Marxism Against The Conversion of Marxism Into a Political Religion

What did Marx and Engels imagine when in 1848 they wrote in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, “WORKERS OF ALL LANDS, UNITE!”? In the same manifesto, they wrote, “We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy.”

Looking back, half a century later, Frederick Engels said:

“The Communist Manifesto had already proclaimed the struggle for the general franchise, for democracy, as one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat . . .” (Introduction to Class Struggles in France 1895)

Only four years after the Communist Manifesto Marx emphasised the point in an article in the New York Tribune (25 August 1852):

“The carrying of universal suffrage in England would . . . be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the Continent. It’s inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class.”

In their early years of political activity Marx and Engels had been optimistic about the speed with which developments would take place. With greater experience they had to recognize that the obstacles—the resourcefulness of the ruling class, the adaptability of capitalism, and the slowness with which socialist ideas were accepted by the workers—were much greater than they had supposed.

Engels, in the work already mentioned summarised this:

“The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they are to act. That much the history of the last fifty years has taught us. But so that the masses may understand what is to be done, long and persistent work is required . . . . Even in France the Socialists realise more and more that no durable success is possible unless they win over in advance the great mass of the people, which, in this case, means the peasants. The slow work of propaganda and parliamentary activity are here also recognised as the next task of the party”.

(https://www.marxists.org/archive/hardcastle/marx_demo.htm)

What did Engels say of socialism in “The Principles of Communism”? He said, “Above all, it will establish a democratic constitution, and through this, the direct or indirect dominance of the proletariat.”

What is the attitude of Marxism towards the question of authority and the cult of personality?

“Neither of us cares a straw for popularity. Let me cite one proof of this: such was my aversion to the personality cult that at the time of the International, when plagued by numerous moves— originating from various countries— to accord me public honour, I never allowed one of these to enter the domain of publicity, nor did I ever reply to them, save with an occasional snub. When Engels and I first joined the secret communist society, we did so only on condition that anything conducive to a superstitious belief in authority be eliminated from the Rules.” (Marx, Engels Collected Works V. 46, P. 288)

On the question of criticism Marx said his method of analysis embodied “the ruthless criticism of all that exists: ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.”

The Marxist view is that a socialist society cannot but be a democracy, even if its methods of attaining such a society are revolutionary. Marxism does not see the building of socialism as something that can be decreed or ordered from above, but something that can only emerge in the democratic struggle and process itself.

Such a view mirrors Luxemburg’s critique of the Russian Revolution, when she said in her 1918 pamphlet:

“The tacit assumption underlying the Lenin-Trotsky theory of dictatorship is this: that the socialist transformation is something for which a ready-made formula lies completed in the pocket of the revolutionary party, which needs only to be carried out energetically in practice. This is, unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – not the case. Far from being a sum of ready-made prescriptions which have only to be applied, the practical realization of socialism as an economic, social and juridical system is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future. What we possess in our program is nothing but a few main signposts which indicate the general direction in which to look for the necessary measures, and the indications are mainly negative in character at that. Thus we know more or less what we must eliminate at the outset in order to free the road for a socialist economy. But when it comes to the nature of the thousand concrete, practical measures, large and small, necessary to introduce socialist principles into economy, law and all social relationships, there is no key in any socialist party program or textbook. That is not a shortcoming but rather the very thing that makes scientific socialism superior to the utopian varieties.

The socialist system of society should only be, and can only be, an historical product, born out of the school of its own experiences, born in the course of its realization, as a result of the developments of living history, which – just like organic nature of which, in the last analysis, it forms a part – has the fine habit of always producing along with any real social need the means to its satisfaction, along with the task simultaneously the solution. However, if such is the case, then it is clear that socialism by its very nature cannot be decreed or introduced by ukase. It has as its prerequisite a number of measures of force – against property, etc. The negative, the tearing down, can be decreed; the building up, the positive, cannot. New Territory. A thousand problems. Only experience is capable of correcting and opening new ways. Only unobstructed, effervescing life falls into a thousand new forms and improvisations, brings to light creative new force, itself corrects all mistaken attempts. The public life of countries with limited freedom is so poverty-stricken, so miserable, so rigid, so unfruitful, precisely because, through the exclusion of democracy, it cuts off the living sources of all spiritual riches and progress. (Proof: the year 1905 and the months from February to October 1917.) There it was political in character; the same thing applies to economic and social life also. The whole mass of the people must take part in it. Otherwise, socialism will be decreed from behind a few official desks by a dozen intellectuals.”

Furthermore in another work Rosa says again,

“The modern proletarian class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers’ struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight… That’s exactly what is laudable about it, that’s exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers’ movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation.”

Yet somewhere along the way in the 20th century socialist experiment, this principle of mass rule and unfettered democracy was turned on its head. One of the peculiarities of Stalinism is its basis in Marxist theory, yet we see historically that a Stalinist society can only be maintained by political repression, murder, and the forcible suppression of actually existing political will. This violence is not against the “remnants” of the bourgeois class as our Stalinist theoreticians would allege but against the actually existing proletariat itself. The seasonal “renewal” of the class struggle as decreed by party bosses is not in actuality a renewal of class struggle, but of political repression against those workers and peasants who express discontent with the status quo. Its own justification for its existence is theoretical and abstract, it is the “historical necessity of progress towards communism”, “communism”, or even “history itself”. If 95% of the population (i.e. the proletariat) is opposed to the Stalinist dictatorship, it does not matter because every brutal act is justified for those who will exist under communism. But it is impossible to know just how many people genuinely support the Stalinist system of a particular country due to the repressive nature of a Stalinist dictatorship. Officially, everyone is a “free and happy people” who support the government. It is impossible to know how many people disapprove of the status quo because those who speak out are labeled as “class traitors”, “enemies of the people”, are arrested, imprisoned, exiled, or disappeared. Officially this doesn’t happen at all, but pointing out that it does “unofficially” happen is far more dangerous a thing to do than to proclaim oneself critical of the leader.

Social contradictions in a Stalinist society therefore, can only but build up to the point of social implosion. There is no real internal mechanism to address social contradictions and popular discontent. Thus it is only a matter of time before the whole system destroys itself. Like capitalism, Stalinism creates its own gravediggers.

The purpose of socialism is to actively and democratically address social contradictions to build a better world, not only the contradictions of the previous society, but the contradictions created in the construction of a new one. Revolution itself is an act of dissent, and that freedom of popular dissent cannot be limited without being lost. Eugene V. Debs said of this, “If it had not been for the discontent of a few fellows who had not been satisfied with their conditions, you would still be living in caves. Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.”

Somewhere along the way socialism became not only something different from what Marx, Engels, or Rosa Luxemburg advocated, but entirely opposite. For example, Kim Jong Il said in his theoretical magnum opus “On The Juche Idea”:

“The core in the Juche outlook on the revolution is loyalty to the party and the leader. The cause of socialism and communism is started by the leader and is carried out under the guidance of the party and the leader. The revolutionary movement will be victorious only when it follows the guidance of the party and the leader. Therefore, to establish a correct outlook on the revolution, one must always put the main emphasis on increasing loyalty to the party and the leader…

The revolutionary practice of communists is nothing less than a struggle to implement the revolutionary idea of the leader and party policy. A man who upholds the revolutionary idea of the leader and dedicates his all to the struggle to carry out party policy is a genuine communist revolutionary with a correct outlook on the revolution.

Whether one has a correct outlook on the revolution or not is revealed particularly at a time of severe trials. People reveal their true nature in adverse circumstances. He who is determined to be infinitely faithful to the party and the leader even if he would have to give up his life and who remains loyal to his revolutionary principles on the scaffold, is a true revolutionary with a firm Juche outlook on the revolution.”

Somehow miraculously, the movement embodying “the ruthless criticism of all that exists: ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be”, was turned into, “always [putting] the main emphasis on increasing loyalty to the party and the leader.”

The conversion of Marxism into a political religion would not only have mortified Marx, but is something intrinsically opposed to the principles of Marxism. The democratic rule of the masses as they actually exist, free to determine their own destiny, was replaced by something entirely different. As Enver Hoxha said, “Our Marxist-Leninist theory teaches us: Every revolutionary activity must be guided by the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory which the Marxist Leninist party masters, defends and faithfully applies.” It is not a question of democracy, but a question of faithful adherence to a particular ideology, to a single political party, and moreover to the central committee of that political party.

When Marx said, “WORKERS OF ALL LANDS, UNITE!” he did not by any means imagine his face next to Engels, with the faces of several other revolutionaries plastered to a wall behind a central committee giving a speech on “increasing loyalty to the leader” and “turning every cadre into ideologically sound anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists”. On the contrary, Marx imagined that the working class, having won the battle of democracy, would be free to forge its own destiny unfettered by the past, unfettered even his own opinions and ideas. The socioeconomic system called communism was seen by Marx as a likely historical inevitability that would come about as a result of the seizure of power by the proletariat and the establishment of its democratic control of society, and not something brought about by faithfully and religiously following the ideas of Karl Marx or any other revolutionary. We again must reiterate, “That the socialist transformation is something for which a ready-made formula lies completed in the pocket of the revolutionary party, which needs only to be carried out energetically in practice is, unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – not the case.”

The point of this overemphasis on the quotes of long dead revolutionaries is not to advocate their conversion into icons, but to show to those who do convert them into icons that their ideological heroes deplore their own sanctification and the conversion of their ideas into a political religion. The future is unclear, undetermined by any one book, thinker, or theory. We can use reason and tools such as a historical materialist analysis to infer what kind of society would result from this or that measure, from this or that class seizing political power at this time or place. But we can never really know. Marx’s catchphrase was, “I do not have a crystal ball”. We must emphasize this view. In using reason we can infer that the results of the proletarian majority, or working class, seizing political power for itself and establishing a genuinely democratic society, could only be benevolent, especially if applied to a developed society where negative liberty and formal democracy are already the norm and eagerly long for expansion. The introduction of industrial democracy and community self-governance, we believe, can only be benevolent, can only expand the liberty we enjoy now, can only be a means to greater shared abundance.

