Category Archives: Democracy

WikiLeaks email release reveals hacking by governments worldwide

By Mike Head
July 13, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

5aa4f-government-spyingWikiLeaks last week published more than one million emails from the Italian surveillance malware vendor Hacking Team, shedding further light on the extent of the spying being conducted by governments around the world against their populations.

Emails in the searchable database disclose the company’s negotiations with intelligence and police agencies to supply some of the advanced technology used to secretly hack into, take control over and monitor computers and smart phones.

In its emails, Hacking Team boasts that its programs can “attack, infect and monitor target PCs and smart phones, in a stealth way” and “bypass encryption, collect relevant data out of any device, and keep monitoring your targets wherever they are, even outside your monitoring domain.”

At least 46 countries are identified as purchasing, or preparing to purchase, Hacking Team software. The list features Western powers, such as the United States, Britain and Australia, along with openly repressive regimes around the world, including military dictatorships such as Egypt and Thailand.

On July 5 the company’s Twitter account was reportedly compromised. Over 400GB of data, featuring internal emails, invoices and source codes were revealed via BitTorrent. Revelations so far include that Hacking Team works with the major imperialist spy agencies, together with police units such as Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion, a paramilitary agency notorious for torture and extrajudicial killings.

The US is a customer via the FBI, the military and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Police agencies in the United Kingdom have trialled Hacking Team’s technology, despite acknowledging that its use could be illegal. Australia’s purchasers include the main domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

According to a survey of the database published by the Intercept web site, Hacking Team’s biggest sales in recent years have come from these countries, in descending order of sales: Mexico, Italy, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Hungary, Malaysia, UAE, the US, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Panama, Ethiopia, Egypt, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, South Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Spain, Ecuador, Oman, Switzerland, Thailand, Russia, Nigeria, Turkey, Cyprus, Honduras, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Poland, and Bahrain.

The company was pushing for contracts in Brazil, Belarus, Guatemala, Israel, Kuwait, Finland, Georgia, Greece, India, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere. Several intelligence and police agencies in India sought technology that was not just target-specific, but could create a sweeping net of surveillance.

One Hacking Team email sent to Maharashtra police provided an insight into the far-reaching capabilities of the company’s Remote Control System (RCS) to manipulate and monitor computer networks and smart phones.

“It allows you to covertly collect data from the most common desktop operating systems, such as: Windows, OS X, Linux,” the email claimed. “Furthermore, Remote Control System can monitor all the modern smart phones: Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows phone. Once a target is infected, you can access all the information, including: Skype calls, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Line, Viber and many more—device location, files, screenshots, microphone, virtual currencies and much more.”

A brochure for RCS stated: “Take control of your targets and monitor them regardless of encryption and mobility … Remote Control System is invisible to the user, evades anti-virus and firewalls, and doesn’t affect the devices’ performance or battery life.”

Other promotional material emphasised that RCS could remotely activate microphones and cameras and send the data back for analysis, and monitor people logging in to Gmail and Facebook.

Emails relating to Australia showed company representatives identifying state and territory police forces, and a Victorian state anti-corruption body, as well as ASIO and the AFP, as being in confidential negotiations with Hacking Team. Victoria’s anti-corruption commission was considering signing a $500,000 contract for monitoring software as recently as two weeks ago.

Another email chain named a Canberra company, Criterion Solutions, signing a non-disclosure agreement for access to information about the RCS program last November. The Hacking Team’s Singaporean representatives later said Criterion Solutions was acting for ASIO.

For further exposing the surveillance being conducted against millions of people internationally, WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, will come under renewed assault by the governments and agencies involved. WikiLeaks is already being branded as “criminal,” while the anti-democratic operations of the so-called security agencies are regarded as legitimate.

Eric Rabe, the chief marketing and communications officer for Hacking Team, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the hacking of the company’s data was “reckless and dangerous.” It was “a criminal attack” conducted with “no regard for public safety.” Rabe insisted that Hacking Team’s services helped police and investigators “keep the rest of us safe.”

In reality, as documented by previous WikiLeaks releases, the US and its allies are engaged in criminal activities on a worldwide scale, including massacres, torture, regime-change operations and illegal bugging. In addition, their mass surveillance operations, spanning the globe, have been laid bare by US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The UK-based Privacy International expressed shock at the scale of the Hacking Team’s operations disclosed by WikiLeaks. The organisation suggested that Western governments had not realised the “full picture” and needed to “ensure the integrity of their contractors.” It urged them to confine access to surveillance technology to “governments with strong human rights records,” rather than “governments with awful human rights records.”

The truth of the matter is that the US and other Western imperialist powers are leading the establishment of police-state conditions, ripping up basic legal and democratic rights in the process. Amid mounting political and social discontent, they are the most intent of all governments on utilising the technology now available to establish the scaffolding of a police state.

