If we’re going to “do a socialism,” both in the United States and the rest of the world, then hundreds of millions of people will need lots of education; on the contradictions of the world that we live in now, how we can organize ourselves, and on how we’d want to shape a new society. That education is not going to come from top-down hierarchies, but from individuals and small pockets of people who are able to communicate the big ideas in digestible ways to people that trust them.
One of the ways that people are coming together is in online spaces, in Twitch channels, Discord chats and YouTube livestreams. For this blog post, I interviewed three leftists who are building community on Twitch: Laborkyle, AmyeC3 and Transnationale. I’m just getting started with streaming, so my mic setup was not great for the first two interviews, but I think it improved quite a bit for the third. Videos of all three interviews are linked to below.
Note: here at Space Commune, we also have our own Twitch channel. Please follow us as Alex will keep interviewing leftist creators every week! Also, if you’re so moved, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube channel for video essays by Fox, and consider becoming a patron!
Who is Labor Kyle?
I was always fairly left wing, I grew up in an evangelical family. I broke the other way, being a queer people helps with that quite a bit. I knew I wanted to study history.
And so, I was doing as I have always done when I was in college. Hooking up an IV drip to anything I could find, because I like to read, I like to learn about history. I found myself reading about the 19th and 20th century, learning about revolutionary education and decolonization was a big part of it, it all worked in this really beautiful way.
How can we think of education outside of this space, outside of this bourgeois liberal space? How can we make something more substantive and more interesting? I try to apply that in terms of pedagogy, when I’m teaching… I try to apply that pedagogically in more traditional spaces. When I ran into LeftTube, i did not know this was happening. I’m maybe a touch older, especially on Twitch, a touch older than the demographic. I’m in my 30s. I started engaging in that space, and I lurked for a really long time, about two years.
What led you to want to start making content?
There’s a big barrier to entry, in our minds, when it comes to producing and creating content. Those barriers could be equipment-related, something material, something physical, or “what do I have to offer, what do I have to say? Will anyone find this interesting, will anyone give a shit?”
I am really inspired by the idea of working-class education, because I was a teacher. I taught middle school for a little while, and now I’m a teaching associate at the university that I’m at grad school in… and really what was most significant to me, reflecting back on moving through the 19th into the 20th century, was the legacy behind the German Social Democratic Party School. There’s a long legacy of worker education in Germany, and through the 19th century… they had workers education clubs, these groups that started popping up after 1848. When socialism was made functionally illegal, and they had to go underground, things ebbed a little bit. In Leipzig, there was a workers education club with a particular sensitivity to the idea that workers don’t have access to the same time or resources that a lot of other people do. Even at the Gotha Congress, probably most famous for Karl Marx’s critique of it, there was an idea for a co op school that was shot down by the reformists. We need a space where working people can engage with this stuff, where they can learn about economics, about theory, about socialism, about any kind of progressive ideology. Learning about that stuff in college was really formative for me.
I’d been playing video games my entire life, and when Twitch began, I was like oh shit. There’s this symbiotic thing happening between livestreaming and producing content. A lot of it is is very thoughtful, very good. From the people I’ve met on Twitter and real life, it’s had a real meaningful impact on the political education of people. I was talking about workers education clubs in Leipzig in 1853 or whatever. But it reminds me of those moments in history where people are saying, “No one’s going to afford me this space. I have to carve this space out for myself and for people like me, so we can educate ourselves and serve ourselves. I found that very inspiring, and I started doing it, I guess.”
What has it been like starting to stream?
There are people on here who didn’t think they had anything to say, but now they talk to a whole bunch of people. I didn’t think people would give a shit, but I got to Twitch affiliate in a week and a half, and we talk to each other, and our tiny little Twitch channel has recruited six people into the IWW. It’s a privilege to talk to people like that.
What’s the connection between real-life organizing and online spaces?
I organize in real life with a bunch of real people, they have different politics, there are anarchists, and socialists, and left progressives… not only do we have a shared identity and a shared culture, but the only way we can move forward is if we come together and understand that our bosses are our enemies, politicians who are bought and paid for by giant corporations are not my friend, and I need to hold the line with the people who have the same class status that I do. It’s kind of cheesy, but it’s kind of poetic.
