Ethereum Classic: A Clarion Call
The Founding of Ethereum Classic
Ethereum Classic isn’t like most cryptocurrencies. It wasn’t born of a revolutionary idea like most new coins, or even on an evolution in design like most forks. Ethereum Classic’s raison d’être was the preservation of the status quo, a full-throated defense of immutability in the face of the Ethereum core development team’s willingness to abandon one of blockchain’s core principles.
Having seen the potential damage which centralization could do, the ETC community made its feelings known. Reading back over the original ETC website; one finds a Declaration of Independence, a Crypto-Decentralist Manifesto, and discussions about a Decentralized Governance System.
All of these documents put a strong focus on decentralization. The Manifesto in particular has a particularly strong emphasis on it (bold emphasis mine):
It’s impossible to achieve these blockchain characteristics without the system being truly decentralized. If any aspect of the blockchain system becomes subject to centralized control, this introduces an attack vector enabling the violation of one or more of the key blockchain characteristics.
So decentralization is the most important feature of blockchain systems, the one everything else depends on. With decentralization, blockchains will come to rule the world. Without it, they’ll be “contained” and railroaded into niche applications.
Principles in Practice
At first, the expansion of Ethereum Classic was rapid. Blogging and evangelism was strong, with a bitter sense of resentment felt between the adherents of the immutable ETC and the forked ETH. Development teams sprung up — the Ethereum Commonwealth (now defunct), ETCDev (most of whom now work for ETC Labs), and IOHK.
Various funding networks were set up, with multiple competing clients all implementing the protocol — largely forks of existing Ethereum node software, but maintained fully in parallel for the ETC ecosystem. The ETC Cooperative was set up to fund development, marketing, and community infrastructure. Decentralization seemed to be working.
Ethereum Classic has picked up somewhat of a reputation for having too much internal fighting, but for the most part this has been respectful disagreement. Any open source project will have passionate discourse, and in the ETC world debate has mostly focused on technological solutions and not politics or personalities.
The Treasury, an ill-fated suggestion to tax the miners to pay for development time, has been a regular topic of debate amongst regulars, as have various changes to inflationary policy, difficulty spikes, and various changes to create bytecode parity with Ethereum.
The Ever-Present Threat of Centralization
ETCDev, one of the core development teams, ran into cashflow issues during the bear market of 2018, allegedly because it held a large percentage of its funds in crypto and wasn’t able to access enough money to keep its developers paid. The DFG stepped in and offered to ‘bail out’ ETCDev to the tune of $300,000, allegedly with heavy strings attached.
The Digital Finance Group, or DFG, is a large Chinese financial organization which specializes in cryptocurrency investments and currently owns the ETC Labs incubator and the ETC Labs Core development team. Its name carries a lot of baggage in Ethereum Classic circles, but I’m not interested in re-hashing those arguments, which have been made on many other blogs and responded to by people who know far more about them than I do.
I’m picking out DFG because they’re currently the most powerful entity in Ethereum Classic’s ecosystem, but whether you think ETC Labs are the savior of ETC, the great antagonist, or something between the two; it’s hard to understate the potential for an entity with this kind of funding and influence to be a disproportionate force within the ecosystem.
The answer is not to oppose external funding or large entities getting involved — it’s both impractical and undesirable to prevent interested parties from becoming a part of an exciting and growing ecosystem — but to understand that our responsibility as a community is to maintain the decentralization which was hard fought for and won with the hard fork.
Solution I. Decentralize All The (Possible) Things
Sadly, in today’s world, there are some things which are impractical to decentralize. Domain names, for example, are explicitly controlled by a single entity — a person, an organization, or a corporation — and there are no viable ways (that I know of) to maintain decentralized control of such assets.
There are other parts of our ecosystem like the GitHub organization (ethereumproject or ethereumclassic depending whether you want ETC Labs’ sole controlled version or the community version) which would have been easier to distribute. Mango is an interesting implementation of git using the EVM which could be up with multisig access controls, and GitTorrent offers similar benefits over the torrent protocol.
