Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wikileaks, Julian Assange & Modern Anarchist Praxis

Most people could probably not name very many anarchists -- historical, contemporary, or even fictional. A few might cite artists like George Orwell or Leo Tolstoy, and fewer still will be aware of prominent historical anarchists like Emma Goldman or Peter Kropotkin. The historical impact of anarchist practice has largely been glossed over in the curriculum of government run, and compulsory, public schools. People generally aren't aware of anarchists fighting for the first labor rights in America or giving the first public talks on birth control. People are unaware that it was the anarchists who brought about the Russian revolution which was subsequently derailed by the Bolsheviks. People are largely unaware of historical anarchist movements in Spain, the Ukraine, and elsewhere. As for contemporaries... most people might only be able to name Noam Chomsky as an anarchist (and that is probably something of a misnomer).

But now... in the headlines of all the world's newspapers, on the lips of all the television pundits, all over the internet, and in the running for Time magazine's "Person of the Year," we have Julian Assange. One may argue about whether or not he precisely fits into the definition of what an anarchist is, and some dyed-in-the-wool anarchists will perhaps turn up their noses at the suggestion, but Julian Assange is engaged in anarchist acts and has presented governments around the world with damning attacks against their credibility and legitimacy.

He is one of the founders, and the public face, of Wikileaks (which publicly leaks damning internal documents from governments and corporations from around the world). With that tool he has thereby presented one of the biggest contemporary challenges to the continuation of state power. In theory, by the nature and design of the Wikileaks project, no national authorities with any degree of power are safe from exposure and subsequent public scrutiny. If that isn't a threat to corporatism and centralized governing power... nothing is. And while that alone isn't enough to make Assange an anarchist, the Wikileaks organization is intentionally designed to exist outside, and in spite of, the control of all nation states. Furthermore, in his own words, "leaking is basically an anarchist act." His organization, and his personal actions, are overtly in support of anarchist acts! At the very least... his tireless devotion to freedom of speech, and his intense scrutiny of governing bodies, is anarchistic at its core -- because most modern governments and major corporations could arguably not exist if people were fully aware of what the leaders of those institutions were actually doing.

The Truth Will Set Us Free (regardless of national identity, religion, or social status)

What the specific long-term effects of the Wikileaks project will be is uncertain. However, in any case, it's certain to increase skepticism of, and disdain for, centralized national governments. Simply in it's exposure of the injustices of war, Wikileaks strikes a blow at a core pillar of state power and control. Further, in militarized cities domestically, even the local police forces would have a harder time maintaining their power if all their corruption was laid bare. And as state power weakens, anarchist practices will fill the vacuum.

Earlier in this essay was mentioned the historical impact of anarchist ideals and practice. That praxis cuts across many of the differences that modern states and figures of authority have used to divide the masses. This is because the common person (regardless of race, religion, or creed) does not wish for wars, or prisons, or opulence in the face of poverty. But those in power require these elements to be in place so that they can maintain their control over the various populations.

Consequently... false ideas of racial, religious, and national inequality are instilled and maintained by the governing institutions. At their core, however, most people around the world value anarchistic ideals. Even the masses of religiously-minded people are not usually at odds with the principles of anarchism. The Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu who identified himself as an anarchist. The Christian ideal of Jesus Christ is fundamentally anarchist in his earthly habits. Lao Tzu (author of the Tao Te Ching and originator of Taoism), practically made a religion of anarchism. And the list of anarchistic saints could surely go on across many other cultures and religions.

One needn't totally agree with the pacifism of those spiritual anarchists to recognize that their anarchistic ideals resonate with many people across most cultures of the world. The point is... many people already value anarchistic ideals but are nevertheless controlled and manipulated by people who have polar opposite values. And it may not be the pacifism of the aforementioned religious figures that enthralls people but, rather, their sense of basic justice. That's why archetypes like Robin Hood, for example, are also held in high regard. And, when it comes down to it, all of humanity descended from, in the not-so-distant past, relatively egalitarian and peaceful primitive tribes. The majority of humanity has the same underlying values, buried in the very needs of our existence, but we have been manipulated, domesticated, and made subservient to those who do not have our best interests at heart.

