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YouTube as Praxis? On BreadTube and the Digital Propagation of Socialist Thought


Abstract and Figures

In this paper we discuss the rise of BreadTube and what it means for the spread and normalization of socialist ideas online. We aim to focus on four major YouTube content creators – Contrapoints, Philosophy Tube, Shaun, and Hbomberguy – to outline how they construct their videos to entertain, inform, as well as debunk both alt-right and (economically) liberal talking points, helping to prevent potential radicalization of a mostly young audience who stand at a crossroads in their ideological development. Aside from examining the content of produces by the creators, we also hope to investigate the unique configuration of their platform use, emphasizing such elements as distributions, financing, and audience interaction.
Content may be subject to copyright.
tripleC 18(1): 204-218, 2020
Date of Acceptance: 03 December 2019
Date of Publication: 13 January 2020 CC-BY-NC-ND: Creative Commons License, 2020.
YouTube as Praxis? On BreadTube and the Digital Propagation
of Socialist Thought
Dmitry Kuznetsov* and Milan Ismangil**
Chinese University of Hong Kong, Sha Tin, Hong Kong
Abstract: In this paper we discuss the rise of BreadTube and what it means for the spread
and normalization of socialist ideas online. We aim to focus on four major YouTube content
creators Contrapoints, Philosophy Tube, Shaun, and Hbomberguy to outline how they con-
struct their videos to entertain, inform, as well as debunk both alt-right and (economically) lib-
eral talking points, helping to prevent potential radicalization of a mostly young audience who
stand at a crossroads in their ideological development. Aside from examining the content of
produces by the creators, we also hope to investigate the unique configuration of their platform
use, emphasizing such elements as distributions, financing, and audience interaction.
Keywords: digital, BreadTube, Reddit, digital socialism, affective media, Patreon, YouTube
1. Introduction: Enter BreadTube
In January 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dropped by an event hosted by Harry
Brewis (‘Hbomberguy’), who raised money for a transgender charity by live-streaming
the videogame Donkey Kong 64 for around 50 hours. In a show of international soli-
darity, Cortez’s act was the first big intersection of BreadTube with real-world political
figures, the first major instance of it being propelled outside the confines of its digital
BreadTube (or ‘YouTube but good’ as referred to by its adherents) is a loose asso-
ciation of independent online videographers and their surrounding communities that
makes up a leftist response to alt-right use of digital media. The moniker Loose Asso-
ciation implies a lack of central organisation, of a structure that determines their rela-
tionships. Instead, a shared ideology binds them together. Including such content cre-
ators as Contrapoints, Hbomberguy, and Philosophy Tube, BreadTube stretches be-
yond YouTube, with a presence on various social media platforms (e.g. Reddit, Some-
thing Awful), as well as its own websites (e.g. These digital outposts
serve as video aggregators, discussion spaces, and even platforms for social mobili-
Borrowing its name from Kropotkin’s anarchist classic The Conquest of Bread,
BreadTubers and their viewers do not shy away from associations with leftist thought. claims that the goal is “to challenge the far-right content creators who
have taken advantage of the profit-driven algorithms used by services like YouTube
for the purpose of spreading hate” (“About · BreadTube” n.d.). They express a “wish
to educate people on how their world operates, the alternative possible visions for our
future, and how we organize ourselves to get there.”
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Our position is that BreadTube is a form of digital praxis promoting new types of digital
engagement with leftist and socialist thought. While the impact of BreadTube within
the political arena is yet to be seen, the increasing popularity of its content shows a
growing public awareness of the lacunas of capitalism, as is evident from reports by
more traditional media outlets (e.g. Jacobson 2019; The Economist 2019).
We start this article with a reflection on the role of communication technologies in
contemporary class struggles. We argue that assemblages like BreadTube present a
way of applying affective media that goes beyond creation of antagonists, or pure vio-
lent jouissance associated with libertarian uses of affective media (Jutel 2017). Sec-
ond, we examine how these formations aid the spread of socialist ideas. We propose
that BreadTube can fulfil the educational and agitprop purposes of media, assisting in
a Brechtian reconfiguration of the people (Žižek 2018): the transformation of the inert
mass of the working class into a politically engaged united force.
We then discuss the applicability of socialist literature to the BreadTube phenome-
non. We draw on studies of earlier leftist online communities as well as contemporary
leftist theoretical scholarship, positioning BreadTube at the intersection of these two
themes. In section three we engage with BreadTube itself: both the content and the
virtual community (Song 2009) surrounding it. Is it possible to conceptualize
BreadTube as socialist? Or is it part of the nexus of communicative capitalism, offering
the feeling of change without bringing about real transformation? If as we argue it
is the former, what makes it informative and mobilising? What does this phenomenon
mean for discussions of (digital) praxis? In the final section, we reflect on the future of
BreadTube, by bringing up Marcuse’s work on the Tea Party (Marcuse 2010), while
considering some of BreadTube’s present limitations.
2. Helping Others Remember to Dream
BreadTube does not have a central hierarchy. It is made up of loose linkages that
congregate on different social media websites, with videos serving as focal nodes that
anchor discussions of ideology and praxis. Our preliminary conceptualisation of
BreadTube is to see it as a catalyst, an agent preparing and hastening up conditions
for change, rather than the site in which said change occurs. Discussing the prospect
of radical change today, Žižek (2018, 481) argues that revolutions come to those with
patience. To quote:
Revolutionaries have to wait patiently for the (usually very brief) period of time
when the system openly malfunctions or collapses, seize the window of oppor-
tunity, grab the power [] so that, once the moment of confusion is over, the
majority gets sober and is disappointed by the new regime, it is too late to get
rid of it, and the revolutionaries have become firmly entrenched.