Making content online has taught me:
- Making complicated ideas simple so anyone with any level of education can understand is both the hardest thing in the world and the most valuable thing that anyone can do. It’s a constant process. (At work) I’m doing book reviews of academic stuff, I’m doing articles. If you live in that space, you have to constantly recognize how you communicate in the context of the academy. No one gives a shit, no one can understand what the fuck you’re talking about
- It teaches you that what matters is people. People, people, people, people. If you can’t build real human, meaningful, honest connections with human beings, then organizing is going to be really difficult.
In real life, I always tell people that it’s the highs of the highs and lows of the lows, and everything else is just mundane. There are the high highs when you win, there are the low lows when you lose, and those are great, and they’re very painful. All the rest is spreadsheets, emails and phone calls. It’s the least sexy thing in the world. Sometimes those in person meetings can be awkward. Sometimes someone can come and derail the whole thing. My IWW branch is reforming right now because one person tanked the whole thing. Everyone has a story like that… one person comes in and rips apart an org. Everyone who was part of it is now skeptical and distrusting, because one person came in and decided to be selfish.
There are all kinds of criteria where something can go wrong. You invite someone to a meeting, fewer than half of the people show up, it’s a rule of thumb. However, when you get that first win, or that first good powerful moment, it all of sudden starts to contextualize the whole thing for you.
An online space is a great place to [innoculate] people. I’m probably too forward sometimes for some people, but I’m a really rip it open and throw it on the counter kind of person. I’m a really emotional, open kind of person.
You tell people this is the marathon that will last your entire life… their bosses are going to say “we’re a family, you don’t need to unionize!” Innoculating people prepares them, they can personally understand the risks, but also the benefits that will happen. Once you go public, those workers will come back around, and they’ll tell you everything you told me in innoculation came true. The skills are easy to teach online, it’s easy to innoculate people online, and you can teach people the basic skills online. We’re thinking about creating some organizing 101 stuff and sticking it online.
Difference between YouTube essays and Twitch streaming
On YouTube, I take big ideas and try to synthesize them, and give people some ammunition to push back against the reactionary right when they say things like “Hitler was a socialist or a Marxist.” My next essay is on masculinity, and I’ve been watching Ben Shapiro for the last couple of weeks for material, and while it’s warped my brain, it shows me that there are a lot of blowhards out there who are dumb as shit, and go in there and push back and pick those ideas apart.
On Twitch… building community and spending time on people. My channel isn’t huge. We have a 100 or followers, and I go on a few times a week, and I put on some Pokemon game. People say “hey, how are you doing?” I legitimately have conversations with people. The whole point of Twitch for me is chat. Being on camera is fun. It’s really about giving a space for people who maybe don’t necessarily feel like they have a space. There are a lot of queer people on “our” twitch channel. I use we language a lot.
I’m cisgendered, a lot of trans people in the chat, a lot of nonbinary people, and I LOVE THEM DEARLY, because they’ve done nothing but show me dignity and respect as a return for me trying to give them a space where they can be happy, they can engage, they can have fun.
I talk about our stream as the comedown stream, where you get hammered on Saturday and still have the loud bar music in your head, it’s ringing as you come home, but you’re not tired yet. You sit down on your couch, and you listen to the dude with a mustache and a subtle redneck accent talk quietly into a microphone as he plays Pokemon.
Debate me bros come into the chat, and we talk to them respectfully as long as they’re not being assholes… meaning you’re disrespecting people about things they can’t change about themselves. They say “thanks for the conversation” and we say goodnight.
If someone’s a left-liberal, and they’re curious about labor organizing, the working class, whatever, who are they going to go to? The person who yelled at them? Or their socialist friend who’s been very generous, kind, patient, those of us who have the patience for it. Some of us are beaten down and are like I don’t have time for it, and I legitimately respect that. If you feel like you have the skills to be the person who starts pulling the liberals left, if you treat them with respect, even if you disagree with their politics. If you listen to them and then share your ideas with them, I promise the libs are going to come to you. I can say this with full 100% certainty that I’ve pulled so many liberals left. The county party dems are now like “hey did you listen to Revolutionary Left Radio the other day?” It happens because you’re kind, open minded and listen to them. That’s what Twitch is for.