So... how does this all relate to Wikileaks?! Well... take a look at the situation in the Mideast. Citizens of Saudi Arabia, for better or worse, are loyal to the Islamic faith. And the majority of those Saudis will subsequently identify with their fellow Muslims on a basic human level. How do you expect them to react to the information that the Saudi Royal family has been encouraging the U.S. and Israel to attack the Islamic Republic of Iran?! Not only is this warmongering, but it's blasphemous warmongering! And while your agnostic author here isn't at all trying to support the idea blasphemy, the underlying ethical transgression is one of hypocrisy. The Royal family is ostensibly supposed to be pious. They mandate burqas be worn by Saudi women and they violently enforce religious laws onto the population of the nation they rule. But now, that government, the royal family, is exposed plainly as blasphemously flaunting the very laws they violently enforce on others. Even if it was already somewhat suspected, when the communiques urging support for an Israeli & U.S. strike against Iran reaches the Saudi masses... the Saudi Arabian government will weaken. Perhaps it won't weaken to the point where it immediately transforms into a secular anarchist utopia, but as pointed out earlier... as state power weakens, anarchist practices will fill the vacuum.

Also relevant to people of the Mid-East, other released documents reveal that the Yemeni government took responsibility for air-strikes that caused civilian deaths in their execution against militants -- but it was actually the U.S. government carrying out the strikes. And while on a practical level of reason it shouldn't really matter who was responsible for the deaths of innocent men, women, and children... this cover-up for the American attacks will not instill trust in Yemen citizens for their government. Unlike in Saudi Arabia however, the religious element is not even necessary for Yemenis to be outraged at this deception.

International Relationships, International Revelations & International Revolution

The globally unifying aspect of the latest batch of "Cablegate" documents released by Wikileaks is in the fact that citizens from dozens of countries, all around the world, are finding out for the first time (or having it formally confirmed) that all of their respective governments are thoroughly corrupt. What do the citizens of the U.S. Spain, Saudi Arabia, Russia, et al, have in common? All of their governments are thoroughly corrupt and acting at the expense of human life whenever it suits them. Power, wherever it is, corrupts -- and those who are the most corrupt rise to the highest levels of power.

The average person does not want war! The average person does not want financial corruption while others starve! The average person is not a bald-faced hypocrite & liar! But the government leaders, all over the globe, have been shown to be what the average people are not. Nobility is not noble! Government diplomats are not diplomatic! People around the globe are being systematically lied to, abused, and even killed, by their supposed leaders. It's a common string that ties the vast majority of modern humanity together. And this is being confirmed, the world over, at the same time, thanks to Julian Assange & Wikileaks. How can one fail to see the revolutionary potential in this circumstance?

One might worry that these leaks could weaken international relations to the point of war. But the fact is... international relations are already at the point of war. And while some obedient citizens may remain loyal to their governments, many others are no longer going to be so eager to fight and die for the interests of their disgraced leaders.

Rather, what logically may happen, is that people will be less tolerant of militaristic sabre-rattling from their supposed leaders. If we look again at the situation in Saudi Arabia, we might even find that the revelations from the leaked documents could actually prevent war! This is because, if Iran is now attacked by the U.S. or Israel, the people of Saudi Arabia very well might rise up and overthrow the Saudi royal family. Such an event is hardly unprecedented historically. Furthermore... the U.S. can not risk social unrest in Saudi Arabia because of the energy needs met by Saudi Arabian oil. At best, the U.S. government (to say nothing of the Saudi Royal family) can only hope that civil unrest does not get out of control without an attack on Iran.