“The great only appear great because we are on our knees – let us rise”. -James Connolly

An Open Letter to Kim Jong Un

To The Supreme Leader of The Korean People,

Marshall Kim Jong Un,

Greetings! I can only hope you have come across this letter and are willing to read what I have to say. I am a student of history and a socialist in the United States of America. I have studied your country’s history and the Juche idea with great detail in order to better understand the DPRK. I also have read extensively on the ‘cold war’ era, and on Albanian history in particular, a subject I am writing a book on as we speak. This book is very critical of the Stalinist system, not out of hatred, but out of love for the socialist cause. Until recently I did not see much of a chance for genuinely socialist reforms benevolent to the working people of your country. But the historic DPRK-US summit and the comments of your friend Dennis Rodman have changed my view on the matter. I have spent a lot of time writing this letter, laying out my views. I hope you will take the time to read them, and I only ask that you forgive me if my writings seem too critical or disrespectful, as I can assure you that this is the opposite of what I intend.

I am enthusiastic about a DPRK that is implementing reforms, but my fear is that the DPRK will collapse entirely if it naively implements “shock therapy” or similarly misguided market reforms, abandoning socialism entirely. The result of this in my opinion, would be tragic. When the USSR fell, life expectancy plummeted by decades and the Soviet people endured many hardships. Mr. Gorbachev’s reforms were not, in my view, misguided politically. Only in the economic field were they misguided. Politically, the liberalization of the USSR was fully in line with genuine socialist politics. Gorbachev thought he could either continue flawed Stalinist top-down state planning of the economy, or move towards a market economy (similar to, but more capitalist in nature than Lenin’s ‘New Economic Policy’ that some historians argue Lenin would have continued). But this is a false dichotomy.

Your country, after successfully fighting against Japanese imperialism, was liberated by Kim Il Sung and the Workers’ Party of Korea. However, tragically, the model implemented by Kim Il Sung was not one that emerged organically in the course of struggle and the seizure of power by the working class and peasantry. Nor was it based on the Paris Commune or even on the early democratic principles of the Russian Revolution. Instead, it was based on Stalinist Russia. Leon Trotsky, I think, best explains the nature of a Stalinist state. He wrote in 1938 of Stalinism in the USSR:

“The Soviet Union emerged from the October Revolution as a workers’ state. State ownership of the means of production, a necessary prerequisite to socialist development, opened up the possibility of rapid growth of the productive forces. But the apparatus of the workers’ state underwent a complete degeneration at the same time: it was transformed from a weapon of the working class into a weapon of bureaucratic violence against the working class and more and more a weapon for the sabotage of the country’s economy. The bureaucratization of a backward and isolated workers’ state and the transformation of the bureaucracy into an all-powerful privileged caste constitute the most convincing refutation – not only theoretically, but this time, practically – of the theory of socialism in one country.

The USSR thus embodies terrific contradictions. But it still remains a degenerated workers’ state. Such is the social diagnosis. The political prognosis has an alternative character: either the bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back to capitalism; or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open the way to socialism.” (The USSR and Problems of The Transitional Epoch).

Kim Jong Il rightfully pointed out in Our Socialism Centered on The Masses Shall Not Perish, that the systems embodied in the USSR and Eastern Europe represented totalitarian deviations from what socialism was supposed to represent. Kim Jong Il says in this speech, “Our socialist society is a genuinely democratic society which fully provides the people with true political rights and freedom. By nature, socialism cannot be separated from democracy.” The former, I will discuss in detail later on. The latter, is an undeniable fact. Socialism is indispensable to democracy and democracy to socialism. Political democracy without industrial democracy (socialism) amounts to virtual oligarchy in practice (see my country, the United States or any other bourgeois republic). But the reverse can also be said. A country that formally has industrial democracy without any real individual liberty also amounts to virtual oligarchy in practice.

It is my belief that Stalin lied when he declared the USSR had fully constructed a socialist system in the 1930’s. The construction of a socialist system takes enormous time and effort, and cannot be completed in one country alone, not in Korea or even in a country as big as the former Soviet Union. A planned economy alone is not socialist, but is state-capitalist. Only a democratically planned economy that does not exist in isolation can truly be called socialist, where the working people and the whole of society democratically control production and society as a whole. The Bolsheviks fully acknowledged that socialism could not be built in Russia alone. Lenin and the Bolsheviks repeatedly stressed that the success of the Russian revolution depended entirely on international revolution as socialism could not be built in one country alone. But with the failure of the German revolution and Lenin’s untimely death, Stalin and Bukharin invented the “theory” that socialism could be built in one country alone. The first world war was an imperialist war that came about chiefly due to the fact that the internal contradictions of a capitalist economy could no longer be reconciled within the confines of the nation state (certainly not by the mere assassination of a single politician as our bourgeois historians claim). Socialism, a higher stage of historical and social development, would naturally also not be able to exist in one country alone, in isolation. The inevitable result of this would be autarky, and inevitable economic stagnation. With the collapse not only of the USSR but of the Eastern Blog as well, the DPRK has been left virtually isolated by no fault of its own. This poses a serious problem for the people of the DPRK. Your country’s economy cannot be modernized from within. But it is surrounded by hostile capitalist powers who want a “McDonald’s and a Starbucks on every street corner”, who see the workers of the DPRK as nothing more than a potential source of “cheap labor”. This contradiction must be addressed.

It is clear that Marx and Lenin underestimated the resilience of the capitalist system, it’s ability to utilize the state to artificially prolong it’s lifespan. As such, I believe it is crucial to implement some market reforms and to open your country’s economy up to the rest of the world. At this point, market reforms alone can rapidly modernize the DPRK. But without political reforms, this would shatter your country. I would like to quote from Communist Revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg’s best work, The Russian Revolution (1918), as I think it best illustrates my views on a genuinely socialist system, which is miles away from the Stalinist system, and sadly, from the reality of the DPRK today:

“On the other hand, it is a well-known and indisputable fact that without a free and untrammeled press, without the unlimited right of association and assemblage, the rule of the broad masses of the people is entirely unthinkable…

Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of “justice” but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when “freedom” becomes a special privilege…

The tacit assumption underlying the Lenin-Trotsky theory of dictatorship is this: that the socialist transformation is something for which a ready-made formula lies completed in the pocket of the revolutionary party, which needs only to be carried out energetically in practice. This is, unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – not the case. Far from being a sum of ready-made prescriptions which have only to be applied, the practical realization of socialism as an economic, social and juridical system is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future. What we possess in our program is nothing but a few main signposts which indicate the general direction in which to look for the necessary measures, and the indications are mainly negative in character at that. Thus we know more or less what we must eliminate at the outset in order to free the road for a socialist economy. But when it comes to the nature of the thousand concrete, practical measures, large and small, necessary to introduce socialist principles into economy, law and all social relationships, there is no key in any socialist party program or textbook. That is not a shortcoming but rather the very thing that makes scientific socialism superior to the utopian varieties.

The socialist system of society should only be, and can only be, an historical product, born out of the school of its own experiences, born in the course of its realization, as a result of the developments of living history, which – just like organic nature of which, in the last analysis, it forms a part – has the fine habit of always producing along with any real social need the means to its satisfaction, along with the task simultaneously the solution. However, if such is the case, then it is clear that socialism by its very nature cannot be decreed or introduced by ukase. It has as its prerequisite a number of measures of force – against property, etc. The negative, the tearing down, can be decreed; the building up, the positive, cannot. New Territory. A thousand problems. Only experience is capable of correcting and opening new ways. Only unobstructed, effervescing life falls into a thousand new forms and improvisations, brings to light creative new force, itself corrects all mistaken attempts. The public life of countries with limited freedom is so poverty-stricken, so miserable, so rigid, so unfruitful, precisely because, through the exclusion of democracy, it cuts off the living sources of all spiritual riches and progress. (Proof: the year 1905 and the months from February to October 1917.) There it was political in character; the same thing applies to economic and social life also. The whole mass of the people must take part in it. Otherwise, socialism will be decreed from behind a few official desks by a dozen intellectuals.

Public control is indispensably necessary. Otherwise the exchange of experiences remains only with the closed circle of the officials of the new regime. Corruption becomes inevitable. (Lenin’s words, Bulletin No.29) Socialism in life demands a complete spiritual transformation in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois rule. Social instincts in place of egotistical ones, mass initiative in place of inertia, idealism which conquers all suffering, etc., etc. No one knows this better, describes it more penetratingly; repeats it more stubbornly than Lenin. But he is completely mistaken in the means he employs. Decree, dictatorial force of the factory overseer, draconian penalties, rule by terror – all these things are but palliatives. The only way to a rebirth is the school of public life itself, the most unlimited, the broadest democracy and public opinion. It is rule by terror which demoralizes.

When all this is eliminated, what really remains? In place of the representative bodies created by general, popular elections, Lenin and Trotsky have laid down the soviets as the only true representation of political life in the land as a whole, life in the soviets must also become more and more crippled. Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously – at bottom, then, a clique affair – a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins (the postponement of the Soviet Congress from three-month periods to six-month periods!) Yes, we can go even further: such conditions must inevitably cause a brutalization of public life: attempted assassinations, shooting of hostages, etc. (Lenin’s speech on discipline and corruption.)”

Unfortunately Rosa Luxemburg here is correct, and her writings are prophetic in describing what I regard as the Stalinist tragedy of the 20th century. I believe that political reforms are crucial to your country’s survival. Currently the DPRK is the envy of the developing world in regards to positive liberty (healthcare, education, housing, the right to employment, etc.) But sadly the DPRK lacks almost entirely negative liberty (freedom of speech, protest, religion, assembly, information, internet, press, etc.) which is as fundamental to socialism as positive liberty. This inherent lack of real individual liberty is why many working people do not look onto your country favorably. This lack of liberty will inevitably lead to the total collapse of the DPRK without serious political reforms. This is the lesson of 1989. And the opposite is also true, if you implement too many reforms too quickly, in a reckless way, it will also inevitably lead to the collapse of the DPRK. Hence the motto, if you recklessly and in an unplanned way “give the people an inch, they will take a yard”. You want them to have the yard, but in a way that does not plunge them into extreme poverty.

One of the key aspects of a Stalinist country is that it denies the actually existing material conditions of political and social life. Officially, the DPRK or any other historic Stalinist country is full of “free and happy” people who wholeheartedly support the government. But unofficially, and in actuality, this is not the case. And often times, no one really takes the “official” ideology seriously, except perhaps children and the country’s leader and central committee, which in a Stalinist country serves as “the only thinking element”, as Luxemburg claimed. These conditions are a result of an unfree society that (unofficially) utilizes post-revolutionary state terror, a hallmark of the Stalinist system. I do not blame you personally, Kim Jong Un, for the conditions of the country who’s leadership you inherited. I do not even blame your father or grandfather. I place the blame onto Stalin himself and on the backward conditions from which the world’s first Workers republic emerged. The tragedy of the Russian revolution is a genuine one.