For anyone with the ability to code (like me), one way to contribute is to become a developer on one of the many projects attached to the project — whether that’s distributed applications, wallet software, or core node software. The more coders we have who aren’t associated with one of the major development teams, the less we are at their mercy.
For anyone with the hardware, running your own full node helps the network to remain decentralized, and mining helps to keep it secure.
Whilst we’re on the subject of funding, crowdfunding has been a phenomenon the world over, with Kickstarter, Patreon, et al comprising a sizeable chunk of the digital economy and providing many people with their livelihoods. Each ETC holder may not have a stockpile of gold to take on a hedge fund, but by coming together and crowdfunding developers & influencers who share our values, we can make our voices heard.
Whether this takes the form of a Patreon-esque ‘monthly subscription’, a new DAO, or a bounty system — or even a combination of the three — is a discussion I’m largely agnostic to. The only things I feel strongly about are that the funding system should be on-chain (to avoid the meddling of credit card processors and companies like Patreon) and it should be voluntary.
I touched on IOHK’s Treasury proposal earlier, but I think it’s important to bring up here because it always comes up in discussions about how to fund development and community outreach. I’m not in favor of this type of solution, primarily because it isn’t voluntary and involves trading off security (which in the aftermath of a 51% attack seems like an even worse idea than it did a while ago), but secondarily because it’s an expensive and inelegant solution to a fairly simple problem.
Solution II. Share ETC with Everyone & Make Your Voice Heard
Perhaps you’re not a developer, you’re not sitting on a pile of high-end hardware, and you don’t have the money to invest in Ethereum Classic’s future. What can you do to help protect our chain? Outreach efforts and suggestions.
Blogging, networking with blockchain & fintech groups, attending meetups, giving talks at conferences — there are many ways to ensure that Ethereum Classic gets onto, and stays on, peoples’ radar. You can be a force multiplier in driving interest to the ecosystem which not only helps efforts to keep ETC decentralized, but drives users to dApps, which in turn will attract developers.
Maybe you’re a UX designer or have ideas which can make ETC applications more approachable for end users. Discussing these with developers and with entrepreneurial types could be the start of a “CryptoKitties”-like phenomenon and push ETC closer to the mainstream.
Solution III. Treat Each Other with Respect
For us to disagree is normal. Some of us like the treasury, some don’t. Some of us like ETC Labs, some don’t. I think it’s essential to assume that the person you’re speaking to wants a good outcome for ETC unless they’ve stated or shown you otherwise.
Robust debate is a healthy thing, but it should stay on ideas and facts, and not go down the route of personal attacks and unsubstantiated allegations. I have no particular love for our sister chain, but reading about the way Afri — an active Ethereum developer and contributor — was abused by a small minority in their community for having an opinion made me sad. It should not require cross-chain letters condemning this kind of abuse for people to realize it’s bad.
I’m not saying anything this bad has happened in ETC — for the most part, I think we’re a pretty robust bunch who say what we think and think what we say — but some of the “discussions” I’ve seen on Discord & Twitter have been substance minimalist and offered nothing of value to anyone.
Far more unites us than separates us, and looking for compromise and solutions is the way ETC will reach the heights we know it can.
Let’s not lose sight of why this project started. Despite our internal struggles, the future for ETC is bright is we can work our way past them. If each of us steps up a little towards that initial mission statement — writes a little more code, onboards another developer, brings funding into the community, gives a little of our own holdings to help someone else to work on our behalf, thinks about and proposes rational solutions to the big issues like mainstream adoption — we are on the cusp of a perfect storm.
Patreon is banning some of its largest creators, Twitter is censoring people on an untold scale, and financial giants are getting involved in the biggest political censorship scheme of our generation. The gatekeepers in the centralized world are doing everything they can to push people in the direction of permissionless, decentralized, and immutable computing.
Let’s answer the Clarion Call.