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Engineered Hostility: Materially Examining The Internet Landscape

Ashe Jaeger


The oldest contradiction is that of death and life—born from that of spear and shield. As Mao describes in On Contradiction:

"In war, offense and defense, advance and retreat, victory and defeat are all mutually contradictory phenomena. One cannot exist without the other. The two aspects are at once in conflict and in interdependence, and this constitutes the totality of a war, pushes its development forward and solves its problems." [1]

In the modern day, the spear and the shield appear in much more varied form: the bullet and the ceramic plate (what is a bullet if not a small spear?), the drone missile and the infantry (rather one-sided), the ransomware and the backup server. We also see similar development in the Western propaganda landscape, Youtube videos and Twitter tweets supplanting radio and television; Facebook groups, Signal messages, and Discord chats now as primary medium for organizing in Western leftist circles. Even if the difficulty of introspection ever increases due to the sheer volume and complexity of all these technological advances, it remains critical to systematically study the electronic devices that we use, their history, their consequences, "For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." [2] If you are unable to identify which tools are the master's (hint: all of them), then you have already lost.

It is not that every website and every program on the Internet is intentionally hostile to Communists; just by sheer numbers the odds of that would be incredibly low. No, the problem more so lies systemically in the internet itself, a hostile hellscape corrupting any revolutionary promise daring to sprout. To conceptualize it in this regard, we must first understand it dialectically, and then materially—the purpose of this writing.

The Internet's Trail

I loosely define a network as, "a set of technological devices which allow the transmission of data that has been converted to an analog or digital format; once sent, this data is received by another device and converted back into whatever form it held before." The most notable examples of this being postal mail, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the television, and the internet. While they all have differences in the type, amount, and direction of the data they can carry, we should fundamentally think of these things in a dialectical fashion, as they all fulfill the same core purpose. Like any good dialectic, there must be an opposing force, in this case the spear to our shield is surveillance: the opening of mail, the tapping of telegraph and telephone lines, hidden microphones and cameras, and well, the Internet as a whole.

The direction of communications is extremely important to the network's medium. If the signal is bidirectional, then the surveillance occurs with a man-in-the-middle. This applies to postal mail, telegraph, telephones, and the Internet; there must be a physical thing in the middle of the signal carrier, whether it is a person, device, or program. If the signals can only travel one way, then the surveillance can only occur with the planting of devices into locations of interest, like with microphones (radio) and cameras (television). The internet is different in this regard in that it can do either, information can either be monitored in the middle or from planted devices in the real world. To boot, there are no restrictions on what can be sent over the Internet nor any restrictions on what can be monitored. The internet enables exponentially more powerful surveillance systems than revolutionaries have ever had to contend with in the past, so it would be appropriate to rewind—to both start this dialectical process and to gain some perspective.

The first known example of a real-time electronic surveillance barrier was deployed during the Vietnam War by the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) during a project known as "Igloo White"—a distributed collection of sensors placed along trails between North and South Vietnam in an effort to detect and prevent passage by the Communist cadres. These camouflaged sensors could be dropped from helicopters into trees or into dirt, and the different sensor models could detect different things: metal for trucks and rifles, seismic activity for troops and trucks, microphones for personnel, RF sensors for radio signals, and even one chemical sensors to detect the ammonia in urine and sweat and the carbon from camp fires, called the "People Sniffer" [3]. Whenever one of these sensors was triggered, it would broadcast a signal with an identifier which would then be relayed by special planes cruising about, back to monitor stations who would manually examine the data. If the sounds or readings picked up were determined to be caused by enemy personnel, then an airstrike would be ordered on the location originating the signal [4]. If this does not particularly sound impressive or anything remotely like what we face today, here is a choice quote of a quote from Matt Novak's 2015 reporting about "Igloo White":

"Remember those huge electronic boards from the movie Dr. Strangelove that showed Russian bombers headed for the U.S.? Well, Task Force Alpha is a lot like that except with real-time displays in full color, three stories tall [...] it's the whole goddamned Ho Chi Minh Trail in full, living color. [The place is filled with] a whole bunch of civilians who look like IBM guys running around in three-piece suits all wearing glasses [...] it's Geek Central." [5]