In Australia, the Abbott government, with the Labor Party’s bipartisan support, has pushed through parliament four major surveillance bills in the past six months, on the pretext of combating the threat of ISIS terrorism. The very first bill, brought forward last September, specifically allows ASIO to use listening, optical and tracking devices without warrants, and hack into and “disrupt” entire computer networks, while imposing lengthy jail terms for whistleblowers and journalists who alert the public to the undercover operations.

The fourth bill, passed this year despite widespread popular opposition, compels all Internet providers and social media platforms, including Google and Facebook, to retain vast amounts of data for two years so that the security services can trawl through it, permitting them to compile a full picture of everyone’s spending habits, political views, friends and associates and geographical locations.

Police Drones against Protesters: the “Machine Imperative”

By Binoy Kampmark
April 11, 2015
Global Research, April 10, 2015

 

drones“I predict that we will see a whole new wave of UAVs emerging with payloads more unusual than tasers, dart guns and paintball guns.” – Guy Martin, editor of Defence Web, BBC News, Jun 18, 2014

Innovation, Edmund Burke reminds us in “A Letter to a Noble Lord,” does not necessarily imply reform.  While the peaceful uses of drones are often treated as the benign effects of the security industrial complex, the spill over into more violent deployments has proven unavoidable. What is done in Waziristan against Taliban militants will eventually be done to US citizens on a smaller yet significant scale – the civilian cloaking there becomes as irrelevant in tribal foothills as it does on the streets of Chicago.

The drone monitors have gotten excited by an announcement that Indian police forces will be making use of drones to deploy pepper spray against protesters. Trials were conducted on Tuesday in Lucknow, with the city’s police force anticipating using five such vehicles later this month.  “The results,” claimed the jubilant police chief  Yashasvi Yadav, “were brilliant.  We have managed to work out how to use it to precisely target the mob in winds and congested areas.”[1]

The language used by Yadav serves an important purpose. Drones are weapons of use against that dark, primordial “mob,” difficult to control, unruly of purpose.  From the perspective of many state authorities, any protesting group constitutes an unruly “mob”.  The idea of a peaceful protest is nowhere to be seen, the greatest of unnatural phenomena. But Yadav insists that, “Pepper is non-lethal but very effective in mob control.  We can spray from different heights to have maximum results.”

Controlling protests via the use of drones is at the forefront of new policing technologies, be they used by private entities or more conventional police forces. It is certainly interesting weapons manufacturers, who are lining up their customers.  South Africa-based Desert Wolf is one example, telling the BBC in June last year that it had secured the sale of 25 “riot control copters” that would deal with crowds “without endangering the lives of security staff.”[2]

As is the habit of those in the business of providing such weapons, benevolence accompanies the authoritarian, somewhat murderous streak.  Using such weapons against dissenting citizens will save, rather than inflict, the loss of life. According to Desert Wolf’s managing director Hennie Kieser, “We cannot afford another Lonmin Marikana [where striking miners were killed] and by removing the police on foot, using non-lethal technology, I believe that everyone will be much safer.” All this, despite the obvious point that using pepper spray, or firing projectiles from the air, can constitute lethal forms of action.

Such octacopter drones brandish the necessary menace that policing authorities will find attractive. They can carry up to 4,000 bullets at a time, as well as sporting the added feature of “blinding lasers” and onboard speakers. The Skunk variety has four high-capacity paintball barrels, each with a firing capacity of 20 bullets per second.  The culprit purchasers in this instance came from the mining industry, a sector always keen to iron out protesting strife.

The International Trade Union Confederation immediately saw misty red. Spokesman Tim Noonan deemed the purchases a “deeply disturbing and repugnant development and we are convinced that any reasonable government will move quickly to stop the deployment of advanced battlefield technology on workers or indeed the public involved in legitimate protests and demonstrations” (BBC, Jun 18, 2014).

The police have traditionally felt left out when it comes to the assortment of weapons the military deploy against designated enemies.  But the increasing militarisation of the police forces makes waiting for such weapons less of a problem.  Military grade weapons are used against petty criminals.  They are used in a hopelessly categorised “war on drugs”.

In the apocalyptic language of an ACLU report, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing (Jun 23, 2014), it is noted how, “Our neighbourhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. An[d] yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments.”[3]

Alli McCracken, national coordinator of Code Pink, a body opposed to the deployment of drones, fears the innovations advanced by the Lucknow police force.  “We can’t as a world rush into utilising this tech. The police are already so militarised. It’s a matter of privacy and safety.”[4]

The increasing use of drones to carry out policing functions is deemed by such officials as Yadav to be the logical and natural consequence of police work.  For him, there is little difference in using such vehicles in monitoring crowds at religious festivals, to then deploying pepper spray when the gathering crowds misbehave.

This cognitive blindness is to be expected from those supporting the machine imperative. Irony proves inescapable, though it is lost on those behind this security push: to humanise policing, machines must be used.  To improve public safety, the human element must be removed from the security agent monitoring the ground. Effectively, decisions on life and order are to be made at a location separate and even distant from the protest.  This is the gruesome logic of targeting from vast distances.

