In December 2013 Julian Assange spoke to a meeting organized by the Chaos Computer Club (CCC or C3) in Hamburg. The video of this meeting is about 30 minutes long with three speakers: Jacob Appelbaum, Sarah Harrison and speaking on Skype. There are some problems connecting with Julian on Skype but he speaks for about 15 minutes.
While he speaks for only a short time, Julian's comments are particularly important because they deal with political action. The venue is also important because his comments are aimed at the people in that particular audience. His comments are aimed at what he calls the "anarchist left". This is a culture he knows well, as it has been his intellectual home. The most well known recent creation of the anarchist left is the amorphous hacker movement called Anonymous. The Anonymous movement embodies the paradox of anarchism: it was a movement or organisation without any organisation, structure or recognized leaders.
WIKILEAKS IS NOTHING LIKE ANONYMOUS
However after Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks, it became clear that it was totally unlike Anonymous. It had an identified leader, a small number of members, and a tight organization. In the early days there were a number of people who left the organisation with tales of his "dictatorial" style of leadership. Perhaps the most prominent was Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a spokesperson who stole material from WikiLeaks and tried to sabotage the organisation. Critics had a field day as many people who tried to "help" WikiLeaks were often turned away, and tentative relationships seemed to end in hostility.
The problems with Anonymous became obvious as it was rapidly infiltrated by the CIA. Since there was no clear leadership and structure, anyone could grab an anarchist mask and attack anything. By contrast, it seems that attempts to infiltrate CIA agents into WikiLeaks have been far less successful.
JULIAN LEARNED SOMETHING FROM WIKILEAKS
Looking at the history of Julian and WikiLeaks from the outside, it seems that in the process of founding and leading WikiLeaks in a battle with the many faces of the world's most powerful empire, he came to see that the anarchist approach of Anonymous did not provide the best way to operate. Perhaps without even realizing it, he had created the exact opposite of a anarchist organisation. He had created a tight-knit and secretive organisation that was actually highly effective. In this short talk Julian explains that the very difficult task of getting Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong and to safety in Russia was only possible because "because we are an organised institution with collective experience.” That is, over time the organisation can learn how to overcome obstacles and pass this knowledge on.
JULIAN’S FIRST POINT: WE ALL LIVE IN A STATE
One of the central ideas of anarchism is that the institution of the state is artificial and unnecessary. We are all free, autonomous individuals. The only proper authority over us as individuals is the authority we have created and accepted ourselves. Since I, as an anarchist, do not agree or accept the laws of the state to which I belong, the state and its laws are illegitimate.
In the 22nd minute of his talk Julian states:
"We are all becoming part of the state, whether we like it or not. So our only hope is to determine what sort of state it is that we are going to become part of."
This is a direct challenge to the anarchist political philosophy. Even if we don't like the rules of our state, we are part of the state, and cannot pretend the state and its laws have no authority. Rather than hoping to create a world without a state, the anarchist goal, we should work to determine how the state we actually live in operates.
WHO THINKS THEY DON'T LIVE IN A STATE?
We might be tempted to think that the ideas behind anarchism came from the depths of the Imperial Russian Empire in the 19th century. In fact it comes straight from orthodox Anglo-Saxon political theory. John Locke (1632-1704) held that individual consent was the basis of political legitimacy.(1) The social contract theory of Locke and others "states that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or to the decision of a majority in exchange for protection of their remaining rights."(2)
It takes only a moment of thought to realize that there is no actual explicit contract between most of us and our state. Further the idea of a "tacit contract", that is, a binding contract of which you are not aware, which you have not consciously agreed to, is just an empty phrase. If there is no mutually recognized agreement, there is no contract. If you start with individuals in the state of nature and assume individual consent is the basis of political legitimacy, once you realize there is no actual consent or contract between you and your state, then you are an anarchist. In Anglo-Saxon political thinking, anarchism is just a simple consequence of the ideas of someone like Locke.
JULIAN’S SECOND POINT: POLITICAL SUCCESS REQUIRES STRUCTURES AND ORGANISATION
Near the end of the meeting Julian is asked about what we can do about the world we live in. Someone asks: "Is transparency enough to inject a conscience into evil organizations?" He begins his reply as follows:
"It’s not about conscience. It's about two things. One is providing an effective deterrent to particular forms of behaviour. And two, finding that information which allows us to construct an order in the world around us to educate ourselves in how the world works and therefore be able to manage the world we are a part of."
But there is more. He continues:
"That in itself is not enough. Look at the occupy event, a very interesting political event, where revelations and perhaps destabilization led to a mass, a very large group of people wanting to do something. However there was no organisational scaffold for these people to attach themselves to, no nucleus for these people to crystallise onto and it is that problem, which is an endemic problem of the anarchist left."
He then uses the Chaos Computer Club itself as an example. He asks: “Why are we having this meeting right now?” This is his answer:
"Because the CCC is an organised structure, it is a structure which as been able to grow to accommodate the 30% of extra people that have occurred this year. (...) So we have to form unions, and networks, and create programs and organisational structures. Organisational structures can also be written in code, for example bitcoin. Code and human structures are able to do things. WikiLeaks was able to rescue Edward Snowden because we are an organised institution with collective experience."
Julian asks us to look at how WikiLeaks is organized and what it has achieved. Compare this with the Occupy movement. There have been important consequences from that movement, but Julian seems to suggest that WikiLeaks has achieved more and for longer because of its tight knit and disciplined structure. "Human structures are able to do things." If you want to do things then you need "human structures", otherwise known as organisations.
HAS JULIAN SOLD OUT?
A die-hard anarchist will probably think he has sold out. Others on the left might even suggest that Julian's organisational structure, the secrecy, and the apparently "anti-democratic" character, look more like the model of the Bolshevik political party adopted by Lenin and the Communist Part of the Soviet Union. This is a misguided criticism.
Some time ago people noticed that while Julian called for transparency, he did not himself run a transparent organisation. Such critics did not realize that the goal is transparency for governments and corporations. These organisations have become more secretive while gaining more access to what used to our private lives. When you are engaged in fighting the most powerful Empire that has ever existed, no fully transparent organization opposed to them would last five minutes.
And there is another question: While some kind of really democratic state is preferable to what we have now, does this mean that every organisation which works toward that goal must itself also be fully open, transparent and "democratic" in the fight to achieve that goal? Democracy is valuable, but it is not the only valuable thing in the political world. There is a fixation by some in the left with "method", an approach which is itself a central part of our pseudo-democratic myth. The myth is that a decision is justified only if it is arrived at by the right means, that is, some kind of majority vote. Apart from the fact that ALL decisions cannot be decided in this way, it is a completely formal way to approach the question of what is the right thing to do politically. Sadly there are no simple rules to arrive at the best political decision in a given situation.
Furthermore, political decisions are ALSO about reaching goals, achieving good outcomes for the real lives of real people. Any fixation on your special conception of what a democratic decision is which ignores the consequences for the lives of real people is as dangerous as it is useless.
The video of the meeting can be found here:
Julian Assange: Sysadmins of the world, unite!
Julian speaks from 16:45 to 30:45 with some interruptions in the beginning.
Details of the video:
Speaker: Julian Assange (@wikileaks) Jacob Applebaum (@ioerror) Sarah Harrison
Event: 30th Chaos Communication Congress [30c3] by the Chaos Computer Club [CCC]
Location: Congress Centrum Hamburg (CCH); Am Dammtor; Marseiller Straße; 20355 Hamburg; Germany
Begin: Sun, 12/29/2013 22:45:00 +01:00