Why the State Will Fail

Translations of this material:

into Russian: О неизбежности крушения государства. Translated in draft, editing and proof-reading required.
Submitted for translation by demetrious 24.02.2012


To paraphrase the assessment of libertarian socialist Rosa Luxemburg a century ago, we face an imminent choice between freedom and barbarism. There are only two possible outcomes in the present struggle between the authoritarian institutions of state and corporation, and the emergent society of self-organized networks and other voluntary associations of free people:

The state will fail, and be replaced by a society in which people are free to pool their cooperative labor and skills as they see fit, and to exchange the products of their labor with their equals.

Or, the state will succeed — and create a technofascist empire that reduces humanity to serfdom and takes the biosphere down in flames. Now that the conflict is fairly begun, there is no going back to the status quo ante.

Vinay Gupta, whose many hats include specialist in security issues, argues that the passage of NDAA (with its provisions for indefinite detention without trial) and the shutdown of Megaupload without due process of law signal the emergence of the US as a full-blown fascist state.

And he suggests the possibility that, as governments implode in the face of networked resistance movements in countries like Spain and Greece, free information havens emerge in places like Iceland, and one domino after another in the global South begins to secede from the neoliberal order, the United States will become embroiled in a desperate World War of counterinsurgency, using air strikes, blockades, cyberwar, black ops, hunter-killer drones, and crowd-control technologies to suppress the emerging free order. The street fighting between riot cops and Occupy protesters was just a dress rehearsal, as Spain was for WWII.

Even if it comes to this, I believe the state — and the cluster of authoritarian institutions of which it is the core — will fail.

Because local nodes in self-organized networks are free to take action or innovate without waiting for permission from an administrative apparatus, and every other node in the network is similarly free to learn by example and adopt the innovations without permission, they fully exploit agility advantages of networked communications in ways that authoritarian hierarchies are unequipped to.

We saw this recently with the development of Firefox’s DeSopa circumvention utility before SOPA even came up for a vote, and Anonymous’s massive same-day DDOS attack in response to a federal takedown of MegaUpload that had been months in the planning. Last summer Tor developers released a workaround the very same day Iranian authorities thought they’d shut down the encrypted router network.

Other examples of this agility include the lightning spread of the Arab Spring across the Middle East and into Europe, and the mushroom global proliferation of Occupy camps to hundreds of cities in a matter of days. These networked movements react almost instantaneously to police repression in any one place. Local and national governments are typically so blindsided by the scale of resistance in their own domains, they’re able to offer little if anything in the way of support to other regimes falling victim to the same full-court press. The phrase “Two, three, many Vietnams” comes to mind.

The resistance is further aided by conflict between states, as the advantage shifts from hierarchies to networks. The hegemonic American state’s attempt to suppress networked uprisings comes up against a growing anti-American coalition of smaller states provoked by the Empire’s dominance. The technological advantage accruing to asymmetric warfare means even small states can develop effective hacks against American technologies of global domination, at comparatively little cost. Witness the American security state’s recent obsession with cheap “Assassin’s Mace” and “area denial” weapons that threaten its power projection capability.

As Gupta argues, the fundamentally evil nature of the American state’s counter-insurgency agenda results in cognitive dissonance among the rulers, as many soldiers and police become demoralized from an inability to face the truth of their missions, internal functionaries of the state (like Bradley Manning) become disaffected by the disjuncture between official propaganda and the testimony of their own eyes, and domestic populations’ access to unofficial news and streaming video undermines the official narrative. Because of this, the state leadership cannot trust the motives of its soldiers and other functionaries, or give them the full autonomy and the unfiltered knowledge of reality that effective networked warfare requires.

As Julian Assange points out, when authoritarian hierarchies are attacked from outside they respond by becoming more brittle and internally opaque to themselves.

The combination of networks’ quick adaptation to changing situations with hierarchies’ demoralization and internal opacity means networks generally stay inside what strategist John Boyd called the “OODA loop” of hierarchies: That is, they keep the enemy permanently off-balance, and repeatedly force them to react to situations instead of creating them.

In the long run, it’s no contest.