Edited excerpts by Carolyn Bennett
Courage, un-politicized press imperative in “Putinized” West
In mid June, Swiss contemporary art curator, critic, historian of art Hans Ulrich Obrist along with artists and representatives Luis Camnitzer, Goldin+Senneby’s Angus Cameron, Martha Rosler, SUPERFLEX, Ai Weiwei, Metahaven, and Paul Chan spoke in a long and probing discussion with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. These are some of Assange’s most insightful comments.
“I do have a political position and my political position is that all political philosophies are bankrupt because they are not created with a full understanding of how human institutions actually behave.
“… I have a political temperament, which [combines] libertarianism and the importance of understanding. What emerges from this temperament is holding power to account through action driven by understanding.
“If you have a libertarian temperament then you are temperamentally opposed to authoritarian power. If you have a temperament that is inclined to understanding then you want to know what power is about. These two things combined drive forth a position, an intellectual and political position, that is about understanding power to such a degree that power is not able to express its most abusive aspects.”
Power entrenched — markets, patronage
“My other political positions are not political positions per se but positions of understanding that most of the world is splitting into just two big power systems. The first is the free markets, which can be very big and powerful when you get to financial markets but can also be distorted by some economic interactions.
“The other [power system] is patronage, and patronage networks—these are really what accounts for, splits, promotes or encourages, and distributes all forms of non-market power. This is not a traditional political position as much as it is a view of the world.
“… I have independently arrived at a view that is a more modern political concept, which concerns shadow states, which you can see more clearly in newer states in Eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria, where there is a pantomime at the surface about being a modern EU democracy. There really are [not] that many, since the more modern EU democracies also engage in this pantomime. It is simply clearer in states like Bulgaria.
“Underneath, there is a patronage network that actually controls who gets justice and the distribution of power and wealth within a country. I see this tendency growing in the United States also.
“In the United States, there are two rival systems that control the distribution of power. There is the modern form of what we used to call the military-industrial complex or the intelligence complex; and there is Wall Street. These two rival groups are vying to be the central dispensers of power in the United States. I think they are actually loosely coupled to Hillary on the shadow state side and Obama on the Wall Street side. It is quite interesting in the cases against us [WikiLeaks] in the United States to see this rivalry being expressed in the various actions against us.”
“When I was in Russia in the 1990s, I used to watch NTV in Moscow. NTV was the freest TV I have ever seen. … At that time, Russia had something like 10 independent points of power. It had the army. It had the remnants of the KGB and the external KGB, which ended up becoming the SVR. It had Yeltsin and his daughter, and the mob. It had some broader mish-mash of bureaucracy left over from the Soviet Union. It had seven oligarchs. In terms of media control, that meant the state plus the oligarchs with their own independent media. The result was, you could actually put out almost anything you wanted under the patronage or protection of one of these groups.…
“[Then] Putin came in. He tamed the oligarchs. Some were arrested, some had their assets seized, and some were exiled. The result was, they fell in under Putin’s centralized patronage pyramid. The ownership of the TV stations also reined [in] popular democracy under Putin’s pyramid. Now, in order to get anything of scale done in Russia, you have to have a sponsor in the pyramid somewhere.
“In the United States, I see a rivalry between the modern form of the military industrial complex and Wall Street for this central pyramid. The military industrial complex has been aggressively broadening and expanding its share of that patronage system.
“There are now around 900,000 people in United States with top-secret security clearances. Ten years ago, the National Security Agency dealt with about sixteen private contractors. The National Security Agency is the biggest spy agency in the United States and its combined budget is more than that of the FBI and CIA combined, or at least it was around eight years ago when I had the last statistic. Now, it has over 1,000 contractors. Similarly, U.S. involvement in Iraq created around 10,000 different private contractors. Patronage now moves into the private sector.
“It is less contained than it was. Its tentacles are spreading into all walks of our society and the number of people connected through family and business relationships to that structure continues to increase. My guess is that something like 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. population is now either directly connected to that structure, or one step removed, through family and business relationships.
“In the past two years, U.S. tax revenue has decreased nearly 25 percent, while at the same time the amount of tax revenue flowing through to that [private] sector in the first year of Obama was around 6 percent to 7 percent — the amount of money being soaked up by this sector is increasing.
“[This illustrates] that as a patronage network it is increasing in its power because it’s starting to eat up more of the pie, compared to other groups. That’s a real problem for the United States.
“There’s a vast shadow state of private companies hooked into the secrecy system, into national security system, and an ever-expanding number of new government bureaucracies as well. It’s very worrying that in the United States, that area is heading towards a Putinization.
