Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Database State

Eat your heart out Mussolini
William Bowles | October 24 2004

We control political forces, we control moral forces we control economic forces, therefore we are a full-blown Corporative state.” - Benito Mussolini [1]

The database state

Six million video surveillance cameras, bioemetric ID cards, transnational data interception laws and ’joined up’ government. Add to this the privatisation of key state functions, all mediated by global IT corporations that are also the indispensable link in the weapons, media, pharmaceuticals and global financial networks and you have the corporate, security state 21st century style.
The privatisation project initiated in the 1970s under Reagan/Thatcher (so-called neo-liberalism) heralded the return to the days of Mussolini insofar as it reversed the gains of working people achieved through decades of struggle by once more fusing the primary objective of the state under capitalism with that of the corporations. All pretence of the ’liberal’ state representing different strata and interests of the whole of society were effectively abandoned. Greed and self-interest once more became the overriding ’philosophy’ of the capitalist state.
Central to the success of the ’neo-liberal’ agenda is the creation of an effectively disenfranchised electorate, whether through the fusing of the ideologies of the dominant political parties or the opting out of the electorate from the election process.
The fascism of Mussolini’s Italy was overt and by today’s ’standards’ crass, utilising brute force and direct attacks on the organised working class and the left by manipulating the organs of the state (parliament) into passing increasingly repressive laws.
However, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. The route to the creation of the corporate security state needn’t involve the formal abandonment of universal suffrage. There are more subtle and surreptitious ways and they don’t necessarily involve fraud, vote rigging, ballot stuffing, jerrymandering or even selective disenfranchisement aka Florida 2000, although these can be the routes the capitalist state takes when push comes to shove.
What fascism and the modern corporate security state share in common are the following:
The ’legal’ suppression of the organised working class such as trade unions and other political formations as well as increasing curbs on civil and political liberties.
But perhaps in the current context there are two aspects that are of concern:
1. The privatisation of the state and 2. The construction of the surveillance state except that now the ’enemy’ is not communism but ’terrorism’.
These two strands have come together in the current situation, facilitated by the new technologies that have made possible firstly, the construction of sophisticated tracking and ID systems that are implemented through an alliance between global IT corporations and the state that Mussolini could only dream about.
But for such a system to be effective under a so-called democracy it needs firstly an invisible enemy and secondly given the current situation, a global one.
The common theme that propels both sides of the equation is fear.
Fear on the part of the people of an enemy who can strike anywhere and effectively at random and the fear that state has of its own population, especially in the current post-Cold War period when, after decades of propaganda about the ’Red Menace’ (the same Red Menace that motivated Mussolini) whose defeat we were told, would bring peace and prosperity, only to find that on the ’other side of the veil’, lay an even greater menace, terrorism.
Under these circumstances, only an even greater fear could replace nuclear annihilation and/or loss of freedom under a ’totalitarian dictatorship’, a fear that has more in common with the movies ’Predator’ and ’Robocop’ than the world we actually live in.
To engineer such a fear and do it virtually overnight takes a lot of effort and resources that only a corporate security state could harness and most importantly, justify. But to do it, it has had to use the racist ideology that has been instilled in our collective psyche of the ’other’, that dehumanises those who aren’t ’like us’, who don’t we are told, subscribe to ’our’ values. In a phrase, these are people who are less than human, animals, things that don’t even think the way we do. People who are ruthless and fanatical, whose fanaticism can only be met with our own ’civilised’ fanaticism, that of the total state committed to total war without end.
Is the ’logic’ not totally compelling?
And this is a fear that is total in its scope, striking we are told, where we feel most vulnerable - on our way to work or in a restaurant. There can be no total victory over such an enemy, hence the ’war’ will last one, two or even more generations. This is endless war, the arms merchant’s wet dream. It’s the state bureaucracy’s license for total surveillance leading ultimately to incarceration 24/7. First they come for the ’alien’ and eventually for anyone else who dares step out of line.