BreadTube serves to create the conditions necessary for socialism to become an ac-
ceptable reality. It helps disentangle the meaning of socialism from the capitalist smear
campaign, re-articulates it in a positive light, resulting in a push towards a vision of a
shared, achievable reality. It represents some of the hard theoretical work needed to
break free from the ideological mask fixed upon the working class that makes its mem-
bers turn again one another (blaming the immigrant, the feminist, etc.) (Žižek 2018).
BreadTube gently pushes its viewers to perceive the injustices thrust upon them by
the capitalist system. BreadTube’s common tactic revolves around taking a right-wing
talking point or “alternative fact and subverting it. Critical analysis of such talking points
206 Dmitry Kuznetsov and Milan Ismangil
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as climate change denial or the Great Replacement of Europe (i.e. the Muslim/refu-
gee/migrant invasion) introduces the viewer to a gentler politics. It should be noted
that unlike the cyberlibertarian formations investigated by Jutel (2017), where antago-
nization of political opponents takes centre stage, BreadTube content tends to focus
on understanding, analysis, and suggestion of alternatives to the talking points pre-
sented. The discussion be it about the men’s rights movements (Contrapoints
2019b), Flat Earthers (Hbomberguy 2018), or Unite The Right’s actions in Char-
lottesville (Shaun 2018) stays clear of the trolling and vulgar jouissance that is char-
acteristic of the alt-right (Jutel 2017). While also aiming to entertain, this more pensive,
critical approach, while most certainly not inciting a swift socialist uprising, may lay the
necessary groundwork.
It is hard to classify BreadTube videos as socialist per se, and a broader view of
leftist thought is more appropriate. In his discussion of the continuing relevance of
Marxism, Wright (2018) raises four central propositions that remain relevant today
and constitute the basis of our discussion:
Capitalism obstructs the realisation of conditions of human flourishing.
Another world is possible.
Capitalism’s dynamics are inherently contradictory.
Emancipatory transformation requires popular mobilisation and struggle.
BreadTube through both videos and discussions directly engages with and con-
tributes to this broad conceptualisation of the Marxist and socialist traditions. The first
and third propositions show the need for BreadTube, as it helps pull back the veil of
capitalism by defamiliarizing and deconstructing the status quo. As for the second and
fourth proposition, BreadTube can advance a popular cultural style of the socialist
movement without explicitly naming it as such. Wright (2018) reminds us that emanci-
patory transformation requires building institutions to embody relevant ideals, that
transcending capitalism is not a manner of rupture, but of consciously building up a
foundation of socialism inside of capitalism. Distorting the normalcy of our capitalist
world order is one of the core tasks that BreadTube undertakes.
BreadTube, despite its anarchist-inspired name, is a comprehensive host of leftist
worldviews and analyses. Some state that they are spreading leftist thoughts (e.g.
BadMouse self-describes as creating leftist propaganda (BadMouse n.d.)). Others
seek to obtain a wider audience, rarely directly mentioning socialism. As if in a con-
scious effort to avoid the negative association socialism has amongst those she wishes
to engage, Contrapoints (Natalie Wynn) describes her videos as follows: “My political
aim is to counterbalance the hatred toward progressive movements that is so common
online. Stylistically, I try to appeal to a wide audience and avoid merely preaching to
the choir.” Orientating the uncertain viewer towards a type of leftist, socialist thought
without confronting them with affective signifiers that these terms accumulated in pop-
ular press is one of the great strengths of this community.
Invoking the Zapatista movement’s famous notion of “One No, many Yeses
(Wolfson 2014) BreadTube appears to embrace heterogeneity as long as all the noses
are pointed in the direction of opposing the capitalist status quo. This, however, leads
to a problem of the will of the people, the theorisation of which has been a contentious
issue. In this instance, we borrow Dean’s (2012, 114) formulation of the will of the
people as “as a divisive political subject that produces itself through its practices
[whose] will precedes not only its knowledge of what is willed, but the people itself.” As
Žižek (2018, 479) argues, today there is no “global cognitive mapping”, no collective
will. BreadTube has the potential to structure the previously this will by shining light
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upon the frustrations viewers might have with the capitalist system, inciting a yearning
for the communist horizon.
Continuing this train of thought, Dyer-Witheford (2015, 10) notes that knowledge is
the main site for contesting capitalism. For socialism to be successful, critique of ide-
ology must become part of mainstream discourse (Fuchs and Monticelli 2018). It needs
spokespersons and leaders, someone to decode academic debates and terminology,
to sieve out the core message, to convey it to their audience in a clear and engaging
manner. BreadTube fills an ideological void for people who may lack the means and
methods to educate themselves. It is bite-sized and features well-produced video spec-
Fuchs (2018) notes that a Marxist theory of communication should analyse the
structure of ideology through various channels. One must overcome capitalism, class
society, exploitation, and domination” (Fuchs 2018, 531). BreadTube can have an
emancipative function of exposing the viewer to the previously unseen flaws of capi-
talism. This leads to a question of how BreadTube differs from earlier forms of leftist
digital media.
Wolfson’s (2014) study of Indymedia can help us identify why earlier attempts at
(digital) socialism failed. He argues that Indymedia organisers did not set clear goals,
only asking themselves What do we want to achieve?”. Without a strong aspiration it
was difficult to organise and invoke societal change. This, in combination with a lack
of clear leadership or organisational forms, led to the diminishing effectiveness of this
media project. While BreadTube exhibits similar issues, the crucial differentiating factor
is that this community is centred around individual content creators. While said creators
have not yet exhibited interest in changing their platform from one of words into one of
actions, they are engaged in a style of informational warfare with the modern right.
Dean (2012), discussing Occupy Wall Street, states that for communism to flourish
we must not simply be together, but rather stick together, turning our collective desire
into actual change. A desire that must be channelled into action by leaders (Žižek
2018) who can formulate strategies and educate. This desire can be misguided as
we in the past few years have seen this desire being harnessed by extremists to cast
the blame upon the refugee, the immigrant, the other. Crucially, we must remember
that strategies don’t just happen” (Wright 2018, 499).