Where police departments treat protesters as sinister enemies, seeing themselves as protective warriors, problems proliferate. Drone technology desensitises the task of policing, focusing less on public safety than police security. The machine imperative in this regard neuters human judgment.  Added to this the attractions offered by weaponized drones, and a world of urban mayhem filled with strafing vehicles and poor decision-making is not so much around the corner as very much pressing against us.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

“The proletariat is dead! Long live the precariat!”

by Bernard Marszalek
December 8, 2014
Dissident Voice, December 7th, 2014

 

Many summers ago, just freed from the enforced boredom of high school, I signed up for a course on Marxist economics. Andy, the teen I worked with, asked if I would accompany him. I envied him his dad, a transplanted Marxist Scotsman, and I relished the transgression I was invited to undertake, especially as a recent apostate from Catholicism.

The class was held at the Proletarian Party (PP) headquarters in a shabby, multi-story building in Chicago’s Loop. I realized as soon as we entered their small office and saw at the other end of the room “Lecture Hall” inscribed in gold leaf on a frosted glass door that this was a bizarre escapade. We were greeted by a small clutch of men and invited to enter the Lecture Hall, which was as narrow as the office we had passed through. At one corner stood a small, finely carved wooden lectern facing a matching dark wood galley with three tiered benches.Andy and I dutifully shuffled into the second tier of benches and waited for the lecture to begin, exchanging glances of dismay.The three elderly men in the office who greeted us followed in minutes. The oldest of them, as best I could tell given my young age, quickly took to the lectern while the other two occupied the front row.

The lecture was one of a series on Marx’s own lectures published posthumously as “Value, Price and Profit.” We sat patiently, tried to absorb the content, and at the end of the lecture, we bought a pamphlet or two, engaged in a brief conversation and departed quickly never to return again. I discovered much later that the Proletarian Party had an interesting history that pre-dated the formation of the Communist Party USA. The PP of course had its share of polemics and splits, but it also had a certain modern relevance as a “party of a new kind” – it forsook electoralism for education of the proletariat. The PP was also the inheritor of the entire inventory of the venerable – and still existing – Charles H. Kerr Company, notorious publisher of Karl Marx.

The musty office, the Lecture Hall, as a diminutive imitation of a 19th Century college lecture hall, and the old pamphlets and books, not surprisingly, gave us teens the impression of an era that had passed. Even though a decade later, in France, May’68 exploded, and then the Italian workers revolted in the early 70s, and lastly, Poland’s Solidarnosc shocked the world in 1980, to mention only a few European upsurges ofworking class rebellion that signaled not a revival, but the demise of the proletariat Mark knew. The class war fought by the proletariat, especially the rebellious industrial workers grimy with soot and sweat as they emerge from the mines and mills, was theirs to loose. Their battles remain inspirational, but to overthrow the system of exploitation that today seems more secure in its hold on our lives requires an analysis devoid of nostalgia.

“The proletariat is dead! Long live the precariat!” This slogan, heard in Europe for more than a decade, resonates not at all in America. Which is ironic since the world battle plan of the economic elite in this country gave rise to the precariat. This portmanteau of precarious and proletariat was coined by academics in the 1980s, and was adopted by youthful organizers of European workplaces and street protests a dozen years ago. Precarious employment, of course, predates the financial crisis by many years (in fact, it is endemic to capitalism), but the rebellion of educated but unemployed and underemployed youth is new.

precariat_DVGuy Standing, currently Professor of Development Studies at the University of London, saw this phenomenon of tenuous employment developing over the decades while working as the Director of Socio-Economic Security Program of the International Labor Organization (ILO) an agency of the UN. Work After Globalization, Standing’s major scholarly exposition, published a few years ago, documents the worldwide changes in the structure of employment, from the central role of industrial jobs, with their union protections and economic security, to the marginal position of “flexible” labor. The precariat, a class-in-formation, as he defines it, is introduced in that volume and elaborated upon several years later in an agitational book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. Dangerous because the precariat not anchored to party affiliation, since none advocates for it, could opt for a disruptive, vindictive populist demagogue.

precariatcharter_DVIn Standing’s current book,  A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens he takes a more positive attitude; buoyed by the worldwide urban occupations, he lays out a programmatic approach to a future politics that extends beyond the educated, but jobless youth of the squares – the precariat that journalists identify. For Standing, the precariat also encompasses all those who have lost the assurances of the capitalists’ grand bargain: income and job security for acquiescence to the demands of production – as defined by the boss. He includes in his definition the traditional proletariat, many of whom are now de-skilled and deprived of benefits, if not without work entirely due to outsourcing. That other major element of the workforce doing the most menial tasks in over-developed economies worldwide – the immigrants – is the precariat, too. Immigrants, as Standing elaborates, lack more than economic security; they lack the political power of citizenship, which is why they are characterized as the denizens – those individuals who inhabit a kind of limbo between citizenship and complete illegality, barely surviving in a marginal, informal economy. The other two sectors, the proles and the youth, gravitate towards denizen status as they increasingly loose some rights of citizenship when they become dependent on welfare.