Recall in 1967 when Lin Biao arrogantly proclaimed, “The ever-victorious thought of Mao Tse-tung is Marxism-Leninism in the era in which imperialism is heading for total collapse and socialism is advancing toward worldwide victory.” In reality the opposite was true. It was Lin Biao’s Stalinism that was heading for total collapse and imperialism that was heading for worldwide victory, precisely because of the contradictions I have laid out.. Naturally I believe socialism will return, but it will be miles away from the Stalinism of the 20th century. Such slogans of the “inevitable” victory of a Stalinist political system or of the “invincibility” of a political party, can be made only in total denial of the actually existing material conditions of a country. In East Germany there was a song called “The Party is Always Right”. A true Marxist must acknowledge that the party is not always right. In your country for instance, eventually you will grow old and like your father and grandfather you will pass away. The person who takes your place could stand opposed to everything you stand for. He or she could be the devil himself and still the party would proclaim this person to be a “dear leader” and a “comrade” who’s words are “followed faithfully” by the people who “love and admire” them regardless of if the people even approve of that persons leadership. In a day the people could go from officially having “total love and admiration” of the leader to executing him in a way similar to how Ceausescu was overthrown. The masses would have no right to dissent or speak out as they actually exist in society. “The rule of the masses” would be, and is, only a theoretical abstraction totally divorced from the real social conditions of the country. And that is the problem, the same problem that led to the total collapse of the Eastern Bloc. In our country and in the West, we socialists have a website we often go to called Marxists.org. This website says correctly of freedom and socialism:

“In hitherto existing Socialist states, like the Soviet Union and China, ‘negative freedoms’ were severely restricted, while ‘positive freedoms’ were advanced. All people had universal access to health care, full university education, etc, but people could only use those things they had in a particular way – in support of the government. In the most advanced capitalist governments, this relationship is the other way around: ‘positive freedoms’ are restricted or do not exist all together, while ‘negative freedoms’ are more advanced than ever before. A worker in capitalist society has the freedom to say whatever she believes, but she does not have the freedom to live if crippled by a disease regardless of how much money she has. A socialist society that has been established from a capitalist society will strengthen ‘negative freedoms’, while ushering in real ‘positive freedoms’ across the board, ensuring equal and free access to social services by all.”

In 1968 Czechoslovakia during the ‘Prague Spring’, the key contradiction I pointed out in the Stalinist universe (between public and private opinions) was directly addressed. Everyone before 1968 had a “public opinion” that supported the “leader and the party”, and a “private opinion” which while often in support of socialism, was usually fervently opposed to Stalinism and the dictatorship of the central committee. The Prague Spring tried to abolish this contradiction. It tried to make the “rule of the popular masses” a reality by allowing the masses to voice their opinions as they actually existed without fear of repression or individuals “disappearing” because of the opinions they hold. They said in their actions, “The proletariat is not some mythical people that will exist under communism for which all brutal measures that the state takes are justified. No, we are the proletariat, the common people who actually exist today and we demand political freedom, the same freedoms that have actually materialized to a large degree in the capitalist countries, and no longer ‘merely on paper’. Listen to us, and not the Central Committee”. The result as I am sure you know, was an onslaught of Soviet tanks and an armed invasion from the armies of the USSR and Eastern Blog, the publishing of the dreaded “Brezhnev Doctrine”. In your country too, there is a vast contradiction between people’s “public” and “private” opinion. And the more repressive the DPRK state apparatus is, the stronger this contradiction will become.

If you recall, a single speech from someone in your position can change a nation, can change the world. In 1956 Khrushchev delivered a speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He denounced Stalin and Stalinism. He openly pointed out the terrible abuses, murders, and political repression that existed under Stalin’s rule. While these terrible crimes were primarily the sins of the Stalinist bureaucracy of which Khrushchev was a part, and while he incorrectly blamed Stalin the individual only, it was nonetheless a revolutionary speech that sent shock-waves throughout the world. It heralded in the “De-Stalinization” of the Soviet Union. While it remained a totalitarian society, it nonetheless made significant reforms. Gorbachev too, made serious reforms in his country. And it should be noted that the collapse of the Soviet Union was caused primarily by the hard-line conservative Stalinist bureaucracy that created the 1991 August Coup in an effort to undo Gorbachev’s reforms and to destroy the newly emerged, genuine dictatorship of the proletariat. Boris Yeltsin managed to take advantage of the situation to illegally abolish the Soviet Union and establish a “Commonwealth of Independent States”. Thus it can be said that it was not Gorbachev who destroyed the Soviet Union. Perestroika did not fail. Glasnost did not fail. The Stalinists who tried to retake power failed. The fall of the USSR is on them alone.

In light of all this, I can only ask: Who else can change the conditions of your country but yourself? Reforms are inevitable and the Korean people are starving for real individual liberty and modernization. If you do not act, the people will inevitably rise up and overthrow you, and the chaos that ensues will destroy the DPRK and in all likelihood, will plunge the nation into the same extreme poverty and misery that the Soviet people endured in the 1990’s. You are the supreme leader of the Korean people. They look up to you. They listen to you. I do think your grandfather, President Kim Il Sung, made many mistakes. I think the cult of personality that surrounded him is as tragic as the one that surrounds you today. But I do not doubt the sincerity of his belief that a better world is possible. In fact, I share this belief, even if I fervently disagree with his Stalinist methods.

I will not pretend that the problems your country and people face are easy. In fact, they are in many ways more difficult than those faced by the early Soviet Union. But if you lead your people on a road that brings them real political freedom, modernization through cautious market reforms, and truly socialist democratic control and planning of the economy (similar to the People’s Republic of China) and the state, I think the respect and reverence the Korean people have of you will truly have been earned, and not the natural result of an unfree Stalinist society and a censored press that only praises you. I would call on you, respected Marshall Kim Jong Un, to implement real reforms for the Korean people. I would call on you to implement a more cautious but nonetheless revolutionary Glasnost and a truly socialist Perestroika, learning from the mistakes of Gorbachev, and applying it’s key principles to the material conditions of the DPRK. I would call on you to implement a ‘Korean Spring’, similar to the Prague Spring of 1968. There are no Soviet tanks that could roll into Pyongyang today and I think China would approve of cautious, revolutionary reforms as they would guarantee the long-term stability of the DPRK.

If you succeed, your country will not only be like China in regards to economic success, but also it will be country with real human rights and socialist democracy, a country where the working class is truly in power and not merely a handful of politicians. In fact, in time there would probably even be popular demand in the South for a unification with the DPRK’s reformed government and economic system. In several decades the DPRK could be the envy not only of the developing world, but of the developed world as well. You constantly stress in your speeches the importance of ideological work. You alone can say to the masses, for instance, “We have fallen behind decades economically due to the imperialist blockade. In the years when my father and grandfather ruled, somewhere along the way we became a totalitarian society. We have made many mistakes. The state has suppressed real workers democracy and human rights. It has silently imprisoned and repressed political dissidents and falsely claimed we were a free society. But I believe in socialism, and I believe real individual liberty and genuine democracy are fundamental prerequisites to socialism. I believe that the rule of the masses is impossible without a free and untrampled press. So we will found a congress of people’s deputies like the one Gorbachev founded. We will invite freely elected representatives of the people, some of whom are not even in the Workers’ Party of Korea, to an assembly where they can debate, speak freely, air old grudges, ask questions, propose measures, and cast votes. It will be an assembly where there is real power. There was a time when I decided what questions were allowed, where I alone made the decisions. But now I will have the help of ~3,000 elected representatives of the common people. Now there will be a congress of people’s deputies held in Pyongyang that will be aired on live television to the tens of millions of fellow countrymen and women, and to the world where we can say to our people and to the world ‘We are learning democracy. We are working to build real socialism.’ We will make the dictatorship of the proletariat a reality. In time we will become the envy not only of the developing world, but of the developed world. We will accept cautious market reforms while maintaining independence and building workers power. We will become a country so free and democratic that the people of the West will become envious of us. That is what we will do.”

A socialist in my country named Eugene V. Debs once said to our people, “If it had not been for the discontent of a few fellows who had not been satisfied with their conditions, you would still be living in caves. Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.” If you want socialism sir, if you want a prosperous and free nation, you have to let the Korean people air their grievances without fear. You have to let them speak freely. A Korean Congress of People’s Deputies would be the perfect platform for such a change. It would be a platform for the people to implement real changes without endangering the political stability of the nation. Like the Chinese people, the Korean people are fond of socialism. While they are repressed by the state, they nonetheless understand the importance of positive socialist liberty, of a country in the hands of the majority and not the minority. So while the DPRK today is not as Kim Jong Il claimed, a “genuine democracy with real freedom”, it certainly can be if you implement reforms.

Marxism is based on criticism, and I make my criticisms in that spirit alone. Marx described this as being “the ruthless criticism of all that exists: ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.” Understand that I write to you in defense of socialism, not against it. I write only against the Stalinist despotism that has poisoned the words ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ in my country, that has subjected the emancipatory struggle for freedom and socialism to a despotism far worse that the tyranny of the market.

Kim Jong Un, perhaps I have too high hopes for you. But perhaps I do not. If you agree with what I have said even a little bit, or have any questions at all, please write back to me. Please investigate what I have said for yourself. I know you are a very busy man, and I am extremely grateful to you for taking the time to read this letter. I am only a young intellectual and writer but I speak on behalf of many who hold similar views. I implore you, sir, change your country, change the world.

Sincerely,

Thought Foundry Blog

A Marxist’s Defense of Privacy in The Age of Mass Surveillance

Over 200 hundred years ago today, a famous bourgeois revolutionary named John Adams wrote the following in a letter to Thomas Jefferson:

“When people talk of the Freedom of Writing, Speaking, or thinking, I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now exists; but I hope it will exist. But it must be hundreds of years after you and I shall write and speak no more.”(15 July 1817)

John Adams couldn’t have been more correct. As a bourgeois revolutionary who fought in the American revolution, John Adams and his contemporaries understood the revolutionary potential of capitalism. They understood that it had, was, and was going to transform human society irrevocably. For them, they hoped this progress would work towards the betterment of mankind. As such, the bourgeois-democratic republic they established was one in which individual liberty was to be protected by a rigid adherence to formal guarantees of liberty, to a jury by ones peers whose decisions were bound to interpretations of these texts, and to a free press which was to challenge a state power already limited by the separation of powers. These bourgeois republicans had found within their system something fundamental to any so-called free society. Most of the rights they proclaimed therein “for all” were not actualized for the majority until the civil rights movement, and the countless working class struggles from below. Every nation thus far which has attempted to ‘skip over’ a bourgeois stage of development and go directly into socialism has failed miserably not only because of economic backwardness and isolation, but because of the lack of liberty that came as a result of this backwardness, and the suffocating effect it has on any attempt of socialism or the rule of the masses. Trotsky once said “socialism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen”. We can only affirm how right he was.