On social media, activism-related discussions are a frequent sight, urging people
to go beyond the videos: “Watching YouTube videos never led me to praxis – reading
theory did” (BobartTheCreator2 2019). BreadTube can thus be seen as a gateway to
socialist thinking. It utilises the information infrastructure of capitalism to present the
masses with visions and dreams of a better, fairer world: something that left has failed
to accomplish up to this point (Dear 2012). Dean argues that we have unlearned how
to dream of a better future, and it is up to communists to show why socialism is the
best alternative” to capitalism (83). Some BreadTubers directly state that their reason
for making videos is to counteract the growing influence of the alt-right on the internet
(Contrapoints 2019a; Hawking 2019).
Having looked at a range of discussions and interpretations of Marxist thinking, it
appears that BreadTube can perform a variety of essential functions, including promot-
ing socialist ideals, educating the population, and sparking the dream of socialist tran-
scendence. Moreover, it can serve to connect the work of theoreticians with practical
mobilisation, preparing the discontented population by promoting the central proposi-
tions outlined by Wright (2018).
All this sounds good, but one wonders whether BreadTube has the capacity to for-
mulate a collective will capable of affecting change. Its decentralised nature, the style
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of content produced, the channels of its distribution and the format of its discussions
can be seen as strengths or as weaknesses. We must more thoroughly investigate
these constitutive elements.
3. Analysing BreadTube
YouTube is the root, the platform where videos get posted and disseminated by con-
tent creators. These videos are discussed in the comment section of the platform, but
most of the discussion takes place on social media platforms such as Reddit or Internet
forums like Something Awful. Reddit is a website that hosts a multitude of subreddits,
each a community that regulates its content through voluntary moderation, with the
admins proper only interfering in extreme cases (e.g. child pornography).
A viewer might become curious and follow the links provided in the video descrip-
tion or the comments. This would lead them towards the major BreadTube discussion
spaces where, in an ideal case, they could be guided towards a gentler politics. Simply
put, this is a two-layered hijacking.” The first layer involves use of search algorithms
by BreadTubers to disseminate their videos. The second layer a kind of affective
hijacking revolves around using a variety of theatrical and didactical styles to convey
leftist thought. The system is well summarised by Roose:
The core of BreadTube’s strategy is a kind of algorithmic hijacking. By talking
about many of the same topics that far-right creators do and, in some cases,
by responding directly to their videos left-wing YouTubers are able to get their
videos recommended to the same audience (Roose 2019)
3.1. BreadTube’s Logistics and Funding
The platform dependent nature of BreadTube requires us to consider its position at the
intersection of communicative capitalism and affective media. Does it have emancipa-
tive potential or is it a form of affective media labour, with capital contradicting the
productivity of biopolitical labour and obstructing the creation of value” (Hardt and
Negri, 2009, 144)? Through affective media we are made to think of ourselves as parts
of a bigger narrative, apparently fighting capitalism online, while in fact contributing to
its continued existence.
Most major BreadTubers use YouTube to spread their ideas. Some of them
acknowledge Google’s role in the propagation of hate but are in the end reliant on it.
As a small sign of resistance, some BreadTubers use Patreon (a crowdfunding plat-
form) to make a living, with some opting out of monetising their videos (i.e. turning off
advertising). Patreon serves to democratise socialist knowledge. BreadTubers’ videos
are free to watch and discuss online. Those able and willing to fund the production are
invited to make direct contributions.
Democratisation of knowledge is explicitly mentioned by Philosophy Tube, who af-
ter austerity in the UK education system decided to give away [his] MA in Philosophy
free to people who don't have the opportunities for learning [he has] had” (Philosophy
Tube n.d.). He wants to “get people in a position where they can take cutting edge
academia and apply it to the real world” (n.d.). The image of leaving the ivory tower to
is a common theme within the BreadTube community.
To sum up, the work of BreadTubers is a reconfiguration of socialist promoted via
capitalist information structures with the goal undermining them. These videos serve
as discussion nexuses, forming communities of practice. Ideally, the more well-versed
can guide those who, after having seen a video, are looking for more answers. An
example of this is shown below:
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Figure 1: Revolution UK subreddit announcement
These videos appear to have a ripple effect. The Revolution UK community features
many links to protests, mixed with questions from people frustrated with the status quo.
For example, one commenter says they are [t]ired of the left being purely reactionary
but feel powerless to actually help in any capacity” (Azulmono55 2019).
Earlier we presented BreadTube as a catalyst or gateway towards socialist thought.
As shown, the various pathways that lead from BreadTube videos can put a viewer on
the road towards discussions, consideration, and acceptance of leftist thought.
3.2. The Content
One of the difficulties in defining BreadTube is its inclusiveness. There is no arbiter,
nor any clear notion of what a ‘BreadTube video’ is. Rather, it is through consensus
that work gets incorporated into the canon. This happens through discussions on fo-
rums, voting on Reddit or simple agreement between users. In this article we focus on
the four largest YouTube channels whose videos are frequently discussed in the
BreadTube communities. These are Shaun, Hbomberguy, Contrapoints, and Philoso-
phy Tube. Their content can be generalised into two categories: the response video
and the explanatory video.
In the first type, a (right-wing) talking point is explained, analysed, and debunked.
For example, Hbomberguy in the ‘A Measured Response’ series tackles climate
change denial propagated by popular right wing YouTube channels. Similarly, Shaun
in ‘A Response To...’ directly engages with other YouTube channels, discussing topics
such as why European History Is Not White History’, ‘Feminism, Why You Need It’, or
What Is White Supremacy’. Shaun also has a video series on how ‘PragerU Lies to
You’. PragerU is a right-wing propaganda outlet, “one of the most effective conversion
tools for young conservatives (Nguyen, 2018). These response videos use popular
(right-wing) talking points to anchor discussions surrounding issues such as feminism,
right-wing outrage, socialist alternatives, the manufacturing of cultural Marxism, and
so on.