The Charter

A Precariat Charter – Why a charter? As Standing says, charters are unifying documents and he refers to the disparate elements in 19th century England who demanded reforms of all sorts but who had no coherent approach. The Chartists, as they came to be called, wrote a list of demands that represented the range of grievances and in so doing united what were otherwise contending parties. Another more immediate example of the power of a charter, that Standing does not mention, is the document that the democratic dissidents of Czechoslovakia issued in 1977 called, appropriately enough, Charter 77. This document galvanized the democratic opposition, throughout Eastern Europe.

With A Precariat Charter, Standing hopes to similarly unite the various sectors of the precariat behind twenty-nine articles covering some obvious concerns of the precariat, like student debt, immigrant rights, payday loans, just-in-time job schedules and workfare. Bureaucratic hurdles to gain welfare benefits are also targeted for reform in the articles of the Charter, along with discrimination against the disabled. The many outrages the poor confront daily by the appropriately named “servants of the State” are unreservedly condemned in the Charter. However, there are several articles that move beyond the expected planks of precarian rights and stand out as defining its more radical side.

The first article of the Charter demands that the definition of work be extended to include the unpaid work we perform to maintain and care for family members, especially the young and the elderly. But there is also the work it takes to simply maintain a job or seek one; whole days are easily wasted spent looking for a job. Standing calls this work-for-labor – “work linked to jobs [and seeking them] that is unremunerated and unrecognized.” On top of all this, there is the work done by interns and volunteers especially for non-profits that have to a great extent do the tasks that the state abandoned.

Extending the definition of work is Standing’s retort to the laborist – or what we call in the US, the workerist – policies that blindly call for more jobs no matter how meaningless, de-spiriting or environmentally damaging they may be. There is work that needs to be done, that’s useful and rewarding, but which corporate bosses ignore along with politicians and policy wonks who pursue their agendas of growth by all necessary means.

Occupational communities

But extending the definition of work makes little sense if there is no way to promote the status of workers’ interests in new areas, besides defending workers’ currently exploited. To address this need for affiliation Standing proposes, as another article in the charter, that the precariat organize into occupational communities. He envisions these as a hybrid of the medieval guilds and the craft and industrial unions that, more or less, replaced them as capitalism gained ascendency. The guilds, controlled by masters of a skill or a practice, represented occupational identity, education and camaraderie while the unions exist today primarily to represent the workers during bargaining for contracts and to settle grievances.

Occupational communities would differ from traditional labor unions in that they would be organized by skills and educational accomplishments, with the members determining and regulating competency; it would no longer be the prerogative of the bosses to rank workers. The role of the guilds to determine skill has been lost to the state that now licenses almost a third of the workers in the US. In Europe, this situation is worse.

Vibrant occupational communities would then replace workplaces as the site of organizing and become the centers of working life. Occupational communities, as I envision them, might begin as virtual communities, must quickly attain a physical presence and develop into an institution that doesn’t exist today – a combination hiring hall, training center (to advance one’s skills), recreation center, dining hall, – in other words, a pleasant hang out for those with similar interests. The idea here is to end the domination of the labor market and the bosses’ exclusive power to hire and fire. The strongest craft and industrial unions had similar, though more modest, arrangements decades ago; few traditional hiring halls remain.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) who “organized the workers, not the job,” as Standing mentions, adopted this basic principle of workers’ power over their employment and fought for it amongst agricultural workers to dockhands (stevedores). Any similarity between occupational communities and the IWW, or any variety of syndicalism, however, ends there, at the point of production. The precariat do not envision an entire society organized by craft and job role, especially as automation eliminates employment not only in the over-developed regions, but also in varying degrees throughout the world.

So then one must ask, why suggest, as jobs decline, a modern version of the guilds as the precariat’s necessary response? The immediate answer is that the organized workforce needs at least a voice, if not total control, over the consequences of that decline? And who will agitate for useful work? There is a more philosophical answer: Standing maintains, long with the classic texts of democracy, that associations of individuals (committed to a goal, I would add) are essential for a well-functioning democratic society. How else do individuals bind themselves to a community but by associating with others?

The proposal for occupational communities is not so farfetched in the US. Aren’t the fast-food servers, Amazon’s warehouse workers and Wal-mart’s “associates” disrupting the premier precarious worksites functioning as fledgling occupational communities? These workers are probably the best-organized precariat in the world, and though they are not agitating for radically changing the nature of their work, their demands for better pay and labor union-level security are gaining support across the country. By utilizing a grassroots approach that relies primarily on gathering community support for their campaigns, these workers have exerted political pressure to win major wage gains thereby validating this tactic across a spectrum of poorly paid workers.

