Friday, August 09, 2013

Julian Assange and 1917

In Western Europe and North America the name of WikiLeaks is often invoked by advocates of Internet freedom and liberty of expression. An hour or so spent with the 2011 Russian-language publication WikiLeaks. Разоблачения, изменившие мир [Wikileaks. Revelations that Changed the World] (available from B&N here) has been enough to convince me that the information-leaking system devised by the "Internet warrior" Julian Assange is viewed rather differently at the far eastern end of the Baltic Sea.

The book, by the journalist Nadezhda Gorbatyuk, presents an overview of Russian-language material in the WikiLeaks archives, focusing mainly on those parts of the material that concord with the official Russian state view of events in the Baltics, Georgia, and the Middle East during the first decade of the 21st century, and makes no bones about the true nature and purpose of Assange's project. Right from the start, the services of Yulia Latynina are enlisted to make one thing clear. Assange has not been publishing secret U.S. documents in the name of freedom of information:
Assange's purpose is exactly the opposite, and it is formulated in two of his programme articles of 2006 which not been translated into Russian, and so they are given here in the original language - "State and Terrorist Conspiracies" and "Conspiracy as Governance". 
"They are rather amusing essays, which follow a remarkable schizoid-cybernetic logic," writes Latynina. "('Conspiracies are cognitive devices.'; 'What does a conspiracy compute? It computes the next action of the conspiracy.') If the mathematician Perelman had taken an interest in the problems of society, perhaps he would have written something similar."
Following Latynina, Gorbatyuk first explains that for Assange 1) America is an "authoritarian state";  2)  all authoritarian states are ruled by a conspiracy; 3)  a conspiracy exists when the conspirators have dedicated links to each other and therefore have privileged access to information that is not available to those who are not members of the conspiracy. This structure can be weakened by strategically removing the secrecy from the conspiracy. To quote Assange himself:
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.
Latynina emphasizes the importance of this point. Assange's aim is  not to increase the amount of information available to the public, but to limit the amount of information on the basis of which the U.S. government takes decisions. This, she says, is a revolution in the classical Marxist sense of the word:
Once upon a time these guys were throwing bombs at presidents, "physically destroying the conspirators". In 1968 they were throwing Molotov cocktails at the Paris police, and in the early 21st century they were making revolution, trying to force the system to take wrong decisions by restricting the amount of information available to it.
According to Marxist theory, a revolution takes place when the the relations of production change in the wake of the productive forces.
Now the productive forces have changed - the Internet is here, and Assange has changed the relations of production. He has made use of the Internet, in the same way as in 1917 the proletariat made use of cobblestones.  

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