Updates

Articles

Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Indian Left – Praful Bidwai: Never afraid to write what he believed in

Indian Left – Praful Bidwai: Never afraid to write what he believed in

25 June 2015

Praful Bidwai passed away in Amsterdam on June 23. He was in the Dutch capital for the annual Transnational Institute Fellows’ Meeting. Bidwai was an outstanding journalist who worked with some of the most reputed papers of his time, but also established a reputation for himself as an independent writer. He was deeply interested in, passionate about, the politics of development. He wrote extensively on nuclear disarmament and climate change and co-authored several books on the subject.

Praful came from a science background, but he was interested in everything. Human rights, communal issues, ecology, but it was nuclear power and its uses that particularly caught his attention.

Praful was an activist for nuclear disarmament for many years. He founded the Coalition of Nuclear Disarmament and Peace in 2000, the year after the release of our book on the question of India’s nuclearisation.

Never afraid to voice what he believed in, Praful once penned an article in the Times of India, criticising the Department of Atomic Energy’s Nuclear Energy Programme.
It was a fiery exposé in which he revealed monetary as well as strategic issues within the programme. This article led to the then Chairman of the DAE attacking Praful for being anti-patriotic. But that was Praful. He was courageous, consistent, and articulate.

Praful was a strong voice of the Left in India, in fact, he had authored a book on the Indian Left which will be published soon. He was incredibly anti-communal and championed civil liberty and secularism. I was lucky enough to collaborate with him on a number of projects, and in 2000, Praful and I were co-awarded the International Peace Bureau’s Sean MacBride Peace Prize.

Praful was a great lover of Indian classical music. He had trained as a vocalist, and thoroughly enjoyed music. A bachelor, Praful once wrote an article clearly explaining why he was against the institution of marriage. But this lack of a “real” family meant that his friends were his family. He had an extraordinarily wide range of friends, and the bonds that he shared with those closest to him were nothing short of familial. His loss is felt very deeply by all of us fortunate enough to have known him.

Achin Vanaik


* The Indian Express. First Published on: June 25, 2015 2:04 am. Updated: June 25, 2015 9:04 am:
http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/praful-bidwai-never-afraid-to-voice-what-he-believed-in/

No more magical thinking

No more magical thinking

This Changes Everything:

Capitalism vs. the Climate
 

Every impatient radical familiar enough with the workings of capitalism and its primal role in human suffering longs at some point for others to take the red pill Morpheus offers Neo in The Matrix, which would allow people to see the world as it truly is. We hope for some type of wakeup call that strips away the web of illusions sewn by the moneyed class, corporate media, right-wing think tanks, and liberal defenders of the system. The quickening pace of global warming today strengthens this urge. 

But as a dear comrade recently reminded this author, there are no shortcuts. No provocative stunts, silver bullets, or Hollywood plot devices can mature a movement overnight. But what can accelerate the political development of a movement is the combination of a crisis, political paralysis, and growing struggle that forces movement leaders and thinkers to question theoretical assumptions and failed strategies. Naomi Klein’s new book is that process writ large, as well as a dynamic new tool for socialists inside the environmental movement arguing for a strategic reorientation.

Five years in the making, Klein’s This Changes Everything is a thoroughly researched account of our political moment. She confesses in the opening pages that she denied the severity of the climate crisis for longer than she cares to admit. Readers familiar with her previous books, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, know that Klein, though a fierce critic of neoliberalism, is not a revolutionary, or at least not yet. Klein admits that writing This Changes Everything did not begin as a condemnation of capitalism, but the historical record forced that conclusion. This transformation is one of the book’s greatest strengths, one that revolutionaries should use to develop more anticapitalists.

Klein published the book with Simon & Schuster rather than a smaller progressive publisher in order to target a mainstream audience through wider distribution, landing on the New York Times’ non-fiction bestseller list for the last quarter of 2014. Activists have reported unusual interest in book discussions. Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism in the 21st Century provoked similar interest. In growing numbers, people are clearly beginning to question the system.

The loud blue cover and inclusion of “Capitalism vs. the Planet” in the title are an interesting bellwether. The opening lines on the book jacket reveal a confidence to promote a more radical analysis that a growing movement and terrifying reality have inspired: “Forget everything you think you know about global warming. The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not about carbon—it’s about capitalism. The convenient truth is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed economic system and build something radically better.”

Revolutionaries eager to see the movement break with its illusions in the system will, on the strength of Klein’s economic analysis, likely be underwhelmed but supportive. Klein raises all the right questions, but her work lacks cohesiveness in its solutions, often simply reflecting the current political sensibilities of the movement. Nevertheless, the quality of Klein’s work as an investigative journalist is unquestionable. 

In compelling detail, she explores a broad range of questions around the climate crisis and weaves them into a highly readable narrative aimed at a liberal audience, urging them to abandon the magical thinking that we can solve the crisis with market-based solutions and more progressive politicians. John Riddell’s excellent review on his “Marxist Essays and Commentary” site, “Naomi Klein: ‘Only mass social movements can save us,’” draws out the book’s most important themes, which is where revolutionaries should begin. 

On closer examination, the Keynesian solutions Klein poses, like “Scandinavian-style Social Democracy,” sometimes contradict her “change the system” message in other parts of the book. Reforms are sometimes suggested as ends in themselves that will collectively turn the tide. At the same time, Klein is sober enough about ideological warfare and a threatened ruling class to know that the Right will not sit idly by. The question then becomes how to defend any victory for our side against the fossil fuel industry and the revolutionary dynamic this produces. 

Klein’s Keynesian critique of capitalism cuts her economic analysis short, leaving readers to fill in the gaps as to why market economies can’t be reigned in. Capitalism’s internal dynamics and growth fetish are never explored in depth. Neoliberalism is explained more as an optional ideology hatched by reactionaries rather than as a systematic response born of crises, stagnation, and the internal logic of capitalism. 

Marx and Engels’s critique of capitalism would be worth a few pages of reflection, but Marx gets only half a sentence mention. Klein points out how capitalism is incapable of changing course quickly enough as it currently operates, but offers only a general call for transcendence that the reader can interpret in multiple ways. Regardless, there is still much to absorb from Klein taking direct aim at the bankrupt corporate strategies of professional environmentalists while highlighting economic dynamics that make the necessary change impossible under the current system. 

Klein begins with the provocative premise that the Right understands the threat of climate change better than centrists, “who are still insisting that the response can be gradual and painless and that we don’t need to go to war with anybody, including the fossil fuel companies.” The Right, Klein claims, realizes that the logical conclusion to an honest assessment of the crisis would lead us to call for:

  • Massive state intervention in the economy
  • The reversal of a successful forty-years’ neoliberal ideological campaign for deregulation, tax cuts, privatization, and free trade
  • The potential confiscation of $27 trillion in carbon assets
  • The nationalization and democratization of the energy sector, and 
  • The revival of the Left

This is why the Right has worked so hard to deny the existence of climate change. Klein quotes Heartland president Joseph Bast who bluntly states that “Climate change is the perfect thing [for the Left]. . .. It’s the reason why we should do everything [the Left] wanted to do anyway.” Another Heartland speaker, James Delingpole, articulated what that might mean: “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, regulation.” 

While such progressive reforms are essential to stop climate change, Klein notes that the Left, progressive organizations, and the labor movement are weak and disorganized, largely as a result of the ruling class’s neoliberal assault on workers and the social movements. Instead of resisting this neoliberal offensive, the liberal establishment has largely joined it. As a result, Klein argues, all warnings about global warming, which became mainstream news after James Hansen’s testimony before Congress in 1988, have gone unheeded. 

Because of this bad timing, the climate crisis is now much worse. Klein is not hopeless, nor should we be. There is still time enough for our side to win substantial reforms, which would then pose the question of revolution, but the time limit for when we must act is partially dictated by physics and biology. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research note that to keep warming within 2ºC, we must reduce emissions by 8–10 percent year after year. “There is still time,” Klein concludes from interviewing these scientists, “but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed.” 

Many shy away from any mention of a timeline or even urgency out of fear of demoralizing the movement or encouraging survivalist politics. But Klein skillfully uses the reality of this timeline to do neither while showing that the urgency to act is blocked on every front by the laws of profitability. Meaningful solutions must look beyond capitalism. This is a profound breakthrough and one of the book’s greatest strengths. Klein, a 350.org board member and close collaborator with Bill McKibben, has now confirmed what the Left has been saying for decades—capitalism has to go. Socialists should use this admission to the fullest extent possible.

As the book progresses several chapters stand out. “Planning and Banning” calls for a “just transition” that must include climate jobs (favoring the hiring of traditionally marginalized peoples) to dismantle polluting infrastructure and adapt to a renewable, low-energy way of life, as well as nationalizing transportation and energy without following models like Brazil’s Petrobras, Norway’s Statoil, or Petro China. New utilities must be decentralized and “run democratically by the communities that use them.” For the movement to win these reforms, it must bring down free-trade regulations that penalize or prohibit local initiatives like fracking bans or job incentives. 

With this just transition also comes the question of state control and the centralization needed to undertake such a colossal shift. As Klein notes, the neoliberal assault on social movements means that, despite tweeting and occupying, “We collectively lack many of the tools that built and sustained the transformative movements of the past.” In an important revision of her previous endorsement of horizontalism, Klein argues for leadership, organization, and a program to stop climate change:

I have, in the past, strongly defended the right of young movements to their amorphous structures—whether that means rejecting identifiable leadership or eschewing programmatic demands. And there is no question that old political habits and structures must be reinvented to reflect new realities, as well as past failures. But I confess the last five years immersed in climate science has left me impatient. As many are coming to realize, the fetish for structurelessness, the rebellion against any kind of institutionalization, is not a luxury today’s transformative movements can afford.

Undertaking a just transition must include not only our collective demands but also a plan for dealing with the state and who will control it. Left unaddressed, we can be sure that both Republicans and Democrats will authorize the use of every state apparatus to repress and silence the movement, just as they did with Occupy.

New organizations must be built to rise to this challenge, because the existing environmental NGOs have sold out the struggle. Klein exposes the fetid practices of Big Green and the failures of green capitalism in sickening detail. The need for cash and legitimacy led nonprofits like the Environmental Defense Fund to essentially abandon its mission in favor of partnerships with Walmart, among others. Groups like the Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and the Conservation Fund accept money from dozens of fossil fuel companies. 

The worst hypocrisy described in the book recounts how a Texas chapter of the Nature Conservancy accepted land from Mobil where a substantial population of the endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken lived. The Nature Conservancy eventually began sinking natural gas wells on the preserve in order to generate cash. When exposed, the Nature Conservancy promised not to build new wells, but extraction continues to this day. Meanwhile, the Attwater’s prairie chickens disappeared from the preserve in 2012.

Klein’s chapters on Blockadia, divestment, and Indigenous rights are both inspiring and alarming. The incidents recounted are familiar to many, but they serve to remind readers of the horrors of extreme extraction and the increase in disasters like BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill or the forty-seven left dead in the 2013 Lac-Mégantic oil train explosion. But the frenzy to get North American carbon to market has engendered movements like Idle No More, countless actions against tar sands pipeline construction, and a campus divestment movement that has spread to 300 campuses and 100 municipal and religious institutions. 

Klein also uncovers the heartbreaking reality that many low-income communities or impoverished nations face. Though despised for the pollution and contamination they bring to nearby land, extractive industries are often the only well-paying jobs around and a rare source of cash for desperate communities.  What is needed in the Global North and the Global South is, “the emergence of positive, practical, and concrete alternatives to dirty development that do not ask people to choose between higher living standards and toxic extraction.”

But how do these new development patterns emerge? Klein’s references to “deregulated capitalism” and the shift in values toward “an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis” show her argument to be essentially that movements must win an ideological battle, driving what in her analysis seems to be a neutral state to reverse the neoliberal excesses of capitalism as it is currently practiced, and enforce stricter regulation, higher taxes, and a more equitable global order. 

Precluding even a brief analysis of how capitalism works and why low or no growth sends the system into disastrous tailspins like the Great Depression or the financial crisis of 2008, keeps the reader from encountering the essential evidence that regulation or visions of a more humane and ecologically sound culture could never right the ship by themselves. The climate crisis has structural roots, based in capitalism’s competitive exploitation of workers’ labor and the natural world for profit. Transforming that will require structural change fought for by workers and the oppressed, like the end of production for profit and the overthrow of existing states with all their laws and social norms that backup the system. In other words, revolution is necessary.

In the final chapter, Klein asks if such a radical transition has ever happened before but then skips over all the revolutionary moments of the twentieth century and highlights instead the Civil Rights Movement, the New Deal, and the abolition of slavery, which forced the Southern aristocracy to forfeit an immense sum derived from human bondage. The comparison to stranded fossil fuels assets is compelling, but Klein readily admits the economic liberation of African Americans remains incomplete. 

Radicals may share this reviewer’s frustration that Klein would be bold enough to call capitalism into question and yet avoid too strong an association with radical theory and history that has much to say about our current dilemma, its root causes, and possible solutions. Her oversight reinforces the fashionable notion that there is little to learn from certain (i.e., Marxist) movements of the past.