As Yasha Levine poignantly states in his book Surveillance Valley:

"The Internet came out of this effort: an attempt to build computer systems that could collect and share intelligence, watch the world in real time, and study and analyze people and political movements with the ultimate goal of predicting and preventing social upheaval." [6]

By definition, the starting point of any dialectical analysis of the Internet must begin where the Internet did—so we must start at the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We can clearly see the development of Igloo White in the devastating drone technology of today, the latter a compressing and compacting of the former, but we must also be aware of the ubiquity of surveillance devices—even in people's homes and neighborhoods. With the advent of "Internet of Things"(IoT) technology, it is not even necessary to airdrop or plant microphones anymore if there is a smart speaker in four out of ten households and a cellphone in 97% of pockets [7] [8] [*]. Another egregious example, the popular "Ring" video doorbell, most notably partners with Police departments across the country so that the police can request video footage from any given Ring doorbell—automating snitching, one door at a time [9].

[*] Which, while we are on the subject, do not talk "shop" near cellphones, on or off; leave them wrapped up in another room.


While the Internet is a network, as defined above, it cannot do to just leave its description as such, as it is much more than that. By combining bidirectional communication with the ability to transmit anything (and lots of it), it feels almost unfair to put it in the same category as television or telephones. A person cannot participate in a televised propaganda session, and a telephone conversation cannot have millions of participants, so how are we even to imagine and classify the Internet? This is not a novel thought, but to me the most accurate conceptualization is the Internet as terrain, due to its undue influence on the essence of everything occurring within. To elucidate: a protest online is not anything close to a protest in real life, a meeting online does not have the same effect as a digital one. The online leftist organization, typing away and unable or unwilling to meet, is an entirely different thing than the Party of old.

Because these activities occur over a different medium (digital, not analog), the nature of the activities themselves are changed. Therefore, as justification for why the following technical sections are necessary, let me draw briefly from Lenin's words:

"Marxism demands an absolutely historical examination of the question of the forms of struggle. To treat this question apart from the concrete historical situation betrays a failure to understand the rudiments of dialectical materialism." [10]

With that, let us begin our tour of the Internet.

Layman's Inferno
"Through me the way into the suffering city, through me the way to the eternal pain, through me the way that runs among the lost [...]" —Dante, Inscription above the Gates of Hell, Cantos III

Forewarning: the next few sections we'll be discussing technical topics. The following information is based on the "The Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model" of networking [11], but hopefully made actually useful and understandable.

Akin to the classical Hell of Dante, networking is split up, conceptually, into layers—each with its own hostile particularities and hazards. When browsing the internet, sending email, or even chatting online, all of the data you send and receive is packed up into a particular format and sent over the wire (for the duration off this paper, these will be referred to as "network packets" or just "packets"). After a certain point, your packet for sending email will differ from your web browsing, as these are all different network protocols which follow different formats. But the first 14 bytes of a given network packet will almost always follow the same exact format as any other, Ethernet II, a layer 2 protocol. The next 20 or 40 bytes will also have the same format between packets, depending on if it's Internet Protocol 4 or 6 (IPv4 or IPv6), which are both layer 3 protocols. While pedants will disagree, a network packet typically only consists of layer two, three, and four data followed by the application-specific data (again, email, browsing, chatting). But a packet need not traverse all the network layers to be sent; plenty of data transmitted with only layer 2 being completed, and therein partly lies the truly hidden danger of networking hell: the amount and type of requisite data transmitted before you can even view a website.

Layer 1: Limbo
"For these defects, and for no other evil, we are now lost and punished just with this: we have no hope and yet we are longing." —Dante, Canto IV

Your computer has a piece of hardware called a network card that allows it to talk to a network. This usually allows for WiFi network access, but some network cards can also have an ethernet cable plugged into them. This simple aspect of networking is called the "physical layer" because it is the physical medium over which all signals flow. More examples of the physical layer would be coaxial cable, fiber optic, telephone cables (for dial-up). Dumb phones and smart phones have a network card for their internet connection via the device's radio for 3G, 4G, 4GLTE, and 5G connections (but the measure of phone intelligence is whether or not it has a WiFi interface as well). The physical layer also takes care of deciding exactly what constitutes a "0" and a "1" over this physical medium for data transmission, which is important because each medium transmits data by flipping between two predefined states (e.g. light-on and light-off for fiber).

