Fragments Of Comprehension

(semi-internal) Our consciousness and humility must reflect, refine and redeem every scattered fragment of the material world

► NSA Spying in the Proletarian Century – [FoC.13.06.09]

Posted by Ben Seattle on June 9, 2013

The NSA Spying Scandal:

Information War in the Proletarian Century

Who will have the upper hand in the information war
which will dominate the 21st Century? It will not be the NSA.

Yes, now it is official. The phone calls you make,
the emails and texts you type, the racy photos you
send to someone special, every digital trace of
anything that you create–is all being scooped up
into a gigantic database maintained by the U.S.

What will the government do with this information?

The imperialist-in-chief, Obama, assures everyone
that this information is needed to fight “terrorism”.

But we already know that, in the U.S., the fight
against “terrorists” included coordinated attacks
on Occupy encampments in dozens of cities and throwing
activists from Portland and Seattle into solitary
confinement for the “crime” of refusing to talk about
the political beliefs of their friends.

History tells us something different, including that
the information in these spy databases will be used,
increasingly often, to decide who to kill.

There has already been a steady increase, in several
countries, in what are called “signature strikes” by
drones. These are assassinations from the sky where
the people who guide the drones don’t really know who
it is that they are rubbing out. All they know is that
the target has some of the same “observables” as a “bad
guy”. Or, in simpler, everyday language, if it looks
like a duck and quacks like a duck, kill the duck.

So, just to make sure that you are not in danger, make
sure that you don’t hang out with, or visit the same
websites, as anyone who might do something stupid.
Maybe you should just keep to yourself, and spend as
much time as possible hiding under your bed. Oh wait,
history also tells us that that won’t keep you safe

Some of the liberal pundits are professing to be
“shocked” by these revelations. This is like the
famous scene in “Casablanca” where the corrupt police
inspector is informed that gambling is taking place
in Rick’s Cafe. Anyone who claims to be “shocked” at
any of this–is either naive or a liar.

A top secret security clearance was not required to
know what is going on. Anyone who followed public
information on these things (with their eyes open) knew
what was happening.

Polls show that most people are not terribly up-in-arms
about the revelation that “their” government is spying
on everything they do. The reason for this is simple:
there is not a lot that can be done to stop the massive

At least for now.

The liberal and social-democratic political trends
may make various kinds of noise, but they are not
capable of organizing a serious struggle on this.

That would be like expecting a poodle to kick the butt
of its master.

My view is that this spying will continue until the
class rule of the bourgeoisie is overthrown. But
the liberals and social-democrats are not going to
talk about that.

I think it is useful to put these things in context.

This is the century in which the proletariat will
overthrow the class rule of the bourgeoisie. The
bourgeoisie (of course!) will collect every scrap of
information they can, in order to understand what is
going on and disorganize, defeat or destroy their
enemies. By doing this, they will postpone their
overthrow (for a little while). But in the long run,
it will not help them.

And we do not need to be afraid of them, or of “big
brother”. It will be the opposite. As we learn how
to organize ourselves, it is the bourgeoisie which
will become increasingly afraid of us.

So, if you get nervous about the government snooping,
keep this in mind:

The bourgeoisie (by means of its intelligence agencies)
will know what kind of toothpaste you use. It will
know when you get up and when you go to bed. It will
know what kind of porn you like to watch. But it will
not do them any good.

They are doomed.

Yes, at some point later in this century, the
bourgeoisie that “owns” this country will likely
attempt to “decapitate” the movement here by the
same methods they have so freely used in Asia, Africa
and Latin America: death squads and the like.

But they will not be able to stop a living movement
that has learned what it is fighting for and how to
organize itself.

Let’s consider why the proletariat will win the
information war in every way that really matters.

Digital information, broadly considered, can be
categorized, roughly, as being either public or private.

The bourgeoisie, by means of the billions and trillions
of private phone calls and emails they suck up, will
have knowledge of most of this private information.

But it will not help them–because the most important
information will be public.

It is the bourgeoisie that has everything to fear.
Edward Snowden has now added his name to the roll of
honor next to that of Bradley Manning, whose leak of
a quarter million diplomatic cables helped touch off
the revolt in Tunisia–which helped ignite the rest of
the Arab world and the Occupy movement here in the U.S.

In order to maintain its secrets, the bourgeoisie must
steadily shrink the population of analysts who have
access to the most important information. The position
of the proletariat will be the opposite–as it learns
to steadily increase the population of “analysts” (ie:
experienced activists) who help it digest and understand
every important item in the news.

Even those organizations on the left which are saturated
with hypocrisy and corruption (such as the British SWP,
which attempted (I think, I have not followed the details)
to protect a rapist in its ranks, and the local Seattle
branch of the ISO, which suffered a leak of emails as it
discussed its plan to compete for influence with the
militant wing of the Occupy movement) are learning to
their horror, that the world is becoming transparent.