In a section titled “The Extractivist Left,” Klein rightly condemns Stalinism and the Soviet Union’s appalling environmental record, along with Mao’s declaration that “man must conquer nature.” She also highlights the mixed environmental record of state socialism in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, countries that despite their progressive record in bettering the lives of the poor and working class have not been able to break free from their dependence on fossil fuel extraction to fund their economies and buffer them against US aggression. Klein notes, regarding the Left and the Soviet Union, “there was always a rich tradition, particularly among anarchists, that considered Stalin’s project an abomination of core social justice principles.” 

This acknowledgement is not strong enough to counter the perception Klein creates, which is that Marxism and the socialist tradition are essentially extractivist. She ignores ecosocialist thought and Marx’s environmental insights in Capital and other works, best summarized in the works of John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett. This mischaracterization suggests that readers need not bother exploring a trove of socialist thought and neglected revolutionary history that would inform a new generation of activists coming of age after four decades of movement decline and theoretical stagnation. 

These unsatisfying details, however, should not keep anyone from reading This Changes Everything. It is a landmark book by an investigative journalist that history might revere equally with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. You cannot help but admire Klein’s courage to publish a book that would ruffle so many feathers. It will also change minds, turning many against the system and encouraging them to act outside the narrowly defined boundaries of Big Green.

Klein’s closing thoughts do not place the environmental movement above all others, but seek common ground with all struggles for justice to unite and “right those festering wrongs at last—the unfinished business of liberation.” The rebellions will come again, but because they are “excruciatingly rare and precious,” we must do more than “denounce the world as it is, and build fleeting pockets of liberated space.” Revolutionaries should use Klein’s invaluable book to ask what we will do in our next “rare and precious” moment.

 

inally published in International Socialist Review

http://isreview.org/issue/96/no-more-magical-thinking

Executive Summary of the report from the Debt Truth Committee

Greece

Executive Summary of the report from the Debt Truth Committee

Wednesday 17 June 2015

This summary of the report by the Debt Truth Committee was published by CADTM on 17 June 2015.

In June 2015 Greece stands at a crossroad of choosing between furthering the failed macroeconomic adjustment programmes imposed by the creditors or making a real change to break the chains of debt. Five years since the economic adjustment programmes began, the country remains deeply cemented in an economic, social, democratic and ecological crisis. The black box of debt has remained closed, and until now no authority, Greek or international, has sought to bring to light the truth about how and why Greece was subjected to the Troika regime. The debt, in whose name nothing has been spared, remains the rule through which neoliberal adjustment is imposed, and the deepest and longest recession experienced in Europe during peacetime.

There is an immediate need and social responsibility to address a range of legal, social and economic issues that demand proper consideration. In response, the Hellenic Parliament established the Truth Committee on Public Debt in April 2015, mandating the investigation into the creation and growth of public debt, the way and reasons for which debt was contracted, and the impact that the conditionalities attached to the loans have had on the economy and the population. The Truth Committee has a mandate to raise awareness of issues pertaining to the Greek debt, both domestically and internationally, and to formulate arguments and options concerning the cancellation of the debt.

The research of the Committee presented in this preliminary report sheds light on the fact that the entire adjustment programme, to which Greece has been subjugated, was and remains a politically orientated programme. The technical exercise surrounding macroeconomic variables and debt projections, figures directly relating to people’s lives and livelihoods, has enabled discussions around the debt to remain at a technical level mainly revolving around the argument that the policies imposed on Greece will improve its capacity to pay the debt back. The facts presented in this report challenge this argument.

All the evidence we present in this report shows that Greece not only does not have the ability to pay this debt, but also should not pay this debt first and foremost because the debt emerging from the Troika ’s arrangements is a direct infringement on the fundamental human rights of the residents of Greece. Hence, we came to the conclusion that Greece should not pay this debt because it is illegal, illegitimate, and odious.

It has also come to the understanding of the Committee that the unsustainability of the Greek public debt was evident from the outset to the international creditors, the Greek authorities, and the corporate media. Yet, the Greek authorities, together with some other governments in the EU, conspired against the restructuring of public debt in 2010 in order to protect financial institutions. The corporate media hid the truth from the public by depicting a situation in which the bailout was argued to benefit Greece, whilst spinning a narrative intended to portray the population as deservers of their own wrongdoings.

Bailout funds provided in both programmes of 2010 and 2012 have been externally managed through complicated schemes, preventing any fiscal autonomy. The use of the bailout money is strictly dictated by the creditors, and so, it is revealing that less than 10% of these funds have been destined to the government’s current expenditure.

This preliminary report presents a primary mapping out of the key problems and issues associated with the public debt, and notes key legal violations associated with the contracting of the debt; it also traces out the legal foundations, on which unilateral suspension of the debt payments can be based. The findings are presented in nine chapters structured as follows:

Chapter 1, Debt before the Troika, analyses the growth of the Greek public debt since the 1980s. It concludes that the increase in debt was not due to excessive public spending, which in fact remained lower than the public spending of other Eurozone countries, but rather due to the payment of extremely high rates of interest to creditors, excessive and unjustified military spending, loss of tax revenues due to illicit capital outflows, state recapitalization of private banks, and the international imbalances created via the flaws in the design of the Monetary Union itself.

Adopting the euro led to a drastic increase of private debt in Greece to which major European private banks as well as the Greek banks were exposed. A growing banking crisis contributed to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. George Papandreou’s government helped to present the elements of a banking crisis as a sovereign debt crisis in 2009 by emphasizing and boosting the public deficit and debt.

Chapter 2, Evolution of Greek public debt during 2010-2015, concludes that the first loan agreement of 2010, aimed primarily to rescue the Greek and other European private banks, and to allow the banks to reduce their exposure to Greek government bonds.

Chapter 3, Greek public debt by creditor in 2015, presents the contentious nature of Greece’s current debt, delineating the loans’ key characteristics, which are further analysed in Chapter 8.

Chapter 4, Debt System Mechanism in Greece reveals the mechanisms devised by the agreements that were implemented since May 2010. They created a substantial amount of new debt to bilateral creditors and the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), whilst generating abusive costs thus deepening the crisis further. The mechanisms disclose how the majority of borrowed funds were transferred directly to financial institutions. Rather than benefitting Greece, they have accelerated the privatization process, through the use of financial instruments.

Chapter 5, Conditionalities against sustainability, presents how the creditors imposed intrusive conditionalities attached to the loan agreements, which led directly to the economic unviability and unsustainability of debt. These conditionalities, on which the creditors still insist, have not only contributed to lower GDP as well as higher public borrowing, hence a higher public debt/GDP making Greece’s debt more unsustainable, but also engineered dramatic changes in the society, and caused a humanitarian crisis. The Greek public debt can be considered as totally unsustainable at present.

Chapter 6, Impact of the “bailout programmes” on human rights, concludes that the measures implemented under the “bailout programmes” have directly affected living conditions of the people and violated human rights, which Greece and its partners are obliged to respect, protect and promote under domestic, regional and international law. The drastic adjustments, imposed on the Greek economy and society as a whole, have brought about a rapid deterioration of living standards, and remain incompatible with social justice, social cohesion, democracy and human rights.

Chapter 7, Legal issues surrounding the MOU and Loan Agreements, argues there has been a breach of human rights obligations on the part of Greece itself and the lenders, that is the Euro Area (Lender) Member States, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund , who imposed these measures on Greece. All these actors failed to assess the human rights violations as an outcome of the policies they obliged Greece to pursue, and also directly violated the Greek constitution by effectively stripping Greece of most of its sovereign rights. The agreements contain abusive clauses, effectively coercing Greece to surrender significant aspects of its sovereignty. This is imprinted in the choice of the English law as governing law for those agreements, which facilitated the circumvention of the Greek Constitution and international human rights obligations. Conflicts with human rights and customary obligations, several indications of contracting parties acting in bad faith, which together with the unconscionable character of the agreements, render these agreements invalid.

Chapter 8, Assessment of the Debts as regards illegtimacy, odiousness, illegality, and unsustainability, provides an assessment of the Greek public debt according to the definitions regarding illegitimate, odious, illegal, and unsustainable debt adopted by the Committee.

Chapter 8 concludes that the Greek public debt as of June 2015 is unsustainable, since Greece is currently unable to service its debt without seriously impairing its capacity to fulfill its basic human rights obligations. Furthermore, for each creditor, the report provides evidence of indicative cases of illegal, illegitimate and odious debts.

Debt to the IMF should be considered illegal since its concession breached the IMF’s own statutes, and its conditions breached the Greek Constitution, international customary law, and treaties to which Greece is a party. It is also illegitimate, since conditions included policy prescriptions that infringed human rights obligations. Finally, it is odious since the IMF knew that the imposed measures were undemocratic, ineffective, and would lead to serious violations of socio-economic rights.

Debts to the ECB should be considered illegal since the ECB over-stepped its mandate by imposing the application of macroeconomic adjustment programs (e.g. labour market deregulation) via its participation in the Troïka. Debts to the ECB are also illegitimate and odious, since the principal raison d’etre of the Securities Market Programme (SMP) was to serve the interests of the financial institutions, allowing the major European and Greek private banks to dispose of their Greek bonds.

The EFSF engages in cashless loans which should be considered illegal because Article 122(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) was violated, and further they breach several socio-economic rights and civil liberties. Moreover, the EFSF Framework Agreement 2010 and the Master Financial Assistance Agreement of 2012 contain several abusive clauses revealing clear misconduct on the part of the lender. The EFSF also acts against democratic principles, rendering these particular debts illegitimate and odious.

The bilateral loans should be considered illegal since they violate the procedure provided by the Greek constitution. The loans involved clear misconduct by the lenders, and had conditions that contravened law or public policy. Both EU law and international law were breached in order to sideline human rights in the design of the macroeconomic programmes. The bilateral loans are furthermore illegitimate, since they were not used for the benefit of the population, but merely enabled the private creditors of Greece to be bailed out. Finally, the bilateral loans are odious since the lender states and the European Commission knew of potential violations, but in 2010 and 2012 avoided to assess the human rights impacts of the macroeconomic adjustment and fiscal consolidation that were the conditions for the loans.

The debt to private creditors should be considered illegal because private banks conducted themselves irresponsibly before the Troika came into being, failing to observe due diligence, while some private creditors such as hedge funds also acted in bad faith. Parts of the debts to private banks and hedge funds are illegitimate for the same reasons that they are illegal; furthermore, Greek banks were illegitimately recapitalized by tax-payers. Debts to private banks and hedge funds are odious, since major private creditors were aware that these debts were not incurred in the best interests of the population but rather for their own benefit.

The report comes to a close with some practical considerations. Chapter 9, Legal foundations for repudiation and suspension of the Greek sovereign debt, presents the options concerning the cancellation of debt, and especially the conditions under which a sovereign state can exercise the right to unilateral act of repudiation or suspension of the payment of debt under international law.

Several legal arguments permit a State to unilaterally repudiate its illegal, odious, and illegitimate debt. In the Greek case, such a unilateral act may be based on the following arguments: the bad faith of the creditors that pushed Greece to violate national law and international obligations related to human rights; preeminence of human rights over agreements such as those signed by previous governments with creditors or the Troika; coercion; unfair terms flagrantly violating Greek sovereignty and violating the Constitution; and finally, the right recognized in international law for a State to take countermeasures against illegal acts by its creditors , which purposefully damage its fiscal sovereignty, oblige it to assume odious, illegal and illegitimate debt, violate economic self-determination and fundamental human rights. As far as unsustainable debt is concerned, every state is legally entitled to invoke necessity in exceptional situations in order to safeguard those essential interests threatened by a grave and imminent peril. In such a situation, the State may be dispensed from the fulfilment of those international obligations that augment the peril, as is the case with outstanding loan contracts. Finally, states have the right to declare themselves unilaterally insolvent where the servicing of their debt is unsustainable, in which case they commit no wrongful act and hence bear no liability.

People’s dignity is worth more than illegal, illegitimate, odious and unsustainable debt

Having concluded a preliminary investigation, the Committee considers that Greece has been and still is the victim of an attack premeditated and organized by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. This violent, illegal, and immoral mission aimed exclusively at shifting private debt onto the public sector.

Making this preliminary report available to the Greek authorities and the Greek people, the Committee considers to have fulfilled the first part of its mission as defined in the decision of the President of Parliament of 4 April 2015. The Committee hopes that the report will be a useful tool for those who want to exit the destructive logic of austerity and stand up for what is endangered today: human rights, democracy, peoples’ dignity, and the future of generations to come.

In response to those who impose unjust measures, the Greek people might invoke what Thucydides mentioned about the constitution of the Athenian people: "As for the name, it is called a democracy, for the administration is run with a view to the interests of the many, not of the few” (Pericles’ Funeral Oration, in the speech from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War).

Climate Change: Does Anthropocene science blame all humanity?