I would now like to put forth for consideration the actual physical layout of the Internet. Again starting from your laptop as an example, your laptop talks to your WiFi router—which might be separate from your modem. This modem—and the modems of everyone within a few blocks—is physically connected to a locked box somewhere in the neighborhood, and is probably filled with devices called switches which then amplify the signals on the coaxial cable and relay all of the traffic into one or two cables which connect further into the ISP's infrastructure. Each individual ISP is a blackbox, we cannot know the setup, but the practical revolutionary should just assume everything is logged and monitored therein. After the ISP-specific network, there is probably a fair amount of fiber connections to other ISP infrastructure.

To summarize and to simplify: imagine a multitude of copper spider-webs all interconnected by glass threads.

For the comrades who have learned enough to think themselves clever, there are indeed fiber optic cables that lie beneath the oceans, connecting the networks of different countries together. What the clever comrades probably do not understand is that, even if you managed to sever all 426 publicly-known undersea fiber-optic cables [12]—a task unto itself—if you miss even a single one (and I guarantee that list is not complete), the Internet is capable of redirecting network traffic down different routes (a layer 3 concept), like a river that has been dammed. Also, internet access within the US would be unaffected for nationally located websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.), so it would not really accomplish much; the days of simple radio tower takeovers are gone.

Layer 2: Lust
"The hellish hurricane, which never rests, drives on the spirits with its violence : wheeling and pounding, it harasses them." —Dante, Canto V

For each given network card type, there is a corresponding "data-link" layer. This data-link layer is where the term "Media Access Control address" (MAC address) comes from; i.e., the unique identifier for your device's network card. A given mac address might look like "ab:cd:10:11:23:11" or "12:02:82:ff:ff:fc," just 48 flips of the "on/off" of your physical layer. Regardless of the actual form, it is extremely important to know that this "ab:cd:10:11:23:11" is literally burned into your device, cannot normally be changed, and is broadcast by your device to anything that can hear it over the physical layer. Every piece of data you ever send will have this identifier attached to it, unencrypted, until it reaches its next hop. To clarify what I mean by "next hop," if you are connected via ethernet or telephone cable, the "next hop" is whatever is on the other end of the wire. So if you have a desktop computer that is plugged into your modem, then only the modem can see the unique identifier for your computer (unless the wire's been tapped in the middle, of course). After learning the MAC address of whatever is on the other side of the wire (via a process called ARP), we can finally move up to the network layer.

For the practical revolutionary: if you are connected via WiFi, then technically any other device in the area can see your device's MAC address, assuming they're within range with a suitable wireless radio. With WiFi there is also another danger to be aware of, however, even if you are not connected to a wireless network. Network cards in phones and laptops have a tendency to periodically send out broadcasts, asking: "Hi! I'm 01:23:11:22:33:ab! Who can I connect to?" Due to the unique nature of any device's MAC address, this becomes an extremely easy way to track individuals' physical movements and habits, as your MAC address will be logged by every WiFi along your path. Alternatively, if you are connected to a public WiFi, your MAC address is most certainly logged, so any data sent via that WiFi can easily be attributed to a particular laptop.

MAC address "spoofing" is a technique that can be useful in this regard however, as it causes your computer to send an arbitrarily chosen MAC address instead of the actual MAC address of the device. While not a complete solution for frustrating authorities, it is most useful for obfuscating the logs of the public WiFi to which you connect. So, if you are utilizing a different MAC address for the library than for the Starbucks WiFi, it is more difficult to connect the activity of one to the other, hopefully helping to prevent the placing of a face to specific network traffic.

Finally, the most troubling problem of the physical and data-link layers is in relationship to smart phones. Simply put, as long as your phone has reception, your phone's radio is talking to gigantic cell towers at various distances. This interaction can easily give away the physical locations of protesters or guerillas who happen to carry a phone (on or off) during a protest or insurgency: in the former case potentially leading to being added to a suspect list or found dead in some mysterious manner, and in the latter case, bluntly just being struck by drones. Turning your phone off does not prevent the radio from communicating with cell towers—you must either put it in a Faraday bag or leave it at home.

