Thu Dec 9th, 2010 at 04:39:11 AM EST
Karl Marx: On freedom of the Press
The highly sage, practical bureaucrats who secretly and unjustifiably think of themselves in the way that Pericles openly and rightly boasted of himself: "I am a man who is the equal of anyone both in knowing the needs of the state and in the art of expounding them" -- these hereditary leaseholders of political intelligence will shrug their shoulders and remark with oracular good breeding that the defenders of freedom of the press are wasting their efforts, for a mild censorship is better than a harsh freedom of the press. We reply to them with the words of the Spartans Sperthias and Bulis to the Persian satrap Hydarnes:
"Hydames, you have not equally weighed each side in your advice to us. For you have tried the one which you advise, the other has remained untried by you. You know what it means to be a slave, but you have never yet tried freedom, to know whether it is sweet or not. For if you had tried it, you would have advised us to fight for it, not merely with spears, but also with axes."
1. What is in the long run perhaps more important than the actual content of the leaked cables, or the revelations of atrocities uncovered and admitted in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the uncovering through its reflexive response, of what is practically a mechanism of internet control by powerful state and non-state actors. From Amazon to Pay Pal, from DDOS attacks to credit cards and data visualization companies, and then outside the web to banks, the Swedish and British court systems, Interpol, the whole world it seems - everybody fell on wikileaks with a vengeance that was meant, I suppose, less to silence this particular story (something that I imagine even the most deluded of state and corporate technocrats knew was pointless) but rather to inflict damage against the organization at a time when it was growing stronger and, more importantly I imagine, to discourage any further groups or networks from joining the game. This is not mainly an attempt to shut down, but rather to intimidate and contain...
2. This comes at a time when the basic liberties of the Internet as we have hitherto known it, are under attack, and attempts are made to tame the worldwide web wilderness it into a commercialized and controlled greenhouse: See the developments on ACTA, Google's apparent decision to censor torrent searches, apparently illegal domain seizures in the US among other developments. These have to be seen in the context of the unprecedented attack in much of the first world against democracy, social welfare and worker incomes, a final push for the Neoliberalization of Everything. It seems to be an integral part of this ongoing attempt at a neofeudal counter-reformation.
3. The resilience of wikileaks and the broad and widespread support it has garnered is a cause for jubilation. Not only has the whole operation proved that it can survive under the most profound threats and attacks, it has created a world-wide movement of support. The speed at which the whole web was mobilized to preserve and keep track of the wikileaks site, as well as the campaigns and solidarity moves in support is impressive.
In recent developments, the nebulous collective of web commando/trolls working under the name Anonymous, a swarm of magnificent/annoying vigilantes, has been active today wreaking revenge on Wikileaks' adversaries and frightened twitter to reinstate their briefly banned account, showed that a loosely organized bunch of LOIC-wielding guerilla nerds can survive on the friendly cyber-terrains of the Internets and cause as much trouble to (what I cannot help but call) The Man, as a bunch of AK-47-toting Iraqi goat-herders caused the US occupation forces. Make no mistake this is an unfolding war... (Facebook is as I'm writing this, in trouble)
4. In an age of generalized state and corporate surveillance it offers some consolation that there exist ways to reverse the tables and give citizens an opportunity to spy on their governments for a change.
5. Wikileaks is bound to grow stronger from these events. It has extra street-cred now, a hero's status for many, and it is bound to attract more, not fewer, leakers, not to mention contributors, of all sorts in the future. Assange has stated that a big bank is next in line. This too will certainly not hurt wikileaks' status. But it will gain them some really powerful enemies. Julian Assange is not personally is safe yet. However I do think that if he survives this first round of charges and legal clashes he will live to become, for better or for worse, a legend in his own time, an internet free speech icon. But Wikileaks is not Assange anyway. I have no doubt that the organization will continue regardless of what happens to Assange himself.
6. The wikileaks affair is bound to change the way classified information is circulated and increase the vigilance of state and corporate actors regarding the safety of their communications. The discomfort this will cause in the corridors of power, should be a minor source of happiness to the universe of proles for whose discomfort and harm such corridors are working overtime lately.
7. Through this whole chain of events wikileaks is inventing a new form and process of muckraking journalism for the 21st century. The synergy between wikileaks and major world newspapers, is something that will be repeated, tinkered with and copied, I'd wager, around the world. Especially in a world with a growing deficit of MSM incisive and revelatory reporting, it might lead to a quantum jump towards some sort of emerging world-wide citizen supported network of really free journalism.
8. The wikileaks saga will also serve as a model for alternative web survival strategies. In fact, it raises the issue of a need to invent even more fall-back routes and methods, for projects that run afoul of state and corporate rules. This is something that should be developing from the ground up over the next few years. I believe that at the end what is needed is an emergent "shadow infrastructure" that will be able to "hide" and support alternative ventures, as much as possible, outside of the control of government, corporate or supranational bodies.
9. In order to do this, some sort of alliance needs to be built to protect Internet freedom and independence, around the world and across ideological lines. From universities and research centers to labor unions, from hacker teams to NGOs and from political parties to newspapers and content commons, at least some sort of unspoken understanding needs to emerge that will allow implicit collaboration in such a project.
10. Thus wikileaks can and should serve as an example that needs imitators on all fronts. It isn't just a fixed organization: it's an idea, an open proposal, a template. It offers more than a particular batch of information that reveals government crimes and hypocrisy: it offers proof that such an organization can exist and have an effect.
And so one arrives finally at the 11th thesis:
11. Philosophers and pundits have only interpreted wikileaks in various ways - the point however is to emulate it...
[Based on some thoughts and reactions after reading Geert Lovink's ten theses on wikileaks, where he raises some very valid and important points...]
A first draft of this was posted originally at histologion