Social Movements Cannot Prevail Through Secrecy

From P2P Foundation
Jump to: navigation, search


Excerpted from Dmytri Kleiner:

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

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

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

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

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