Raising the wages of these jobs makes them a bit more tolerable, but still these are awful jobs that no one wants to make a life’s career. And even at $15 per hour the American Dream is unattainable. And in the wings awaits the prototype automated burger-maker that will displace four or five workers and need only one “feeder” to operate. Small vacuum-sized robots already scurry up and down warehouse aisles picking orders with tireless effort. Given these “advances” in production, job security and high wages may be a chimera for many low-pay workers who will have even less success preventing automation than the previous generations of industrial workers.

The point here is to see the precariat creatively organizing, like with hiring halls, for the short-term goal of higher wages as the first salvo in a new kind of class struggle. The longer-term goal is to build a movement for greater security, more freedom and a better livelihood than capitalism can offer. Not more jobs, but, as Standing says, useful work. Capitalism seems incapable of either. If capitalism can’t deliver the goods, to paraphrase Edwin Starr – Capitalism! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

Basic Income

Wages, that is, economic security must be divorced from jobs. We need a guaranteed annual income, or as it is called in many countries, Basic Income (BI). This demand is another article in A Precariat Charter and a proposal that Standing supports and agitates for as the co-president of the European Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN). There is also a US group called Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). These organizations advocate a modest income given to all, with no means tests (like those imposed on SSI recipients), but as a birthright to cover essential needs and eliminate the struggle for subsistence by the working poor. The assumption is that most people receiving Basic Income would work, but maybe not full-time, and maybe at tasks they devise that suit them. In other words, the labor market would be a sellers’ (the workers’) market.

BI raises the possibility of better working conditions, higher pay, less stress from long hours, and so forth. Those squat robots in warehouses may still exist to do boring jobs, but that hamburger-making machine may not survive. Who will eat cheap fast food in an economy that has slowed down with a shorter working day? And for some who can live frugally, no working day at all. More importantly, if they found a niche for that machine, would the sole worker supplying raw meat, buns and salad to the machine’s orifices last very long in such a tedious job? The goal of a society based on human values, not economic ones, means that the machines serve the operators and not the other way round.

Free time from pointless tasks and more meaningful work can be developed by those who, for example, want to pursue a craft, but have had no time to develop skill, or those who yearn to do a socially useful task, but couldn’t afford to before. Maybe the town’s antique merry-go-round will be restored, or possibly the old abandoned movie theater will be transformed into a community playhouse, and scores of other socially useful tasks, many related to restoring the environment, that today go undone might entice people to take on for pleasure.

The dystopia epitomized by hamburger machines seems the more likely future because the power elite, bent on wholesale environmental destruction and generalized corruption, propels us on a bleak trajectory. Standing unreservedly situates himself in the camp of utopia when he extols the insights on work of the ancient Greeks. Granted that Greek abundance was based on human slavery, while ours should depend, as Paul Lafarguebelieved, on machine slavery, the Greeks nonetheless cultivated values and habits in their everyday lives that appear fantastical to us. To quote Standing:

The main aim of the [Greek male] citizen was to free up time for leisure, forschole, which was understood as the time and space to participate in the life of the polis (community), in the agora, the commons, the open social spaces.Schole was a combination of learning and public participation; it was intrinsically political. (11)

From classical Greek times, the red threads of a leisurely life are woven into the tapestry of European history and clearly were evident in the 19th century when the Utopians, who admired the colorful weave of this tradition, wished to extend it. And even Karl Marx, the critic of utopians, wanted to have time everyday to philosophize. We are not talking about eliminating all jobs, just the most stupid and boring of them, and reducing the time people spend at the rest. Necessary work, the kind that often is undervalued today, may be the most physically exhausting and should be shared in a just society. The security of a modest income that frees people from the exhaustion of a full-time job might make it more likely that difficult tasks would be shared.

Inequality, always expressed in monetary terms, also applies to time. The wealthy have little problem filling their days spending their money. And the destitute, who appear to have a surplus of time because they are not working, in fact, fill their days hustling for survival. Condemning the poor for a terrible work ethic is the height of absurdity, especially coming from the über-wealthy.

Who Pays For It?

If only the rich defended the standard of self-abuse imposed upon the groveling masses, the idea that time could be recaptured for better uses, would be a simple task. However, the generalized “escape from freedom,” that Erich Fromm documented in his book with that title, when it comes to production takes the form of the work ethic, which excuses workaholicism Instead we should all be eager to fight for freedom from work. The major obstacle to implementing a system of guaranteed income for all, however, isn’t the remnants of the old Calvinism, as much as the belief that the costs of BI are prohibitive – an absurdity given the US military budget, not to mention the bank bailouts.

Standing’s retort to the argument of high costs has been honed over the many years that he has been active making the case for BI. His proposal, another article in the charter, is that “democratic sovereign wealth funds” be created by taxing the profits from resource-based production. The fund created by these revenues would then be invested and the earnings distributed equally as a social dividend to people. The Alaska Permanent Fund (APF), set up in 1976 to distribute oil revenues, operates essentially on this model. Every year the residents of Alaska, including children, share a dividend that has averaged $1,500 recently.