As Rosa Luxemburg has said, “Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of ‘justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege.”

Naturally, “On the other hand, it is a well-known and indisputable fact that without a free and untrammeled press, without the unlimited right of association and assemblage, the rule of the broad masses of the people is entirely unthinkable.”

(The Russian Revolution, Chapters 5 and 6).

Why did John Adams say to Jefferson he could “only laugh” at the assertion of any real freedom of speech, writing, or thought? Yes, we can say Adams recognized the limitations of formal bourgeois declarations of liberty and equality, especially in the 19th century. But more than that, Adams also realized the revolutionary potential of capitalism and the technological innovations it would inevitably bring, innovations that would revolutionize human communication forever. I do not think in this Adams predicted the coming invention of the internet per se, but I do think he believed a new form of anonymous communication was bound to come about. But as he said in his letter, it could come about only hundreds of years after he and Jefferson spoke no more.

As I have stated previously in my article ‘The Marxist Defense of Human Rights’, and ‘The Dictatorship of The Proletariat and America Today’, I believe the ethics of the bourgeoisie no longer are in line with liberty or equality, but are opposed to them. I believe that when the bourgeoisie in 1776 took control of society in the name of society, that its interests were those of the people at large. Hence the great slogan of sovereignty: “We the People”. But today, the bourgeoisie has outlived its usefulness and its right to rule. It has endangered the future of humanity by its reckless and nihilistic plundering of the earth, it’s destruction of the prerequisites of human prosperity for the generations to come, and its refusal to address the fundamental social ills that still plague humanity of which, it alone is responsible for. I believe that only the revolutionary proletariat has the potential and self-interest to preserve human freedom, strengthen it, and bring about real equality for all in actuality and not merely on paper.

When Adams and Jefferson spoke of liberty, their interests were those of the people at large. The interests of the bourgeoisie were, for a very long time, the actual interests of the people. It is in this that the bourgeois founders of the American republic said fearlessly to the tyrant king “We the People”. Today when Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton speaks of “freedom” it is an empty catch-phrase to gain the popular support of the bourgeoisie, petty-bourgeoisie, and the upper strata of the proletariat. It means nothing in actuality. At every possible instance the modern ruling class has acted against the interests of liberty by attacking its only real prerequisite in the modern age: privacy.

Teresa May of the United Kingdom, where GCHQ already siphons and stores not just the metadata, but the content of the digital communications of every citizen, has called for the total ban of encryption altogether! She later quietly changed her mind when told banking would be made impossible without encryption, but the fact remains. If the modern bourgeoisie could, it would place cameras in every home, it would collect and store every digital communication, it would ban encryption and any technology that gives the individual any power above that of the state. Not in the name of totalitarianism, not as some evil plan, but in the name of “national security” and “safety”. Far from being enthusiastic about the new recent actualization of fundamental liberties, the modern bourgeoisie is horrified by the technologies that have now been invented that make freedom of speech, thought, and writing a possibility. Sadly still, most people are apathetic to the abuses of mass surveillance, and to the possibilities these new technologies offer for liberty as such.

The Cypherpunks of the 1980’s and 1990’s rightfully predicted the importance freedom of privacy has to a “free” society. The Cypherpunk Manifesto by Eric Hughes is short. I have included it in its entirety here:

“Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.

If two parties have some sort of dealings, then each has a memory of their interaction. Each party can speak about their own memory of this; how could anyone prevent it? One could pass laws against it, but the freedom of speech, even more than privacy, is fundamental to an open society; we seek not to restrict any speech at all. If many parties speak together in the same forum, each can speak to all the others and aggregate together knowledge about individuals and other parties. The power of electronic communications has enabled such group speech, and it will not go away merely because we might want it to.

Since we desire privacy, we must ensure that each party to a transaction have knowledge only of that which is directly necessary for that transaction. Since any information can be spoken of, we must ensure that we reveal as little as possible. In most cases personal identity is not salient. When I purchase a magazine at a store and hand cash to the clerk, there is no need to know who I am. When I ask my electronic mail provider to send and receive messages, my provider need not know to whom I am speaking or what I am saying or what others are saying to me; my provider only need know how to get the message there and how much I owe them in fees. When my identity is revealed by the underlying mechanism of the transaction, I have no privacy. I cannot here selectively reveal myself; I must always reveal myself.

Therefore, privacy in an open society requires anonymous transaction systems. Until now, cash has been the primary such system. An anonymous transaction system is not a secret transaction system. An anonymous system empowers individuals to reveal their identity when desired and only when desired; this is the essence of privacy.

Privacy in an open society also requires cryptography. If I say something, I want it heard only by those for whom I intend it. If the content of my speech is available to the world, I have no privacy. To encrypt is to indicate the desire for privacy, and to encrypt with weak cryptography is to indicate not too much desire for privacy. Furthermore, to reveal one’s identity with assurance when the default is anonymity requires the cryptographic signature.

We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy out of their beneficence. It is to their advantage to speak of us, and we should expect that they will speak. To try to prevent their speech is to fight against the realities of information. Information does not just want to be free, it longs to be free. Information expands to fill the available storage space. Information is Rumor’s younger, stronger cousin; Information is fleeter of foot, has more eyes, knows more, and understands less than Rumor.

We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. We must come together and create systems which allow anonymous transactions to take place. People have been defending their own privacy for centuries with whispers, darkness, envelopes, closed doors, secret handshakes, and couriers. The technologies of the past did not allow for strong privacy, but electronic technologies do.

We the Cypherpunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money.

Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and since we can’t get privacy unless we all do, we’re going to write it. We publish our code so that our fellow Cypherpunks may practice and play with it. Our code is free for all to use, worldwide. We don’t much care if you don’t approve of the software we write. We know that software can’t be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can’t be shut down.

Cypherpunks deplore regulations on cryptography, for encryption is fundamentally a private act. The act of encryption, in fact, removes information from the public realm. Even laws against cryptography reach only so far as a nation’s border and the arm of its violence. Cryptography will ineluctably spread over the whole globe, and with it the anonymous transactions systems that it makes possible.

For privacy to be widespread it must be part of a social contract. People must come and together deploy these systems for the common good. Privacy only extends so far as the cooperation of one’s fellows in society. We the Cypherpunks seek your questions and your concerns and hope we may engage you so that we do not deceive ourselves. We will not, however, be moved out of our course because some may disagree with our goals.

The Cypherpunks are actively engaged in making the networks safer for privacy. Let us proceed together apace.

Onward.”

The technologies Hughes speaks of here, are the very same technologies spoken of by Adams to Jefferson. They are the very same technologies that the modern bourgeoisie opposes in every instance. The US funds the Tor project only because it serves its interests abroad by helping political dissidents in China, Russia, Turkey, and Iran speak out against an invasive government. But when the people use these tools against the invasions and abuses of our government, it tries to stop them. It detains Tor’s developers and spokespersons when they try to travel. It approaches developers of key technologies and services all over the board and subpoena’s them to place a backdoor in their software, and to hand over their records as a matter of “national security”. The NSA motto is the same as the Stasi’s: “Collect everything”, “Know everything”.

In addition to the class struggle on the streets, with its many signs of protest, another struggle is taking place all around us. The defenders of liberty in the modern age take to the keyboard and write software that realizes the freedoms Adams spoke of, they build software that makes freedom of speech, writing, and thought a reality. They give the individual with all their faults, supreme power over the state with cryptography: mathematical algorithms that not even the most determined state or three letter agency can solve. They continuously update and perfect software designed to anonymize and secure communications between individuals and organizations. They work to free information from the fetters of “intellectual copyrights” and to free individuals from data-capitalism and intrusive state surveillance at the same time. In small niche’s of digital communities, a heroic people of varying religious, political, social, national, and ethnic backgrounds are fighting with persistence and heroism for the preservation of liberty, and privacy. Their names are not known to us but in small corners of the internet. Many contribute without ever revealing their true identity. These are the real heroes of the modern age.

But those who do not regard these heroic acts and vital technologies with apathy, often view them with disdain. Like any freedom, there are those who abuse it. But a person who utilizes freedom of movement to strangle his neighbor does not merely use his freedom, he abuses it. In having the freedom to go where one wishes, there are inevitably casualties. But everytime someone strangles his neighbor, the enemies of liberty do not pop up to advocate the abolition of freedom of movement. In the digital world, by some strange alchemy, it is different. If someone uses Tor to create a marketplace where one can easily find unregistered firearms, we naturally condemn that person as far as morality is concerned. But the enemies of liberty go further. An abuse of the right to privacy in their mind necessitates the abolition of the right itself. Surely people wouldn’t sell guns over the internet if they had no right to privacy, but so too would a person never kidnap anyone if the police routinely barged into peoples homes without even the mere suspicion of a crime. Crime would be abolished overnight in a police state. But the question here is neither safety nor crime, it is one of liberty.

Those who do not regard these heroic technologies with apathy, all to often view them with the narrow lens of self-interest alone. A college student might use Tor to buy weed online instead of meeting a shady drug dealer. While I cannot condemn this act in particular as far as morality is concerned, one has to admit that the darknet is far too often used for criminal activities, many of which are far worse than buying the occasional gram.

Finally there are those who regard these heroic technologies as supremely benevolent. Those in authoritarian countries are extremely offended by the Western use of the term “Darknet”. For them it is the only place where they can speak freely, organize, and air grievances without fear of persecution. When one goes to ZeroTalk (a default site when one installs Zeronet), one will find a large amount of Chinese comments. What does one find when one translates these comments? They find that the Chinese people openly talk about the Tienanmen Square massacres without fear. People who were part of the protests speak out. They keenly re-post news articles from the West and discuss them with great interest. They talk about the tyranny the people suffer under the yoke of the Stalinist Communist Party. In other authoritarian countries, we find the same thing.