Layer 3: Gluttony
"Though these accursed sinners never shall attain the true perfection, yet they can expect to be more perfect then than now." —Dante, Canto VI

We now proceed to the third layer of hell: the network layer. Similar to how your network card has a unique MAC address identifier burnt into the hardware, when you connect to a network, your device is assigned an "IP address" which is used for all further communication. Unlike your MAC address however, your IP address is a temporary address that is visible to all other devices on your network. We must briefly detour into the phrase "on your network," because this is a very important concept.

If you are connected to a network, there is usually a single point into and out from the greater internet. For a given household, this is usually what people call the router or modem. The network traffic of all your devices flows through this choke point or gateway. When I say "on a network," I mean anything on the inside of the choke point, i.e. anything directly connected to your SSID of "Ballin'Stalin." You router or modem is going to be on two networks: the inner "Ballin'Stalin" network, and an outer network which is hooked up to Comcast, or Cox Internet, etc. While this might all seem obvious, there is, here, an important thing to note: your IP address in your inner network is not the same as the IP address that the public internet sees, a phenomenon unique to the architecture of the Internet as a whole. Materially, this means that any potentially illegal communist activity (i.e. posting on twitter) taking place from your inner network will be seen by the endpoint (, and by anyone listening in on the network traffic (the feds), as the same IP address. In short, if you are going to do legally questionable activities, never do it from your own network, both for your own sake and for the sake of whoever else you live with.

We must also quickly cover the concept of the Domain Name Systems (DNS). Whenever anyone buys a domain name (e.g.,, etc.) from a Domain Registrar (e.g.,, they gain the ability to cause a domain name to point to a certain IP address. So whenever you type a website's URL into your browser, your computer asks a DNS server "Hi! What is the IP address of" The DNS server then replies with an IP address like "" or "2001::24:2124:223," which your computer can then use to connect to that website.

The architecture of DNS is a curious thing, but what does this all mean for the practical revolutionary? First, whenever you browse to a website, an unencrypted (unless you configure otherwise) message is sent from your computer to a DNS server—usually on the public internet—with the URL inside for anyone to see (if they're sitting on the wire in between). There are some browsers that encrypt DNS requests by default, Firefox for one with DNS-over-HTTP, but the practical revolutionary must understand that, for a variety of reasons, this might not necessarily prevent the authorities from seeing what sites you've been browsing.

DNS is also how the U.S. government was able to seize important Iranian websites [13], as they can arbitrarily take over DNS names to point anywhere they want—it is an extremely easy thing for them to do. So if your organizing capabilities rely in anyway on people being able to browse to "," you will need contingencies for when no one can access your site anymore.

One last consideration with regards to the network layer: in order to have a website, you need DNS and an IP address to point your domain name towards—this is key. Most people only have a single IP address that is assigned to their network modem by their ISP, but if you host your web server with a private company (e.g. Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Cloudflare), you also run the risk of having your IP address revoked and your website taken down by the company, à la 8chan [14].

Layer 4: Greed
"For all the gold that is or ever was beneath the moon could never offer rest to even one of these exhausted spirits." —Dante, Canto VII

For the bored revolutionary, we are almost done with this tiresome tour of hell—I promise. Our next stop is layer 4, the transport layer, where encryption is primarily implemented. Or, to put in simpler terms, all of the data from layers 2 and 3 are unencrypted and can usually be monitored at all times. Layer 4 is where we finally get into application-specific concepts, for example: email, gaming, web browsing, etc. We do not really need to know much about all that; only that certain applications will encrypt their traffic, and certain ones will not.

To summarize everything after IP addresses, it suffices to discuss Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), the most important application, as it is what people are thinking of when they say "encryption." Whenever you connect to a website that begins with "http," that connection is more than likely not going to be encrypted from your browser to the website server; alternatively, if the site starts with "https," then it is encrypted and trusted by your browser. Tech privacy advocates will take it a step further and say "if it is https, then you are safe," but there is a distinction between "safe" for the revolutionary and "safe" for the average person—the practical revolutionary must understand that there is no privacy when dealing with the Internet.

