The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: The Spying Game - Part 1. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!
The article rightly points out the danger of falling into the trap of thinking the state doesn't care about isolated groups of revolutionaries, but I wonder if the extent to which people fall for this trap is exagerated and if there isn't really a greater danger in the other direction. I personally know people who will no longer access the ICC's website for fear it will lead to them being a target of state repression. I fear we still have no real idea how to confront state repression. Yes, its a danger, but what do we do about it? The only thing we seem to be left with is the abstract general consolation that the state can't keep a determined working class down regardless of its Machiavellian maneouvers. OK, but what do we do "practically" (perish the thought of actually having to figure something out on the practical level) in the meantime. Is it an overreaction to never access this site out of a fear that doing so might land you in Guantanamo or at least cost you that job that they have to do a background investigation for? Maybe, but how do we know that? What concrete practical plans do we have to address state suerveillance and repression? I fear the answer is none really.
As to whether or not the revelations around Snowden were a "scandal" or not. I rather think they were (at least in terms of public opinion)--he revelaed that the state is spying on everyone, not just those perceived to be bad guys. It was a major blow to the U.S. state's democratic-legalist image, even if it is true that about half the population didn't buy it anyway. It was also a major blow to the Obama administration and by extension the electoral circus itself. The man elected on a platform of hope and change now looks like a slightly more articulate version of W. Will this lead anywhere? That remains to be seen.
Jk above asks what do we do about state surveillance? What do we practically do? What concrete, practical plans do we have to deal with it?. And, as he guesses, the answer is none because we can't deal with it as a small organisation or as individuals except to take general care.
I don't think that I am in any way courageous, more of a bit of a wimp and a coward to be honest. But, like many other workers, before the latest advances in technology, for my attempts to organise I suffered at least two serious domestic intrusions, was sacked and blacklisted. And one feels vulnerable and on offer particularly when one knows that this is part of the desired effect of intimidation. In "1984" Orwell describes how Big Brother hones in on the individual weaknesses and frailties that we all share, and using Winston Smith's particular weakness, crushes any spark of rebellion out of him.
Jk says that people he knows have stopped reading the ICC's website because of the state following what they are doing. So you stop reading things that you want to read, maybe stop getting books out of the library - what does this achieve? You can hide away, break or refuse contact, give up everything and go and live in the woods and none of this will in any way protect you from the effects of the decomposition of capitalism. You could be an harmless old woman protesting about the dumping of asbestos but you'll still be registered as a "troublemaker", on the books as an enemy of the state.
Jk also goes on say that the "only thing" presented in the article is the "abstract general consolation" that state oppression can't keep down a fighting working class. Firstly, I don't see it as a "consolation" we are very aware of what the state can do to us class struggle or no class struggle. Secondly, this is a pretty big "only" because we are talking about the only possible anti-thesis to capitalism and its regime of surveillance and terror.
I sympathize with where you are comign from Baboon, but if it is true that state surveillance is actually keeping people from reading the revolutionary press then isn't it having its desired effect? Moreover, state repression and the effects of decomposition are two different things. One is a rather mushy concept that effects different people in different ways (for the moment). State repression can smack you down in an instant. Some people are making the personal decision that state repression is too dangerous to tempt. Can we blame them? But if people are engaging in such a calculus then state repression does seem to be capable of affecting the class struggle. We can't have it both ways. Either state surveillance and repression are terrible, ominous and threaten us all or its really nothing to be concerned about because the working class will overcome it anyway. We can't grant agency to the state with one hand and take it away with the other.
'Smack you down in an instant' absolutely jk .Have either of you seen that now probably 20 years old film Will Smith/ Gene Hackman? Leaving aside the 'David does beat Goliath' fantasy conclusion ('so that's all right then') it struck me as well devised, more a 'documentary' than fiction but....
That you have actually suffered the violation of serious domestic intrusions baboon makes it substanceless by comparison.
If it's any consolation I'm pretty sure I am wimpier than thou.
A very important early point in the article :
'The recent revelations about the extent of surveillance by the capitalist state ........ shouldn't really surprise us ......there is nothing really new about revelations that our rulers are a ruthless, murderous, Machiavellian, conspiratorial class. It would be naive for revolutionaries to think otherwise because this would directly lead to fostering illusions in the democratic state and the idea that this state would abide by the rules or operate fairly' (llustrated with definitive examples)..
This brings to mind ,for me, how the Bourgeoisie consistently slide/smuggle their subtext propaganda/context propaganda alongside whatever ' shock headline' : by which I mean that the media frenzies that blare out and then repeat 'on the hour' how 'the world was shocked today by.... ' people reacted with disbelief today when....'Did they? Are -say- all those Durham and Welsh ex-miners from 1984 (!) 'shocked' to hear that another 7,000 workers have been thrown on the scrapheap?
It would be naive of revolutionaries to be 'surprised' indeed.
Which does not lessen the particularly ominous and haunting threat of unimaginably vast surveiilance: 'particular' because it uses 'invisible means' AND allows nothing to be 'forgotten' :alongside the unbelievable CCTV presence (visible) which in my lifetime has gone from zero to max.