While there’s no one size fits all idea, left wing people who are interested in video games can use them to engage and discuss ideas. I spend time writing, and have published a little bit, and you come on my Twitch channel, we’re talking about which Pokemon are appropriate to eat. They have me rolling a lot of the time. A general space where you can use games to engage with or discuss politics. Culture is a vehicle for politics, and video games do not need to be the exception to that, especially considering how many young people play them. Disco Elysium is a great example. When the developers get up there and credit Marx and Engles, it makes your eyes move over to that game.
When I got on Twitch and started to talking to other left-wing people about games in a critical way, my lens just got cleaner and cleaner and sharper and sharper. I used to have a fixed focal length lens, now I have a zoom lens. When you start thinking about ideas in a certain way, it becomes easier and easier to go along. When something like Disco Elysium comes out, it has class politics, or Night in the Woods, it’s clearly meaningful, and it matters to the people that made it. The story, the aesthetic, it inspires all of these different means for communication.
Video games are going to start pressing themselves upon you. Language structures everything that we think and do, and then culture is the way we create expressive modes and emotions. Video games have to be included in that conversation. They need to be included. Too many people play them, too many people are familiar with them, too many people value them. We do not need to be ceding this cultural space, we’ve seen what happens.If we’re not willing to engage in a cultural space that has capitalism shoved so far up its ass, the chud right wing people come in and occupy it.
Who is Amyec3?
I recently graduated with a masters degree with an interest in housing development and housing policy. What sparked my interest was living in Washington DC, and seeing the overwhelming number of people living on the streets, and also living in an up and coming neighborhood, which is code for a gentrifying neighborhood. Seeing people literally misplaced and displaced all the time.
It’s something I couldn’t let go of in my mind… we were seeing this crazy change in a neighborhood for the poorest people living in the communities. I didn’t have the language to understand what was going on, I didn’t understand the process as I do now. It struck me as odd that it was ok. There was no policy intervention, there was nobody interfering at a higher municipal level or even at a federal government level, it was the opposite. There was state-sponsored gentrification happening because HUD was providing money for these projects in DC.
Examples of gentrification
Barry Farm is a classic example how federal money was used to flip an entire neighborhood. There was a project happening closeby in Southwest DC. It was something that took a lot of effort from the neighborhood and the community members living in this public housing development, but they organized and fought against demolition and they actually won. They went up against the state-sponsored gentrification, and were able to keep their housing. It’s a great example of how there is this success whenever community members come together, organize and fight back. This was way back, back in 2014.
There has been a movement to revitalize blighted areas and neighborhoods. What tends to happen… the District Wharf in DC is a prominent example, one of the best examples of the way that reinvestment and general investment within a blighted neighborhood has a spillover effect. The state-sponsored gentrification was on the Anacostia River, it turned it into a more touristy, more of an attraction that we see in Georgetown. Georgetown has a beautiful waterfront. You can go, you can eat brunch, it’s very bougie. It’s a place where a lot of people like to go and hang out and spend their afternoons on the weekends. They were trying to emulate this same thing in a poor area of DC, the southwest area. The spillover effect was, we’re going to revitalize this part of town, and people will reinvest in the residential neighborhoods. You hear this kind of phrase, especially in Brooklyn, this is an up and coming part of town, meaning it’s going through slow growth gentrification, and maybe it’s one rowhouse at a time, maybe it’s an entire block bought up and flipped by a private developer and a private equity firm, that’s literally trying to make that residential neighborhood or area more appealing to people trying to use that waterfront area.
There will be maybe one massive large project or revitalization to reinvigorate this part of town. This is where it’s hard to get this through to the liberals… you cannot revitalize or put in this development into a blighted area without thinking about the impact, or the residual or negative impact that will eventually lead to displacement. Once the property value starts to rise, those who are currently living there will be exposed to higher instances of tenant exploitation, in part to keep up with what the increased cost in property values. Gentrification is one of these phenomenons where you don’t know it until it happens. You don’t know displacement is happening until it’s happening.
How real-life organizing ties into streaming:
I am a member of the Northeast Tenants Union [of Los Angeles’ Tenants Union]. I’d like to be up front that I haven’t paid my dues yet. I feel kind of dirty making myself part of the community.