By design, these networks are resilient to censorship. Even when some form of speech is horrible or causes real world harm, information itself and the tools used to exchange it are morally neutral. The abundance of criminality on the darknet is a result only of the irrational comfort a people feel in a surveillance state that at any time could turn into a police state. They are convinced that such a thing “would never happen here”. But so said the people of Germany and countless other “free” nations before degenerating into totalitarianism. Free society is dying and we are fighting on the loosing side. But in this fight we will never surrender. And in the end when all is said and done, we just might win. The bourgeois politicians clamor on about “freedom” but at every instance they condemn the only prerequisite to civil liberty in the modern age: privacy. “National security” is not the same thing as public safety nor is the national interest the public interest. National security is and always will be, in a bourgeois republic, the security of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

When one buys a computer, they are by default forced into using proprietary software which limits the users freedom and invades their right to privacy. When you use a modern phone or computer, it is 99% of the time, defective by design. It comes with a proprietary operating system that spies on you. You use a search engine which sells your search history to advertisers and governments. As of 2017 your internet service provider in the United States can sell your internet history without your consent. When you connect to the internet without using a VPN or Tor, you are merely giving everything you do to an institution with almost unlimited power, that operates with virtually no oversight. When you do so, your information is being stored in massive state-owned data centers. Where in 5 or 10 years, the state can hypothetically blackmail or threaten you if and when you become “interesting”.

Those who do not oppose mass surveillance, consent to mass surveillance. Here there is no middle ground. For now real privacy is not a pipe-dream. It is realized by those who seek to find it. Right now, anyone in a western liberal democracy can use encryption tools, and with these tools you can circumvent mass surveillance and data-capitalism. You as an individual still have the freedom to say “I do not consent.”

By default, though, this freedom is illusory. By default you are forced to consent to mass surveillance, for wherever you, the average consumer turns, you will find only technologies, services, and computers that are privacy invasive. But those who seek out such tools will find them. And in finding them, the individual will find that in spite of the many complexities of the modern world, that they can exercise supreme power over the powers that be. They will find that far from being an inconvenience, they will be able to say and do whatever they like without fear of being watched and spied on.

Soon they will find the invasions of the modern world- mass surveillance and data capitalism, are intolerable. When they connect to the internet without using a VPN or Tor, they feel as a person changing feels in front of an open window at night. Suddenly the indifference and apathy they once felt, and were conditioned to feel by the modern world, peels away and they are at once horrified by those who still use privacy invasive technologies without thinking twice, and by those who oppose privacy respecting tools out of concerns for “national security”.

Many unintentionally quote Joseph Goebbels when they say, “If I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear”. Yet the same person closes their window blinds at night, and locks the door when they use the bathroom. The same person whispers when they speak of something private to a friend. Such a person may have “nothing to hide” but they certainly have nearly everything to protect.

Snowden hit the nail on the head when he said:

Technology can actually increase privacy. The question is: why are our private details that are transmitted online, why are private details that are stored on our personal devices, any different than the details and private records of our lives that are stored in our private journals? I think, you know, saying that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. It’s a deeply anti-social principal because rights are not just individual – they’re collective. What may not have value to you today, may have value to an entire, you know, population, entire people, an entire way of life tomorrow. And if you don’t stand up for it, then who will?”

Such people expect people like us who use these tools to justify the use of our rights. But on the contrary, we do not have to defend our right to privacy. It is the government which has to defend any invasion of our right to privacy. And in the modern age of mass surveillance, where everyone is being spied on by default, it cannot do so. So I will not consent, nor will I ever consent. To defend privacy in the age of mass surveillance is to defend the very existence of liberty.

But more than that, I call on everyone reading this to refuse to consent also. Included on my blog (clearnet) is a mirror of PrivacyTools.io titled “Privacy Tools for Activists” which every person without exception should take advantage of. In my post “Why Every Activist Should Use a VPN/Tor” I elaborate further on this position. I Invite you, as an individual, to use a VPN, to install Tor, to install I2P, and to try out a Linux based operating system. I invite you to put tape over the cameras on your phone and computer. I invite you to use DuckDuckGo instead of Google. I invite you to encrypt every aspect of your digital life without exception and I invite everyone to do the same. In this fight for privacy only one side can win: the people who value their freedom, or the enemies of liberty. Edward Snowden made his choice. Now it is time to make yours.

What Makes Stalinist State Terror Different From Leninism and Jacobinism?

Article 9 of the Stalinist German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) constitution stipulates blatantly, “There is no press censorship.”
 
Of course, anyone familiar with East German protests knows the slogan “Freedom of the press!” was a common one. And naturally, such protests were brutally suppressed by the police. The thing that makes Stalinism and Stalinist terror unique is its blatant denial of actually existing social conditions in favor of a more “comfortable” interpretation. “Officially” everyone is a “free and happy people”. Officially, it is a paradise on earth. When Stalin proclaimed that the USSR had “achieved socialism”, I believe the lie itself became the reality.
 
When the peasants in revolutionary France and demanded, “Make terror the order of the day!” The Jacobins did so. Never at any point did Robespierre claim that France was not a totalitarian dictatorship that ruthlessly purged counter-revolutionaries in the name of establishing “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” and political democracy as the social norm.
 
When 14 armies of the most powerful armies on earth invaded the new RSFSR, aiding the White Army in its anti-Jewish pogroms, Lenin and Trotsky openly admitted that they intended to suspend democracy, use Red Terror against the White Terror, and restore order. Once again, this totalitarianism that had emerged, like the French terror in time of war, was brutally honest and made no excuses. Obviously I am against these tactics, but you cannot deny that there is something different about Stalinism.
 
After Tito liberated Yugoslavia from the Italian and German invaders, Stalin wanted Tito to proclaim Yugoslavia a “people’s democracy”. But Tito realized how absurd this was and openly proclaimed the early Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia a “totalitarian one-party dictatorship”.
 
It is precisely rule by terror demoralizes, that makes popular rule of the masses impossible, and it is something that should never be used even in times of war. But, you know, Stalinist terror is unique among these historical examples in that it uses terror in time of peace. And unlike these other examples, it is brutally dishonest because officially it doesn’t exist. If you were to criticize “comrade Stalin” at a public meeting, you would disappear the next day. But if you pointed out that in criticizing “comrade Stalin”, that you would inevitably disappear the next day, you would actually disappear that night- twice as fast!
 
This is what makes Stalinism so tragic. This is what makes Stalinism a betrayal not only of Marxism, but of its own official ideology. It is politically dishonest to the point of hypocrisy. Socialists used to always disagree with one another, it wasn’t until Stalinism though, that questions of disagreement were so casually solved with bullets in the head.
I won’t get into the serious totalitarian distortions of Leninism that Stalinism embodies here, but I merely wanted to point out how absurd the Stalinist political system is. Pick a former or currently existing Stalinist state and you will see the same blatant falsehoods in the constitution.

The Dictatorship of The Proletariat and America Today

What do the Libertarian Marxists want?

The most pompous and misinformed servants of the existing order cry that because we are Marxists, even “Libertarian Marxists”, that we want to instill upon America the same despotism that reigned in East Germany, in Romania, in the Soviet Union, the same tyranny that reigns in China and North Korea today. “They want a dictatorship! They want to overthrow our democracy and create a dictatorship of the proletariat!” so our misinformed worker/ proletarian cries.

We certainly do want to bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat. But what even is “the proletariat”? The proletariat is really just another word for the working class. But in America the “working class” typically refers to the most impoverished subsection of the proletariat. A proletarian is anyone who lives off their own labor, is anyone who receives a wage or a salary. In popular terms, the “proletariat” refers to the 99%.

Our hypothetical critic (who no doubt exists) is horrified by the word “dictatorship”. But such a person has not the faintest knowledge of the class nature of our capitalist/ bourgeois society, or of the role social classes have played throughout human history generally.

The word “bourgeois” or “bourgeoisie” refers to the capitalist class, who does not derive its income from its own work, but rather lives off the labor of the proletariat, or the working class. The bourgeoisie is the ruling class in capitalist society, the class that owns the “means of production”, the factories, enterprises, and implements used by the workers to create all the wealth in our society. This is what is meant by the term “private property”.

Our most ancient knowledge of democracy in practice stems from where? The Greek city slave states. The first real exercise of democracy in practice, while an enormous step forward, was nonetheless an expression of a democracy and a dictatorship at the same time. No democracy in all of human history has ceased to be a class dictatorship in one form or another.

In Ancient Greece the only people allowed to vote and run for office, the only people with any real power or influence, were members of the ruling social class that owned the instruments of production– the slave-owners. Ancient Greek democracy, according to the Marxist interpretation of history, was a dictatorship of the slave-owning class by means of democracy. After those thousand or so years of feudalism, in which democracy was once again proclaimed by the nobility and feudal lords (the ruling class of feudalism) to be “against human nature” and something that “if tried always fails and reverts back to the God-ordained order of the monarchy”, democracy once again emerged supreme.

The early French and American revolutions only solidified the political and economic rule of the emerging bourgeoisie or capitalist class. The newly declared capitalist/ bourgeois republics did this by abolishing feudalism and toppling the monarchy, they then took control of society not in the name of its own class, but in the name of the whole of society. At once, it identified its own class interests with those of the people as a whole.

But history is not a straight line, progress is the trend, but not the rule. In France, for instance, the first French republic was overthrown and the monarchy was restored. The economic rule of the capitalist class, however, remained unchallenged. In America too the first real expression of bourgeois/ capitalist state power failed miserably and the Articles of Confederation were graduated into the dustbin of history. It was, nonetheless, a heroic attempt to establish a bourgeois republic.

The class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie historically becomes self-evident when looks at how the electoral process works. The bourgeois/ capitalist Founding Fathers of America, who were though well intentioned, the top 1% of the 1%, wanted to establish a system that, while serving the interests of the whole people and maintaining liberty, represented exclusively the minority bourgeois/ capitalist class to the exclusion of the majority proletariat/ working class, slave, and the agrarian petty-bourgeois classes. So it was said in the constitutional convention of Philadelphia by John Jay, “Those who own the country (the bourgeoisie) ought to control it”. The right to vote was restricted not only to the male sex, but to the minority subsection of the male sex that owned the means of production in one form or another (private, not personal property). No matter how benevolent and in the actual interests of the whole people this republic was, it was still a dictatorship of the bourgeois/ capitalist class minority to the exclusion of the majority. A bourgeois/ capitalist republic, no matter how open a society it creates, still represents a class dictatorship of the minority to the exclusion of the majority.

But, naturally, we must take into account the countless proletarian/ working class social movements from below that did away with the formal bourgeois/ capitalist restriction on electoral politics, that abolished slavery and gave the black man the right to vote and be elected, that gave women the right to vote and be elected, that opened the way for a democracy of “the whole people”. The natural development of our bourgeois/ capitalist democracy is a people unconsciously longing to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat, a democracy of the majority in practice and not merely on paper.

