Tuesday July 29th, 2014, 11:00 pm (EDT)

United States

Surveillance Capitalism

Monopoly-Finance Capital, the Military-Industrial Complex, and the Digital Age

The United States came out of the Second World War as the hegemonic power in the world economy. The war had lifted the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression by providing the needed effective demand in the form of endless orders for armaments and troops. Real output rose by 65 percent between 1940 and 1944, and industrial production jumped by 90 percent. At the immediate end of the war, due to the destruction of the European and Japanese economies, the United States accounted for over 60 percent of world manufacturing output. The very palpable fear at the top of society as the war came to a close was that of a reversion to the pre-war situation in which domestic demand would be insufficient to absorb the enormous and growing potential economic surplus generated by the production system, thereby leading to a renewed condition of economic stagnation and depression.… Postwar planners in industry and government moved quickly to stabilize the system through the massive promotion of a sales effort in the form of a corporate marketing revolution based in Madison Avenue, and through the creation of a permanent warfare state, dedicated to the imperial control of world markets and to fighting the Cold War, with its headquarters in the Pentagon. The sales effort and the military-industrial complex constituted the two main surplus-absorption mechanisms (beyond capitalist consumption and investment) in the U.S. economy in the first quarter-century after the Second World War.… | more |

Electronic Communications Surveillance

The government is collecting information on millions of citizens. Phone, Internet, and email habits, credit card and bank records—virtually all information that is communicated electronically is subject to the watchful eye of the state. The government is even building a nifty, 1.5 million square foot facility in Utah to house all of this data. With the recent exposure of the NSA’s PRISM program by whistleblower Edward Snowden, many people—especially activists—are wondering: How much privacy do we actually have? Well, as far as electronic privacy, the short answer is: None. None at all. There are a few ways to protect yourself, but ultimately, nothing in electronic communications is absolutely protected.… | more |

The New Surveillance Normal

NSA and Corporate Surveillance in the Age of Global Capitalism

The National Security Agency (NSA) document cache released by Edward Snowden reveals a need to re-theorize the role of state and corporate surveillance systems in an age of neoliberal global capitalism. While much remains unknowable to us, we now are in a world where private communications are legible in previously inconceivable ways, ideologies of surveillance are undergoing rapid transformations, and the commodification of metadata (and other surveillance intelligence) transforms privacy. In light of this, we need to consider how the NSA and corporate metadata mining converge to support the interests of capital.… | more |

The Zombie Bill

The Corporate Security Campaign That Would Not Die

The government-corporate surveillance complex is consolidating. What has been a confidential but informal collaboration now seeks to legalize its special status.… July 9, 2012, was a scorcher in Washington, DC, with afternoon temperatures over 100 degrees, when an audience of about fifty think-tankers convened in a third-floor briefing room of the Senate’s Russell Office Building on Capitol Hill. Then-Senator John Kyl sponsored the show, although he did not appear in person. He had invited the American Center for Democracy (ACD) and the Economic Warfare Institute (EWI) to explore the topic of “Economic Warfare Subversions: Anticipating the Threat.”… | more |

New this week!

Surveillance and Scandal

Weapons in an Emerging Array for U.S. Global Power

During six riveting months in 2013–2014, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) poured out from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, and Brazil’s O Globo, revealing nothing less than the architecture of the U.S. global surveillance apparatus. Despite heavy media coverage and commentary, no one has pointed out the combination of factors that made the NSA’s expanding programs to monitor the world seem like such an alluring development for Washington’s power elite. The answer is remarkably simple: for an imperial power losing its economic grip on the planet and heading into more austere times, the NSA’s latest technological breakthroughs look like a seductive bargain when it comes to projecting power and keeping subordinate allies in line.… | more |

“We’re Profiteers”

How Military Contractors Reap Billions from U.S. Military Bases Overseas

“You whore it out to a contractor,” Major Tim Elliott said bluntly. It was April 2012, and I was at a swank hotel in downtown London attending “Forward Operating Bases 2012,” a conference for contractors building, supplying, and maintaining military bases around the world. IPQC, the private company running the conference, promised the conference would “bring together buyers and suppliers in one location” and “be an excellent platform to initiate new business relationships” through “face-to-face contact that overcrowded trade shows cannot deliver.” Companies sending representatives included major contractors like General Dynamics and the food services company Supreme Group, which has won billions in Afghan war contracts, as well as smaller companies like QinetiQ, which produces acoustic sensors and other monitoring devices used on bases. “We’re profiteers,” one contractor representative said to the audience in passing, with only a touch of irony.… | more |