Climate Change: Does Anthropocene science blame all humanity?
31 May 2015

The charge that Anthropocene scholars blame all of humanity for the actions of a small minority simply doesn’t hold water. Ecosocialists need to be positive contributors to Anthropocene discussions, not critics sniping from the sidelines.

According to Earth System scientists, the Earth has entered a new geological epoch that will be less stable and less hospitable to human life. Because the change is driven by human activity, the proposed name for the new epoch is Anthropocene – from the Greek anthropos, human being.

Recently, some critics have charged that the “Anthropocene narrative” blames humanity as a whole for these changes, ignoring major differences in the nature and extent of environmental change caused by different groups of people. Such concerns are understandable, but overstated – to a considerable degree, they seem to reflect preconceptions about what the Anthropocene concept might mean, rather than serious engagement with the work of the scientists who have defined it.

* * *

It is no secret that some green theorists blame environmental problems on human beings as such. Our species has been labelled a plague, a virus, and a cancer; we’ve been compared to a swarm of locusts, voraciously consuming everything we see; we’re told that people are nature’s enemy, so only radical population reduction can prevent disaster. As Murray Bookchin wrote, Malthusian greens blame environmental crises on “a vague species called humanity – as though people of color were equatable with whites, women with men, the Third World with the First, the poor with the rich, and the exploited with their exploiters.” [1]

Given the strength of “blame people” views among some greens, it not surprising that some writers have reacted with suspicion to an epoch named for the anthropos.

Keiran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity objects that the name identifies the cause of change as “humanity as a whole, rather than the identifiable power structures most responsible for the geological Anthropocene traces.” [2]

Marxist historian Andreas Malm believes that those who use the word Anthropocene are attributing environmental degradation to “humans acting out their innate predispositions … [that] some universal trait of the species must be driving the geological epoch that is its own” – and this “lets capitalism off the hook.” [3]

Australian environmentalist Jeremy Baskin warns that “the Anthropocene label tends to universalize and normalize a small portion of humanity as ‘the human of the Anthropocene’. … Impacts which have been driven by (and largely for the benefit of) a minority are attributed to all of humanity.” [4]

It isn’t surprising that such concerns have been raised, nor is it surprising that critics can find passages that support a people are the problem position: scientists are no more immune to mistaken social views than anyone else.

But what really strikes me is how little support for actual Malthusian policies can be found in scientific literature about the Anthropocene. Population growth is included as one element of the Great Acceleration, which it obviously is, but it isn’t identified as the main problem, nor is population reduction promoted as the sine qua non of any effective response to global change. It’s noteworthy that population is not one of the nine planetary boundaries that Anthropocene scientists have identified as critical for preventing catastrophic change in the new epoch. [5]

There may be some hardcore Malthusians among Anthropocene scholars, but if so, they have not revealed their views in the scientific discussions to date.

In fact, scientists in the forefront of the Anthropocene project have repeatedly rejected any “all humans are to blame” narrative. The critics seem unaware of passages such as these, in the most authoritative book on the Anthropocene, Global Change and the Earth System. [6]

“An emphasis on the population variable can have the effect of blaming the victims (as in high fertility rates among economically marginal households in the tropical world) for consequences such as tropical deforestation and famine-malnutrition. In fact, modern famine and malnutrition are more closely related to issues of food entitlements and endowments than to population growth.” (p. 96)

“Population pressure and poverty have often been cited as the primary causes of tropical deforestation. However, a careful analysis of a large number of case studies across the tropics suggests that a more complex array of drivers including market and policy failures and terms of trade and debt are likely influences on the patterns and trajectories of land-use change in the tropics. As noted in one extensive review of the literature, forests fall because it is profitable to someone or some group.” (p. 102)

“One quarter of the world’s population remains in severe poverty. Inequality has been increasing in many countries and between countries and the interactions between poverty and the environment are of local, regional and global significance.” (p. 140)

“In a world in which the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, both within and between countries, is growing, equity issues are important in any consideration of global environmental management.” (p. 305)

Nor do the critics mention these passages, from a peer-reviewed article that was co-authored by sixteen of the most prominent scientists in Anthropocene studies. [7]

“The post-2000 increase in growth rates of some non-OECD economies (e.g., China and India) is evident, but the OECD countries still accounted for about 75% of the world’s economic activity. On the other hand, the non-OECD countries continue to dominate the trend in population growth. Comparing these two trends demonstrates that consumption in the OECD countries, rather than population growth in the rest of the world, has been the more important driver of change during the Great Acceleration.”

“The world’s wealthy countries account for 80% of the cumulative emissions of CO2 since 1751; cumulative emissions are important for climate given the long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere. The world’s poorest countries with a combined population of about 800 million, have contributed less than 1% of the cumulative emissions.”

Despite such clear statements, the they-blame-all-people accusations have continued. But now there is a direct response from scientists associated with the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP), the global research organization that first defined and named the Anthropocene. Rather than arguing about what was said or not said in past reports and articles, they have taken the high road, by extending their previous work to focus directly on the equity issue.

Their reply addresses what are called the Great Acceleration graphs, first published by the IGBP in 2004. They show twelve socio-economic trends and twelve Earth System trends, from 1750 to 2000. All show gradual growth, then rapid acceleration after 1950. Those iconic graphs have played a critical role in convincing most of the scientists involved that the new geological epoch began in the mid-twentieth century.

Updated versions of those graphs, extending the data to 2010, have now been published in a peer-reviewed journal, The Anthropocene Review. The lead author is Will Steffen, the former director of the IGBP who was lead author of the 2004 report in which the graphs first appeared. [8]

No one will be surprised that the updated graphs show further acceleration of the socio-economic and Earth System trends, and no sign of the “decoupling of emissions from either energy use or economic growth” that ecomodernists and other anti-greens like to promise. Much of the article is devoted to reviewing the indicators – how they are defined, what has changed since the previous study, how the graphs relate to debates about dating the Anthropocene, and so on.

But for our discussion, what stands out is the authors’ thoughtful consideration of the fact that the original graphs displayed global totals, and “did not attempt to deconstruct the socio-economic graphs into countries or groups of countries.” They note that this approach has “prompted some sharp criticism from social scientists and humanities scholars” on the grounds that “strong equity issues are masked by considering global aggregates only.”

True Malthusians would have defended their previous approach: as Simon Butler and I showed in Too Many People?, globally aggregated numbers that conceal significant regional, gender, national and class differences are the bedrock of populationism’s debating arsenal, and partisans will not abandon them. [9]

Instead, Steffen and his associates have accepted the criticism of the graphs as legitimate, and have gone to substantial effort to separate the socio-economic indicators into three groups: the rich OECD countries, the emerging (BRICS) nations, and the rest of the world. In addition to publishing current versions of the original aggregated graphs, they have added ten graphs that display the socio-economic indicators for the three groups of countries separately. (There was insufficient data for the other two indicators.)

In a section headed “Deconstructing the socio-economic trends: The equity issue,” they draw conclusions from the dis-aggregated graphs.

“In 2010 the OECD countries accounted for 74% of global GDP but only 18% of the global population. Insofar as the imprint on the Earth System scales with consumption, most of the human imprint on the Earth System is coming from the OECD world. This points to the profound scale of global inequality, which distorts the distribution of the benefits of the Great Acceleration and confounds efforts to deal with its impacts on the Earth System. …

“The Great Acceleration has, until very recently, been almost entirely driven by a small fraction of the human population, those in developed countries.”

As we’ve seen, similar points have been made in previous reports and articles, but they have now been given much more prominence – moved to center stage, as it were. Steffen and his associates have clearly shown that they understand the importance of including global inequality as a key factor in any discussion of the causes and effects of Earth’s transition to the Great Transition. The claim that Anthropocene scholars in general blame all of humanity for the actions of a small minority simply doesn’t hold water.

Of course, ecosocialists would take the dis-aggregation farther, breaking out inequalities not just between but within countries, stressing the fact that one percent of the population owns half of the world’s wealth and that inequality is growing at unprecedented rates. An ecosocialist analysis of the Great Acceleration will build on the decisive issues of class and power that are shaping the Anthropocene and will ultimately determine humanity’s future.

To be effective, we have to raise that perspective as positive contributors to the Anthropocene discussions, not as critics sniping from the sidelines. Only in that way can we move towards an analysis that combines contemporary Earth System Science with ecological Marxism in the world-saving synthesis that is so desperately needed.

Ian Angus


Notes

[1Murray Bookchin. “Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology.” (1987) Anarchy Archives.

[2Kieran Suckling. “Against the Anthropocene.” Immanence, July 2014.

[3Andreas Malm. “The Anthropocene Myth.” Jacobin, March 20, 2015.

[4Jeremy Baskin. The ideology of the Anthropocene? Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, 2014.

[5“Planetary Boundaries 2.0 – new and improved.” Stockholm Resilience Centre, 2015.

[6Will Steffen et al., Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet under Pressure. International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, 2004. A pdf of this important book can be downloaded free.

[7Will Steffen et al. “The Anthropocene: From global change to planetary stewardship.” Ambio, November 2011.

[8Will Steffen et al. “The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration.” The Anthropocene Review, March 2015. 81-98.

[9Ian Angus and Simon Butler. Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis. Haymarket Books, 2011 (http://www.haymarketbooks.org/pb/Too-Many-People). See in particular chapter 3, “Dissecting those ‘overpopulation’ numbers.”

* Climate and Capitalism. May 31, 2015:
http://climateandcapitalism.com/2015/05/31/does-anthropocene-science-blame-all-humanity/

* Ian Angus is editor of the ecosocialist journal Climate and Capitalism, and of the anthology The Global Fight for Climate Justice.

 

The Forgotten Massacres

The Forgotten Massacres

Fifty years ago, hundreds of thousands of Indonesian communists were slaughtered — all with the support of the US.

Members of the Indonesian Communist Party's youth wing are taken away in 1965, during the violent repression of communists in the country. AP

Members of the Indonesian Communist Party's youth wing are taken away in 1965, during the violent repression of communists in the country. AP

On the morning of September 30, 1965, a small group of army officers and Communist Party of Indonesia(PKI) members attempted a coup against the Indonesian army leadership. Six army generals were killed, but the coup failed and was crushed by surviving army leaders in a few days. Together with other right-wing forces, the army, under the command of Gens. Suharto and Abdul Haris Nasution, retaliated.

Hundreds of thousands of real and suspected communists were massacred, and a new, military-dominated regime under Suharto was installed. Western powers like the US, Britain, and the Netherlands condoned and often actively supported the massacres.

Indonesia’s military junta took control of the media on October 2, using it to spread its own version of the events. In the junta’s version, the killing of the generals was the spark that ignited popular anger against a party that was hated for its violence, its disregard for religion and its lack of patriotism. Supposedly, PKI plans for a violent revolution and elimination of anyone who opposed it were stopped by a wave of spontaneous popular anger against the treacherous communists.

For decades, this version of the mass killings of 1965–66 has been reinforced by state propaganda and parroted by Western experts who saw the “spontaneous” eruption in murderous violence as confirmation of pre-existing racist ideas about fanatical and irrational “orientals.”

Historical research has demolished this version of events. The failed coup was not an initiative of the PKI as a whole, but of a small number of PKI leaders working with sympathetic army officers who wanted to remove several right-wing army leaders — not take state power. The massacre that followed was systematic, organized by right-wing nationalist politicians and militia, religious organizations, and, most of all, the Indonesian army. This coalition for murder received political and material support from Western powers.

Within days of the coup, US and British officials began making plans to exploit the political situation. The coup offered them the chance to crush the PKI, a party that Western officials feared was getting dangerously close to state power.

In the years leading up to the coup, the PKI tried to establish itself as the fiercest anti-imperialist party in the country, mobilizing against the influence of foreign capital, especially of the Dutch and British variety. It supported Indonesian President Sukarno in his demand that the Dutch hand over Irian Jaya (West Papua) to Indonesia and in his campaign against Malaysia, which it denounced as an instrument of British imperialism.

For a time this strategy was successful. In the parliamentary elections of 1955 — the last before Sukarno adopted his authoritarian system of “guided democracy” — the PKI emerged as the country’s fourth largest party with 16.4 percent of the vote. Party membership had grown from less than twenty thousand in 1954 to over 1.5 million. Millions were organized in PKI-allied trade unions and mass organizations of peasants, women, students, and other groups.

It was not just the growth of the PKI that set off alarm bells in the West. In the late 1950s, the US backed right-wing rebellions against Sukarno, but this backfired when the rebels were defeated. American support for his opponents drove Sukarno further away from the Western bloc and damaged US relations with the most powerful force on the Indonesian right: the army.

Meanwhile, the communists’ contribution to the fight against the rebels won them popular sympathy and growing favor from Sukarno. By the early sixties, the PKI was the world largest Communist party outside the Soviet bloc, and Indonesia was the largest non-bloc recipient of Soviet economic and military aid.

After the failure of the regional rebellions, the US adopted a different strategy. With the help of philanthropic foundations like Ford and Rockefeller and institutions like the World Bank, the US restored its relationship with the Indonesian army and the country’s right by providing material assistance and training to Army officers and pro-Western intellectuals.

