the infrastructure, demographics and laws of the 200 cities that entered the competition.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s ruthless drive for profit was felt firsthand in its primary location of Seattle, where it threatened retaliation, including suspended building projects, to strong-arm the City Council into rescinding a modest head tax on large businesses in order to fund homeless services and affordable housing.

But if 2018 saw companies like Amazon and Facebook engage in nearly cartoon-levels of villainy and shady dealings, this was also the year that tech workers began to flex their organizing muscles against their billionaire bosses.

Much of the new militancy among tech workers — a significant portion of whom are immigrants and visa-holders — was focused on their companies’ complicity in attacks on immigrants.

When it came to light that Amazon was pitching its incredibly creepy and also incredibly inaccurate “Rekognition” facial-recognition software to ICE, hundreds of Amazon workers signed a letter demanding an end to the company designing and marketing “dangerous mass surveillance.”

And in Seattle, dozens of Amazon employees and their supporters held a modest but important rally to oppose the company’s attempt to work with ICE. An August demonstration in New York targeted not only Amazon, but Microsoft and Salesforce as well, for their complicity in the immigration policies of the Trump administration.

Workers at multiple tech companies also spoke out against the use of their companies’ software and other programs in the apparatus of a repressive security state — including Google workers, who organized — and won — an end to the company’s contracting with the Defense Department for drone technology.

By far the most powerful tech worker protest was the November 1 walkout of 20,000 Google employees at some 50 offices around the globe — in response to the revelation that the company covered up sexual misconduct by former top executive Andy Rubin.

The job action, which involved some 20 percent of the company’s workforce, was organized in less than a week by workers outraged by Rubin’s $90 million golden parachute, which came at the expense of overworked and underpaid tech workers, especially the company’s female employees.

In a year that produced justified popular fear about the global domination by a handful of tech monopolies, these job actions and protests were a hopeful sign of the resistance being built from within.

Israel Teams Up with the Anti-Semites

Jonah ben Avraham | 2018 was a year of exciting wins and horrific defeats for the Palestinian liberation movement — often happening within days or weeks of each other.

As more and more institutions are heeding the call of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in refusing complicity with Israeli oppression, the Zionist strategy of whitewashing, pinkwashing, and greenwashing their crimes is crumbling.

For the first time ever, two incoming U.S. members of Congress — Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — have declared their support for BDS. Opinion polls of young Jews across North America and Western Europe show declining rates of support for Zionism and the Israeli government. The Zionist “consensus” is being challenged more severely than at any time since the Oslo Accords.

In response, we saw the Israeli state’s true colors in full view.

Some 168 people were murdered and more than 15,000 injured by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during this year’s Great Return March in Gaza. Israel’s targeting of activists for harassment and punishment has intensified, including the barring of all BDS supporters from entering the country, and even the harassment of prominent liberal Zionist Peter Beinart as he tried to enter Israel for a family bat mitzvah.

Zionist organizations in the UK and U.S. have waged wars against the left, whether by adding hundreds of names (including mine) to the racist Canary Mission blacklist or engaging in a slanderous crusade against the supposed anti-Semitism of the Jeremy Corbyn wing of the Labour Party in Britain.

In a context in which real anti-Semitism is very much on the rise globally, you would think that Israel would at least go after genuine Nazis, even as it cynically paints anti-racist leftists with the same brush.

Guess again. The Netanyahu regime has taken on a leading role among the growing international far right. The Israeli state is frequently cited as an example of precisely the kind of ethnostate sought by white nationalists today, and Netanyahu has taken no issue with embracing his proto-fascist admirers on the world stage.

This year, Netanyahu has added to his list of international friends Brazilian neofascist Jair Bolsonaro, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and, perhaps most strikingly, Hungary’s anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Netanyahu has been happy to collaborate with countries controlled by far-right governments: in one particularly heinous example, Israel this year knowingly exported arms to Ukraine as those arms were being granted to state-sponsored, neo-Nazi paramilitaries.

Zionism has never been the bulwark against anti-Semitism it has claimed to be; it has always been able to find compromise and common cause with the anti-Semitic far right. But in 2018, Israel’s alliance with the international forces of fascism has opened more people’s eyes to the inherent contradiction and hypocrisy in its identity as “a democratic, Jewish state.”

As fighting the right continues to play a central role in our organizing in 2019, Netanyahu is making the case for solidarity with Palestine for us: If you want to fight fascism in all its forms, you have to fight Israel.

We’re Baaack!

Alan Maass | During the Obama presidency, Republicans ludicrously invoked the specter of socialism to whip up fears about centrist Democratic policies like the Affordable Care Act.

Now, when centrist Democrat Andrew Cuomo complains about “the socialists” calling out New York’s billion-dollar giveaway to the richest person in the world, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — instead of “giving that money to the poor and the needy,” Cuomo sneered — he’s at least getting his name-calling right.

2018 was the year that “the socialists” and what they wanted — as opposed to the singular “socialist” Bernie Sanders — became mainstream news. The breakthroughs were the election victories of openly socialist candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, but just as important was the connected growth of the now 50,000-strong Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

The radicalization producing a new generation of leftists who proudly identify with socialism goes back before Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, with roots in Occupy Wall Street and #BlackLivesMatter — themselves a reaction to the Great Recession and the discrediting of a corrupt political status quo.

But Sanders’ campaign, followed this year by more widespread and diverse election successes, has helped to cohere the sentiments of class anger and solidarity, and broadly connect them with the idea that an alternative to capitalism is necessary.

The prominence of electoral politics in all this means that socialism has revived in the U.S. in a particular form: most typically, a name on a ballot and an alternative voice in the mainstream political discussion, which can put more emphasis on policy proposals than protest and class struggle.

But that’s only part of the story. Whether members of DSA, the International Socialist Organization or other groups, “the socialists” can also be found in grassroots struggles throughout society for single-payer health care, rent regulations and more. Socialist teachers played an important role in the “red state” teachers’ rebellion this spring, and DSA members helped make #Abolish ICE into a touchstone for an immigrant justice movement that desperately needed one.

Since their election, Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib have used the platforms they have in the media to promote a Green New Deal and push back on conventional Beltway narratives. Particularly exciting is Tlaib’s plan to rebuff the standard incoming legislators’ trip to Israel, and instead lead a delegation to the West Bank.

But they are also committed to a strategy of changing the Democratic Party from within — and history shows us many examples of leftists who set themselves the goal of remaking “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party” — only to end up being remade themselves.

So what comes next? There will be a lot of attention paid in the coming year to the probable 2020 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. But the new socialist movement has too many important struggles right now to let 2019 be a gap year.

One promising aspect of 2018 was that the socialist left did a better job in coming together to organize against Trump’s attacks on migrants, trans people and sexual assault survivors.

We need to unite to build a socialist left in the broader resistance, even as we continue the important debates, about the Democrats and other issues, among socialists.

Our new socialist movement has to learn to fight on many fronts simultaneously — to develop our abilities to compete in the electoral arena, but perhaps even more importantly, to build on the powerful labor and social struggles that emerged in 2018.

Building that social power will put us in the best position in 2019 to continue projecting the socialist alternative to a new generation — and to start making socialism a practical and organizational reality that it must become next.

Further Reading

From the archives