I have attended tenant union meetings, I try to be as involved as possible. Here is the catch-22… it’s the ironic part of being a tenant organizer or wanting to be. I don’t want to say I’m a victim, but I am extremely cost-burdened. I am one of the 18 million people in this country who pays more than 50% of my income towards housing. I have to work a bit of a lower-waged job, and one of the big reasons why I started to stream on Twitch was to make supplementary income to be able to afford to live where I live. I guess that’s the irony of it all. Knowing that we have a housing crisis, and my comrades at DSA don’t even like it to call it a crisis, because it’s really just capitalism working as intended.
On going between two worlds:
I feel the burden of paying so much money just to keep a roof over my head, and some people aren’t so lucky. I try not to seem like I am complaining about it, there are so many other cases where individuals are riding this line, and are so much more financially insecure. I do feel like it’s important to continue to fight and understand that things could be way worse, and find the energy to push forward and spend as much time as I can organizing and getting involved, going to meetings and trying to make a difference, and uplift the voices of the oppressed who need my help far more than I need a little economic security in my life. That’s my incentive to get out there and push. I do have a little bit more room to put myself out there and organize.
It’s been challenging; I always want it to be known that the time I spend online has more to do with the fact that i have expenses. The cost of living out here is so expensive. It’s almost an imperative of mine to make money and monetize off of Twitch so I wouldn’t have to work a regular 9-to-5 job. This would be my endgame, this would be my goal, to be able to find the right measure of success on Twitch, to be able to make a living streaming full time. If I could do that, that would be ideal, I could spend time streaming on Twitch, and the rest of the time would be spent attending meetings, organizing, attending protests, being part of a tenant strike. That would be ideal. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury at this moment in time to be able to monetize completely off of Twitch as my sole income.
There have been moments in my life where I’ve thought that my struggles financially were because of my own failures and because I wasn’t working enough. This was before I realized I was a dirty commie on the inside. It took a while to completely understand, and that reconciliation is so important. You’re working 2-3 jobs because the housing production is prioritized more than your dignity or well-being. You’re working as hard as you can, but you’re under the thumb like everyone else. Not only the housing market, but your regular job.
Getting started on Twitch:
I really had no plan for getting started. I got started really shaky. I got on here for a few different reasons. In terms of what I saw on twitch from watching a few streamers, in the political area, i very rarely heard anyone talking about affordable housing and homelessness. I felt there was an avenue to be able to educate in a way and build capacity about the inner workings and the risks people are subjected to. It also has to do with not really wanting to have to admit that you are so incredibly burdened by your rent or how much you’re paying. I’d love to see more people coming in and looking for advice on how to start a tenant union in theri building, raising awareness that you’re not alone. So many people are paying so much money and are affected by the housing market right now. The cost of living is so high, you shouldn’t feel ashamed of having to work 2-3 jobs just to keep a roof over your head. This is not your fault, this is just neoliberal policies that have been perpetuated for the last 30 years.
The first time that it ever clicked was whenever I was on the Mindwaves panel. I had mentioned a little bit, the synopsis version of what you can do, and what tenants unions are and how you can get involved. People asked how can they join a tenant union, and I just gave them the basics. Look into where you live, look at the municipality, look at the local laws, look at the state laws, look if there’s an existing union you can go to. Talk to 51% of your own building to support you, and start having meetings, having discussions, garner the support of the people who live in your building, bring them together, and start organizing and talking about the material conditions that you’re all facing, and get the right kind of tools to negotiate directly with your landlord, and whatever changes you’re looking to have. Maybe it’s maintenance, maybe the rent’s too damn high, maybe it’s better utilities, better amenities, that was the first time, this actually can make a difference, i actually can educate.
I want to start making tenant union toolkits for every state. Something like an infographic, something that will be attention-grabbing, so you’ll be aware of the rights you have as a tenant. Some people aren’t aware that they do have rights. The landlord doesn’t make you aware of your rights as a tenant! It’s crazy, so many tenants are subjected to these substandard conditions, but they just think it’s normal, it’s been normalized. Otherwise the landlords are not going to make those repairs, they’re not going to keep up with maintenance. If they do keep up with it, they’re going to keep increasing rent to maintain their bottom line. We know this to be true, we know it’s wrong, so how do we build capacity in these neighborhoods.
Who is Transnationale?