The APF is popular amongst advocates of BI: lauded by them as the beginnings of an income fund that transcends the divisive politics of right/left and that can be demonstrated as a pragmatic approach to the larger issues of distributing income in a equitable way. And it works, in the US Alaska rates best on economic equality. But are we to trade income security for accelerating climate change? A pact with the devil to extract the wealth from hell hardly suits the angels of justice.

Resources however can extend beyond the prime targets of financial speculation – coal, gas and oil along with ores and metals. Resources need not be extractive; they can be renewable. In some European countries, communities earn an income from the wind and solar power that they generate. Almost anything can be a resource – from water to software – and instead of private interests earning rents from them, they could be the basis for communal support.

The Commons

What we are talking about here is the commons and Standing wants to revive it, not simply as a source of funds to finance a guaranteed income for all, but more importantly as an arena for what he calls “deliberative democracy.” The commons today serves as a model, for instance with community gardens, of grassroots governance. European cities have a long history of setting aside, and protecting, land for use as vegetable gardens, called allotments. For several decades now American cities adopted a similar program to meet demands for what was, initially, a more enriched social life. However, the popularity of community plots increased as dire news depicted our corporate food system, in its quest for profits, as poisonous. What began as a pastime –  “urban farming” – evolved into a charged political statement. On weekends, when the office-worker gardeners descend onto their plots, a verdant agora takes shape. From many of these humble beginnings, communities across the country have reversed a trend and opened cooperative food stores on a pace not seen in many decades. And cooperatives, as democratically run economic institutions – one person, one vote – are commons.

However, free access to the internet and shared software is more widely recognized as a model of the commons, certainly with the tech-savvy section of the precariat, who view the commons as much virtual as material. This is precisely why Standing sees the wired precariat as the leading sector of the precariat – they have the ability to organize swiftly and effectively as we have seen in Spain (Podemos) and in Italy (Five Star Movement).

Amongst some, the commons is recognized as a response to the democratic deficit – or to use Standing’s preferred term – “the thinning of democracy.” Standing however has a more nuanced view of social change than many of the popularizers of commoning. He sees the precariat as still in need of forming itself into an agent of change – a class-for-itself – to agitate for the commons. The commons needs that; the commons will not come about by wishing it so.

At its peak of economic power, the traditional proletariat was a fighting class that secured the benefits of the welfare state through the social democratic politics that it helped to shape at that time. Unfortunately, as Standing laments, we are still stuck with the outmoded political concepts that arose at the time when the industrial proletariat had power. We need a new politics.

A new politics

The center of this new politics in the Age of the Precariat must be a new organizational form to galvanize this new class into a fighting force of class struggle – occupational communities. As mentioned above, we may be seeing these slowly develop as low paid workers (and contract workers) begin to organize and fight their corporate bosses, but they are still at a very early stage of formation and their future is unclear. To become the fighting machine in a new class war they still have to be battled-tested on the fields of race and gender, for instance. The boss class is expert on creating dissension in the ranks of workers. One need only refer to the social divisions employers enforced in the early labor movement. However, women, blacks and immigrants often find themselves in identical situations, and the recognition of commonality in struggle begins to define class.

There are five assets that should be central to a transformative movement of a new class according to Standing. And the first is security. This is only partially understood as a demand by the organized section of the American precariat. There is an illusion that the precariously employed need to regain what the old labor movement had. The security that workers achieved in the expanding industrial realm, where it was assumed, by both the workers and the employers, that one had a job for life, does not hold for the service sector. Real security can only be achieved when economic security is recognized as a right on the same level as political rights, and this is the basis for demanding a guaranteed income for all. This is the foundation of a new politics.

The second element of precarian politics involves control of time. And here too, the fight for better wages and working conditions implies gaining some control of one’s work schedule, but this is not much better than asking for a longer leash. At the very least, the demand should be to share jobs and work less, so that individuals can steal time back from the boss for their use. Again, this requires a substantial economic cushion in the form of basic income.

The third aspect of a new politics requires “access to and control of quality space.” For decades squatting defined a robust faction of political opposition and for far longer artists and crafts workers have sought space to work in. Today co-working spaces and Hubs for the officeless precariat are sprouting everywhere, but Standing has something else in mind. The “quality space” in question must provide a venue for the practice of democratic deliberation, like the occupied squares. The worldwide occupations, with all their flaws, were a necessary first step, a precursor, in a process that had to begin with the recognition that the mass of humanity, while not agreeing on an agenda, did agree on defining the enemy. The isolated precariat found her and himself reflected in square after square as the occupations spread and this formed a basis, in more places than the corporate press will report, for further collaborations. New spaces are needed to create a new politics.

The fourth element is education. It should be stated immediately that this is not “education for innovation” or some such bullshit, but something completely outlandish like “education for a fuller life.” Education should be free and it should extend throughout life. And instead of what passes for higher education, or adult education, I think it should look more like a grouping of writers, artists, crafts people, inventors or whatever, who attract a following much like the medieval scholars and circuses. Black Mountain College, Bread and Puppet Theater, the San Francisco Mime Troupe are all historic examples of education morphing into, creation, agitation and community to create new knowledge and to revive traditional wisdom. The last element in Standing’s list is financial capital, which was covered above with the discussion of democratizing sovereign wealth funds and the commons.