“What Putin and the siloviki [Silovik (plural: siloviki), a Russian word for politicians from the security or military services, often the officers of the former KGB, the FSB, the Federal Narcotics Control Service and military or other security services who came into power] did to Russia, this system is doing to United States. It has progressed the most in the United States. [However], it is not just the U.S. but also a broader Western patronage network.… The Western world is slowly being Putinized.”
Un-politicized, impartial press imperative
“With scientific papers, we understand that once something in science has been discovered to be important, it spreads very quickly, and it is impossible to profit from its scarcity value or to even keep it scarce. It very quickly becomes an infinite good, and there is an infinite supply of it. As a result, successful societies have set up mechanisms to fund scientists who produce those very important infinite goods.
“Perhaps the same could be true for journalism but the most important journalism is journalism that holds government to account, and holds powerful organizations to account.
“There is no significant tradition anywhere in the world of state-funded, aggressive, investigative journalism—this has always been funded by readers or advertisers, which is easy to understand.
“It is by holding these powerful people to account that the funding gets cut off so it is not clear how funding such a group [state-funded journalism] would be practical… without becoming a political function, suffering from all the problems political functions have.”
Philosophy of a movement
“A certain philosophical attitude is needed that pulls together practical considerations realized by that attitude.
“We encourage the people and our supporters to understand that courage is contagious — a practical reality that … most revolutions start in public squares.
“It is not like there are more people in a public square. You still have the same number of people in the population, whether they are in their homes, in the street, or in the public square; but in a public square, if there are a few courageous people, everyone else in the public square can see the courage of those individuals and courage starts to spread.…”
Courage mastering fear
“I feel fear just like any other person. People who don’t feel fear are dangerous to themselves and to others. Fear is a very good and important instinct to have.
“Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the intellectual mastery of fear. Courage is all about understanding—understanding what the terrain is, and understanding your own abilities and limits in order thereby to plot a safe and effective path through the terrain.
“It is not about foolishly and fearlessly engaging an opponent. It is about understanding, first; then carefully and decisively engaging the opponent.…”
“The values I have espoused and hold dear and have put into the DNA of WikiLeaks, which have then been expressed by WikiLeaks as an organism, as a functional organization, have inspired a movement.
“There is an interaction between the organization and this movement, which is fluid but also distinct as an operational group. Independent sub-operations have now sprung up everywhere, and these sub-operations interact with us. … Like most movements, there is an inner core and there is widespread support among people; then more organized local support.”
Sources and notes
“In Conversation with Julian Assange Part II,” June 15, 2011, http://wikileaks.ch/In-Conversation-with-Julian,107.html
Speaking with Julian Assange were: Swiss contemporary art curator, critic, historian of art Hans Ulrich Obrist along with Luis Camnitzer (German-born Uruguayan artist and academic residing the United States), Swedish artists Goldin+Senneby’s Angus Cameron), Martha Rosler (American, Brooklyn, New York artist), SUPERFLEX (Danish artists' group founded in 1993 by Jakob Fenger, Rasmus Nielsen and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen), Ai Weiwei (Chinese artist and political activist, active in architecture, curating, photography, film, and social and cultural criticism; Metahaven (studio for design and research based in Amsterdam); Paul Chan (co-founder of the New York chapter of Indymedia, an independent media network, and activist and artist.
Silovik (plural: siloviki) is a Russian word for politicians from the security or military services, often the officers of the former KGB, the FSB, the Federal Narcotics Control Service and military or other security services who came into power. It can also refer to security-service personnel from any country or nationality.
“Censorship, like everything else in the West, has been privatized — Banking Blockade: WikiLeaks releases advertisement coinciding with the six month unlawful banking blockage against it,” June 28, 2011
For six months, five major U.S. financial institutions, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, Western Union and the Bank of America have tried to economically strangle WikiLeaks as a result of political pressure from Washington.
The whistle-blowing Web site WikiLeaks has not been convicted of a crime. The Justice Department has not even pressed charges over its disclosure of confidential State Department communications. Nonetheless, the financial industry is trying to shut it down… A handful of big banks could potentially bar any organization they disliked from the payments system, essentially cutting them off from the world economy. The fact of the matter is that banks are not like any other business. They run the payments system.
The attack has blocked over 90 percent of the non-profit organization’s donations, costing some $15 million in lost revenue. The attack is entirely outside of any due process or rule of law.…
… The blockade is not just against WikiLeaks. It is against the associative rights and economic rights of every VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Bank of America account holder, who have been prevented from supporting the organization of their choice. …
There are still some ways around the blockade. Direct bank transfers that do not use the Bank of America network still work”. http://wikileaks.ch/Banking-Blockade.html
Also of note
“Amy Goodman Hosts Discussion with WikiLeaks Editor-In-Chief Julian Assange and Slovenian Philosopher Slavoj Žižek,” Saturday June 2, 2011, http://www.democracynow.org/
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