But the US government’s ability to influence Indonesian state policy ultimately depended on President Sukarno. Sukarno, the historical leader of the Indonesian independence movement, was very popular and essentially ruled by decree. He was not a communist, but he was a fervent anticolonialist who dreamed of a powerful, fully independent Indonesia that would play an important role on the world stage.

Sukarno increasingly clashed with Western powers — especially the UK and US, whom he denounced as neocolonialist. In early 1965, Indonesia withdrew from the United Nations and expelled the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

As a result, Western officials were pessimistic about their ability to manipulate the political landscape in Indonesia. In early 1965, the Dutch ambassador to Indonesia, E. L. C. Schiff, said in a wire to the minister of foreign affairs that the consensus among his colleagues was that Sukarno would remain the country’s leader until his death and that “it is no longer possible to keep Indonesia from slipping into the left.”

The US had also decided by then that Sukarno could not be pressured to abandon the PKI, and in August 1964 decided to overthrow Sukarno. This decision was in accord with the covert plans of British officials to foment civil war or the collapse of Sukarno’s government.

The UK established a “director of political warfare against Indonesia,” based in Singapore, and the CIA proposed expanding its own operations in Indonesia to include “covert liaison with and support for existing anti-Communist groups, black letter operations, media operations, including the possibility of black radio (propaganda radio stations) and political action within existing Indonesian institutions and organizations.”

The expectation was that if Sukarno was removed, a power struggle between the PKI and the army would follow. The (now pro-US) Army leadership was confident about the outcome of this struggle: in a confidential meeting with the Dutch ambassador, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ahmad Yani (one of the generals killed on September 30) said the army was “reliable” and already making preparations for confrontation should the ailing president die.

But as long as Sukarno was protecting the PKI, crushing the communists was impossible. British Assistant Secretary of State Edward Peck suggested “there might be much to be said for encouraging a premature PKI coup during Sukarno’s lifetime.” The failed coup gave Peck what he wanted.

The killing of the generals was a boon for the army’s propaganda campaign against the PKI and, indirectly, against Sukarno. Sukarno’s refusal to condemn or ban the PKI, as the Right demanded following the failed coup, was exploited by the army to discredit him. In the following months, Sukarno was forced to hand more and more power to the army.

The theory that the violence was a sudden eruption of popular anger is belied by its gradual escalation. After the failed coup, the army supported anti-PKI demonstrations with transport and protection, and roughly a week after the death of the generals, mobs ransacked PKI offices as security forces looked on. Houses of PKI members followed.

The killings of (suspected) PKI members and supporters didn’t start until weeks after the September 30 coup attempt: massacres took place in Central Java in late October, then East Java in November, followed by Bali in December. In each instance the arrival of the Special Forces, commanded by Major Gen. Sarwo Edhie, preceded the killings.

Many victims were first arrested by militia groups supported by Edhie’s Special Forces. Prisoners were put into makeshift prison camps in remote locations and were often slain in groups, often by getting shot, stabbed, or having their skulls crushed with rocks and clubs. Much of the killing was done by young militia members of groups like Ansor, the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Muslim organization.

Ernst Utrecht, a left-wing supporter of Sukarno and former parliamentarian, estimates up to fifty thousand Indonesians participated in the massacre. After decades of propaganda and cover up, the number of victims cannot be precisely determined. Most historians assume the number of dead to be somewhere between five hundred thousand and 1 million, though Edhie himself claimed the number was 3 million.

Western powers supported the army in its campaign against the PKI. On October 17, the CIA worried the army might not go “all the way,”settling instead “for action against those directly involved in the murder of the generals and permit[ting] Sukarno to get much of his power back.”

To prevent this the CIA gave lists with the names of five thousand PKI members to the generals and organized the delivery of small arms and money to the army. The US embassy provided its own lists with two thousand names. In a meeting with British officials, Gen. Sukendro requested help for the army to “consolidate its position.” The meeting minutes reported on the “Army’s strategy” against the PKI and how “considerations [were] being made to meet the clamor of the nationalists and the religious elements for arms.”

Other Western powers also aided the massacre: the West German foreign secret service delivered arms and communication equipment worth DM300,000, while Indonesian refugee Osman Jusuf Helmireported that Sweden had signed a contract with Suharto and Nasution “for an emergency purchase of $10,000,000 worth of small arms and ammunition” in December 1965.

Dutch ambassador Schiff reported on October 8 that the army was conducting an “intensive smear campaign” against the PKI, and concluded that the situation was “the best — and maybe last — chance of the army to assert itself politically.”

By the end of October, the US embassy received reports of violence against masses of PKI supporters in East, Central, and West Java. The US ambassador noted that the army was “moving relentlessly to exterminate the PKI.” A month later Schiff reported that “wholekampongs [villages]” had been slaughtered, supposedly as a result of local feuding.

The bloodshed achieved its aim of destroying the Indonesian left. In April 1966, Schiff’s minister of foreign affairs, future NATO Secretary Gen. Joseph Luns, noted “the blow dealt to the Communists (from which they are not likely to recover in the foreseeable future).” In July 1966, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt remarked in a speech in New York that “with 50,000 to 1,000,000 Communist sympathizers knocked off, I think it is safe to assume a reorientation has taken place.”

A few weeks earlier the US State Department had rejoiced that, due to the killing of “up to 300,000 Communists” and another 1.6 million Indonesian Communists renouncing their membership, the number of communists in non-bloc countries had dropped by 42 percent in one year.

The aid Western officials gave the army in late 1965 and early 1966 was a crucial political signal to Indonesia’s new de facto rulers that the US and its allies were willing to support them. This backing was vital for the nascent regime because the Indonesian economy was in crisis, and Western capital remained hesitant to invest in Indonesia after Sukarno’s takeover of British and Dutch companies and calls to expropriate Western capital.

The military exploited the economic crisis to undermine what was left of Sukarno’s authority — British and US companies like Caltex, Goodyear, and US Rubber cut a deal with the army to channel corporate revenues into unnamed bank accounts, robbing the Indonesian state of an important source of foreign currency, further crippling Sukarno.

At the same time, the army was quick to placate its Western supporters. In December, Suharto reassured Western oil companies that the army “would not stand for precipitous moves” against them, and just days after Sukarno officially handed power to Suharto on March 11, 1966, the US mining company Freeport was allowed back into the country to extract the rich mineral resources in Irian Jaya.

A new foreign investment law that granted extremely favorable conditions for outside capital was drafted in close cooperation with the IMF, and starting in 1967 the new regime received $450 million annually from the Inter-Governmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI).

The IGGI included the Asian Development Bank, the IMF, the UN Development Program, the World Bank, Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United States, and was chaired by the Netherlands. The Dutch chairmanship was suggested by US officials who hoped to divert attention from US (and Japanese) involvement in the deal.

Indonesia’s large cities were prioritized as aid recipients to stabilize the political situation. By 1968 the Suharto dictatorship was comfortably established and committed to pro-Western economic policies.

The Indonesian government still refuses to admit the killings were systematic violations of human rights. No one has ever been held accountable for the hundreds of thousands of deaths, and not a single one of the many known mass graves has been fully excavated to give the victims a decent burial. And in April it was announced that Sarwo Edhie would be declared a “national hero” for his deeds.

Above all, the massacres achieved their goal. To this day, the Indonesian left has not recovered.

RADICAL SOCIALIST STATEMENT ON IIT MADRAS’ DERECOGNITION OF AMBEKAR-PERIYAR STUDY CIRCLE

RADICAL SOCIALIST STATEMENT ON IIT MADRAS’ DERECOGNITION OF AMBEKAR-PERIYAR STUDY CIRCLE

We condemn the decision taken by the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras), on May 22, to ‘derecognise’ the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC), an independent student body of the institution.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) in New Delhi claims to have received an anonymous complaint about ‘the distribution of controversial posters and pamphlets’ by APSC in the IIT Madras campus. The nature of this allegedly controversial material was simply anti-Modi views. This got the government's hackles up, as it is determined to silence all critical voices, especially voices from outside the spectrum of parliamentary parties, Following this, the HRD ministry wrote to IIT Madras and asked the institution to respond about the above matter. The Dean of Students (DoS) of IIT Madras decided to derecognise the student group even before APSC got a chance to explain their end of the story.

The APSC was created in April 2014 to foster conversation and raise awareness about Ambedkar-Periyar and rampant caste violence in the country. In June 2014, the Dean of Students, Dr. M.S. Sivakumar, directed APSC to change the name of the group; because according to him ‘Ambedkar Periyar’ are politically motivated names, and student organisations should be apolitical and should not have names of individuals. No such decree for right-wing organisations operating under the name of ‘Vivekananda Study Circle.’ Consider this one gem of an example from the Vivekananda Study Circle website: The title of the page is ‘Is Kali Black?’ and has the following quote claimed by them to be from The Gospel of Ramakrishna—“Is Kali, my Divine Mother, of a black complexion? She appears black because She is viewed from a distance; but when intimately known She is no longer so. The sky appears blue at a distance; but look at it close by and you will find that it has no colour. The water of the ocean looks blue at a distance, but when you go near and take it in your hand, you find that it is colourless.” (From http://www.vsc.iitm.ac.in/Home/?p=2969)

India is a society replete with caste violence. Some estimates claim that each week: 13 Dalits are murdered; 5 Dalit homes are burned down; 6 Dalit people are kidnapped or abducted; 21 Dalit women are raped. It is not a coincidence that majority of manual scavengers are from the downtrodden classes. There are systemic and structural issues in Indian society why such violence happens on a regular basis and are under-reported in the mainstream media. It is important that such issues are talked about more, and we stand in solidarity with every initiative that raises awareness about caste violence, Ambedkar and Periyar. The egregious politics of skin colour, as the example cited above suggests, and violence towards the downtrodden caste is prevalent in Indian society. We cannot eradicate caste distinction by not talking about it, by avoiding to name organisations after Ambedkar-Periyar—it is exactly the opposite—we need to confront caste politics head on as a nation, admit the historical injustices meted out to dalits, adivasis and other lower castes, and admit that a lot of it are ongoing.

We understand that this current action by the HRD ministry to pressurise IIT Madras, and the subsequent actions taken by the Dean of Students to be a continuation of the brahminisation project of the hindutva forces in the Indian polity, whose most recent manifestations have been in the spate of ghar-wapsi, church violence and increase in incidents of communal violence across the country. We decry all such efforts by the hindutva forces, the direct involvement of the government in arm twisting anti-brahminical endeavours and condemn IIT Madras, the premiere institution that it is, for the shameful decision to intimidate and muzzle conversation on caste.

We also condemn the failure of the so called liberal oppositions. It is significant that only after two days of hue and cry in the Social Media did the liberal mainstream media report on the issue. For mainstream politics, there are certain shared premises. While the alleged upholders of political liberalism and secularism condemn actions of the Sanghis, they do not desire to challenge the upper caste dominations. We call upon all Marxist and socialist forces to recognise that without a serious attack on the oppression of the lower castes, the unity of the toilers cannot be achieved, and therefore, fighting for the rights of dalits is a vital part of any genuine Marxist politics in India.


Finally, we stress that the ban on the APSC is part of the increasing violation of democratic rights. It is therefore necessary for the APSC and their supporters, as well as for any organisation fighting for democratic rights, to link up this specific struggle (the restoration of the rights of the APSC) with the general struggle for democratic rights.

30 May, 2015

Race, surveillance, and empire

 

Beginning in June 2013, a series of news articles based on whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s collection of documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) took the world by storm. Over the course of a year, the Snowden material provided a detailed account of the massive extent of NSA’s warrantless data collection. What became clear was that the NSA was involved in the mass collection of online material. Less apparent was how this data was actually used by the NSA and other national security agencies. Part of the answer came in July 2014 when Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain published an article that identified specific targets of NSA surveillance and showed how individuals were being placed under surveillance despite there being no reasonable suspicion of their involvement in criminal activity.1 All of those named as targets were prominent Muslim Americans.

The following month, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux published another story for The Intercept, which revealed that under the Obama administration the number of people on the National Counterterrorism Center’s no-fly list had increased tenfold to 47,000. Leaked classified documents showed that the NCC maintains a database of terrorism suspects worldwide—the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment—which contained a million names by 2013, double the number four years earlier, and increasingly includes biometric data. This database includes 20,800 persons within the United States who are disproportionately concentrated in Dearborn, Michigan, with its significant Arab American population.2

By any objective standard, these were major news stories that ought to have attracted as much attention as the earlier revelations. Yet the stories barely registered in the corporate media landscape. The “tech community,” which had earlier expressed outrage at the NSA’s mass digital surveillance, seemed to be indifferent when details emerged of the targeted surveillance of Muslims. The explanation for this reaction is not hard to find. While many object to the US government collecting private data on “ordinary” people, Muslims tend to be seen as reasonable targets of suspicion. A July 2014 poll for the Arab American Institute found that 42 percent of Americans think it is justifiable for law enforcement agencies to profile Arab Americans or American Muslims.3

In what follows, we argue that the debate on national security surveillance that has emerged in the United States since the summer of 2013 is woefully inadequate, due to its failure to place questions of race and empire at the center of its analysis. It is racist ideas that form the basis for the ways national security surveillance is organized and deployed, racist fears that are whipped up to legitimize this surveillance to the American public, and the disproportionately targeted racialized groups that have been most effective in making sense of it and organizing opposition. This is as true today as it has been historically: race and state surveillance are intertwined in the history of US capitalism. Likewise, we argue that the history of national security surveillance in the United States is inseparable from the history of US colonialism and empire. 