If I'm honest it can insidiously promote a greater sense of 'powerlessness' and/or 'resignation' in me personally unless I resolve to push back: i.e. whatever I do/say or have done/said digitally, 'they' could portray as 'criminal': they can fabricate something anyway. It's not just A Marxist Forum issue -even- for organisations : every purchase, online bank history, location of mobile call is a potential for an astronomical number of questions which no-one could possibly answer and (excuse my pet rant) 'the 'right' to remain silent' now carries a potential 'guilt factor' :a 'right' that goes back to Jesus the chippy:' 'are you the son of God?' : Jesus made no reply. Blair (who thinks he is God) took that off the statute books. Mind you neither Black Ops nor Super Special Branch ever gave a shit about even 'bourgeois law'
For revolutionary organisations ... yes another police force on the digital highway ... just a thought but say in an instant all this - banned/gone. We'd have to have more meetings and stand on the streets again (after firing paintballs at the cameras) ... might be a dialectical positive?
Bit rambling (no change there then)
I liked the Gene Hackman/Will Smith film that AS refers to, again despite its soppy ending. There's a good line where the Hackman character tells Smith "whatever you know about surveillance means it's already out of date". But, a slightly different genre, with a spying theme, I think that John Le Carre's stories are excellent and particularly the BBC serialised version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" - the Gary Oldman film version was good but Alec Guinness made the part of the British intelligence agent, Smiley, his own. There's a good line in the book where Smiley tries to flip his Cold War Russian counterpart Karla: "Let's face it Karla, your system has as little worth as mine".
Jk, I don't disbelieve you but find it odd that people you know won't look at the ICC's website because they are afraid of repercussions from the state. What else do they do to keep out of the state's tentacles because as AS says, the latter are everywhere and inescapable? I don't know anyone that would go to those lengths but leaving aside both our personal experiences with friends and acquaintences, I don't think that the massive increase in state surveillance is having any "desired effect". The fact is that outside of our own circles of friends, tens of millions of people have been on the streets across the world over the last few years protesting against capitalism. I'd be one of last to underestimate the importance of the revolutionary press or websites but these millions make a much wider critique that is absolutely necessary. Also, we may not think that there are strikes going on but they are bubbling up everywhere even if mainly controlled or corralled by the unions - the latter another part of the state's repressive and spying apparatus. This is the courage and tenacity of the working class against ducking and hiding away hoping that the state will leave you alone in peace. It's a courage and tenacity that's been demonstrated over and over again by the working class in the face of state repression and it's why the ICC gives so much stress to having confidence in the working class. Not a blind confidence because it's the "only" thing we have, as you say above, but because it's everything we have and its based on theoretical acquisitions from the real, concrete history of the class struggle that took place both within and outside periods of revolution and counter-revolution.
I don't know Baboon. I think that in a situation in which revolutionary forces are measured in the dozens and not the tens or hundreds of thousands that the fact that several people I know are afraid to even access this site is something to be concerned about. Yes, my experience is anecdotal, but I don't think the people I know are particularly paranoid--just concerned about still being able to live a relatively stable life until there is some kind of social movement to relieve the pressure on them. I would imagine that that there are more people out there who could be drawn into participation in revolutionary politics, but who are not going to risk repression, loss of career, etc. in order to do so. So yes, I think state repression and surveillance are having an effect--if not so much on the burdgeoning social movements you mention, at least on the construction of the revolutionary organization.
Of course, there is another interpretation of the issue, something which you seem to tend towards above and that is that none of this really matters anyways, because the state is helpless in the face of a united proletariat. This is of course true, but also risks being totally meaningless at the same time. What do we do until we get to that point? At the same time this strips the state of any agency (in which case why are we afraid of it at all?) it also seems to strip the revolutionary organization of agency. Why bother attempting to devise practical strategies to deal with state repression and surveillance when it all comes down to a response from the proletariat in the end? Of course, we could make this argument about any practical problem the revolutionary organization faces: the advancing age of militants, inability to connect to the younger generations, organizational and numerical crises in several sections, etc. Que sera, sera. What can we do other than wait to be rescued by the social movement? But if this is our approach, why all the emphasis on the survival and strengthening of the organization?
The thing about it is I am not even sure this approach is wrong. But I can't imagine the ICC agrees with it?
"I personally know people who will no longer access the ICC's website for fear it will lead to them being a target of state repression."
That surprised me to be honest. It's difficult to understand really without context. The point I wanted to make though is, this whole question just isn't taken seriously as far as I can tell. Perhaps that has a lot to do with the immaturity of working class struggle in Britain?
To take an example. The London Anarchist Bookfair is frequened as well as workers by undercover cops. I know this because one year I went I was questioned by some. They were plainclothes police in an unmarked car doing general intelligence gathering I think.
Now, I can already guess several responses to this:
1.Ok, but what can we do.
2.They wouldn't be able to achieve much.
3.Really, it's not a big deal.
I think you would read most of these responses on Libcom for example. But, I see it another way. There should be measures in place so that police can not get into these things to gather intelligence or at least make it much more difficult for them. If they are discovered expose them and expel them etc. I think it would promote confidence and a greater understanding of what is necessary now and much more in the future.
Why should the state be able to freely gather intelligence on anarchists, workers, numbers of people interested, where people have come from to an event, why they are there etc. Again, people will say so what? What can they use this information for? Well, they're not doing it for the sake of it. They can gauge the general level of activity, numbers in the milieu, where people are in the country, pass information on to different state departments, different locations in the country etc