When your web browser connects "securely" with HTTPS, the first thing that happens is that the server provides its Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificate, i.e. the thing that says "yes, I am certified as" Your browser will check to see that the certificate matches "," and then it will also utilize cryptography to see that this certificate is "trusted." While the math itself might be provably correct, shown to have no issues or backdoors, the concept of "trust" brings into consideration "trusted according to whom"?

You see, the whole schema of HTTPS and TLS certificates relies on "chains of trust," which essentially say: "This certification says that I am ',' and it is cryptographically stamped by this other certificate which is owned by a trusted company. Because the trusted company is trusted, and also because they stamped my certificate with theirs, my certificate is also trusted! I promise!" While there may be many certificates in a chain, following the chain of trust usually leads back to a Certificate Authority (CA), a company or entity that has been delegated as a trusted third party by some other entity, typically a web browser or an operating system (OS).

So let us look at some of these adjudicators of trust. Amazon and Microsoft are probably the most well known Certificate Authorities, but there are also CAs with such trustworthy names as "Entrust, Inc.," "AffirmTrust," "SECOM Trust Systems CO.LTD," "IdenTrust," "Trustwave Holdings, Inc.," "Trustis Limited," TrustCor Systems S. de R.L.," "Cybertrust, Inc.," and "The USERTRUST Network." Perusing the Firefox certificates, one can note quite a few regional authority CAs, the most notable examples being: "The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey," "TAIWAN-CA," "China Financial Certification Authority," "Hongkong Post," "Krajowa Izba Rozliczeniowa S.A.," and "Staat der Nederlanden," among others. It used to be that browsers would just trust the Certificate Authorities of the underlying operating system, but Firefox shifted to utilizing their own trusted certs [15], along with Chrome in late 2020 [16].

So what does the Certificate Authority system mean for the practical revolutionary? It is a safe assumption to say that if the state wants to intercept your traffic, they can [17], and it is also a safe assumption to say that the state can have any certificate signed that it wants—odds being that there is at least one company in the browser CA lists which is sympathetic to national interests, if not a CIA front in the first place. With these two conditions met, there is no way to know if your private data is not being monitored at all times, nor is there any way to know if anything you see online is genuine or not, as the state can intercept and modify any network traffic in spite of these "Secure Connections."

Moreover, since your computer's Operating System utilizes the same certificate system for validating software and updates (but in most cases different certificates), whether Windows or Macintosh or Linux, it is not just the Internet that cannot be trusted, but the entirety of modern day computation. In January of 2020, the NSA reported a security vulnerability (i.e. a bug) in Microsoft's cryptography code which could have allowed someone to spoof digital signatures for software—i.e. to bypass the entire certificate process for software, and to pass off a virus or spyware as legitimate software [18]. While this bug would only be useful if you could get someone to install your spoofed virus, this becomes a trivial task if you can intercept network traffic, like the NSA would be able to do. If the NSA is willing to throw away a bug like that, something that they could use to compromise a large majority of internet connected Windows devices in the world, it makes one wonder exactly why that would be.

Finally, if you are actually of concern with the state, there is not really any technological steps that you can take to protect yourself; in a very direct manner your device will be compromised [19].


Terrain's effect on struggle and warfare has been a topic described for centuries—even Sun Tzu dedicated an entire chapter to the subject in his work, The Art of War. For a more relevant and recent comparison, we can, however, look to Mao:

"Guerrilla warfare has qualities and objectives peculiar to itself. It is a weapon that a nation inferior in arms and military equipment may employ against a more powerful aggressor nation. When the invader pierces deep into the heart of the weaker country and occupies her territory in a cruel and oppressive manner, there is no doubt that conditions of terrain, climate, and society in general offer obstacles to his progress and may be used to advantage by those who oppose him. In guerrilla warfare we turn these advantages to the purpose of resisting and defeating the enemy." [20]

As dialectical thinkers, we must recognize that electronic organizing, propaganda, and warfare are all qualities and objectives particular to themselves. We must recognize that we are indeed inferior in online arms and online equipment, expertise and understanding. But the similarity to guerrilla warfare stops there, as the Internet is not being invaded by the state; that would be a complete rejection of reality. We are the invaders, inferior in arms and digital expertise and understanding, and we are attempting to fight on a terrain that we know nothing about. The conditions of the terrain, climate, and online society in general offer obstacles to our progress and are most certainly used to the advantage of those who oppose us. If we accept the above to be true, then we must think tactically: advance or retreat to different terrain? Is it even possible for communists to "win" online and what would a victory even look like?