As the proletariat learns how to organize and
understand public information, as it learns how to
digest the news so that it can give an accurate,
reliable and comprehensive understanding of politics,
culture, economics, technology, history and military
affairs to hundreds of millions, it will eventually
overwhelm the ability of the bourgeoisie to wage the
online war of ideas and, as it does so, will ignite a
conscious fire that cannot be extinguished.

So, instead of wringing our hands about the inevitable
snooping by the political police, we can be relaxed,
and spend our time, instead, on learning how to
collaborate in public, in full view of friend and foe
alike, to build a public, centralized news and culture
service which will be open to contributions from all
revolutionary activists.

All Power to the Public Domain!

Ben Seattle

Appendix: Louis Proyect on why “internal” documents cannot be bottled up

Louis Proyect is a social-democratic, among other problems.  He is also a damn fine writer.  Here is an excerpt.

I imagine that if Martin Smith had not been such a sexist pig, the SWP would have meandered along in this fashion for a number of years. Like a match thrown into a room filled with gasoline fumes, the rape incident and the Central Committee’s role in covering it up has provoked a crisis threatening the very existence of the party.

Returning to Callinicos’s article, I was struck by his exasperation over how “internal” party matters have spilled over into the Internet:

One thing the entire business has reminded us of is the dark side of the Internet. Enormously liberating though the net is, it has long been known that it allows salacious gossip to be spread and perpetuated – unless the victim has the money and the lawyers to stop it. Unlike celebrities, small revolutionary organisations don’t have these resources, and their principles stop them from trying to settle political arguments in the bourgeois courts.

In a nutshell, this is the same mindset that is on display at MIT, the elite institution that insisted on prosecuting Aaron Swartz for purloining JSTOR documents. Like the Gutenberg printing press that made possible generations of revolutionary-minded print publications like Iskra, the Internet is the communications medium for 21st century socialism. If anything has become clear, the “internal” documents of the SWP cannot be bottled up behind a firewall. In the same way that a Madonna video will make its way into Pirate’s Bay, some controversial SWP document will get leaked to the wretched Andy Newman’s Socialist Unity website. I am not even taking a position on whether this is reflecting the “dark side” of the Internet–only that this is the reality we operate under.

But more to the point, there really is no basis for revolutionary socialist organizations to keep their business internal. This was not the case in Lenin’s day, nor should it be the case today whether we are communicating through the printed page or on the Internet. This idea that we discuss our differences behind closed doors every couple of years during preconvention discussion was alien to the way that the Russian social democracy operated. They debated in public. We are obviously more familiar with Lenin’s open polemics with the Mensheviks that some might interpret as permissible given that a cold split had taken place (a false interpretation as Pham Binh and Lars Lih have pointed out.) But even within the Bolsheviks, there was public debate as demonstrated over their differences on whether the bourgeois press should be shut down.


6 Responses to “► NSA Spying in the Proletarian Century – [FoC.13.06.09]”

  1. Hi Ben, good post, I would like to add a good 101 video for big data and data capture

  2. Hi Art,

    I will look at the video. I got sidetracked clicking on various links related to the SWP scandal. For one thing, I wanted to be able to describe what actually happened in case I wanted to put this article on my upper blog.

    As far as the original question, what ignited this shitstorm was “the expulsion of four comrades for discussing on facebook their concerns about how the rape allegation was handled”: .

    This raised questions about how “democratic centralism” is mainly used today to conceal dysfunction by all organizations which practice it. This lead to some work by Lars Lih, which led to some analysis by Lars Lih of WITBD: “Scotching the myths about Lenin’s `What is to be done'” at which I have printed out in preparation for reading.

    I also read Proyect’s write up of the SWP melt-down in Counterpunch:

    — begin excerpt —

    Today’s Iskra is not a single newspaper but a constellation of blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and—most especially—publications like Counterpunch that allow the left to express itself without having some preordained priesthood decide what conforms to the “party line” or not. As the left develops ties internationally in a period of deepening crisis, electronic communications will be as essential to our struggle as the Gutenberg press was to the earliest rebels against feudal despotism. Not only will we build solidarity out of mutual respect for our political differences, but figure out ways to strike together against injustice as the need arises whatever our differences. There will be genuine democracy as we debate out our ideas and there will be centralized action when a strike or demonstration has been scheduled. That is the reality of 21st century socialism.

    — end excerpt —

    Proyect expresses himself well, as usual, although (also as usual) his comments are a mix of valid observations and total hypocrisy. Proyect opposes the idea of a “preordained priesthood” deciding what conforms to the “party line” in his article on Counterpunch. But no one with our politics would be able to appear on Counterpunch (nor does it have a forum where we could participate). Proyect himself runs an email forum (it was probably one of the best in the world in the late 1990’s) but will not allow me to post there because I criticized (effectively) some of his wrong social-democratic views. My posts embarrassed him and also ran counter to his agenda for uniting the left (in which anti-social-democrats are not allowed because they alienate the social-democrats).