The argument is divided into two parts. The first identifies a number of moments in the history of national security surveillance in North America, tracing its imbrication with race, empire, and capital, from the settler-colonial period through to the neoliberal era. Our focus here is on how race as a sociopolitical category is produced and reproduced historically in the United States through systems of surveillance. We show how throughout the history of the United States the systematic collection of information has been interwoven with mechanisms of racial oppression. From Anglo settler-colonialism, the establishment of the plantation system, the post–Civil War reconstruction era, the US conquest of the Philippines, and the emergence of the national security state in the post-World War II era, to neoliberalism in the post-Civil Rights era, racialized surveillance has enabled the consolidation of capital and empire.  

It is, however, important to note that the production of the racial “other” at these various moments is conjunctural and heterogenous. That is, the racialization of Native Americans, for instance, during the settler-colonial period took different forms from the racialization of African Americans. Further, the dominant construction of Blackness under slavery is different from the construction of Blackness in the neoliberal era; these ideological shifts are the product of specific historic conditions. In short, empire and capital, at various moments, determine who will be targeted by state surveillance, in what ways, and for how long.

In the second part, we turn our attention to the current conjuncture in which the politics of the War on Terror shape national security surveillance practices. The intensive surveillance of Muslim Americans has been carried out by a vast security apparatus that has also been used against dissident movements such as Occupy Wall Street and environmental rights activists, who represent a threat to the neoliberal order. This is not new; the process of targeting dissenters has been a constant feature of American history. For instance, the Alien and Sedition Acts of the late 1790s were passed by the Federalist government against the Jeffersonian sympathizers of the French Revolution. The British hanged Nathan Hale because he spied for Washington’s army in the American Revolution. State surveillance regimes have always sought to monitor and penalize a wide range of dissenters, radicals, and revolutionaries. Race was a factor in some but by no means all of these cases. Our focus here is on the production of racialized “others” as security threats and the ways this helps to stabilize capitalist social relations.

Further, the current system of mass surveillance of Muslims is analogous to and overlaps with other systems of racialized security surveillance that feed the mass deportation of immigrants under the Obama administration and that disproportionately target African Americans, contributing to their mass incarceration and what Michelle Alexander refers to as the New Jim Crow.4 We argue that racialized groupings are produced in the very act of collecting information about certain groups deemed as “threats” by the national security state—the Brown terrorist, the Black and Brown drug dealer and user, and the immigrant who threatens to steal jobs. We conclude that “security” has become one of the primary means through which racism is ideologically reproduced in the “post-racial,” neoliberal era. Drawing on W. E. B. Dubois’s notion of the “psychological wage,” we argue that neoliberalism has been legitimized in part through racialized notions of security that offer a new “psychological wage” as compensation for the decline of the social wage and its reallocation to “homeland security.”

Settler-colonialism and racial security
National security surveillance is as old as the bourgeois nation state, which from its very inception sets out to define “the people” associated with a particular territory, and by extension the “non-peoples,” i.e., populations to be excluded from that territory and seen as threats to the nation. Race, in modern times, becomes the main way that such threats—both internal and external—are mediated; modern mechanisms of racial oppression and the modern state are born together. This is particularly true of settler-colonial projects, such as the United States, in which the goal was to territorially dispossess Indigenous nations and pacify the resistance that inevitably sprang up. In this section, we describe how the drive for territorial expansion and the formation of the early American state depended on an effective ideological erasure of those who peopled the land. Elaborate racial profiles, based on empirical “observation”—the precursor to more sophisticated surveillance mechanisms—were thus devised to justify the dispossession of native peoples and the obliteration of those who resisted. 

The idea of the American nation as the land of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants enabled and justified the colonial-settler mission.5 Thus, when the US state was formed after the Revolutionary War, white supremacy was codified in the Constitution; the logical outcome of earlier settler-colonial systems of racial discrimination against African slaves and Indigenous populations.6 But the leaders of the newly formed state were not satisfied with the thirteen original colonies and set their sights on further expansion. In 1811, John Quincy Adams gave expression to this goal in the following way: “The whole continent of North America appears to be destined by Divine Providence to be peopled by one nation, speaking one language, professing one general system of religious and political principles, and accustomed to one general tenor of social usages and customs.”7 This doctrine, which would later come to be known as “manifest destiny” animated the project of establishing the American nation across the continent. European settlers were the “chosen people” who would bring development through scientific knowledge, including state-organized ethnographic knowledge of the very people they were colonizing.8

John Comaroff’s description of this process in southern Africa serves equally to summarize the colonial states of North America: “The ‘discovery’ of dark, unknown lands, which were conceptually emptied of their peoples and cultures so that their ‘wilderness’ might be brought properly to order—i.e., fixed and named and mapped—by an officializing white gaze.”9 Through, for example, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the United States sought to develop methods of identification, categorization, and enumeration that made the Indigenous population “visible” to the surveillance gaze as racial “others.” Surveillance that defined and demarcated according to officially constructed racial typologies enabled the colonial state to sort “tribes” according to whether they accepted the priorities of the settler-colonial mission (the “good” Indians) or resisted it (the “bad” Indians).10 In turn, an idea of the US nation itself was produced as a homeland of white, propertied men to be secured against racial others. No wonder, then, that the founding texts of the modern state invoke the Indigenous populations of America as bearers of the “state of nature,” to which the modern state is counterposed—witness Hobbes’s references to the “the Savage people of America.”11

The earliest process of gathering systematic knowledge about the “other” by colonizers often began with trade and religious missionary work. In the early seventeenth century, trade in furs with the Native population of Quebec was accompanied by the missionary project. Jesuit Paul Le Jeune worked extensively with the Montagnais-Naskapi and maintained a detailed record of the people he hoped to convert and “civilize.”12 By studying and documenting where and how the “savages” lived, the nature of their relationships, their child-rearing habits, and the like, Le Juene derived a four-point program to change the behaviors of the Naskapi in order to bring them into line with French Jesuit morality. In addition to sedentarization, the establishment of chiefly authority, and the training and punishment of children, Le Juene sought to curtail the independence of Naskapi women and to impose a European family structure based on male authority and female subservience.13 The net result of such missionary work was to pave the way for the racial projects of colonization and/or “integration” into a colonial settler nation.

By the nineteenth century, such informal techniques of surveillance began to be absorbed into government bureaucracy. In 1824, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun established the Office of Indian Affairs (later “Bureau”), which had as one of its tasks the mapping and counting of Native Americans. The key security question was whether to forcibly displace Native Americans beyond the colonial territory or incorporate them as colonized subjects; the former policy was implemented in 1830 when Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and President Jackson began to drive Indians to the west of the Mississippi River. Systematic surveillance became even more important after 1848, when Indian Affairs responsibility transferred from the Department of War to the Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs sought to comprehensively map the Indigenous population as part of a “civilizing” project to change “the savage into a civilized man,” as a congressional committee put it. By the 1870s, Indians were “the quantified objects of governmental intervention”; resistance was subdued as much through “rational” techniques of racialized surveillance and a professional bureaucracy as through war.14 The assimilation of Indians became a comprehensive policy through the Code of Indian Offenses, which included bans on Indigenous cultural practices that had earlier been catalogued by ethnographic surveillance. Tim Rowse writes that

For the U.S. government to extinguish Indian sovereignty, it had to be confident in its own. There is no doubting the strength of the sense of “manifest destiny” in the United States during the nineteenth-century, but as the new nation conquered and purchased, and filled the new territories with colonists, it had also to develop its administrative capacity to govern the added territories and peoples. U.S. sovereign power was not just a legal doctrine and a popular conviction; it was an administrative challenge and achievement that included acquiring, by the 1870s, the ability to conceive and measure an object called “the Indian population.”15

The use of surveillance to produce a census of a colonized population was the first step to controlling it. Mahmood Mamdani refers to this as “define and rule,” a process in which, before managing a heterogeneous population, a colonial power must first set about defining it; to do so, the colonial state “wielded the census not only as a way of acknowledging difference but also as a way of shaping, sometimes even creating, difference.”16 The “ethnic mapping” and “demographics unit” programs practiced by US law enforcement agencies today in the name of counterterrorism are the inheritors of these colonial practices. Both then and now, state agencies’ use of demographic information to identify “concentrations” of ethnically defined populations in order to target surveillance resources and to identify kinship networks can be utilized for the purposes of political policing. Likewise, today’s principles of counterinsurgency warfare—winning hearts and minds by dividing the insurgent from the nonresistant—echo similar techniques applied in the nineteenth century at the settler frontier.

Class, gender, and racial security
While racial security was central to the settler-colonial project in North America, territorial dispossession was only one aspect of the process of capital accumulation for the new state; the other was the discipline and management of labor. As Theodore Allen shows in The Invention of the White Race, the “white race” did not exist as a category in Virginia’s colonial records until the end of the seventeenth century. Whiteness as an explicit racial identity had to be cultivated over a period of decades before it could become the basis for an organized form of oppression.17 A key moment in the production of whiteness was the response of the ruling Anglo elite to Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. The rebellion was begun by colonial settlers who wanted a more aggressive approach to securing the territory against Indigenous peoples. But it also involved African and Anglo bond laborers joining together in a collective revolt against the system of indentured servitude. This threatened not only the profitability but also the very existence of the plantation system. 

Over the following three decades, the Virginia Assembly passed a series of acts that racialized workers as Black and white. Those who could now call themselves white were granted some benefits by law, whereas those designated Black were turned from bond laborers (who could therefore expect to be free after a period of time) into slaves—property with no rights whatsoever and no hope of freedom. To win them to the side of the plantation bourgeoisie, poor white men were given privileges—they had access to land and enjoyed common law protections such as trial by jury and habeas corpus that were denied to Black enslaved people.18 In practice this meant that white men, for instance, could rape Black women and not be charged with a crime (because Blacks were property and so only “damages” were to be paid to the slave owner). Further, property rights and the legal notion of settled land not only denied Native American property claims but even erased the existence of Indigenous people on the basis that, because white settlers had transformed the pristine North American wilderness into productive land, they were the real “natives.”19

Once the legal and ideological work had been done to naturalize race as a visible marker of inherent difference and to separate “us” from “them,” it could be made use of as a stable category of surveillance; the patrols set up to capture runaway slaves—arguably the first modern police forces in the United States20—needed only to “see” race in order to identify suspects. Moreover, the plantation system was stabilized by enabling non-elite whites to see security as a racial privilege and shared responsibility. W. E. B. Du Bois argued in Black Reconstruction that, in the slave plantations of the South, poor whites were brought into an identification with the planter elite by being given positions of authority over Blacks as overseers, slave drivers, and members of slave patrols. With the associated feeling of superiority, their hatred for the wider plantation economy that impoverished them was displaced onto Black enslaved people: class antagonism was racialized and turned into a pillar of stability for the system. Meanwhile, in the North, labor leaders had little appetite for abolition, fearing competition from a newly freed Black workforce.21 After abolition, the same racial anxieties were mobilized to disenfranchise the Black laborer in the South. Du Bois used the term “psychological wage” to describe this sense of superiority granted to non-elite whites in the South:

It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent under their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness.… On the other hand, in the same way, the Negro was subject to public insult; was afraid of mobs; was liable to the jibes of children and the unreasoning fears of white women; and was compelled almost continuously to submit to various badges of inferiority. The result of this was that the wages of both classes could be kept low, the whites fearing to be supplanted by Negro labor, the Negroes always being threatened by the substitution of white labor.22 

We suggest below that, since the 1970s, neoliberalism has involved a similar kind of process, in which the social wage of the New Deal welfare state was progressively withdrawn and racialized notions of security offered in its place as a psychological compensation.

These racialized notions of security are also inflected by gender. As Du Bois notes in the above quote, free Black men were positioned as threats to white women in the post–Civil War era. Unlike during slavery, when Black men were not indiscriminately labeled as rapists and lynching was rare, the period between 1865 and 1895 saw the lynching of over ten thousand African Americans. Fredrick Douglass argued that, when all the other methods of demonizing Black people failed, the myth of the Black rapist was developed to justify lynchings and white terror.23 Vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan justified their brutality by claiming to keep white women safe from the Black rapist, as visualized, for instance, in D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Such constructions of white women in need of protection from predatory Black men were reminiscent of the “captivity scenarios” of the seventeenth century, in which Native Americans were accused of kidnapping white women, a charge that then justified genocide.24 Thus, from the early settler-colonial period onwards, “security” and “protection” were defined by elites in gendered and racial terms. In particular, the white, heterosexual family was positioned as the subject of a security narrative that cast racialized others as threats to the “homeland.”