Twenty years have passed since the onset of the digital revolution, since our social interactions have been radically restructured, practical dialectical and material analyses for the revolutionary remain sparse. During times of such sparsity, Lenin's words must not be forgotten:

"At different stages of economic evolution, depending on differences in political, national-cultural, living and other conditions, different forms of struggle come to the fore and become the principal forms of struggle; and in connection with this, the secondary, auxiliary forms of struggle undergo change in their turn. To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position." [21]

By concentrating our efforts into online activities, we expand our reach yet we also limit the amount of people we can reach. Even in America there is still approximately seven percent of the population, skewing older and less formally-educated, who do not even use the Internet [22]. If we cannot even reach these millions of people, how much do we really gain from the Internet? We know it is possible to be social creatures without social media's unblinking gaze, and we know it is possible for revolutions to occur without WiFi, yet we also know it is possible to resist imperialists without the aid of the Internet, even in the modern era [23].

Maybe the real dead end was the technology we used along the way.


Ashe S. Jaeger is a Senior Tech Expert with a decade of experience and has spoken at conferences around the world. While newer to the Marxist-Leninist tradition, Ashe hopes to contribute experienced electronic insights to fill in the gaps on a subject that might be lesser known to other Communists.



[1] Zedong, Mao. On Contradiction. Chapter 2.

[2] Lorde, Audrey. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. p. 110-114.

[3] Defense Technical Information Center, "DTIC AD0504136: Lessons Learned, Headquarters, 25th Infantry Division". p 11.

[4] Department of Defense. "Bugging the Battlefield".

[5] Novak, Matt. 2015. "How the Vietnam War Brought High-Tech Border Surveillance to America"

[6] Levine, Yasha. Surveillance Valley, the Secret Military History of the Internet. p. 7.

[7] The Nielsen Company. "(Smart) Speaking My Language: Despite Their Vast Capabilities, Smart Speakers Are All About the Music."

[8] Pew Research Center. "Mobile Fact Sheet".

[9] Whittaker, Zack. "Ring refuses to say how many users had video footage obtained by police". TechCrunch. 2021.

[10] Lenin, V.I. Guerilla Warare. Chapter 1.

[11] CloudFlare. "What is the OSI Model?"

[12] TeleGeography. "Submarine Cable Frequently Asked Questions". 2021.

[13] U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs. "United States Seizes Websites Used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union and Kata’ib Hizballah". 2021.

[14] Prince, Matthew. "Terminating Service for 8Chan". The Cloudflare Blog. 2019.

[15] Mozilla Release Treescript. "certdata.txt". 2021

[16] Sleevi, Ryan. "Announcing the Chrome Root Program". mozilla-dev-security-policy Google Group. 2020.

[17] Washington Post. "NSA slides explain the PRISM data-collection program". 2013.

[18] Chapell, Bill. "Drug Rings' Favorite New Encrypted Platform Had One Flaw: The FBI Controlled It". National Public Radio. 2021.

[19] Marczak, Bill and Scott-Railton, John and Al-Jizawi, Noura and Anstis, Siena and Deibert, Ron. "The Great iPwn Journalists Hacked with Suspected NSO Group iMessage 'Zero-Click' Exploit". The Citizen Lab. 2020.

[20] Zedong, Mao. On Guerilla Warfare. Chapter 1.

[21] Lenin, V.I. Guerilla Warfare. Chapter 1.

[22] Perrin, Andrew and Atske, Sara. "7% of Americans don't use the internet. Who are they?". Pew Research. 2021.

[23] Gannon, Kathy. "US left Afghan airfield at night, didn't tell new commander". The Associated Press. 2021.


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The Nielsen Company. "(Smart) Speaking My Language: Despite Their Vast Capabilities, Smart Speakers Are All About the Music". 2018.

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