U.S. Control of the Internet

Problems Facing the Movement to International Governance

After the Snowden revelations, Internet governance has emerged from relative obscurity, involving only a small technical community, to occupy the center stage of human rights discourse and international relations.… Everyone agrees that digital technologies, including the Internet, are transformative technologies. They reorder society as a whole, as well as relations between society and individuals. But…[their] potential…has not been fully realized. A case in point: instead of the democratizing potential of the Internet, a few global corporations have created monopolies that are much bigger than those we have seen before, and this has happened in just two decades. What does this mean, for instance, for the plurality of media voices? We know that Internet advertising revenue in the United States, having previously overtaken the print media, has now overtaken even TV network advertising revenues. How did monopolies on such a scale happen, and happen so quickly? Does it have to do with the nature of the Internet? Or its architecture and governance?… | more |

Merging the Law of War with Criminal Law

France and the United States

To support the “war on terrorism,” the concept of war has been introduced into the criminal code of all Western countries. This is the first step on the way to a merger between criminal law and the law of war. Massive spying by the secret services of a country on its citizens has today become the norm. The Snowden revelations on the operations of the NSA have only brought to light a widespread surveillance that is already legalized.… Despite the prominence given to the practices of U.S. intelligence agencies and the resulting indignation in France, the French parliament just adopted a military planning law that includes measures allowing practices similar to those of the NSA, specifically massive spying by intelligence agencies on citizens.… | more |

The National Security State

The End of Separation of Powers

On March 11, 2014, Senator Dianne Feinstein went to the U.S. Senate floor to announce that the CIA had sought to sabotage a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of torture and unlawful detention.… Already, government lawyers had convinced courts that there should be no judicial review of torture and unlawful detention. Such review, it was argued, was beyond the competence of judges, and the executive branch of government needed unfettered discretion to deal with national security threats.… The net result is that the CIA, the NSA, and all the other executive branch agencies engaged in surveillance, detention, torture, rendition of suspects, and even targeted killings by drone strike have claimed immunity from accountability by either of the two other branches—legislative and judicial. What they have done, why they have done it, and why their actions are or are not lawful—all of this has retreated behind a wall of secrecy. The claim made by government lawyers that there has been and will be legislative oversight turns out to be false.… | more |

Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century

Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century

Media, Politics, and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy

In the United States and much of the world there is a palpable depression about the prospect of overcoming the downward spiral created by the tyranny of wealth and privilege and establishing a truly democratic and sustainable society. It threatens to become self-fulfilling. In this trailblazing new book, award-winning author Robert W. McChesney argues that the weight of the present is blinding people to the changing nature and the tremendous possibilities of the historical moment we inhabit. In Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century, he uses a sophisticated political economic analysis to delineate the recent trajectory of capitalism and its ongoing degeneration.… | more |

In Walt We Trust

In Walt We Trust

How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself

Marsh identifies four sources for our contemporary malaise (death, money, sex, democracy) and then looks to a particular Whitman poem for relief from it. He makes plain what, exactly, Whitman wrote and what he believed by showing how they emerged from Whitman’s life and times, and by recreating the places and incidents (crossing Brooklyn ferry, visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals) that inspired Whitman to write the poems. Whitman, Marsh argues, can show us how to die, how to accept and even celebrate our (relatively speaking) imminent death. Just as important, though, he can show us how to live: how to have better sex, what to do about money, and, best of all, how to survive our fetid democracy without coming away stinking ourselves. The result is a mix of biography, literary criticism, manifesto, and a kind of self-help you’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else.… | more |

Labor and “Ed Deform”

The Degradation of Teachers’ Work through Standardized Testing and the New York City Evaluation System

The biggest threat to education today is the corporate education reform movement—what many of us call “Ed Deform.” It is also the biggest threat to teachers’ working conditions. Changes in education legislation are creating new government-funded markets for education entrepreneurs. Spending is being shifted away from teacher salaries, benefits, and pensions and into standardized tests, curriculum, and technology. To maximize this investment opportunity teachers must be reskilled away from deciding on content, assessing students, and tailoring education to meet diverse students’ needs and interests. This reduces the room for teachers to implement, for example, the demands of anti-racist advocates and concerned parents for “culturally relevant curriculum” or, indeed, anything that deviates from relevant test-prep skills. Standardized test scores provide a simple metric for measuring “productivity” against teacher labor costs. One example of this Taylorist dynamic is New York City’s new “Advance” Teacher Evaluation system.… | more |

Rupert Murdoch: Not Silent, But Deadly

Rupert Murdoch is unquestionably the single most important media figure of our times. He is a dominant force in the journalism and politics of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Whether the world would be the same with some other person playing the same role had he never been born is an academic matter. In this world, Murdoch controls a vast media empire, which pushes his political agenda and his commercial ambitions. One studies Murdoch much like one studies Rommel: in awe of the vision but petrified by the consequences of his actions.… | more |