    But what caught my attention in the excerpt above was the description of today’s Iskra as a “constellation” of blogs, fb, twitter, etc. This is less than half right. To be more like Iskra, we need an _organized_ constellation, because what we have now is lots of scattered, fragmented fiefdoms. Such scattered, fragmented fiefdoms are (of course) an improvement over one big blog run by priests in a religion–where only the people who drink kool-aid can post comments. But we need something better than either of these alternatives. The issue, as I see it, is to better understand what this alternative will look like and how we can do the most to bring it into the world. We will need something that can scoop up, aggregate and summarize everything that is out there now–and do it in a way that is genuinely democratic.

  3. Hi again Art,

    I finally had a chance to view the video. It starts off kinda slow but then gets better. The part I like best starts just a bit after the 3 minute mark, where it shows an organization as a life form swimming in data. That part was amazing.

    I also had a little more time to think about the SWP scandal. I do not think it is accurate to say that the SWP leaders attempted to cover up a rape (although that may have been the affect of their actions). It appears to me to be more likely that they attempted to cover up their _incompetence_ in investigating the rape accusations. There is no proof that a rape took place–although most readers who have looked into this story (including me, now that I have) believe that where there is smoke, there is fire. But there _is_ proof that they attempted to cover up their incompetence–by prohibiting party members from discussing this on facebook (ie: the expulsions–which set off the meltdown). To the SWP leadership (who habitually use “democratic centralism” to conceal their dysfunction) this is only business as usual. But because the dysfunction involved their incompetence on something so important (and something that is so easy for others outside of the SWP bubble to understand) they created outrage. Many commentators are talking about how sad it is that an organization such as this is melting down. But the truth is that sometimes collapse is the only way to go forward–when the pigheaded idiots who run an organization are in die-hard opposition to changing it to be more healthy.

  4. Hi Ben, I thought you may be interested in the latest public criticism of the ISO, which deals largely with lack of transparency, top down decision making, and emphasis on organization building/action.

  5. This story made the front page of the Guardian web site. This represents major coverage. — Ben

    Diary: Adieu, Comrade Delta.
    The SWP leader at the centre of sex abuse allegations departs
    Allegations; recriminations. Something had to give

    Hugh Muir
    The Guardian, Monday 29 July 2013 18.00 EDT

    • Like a steamy hot night before a clap of thunder, things have been building up in the Socialist Workers party. Since January, when leaked minutes emerged detailing how the party dealt with sexual assault allegations against a leading light, Comrade Delta, from a female member – casually exonerating him and declining to involve the police to avoid co-operating with the bourgeois system – things have been fraught, to say the least. An establishment that is holding firm, an opposition faction campaigning for better leadership and more transparency. Many wondered just what was the difference between the SWP and those parties it despises in Westminster. And finally, following all that drama, a denouement. For after all those efforts to save him, it is now appears that Delta, who held many senior positions over many years, has resigned his membership. A questionable finale, perhaps. For in two weeks’ time he was scheduled to appear before the disputes committee to face yet more allegations of sexual misconduct. That will probably go ahead, but as an ex-member he won’t have to be there and can’t be sanctioned. Imperfect as a solution. But frees up the factions to fight each other on other fronts.

    (the paragraph above links to the comment below, also by Hugh Muir)

    Diary: How the SWP turns drama into crisis – fresh accusations rock the party
    A very full agenda: suspensions, resignations, revolt turn SWP into SDP (Socialist Disintegration Party)

    Hugh Muir
    Monday 8 July 2013 18.12 EDT

    Solidarity was the watchword in the SWP, but that was probably before the uproar over its failure to properly address allegations of sexual misconduct involving a senior official. Over the weekend, things have got much worse. “The SWP’s national committee met on Sunday 7 July 2013 and voted by 26-6 to suspend four comrades and make wider moves to shut down any organised opposition to the party leadership,” reads a statement signed by 165 comrades. “This move is a smokescreen. It is a deliberate attempt by the leadership to escalate the crisis rather than address the critical problems facing the party.” Since the allegations gained wide circulation, the statement says, more than “400 people have resigned their party membership”, the “overwhelming majority” of student members have walked, and more than 15 party workers have been sacked or resigned. Roll up, roll up. Watch the party implode.

  6. The Guardian also gave a link to this blog created by the SWP-Britain opposition:

    We need this website as a place for ongoing debate around these matters.
    Dissenters had to set it up precisely because the CC didn’t, despite its call
    for widespread debate about a range of fundamental issues. This site is
    a vehicle for developing serious and honest debate across the party.

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