The second category the explanatory video has a more general aim: rather than
focusing on a particular point, these videos introduce and analyse a larger theme. The
work of Contrapoints and Philosophy Tube exemplify this approach. The former covers
topics such as ‘Incels’, ‘The West’, ‘What’s Wrong With Capitalism’, ‘The Apocalypse’,
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and ‘Beauty’, and the latter delves into the subjects of ‘Reform or Revolution’, ‘Witch-
craft, Gender, & Marxism’, and ‘Elon Musk’.
We have selected three recent videos about the climate disaster to serve as exam-
ples (Table 1). As Shaun does not have a video on this topic, we did not include him.
Philosophy Tube
Video title
The Apocalypse
Climate Denial: A measured Response
Climate Grief
December 2nd
May 31st 2019
August 22nd 2019
Views (on 3
Table 1: Basic YouTube video information
While this is but a small sample of the BreadTube universe, we believe these videos
are good demonstrations of how leftist (socialist, progressive) thought is embedded in
video content, how it is relayed to the viewer.
3.2.1. Philosophy Tube: Climate Grief
In Climate Grief, Philosophy Tube discusses the climate disaster in its totality. In his
productions, he speaks directly to the viewer in the guise of different personas. In this
case, the central character is a kind of futuristic priest delivering a eulogy at the funeral
for planet earth.” Another recurring character is the travelling salesman,” a caricature
of a (neo)liberal who proclaims himself to be moral, preaching responsibility’ and ‘ra-
tional debate’ while seeking faults in others. Central to the video is the argument that
climate change is not one problem, but a composite of many problems. Borrowing a
term from philosopher Timothy Murton, he refers to the climate disaster a hyper object.
Philosophy Tube makes frequent use of a variety of literature to support his argu-
ments. Another example is the use of Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx Was Right (Eagleton
2011) to argue that the acknowledgement of the world as tragic fuels fascism, “persua-
sive to so many liberals because it acknowledges that many things just suck.”
Philosophy Tube criticises both right wing climate change denial and left-wing
techno fetishists that believe in technological solutions (citing Bastani’s book Fully Au-
tomated Luxury Communism (2019)), arguing that there is more than one way to deny
climate change. He asserts that the tragedy of the current situation is our sense of
powerless, the belief that those at fault might never reap what they sow. He does offer
hope, however, arguing that smaller and within-reach acts of unionisation, empathic
politics, listening to indigenous people and their philosophies are all part of understand-
ing and dealing with the climate disaster. He concludes by stating that:
[R]ather than not thinking about it, or hoping for a perfect technological solution
seriously considering the world might end with climate change might be a
chance to ask: what were the good bits? Apocalypse doesn’t actually mean the
end of the world, it’s a Greek word that means the revealing of knowledge.
Philosophy Tube poses questions and dilemmas while supplying answers and worka-
ble solutions: listen to indigenous philosophies, recognise that you have more allies
than you think, that we are not alone in the our individual struggles but are part of a
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greater whole (a covert case of class analysis if there ever was one). Climate change
is a host of issues rather than one isolated struggle. We need to think about how we
want the world to look after the apocalypse.
3.2.2. Contrapoints: The Apocalypse
Contrapoints’ The Apocalypse like many of her other works employs a discursive-
dialectical technique. The video features a scientist that tries to convince a decadent
denier (lying in a bath) of two things: that climate change is real, and that the world
needs to be saved. The video involves the scientist explaining things to the denier (or
the audience) after which they shortly discuss the content, with the denier occasionally
interrupting the video. The explanatory parts are factual, discussing the consequences
of climate change, as well as the lobbying efforts to deny, delegitimise and supress
climate change policies. The strength and impact of Contrapoints’ content lies in the
discussion elements.
The conservative climate change denier begins on the premise that the scientist
seeks only to “shove the liberal agenda down [their] throat. But the latter retorts
through engagement with the denier’s own rhetoric, asking if she wants more refugees
(no!), then arguing that climate change policies need to be implemented to avoid that
(no!), or otherwise more refuges will come (no!). Contrapoints does her best to pre-
empt arguments from those on the opposite end of the political spectrum, and this
allows her productions to go beyond antagonism by showing an understanding of the
other side.
Contrapoints provides guidance, emphasising practical individual and group in-
volvement: we need to push for rapid political change, go on strikes, vote, demand
action. She states that capitalism cannot provide a solution to climate change due to
its propensity for short term thinking, which is incompatible with the long-term orienta-
tion of climate change. The video ends humorously with the acknowledgment that the
conservative needs an antagonist, which echoes earlier findings on cyber-libertarians
and affective media (Jutel 2017): “how am I supposed to care about rising sea levels?
There are Muslims and Mexicans there could be Muslim Mexicans for all I know”.
Ending on a joke, the scientist conjures up an opposition figure for the denier. The Dark
Mother the Sea who threatens to consume the planet.
3.2.3. Hbomberguy: Climate Denial
In contrast to the other two channels, Hbomberguy plays himself talking straight to the
camera, occasionally cutting to relevant footage or comedic sketches. He admits he is
not an expert he was originally a videogame YouTuber and relies less on academic
writing, speaking more from his own experiences. Unlike the previous examples, he
directly attacks some talking points explicitly highlighting their wrongness rather than
leaving the moment of realisation with the viewer. The video employs a personable
approach with Hbomberguy wondering how climate change deniers are able to persist
despite the obvious flaw in their arguments, debunked with a few seconds googling.
The video first discusses why the “science of climate change denial is based on lies.
It then outlines how denialism works by pointing out stakeholders (e.g. oil companies)
with vested interests.