Conclusion

A Precariat Charter carries a European accent; can it be understood in the US? I am certain that Standing believes it can and so do I. However, there are some obscure colloquialisms to overcome for it to be understood in the US. Two stand out. In Europe, many people understand the Basic Income argument, not so here. While several pundits have endorsed it, including recently Robert Reich, and Jacobin publishes favorable articles regularly, there is no significant grassroots group that has adopted it and supports it. (Not surprisingly, there is one in Canada) And the same can be said of the term (and concept) “precariat.” It may never translate well and that could be fine if the momentum for better wages links up with the unemployed. This is where the hiring hall comes in; it could become the center for questioning a range of labor related issues.

Alliances of the working poor and the poor at working won’t itself create a movement of the precariat like the one that Standing outlines. The next hurdle to surmount if actual collaboration occurs will be the most difficult, especially given the workerist legacy of the old labor movement that so many still worship and which confines possibilities of new labor struggles against work as we know it. I believe that environmentalists could checkmate the senseless drive for more jobs before social justice groups get around to mounting a critique. This may seem an unlikely prospect since the only time (some) environmentalists united with social justice groups and labor was to agitate for Green Jobs, a demand that has disappeared faster than a magician’s rabbit, but it’s not inconceivable.

If a radical force developed within environmentalism that could get traction for a policy of de-growth (another European term that translates poorly) coupled with a program of mitigating the effects of climate change, then there’s a possibility that what constitutes a “quality job” – supporting nature – could displace the nonsense that a “good job” is determined by the size of the paycheck. And further, given that US Farm Policy for years paid farmers for not working (The Soil Bank), a novel environmental demand could be to extend that benefit to the extractive industries and pay oil and coal workers to find pleasurable, non polluting, pursuits?

These musings are easily ridiculed and yet reading A Precariat Charter two short years after his preceding book, The Precariat: The Dangerous Class should caution us from assuming that we are being realistic when we think history moves in predictable ways. On the heels of the previous book’s bleak tone, The Charter accurately depicts a more optimistic future. Standing’s evidence for a more positive outlook is mainly European. Certainly, the spectacular rise of Podemos in Spain about the time of the book’s publication seems to confirm Standing’s analysis.

Here in the US we have less certainty about the political power of our indigenous precariat. While the lack of a conscious precariat network of rebellious participants as exists in Europe must be considered a major drawback, no one can deny that in the past few years the working poor have waged a very combative grassroots fight. Whether they can develop the autonomy that they will need to take their fight to the terrain that A Precariat Charter depicts, is uncertain. One thing is certain though, no social change of any significance will occur without a new class struggle.

*****Postscript etc.: Of course, like its historic precursor, the precariat hopefully will abolish itself and not live forever. The title is a provocation as are most of my titles. Maybe this is an adolescent addiction influenced and sustained by my love of 60s music. Or possibly I spent too much time thinking of marketing ploys when I worked. Or maybe I am just stupid! If it is a burden, I carry it lightly.

Bernard Marszalek was a member of Inkworks, a worker-managed, union-affiliated firm in Berkeley, for two decades. He is a co-founder of jasecon.org that promotes the grassroots economy and the editor of The Right to Be Lazy: Essays by Paul Lafargue (AK Press/Kerr CO., 2011). Read other articles by Bernard, or visit Bernard’s website.

War by Media and the Triumph of Propaganda

By John Pilger
December 05, 2014
Global Research

 

 Propaganda and the War on Truth Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power? Why do the New York Times and the Washington Post deceive their readers?

Why are young journalists not taught to understand media agendas and to challenge the high claims and low purpose of fake objectivity? And why are they not taught that the essence of so much of what’s called the mainstream media is not information, but power?

These are urgent questions. The world is facing the prospect of major war, perhaps nuclear war – with the United States clearly determined to isolate and provoke Russia and eventually China. This truth is being turned upside down and inside out by journalists, including those who promoted the lies that led to the bloodbath in Iraq in 2003.

The times we live in are so dangerous and so distorted in public perception that propaganda is no longer, as Edward Bernays called it, an “invisible government”. It is the government. It rules directly without fear of contradiction and its principal aim is the conquest of us: our sense of the world, our ability to separate truth from lies.

The information age is actually a media age. We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media – a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions.

This power to create a new “reality” has building for a long time. Forty-five years ago, a book entitled The Greening of America caused a sensation. On the cover were these words: “There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual.”

I was a correspondent in the United States at the time and recall the overnight elevation to guru status of the author, a young Yale academic, Charles Reich. His message was that truth-telling and political action had failed and only “culture” and introspection could change the world.

Within a few years, driven by the forces of profit, the cult of “me-ism” had all but overwhelmed our sense of acting together, our sense of social justice and internationalism. Class, gender and race were separated. The personal was the political, and the media was the message.

