Thursday August 28th, 2014, 9:05 am (EDT)

Movements

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 |

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 |

New this week!

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 |

Popular Movements Toward Socialism: Their Unity and Diversity

The following reflections deal with a permanent and fundamental challenge that has confronted, and continues to confront, all popular movements struggling against capitalism. By this I mean both those of movements whose explicit radical aim is to abolish the system based on private proprietorship over the modern means of production (capital) in order to replace it with a system based on workers’ social proprietorship, and those of movements which, without going so far, involve mobilization aimed at real and significant transformation of the relations between labor (“employed by capital”) and capital (“which employs the workers”).… Taken as a whole, many of these movements can be termed “movements toward socialism.”… | more |

Notes from the Editors, May 2014

Notes from the Editors, May 2014

» Notes from the Editors

Monthly Review celebrates its sixty-fifth anniversary with this issue. Today the causes for which the magazine has stood throughout its history—the struggle against capitalism and imperialism and the battle for socialism as the only alternative path—are more pressing than ever. Indeed, so great is the epochal crisis of our time, encompassing both the economic and ecological crises, that nothing but a world revolution is likely to save humanity (and countless others among the earth’s species) from a worsening series of catastrophes.…This may seem like a shocking statement; ironically, not so much because of its invocation of the visible threat to humanity’s existence, but rather because of its reference to revolution as the only solution.… | more |

Climate Change: What Role For Reform?

It was an honor to have my essay “A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis,” from the summer 2013 issue of Dissent, “read with interest” by the editors of Monthly Review, even if the editors took issue with my argument that the timeframe of climate science indicates that getting off fossil fuels must happen starting immediately and be completed in only a few decades.… As Marxists, the editors of MR should be as radical as reality itself, even when that offends intellectual sensibilities and requires a new flexibility. Anyone literate in climate science must admit that the short-term struggle to mitigate carbon emissions is an essential precondition for achieving any other larger, longer-term goal. The science on this is clear: there is no time left to wait, carbon emissions must come down as soon as possible and as fast as possible.… | more |

A Reply to Parenti

Our friend and MR author Christian Parenti misunderstood our brief comments (“Notes from the Editors,” MR, November 2013) on his article in the summer issue of Dissent. We did not challenge the science of climate change, which tells us that carbon emissions must cease before one trillion metric tons of carbon have been emitted—a tipping point that will be reached in about 2040 under business as usual. There is no question that the fossil-fuel industry must go. In fact the reality that the world is confronted by a planetary emergency with respect to climate change (and the global ecological problem as a whole) and that the critical threshold will likely be approached by around 2040 (or even sooner) under capitalist economics as usual, is one that has been insisted upon by Monthly Review for twenty years.… | more |

Proposing a Path to Socialism: Two Papers for Hugo Chávez

Everyone understands that it is impossible to achieve the vision of socialism for the twenty-first century in one giant leap forward. It is not simply a matter of changing property ownership. This is the easiest part of building the new world. Far more difficult is changing productive relations, social relations in general, and attitudes and ideas.… To transform existing relations into the new productive relations, we need first of all to understand the nature of the existing relations. Only then can you identify the mechanisms by which the new relations can be introduced. At this time, there is a great variety of experiments and approaches to changing productive relations which are being pursued. There is no attempt to set out specific proposals here but only to provide the framework in which such changes should be explored in order to move toward socialist productive relations.… | 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 |

Unearthing Woody Guthrie’s Lost Novel

In 1937 Woody Guthrie wrote a letter to his friend, the actor Eddie Albert, asking for a loan. He needed cash for a special project—around $300 for building materials. Guthrie had lately become fixated on the idea of building an adobe house. He had just read U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin No. 1720, The Use of Adobe or Sun-Dried Brick for Farm Building, by T.A.H. Miller, and he was inspired.… It is not clear if Albert ever came through with the loan, but Guthrie never built the house.… [However] Guthrie never got over those adobe houses. A decade after leaving Pampa he completed House of Earth, a novel that celebrates adobe and relates it to a broader vision of solidarity and struggle.… | more |

Sharp Left Turn for the Media Reform Movement: Toward a Post-Capitalist Democracy

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.… | more |

Saving Our Unions: Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win?

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win?

Any review of the recent ups and downs of U.S. labor must start in Michigan, long a bastion of blue-collar unionism rooted in car manufacturing. Fifteen months ago, this Midwestern industrial state became another notch in the belt of the National Right to Work Committee, joining the not-very-desirable company of Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and twenty other “open shop” states.… The emergence of sun-belt labor relations in the birthplace of the United Auto Workers (UAW) was shocking to some. But this political setback was preceded by high-profile defeats in neighboring states that began in 2005. First Indiana, followed by Wisconsin and Ohio, stripped public workers of their bargaining rights (although the Republican attack on government employees was later repelled by popular referendum in the Buckeye State). Then in early 2012, GOP legislators in Indiana passed a right-to-work law applicable to private industry.… | more |

Reflections on the New International: Dedicated to the Memory and Legacy of President Hugo Chávez

Dedicated to the Memory and Legacy of President Hugo Chávez

The need for the establishment and successful operation of The New International is painfully obvious and urgent today. The enemies of a historically sustainable societal reproductive order, who occupy at the present time still the dominant position in our increasingly endangered world, do not hesitate for a moment to exploit in the interest of their destructive design, with utmost cynicism and hypocrisy, the existing decision-making and opinion-forming organs of the international community, from the Security Council of the United Nations to the great multiplicity of the national and international press and to the other mass media under their direct material stranglehold.… At the same time the adherents of the much needed socialist alternative are fragmented and divided among themselves, instead of internationally combining their strength for the cause of a successful confrontation with their adversaries.… | more |

Reply to “The Myth of ‘Environmental Catastrophism’”

Ian Angus constructs a strawperson in his article “The Myth of ‘Environmental Catastrophism’” (MR, September 2013), which discusses Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, which consists of essays by myself, as well as Sasha Lilley, David McNally, and James Davis. The book is concerned with the political uses of catastrophe and whether actual catastrophes or catastrophic rhetoric can spur people to action. At the heart of Catastrophism is the question of politicization. My essay, which Angus primarily focuses upon, looks at the indisputably catastrophic and urgent devastation of the environment…and asks why environmental movements in the global North have not been effective at moving people to action by simply evoking the calamity of the situation.… | more |