Discussing popular right-wing figures such as Stephen Crowder and Patrick Moore,
Hbomberguy explains to the viewer how they manipulate those on the fence (the con-
servative audience), how they make the audience feel good about themselves by as-
serting their viewpoint as the right one. Hbomberguy notes: “The product [Stephen
Crowder] is selling is ideology.” The main point of the video is not about climate change
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but the mechanisms of this ideology, how its rhetoric is sold to the people, how a veil
of ignorance and denial gets woven and placed over their minds. Hbomberguy reveals
the inherent contradictions of right-wing discourse that claims to stand for reason and
facts, to be pro-science. Joking that climate change isn’t your fault, it’s the Koch’s
brothers’ fault,” he argues that the most effective strategy is to agitate for political
change. The video ends in a hopeful manner, stating that if even someone like him can
realise that these people are just being paid to make him feel good, then perhaps all
of us can pierce the veil.
3.2.4. Synthesis
The videos discussed lay bare the inherent contradictions of the right-wing stereotype:
logical, science-adhering sceptics who prefer reason to feelings. What sets these
channels apart from the more radical BreadTube adherents is their neutral appear-
ance, which allows them to attract a wider viewership and to attain relevance beyond
a leftist or socialist echo chamber.
Often there are no winners in these videos. Rather, they assert that deciding on the
truth of the matter is left to the viewers. Philosophy Tube, Contrapoints, and Hbom-
berguy tell their audiences to look at the sources themselves, to witness the debate at
hand, to establish their own viewpoint. This stands in contrast to the contentious poli-
tics of the likes of Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson, who popularised themselves on
the wave of the ongoing populist right-wing resurgence. They rely on the creation of
antagonists as acknowledged in Contrapoints video, positioning their ideological op-
ponents as sources of all that is wrong with the world.
On BreadTube, antagonization does not take centre stage. There is a level of hon-
est engagement with opposing arguments. Unlike cyberlibertarian forms of affective
media that prioritise jouissance (Jutel 2014) over other themes, there are no real
gotcha moments, no one-liners. The intent is not to create enemies (a constructed
other) but to examine, deconstruct and critique the points brought up. This might be
due to the independence of these creators and the democratisation of their videos
through voluntary donations. Unlike many of their counterparts, BreadTube content
creators by and large do not have a product or point of view to sell. They are therefore
freer to discuss any topic in any way they wish
Channels such as Philosophy Tube or Hbomberguy take a more liberal approach
with their format, structuring their work like mini-documentaries or television series. But
what is consistent across these content creators’ videos is production value. Their vid-
eos have been professionalised as the popularity (and income) of the channels in-
creases. We view this as a positive evolution. Videos like these serve to introduce a
new generation to ideas and viewpoints which they otherwise may not have encoun-
3.3. The Community
The largest discussion site for BreadTube is Reddit, a social media platform that is
infamous for being extremely laisse faire in its content moderation. Reddit hosts a num-
ber of fascist, extreme right, nationalist forums that spread hate and discontent on the
Internet. Analysing the website, Massanari (2017) argues that its design implicitly pro-
motes a techno-culture that encourages toxic behaviour.
For example, the earlier mentioned right-wing users Ben Shapiro and Stephen Crowder both
push a range of products in their videos ranging from “brain power enhancing pills” to general
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There is friction between acknowledgement of these platforms (e.g. YouTube, Reddit)
as tools of (capitalist) oppression, and relying on them for the means and methods to
spread and discuss leftist ideas. This leads to some interesting parallels with the real
world. The subreddit for the popular leftist/anarchist podcast ChapoTrapHouse re-
cently got quarantined due to repeated calls for violence. This means that it does not
receive any advertising and is delisted from the main site. This development was re-
ceived as good news by many, considered to be a form of digital squatting (larrikin99
A socialist worldview ties together networks such as ChapoTrapHouse and
BreadTube. Due to their sparseness, there are difficulties in making decisions across
networks, or even within one. Organisational power is something that we should not
expect from BreadTube. Rather, BreadTube is more a gateway to further activism, a
tool for the untangling of our ideological shackles. It is a catalyst that speeds up the
development of favourable conditions under which things can progress and change.
Figure 2 is a network graph that show in which other communities users from the
BreadTube subreddit are active. We used data from August until September 2018.
We can see a leftist Reddit network with sub-communities such as Anarchism,
Communism, and Anti-Capitalism. There are links to communities dedicated to edu-
cating the people (Socialism101, debatesocialism, LateStageCapitalism) but also sub-
reddits focused on organising action.
214 Dmitry Kuznetsov and Milan Ismangil
CC-BY-NC-ND: Creative Commons License, 2020.
Figure 2: Networks of commenters who post in BreadTube and other Subreddit Com-
Below is an example from a post on LateStageCapitalism discussing climate change
Figure 3: Climate change activism on the LateStageCapitalism subreddit
Figure 4: Introduction text on every comment thread on the LateStageCapitalism sub-
tripleC 18(1): 204-218, 2020 215
CC-BY-NC-ND: Creative Commons License, 2020.
Several of these communities have a strong didactive element where people ask ques-
tions and get answers from those more versed in leftist thought. A common sight on
many leftist subreddits are recommended book lists, some even hosting recurring book
clubs. There is a grassroots element with users educating themselves, often drawing
directly from the classical works of socialism.
BreadTube is a general catch-all leftist subreddit meaning that its content is not that
radical. It has an pedagogical function, guiding users to ways to educate themselves
through readings, videos, and other types of media.
Figure 4 shows that BreadTube is not an isolated instance but a central node of the
left-leaning Reddit sphere. It belongs to a constellation of leftist communities, consti-
tuting a starting point of a journey towards leftist thought, towards deconstruction of
the (ideological) bias against socialism that has accumulated due to decades of prop-
aganda, with Trump and Johnson being the most recent and vocal examples (Cam-
maerts et al. 2016) of socialism’s vilification. On 24 September 2019, Donald Trump
vowed in his United Nations speech to “never let America become a socialist or com-
munist country” (Schwartz 2019). On 2 October 2019, UK Prime Minister Johnson
called for raising the productivity of the whole of the UK, not with socialism [...] but by
creating the economic platform for dynamic free-market capitalism” (Mason 2019). An
important question remains: How can socialism best be understood today?