The “homeland” so defined also needed to be secured from racialized immigrant threats, but which immigrants counted as white in this “homeland” was somewhat unstable. When Irish immigrants began to arrive in the United States in large numbers from the 1850s onwards, they were considered nonwhite because they were perceived to be of Celtic rather than Anglo Saxon background. More importantly, Irish Catholics faced the same exclusionary practices that Catholics did in previous centuries. Even though by the mid-eighteenth century, the need for “English colonies to be economically sustainable and militarily secure from indigenous threat,” opened up non-English immigration to North America, Catholics (along with Indian tribes) were denied basic rights on the grounds that they were religiously and culturally different from the WASP population.25 Over time, however, Irish and Italian immigrants were made white. 

From the late nineteenth century, the policing of the United States’s borders was another context where racial and imperial security was intertwined with practices of surveillance. Congress first sought to police borders as part of a strategy of regulating labor in 1882, when it excluded Chinese immigrants. In 1909, US immigration officials began excluding around half of all Asian Indians from entering. Following concern from the British government that anti-colonial nationalists from India were using the United States as a base to spread radical politics, US officials began to interrogate Indian migrants at West Coast ports, and a British agent arranged for the Justice Department to monitor all mail moving between India and the Berkeley and San Francisco post offices.26 

In 1917, legislation was introduced to create a “barred Asiatic zone,” stretching from Afghanistan to the Pacific, from which no one could be admitted to the United States.27 With the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, a comprehensive system of national quotas was introduced reflecting a global racial hierarchy. Through immigration policy, an idea of the US homeland as a Western European, white ethnoracial identity was institutionalized. To implement such a vision, appropriate systems of record keeping and surveillance of immigrants were required.28 Through these various means, Mae M. Ngai argues, Asian Americans and Mexican Americans were produced as “alien citizens,” formally US citizens but legally racialized and excluded. The surveillance of these groups made possible the repatriation of 400,000 persons of Mexican descent during the Great Depression (of whom half had been thought to be US citizens) and the internment of 120,000 of Japanese ancestry during World War II (two-thirds of whom were citizens).29

In the nineteenth century, the political surveillance of labor militancy had routinely been practiced by private agencies such as Pinkerton and Burns, who were directly contracted by capitalists rather than through the state. But toward the end of the century, such practices began to be absorbed into government agencies. Following the so-called Tompkins Square Riot of 1874—actually a demonstration in New York against unemployment that was attacked by the police—the New York Police Department began to assign detectives to spy on socialist and union meetings. By the mid-1890s, the department was tapping 350 phones.30 By 1900, a number of police departments in the United States had created “red squads” specifically to deploy informants to left-wing organizations and meetings.

Empire and the national security state
By 1890, coast-to-coast colonization was effectively complete, with the surviving Native American population consigned to reservations. Thereafter, the priority became the projection of US power further afield, again justified through a racialized understanding of American exceptionalism. As Paul Kramer writes in the context of the US conquest of the Philippines:

[T]he war’s advocates subsumed US history within longer, racial trajectories of “Anglo-Saxon” history which folded together US and British imperial histories. The Philippine-American War, then, was a natural extension of Western conquest, and both taken together were the organic expression of the desires, capacities, and destinies of “Anglo-Saxon” peoples. Americans, as Anglo-Saxons, shared Britons’ racial genius for empire-building, a genius which they must exercise for the greater glory of the “race” and to advance “civilization” in general. Unlike other races, they “liberated” the peoples they conquered; indeed, their expressions of conquest as “freedom” proliferated as the terrors they unleashed became more visible.31

The resistance that Filipinos mounted to American benevolence could then only be seen as an atavistic barbarism to be countered through modern techniques of surveillance and repression. While local police departments within the United States had begun to develop techniques of political surveillance, it was under the US colonial regime in the Philippines that systematic and widespread surveillance of political opponents and the manipulation of personal information as a form of political control was first institutionalized. A unit within the police called the Constabulary Information Section was established in Manila in 1901, founded by Henry Allen, a former military attaché to Tsarist Russia.32 The Constabulary Information Section cultivated hundreds of paid Filipino agents across the country, making it “scarcely possible for seditionary measures of importance to be hatched without our knowledge,” as Allen wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt.33 The techniques of compiling dossiers on dissidents’ private lives, spreading disinformation in the media, and planting agents provocateurs among militants were applied to combating radical nationalist groupings in Manila. Control over information proved as effective a tool of colonial power as physical force. As historian Alfred W. McCoy notes, during World War I 

police methods that had been tested and perfected in the colonial Philippines migrated homeward to provide both precedents and personnel for the establishment of a US internal security apparatus.… After years of pacifying an overseas empire where race was the frame for perception and action, colonial veterans came home to turn the same lens on America, seeing its ethnic communities . . . as internal colonies requiring coercive controls.34

On this basis, a domestic national security apparatus emerged, with notions of race and empire at its core. From 1917, the FBI and police department red squads in US cities increasingly busied themselves with fears of subversion from communists, pacifists, anarchists, and the ten million German Americans who were suspected of harboring disloyalties. During World War I, thirty million letters were physically examined and 350,000 badge-carrying vigilantes snooped on immigrants, unions, and socialists.35

Concerns over privacy set limits to such surveillance after the war, but with increasing left-wing and right-wing radicalization in the 1930s, President Roosevelt decided to issue a secret executive order that authorized a shift in the FBI’s role from a narrowly conceived law enforcement agency focused on gathering evidence for criminal prosecutions into an intelligence agency. Thereafter, it was dedicated to spying on “subversive” political movements (primarily communists, but also fascists) and countering their ability to influence public debate. This meant the FBI systematically identifying subversives based on “ideological and associational criteria.”36 It also opened the door to the burgeoning counter-subversion practices that the bureau would launch over the following decades. Already during World War II, the FBI was collecting detailed files on suspected communists while Black organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Nation of Islam were also surveillance targets.37

At the end of the Second World War, the United States emerged as one of two superpowers on the world stage. Pushing back against the isolationists, Cold War liberals made the case for the establishment of a permanent national security state. According to historian Paul Hogan, the national security mindset that emerged involved

a conviction that a new era of total war had dawned on the United States. In total war, the battle was not confined to the front lines but extended to the home front as well, as did the awesome destruction that modern weapons could inflict not only on military combatants but also on industry, urban centers, and civilian populations. Modern war was total war in this sense that modern armies depended on the output of citizen soldiers in farms and factories behind the battle line. In total war all of the nation’s resources and all of its energy and talent had to be mobilized on behalf of the war effort, thereby obliterating the old distinction between civilian and military, between citizen and soldier, between home front and the front line. When American leaders talked about total war they did so in these terms and also in terms that recognized that modern weapons could bring massive destruction from great distances with barely a moment’s notice. In the new age, American leaders would no longer have the time to debate the issue of war or peace or to prepare at a slow pace.38

This was an updating and reworking of the settler-colonial mentality, with the notion of Manifest Destiny being explicitly drawn on in making the case for an exceptional American empire. The notion of the “citizen-soldier” was built upon earlier settler-colonial racialized security narratives. However, American exceptionalism, as it emerged in this period, was based on the premise that the United States was not only unique among other nations and therefore destined to play a leading global role, but also a nation built upon liberal principles. This meant that the centrality of whiteness to the security narrative was muted and less prominent. Even though the white middle-class home was cast as the locus of a privatized notion of self-defense and military preparedness through government civil defense policies and programs,39 the image of the US empire was one of liberalism, inclusivity, and the “melting pot.” The United States sought quite consciously to differentiate itself from past empires as it positioned itself to be one of two hegemons on the global stage. In this context, the existence of Jim Crow segregation was an embarrassment for the ruling class. 

In 1947, the National Security Act was passed which entrenched “security” as a key element of the postwar order. Every aspect of life—the social, political, intellectual, and economic—was conceived as playing a role in national defense, and a massive security establishment was built up. The 1947 act created the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council (NSC), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The National Security Agency (NSA) was formed in 1952, conceived as an organization to carry out the gathering of “signals intelligence.” During this period, there was also the integration of corporate America, of universities, of research institutions, and of the media into the machinery of the national security state. The earlier distinctions between the citizen and soldier and between the home front and the battle front were blurred to shore up an imperial system at home and abroad.

Surveillance was central to sustaining and reproducing this system. From the 1940s to the early 1970s, FBI wiretapping and bugging operations focused on a wide range of movements, activists, and public figures. The following list of targets compiled by historian Athan Theoharis gives a flavor of the surveillance and is worth quoting in full:

  • Radical activists (David Dallin, Charles Malamuth, C. B. Baldwin, Frank Oppenheimer, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, Heinrich Mann, Helene Weigel, Berthold Viertel, Anna Seghers, Bodo Uhse, Richard Criley, Frank Wilkinson), prominent liberal and radical attorneys (Bartley Crum, Martin Popper, Thomas Corcoran, David Wahl, Benjamin Margolis, Carol King, Robert Silberstein, National Lawyers Guild, Fred Black), 
  • Radical labor leaders and unions (Harry Bridges; United Auto Workers; National Maritime Union; National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards; United Public Workers; United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers; Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers; International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union; CIO Maritime Committee; Congress of Industrial Organizations Council), 
  • Journalists (I. F. Stone, Philip Jaffe, Kate Mitchell, Mark Gayn, Leonard Lyons, William Beecher, Marvin Kalb, Henry Brandon, Hedrick Smith, Lloyd Norman, Hanson Baldwin, Inga Arvad),
  • Civil-rights activists and organizations (Martin Luther King, Jr.; Malcolm X; Southern Christian Leadership Conference; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; March on Washington Movement; Gandhi Society for Human Rights; Elijah Muhammad; Nation of Islam; Stokely Carmichael; H. Rap Brown; Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee; Alabama Peoples Education Association; Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants; Southern Conference for Human Welfare; Black Panther Party; Universal Negro Improvement Association; African Liberation Day Committee),
  • The Students for a Democratic Society, Ku Klux Klan, National Committee to Abolish HUAC, Socialist Workers Party, Washington Bookstore Association, Northern California Association of Scientists, Federation of American Scientists, American Association of Scientific Workers, pre–World War II isolationists (Henry Grunewald, Ethel Brigham, John O’Brien, Lillian Moorehead, Laura Ingalls, America First, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce), and even prominent personalities (Joe Namath, Harlow Shapley, Edward Condon, Edward Prichard, Muhammad Ali, Benjamin Spock).40

In a bid to shape public opinion, the FBI also launched a mass media campaign in 1946 that released “educational materials” to cooperative journalists and legislators.

In the late 1950s, the FBI launched its secret counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), which used provocateurs and informants to infiltrate communist groups initially, but later widened to include Puerto Rican nationalists, the student movement, the civil rights movement, and Black liberation movements. About 1,500 of the 8,500 American Communist Party members were likely FBI informants in the early 1960s. By the end of the decade, agents who had previously worked in US foreign intelligence were transferring to the burgeoning field of domestic intelligence to spy on radical movements, whether employed by the bureau, military intelligence, or the expanding red squads in local police departments.41

A key part of the FBI’s countersubversion strategy was the manipulation of political activists into committing criminal acts so that they could be arrested and prosecuted. Agents provocateurs working for the FBI initiated disruptions of meetings and demonstrations, fights between rival groups, attacks on police, and bombings. FBI agents also secretly distributed derogatory and scurrilous material to police, Congress, elected officials, other federal agencies, and the mass media.42 In an attempt to “neutralize” Martin Luther King, Jr., who, the FBI worried, might abandon his “obedience to white liberal doctrines” (as indeed he did), he was placed under intense surveillance, and attempts were made to destroy his marriage and induce his suicide. In various cities, the FBI and local police used fake letters and informants to stir up violence between rival factions and gangs to disrupt the Black Panther Party.43 In a number of cases, police departments or federal agents carried out the direct assassination of Black Panthers.44

Since 1945, the government had been running a mass spying program known as Project Shamrock, which the NSA took over in 1952. The telecommunications companies at the time handed over to the NSA all telegrams sent out of and into the United States. By the early 1970s, NSA analysts were collecting and analyzing approximately 150,000 telegrams a month. In 1967, the FBI and CIA submitted lists of names to the National Security Agency of key activists in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, hoping that the NSA would be able to find evidence of the communist conspiracy that President Lyndon Johnson thought must be causing the new militancy of the 1960s. The list included politically active public figures such as actress Jane Fonda and singer Joan Baez, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr., Eldridge Cleaver, and Abbie Hoffman. NSA officers began surveillance of these activists’ communications, using special records procedures to prevent discovery of what they knew to be an illegal program. This “watch list” program was expanded under President Nixon and named Operation Minaret; in all, the international communications of more than a thousand US citizens and organizations and more than two thousand foreign citizens were intercepted.45 Such was the proliferation of government spying in the 1960s that even such a minor law enforcement agency as the Ohio Highway Patrol ran an intelligence unit claiming to have student informers on every campus in the state.46

The vast expansion of state surveillance in the 1960s was a response to the new militancy of the movements against the imperialist war in Vietnam and for civil rights and Black liberation. Initially, security officials assumed the Civil Rights movement in the South, the campus protests, and the Black insurrections in northern cities were the result of a communist conspiracy; informants and electronic monitoring were deployed to try to identify the hidden agitators thought to be manipulating events behind the scenes. But it soon became apparent that these movements were manifestations of a new kind of politics that could not be understood according to the conspiratorial calculus of “front groups” and “fellow travelers”; surveillance therefore had to be widened to monitor ordinary participants, particularly in Black communities, in what was increasingly seen as a popular insurgency. Even then, the hope was that new electronic technologies would be the answer. National security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski commented in 1970 that technology would make it “possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date files, containing even personal information about the . . . behavior of the citizen, in addition to the more customary data.”47

Neoliberalism and racial security
The expansion of the surveillance state in the twentieth century was one aspect of a wider penetration of the state into the lives of Americans. Working class struggle had somewhat unexpectedly driven this expansion: the state responded by taking on a mediating role between labor and capital, offering a measure of protection from the ravages of a market economy through Keynesian economics and the creation of a welfare state after the New Deal—albeit one that was underdeveloped compared to Western Europe. State managers sought to stabilize capitalism by imposing a degree of “rationality” on the system through regulating the economy and providing social services, all of which required a greater penetration of the state into civil society.48 In the new era of neoliberal capitalism that began in the 1970s, ruling elites sought to break this social contract, which rested on the premise that, if the working class “played by the rules,” it could see increases in wages and living conditions. From the 1970s onwards, this arrangement was undone. Alongside, there were also the beginnings of a contraction of the social wage of welfare provisions, public housing, education, and healthcare. The end result was growing inequality and a new regime of the one percent.

