In order to say what I want to say about lulzsec and hacking in general, it’s first worth taking a moment to go over the the problems with roles. This might bore some of you who’re already familiar with this stuff, but it’s worth explaining for anyone who’s new to it. This stuff is kind of complicated, so it’s hard to give a quick, simple explanation, but I’ll do my best. There’s nothing wrong with doing one activity a lot, or with being good at something, but when that activity or skill becomes part of your identity, it can cause problems. Apart from anything else, when people have a fixed image of you that they expect you to live up to, it creates pressure to hide other parts of your personality that might not fit in with that image – “manly” men hiding their emotions is one of the most obvious examples of this, but there are many more – and these roles often have rewards of some kind attached to them, which can be anything from money to respect, and you get more of this reward the more you keep repeating the same behaviour. This gives you a reason to want things to stay the same and keep on doing the same things, which is a problem for those of us who want radical change.
A meaningful revolution has to involve the breaking down of all sorts of separations, starting off with the separation between people who think and people who work, people who make decisions and people who are affected by those decisions, but going on to break down all kinds of other barriers. This will inevitably mean breaking down the roles that exist today, so people will have to choose between their attachments to their existing roles and lifestyles and their commitment to the revolution. To give a few examples, in the middle of a real revolutionary situation, people who get respect for having a good grasp of theory will have to deal with the fact that having an interest in anarchist ideas doesn’t make them special any more; equally, the most militant street fighters will have to accept that there’s nothing special about them fighting the cops when everyone else is doing it as well. An example of how dangerous roles can become if they’re not abandoned comes from the Russian revolution, and other Leninist revolutions like the ones in China and Cuba – the failure of the Russian revolution was a complicated process, and there’s no one thing that made it all go wrong, but the Bolshevik experience does show that in situations where the old class system has broken down, those people who play the roles of leaders and thinkers in revolutionary groups can become the basis for a new ruling class.
I realise that this is all a bit abstract, but hopefully it should become a bit clearer in the rest of this post, when I look at what all this has to do with hacking. Also, it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t a call for everyone to abandon their social roles right now and become totally unpredictable all the time – some of the situationist-influenced folks in the UK and US got really into that idea and came out with all kinds of attempts to get rid of their character by criticising themselves, but I don’t think it’s really worth putting much energy into at the moment – like having a job, claiming benefits, or buying stuff, playing out a social role is rubbish, but it’s not something we can just stop doing individually, it takes a widespread insurrection to get rid of it. Still, it can’t hurt to be aware of these tendencies and try to resist them where possible.
So, having got through that wordy and rambling introduction, what does all this have to do with hacking? Anonymous and LulzSec have both been in the news for bad reasons lately – Anonymous after some right-wing dickhead self-identifying as Anonymous hacked the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, and LulzSec after a bunch of (alleged) LulzSeccers were arrested. The first, most important thing to say is that, as always with state repression, hackers facing prison deserve our full solidarity and support, unless they’re grasses or anti-abortion bigots, in which case fuck ‘em. Certainly, everything I’ve seen about Jeremy Hammond suggests that he’s a genuine comrade who knows what he’s talking about, and should be supported the same as any other class struggle prisoner. It’s also worth stating that I’m not a hacker myself and I don’t know shit about how computer stuff works, so I’m kind of writing from a position of ignorance here and I may get some stuff horribly wrong. Whatever.
Anyway, at the same time as expressing our support for all non-snitching arrestees, it seems worth asking if there’s anything people in similar situations can do to stay out of the hands of the law. Of course, the ultimate responsibility for these arrests is on the head of the state and its snitches, but without wanting to get into victim-blaming, it can’t hurt for people to try and keep themselves safe. Now, if you don’t want to get arrested for hacking, the safest thing to do is not to hack anything, but if people are going to hack things anyway, then it makes sense for them to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. This is the complete opposite of what LulzSec did: they were excellent self-publicists, and their brief career was fascinating, attention-grabbing, often brilliantly entertaining, and embarrassed the authorities enough that it was pretty much inevitable the state was going to end up getting its revenge. It’s impossible to say, but if they’d slowed down the pace at which they worked and refused to claim responsibility for any of their operations – if we’d never even heard the name LulzSec – perhaps they could’ve kept a lower profile and avoided becoming such a major target for law enforcement agencies. But they chose to go for their 15 minutes of fame, and I can’t really say I blame them. To bring this back to the ideas I was talking about at the start of this piece, they let their attachment to the role of super-hackers compromise the anonymity that’s necessary for anyone who wants to carry on hacking.
So, what’s the alternative? This is where James Jeffrey, the Anonymous anti-abortion hacker, comes into it. Certainly, it looks bad for Anonymous, which has tried to associate itself with generally progressive causes, to have some pro-life dipshit claiming its name for a reactionary act. But the point of direct action, even online direct action, isn’t to promote the brand name of one particular group, it’s to damage an enemy. The fact that Jeffrey was arrested certainly shows that just calling yourself anonymous doesn’t guarantee safety, but it also hasn’t really compromised any other anonymous hackers. Letting anyone use your name would be a terrible idea for any real organisation, but it makes a certain amount of sense for a loose grouping based solely around taking illegal action – having a huge number of contradictory voices undermines your ability to put forward a coherent message, but at the same time it makes it harder for the state to put together a clear picture of who’s who and who’s doing what. These points are also relevant to real-life acts of sabotage – claiming responsibility for an illegal sabotage in the name of a public, formal organisation would be pretty stupid, and using the name of a clandestine group isn’t much better. If people can avoid the urge to brag, then they can avoid giving the state any information it doesn’t need to have. Looked at in this light, Anonymous is like an internet equivalent to the black bloc: not a substitute for ongoing organising work, and not a great way to communicate ideas or win people over, but a fairly effective way to take disruptive action without exposing individuals unnecessarily to the cops.
In closing, I’d like to point out a few interesting things coming up in the next few weeks: the NUS is calling for a national walk-out this Wednesday, which might be the first useful thing it’s done in living memory (calling for the demonstration that led to the Millbank riot doesn’t count because they shat themselves trying to disassociate themselves from it as soon as it happened). The Void and Electricians Against the World have information about upcoming events in the workfare and electricians’ struggles respectively, and a few of the slightly less shit public sector unions are talking about another national day of action on March 28th – to be honest, I can’t see the day being anything except a reminder of the unions’ total failure to achieve anything at all since the massive strike at the end of November, but it should at least open up a space to have conversations with rank and file public sector workers about how we can break with the unions’ failed strategy and start taking effective action. On the subject of effective action, the Industrial Workers of the World London cleaners’ branch have just chalked up yet another victory by winning the London Living Wage for cleaners at Exchange Tower. Also, the day after the strikes here will see a big general strike backed by the CNT among other unions in Spain.
Legal disclaimer: I do not endorse any illegal activity, I have never hacked anything in my life, and I don’t encourage anyone else to do so either. Political disclaimer: I don’t think that hacking, or any other act of small-group sabotage, is going to change the world. I prefer tactics that can be used by as many people as possible, and I can’t see the level of skill required for hacking spreading beyond a fairly small circle of people any time soon. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place, but that place can only be as one part of a wider movement, not as a substitute for it. The same goes for other forms of small-group actions. Do I sound like a boring trot yet?