Similarly, in the U.S., the the Cablegate documents are not going to ease the governments ability to sell a war to the American population. Some will still be willing to go kill and die in a desert halfway around the globe, but that number of volunteers will undoubtedly be fewer because of the revelations from the State Department's leaked documents. Rather, thanks to Wikileaks, a protest movement is likely to be much stronger in the United States if another war is now proposed.

Some might ask, "What will the people of the world do if they rise up and start to abolish their governments?" And, truthfully, there is no easy answer to that. Obviously, systems of social organization will have to be arranged with much greater checks on any potentially abused power. Things may be rough, and conflicts will still arise.

Although it's probably somewhat hackneyed, I liken the situation of citizens with their governments to a person in a marriage with an abusive spouse. It may not be be easy to leave -- friends or a family support network may have faded, there may be kids, and the abuser may have all the money. Nevertheless... I would strongly be in favor of the abused spouse trying to get out of their current situation by any means necessary. And if they took it upon themselves to take that first necessary action to become free... they may just find some community support from a surprising number of others who stand by their action. But the real joke is... that formerly abused spouse wouldn't have to get remarried! Despite how odd it may seem... they could even become polyamorous or celibate! The point being -- their new way of life would really not have to be at all like the way things were. So, if people got rid of their government, they wouldn't have to replace it with anything at all similar. I don't suggest it will be easy, but people of the world need to get out of their abusive relationships.

In anticipation of the smug postmodern pseudo-intellectual who is not satisfied with that previous paragraph... let me just say that there are million other social arrangements that could be infinitely better than what we currently have with the militaristic consumerism of the modern corporate state.

This article is not about presenting a specific blueprint for a revolution or a post-revolutionary society. Rather, this article is about the current socio-economic state of the world, the opportunity manifested by Wikileaks, and the potential for revolution in a world that is rife with war, starvation, and ecological devastation that threatens life on Earth. People are already rising up in revolt, even in relatively wealthy western nations, and the Wikileaks revelations add to the critical mass of frustration that may, quite possibly, lead to a flashpoint that manifests into an unprecedented global revolution. You can try to remain purely skeptical and indifferent, or you can think about and work towards positive social change. That's for everyone to decide on an individual basis.

Some Closing Thoughts

As per my wont, I am not going to close out this article neatly and in summation. This author will not pretend that the words just typed will necessarily touch the hearts and minds of any readers. I am not going to pretend that I have summed everything up with perfect tidiness. Although this article is sincere, and indicative of some personal hope, it was partially written for my personal need to communicate, to share ideas, and to simply try to spur on some discussion. And really... I wanted to lay out my admiration for the work done by Julian Assange and the people working for Wikileaks.

Wikileaks is an amazing and unprecedented service. I'm not sure how long it will last, and I could potentially see a similar system of communication someday being used to spread dangerous technologies. Nevertheless, for the little it's worth, I must salute Wikileaks for what it's done and I revel in the dedication and effort that must have gone into making this system work. The subtleties and intricacies of the computer programming are far beyond anything I'd ever want to involve myself with. The personal risks that Julian Assange and Bradley Manning have taken are... preeminently courageous. Let us not lose sight of the fact that their lives are being threatened for this project which has revealed many great truths to people around the world.

Bradley Manning (who allegedly procured and leaked the U.S. State Department documents for the Cablegate release) sits in the Marine Corps Brig at Quantico and faces up to 52 years of imprisonment. Julian Assange is currently on the Interpol's most wanted list over obviously manufactured accusations of rape in Sweden. Even in the likely event those charges get dropped, if he is brought into Swedish custody he will likely then be extradited to the U.S.A. where he will potentially face death penalty charges under the Espionage Act of 1917.

It is my hope in writing this that I can somehow make their risks slightly more worthwhile by potentially bringing their stories, and a constructive analysis of their work, to a few people who may have otherwise missed some of the subtle implications. The whole of humanity has been presented with a good opportunity to make revolutionary changes on a global scale, in large part thanks to the work of these individuals. I hope we can live up to the fertile revolutionary moment that Wikileaks has presented us.