This community has almost 350 affiliated blogs at last count, covering a very broad range of political opinion (something I will talk more about below). There are a small number of authors of affiliated blogs who volunteer their time to be moderators of the community, who apparently conduct their discussions about issues related to their work in closed forums. Recently, as described here and here, and at least alluded to here and here, there has been some conflict amongst the moderators involving political differences and what seems to have been an attempt to silence them, followed by one moderator -- one who is on the left end of the spectrum covered by the community, and who is a feminist -- deciding to try and spark broader dialogue about dysfunctional process in the community by talking about the conflict publically. This was, I understand, in the context of longer term conflict around issues of politics and process. She has subsequently resigned as as a moderator.
There are a number of different and not necessarily directly connected things that this conflict has been making me think about. I am just going to ramble on about them without trying to turn this post into some sort of unified whole.
The first is on the political content of the dispute among the moderators, which focused on the World Bank. I obviously do not have direct access to who said what to whom, and no wish to rehash it. Given the political range covered by the community, I am not at all surprised to hear that some members of PB are supporters of the World Bank, while of course some of us think that (though it may have very smart and very nice people working for it) it is a horrible institution, one of the three central global instutions in charge of coordinating certain aspects of the pillaging of the Global South by capital and by rich Western countries. What does surprise me is that an up-front critique of the World Bank was considered to be beyond the pale by one of the moderators -- not just something he disagreed with, but something so unacceptable that he thought it should be changed, retracted, or deleted. It was not so long ago that North Americans were gathering regularly in their tens of thousands to protest the various organizations which have been coordinating global neocolonial capitalism and promoting neoliberalism, so I find the complete unacceptability of even admitting this position to discussion to be very concerning. It seems like it might be be connected to the fact that a third moderator is actually employed by the World Bank, and wanting to hush up political differences for the sake of harmony, but that is pure speculation, and there are probably other dynamics going on that I am not positioned to be able to see. In any case, as far as I understand it from comments in the posts linked above, this was resolved with admissions that mistakes were made, but the fact that it happend to begin with is still of concern.
The second thing that is interesting comes from a close reading of the posts linked above and the comments on them. In her original public airing of the controversy, Polly made it clear that in doing so she was treating both the content of the disagreement and the process issues as political. In other words, this was being done to draw attention to aspects of how power was working and how the community to which we belong is functioning. There has been a tendency among those comments that are not supportive to completely refuse to engage with it as a political question, and to treat it solely as a matter of interpersonal conflict and a sort of depoliticized (or professionalized) ethics. I'm not sure how much is really to be gained by a continued focus on the specifics of the incident, as this post from a third party demands, though I wouldn't object if there is significant sentiment to do so. Rather, I think what it might be fruitful to address would be the more general issues raised around transparency, participation, and process. (To those of you familiar with the ways in which these things tend to play out in activist groups in real life, some of the unsympathetic comments on Polly's posts that claim that her concerns about process are distractions from the real political work we should all be doing will sound awfully familiar.)
Third: So what about process issues? See, I've never paid much attention to how PB works. I think I had just assumed that the moderators only did technical stuff -- and I've never had any problems in that regard, so that side of things is definitely well done -- and so I didn't figure it mattered much who they were or how exactly they operated. It appears I was mistaken. And, to be fair, I suppose I kind of did know. There was some sort of bru-ha-ha a while ago about an affiliated blog being given the boot because of comments labelled anti-semitic, which I was vaguely aware of at the time but paid no attention to so I have no opinion on the accuracy of the charge. Certainly anti-semitism should be taken seriously and addressed. I understand that a policy is being developed for the community on related issues, though I know little about it. Is it public yet? How was it developed? Does it attempt to incorporate anti-oppression principles and recognize things like power and social location? I have no idea. This could be crucial stuff, because, okay, there was that one instance related to anti-semitism and a response to it, but there is stuff grounded in and reproducing oppressive social relations in blogs affiliated to PB all the time. Of course there is. (In fact, I seem to remember the moderator who just resigned pointing out some sexism in some things that were happening back last fall, and not getting a particularly supportive response in a lot of quarters.) So issues around drawing lines, and around when it makes sense to engage and when someone should be kicked out, and all of that stuff are very complicated. Plus, there is always a danger that such policies can be used to target people whose analysis is farther from the mainstream of the community.