I find that in our society, 90% of the problems we have are caused by not having an ideological grounding to interpret political events. It allows us to see things through a lens, and see how things interact with other things, and how ideology affects policy. Over time I started developing my own ideas, and articulating ideas in new ways that seemed to be resonating with people that I knew on a personal basis.
I’ve always been interested in YouTube and streaming on Twitch. I decided I wanted to get into it myself, and start diving into politics and stuff like that on my own. There’s obviously the “I want to make a living doing this,” component, I’m not going to deny that. I do want to have producing content on YouTube and Twitch to be my income so I can do more and teach people more.
There’s that time-old contradiction that you’re a leftist that has to engage in capitalism that right wingers always love to point out to you. By no means do you have to spend a bunch of money to be able to get started, but I wanted to make good quality content from the beginning.
I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, and the line is you’re supposed to be entirely politically neutral. In high school, we talked about political topics, and I’ve always had the ability to entertain an idea without actually taking it on fully.
Introduction to socialism:
During my grade 12 history class, my teacher gave me an essay we had to write. It was practice for a college essay with citations and all that. And so I chose the topic, what’s different between socialism as implemented in the USSR and communism as described by Marx.
I recognize now that Marx never made this distinction. This socialism/communism distinction is entirely a post-Marx invention to differentiate how they function and how we implement them in society. That’s kind of what I was talking about. Eventually, as I got out of high school, I got into religion, I was a baptized JW, but I eventually got to the point where I got disfellowshipped, excommunicated from the religion.
I had to reevaluate where I was going with my life. I got into the atheist sphere a little bit. I didn’t really watch the Armoured Skeptics, Sargon, Amazing Atheist… I was watching Hitchens and Dawkins lectures, right? I like to listen to things that challenge me. I started with those, and they were definitely a good starting point for me. I started to become aware of the atheist community and how garbage it can be. You can see me go on rants about the atheist community and how frustrated I am with it. It was just before Donald Trump. I followed a creator named David Smalley. He runs a podcast called Dogma Debate, and he was ok, but as Trump and the left came up together, he started to kind of interview figures like Adam Corolla and Dennis Prager at one point. It threw me off because it seemed very counter to everything else that he had done. It really frustrated me seeing him kind of move in this right wing direction as opposed to a more liberal or leftist perspective. I kind of distanced myself from that movement to more SJW type of stuff. I started to educate myself on feminism, on generally LGBT issues, social justice issues in general. I was enlightened by many of the black people I followed on Facebook. At first I said some ignorant things, but I listened to them, and I developed a habit of striving to understand and listen, rather than coming up with my own ideas and imposing them on others. That was really important for me, listening to people.
Moving from SJW to Socialist:
Once I kind of got into that space… I’m non-binary/transfeminine. It’s kind of a meme, that eventually you end up becoming a communist. I saw a lot of memes on Facebook that got me thinking not just about SJW feminism, but socialism and communism. I had a predisposition from when I wrote that essay, that communism sounds kind of good! A stateless, moneyless society where all of your needs are met? That sounds amazing.
I saw a link to a video about the Labor Theory of Value by Brendan McCooney. It’s pretty low budget. He also has a blog. He really goes in depth on it… and I said this really makes sense to me. I kept going into the leftist YouTube sphere. The next person I found was Libertarian Socialist Rants, Badmouse, eventually Peter Coffin, after that Noncompete/Emerican Johnson and Thoughtslime, I really took on what they had to say, but I’ve also had the kind of mindset where I like to think about things, and I would think about it and come to my own conclusions. I was starting to hit on the labor theory of value without knowing anything about it. I was understanding how it was working on a fundamental, foundational level.
Lane for making content:
My goal is to more or less spread class consciousness to the working class, because I’m one of those people that would benefit immensely from getting a formal education, but that opportunity was robbed from me at an early age. I tend to come across these topics fairly intuitively, and from what I’ve gathered from other people, I tend to give a perspective that is fairly unique.
What I really want to do is for working class people to see and understand the underlying ideologies that move our world. I want them to come to a better understanding of politics. My hope is that by doing so, they will trend towards the left. They generally think that being interested in human rights, being interested, looking more into it will bring them further left. Ultimately, I want them to be more politically aware. Fundamentally, the average person, the average worker is unaware of the ideological bent of a lot of this stuff, they end up being tossed about like sheep without a shepherd. They end up getting swept into far-right movements, or voting for whoever might help them in the really short term, but not moving for any long-term benefits, like voting for the most palatable neoliberal.