The state responded to the permanent joblessness, ghettoization, and stigmatization that neoliberalism produced among the poor by turning to policies of mass criminalization and incarceration. Thus, the neoliberal onslaught went hand in hand with securitization. As Loïc Wacquant writes, since the civil rights era

America has launched into a social and political experiment without precedent or equivalent in the societies of the postwar West: the gradual replacement of a (semi-) welfare state by a police and penal state for which the criminalization of marginality and the punitive containment of dispossessed categories serve as social policy at the lower end of the class and ethnic order.49

The law and order rhetoric that was used to mobilize support for this project of securitization was racially coded, associating Black protest and rebellion with fears of street crime. The possibilities of such an approach had been demonstrated in the 1968 election, when both the Republican candidate Richard Nixon and the independent segregationist George Wallace had made law and order a central theme of their campaigns. It became apparent that Republicans could cleave Southern whites away from the Democratic Party through tough-on-crime rhetoric that played on racial fears. The Southern Strategy, as it would be called, tapped into anxieties among working-class whites that the civil rights reforms of the 1960s would lead to them competing with Blacks for jobs, housing, and schools.

With the transformation of the welfare state into a security state, its embedding in everyday life was not undone but diverted to different purposes. Social services were reorganized into instruments of surveillance. Public aid became increasingly conditional on upholding certain behavioral norms that were to be measured and supervised by the state, implying its increasing intrusion into the lives of the poor—culminating in the “workfare” regimes of the Clinton administration.50 In this context, a new model of crime control came into being. In earlier decades, criminologists had focused on the process of rehabilitation; those who committed crimes were to be helped to return to society. While the actual implementation of this policy was uneven, by the 1970s, this model went out of fashion. In its place, a new “preventive” model of crime control became the norm, which was based on gathering information about groups to assess the “risk” they posed. Rather than wait for the perpetrator to commit a crime, risk assessment methods called for new forms of “preventive surveillance,” in which whole groups of people seen as dangerous were subject to observation, identification, and classification.51

The War on Drugs—launched by President Reagan in 1982—dramatically accelerated the process of racial securitization. Michelle Alexander notes that

At the time he declared this new war, less than 2 percent of the American public viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the nation. This fact was no deterrent to Reagan, for the drug war from the outset had little to do with public concern about drugs and much to do with public concern about race. By waging a war on drug users and dealers, Reagan made good on his promise to crack down on the racially defined “others”—the undeserving.52

Operation Hammer, carried out by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1988, illustrates how racialized surveillance was central to the War on Drugs. It involved hundreds of officers in combat gear sweeping through the South Central area of the city over a period of several weeks, making 1,453 arrests, mostly for teenage curfew violations, disorderly conduct, and minor traffic offenses. Ninety percent were released without charge but the thousands of young Black people who were stopped and processed in mobile booking centers had their names entered onto the “gang register” database, which soon contained the details of half of the Black youths of Los Angeles. Entry to the database rested on such supposed indicators of gang membership as high-five handshakes and wearing red shoelaces. Officials compared the Black gangs they were supposedly targeting to the National Liberation Front in Vietnam and the “murderous militias of Beirut,” signaling the blurring of boundaries between civilian policing and military force, and between domestic racism and overseas imperialism.53

In the twelve years leading up to 1993, the rate of incarceration of Black Americans tripled,54 establishing the system of mass incarceration that Michelle Alexander refers to as the new Jim Crow.55 And yet those in prison were only a quarter of those subject to supervision by the criminal justice system, with its attendant mechanisms of routine surveillance and “intermediate sanctions,” such as house arrests, boot camps, intensive supervision, day reporting, community service, and electronic tagging. Criminal records databases, which are easily accessible to potential employers, now hold files on around one-third of the adult male population.56 Alice Goffman has written of the ways that mass incarceration is not just a matter of imprisonment itself but also the systems of policing and surveillance that track young Black men and label them as would-be criminals before and after their time in prison. From stops on the street to probation meetings, these systems, she says, have transformed

poor Black neighborhoods into communities of suspects and fugitives. A climate of fear and suspicion pervades everyday life, and many residents live with the daily concern that the authorities will seize them and take them away.57

A predictable outcome of such systems of classification and criminalization is the routine racist violence carried out by police forces and the regular occurrences of police killings of Black people, such as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014.

The mass surveillance of Muslim Americans
Discussions of the surveillance of Muslim Americans usually begin with 9/11 and make little attempt to locate them in the longer history of racial surveillance in the United States. Yet the continuities are striking, particularly for Black Muslims, who have been seen as extremists and subject to national security monitoring since the 1940s. Already in the late 1960s, Arab American student groups involved in supporting the Palestinian national movement had come under surveillance and, in 1972, the Nixon administration issued a set of directives known as Operation Boulder that enabled the CIA and FBI to coordinate with the pro-Israel lobby in monitoring Arab activists.

By the 1980s, but especially after 9/11, a process was under way in which “Muslimness” was racialized through surveillance—another scene of the state’s production of racial subjects. Since all racisms are socially and politically constructed rather than resting on the reality of any biological “race,” it is perfectly possible for cultural markers associated with Muslimness (forms of dress, rituals, languages, etc.) to be turned into racial signifiers.58 This signification then serves to indicate a people supposedly prone to violence and terrorism, which, under the War on Terror, justifies a whole panoply of surveillance and criminalization, from arbitrary arrests, to indefinite detention, deportation, torture, solitary confinement, the use of secret evidence, and sentencing for crimes that “we” would not be jailed for, such as speech, donations to charitable organizations, and other such acts considered material support for terrorism. 

Significantly, the racial underpinnings of the War on Terror sustain not just domestic repression but foreign abuses—the war’s vast death toll in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere could not be sustained without the dehumanization of its Muslim victims. As before, racism at home goes hand in hand with empire abroad. Counterinsurgency thinking that informed the strategies used in Iraq and Afghanistan in the face of popular insurrection are also brought home to be deployed in relation to Muslim American populations. Winning “hearts and minds,” the counterinsurgency slogan first introduced by British colonialists in Malaya, and then adopted by the US military in Vietnam, reappears as the phrase that state planners invoke to prevent “extremism” among young Muslims in the United States. 

Counterinsurgency in this context means total surveillance of Muslim populations, and building law enforcement agency partnerships with “good Muslims,” those who are willing to praise US policy and become sources of information on dissenters, making life very difficult for “bad Muslims” or those who refuse (in ways reminiscent of the “good” and “bad” Indians). It is a way of ensuring that the knowledge Muslims tend to have of how US foreign policy harms the Middle East, Africa, and Asia is not shared with others. The real fear of the national security state is not the stereotypical Muslim fanatic but the possibility that other groups within US society might build alliances with Muslims in opposition to empire.

The various measures that the US national security system has adopted in recent years flow from an analysis of Muslim “radicalization,” which assumes that certain law-abiding activities associated with religious ideology are indicators of extremism and potential violence. Following the preventive logic discussed above, the radicalization model claims to be able to predict which individuals are not terrorists now but might be at some later date. Behavioral, cultural, and ideological signals are assumed to reveal who is at risk of turning into a terrorist at some point in the future.59 For example, in the FBI’s radicalization model, such things as growing a beard, starting to wear traditional Islamic clothing, and becoming alienated from one’s former life are listed as indicators, as is “increased activity in a pro-Muslim social group or political cause.”60 Thus, signifiers of Muslimness such as facial hair, dress, and so on are turned into markers of suspicion for a surveillance gaze that is also a racial (and gendered) gaze; it is through such routine bureaucratic mechanisms that counterterrorism practices involve the social construction of racial others.

Official acceptance of the model of radicalization implies a need for mass surveillance of Muslim populations and collection of as much data as possible on every aspect of their lives in order to try to spot the supposed warning signs that the models list. And this is exactly the approach that law enforcement agencies introduced. At the New York Police Department, for instance, the instrumentalizing of radicalization models led to the mass, warrantless surveillance of every aspect of Muslim life.

  • Dozens of mosques in New York and New Jersey and hundreds more “hot spots,” such as restaurants, cafés, bookshops, community organizations, and student associations were listed as potential security risks. 
  • Undercover officers and informants eavesdropped at these “locations of interest” to listen for radical political and religious opinions.
  • A NYPD “Moroccan Initiative” compiled a list of every known Moroccan taxi driver.

Muslims who changed their names to sound more traditionally American or who adopted Arabic names were investigated and catalogued in secret NYPD intelligence files.

It is clear that none of this activity was based on investigating reasonable suspicions of criminal activity. This surveillance produced no criminal leads between 2006 and 2012, and probably did not before or after.61

As of 2008, the FBI had a roster of 15,000 paid informants62 and, according to Senator Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the bureau had 10,000 counterterrorism intelligence analysts in 2013.63 The proportion of these informants and analysts who are assigned to Muslim populations in the United States is unknown but is likely to be substantial. The kinds of infiltration and provocation tactics that had been practiced against Black radicals in the 1960s are being repeated today. What has changed are the rationales used to justify them: it is no longer the threat of Black nationalist subversion, but the threat of Muslim radicalization that is invoked. With new provisions in the Clinton administration’s 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the FBI can launch investigations of a suspected individual or organization simply for providing “material support” to terrorism—a vague term that could include ideological activity unrelated to any actual plot to carry out violence. While COINTELPRO violated federal laws, today similar kinds of investigation and criminalization of political dissent can be carried out legitimately in the name of countering terrorism.

For Muslim populations on the receiving end of state surveillance programs designed to prevent “radicalization,” everyday life increasingly resembles the patterns described in classic accounts of authoritarianism. There is the same sense of not knowing whom to trust and choosing one’s words with special care when discussing politics, and of the arbitrariness and unpredictability of state power.64 With the 2011 leaking of some NYPD intelligence files, individual Muslims have had the disturbing experience of seeing their names mentioned in government files, along with details of their private lives. Numerous businesses, cafés, restaurants, and mosques in New York are aware that the NYPD considers them hotspots and deploys informants to monitor them. And the recent outing of a small number of NYPD informants has meant some Muslims in New York have found that relationships they thought of as genuine friendships were actually covert attempts to gather intelligence.65

Racial security in the “post-racial” era
The election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 was said to have ushered in a new “post-racial” era, in which racial inequalities were meant to be a thing of the past. African Americans and Muslim Americans placed their hopes in Obama, voting for him in large numbers. But in the so-called post-racial era, the security narrative of hard-working families (coded white) under threat from dangerous racial others has been as powerful as ever.