Okay...got sidetracked there a little bit. In any case, I was originally leading up to the admission that because I haven't really paid much attention, I have no idea what the moderators actually do. I am not aware of their role described in print anywhere. I am not aware of any way in which they must be accountable to the broader membership. I am not aware of how they are selected. I am not even aware of enough of the details to know if any of this matters very much, politically speaking. My main indication that it does, apart from stuff I said in the last paragraph, is that the moderator who just resigned seems to think it is of political significance, and based on stuff of hers that I have read over the last couple of years, I'm inclined to trust that assessment. I am particularly concerned about why the process amongst the moderators needs to be a closed one. I mean, I know that tends to be the default way in which executives of any organization in this society operate, but generally speaking I think it is not only unnecessary but it is politically undesireable. We are not some sort of capitalist enterprise that must keep its trade secrets to aid in its competition against other corporations. So why not just make it all open for everyone to see? And, though I obviously am inclined towards open processes, I am really asking if anyone has any reasons why that might not be appropriate in this instance. (And if the answer is something about a risk of compromising the political mission of the PB, I have to ask whose politics and whose mission. And whose compromise.)
Which brings me to my last point. In a couple of spots in the posts linked above, Polly relates her ambivalence about being in a community such as the PB at all, given the range of its politics. Personally, I see the logic as being something like the logic of the united front -- that's an Old Left term having to do with building the broadest possible coalition to face down a clear and present danger from the Right. Historically, for example, you can see it in Canadian politics during periods when the Communist Party allied itself with the Liberals and fought against the CCF, at least officially on the grounds that the Liberals were the best opportunity for defeating the Right though the actual reasons were often more complicated and more self-serving than that. In the present, the anti-war movement in Canada (such as it is) tends to operate on the united front model.
In real life I am quite ambivalent about united front politics for a number of reasons that I won't get into now -- certainly not against them completely, but in favour of viewing them with a more critical eye than often happens. But in terms of a blog community I have much less problem with them. Oh, I'm not saying I'm a super enthusiast about all of the results. I get kind of depressed when I see how overwhelmingly many of the posts that come through the PB top page have to do with electoral politics, and how few are about social movements or about personal/political stuff or about politics grounded in oppressed communities. I also get the sense that a lot of the material that does come down the pipe that is social movement-oriented and/or farther left than the NDP often does not get a whole lot of attention from too many members/readers.
In fact, though one or two of the identifiers would technically include me and there is more vague language that would do so farther down the page, I don't feel that the current version of the opening sentence of the commumnity wiki that describes the basics of PB particularly speaks to me or my politics:
Progressive Bloggers is a group of Canadian bloggers who firmly believe that this great country needs to move forward, not backwards. Be they Liberal or liberal, New Democrats or democrats, Green voters or voters who want a green country, or even Red Tories searching for a home, these bloggers believe that Canadian politics should move in a progressive direction.
But, frankly, I'm not terribly concerned about any of that. I think a community like PB is useful because it allows me to easily encounter material that I would not otherwise search out and it allows people who would not search out my kind of stuff to see what I'm up to. Though it is easily romanticized and too often presented in an understanding of politics steeped in philosophical idealism, there is still importance to the thus-far underutilized potential implicit in communities like PB for actual dialogue and debate across difference to happen. I'm not sure what could be done to get some of that happening deliberately at the community level, or if there would even be much interest in such a thing, but it will continue happening on an individual level, and I think that's important too.
And as Red Jenny said in the comment thread of one of the posts linked above, "Without us lefties, the libs will keep thinking they actually are progressive. It's important to keep pushing, I think."