4. Discussion: Everyday Critical Theory
Grassroots localised socialist revival is growing on certain Internet spaces. While many
caveats exist, there is hope for social change and public mobilisation. BreadTube sig-
nifies a return to a classic, democratised socialist mass education programme. How-
ever, there is a risk of BreadTube becoming subsumed under neoliberalism and indi-
vidualism if socialism is seen and practiced as fashion rather than a political and social
There is also the threat of techno-fetishism, that BreadTube might fuel the assump-
tion that open source software and knowledge constitutes socialist praxis or is social-
ism. Jutel (2017) points out the dangers of such techno-fetishism, that it can lead us to
believe we are acting politically by clicking, making us feel good and righteous while
playing into the hands of a capitalist society. The collective potential of this community
is yet to be revealed, as it has mainly operated within the boundaries of the platform(s).
A further question is whether there is any potential for transcending the common forms
of political participation and change, as the democratic exercise of voting is a ques-
tionable method of pushing for real change. However, faith in the democratic process
remains, exemplified by calls for people to vote Trump out of the office (Contrapoints
Use of social media for political education and mobilisation occurs not only in leftist
movements, but also among the alt-right who rely on affective media and video pro-
duction to radicalise youths. This behaviour has had a substantial yet sombre impact
on the real world, exemplified by the Christchurch shooting and the Charlottesville
massacre. These and other examples show the negative potential that is inherent to
social platforms and media content-based mobilisation.
Another concern is whether and how BreadTube can engage those on the opposite
side of political debates. Recent media coverage (see Fleishman 2019) has highlighted
that BreadTube can de-radicalise the radical right (Fleishman 2019). Commenting on
her videos covering alt-right talking points, Contrapoints said: “Deradicalizing is part of
my work, maybe even the most important thing I've done” (Contrapoints 2019a).
216 Dmitry Kuznetsov and Milan Ismangil
CC-BY-NC-ND: Creative Commons License, 2020.
BreadTube does not exist in isolation. It is part of a larger movement against right wing
and populist thought that have dominated the media landscape over the past few
years. In 2010 Peter Marcuse wrote an article analysing the Tea Part movement. Why
did it suddenly explode in popularity and what can we do to counteract it? Written be-
fore the rise of the alt-right, Marcuse conceptualises the Tea Party as “repression from
below, not from above” (2010, 356). He argues that there is a need for critical theory
in everyday life a critical theory from below to steer individuals’ frustrations with the
system towards proper causes and solutions. His categorisation of resistance as indi-
vidual or collective, comprehensive or partial, serves to emphasise the need for
BreadTube, as it allows for bottom up critical engagement to be embedded in everyday
life. The extreme displacement,” as Marcuse calls it, felt by many due to the havocs
of capitalism can be channelled towards a progressive form of resistance rather than
being co-opted by the alt-right.
It remains to be seen in what ways the BreadTube content creators are able (or
willing) to transform themselves into more overt political actors. It is unclear if this is
something we should ask of them, as their role might be to act as guides, starting points
for education and mobilisation.
However, what remains certain is that like Lenin standing on the train and speaking
to workers more than a hundred years ago, BreadTube is a socialist movement. Tech-
nological progress has given us tools that allow for the advancement of socialism.
BreadTube subverts techno-capitalism and hijacks YouTube’s algorithms in order to
spread leftist thought. Rather than being stuck on rails, Lenin’s train now takes the
form of smartphones and online videos, allowing emancipatory politics to integrate
seamlessly into everyday life.
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Part of My Work, Maybe Even the Most Important Thing I’ve Done. I’m Grateful for the
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About the Authors
Dmitry Kuznetsov
Dmitry Kuznetsov holds degrees in Media and Communication (BA, Sussex University) and
Global Communication (MA, CUHK). He is interested in video games, memes, internet gov-
ernance and the political economy of online content creation and sharing platforms.
Milan Ismangil
Milan Ismangil holds degrees in musicology (University of Amsterdam) and Asian studies (Uni-
versity of Leiden). He writes about representation in popular culture, internet culture, Esports,
and change. For more visit
... While Wynn produces long video essays oriented towards broad cultural topics, political commentators livestreaming political events such as David Pakman (David Pakman Show, 1.36M subscribers as of writing) and Hasan Piker 2 on Twitch (HasanAbi, 1.4M followers as of writing) are also rapidly gaining popularity. While some claim these influencers are 'deradicalising' audiences (Kuznetsov & Ismangil, 2020), both the right and the left influencers may be seen to engage in some similar styles of political 'drama' -though obviously towards very different ideological ends. For example, many progressive APCs inserted themselves into the political debate by intentionally attacking reactionary figures using antagonism, transgression, and ironic engagement (Maupin, 2021). ...
... "BreadTube" refers to a loosely connected network of leftist YouTubers and their audiences. The community coalesced around a shared interest in spreading leftist ideology and opposing the propagation of far-right ideology online (Kuznetsov and Ismangil, 2020;Maddox and Creech, 2020), which necessarily invited discussion and consideration of algorithms. As the ...