The unprecedented mass deportation of more than two million people during the Obama presidency is one form taken by this post-racial racialized securitization. Over the last two decades, the progressive criminalization of undocumented immigrants has been achieved through the building of a militarized wall between Mexico and the United States, hugely expanding the US border patrol, and programs such as Secure Communities, which enables local police departments to access immigration databases. Secure Communities was introduced in 2008 and stepped up under Obama. It has resulted in migrants being increasingly likely to be profiled, arrested, and imprisoned by local police officers, before being passed to the federal authorities for deportation. Undocumented migrants can no longer have any contact with police officers without risking such outcomes. There is an irony in the way that fears of “illegal immigration” threatening jobs and the public purse have become stand-ins for real anxieties about the neoliberal collapse of the old social contract: the measures that such fears lead to—racialization and criminalization of migrants—themselves serve to strengthen the neoliberal status quo by encouraging a precarious labor market. Capital, after all, does not want to end immigration but to profit from “a vast exploitable labor pool that exists under precarious conditions, that does not enjoy the civil, political and labor rights of citizens and that is disposable through deportation.”66

What brings together these different systems of racial oppression—mass incarceration, mass surveillance, and mass deportation—is a security logic that holds the imperial state as necessary to keeping “American families” (coded white) safe from threats abroad and at home. The ideological work of the last few decades has cultivated not only racial security fears but also an assumption that the security state is necessary to keep “us” safe. In this sense, security has become the new psychological wage to aid the reallocation of the welfare state’s social wage toward homeland security and to win support for empire in the age of neoliberalism. Through the notion of security, social and economic anxieties generated by the unraveling of the Keynesian social compact have been channeled toward the Black or Brown street criminal, welfare recipient, or terrorist. In addition, as Susan Faludi has argued, since 9/11, this homeland in need of security has been symbolized, above all, by the white domestic hearth of the prefeminist fifties, once again threatened by mythical frontier enemies, hidden subversives, and racial aggressors. That this idea of the homeland coincides culturally with “the denigration of capable women, the magnification of manly men, the heightened call for domesticity, the search for and sanctification of helpless girls” points to the ways it is gendered as well as racialized.67

The post-Snowden debate
The mechanisms of surveillance outlined in this essay were responses to political struggles of various kinds—from anticolonial insurgencies to slave rebellions, labor militancy to anti-imperialist agitation. Surveillance practices themselves have also often been the target of organized opposition. In the 1920s and 1970s, the surveillance state was pressured to contract in the face of public disapproval. The antiwar activists who broke into an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1971 and stole classified documents managed to expose COINTELPRO, for instance, leading to its shut down. (But those responsible for this FBI program were never brought to justice for their activities and similar techniques continued to be used later against, for example in the 1980s, the American Indian Movement, and the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.68) Public concern about state surveillance in the 1970s led to the Church committee report on government spying and the Handschu guidelines that regulated the New York Police Department’s spying on political activities. Those concerns began to be swept aside in the 1980s with the War on Drugs and, especially, later with the War on Terror. While significant sections of the public may have consented to the security state, those who have been among its greatest victims—the radical Left, antiwar activists, racial justice and Black liberation campaigners, and opponents of US foreign policy in Latin America and the Middle East—understand its workings.

Today, we are once again in a period of revelation, concern, and debate on national security surveillance. Yet if real change is to be brought about, the racial history of surveillance will need to be fully confronted—or opposition to surveillance will once again be easily defeated by racial security narratives. The significance of the Snowden leaks is that they have laid out the depth of the NSA’s mass surveillance with the kind of proof that only an insider can have. The result has been a generalized level of alarm as people have become aware of how intrusive surveillance is in our society, but that alarm remains constrained within a public debate that is highly abstract, legalistic, and centered on the privacy rights of the white middle class.

On the one hand, most civil liberties advocates are focused on the technical details of potential legal reforms and new oversight mechanisms to safeguard privacy. Such initiatives are likely to bring little change because they fail to confront the racist and imperialist core of the surveillance system. On the other hand, most technologists believe the problem of government surveillance can be fixed simply by using better encryption tools. While encryption tools are useful in increasing the resources that a government agency would need to monitor an individual, they do nothing to unravel the larger surveillance apparatus. Meanwhile, executives of US tech corporations express concerns about loss of sales to foreign customers concerned about the privacy of data. In Washington and Silicon Valley, what should be a debate about basic political freedoms is simply a question of corporate profits.69

Another and perhaps deeper problem is the use of images of state surveillance that do not adequately fit the current situation—such as George Orwell’s discussion of totalitarian surveillance. Edward Snowden himself remarked that Orwell warned us of the dangers of the type of government surveillance we face today.70 Reference to Orwell’s 1984 has been widespread in the current debate; indeed, sales of the book were said to have soared following Snowden’s revelations.71 The argument that digital surveillance is a new form of Big Brother is, on one level, supported by the evidence. For those in certain targeted groups—Muslims, left-wing campaigners, radical journalists—state surveillance certainly looks Orwellian. But this level of scrutiny is not faced by the general public. The picture of surveillance today is therefore quite different from the classic images of surveillance that we find in Orwell’s 1984, which assumes an undifferentiated mass population subject to government control. What we have instead today in the United States is total surveillance, not on everyone, but on very specific groups of people, defined by their race, religion, or political ideology: people that NSA officials refer to as the “bad guys.”

In March 2014, Rick Ledgett, deputy director of the NSA, told an audience: “Contrary to some of the stuff that’s been printed, we don’t sit there and grind out metadata profiles of average people. If you’re not connected to one of those valid intelligence targets, you are not of interest to us.”72 In the national security world, “connected to” can be the basis for targeting a whole racial or political community so, even assuming the accuracy of this comment, it points to the ways that national security surveillance can draw entire communities into its web, while reassuring “average people” (code for the normative white middle class) that they are not to be troubled. In the eyes of the national security state, this average person must also express no political views critical of the status quo.

Better oversight of the sprawling national security apparatus and greater use of encryption in digital communication should be welcomed. But by themselves these are likely to do little more than reassure technologists, while racialized populations and political dissenters continue to experience massive surveillance. This is why the most effective challenges to the national security state have come not from legal reformers or technologists but from grassroots campaigning by the racialized groups most affected. In New York, the campaign against the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims has drawn its strength from building alliances with other groups affected by racial profiling: Latinos and Blacks who suffer from hugely disproportionate rates of stop and frisk. In California’s Bay Area, a campaign against a Department of Homeland Security-funded Domain Awareness Center was successful because various constituencies were able to unite on the issue, including homeless people, the poor, Muslims, and Blacks. Similarly, a demographics unit planned by the Los Angeles Police Department, which would have profiled communities on the basis of race and religion, was shut down after a campaign that united various groups defined by race and class. The lesson here is that, while the national security state aims to create fear and to divide people, activists can organize and build alliances across race lines to overcome that fear. To the extent that the national security state has targeted Occupy, the antiwar movement, environmental rights activists, radical journalists and campaigners, and whistleblowers, these groups have gravitated towards opposition to the national security state. But understanding the centrality of race and empire to national security surveillance means finding a basis for unity across different groups who experience similar kinds of policing: Muslim, Latino/a, Asian, Black, and white dissidents and radicals. It is on such a basis that we can see the beginnings of an effective multiracial opposition to the surveillance state and empire.


  1. Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, “Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On,” The Intercept, July 9, 2014, https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/07/09/under-surveillance (accessed August 1, 2014).
  2. Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux, “Barack Obama’s Secret Terrorist-Tracking System, by the Numbers,” The Intercept, August 5, 2014, https://firstlook.org/theintercept/artic....
  3. American Attitudes Toward Arabs and Muslims: 2014 (DC: Arab American Institute, July 29, 2014), 9.
  4. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New York, NY: New Press, 2010).
  5. Aziz Rana, The Two Faces of American Freedom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).
  6. As Aziz Rana argues, the ideal of liberty as self-rule that animated the American Revolution was from its inception based on a politics of exclusion. Not included in the social contract were enslaved people, Indigenous people, the landless, and Catholics. See Rana, The Two Faces.
  7. Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2003), 3.
  8. See Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).
  9. John L. Comaroff, “Reflections on the Colonial State, in South Africa and Elsewhere: Factions, Fragments, Facts and Fictions,” Social Identities, 4(3), 1998, 323.
  10. For an account of this process in the Canadian North-West, see Jeffrey Monaghan, “Settler governmentality and racializing surveillance in Canada’s North-West,” Canadian Journal of Sociology, 38 (4), 2013.
  11. David Theo Goldberg, The Racial State (Oxford, Blackwell, 2002), 40, 47. 
  12. Eleanor Burke Leacock, Myths of Male Dominance: Collected Articles on Women Cross-Culturally (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008).
  13. Ibid 46–47.
  14. Tim Rowse, “Population Knowledge and the Practice of Guardianship,” American Nineteenth Century History, 15(1), 2014, 17–18, 25.
  15. Ibid., 35.
  16. Mahmood Mamdani, Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 44.
  17. Theodore Allen, The Invention of the White Race, Volume 1: Racial Oppression and Social Control (New York: Verso, 2012).
  18. Rana, The Two Faces, 47–9.
  19. Ibid., 49.
  20. Hubert Williams and Patrick V. Murphy, “The Evolving Strategy of Police: A Minority View,” Perspectives on Policing, 13, January 1990, 3.
  21. W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880 (New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1935), 12, 20–21.
  22. Ibid., 700–01.
  23. See Angela Davis, Women, Race, and Class (New York: Vintage Books, 1983), 183–86.
  24. Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600–1860 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1973). See Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (2003) for an alternative take on these narratives—one that restores agency to white women who not infrequently sought refuge from their patriarchal communities among Native American societies.  
  25. Rana, The Two Faces, 58–60.
  26. Seema Sohi, “Race, Surveillance, and Indian Anticolonialism in the Transnational Western U.S.-Canadian Borderlands,” Journal of American History, September 2011, 425–6, 429–430.
  27. Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 18.
  28. Ibid., 3.
  29. Ibid., 8, 175–76.
  30. Kristian Williams, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007), 153.
  31. Paul Kramer, “Race Making and Colonial Violence in the US Empire: The Philippine-American War as Race War,” Diplomatic History, 30(2), 2006, 185.
  32. Alfred McCoy, Policing America’s Empire: the United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), 104.
  33. Ibid., 105.
  34. Ibid., 294.
  35. Alfred McCoy, “Surveillance and Scandal: Time-Tested Weapons for US Global Power,” Nation, January 21, 2014.
  36. Athan Theoharis, Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11 (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2011), 3.
  37. Ibid., 27.
  38. Paul Hogan, A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945–54 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 12–13.
  39. James Hay, “Designing Homes to be the First Line of Defense: Safe Households, Mobilization, and the New Mobile Privatization,” Cultural Studies, 20(4–5), 2006.
  40. Theoharis, Abuse of Power, 46.
  41. Gary T. Marx, “Thoughts on a Neglected Category of Social Movement Participant: the Agent Provocateur and the Informant,” American Journal of Sociology, 80(2), 1974.
  42. John Drabble, “Fighting Black Power-New Left coalitions: Covert FBI media campaigns and American cultural discourse, 1967–1971,” European Journal of American Culture, 27(2), 2008, 66.
  43. “Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities 1976,” US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 11.
  44. Noam Chomsky, “Domestic Terrorism: Notes on the State System of Oppression,” New Political Science, 21(3), 1999.
  45. Theoharis, Abuse of Power, 64, 144.
  46. Frank J. Donner, “The Theory and Practice of American Political Intelligence,” New York Review of Books, April 22, 1971.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Fred Block, “The Ruling Class Does Not Rule: Notes on the Marxist Theory of the State,” Socialist Revolution, 33, May–June 1977, 22.
  49. Loïc Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 41.
  50. Ibid., 58–59.
  51. Stan Cohen, Visions of Social Control: Crime, Punishment and Classification (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985), 127.
  52. Alexander, New Jim Crow, 49.
  53. Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (London: Verso, 1990), 272, 268, 277.
  54. Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, 61.
  55. Alexander, The New Jim Crow.
  56. Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, 135.
  57. Alice Goffman, On The Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 8.
  58. Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley, The Crises of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Age (London: Zed Books, 2011).
  59. Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt, Radicalization in the West: the Homegrown Threat (New York, NY: New York Police Department Intelligence Division, 2007).
  60. Federal Bureau of Investigation Counterterrorism Division, “The Radicalization Process: From Conversion to Jihad,” May 10, 2006.
  61. Arun Kundnani, The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror (New York: NY, Verso, 2014).
  62. Trevor Aaronson, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism (Brooklyn, NY: Ig Publishing, (2013), 44.
  63. Transcript of news conference with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), June 6, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post...
  64. Diala Shamas and Nermeen Arastu, Mapping Muslims: NYPD spying and its Impact on American Muslims (New York, NY: Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility, and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, 2013), 20.
  65. Ibid., 40; Ryan Devereaux, “Muslim Student Monitored by the NYPD: ‘It Just Brings Everything Home,’” Guardian, February 22, 2012.
  66. William I. Robinson, “‘Aqui Estamos Y No Nos Vamos!’ Global Capital and Immigrant Rights,” Race & Class, 48(2), October 2006, 84.
  67. Susan Faludi, The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007), 14.
  68. Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2002).
  69. Claire Cain Miller, “Revelations of N.S.A. Spying Cost U.S. Tech Companies,” New York Times, March 21, 2014.
  70. Edward Snowden, “Alternative Christmas Message 2013,” broadcast December 25,  2013 (London: Channel 4 Television).
  71. Jenny Hendrix, “NSA Surveillance Puts George Orwell’s ‘1984’ on Bestseller Lists,” Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2013.
  72. Richard Ledgett, “Response to Edward Snowden,” March 20, 2014 (Vancouver: TED 2014),  http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_ledgett....

Subcategories