Secrecy, Mass Uprising, FluidNexus and Stammtisch

I posted a short message last week that said secrecy & cryptography have
never been my focus, as I do not see clandestinity & intrigue as effective
activism. This was in part inspired by something of a twitter flamewar that occurred
after CCCamp between some friends of mine who are security experts and the
author of a new distributed messaging system called FluidNexus, which the
camp-attendees felt was not secure, and therefore dangerous. Activists could use the platform expecting a level of secrecy the platform
can’t offer, and thereby act in potentially self-incriminating way. There are some merits to this argument, and there are certainly cases
where protecting the anonymity of activist is quite important, but by and
large, these are outlier cases. But the real lesson here seems to be not
so much that activist platforms should be more secure, but rather that they
should be very careful to avoid claiming to be secure.

Social struggles are not won by clandestinity and intrigue, but by mass
struggle. The major social victories of history, the civil rights movement,
the labour movement, the feminist movement, and many others, had the effect
they had because of mass support and the mass mobilization of supporters,
not because of heroic secret missions conducted by clandestine

This myth of the adventurist, intriguing, even ruthless revolutionary is
very powerful, Chernyshevsky, Nechayev, Bakunin, Edlridge Cleaver, Lenin
and many other seminal revolutionaries believed strongly in this view, yet
despite the inspirational role these people played, the degree to which
they accomplished what they set out to is quite limited. Lenin and the
Bolsheviks could be a counter example, since everything from secret
identities to armed robberies colour their history, it was not until their
path united with the popular movements against Russian participation in
WWI, among other causes of unrest, that they ultimately prevailed.

Clandestine operations imply a kind of vanguardism that acts on behalf of
the masses without their knowledge and consent. The actual role of secret
operations are necessarily limited to acts of sabotage, symbolic
“propaganda by deed,” or perhaps actual criminal activity used to finance
capacity building in the movement. While these sorts of acts may be at
times justifiable and even necessary, they can not play primary roles as
they do not ultimately directly contribute to mass organization, and most
activists, myself included, will not be participating in such activities.
In most cases, such activities will hurt the movement, or at least be

Technologies designed to help build mass movements do not need to focus on
privacy or cryptography, as the messages must be open and public, movements
are powerful exactly because they take a public stand. A secret
demonstration is not a demonstration of social power, it can only be
perhaps an act of annoyance to the rulers, not a threat to them, it can, at
best, be source of inspiration for the masses, but never anything more.

In terms of the safety of activists, of course each case can be different,
and in particular cases I have no doubt that privacy or anonymity may have
helped keep an activist safe. However, to me the very act of standing
against rulers is inherently dangerous and the belief that they need to
know the truth to hurt you is false. All they need is an identity, the rest
they can plant or fabricate out of whole cloth. Identify must be know if a
movement is to be a mass movement, and the leaders of such movements must
proudly stand among the masses. Thus, safety born of secrecy is most likely

In my view, a platform like FluidNexus is interesting to the degree that
is decentralized, and therefore has resilience and scaling properties that
no centralized system could have, not to the degree that it’s private or
offers its users anonymity.

In anycase, it is no secret that today is Stammtisch, I will be at Cafe
Buchhandlung, as usual and without disguise, at 9pm. There should still be
some CCCamp folks still around. Please come and join us.

Don’t let a little rain discourage you!

One comment

  1. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Social Movements Cannot Prevail Through Secrecy

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