Stagnation and Financialization: The Nature of the Contradiction

The Nature of the Contradiction

More than six years after the beginning of the Great Recession in the United States, and nearly five years since it was officially declared over in this country, the core economies of the capitalist world system remain crisis-ridden. The jobs lost in the downturn in the United States have not yet been fully recovered and the economy remains sluggish. In Europe the crisis has hardly abated at all and a number of the peripheral European Union countries are in what can only be called a depression—especially Greece, Spain, and Portugal. The last member of the triad of advanced capitalist centers, Japan, has gone through what have been called two “lost decades” of slow growth and deflation and is attempting once again to jump-start the economy through a combination of devaluation of the yen and deficit spending.… | more |

Crisis, Recovery, and the Transitional Economy: The Struggle for Cooperative Ownership in Greensboro, North Carolina

The Struggle for Cooperative Ownership in Greensboro, North Carolina

There is much to ponder as the patchwork of American society continues to unravel from the effects of a new type of capitalist depression.… [T]he wealthiest 1% of Americans earned more than 19 percent of the country’s household income in 2012, their biggest share since 1928, a year before the Wall Street stock-market collapse.… [For an alternative to this] we might look to Occupy’s brief history beyond Wall Street—that is, in the cities and towns where its initial energy was so keenly felt, and where it is likely that many of us have since embarked on new projects that carry the potential of a transitional and transformational politics.… Such is the case in Greensboro, North Carolina, a mid-size Southern city known for its struggles for civil rights and socio-economic justice. It is here where the Occupy movement played a small but seminal role in what has become a fierce, grass-roots struggle for cooperative ownership in the African-American community.… | more |

A Practical Solution to an Urgent Need

After the Second World War, autoworkers gained higher wages and benefits. We were separated from our class financially and in the process we embraced an economic system which causes global human misery. A misery which has come back to haunt us like a self-inflicted disease, an illness born of uncontrolled appetite. Many of my comrades worked excessive overtime, gambled on the stock market, and invested in extravagant real-estate ventures. They were buried so deep in debt that a strike was unthinkable to them. They couldn’t afford to miss a payment to the man. Everything they earned was turned over to dealers who already had plans for all the money these workers would ever make in their lifetimes. Consumption appeared to be an end in itself. The only difference between these good hard workers and junkies was that the capitalist system conferred status on their addiction.… | more |

Notes from the Editors, March 2014

Notes from the Editors, March 2014

» Notes from the Editors

This issue of Monthly Review is mainly devoted to two commemorations: for Paul Alexander Baran, who died fifty years ago this month; and for Hugo Rafael Chávez Friás, who died one year ago this month.… Paul A. Baran was the author of The Political Economy of Growth (1957) and, with Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (1966). Baran’s work on the roots of underdevelopment focused on the way in which the imperialist world system robbed countries of their actual and potential economic surplus, chaining them to conditions of dependency.… Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in March 2013, provided the crucial inspiration for the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. Chávez created a new vernacular of revolution linked historically to Latin America’s Bolivarian tradition (marked by Bolívar’s famous statement that “equality is the law of laws”).… | more |

Baran’s Critique of Modern Society and of the Social Sciences

We are publishing here for the first time a talk that Herbert Marcuse delivered at Stanford University on April 1, 1966, as part of a two-day conference on Paul A. Baran, entitled “Baran and American Radicalism Today”—commemorating the second anniversary of Baran’s death (on March 26, 1964). The talk was transcribed from a recording from the conference made available to us by Baran’s son, Nicholas Baran. Various editorial annotations have been added in the form of endnotes.

The Baran–Sweezy Letters Project

The correspondence of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy in the 1950s and early ‘60s is one of the great, unknown legacies of Marxian political economy in the United States. Over the past year and a half, I have been transcribing all of these letters with the goal of having the collection published by Monthly Review press, both as a hardcopy book of selected letters, as well as an unabridged e-book. In commemoration of my father, Paul A. Baran, on the fiftieth anniversary of his death on March 26, 1964, we decided to refer publicly for the first time to the Baran–Sweezy Letters Project and to publish a few important and representative letters.… | more |

How Can We Combine Direct Support Work with Political Analysis?

Harsha Walia, Undoing Border Imperialism (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2013), 321 pages, $16.00, paperback.

One December day in 2007, two thousand people showed up at Vancouver’s International Airport. Unlike other days, these particular people had not come to catch a flight; they were there to stop a person from boarding one. Laibar Singh, a paralyzed refugee from India, was facing deportation. On the day he was to leave, those two thousand people, mostly Punjabi elders and aunties, shut down the international terminal, causing the cancellation of dozens of flights. They formed a protective circle around Singh for hours, finally forcing immigration enforcement to back down.… “This historic blockade in December 2007 is the only documented time in recent North American history that the violence of deportation has been prevented through the power of a mass mobilization and direct action,” wrote Harsha Walia, one of the organizers responsible for this mass mobilization and the author and editor of Undoing Border Imperialism. … | more |