And all of it done under a ’democracy’, there is no need for a Mussolini-style Fascism but effectively that’s what it will amount to but it will be done with our cooperation simply because we don’t think it’s us - you and me - who are the real enemies of the state.
Fanciful? Just look around you at the kind of society that is being constructed literally before our eyes by Blunkett and Ashcroft, all of it justified by an enemy that is in the first place the Frankenstein creation of the economic and political policies of ’neo-liberalism’ that has come back to haunt us just as Count Frankenstein’s creation did.
The corporate state calls it ’liberal imperialism’ but its real name cannot be spoken for to do so, would reveal the true nature of the beast. But occasionally we let the ’cat out of the bag’ and it’s not only instructive to carefully read their words, but to who and by whom the words are addressed
“Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era - force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle. [my emph. WB]” Robert Cooper, The new liberal imperialism. Cooper, formerly a senior Foreign Office advisor to Tony Blair [1]
So confident is Cooper in his vision of this new world order that he actually spells out the rationale behind this ’new’ liberal imperialism. He tells us
“First there is the voluntary imperialism of the global economy. This is usually operated by an international consortium through International Financial Institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank - it is characteristic of the new imperialism that it is multilateral. These institutions provide help to states wishing to find their way back into the global economy and into the virtuous circle of investment and prosperity. In return they make demands which, they hope, address the political and economic failures that have contributed to the original need for assistance. Aid theology today increasingly emphasises governance. If states wish to benefit, they must open themselves up to the interference of international organisations and foreign states...” [2]
Cooper tells us
“It is precisely because of the death of imperialism that we are seeing the emergence of the pre-modern world. Empire and imperialism are words that have become a form of abuse in the postmodern world. Today, there are no colonial powers willing to take on the job, though the opportunities, perhaps even the need for colonisation is as great as it ever was in the nineteenth century. [my emph. WB]” [3]
Tell it like it really is Mr Cooper! All of the above was written between the invasion and re-colonisation of Afghanistan and that of Iraq. This then is the context of the de facto return to the days of Mussolini but we dare not call it by its real name, even Cooper phrases it in an ’acceptable’ form for us ’civilised’ folk
“What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. [my emph. WB]” [4]
The world Cooper refers to of course is not that of the ’other’, out there in the ’jungle’ but to ’ours’ but even as he articulates these views, it’s clear the jungle is within and always has been. The treatment meted out to the ’aliens’ incarcerated in Belmarsh or Guatanamo that literally drives men mad [5] gives the lie to Cooper’s vision of an ’us’ and ’them’ view of the world. For underneath the language lies another reality that propels the ’logic’ of Cooper, that of the corporate state that in order to maintain the rule of capital must firstly create and then perpetuate a state of constant and increasing fear that requires ever greater control of our lives. Eat your heart out Mussolini, don’t you wish you’d had the kind of powers the new and improved version now has.
1. Speech before the new National Directory of the Party, April 7, 1926, in Discorsi del 1926, Milano, Alpes, 1927, p. 120
2. ’The new liberal imperialism’ by Robert Cooper, Observer Worldview Sunday April 7, 2002
3. ibid
4. op cit
5. op cit
6. See ’Our betrayal of these men has made them sick’ By Raj Persaud, The Independent, 14 October 2004, In part the article tells us “There are two theories as to why the governments are behaving as they do - one is that indefinite internment acts as a deterrent to any Muslim considering opposing the state.” In other words it’s not about ’terrorism’ but opposing the state.
See also ’Judge tells Blunkett to relax restrictions on terror suspect’ By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent, The Independent, 15 October 2004, where we learn that the ’terror suspect’ is subject to the kinds of treatment that were previously seen only in Apartheid South Africa under the notorious Suppression of Communism Act, “Since then, he [the suspect ’G’] has been forced to live in a small one-bedroom housing association flat in London with his wife and young daughter. He suffers from polio and requires crutches to walk more than a few steps. Under the terms of G’s house arrest, he is denied visitors and all contact with the outside world.”