A proletarian today is not merely the “industrial factory worker of the 19th century”, but according to the Marxist analysis of society, is anyone who earns a salary or a wage, is anyone who works and does not live off the labor of others. This is why we refer to the Marxian “working class” as the proletariat, because “working class” refers to the lowest strata of the proletariat in American society. Certainly, then, the proletariat constitutes the overwhelming majority of society. The expression “the 99%” and “the proletariat” are in actuality, the same thing.

In spite of these formal declarations of a democracy “of the whole people”, we nonetheless find that those who hold positions of power in electoral politics are members of the bourgeois class, are capitalists, or rich men and women. We find that the two parties in this country are thoroughly bourgeois/ capitalist in nature. We find that candidates running for office only become successful through the corporate funding and financing of bourgeois/ capitalist institutions. To receive money from wall street is the only way to get elected to a high office in this country, with the small exception of people like Bernie Sanders and Kshama Sawant who had massive grass-roots social movements behind them.

Let us look at how corporations fund candidates. The workers in any industry or enterprise, produce all the wealth “made” by that enterprise (minus initial investments on the part of the capitalist). An individual worker, let’s call him Karl, produces 40$ an hour on average. Karl earns a salary that is the equivalent of about 10$ an hour. “But wait! What happens to the other 30$ that Karl makes?” you might ask. The answer is simple. To keep the business running, naturally 2$ or so needs to go to keeping the lights on and paying the bills, and another 3$ or so needs to go towards buying more raw materials needed in the production process. But that still leaves another $25 that Karl is making but not getting. Where does this go? Well Karl, working in a capitalist enterprise or corporation, has bosses, not merely the managers he “sees” everyday but the ones he doesn’t see, the ones who may have never even been to the place Karl works. Those bosses happen to be the ones who own the building Karl works at, who own the tools Karl uses to make whatever it is he makes. In other words, they own the means of production.

These bosses aren’t elected by people like Karl, Karl has no say in how the business (in which he spends over half of his life) operates, nor is he represented by them. Instead the board of directors at the top is elected by share-holders, where one share is equal to one vote. Naturally, the top 1% owns over 50% of all the stocks on the market, so naturally it is they who are being represented more than anyone else. The board of directors can do whatever it likes, if it wants to, it can decide not to pay any dividends to the share-holders at all (though this would probably be a bad idea and isn’t all too common). The board of directors, naturally, has to pay taxes to the government. Assuming there aren’t any Islands in the Caribbean where they can funnel their funds, let us assume that this business does, in fact, pay taxes. 5$, we will say, goes to taxes. From the $20 left, the board decides it will invest 5$ into the further expansion of the business. The bigger the company is, the more there is to make. But they realize that Karl is making 10$ an hour in America, and that workers in Mexico or China only are paid 3$ an hour. So that 5$ goes to the construction of a plant in Mexico or China, a plant that will eventually take Karl’s job. Karl has no say in this, in fact he doesn’t even know it’s going to happen. He will simply show up for work one day only to find he no longer has a job.

But then there is still 15$ Karl makes but does not receive. What happens to this? Well the board of directors and CEO feels they have been working very hard and deserve a raise, already they are taking 3$ of Karl’s labor every hour (all to go into the pockets of 10-15 people) but that is not enough, so they decide to give themselves a raise in celebration of the increased profit margins they will get out of foreign labor, say, an additional 2$ from Karl’s labor (which adds up to a whole lot, that’s 5$ from every working employee at the company per hour on average). They have 10$ left, and decide that they should pay dividends, so they give 1$ away to the share holders to encourage further investment. So what do they do with the remaining 9$? Well the workers have managers and clerks who do the paperwork and make sure the workers are actually working, so for the managers, 5$ from the remaining 9$ is taken. When that 5$ is taken from the average $40 or so every worker makes, the managers end up making significantly more than Karl.

But then of course there is the (albeit unlikely) danger that the workers will realize what a scam this all is in the future. The capitalists at the top want to ensure this system of exploitation (making lots of money without really working very hard) continues. But there is still 4$ left. Where does this go? The board of directors decides they want to fund a candidate who is running for office, a candidate that, being pro-capitalist, will look after their interests and ensure the cycle of exploitation continues unfettered (they may call it innovation of course). If the workers are seriously disgruntled, they can fund a democrat who will give the workers small enough concessions to keep everything running smoothly for the people on top. If they want, they can fund a candidate who will blame everyone but themselves (who are in actuality responsible) for all the jobs that are going overseas, someone who will blame the individual Mexican and Chinese workers instead of the people making the decisions. This is all very good for the capitalists/ bourgeois class.

In a nutshell, Karl says he “makes 10$ an hour”. In Karl’s mind, this is a “fair wage”. But Karl doesn’t think about the fact that he is in fact producing an average of $40 an hour because he never sees those numbers. Out of the 40$ made in one hour, 10$ is going to Karl (who made the entire $40), $5 goes to “necessary expenditures” paying the bills, buying more raw materials, another 5$ goes into investing further into the business (by exporting Karl’s job abroad), and another 5$ goes towards paying taxes, and another 5$ goes to the salaries of the clerks and managers. $10, though, is left over for the capitalists at the top to do with as they will. It should come as no surprise that they decide to make $5 an hour off of every $40 Karl produces (the equivalent of half of Karl’s wage), and that this “$5” is in fact exponentially greater than $5 alone because they make $5 per hour, per employee who works for the company. 1$ of the $5 left goes to dividends, and the remaining 4$ goes towards a politician who will look after not Karl’s interests, but the interests of the people running the corporations who funded said candidate.

Just over half of the total amount of work Karl does is actually necessary to produce his wage (and pay the bills, get the raw materials, pay his managers salaries, and pay taxes). This is Karl’s socially necessary labor time, the minimum amount of time he has to work to start producing a profit for those who own the means of production. For the rest of the time he spends at work though, he is actually producing the extremely high salary his bosses at the very top make He is also making money for share-holders and producing the funds that will be poured into the political system, to fund candidates chosen by the board of directors. It doesn’t matter if Karl here is pro-choice, his bosses can use the money he directly produced to fund a pro-life candidate or vice versa. He has no say in the matter. This is capitalism in a nutshell.

When Karl is fired from his job and learns that his job was taken by someone in Mexico, he rallies behind a billionaire politician (who was, consequently, funded by his former bosses) who demonizes the workers in Mexico and those who are coming across the border illegally to “take our jobs”. It never occurs to Karl how corrupt this whole system really is. The idea of democracy in the workplace (socialism) certainly never crossed Karl’s mind. Socialism to Karl, means the dictatorship of a central committee, of a one party state. Socialism in Karl’s (Karl being fictitious and bearing no relation to Karl Marx) mind, is a system where “the state controls everything and there is no freedom”.

It doesn’t matter what pompous slogans of a “democracy of the whole people” the bourgeoisie/ capitalist class promotes. Yes, everyone can vote, but not everyone can or does pour money into ensuring a particular political candidate is heard. That privilege belongs almost exclusively to the bourgeois/ capitalist class, the big capitalists who own the means of production. The American political system in a nutshell, belongs to Wall Street.

No matter how “open” a bourgeois/ capitalist democracy is, those who hold office will consist overwhelmingly of those who either are capitalists, or those who represent the interests of the capitalist class to the exclusion of the proletarian majority. Lenin once said the ratio of capitalists to non-capitalists in such a republic was about “nine tenths” to one. But if we look at the socioeconomic makeup of the federal Government in America, we see that “nine tenths” is far too conservative an estimate.

lenin_quote.jpg

Many people promote the idea of “going back” to a supposedly more democratic America, before Wall Street “corrupted” American democracy. But such a thing never existed. The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the relationship between wall street and American politics has always been there. Yes, America is an astoundingly free country, and all of human civilization should aspire to have such negative liberty as we Americans enjoy, but we have reached an impasse beyond which point America can only become a freer and more democratic nation by ousting the political and economic rule of the bourgeois/ capitalist class, by divorcing money from politics and abolishing the capitalist system. This can only be done by the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and with it, direct democracy at the local level.

To our misinformed critic who accuses us of wanting to abolish our bourgeois/ capitalist “democracy” and replace it with the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, we plead guilty. But in place of our bourgeois/ capitalist democracy we do not want a “dictatorship” of one party or of a small group of politicians as we saw under Stalinism in the 20th century. That is not the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois/ capitalist sense of the word, in the sense of the Jacobin’s.

America, though a democracy, is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie/ capitalist class because its democratic institutions are dominated almost exclusively by the bourgeois/ capitalist class, a class that is the 1%, or the extreme minority. When we say we want the “dictatorship of the proletariat” we mean that we want our political institutions to represent the majority, the 99% or proletarian class, and not the wealthy minority. Such a system can but only be a democracy so “open” and “free” that it would make modern America look like an authoritarian nation. We do not want to abolish freedom of the press as some accuse us. We are not Stalinists, we recognize that the political rule of the masses is impossible without an absolutely free and unfettered press. But we go further, as Rosa Luxemburg said,

Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of “justice” but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when “freedom” becomes a special privilege…

Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously – at bottom, then, a clique affair – a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois/ capitalist sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins! Yes, we can go even further: such conditions must inevitably cause a brutalization of public life: attempted assassinations, shooting of hostages, etc.”

Rosa here foreshadows the Stalinist despotism that would rule in Europe for nearly a century, but in the same sentence she also dismisses any notion of such a tyranny being by any interpretation a “dictatorship of the proletariat” as many liberals and Stalinists claim today. The dictatorship of the proletariat means exorcising from our current flawed notions of “democracy” its domination by wall street, big business, and the bourgeois/ capitalist class generally. It means a political system “of the people, by the people, and for the people” in actuality and not merely on paper. Not of the bourgeoisie in the name of the people, but of the people themselves. We believe that political democracy without industrial democracy (socialism) amounts to virtual oligarchy in practice.

Some claim we are “totalitarians” because we say we are communists. But such a flawed understanding of the word “communism” negates entirely the entire school of socialist thought. By those standards, anarcho-communists too, are “totalitarians” because they too say they are communists. By such an absurd definition, we could call them “radically anti-authoritarian-totalitarians”. Such a contradiction in terms alone would make the entire broad school of anarcho-communist thought invalid. But communism means the establishment of a classless, moneyless, stateless society. We believe that with the expansion of industrial and scientific achievements, coupled with industrial and political democracy, such a state of being is inevitable. Unlike the Stalinists, we are vehemently opposed to the totalitarian pursuit of a socialist or communist society. Such a pursuit is, in and of itself, anti-Marxist. Communism has nothing to do with totalitarianism, it is the method of pursuing such a society, that can be either totalitarian or radically anti-authoritarian in nature. This goes for capitalism too.

