Surveillance Capitalism and Crisis

What follows was written as a background document for the referendum on the blanket surveillance law in the Netherlands in March 2018 and part of a book project, ‘The End of Political Compromise in Capitalism’. I argue that surveillance is part of the ‘War on Terror’ complex, which in turn evolved as a ‘Strategy of Tension’ after the model best known from the Italian experience in the 1970s. There it served to prevent the Left, and the Communist Party in particular, from advancing further towards participation in government. After the state capitalist turn of China and the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the USSR, the global wage-dependent but underemployed population grew to around 3 billion people of which one third inhabit fast-growing slums. Controlling this vast human mass became a core issue in managing the post-Cold War global political economy. The United States, profiting from its military pre-eminence, its role as the provider of the world’s reserve currency and enjoying the privilege of running permanent budget and current account deficits, from the 1970s worked with the emerging IT industry to establish a global security state grounded in ‘Total Information Awareness’. Based on this information advantage, global society is being kept in a state of tension by a range of intelligence activities targeting ‘demographic bulges’ in the reserve army of labour, even risking or provoking acts of violence against US/Western targets to allow armed control to be imposed. Mass surveillance and a spreading war after 2000 serve to stir the surplus population into activity and a domestic politics of fear has been deployed to win public support The Israeli-US NeoCon project of a War on Terror was revived after the Twin Towers attacks on 9/11, combining the attack on terrorists with pre-emptive war against ‘states supporting terror’. Ultimately the doctrine behind the global strategy of tension entails the explicit option and regular practice of targeted assassination of opponents.

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