On the Rise of Cyber Anarchism

by Stephen Bryen

A political and ideological movement which I call Cyber Anarchism is impacting governments, corporations and organizations in an unprecedented way because cyber anarchists throw “cyber bombs” instead of conventional bombs.  But otherwise their intentions align well with classical violent anarchism of the type that was prevalent particularly in the first 25 years of the last century.

A good analogue is the anarchist Luigi Galleani who operated in the United States from 1901 until 1919.  He was a believer in revolutionary violence, and most of the time the violence came in the form of shrapnel-filled bombs that were used against high officials and locations including churches (including St. Patrick’s Cathedral), police stations and court houses.

“When we talk about property, State, masters, government, laws, courts, and police, we say only that we don’t want any of them.”

–Luigi Galleani, The End of Anarchism?

Galleani was a strong believer in what he called “propaganda by the deed” –namely radical actions that would destroy enemies and bring down governments or other hated entities including the Catholic Church, which the Galleanisti despised.

In many ways Galleani and his followers paralleled the attitude we see among terrorist organizations, where morality is laid aside in favor of “the cause.”

“Continue the good war. . .the war that knows neither fear nor scruples, neither pity nor truce.”

–Luigi Galleani, in Cronaca Sovversiva

To be sure there were many variations in how anarchists viewed their mission, on what tactics were appropriate, and where violence was allowed.   Anarchist movements were a result of the social stratification of the period, the immigrant experience in America, perceived injustices, and anti-government and anti-regime ideas that sprang up from the middle of the 18th century through 20th century.  Unlike fascism which was a statist phenomena, anarchists rejected the state.  Some were anarcho-communists, including Galleani, but they soon fell out with the Communist movement, especially in Russia, because unlike the Soviet Communists, most of the anarchists were not willing to see a dictatorship of anybody, especially any elite.

Which brings us around to the modern version of the Galleanists –the Cyber Anarchists.

The Cyber Anarchists have not really intellectualized their movement or put across an ideological stand that can stand up analysis.  Instead we get the statements of people like Bradley Manning, currently on trial, Julian Assange, currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London but wanted in Sweden on rape charges, and Edward Snowden, who is on the lamb in Hong Kong.

Of these Julian Assange comes closest to articulating a political philosophy that has strong roots in anarchist thinking.  His book (written with Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn and Jérémie Zimmermann), “Cypherpunks, Freedom and the Future of the Internet”  argues that the Internet has become the tool of the police state, and big corporations are in on the game, heading us toward a totalitarian state and the end of individual liberty.  The solution proposed is for everyone to adopt computer security measures, particularly cryptography, to block surveillance by the state.   Cypherpunks, of course, go further and promote the idea that their mission is to keep government’s accountable as a way of building up public resistance to the attack on privacy.

Reading the statements and interviews given by Assange and many others, it is clear that it is their intention to release information to the public regarding government, corporate, and military behavior and operations.  So we have leaks of sensitive diplomatic exchanges, military policy, NSA wiretapping, and information designed to show how many corporate giants are poor guardians of sensitive personal information.

“Cypherpunkism” and Cyber Anarchism are closely related if not the same.  But the term Cyber Anarchism is preferred as descriptive of the mission of the Cypherpunks.   It raises a key question –is there a point where the Cyber Anarchists mutates into classical Anarchism such as that practiced by Galleani?

Government angst over the compromise of secrets is growing and no one in government knows what could come out next. Will nuclear secrets be compromised, or vital national defense information.  As the pressure from Cyber-Anarchists closes in on critical national security functions, surely the government will react strongly.

Meanwhile the causes of Manning, Assange and Snowden continue to attract a growing following.  How they and their followers will behave under stressful conditions is unknown.

Will the Palmer raids come again?

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