The Jacobins were totalitarian capitalists, but no one today claims that “to be a capitalist means you must be a totalitarian”. Such notions are dismissed by the clearly non-totalitarian paths many nations took to establish a capitalist political and economic system. The only reason they say such things about communism is because the only notable historical expression of the attempt to realize such a society in the public’s mind, has thus far has been totalitarian in nature. We are as horrified by such systems as anyone else. If anything, the current state of affairs in America today is far more authoritarian than any political system we seek to bring about. We, for instance, view mass surveillance programs as indefensible in any society, and believe they should be done away with entirely. The broad consensus of the masses is that individual liberty is precious and should be protected at all costs, that state power is a threat to civil liberty and should be limited, that we should expand the rights we have now to include education, health-care, housing, etc. This is what the socialists want.

As Rosa Luxemburg said, “The proletarian revolution requires no terror for its aims; it hates and despises killing. It does not need these weapons because it does not combat individuals but institutions, because it does not enter the arena with naive illusions whose disappointment it would seek to revenge. It is not the desperate attempt of a minority to mold the world forcibly according to its ideal, but the action of the great massive millions of the people, destined to fulfill a historic mission and to transform historical necessity into reality.”

The dictatorship of the proletariat in America will not come as the result of some armed violent insurrection by a small party of intellectuals. On the contrary, it will come as a result of the conscious actions of tens of millions of people who want a freer, more equal and just world. It will not be something opposed to the popular will of the people, but something that is fully in line with the will of the overwhelming majority, and something that can only come about by the popular will of the people themselves. It will not declare itself militantly atheistic, but something compatible with all religious faiths.

As Leon Trotsky said, “Should America go communist as a result of the difficulties and problems that your capitalist social order is unable to solve, it will discover that communism, far from being an intolerable bureaucratic tyranny and individual regimentation, will be the means of greater individual liberty and shared abundance.

At present most Americans regard communism solely in the light of the experience of the Soviet Union. They fear lest Sovietism in America would produce the same material result as it has brought for the culturally backward peoples of the Soviet Union… Actually American soviets will be as different from the Russian soviets as the United States of President Roosevelt differs from the Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II… Who else will fight against communism? Your corporal’s guard of billionaires and multimillionaires? Your Mellons, Morgans, Fords and Rockefellers? They will cease struggling as soon as they fail to find other people to fight for them.”

We are not utopians who claim the path to such a society lies as a ready-made formula in the book of some political party. On the contrary, it can come about only through the open and free democratic process itself. The arguments against industrial democracy (socialism) by the bourgeois/ capitalist class today are no different from the arguments against political democracy made by the feudal nobility in the middle ages. They too will be graduated into the dustbin of history. As Rosa Luxemburg said,

The modern proletarian class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers’ struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight… That’s exactly what is laudable about it, that’s exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers’ movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation.”

The dictatorship of the proletariat is against the political rule of a “central committee”, which almost always constitutes itself as the “only thinking element” within a political party. As Rosa also correctly said,

The nimble acrobat fails to perceive that the only ‘subject’ which merits today the role of director is the collective ‘ego’ of the working class. The working class demands the right to make its mistakes and learn the dialectic of history.

Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”

Our call is a call for the dictatorship of the proletariat is a call for the preservation of individual liberty in a world where privacy, the only real prerequisite to civil liberty in the digital age, is being eroded more and more, day by day, by an increasingly authoritarian far-right shift in global politics. We believe only the socialism can act to truly preserve the grand ideas of freedom, democracy, and equality. And more than that, we believe that only socialism can realize these grand ideas in actuality and not merely on paper. The cause of socialism is the cause of liberty. Such is the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

 

We’re on the Darknet now!

Need to access our website anonymously? Do you live in an authoritarian country or feel threatened by mass surveillance? Look no further, we’re on the darknet! Those following our Facebook page know we recently tested the release of a Tor Hidden Service version of the Thought Foundry Blog. It looks very different from the WordPress version as it is custom built and uses no Javascript in order to maximize security. We also posted a version onto Freenet in the form of a ‘flog’ (a Freenet blog site). Currently we are working on deploying the blog onto I2P as well. In addition to ‘Privacy Tools for Activists‘, we added a new pro-privacy site page called ‘Darknet Mirrors’ where you can find the appropriate link to find us on the darkweb using your preferred anonymous network. The page says as follows:

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Our blog actually has a number of people who read it in authoritarian countries. Naturally, if you live in authoritarian country you don’t want your visit to this site logged and recorded by the powers that be. So with my technical knowledge, I have re-posted every single post ever written on the Thought Foundry Blog from its early beginnings in 2016 up till now, onto various censorship resistant “darknets”. Currently the Freenet and Tor mirrors are up and running. We are still having technical difficulties getting the I2P mirror up (sorry)! Anyways, here are the links (you will need special software to access these sites!):

Tor: http://bk2lthbdpd746fqd.onion/

Freenet: http://127.0.0.1:8888/USK@LGEtEIZMvoge10JtOUuvd8fpvlAShfSJgOCT32pTnjw,XpKJefEFQVRZic9~bWd6p4fSzrV-SqEbRCoMJ~oMqb0,AQACAAE/ThoughtFoundryBlog/7/

I2P: (to be announced)

You can find more about these censorship resistant platforms and get the tools needed to use them here:

https://www.torproject.org/

https://freenetproject.org/

https://geti2p.net/en/

Why Every Activist Should Use a VPN/Tor and Oppose Mass Surveillance

In terms of cyber-security, activists tend to be the most vulnerable to attack both in the sense of their likelihood to be targeted by  governments and mass surveillance programs, and in regards to the notoriously weak cyber-security measures they as individuals, and as a community take. In 2017 when the Senate voted to make it legal for Internet Service Provider’s (ISPs) to sell your internet history to the highest bidder, a tech blog I follow called ‘The Tin Hat‘ (who I borrowed the above image from) made the claim that “Privacy in America now starts with a VPN”. Every activist should have a VPN and use Tor, and I will explain why below. And it is certainly true that a good VPN can restore the internet to what it once was, that it can give you the freedom to have reasonable security from entities hell-bent on violating your right to privacy. But the situation is far graver than just “privacy” alone. Mass surveillance is a cancer in the very heart of our “free society”.

“When people talk of the Freedom of Writing, Speaking, or thinking, I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now exists; but I hope it will exist. But it must be hundreds of years after you and I shall write and speak no more.” — John Adams Letter to Thomas Jefferson (15 July 1817).

This freedom existed briefly, I claim, shortly after the internet exploded in popularity. Children could talk in forums about Astronomy with experts in the field and no one knew or had any way of knowing who the other person was. People were free to say and think and research anything they wanted without fear of being watched or meticulously recorded. But then 9/11 happened and the NSA started watching everyone. Finding out about that destroyed the sanctity of the web, but the people have the right to know what their government is doing and Edward Snowden is a hero for what he did.

We had those freedoms once. I remember what the Internet was like before the NSA started spying on everyone and the government made it legal for ISP’s to sell your internet history to the highest bidder. As I said in my article “The Marxist case for Human Rights”, “In the digital age the right to privacy is also withering away more and more even (and especially) in the most “freedom loving” liberal democracies. But as Rosa Luxemburg correctly pointed out, “freedom is always the freedom of the dissenters… of the one who thinks differently”. Privacy in the digital age is the only real prerequisite to civil liberty. One is not truly free to dissent if one is being watched at every moment, (it is a well known and independently verifiable fact that people alter their behaviors when they are being watched, especially by authorities, and especially when these authorities retain everything a person said or thought or did indefinitely) and if one is being watched at every moment, one is not free at all. One doesn’t even have to wield this power to the fullest extent possible to destroy human liberty, its very existence is a terminal illness to every form of human freedom. In light of the horrendous abuses of power by NSA, GCHQ, and its accomplices, the Marxist left is bound by its principles to fight against mass surveillance, for the preservation of human freedom.” We are bound by our principles to fight against these abuses of power in the political realm, but it is also necessary to protect ourselves and our communities at the individual level as well.

Freedom and mass surveillance are incompatible, period. And activists, who dutifully express their right to dissent, are under extra scrutiny by mass surveillance programs. In East Germany, the purpose of the Stasi’s mass surveillance was not merely to “catch dissidents”. It’s primary purpose was psychological: to cause the people to self-censor out of fear of how a certain action or conversation might look to the authorities. In Czechoslovakia before the Prague Spring people had a “public opinion” which venerated the Stalinist government and a “private opinion” which often was opposed to it. We are not yet at that point, but more and more people are silencing themselves out of fear. “I wonder what this will look like to a government agent or employer in 5 or 10 years when I search for this or go to this website.” Surely all of us have decided not to search for something because of how it might look to big brother. For me I avoided researching the war in Iraq because I was afraid. A family member’s professor, I remembered, was interrogated by the FBI for doing research on the very same topic. People often joke about appearing on “the list”, as if it’s some trivial thing. Well us activists actually are on “the list” and some of us aren’t even doing the bare minimum to protect ourselves against the illegal mass surveillance programs targeting activists and activist organizations explicitly.

I came across a Reddit post awhile ago that laid out the dangers of mass surveillance that I think best lays out why one ought to be politically opposed to mass surveillance programs:

“I live in a country generally assumed to be a dictatorship. One of the Arab spring countries. I have lived through curfews and have seen the outcomes of the sort of surveillance now being revealed in the US. People here talking about curfews aren’t realizing what that actually FEELS like. It isn’t about having to go inside, and the practicality of that. It’s about creating the feeling that everyone, everything is watching. A few points:

1) the purpose of this surveillance from the governments point of view is to control enemies of the state. Not terrorists. People who are coalescing around ideas that would destabilize the status quo. These could be religious ideas. These could be groups like anon who are too good with tech for the governments liking. It makes it very easy to know who these people are. It also makes it very simple to control these people.

Lets say you are a college student and you get in with some people who want to stop farming practices that hurt animals. So you make a plan and go to protest these practices. You get there, and wow, the protest is huge. You never expected this, you were just goofing off. Well now everyone who was there is suspect. Even though you technically had the right to protest, you’re now considered a dangerous person.

With this tech in place, the government doesn’t have to put you in jail. They can do something more sinister. They can just email you a sexy picture you took with a girlfriend. Or they can email you a note saying that they can prove your dad is cheating on his taxes. Or they can threaten to get your dad fired. All you have to do, the email says, is help them catch your friends in the group. You have to report back every week, or you dad might lose his job. So you do. You turn in your friends and even though they try to keep meetings off grid, you’re reporting on them to protect your dad.