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The growing ubiquity of algorithms in everyday life has prompted cross-disciplinary interest in what people know about algorithms. The purpose of this article is to build on this growing literature by highlighting a particular way of knowing algorithms evident in past work, but, as yet, not clearly explicated. Specifically, I conceptualize practical knowledge of algorithms to capture knowledge located at the intersection of practice and discourse. Rather than knowing that an algorithm is/does X, Y, or Z, practical knowledge entails knowing how to accomplish X, Y, or Z within algorithmically mediated spaces as guided by the discursive features of one's social world. I conceptualize practical knowledge in conversation with past work on algorithmic knowledge and theories of knowing, and as empirically grounded in a case study of a leftist online community known as "BreadTube." Keywords Algorithmic knowledge, algorithmic literacy, algorithms, BreadTube, social worlds, YouTube The growing ubiquity of algorithms in everyday life has prompted cross-disciplinary interest in what people know about algorithms. The resultant literature is diffuse and rapidly growing. It collates a variety of concepts-folk theories, algorithmic skills, algorith-mic competencies, algorithmic literacy, the algorithmic imaginary, among many others, and spans a variety of domains-human-computer interaction (HCI), digital literacy,
... A notable response from the Left has only begun to take shape over the past three years or so, in the form of a similarly loose network of progressive, anti-capitalist, and anarchist content creators that some have referred to as 'BreadTube', which borrows its name from Peter Kropotkin's classic The Conquest of Bread (cf. Kuznetsov and Ismangil 2020). While such a response to the far-right content on the platform is certainly necessary, on the whole this digital form of praxis is again subject to many of the same pitfalls as before. ...
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One of the most pervasive topics across the Humanities is storytelling. Whether we are seeking to understand the development of shared identities, cultural beliefs and practices throughout history, or grappling with pressing contemporary concerns like anthropogenic climate change and accelerating globalization, the centrality of narrative(s) to much of our work on these issues—and to the issues themselves—is undeniable. As Haraway points out in Staying with the Trouble (2016), stories matter, and thus it also matters how we tell them. The ever-increasing attention given to voices and perspectives that challenge established canons and hegemonic discourses, both within and outside of academia, is gradually destabilizing the common notion of one “central”, linear narrative and creating space for narratives which thrive in complexity, multiplicity, and non-linearity. At the same time, contemporary artistic practices and emerging media platforms are producing new kinds of texts, thereby giving rise to new forms of storytelling. Ultimately, what is placed in the margins need no longer be marginal. However, this last statement also prompts several critical questions. Who gets to tell the story of the margins? Who decides what is marginal? How is such marginalization established and perpetuated? How does the margin assert itself in relation to the center? Can we rethink the margins as not simply surrounding, but as irreducibly part of the text? Why should we be so preoccupied with the margins to begin with?
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Based on the assumption that social media encourages a populist style of politics in online communities and the proposition that populism and conspiracy theories tend to co-occur, this article investigates whether this holds true for YouTube influencers, particularly on the less investigated left-wing spectrum. The article provides qualitative case studies of four different groups of political content creators on YouTube whose content makes use of or analyzes popular culture. The article concludes that a populist style plays a far less central role in left-wing communities on YouTube than on other platforms or within right-wing communities.
YouTube challenges the media monopoly by providing spaces for everyone to produce including the cultural industry products like podcasts. Deddy Corbuzier took advantage of this opportunity by opening a channel on YouTube. At first, Deddy criticised the ‘garbage’ broadcast on television, but then he invited Dinar Candy and managed to become a top view the worst video he has ever made. This study looks at the commodification of two Deddy Corbuzier’s YouTube content with Dinar Candy and Siti Fadilah Supari and sees it from Adorno’s critical point of view of the cultural industry. This research uses multimodality analysis and critical discourse analysis. The result is Deddy Corbuzier, who was first known as a YouTuber with critical content and used YouTube to resist media monopoly. However, he compromised his integrity, followed capitalism’s flow, and created content for profit by repeating his success for popular and uncritical videos.
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The New Zealand Internet Party tested key notions of affective media politics. Embracing techno-solutionism and the hacker politics of disruption, Kim Dotcom’s party attempted to mobilize the digital natives through an irreverent politics of lulz. While an electoral failure the party’s political discourse offers insights into affective media ontology. The social character of affective media creates the political conditions for an antagonistic political discourse. In this case affective identification in the master signifier “The Internet” creates a community of enjoyment threatened by the enemy of state surveillance as an agent of rapacious jouissance. The Internet Party’s politics of lulz was cast as a left-wing techno-fix to democracy, but this rhetoric belied a politics of cyberlibertarianism. Dotcom’s political intervention attempted to conflate his private interests as a battle that elevates him to the status of cyberlibertarian super-hero in the mold of Edward Snowden or Julian Assange.
Technical Report
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Foreword: As media and communication scholars we have been troubled by the problematic way in which the British media has systematically attacked Jeremy Corbyn ever since he came to national prominence in the summer of 2015. At the same time, we also acknowledge that the media needs to fulfill an important watchdog role in a democracy. Indeed, we expect and value our media to be critical and to ask difficult and probing questions of those in positions of power. Jeremy Corbyn is an unconventional party leader in a British context, more leftwing than previous leaders of the Labour Party, contesting the neoliberal common sense and promoting an anti-austerity and anti-war agenda. The question we pose here is to what extent this warranted the acerbic and overtly aggressive media reaction he has consistently received over the last year? Is it acceptable for the media to delegitimise to such an extent a legitimate democratic actor who is the leader of the main opposition party in British politics? This study, undertaken by the LSE's Media and Communications Department, set out to empirically analyse the nature of the media representation of Jeremy Corbyn in 8 British newspapers from 1 September – 1 November 2015. First, it distinguishes between critical reporting and what we call antagonistic reporting. Second, it aims to demonstrate and assess the ways in which the British press systematically delegitimised Jeremy Corbyn as a political leader. The results of this study show that Jeremy Corbyn was represented unfairly by the British press through a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy. Corbyn was often denied his own voice in the reporting on him and sources that were anti-Corbyn tended to outweigh those that support him and his positions. He was also systematically treated with scorn and ridicule in both the broadsheet and tabloid press in a way that no other political leader is or has been. Even more problematic, the British press has repeatedly associated Corbyn with terrorism and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK. The result has been a failure to give the newspaper reading public a fair opportunity to form their own judgements about the leader of the country's main opposition. The overall conclusion from this is that in this case UK journalism played an attackdog, rather than a watchdog, role. This is unhealthy from a democratic point of view and poses serious ethical questions as to the role of the media in a democracy, especially when it concerns the legitimate contestation of the Government of the day. When a democracy cannot rely on its press to provide its citizens with information about political parties that meets the basic standards of fairness, then we can expect a political process that is equally unbalanced. Recent events may have provided broader evidence of this disturbing trend.