Comradely discussions in good faith:
I have a lot of experience with abusive behavior in my life, not necessarily physically, but emotionally. My parents were quite emotionally abusive, they’d gaslight a lot, they’d make bad faith assumptions on my motives, without asking me what my motives were. So when I’m talking to people like Suck My Opinion or some of the more SJW-bent twitter leftists, what really bugs me is when people do not interpret some of these arguments in good faith. They don’t take the time to understand what the person is trying to say before they speak. Often, what ends up happening, they very much, Twitter lends itself to reducing somebody’s point to as barebones as possible. The unfortunate side effect is that topics cannot be reduced any further than the form I provide them in. So when someone tries to turn it into a sentence long conclusion, they’re going to miss part of it.
What I want people to do is to entertain an idea without actually taking it on. It seems to be a tough thing to do, but it’s an incredibly important skill for our lives I guess, politically.
Personally, what I tend to do… when you enter a space that’s potentially hostile, it’s important to recognize that everyone wants to see themselves as right and justify their actions. You don’t want to be wrong. When we enter discourse or a stressful situation with your family, a question I ask myself is given the evidence before me, the evidence I have, what is the best way to interpret this information that puts the person speaking it in the best light possible? Instead of jumping to the conclusion that makes the other person look like a terrible human speaking, what makes them look best? Look at it that way. It doesn’t deny that someone has said something, I can’t deny the fact that they’ve said it. What underlying motivations might they have, that’s making them see it in this way, without ignoring the fact that they said something or did something. I find that’s the best way to approach these conversations.
Sometimes Peter Coffin or SMO posts something, and I ask myself, what’s the best way I can interpret this quote? If unfortunately I’m not able to find a way that’s terribly charitable, or if they’re not returning the favor to me, then I’m like ok, I’m not going to hold anything back here. I don’t like being quote tweeted without context, I don’t like my points being reworded in a way that doesn’t actually represent what I said, so you’ll see me railing on people for doing exactly that. It’s a pretty simple thing and a lot of us can forget that we do that. Sometimes I fall into that trap, it’s a human cognitive issue. But I try my hardest when I’m entering that space to kind of make sure that I’m not going in with the poorest of intentions that will potentially burn the bridge with the person I’m talking to.
On being an ISO member:
One of the things that I started to get frustrated about was my work situation and not being able to do anything. I want to be a content creator as well as a fiction writer. It was starting to frustrate me just being at the whims of employers and whatnot. I joined and went to a conference for the International Socialists, and I ended up becoming one of the branch committee members. I started to step back a little bit recently…
Ultimately, online kind of pushed me to kind of do something. I wanted to do something, because I was getting frustrated about sitting home angry about capitalism. It’s kind of given me experience to know how organizing can work, and I plan on getting more involved with them in the new year, I just haven’t had the time.
I also plan on helping unify the online left in a similar way, we have thousands of people ready to go that we can start mobilizing both toward their local groups and online to have a more unified left as a whole. Perhaps we could even turn it into some kind of union. Instead of giving to individual creator, you could give to a union that then distributes to as many creators as possible to keep doing what they’re doing.
People talk about how the left argues, and the right is able to unify themselves. Well, there’s a lot more discussion on how to build a house than how to burn it down. There’s the timeold argument between anarchists and MLs, and the rivalry that’s happened there. We don’t have to agree on all of it, but there has to be a kind of working together to get anything done. At the moment there are too many factions or small groups that are worried about their own clout.
It seems like a kind of anti-feminist argument, but if you don’t like the way that a particular leftist YouTuber or Twitch streamer is behaving, the upside is that there’s not a whole lot stopping you from going and doing it yourself, and being that creator that you think is needed.
I want to be a more socially aware version of Destiny and Vaush in a lot of ways. But I also want to make some of the video essays that say Peter Coffin makes… Peter hasn’t gone to school for what he talks about, I haven’t gone to school for what I talk about. They’re just people. You’re allowed to disagree, expand on their ideas, come up with new ideas. Ultimately what I want people to do is talk about these things, talk with each other, challenge each other to be better, all of that stuff.