2) Let’s say number one goes on. The country is a weird place now. Really weird. Pretty soon, a movement springs up like occupy, except its bigger this time. People are really serious, and they are saying they want a government without this power. I guess people are realizing that it is a serious deal. You see on the news that tear gas was fired. Your friend calls you, frantic. They’re shooting people. Oh my god. you never signed up for this. You say, fuck it. My dad might lose his job but I won’t be responsible for anyone dying. That’s going too far. You refuse to report anymore. You just stop going to meetings. You stay at home, and try not to watch the news. Three days later, police come to your door and arrest you. They confiscate your computer and phones, and they beat you up a bit. No one can help you so they all just sit quietly. They know if they say anything they’re next. This happened in the country I live in. It is not a joke.

3) Its hard to say how long you were in there. What you saw was horrible. Most of the time, you only heard screams. People begging to be killed. Noises you’ve never heard before. You, you were lucky. You got kicked every day when they threw your moldy food at you, but no one shocked you. No one used sexual violence on you, at least that you remember. There were some times they gave you pills, and you can’t say for sure what happened then. To be honest, sometimes the pills were the best part of your day, because at least then you didn’t feel anything. You have scars on you from the way you were treated. You learn in prison that torture is now common. But everyone who uploads videos or pictures of this torture is labeled a leaker. Its considered a threat to national security. Pretty soon, a cut you got on your leg is looking really bad. You think it’s infected. There were no doctors in prison, and it was so overcrowded, who knows what got in the cut. You go to the doctor, but he refuses to see you. He knows if he does the government can see the records that he treated you. Even you calling his office prompts a visit from the local police.

You decide to go home and see your parents. Maybe they can help. This leg is getting really bad. You get to their house. They aren’t home. You can’t reach them no matter how hard you try. A neighbor pulls you aside, and he quickly tells you they were arrested three weeks ago and haven’t been seen since. You vaguely remember mentioning to them on the phone you were going to that protest. Even your little brother isn’t there.

4) Is this even really happening? You look at the news. Sports scores. Celebrity news. It’s like nothing is wrong. What the hell is going on? A stranger smirks at you reading the paper. You lose it. You shout at him “fuck you dude what are you laughing at can’t you see I’ve got a fucking wound on my leg?”

“Sorry,” he says. “I just didn’t know anyone read the news anymore.” There haven’t been any real journalists for months. They’re all in jail.

Everyone walking around is scared. They can’t talk to anyone else because they don’t know who is reporting for the government. Hell, at one time YOU were reporting for the government. Maybe they just want their kid to get through school. Maybe they want to keep their job. Maybe they’re sick and want to be able to visit the doctor. It’s always a simple reason. Good people always do bad things for simple reasons.

You want to protest. You want your family back. You need help for your leg. This is way beyond anything you ever wanted. It started because you just wanted to see fair treatment in farms. Now you’re basically considered a terrorist, and everyone around you might be reporting on you. You definitely can’t use a phone or email. You can’t get a job. You can’t even trust people face to face anymore. On every corner, there are people with guns. They are as scared as you are. They just don’t want to lose their jobs. They don’t want to be labeled as traitors.

This all happened in the country where I live.

You want to know why revolutions happen? Because little by little by little things get worse and worse. But this thing that is happening now is big. This is the key ingredient. This allows them to know everything they need to know to accomplish the above. The fact that they are doing it is proof that they are the sort of people who might use it in the way I described. In the country I live in, they also claimed it was for the safety of the people. Same in Soviet Russia. Same in East Germany. In fact, that is always the excuse that is used to surveil everyone. But it has never ONCE proven to be the reality.

Maybe Obama won’t do it. Maybe the next guy won’t, or the one after him. Maybe this story isn’t about you. Maybe it happens 10 or 20 years from now, when a big war is happening, or after another big attack. Maybe it’s about your daughter or your son. We just don’t know yet. But what we do know is that right now, in this moment we have a choice. Are we okay with this, or not? Do we want this power to exist, or not?

You know for me, the reason I’m upset is that I grew up in school saying the pledge of allegiance. I was taught that the United States meant “liberty and justice for all.” You get older, you learn that in this country we define that phrase based on the constitution. That’s what tells us what liberty is and what justice is. Well, the government just violated that ideal. So if they aren’t standing for liberty and justice anymore, what are they standing for? Safety?

Ask yourself a question. In the story I told above, does anyone sound safe?

I didn’t make anything up. These things happened to people I know. We used to think it couldn’t happen in America. But guess what? It’s starting to happen.

I actually get really upset when people say “I don’t have anything to hide. Let them read everything.” People saying that have no idea what they are bringing down on their own heads. They are naive, and we need to listen to people in other countries who are clearly telling us that this is a horrible horrible sign and it is time to stand up and say no.”

Every activist who values human freedom regardless of their political affiliations or tendencies has a duty to abuse these programs. They are grotesque abuses of power and constitute a mortal threat to any notion of a “free society”. We are one terrorist attack away from the “turn-key tyranny” Edward Snowden warned us about. If the United States becomes a dictatorship, or becomes unstable in any way, the socialists and dissenters will be the first to go. The threat of such a thing happening within the next 10-20 years has never been higher. But the fight against these programs on the political level is indispensable from the fight against these abuses of power on the individual level.

DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) came out last year recommending intermittent Tor usage for their members and fellow activists. But Tor alone, in my view, does not go nearly far enough.

Many socialists and activists today happily use digital tools critically vulnerable to mass surveillance without thinking twice. Even socialist organizations coordinate their actions exclusively through Google and Facebook with no backup for if –god forbid– things go wrong. If some awful terrorist attack happened and the increasingly far-right government took emergency measures to ensure its “political stability and national security”, the socialist left today would disappear with a whimper not a cry.

Even in our pre-1984 world, political repression against the socialist left is very real. Members of Occupy Wall-street were routinely harassed and surveilled by the FBI, leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement even got their doors kicked in when protests became “too big” of “violent” (as if somehow they were responsible for the rogue actions of a few individuals!). The Stalinist-Maoist FRSO (Freedom Road Socialist Organization) was successfully infiltrated by the FBI less than 10 years ago, and these activities are routine even in the post-cold war era. And unlike Maoism, the ideas of democratic socialism actually resonate with millions of Americans today. Socialism is coming back, and so too is the government repression of the socialist movement. Surely DSA and other democratic socialist organizations are seen as a much bigger “threat” to the status quo than a few cloak-and-dagger Maoists. A Trotskyist comrade I know claims he even found out that his wife, the woman he married, was an undercover FBI agent. A black activist was recently jailed by the FBI for the speaking out against police brutality on Facebook. You cannot make this stuff up.

In light of Snowden’s revelations, you would have to be an idiot to assume that this harassment and surveillance was limited to the physical world alone.

If you are an activist with any level of influence or popularity, you are being watched, your communications are being intercepted. And I don’t mean you are being watched in the same sense that everyone is, I mean the bulk data the government collects on you is subject to actual scrutiny by real people. Content, not just metadata. If you go to a protest the police can find out who you are simply by intercepting your cell phone signal with an IMSI catcher, something extremely common in urban areas, and from then on you are on a list.

Everyone, but especially activists, should take measures to avoid and obfuscate the governments illegal mass surveillance programs.

Here is a list of resources you can use to gain the information you need to protect yourself:

Privacytools.io (mirrored on Thought Foundry Blog)

EFF’s Surveillance Self Defense Guide

EFF’s Surveillance Self Defense for Activists

EFF’s Guide for attending protests (US)

EFF’s Guide for attending protests (international)

Tor Project

Non-biased VPN reviews

As a standard for individual activists, I personally would recommend the following:

You should use a good VPN, not a “free” VPN but a paid one. Non-biased VPN reviews can be found at ThatOnePrivacySite. You should keep your VPN on all the time, and test for DNS leaks, so as to ensure all internet traffic 24/7 coming to and from your phone or computer is encrypted. When you are researching political topics, you should use the Tor Browser to further encrypt your communications. You should be running Linux by default, even an easy-to-use Linux distribution like Ubuntu or Linux Mint. You should avoid OS X, and Windows 10 like the plague. Don’t store anything embarrassing or that can be used against you on iCloud or Google Drive. Remember when the FBI tried to get Martin Luther King Jr. to kill himself by threatening to release knowledge of his affair? Yeah, don’t let that happen to you. Your computer and phone should use a strong passphrse (not password) and everything without exception should be encrypted. Don’t message other activists using SMS of Facebook Chat, use Signal or another end-to-end encrypted messaging system. If you go to a protest, bring a burner or keep your phone turned OFF. And finally, tape your damn webcams. Do it on your laptop, your phone, everything. You may think this is “paranoid”, but the reality is, you are being watched, and you are extremely vulnerable if you do not do even the bare minimum to protect yourself.

As a standard for socialist and activist organizations, I personally recommend the following:

Communications within an organization should be end-to-end encrypted by default. Emails should use PGP encryption as the standard. Websites for socialist organizations should use HTTPS encryption and ideally be mirrored on the Tor network. Facebook may be crucial to organizing protests and other events, but individual members of socialist organizations should use mediums of communication that are much more difficult for the government to intercept.

Now many people will probably try to defend these programs and claim “I have nothing to hide”! But you know, it was confirmed by the white house that mass surveillance programs haven’t stopped a single terrorist attack since their inception. Also the quote “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” was popularized by Joseph Goebbels, you know, the propaganda minister of Nazi Germany. I hope I have laid out why privacy in the digital age is the only real prerequisite to civil liberty today, that it isn’t a matter of having something to “hide” (i.e. wrongdoing) but a matter of having everything to protect. Freedom is always and exclusively the freedom of dissent! If this doesn’t convince you still, let me resort to the spirit of the law, as much as I hate legal formalism. Here is the fourth amendment, that by some alchemy “doesn’t apply” to the digital world- so say the enemies of liberty within our own government:

Amendment IV

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Also Article 12 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights echo’s this proclamation:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

As Benjamin Franklin correctly said, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty, to purchase a little Temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”. We would be much “safer” if the police could search anyone at any time without reason, and surely crime would go down exponentially. This is the philosophy NSA uses to justify it’s illegal and immoral mass surveillance programs. But the point of liberty is to protect the people from the very threat the state poses to the people. The point of liberty is freedom, not “safety” or “security”. And as activists who face a much grander threat to our liberty than ordinary people, we can, should, and must defend ourselves from these malevolent intrusions and abuses of power.