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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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 11 (April 2014)

April 2014 (Volume 65, Number 11)

» Notes from the Editors

The insidious nature of the economy, state, and cultural apparatus of global monopoly-finance capital is difficult to perceive—if only because it is to be found everywhere we look. Focusing on a specific case can therefore help us see what might otherwise elude us. A striking instance of this principle is to be found in the recent takeover of Chrysler by Fiat—linking a century-old Italian auto dynasty, the Great Financial Crisis of 2007–2009, the U.S. corporate bailout, the 2014 Superbowl, and the American folk music tradition.

Sharp Left Turn for the Media Reform Movement

Toward a Post-Capitalist Democracy

The contemporary media reform movement exploded into prominence in the United States in 2003 as a response to the effort by the Bush Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to weaken media ownership regulations.… The size and success of this popular uprising was…a testament to the power of activism to thwart the plans of the powerful in seemingly hopeless conditions.… The Obama campaign in 2007 and 2008 expressed interest in media reform and worked closely with members of the movement…. Except for Obama’s speech against the Iraq War invasion, it was arguably his communication platform that most distinguished him as a progressive in the 2008 presidential primaries.… One can debate whether this was an appropriate strategic shift at the time but there can be no debate that the strategy failed. The Obama administration abandoned its platform almost immediately, and repudiated the movement.

Who has little, let them have less

Marge Piercy is the author of eighteen poetry books, most recently The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980–2010 from Knopf. Her most recent novel is Sex Wars (Harper Perennial) and PM Press has republished Vida and Dance the Eagle to Sleep with new introductions.

It’s the System Stupid

Structural Crises and the Need for Alternatives to Capitalism

On Thursday, December 13, 2012, The Guardian announced Queen Elizabeth finally received an answer to her question—”Did nobody see this coming?”—about the 2008 financial crisis.… Perhaps she could have also asked three more questions: Does nobody see the suffering and socioeconomic injustices of oligopolistic-finance capitalism? Does no one see that the problems are structural and systemic? And is there no alternative to a system that generates continuous “quadruple crises”—the socioeconomic, political, environmental, and personal/psychological?… The conventional wisdom is “There Is No Alternative,” or TINA. For this reason most Americans simply acquiesce to capitalistic social relations and, like Sisyphus, are resigned to performing eternal tasks while enduring the “endless” quadruple crises generated by a pathological system.… The most extraordinary aspect concerning the absence of an alternative is that it is fallacious. The capitalistic system itself must be transformed. To put it into a slogan: Capitalism Is No Alternative, or CINA.

Rethinking Is Not Demonizing

A Conversation with Cao Zhenglu About His Novel Lessons in Democracy

Cao Zhenglu is a well-known contemporary Chinese realist writer. His stories “Na’er” (“There,” about the tragic experience of a union cadre in a state-owned enterprise undergoing “structural reform”) and “Nihong” (“Neon,” about the life and death of a laid-off woman worker) expose the predicament of Chinese workers in the reform period. His novel Wen cangmang (Asking the Boundless—an allusion to a line from one of Mao’s poems, “I ask, on this boundless land, who rules over man’s destiny”) has a Taiwanese-owned factory in Shenzhen as the central theater, around which different characters struggle to understand and play their roles in the larger context of “investment.” This novel has been celebrated as “the first novel that uses Chinese reality to explain Das Kapital.” His most recent novel, Minzhu ke (Lessons in Democracy [Taipei: Taiwan shehui yanjiu zazhishe, 2013]), initiates a further reflection on the Cultural Revolution. Cao’s novel re-narrates the Cultural Revolution in terms of its historical unfolding—its aims, processes, contradictions, and significance, and links this story with the contemporary problem of China’s path today.

Yesterday Shows Another Day Is Here

Once you were children. If you did not read The Carrot Seed or Harold and the Purple Crayon, probably your children or your friends’ children did. You might have learned internationalism from The Big World and the Little House, or cultural relativism from Who’s Upside Down?, or freethinking and obstinacy from Barnaby. If you did not, it is likely your friends and future comrades did. What you might not have learned is that all these children’s books (and many other progressive favorites) were authored by one or the other or both members of a couple whose left politics inflected their work.… Philip Nel—the editor, with Julia L. Mickenberg, of Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature…—has devoted himself to rescuing twentieth-century radical children’s literature and its authors from relative oblivion.

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