In this contribution, Slavoj Žižek takes the occasion of Marx’s bicentenary for reflecting on the prospects of radical change today. First, it is shown that under Stalinism, Lenin’s works were quoted out of context in an arbitrary way in order to legitimise arbitrary political measures. Marxism thereby became an ideology that justified brutal subjective interventions. Second, this contribution poses the question of the revolutionary subject and democracy today. It stresses the role of both contingency and strategy in revolutions. In political assemblages taking place on public squares, the inert mass of ordinary people is transubstantiated into a politically engaged united force. The basic political problem today is how to best reconfigure democracy. Third, this contribution analyses the “interesting times” we live in. These are times that feature multiple crises, right-wing populism à la Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, the lower classes’ opposition to immigration, and the refugee crisis. Questions about human rights and their violation and about radical change need to be asked in this context.
This introduction sets out the context of the special issue “Karl Marx @ 200: Debating Capitalism & Perspectives for the Future of Radical Theory”, which was published on the occasion of Marx’s bicentenary on 5 May 2018. First, we give a brief overview of contemporary capitalism’s development and its crises. Second, we argue that it is important to repeat Marx today. Third, we reflect on lessons learned from 200 years of struggles for alternatives to capitalism. Fourth, we give an overview of the contributions in this special issue. Taken together, the contributions in this special issue show that Marx’s theory and politics remain key inspirations for understanding exploitation and domination in 21st-century society and for struggles that aim to overcome these phenomena and establishing a just and fair society. We need to repeat Marx today.
This contribution takes Marx’s bicentenary as occasion for reflecting on foundations of a Marxian theory of communication. It aims to show that Marx provides a consistent account as foundation for a critical, dialectical theory of communication. The article first discusses the relationship of communication and materialism in order to ground a communicative materialism that avoids the dualist assumption that communication is a superstructure erected on a material base. Second, the paper provides an overview of how Marx’s approach helps us to understand the role of the means of communication and communicative labour in capitalism. Third, it conceives of ideology as a form of fetishised communication and fetishism as ideological communication. Given that communicative capitalism is a significant dimension of contemporary society, it is about time to develop a Marxian theory of communication.
No idea is more closely associated with Marx than the claim that the intrinsic, contradictory dynamics of capitalism ultimately lead to its self-destruction while simultaneously creating conditions favourable for a revolutionary rupture needed to create an emancipatory alternative in which the control by the capitalist class of investments and production is displaced by radical economic democracy. Marx’s formulation of a theory of transcending capitalism is unsatisfactory for two main reasons: 1) the dynamics of capitalism may generate great harms, but they do not inherently make capitalism unsustainable nor do they generate the structural foundations of a collective actor with a capacity to overthrow capitalism; 2) the vision of a system-level rupture with capitalism is not a plausible strategy replacing capitalism by a democratic-egalitarian economic system. Nevertheless, there are four central propositions anchored in the Marxist tradition that remain essential for understanding the possibility of transcending capitalism: 1. Capitalism obstructs the realization of conditions for human flourishing. 2. Another world is possible. 3. Capitalism’s dynamics are intrinsically contradictory. 4. Emancipatory transformation requires popular mobilization and struggle. These four propositions can underwrite a strategic vision of eroding the dominance of capitalism by building democratic-egalitarian economic relations within the contradictory spaces of capitalism.
Digital Rebellion examines the impact of new media and communication technologies on the spatial, strategic, and organizational fabric of social movements. Todd Wolfson begins with the rise of the Zapatistas in the mid-1990s, and how aspects of the movement--network organizational structure, participatory democratic governance, and the use of communication tools as a binding agent--became essential parts of Indymedia and all Cyber Left organizations. From there he uses oral interviews and other rich ethnographic data to chart the media-based think tanks and experiments that continued the Cyber Left’s evolution through the Independent Media Center’s birth around the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. After examining the historical antecedents and rise of the global Indymedia network, Wolfson melds virtual and traditional ethnographic practice to explore the Cyber Left’s cultural logic, mapping the social, spatial and communicative structure of the Indymedia network and detailing its operations on the local, national and global level. He also looks at the participatory democracy that governs global social movements and the ways the movement’s twin ideologies, democracy and decentralization, have come into tension, and how what he calls the switchboard of struggle conducts stories of shared struggle from the hyper-local and dispersed worldwide. As Wolfson shows, understanding the intersection of Indymedia and the Global Social Justice Movement illuminates their foundational role in the Occupy struggle, Arab Spring uprising, and the other emergent movements that have in recent years re-energized radical politics. © 2014 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. All rights reserved.
Everyday life is where the results of the social, economic and political systems in which we live are manifest and directly experienced—where the societal shapes and is shaped by the individual. The everyday exploitation, oppression and discontent created by the prevailing system meet many forms of progressive, system‐challenging resistance. Most can be absorbed from above by the system, using both formal repression and a pervasive acquiescence‐inducing manipulation of everyday life. The present economic crisis and the failure of traditional liberal responses open a crack in the efficacy of this manipulation through which new and dangerous resistance might emerge. One defensive response of the system to that danger is displacement: turning that resistance into neo‐conservative, right‐wing ‘family values’‐oriented actions that counter system challenges from below. The tea parties in the USA are a prime example. The displacement operates both at the societal and ideological level and at the individual everyday and psychological level. If the displacement could be countered and redirected towards its actual causes, it might strengthen rather than conflict with progressive resistance.
BadMouse Is Creating Leftist Propaganda
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