In the wake of the cold war, the fabrication of new “threats” completed the political disorientation of those who, 20 years earlier, would have formed a vehement opposition.
In 2003, I filmed an interview in Washington with Charles Lewis, the distinguished American investigative journalist. We discussed the invasion of Iraq a few months earlier. I asked him, “What if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and investigated their claims, instead of channeling what turned out to be crude propaganda?”

He replied that if we journalists had done our job “there is a very, very good chance we would have not gone to war in Iraq.”
That’s a shocking statement, and one supported by other famous journalists to whom I put the same question. Dan Rather, formerly of CBS, gave me the same answer. David Rose of the Observer and senior journalists and producers in the BBC, who wished to remain anonymous, gave me the same answer.

In other words, had journalists done their job, had they questioned and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children might be alive today; and millions might not have fled their homes; the sectarian war between Sunni and Shia might not have ignited, and the infamous Islamic State might not now exist.

Even now, despite the millions who took to the streets in protest, most of the public in western countries have little idea of the sheer scale of the crime committed by our governments in Iraq. Even fewer are aware that, in the 12 years before the invasion, the US and British governments set in motion a holocaust by denying the civilian population of Iraq a means to live.

Those are the words of the senior British official responsible for sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s – a medieval siege that caused the deaths of half a million children under the age of five, reported Unicef. The official’s name is Carne Ross. In the Foreign Office in London, he was known as “Mr. Iraq”. Today, he is a truth-teller of how governments deceive and how journalists willingly spread the deception. “We would feed journalists factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he told me, “or we’d freeze them out.”
The main whistleblower during this terrible, silent period was Denis Halliday. Then Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and the senior UN official in Iraq, Halliday resigned rather than implement policies he described as genocidal. He estimates that sanctions killed more than a million Iraqis.

What then happened to Halliday was instructive. He was airbrushed. Or he was vilified. On the BBC’s Newsnight programme, the presenter Jeremy Paxman shouted at him: “Aren’t you just an apologist for Saddam Hussein?” The Guardian recently described this as one of Paxman’s “memorable moments”. Last week, Paxman signed a £1 million book deal.

The handmaidens of suppression have done their job well. Consider the effects. In 2013, a ComRes poll found that a majority of the British public believed the casualty toll in Iraq was less than 10,000 – a tiny fraction of the truth. A trail of blood that goes from Iraq to London has been scrubbed almost clean.

Rupert Murdoch is said to be the godfather of the media mob, and no one should doubt the augmented power of his newspapers – all 127 of them, with a combined circulation of 40 million, and his Fox network. But the influence of Murdoch’s empire is no greater than its reflection of the wider media.

The most effective propaganda is found not in the Sun or on Fox News – but beneath a liberal halo. When the New York Times published claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, its fake evidence was believed, because it wasn’t Fox News; it was the New York Times.

The same is true of the Washington Post and the Guardian, both of which have played a critical role in conditioning their readers to accept a new and dangerous cold war. All three liberal newspapers have misrepresented events in Ukraine as a malign act by Russia – when, in fact, the fascist led coup in Ukraine was the work of the United States, aided by Germany and Nato.

This inversion of reality is so pervasive that Washington’s military encirclement and intimidation of Russia is not contentious. It’s not even news, but suppressed behind a smear and scare campaign of the kind I grew up with during the first cold war.

Once again, the evil empire is coming to get us, led by another Stalin or, perversely, a new Hitler. Name your demon and let rip.

The suppression of the truth about Ukraine is one of the most complete news blackouts I can remember. The biggest Western military build-up in the Caucasus and eastern Europe since world war two is blacked out. Washington’s secret aid to Kiev and its neo-Nazi brigades responsible for war crimes against the population of eastern Ukraine is blacked out. Evidence that contradicts propaganda that Russia was responsible for the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner is blacked out.

And again, supposedly liberal media are the censors. Citing no facts, no evidence, one journalist identified a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine as the man who shot down the airliner. This man, he wrote, was known as The Demon. He was a scary man who frightened the journalist. That was the evidence.

Many in the western media haves worked hard to present the ethnic Russian population of Ukraine as outsiders in their own country, almost never as Ukrainians seeking a federation within Ukraine and as Ukrainian citizens resisting a foreign-orchestrated coup against their elected government.

What the Russian president has to say is of no consequence; he is a pantomime villain who can be abused with impunity. An American general who heads Nato and is straight out of Dr. Strangelove — one General Breedlove – routinely claims Russian invasions without a shred of visual evidence. His impersonation of Stanley Kubrick’s General Jack D. Ripper is pitch perfect.

Forty thousand Ruskies were massing on the border, according to Breedlove. That was good enough for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Observer — the latter having previously distinguished itself with lies and fabrications that backed Blair’s invasion of Iraq, as its former reporter, David Rose, revealed.

There is almost the joi d’esprit of a class reunion. The drum-beaters of the Washington Post are the very same editorial writers who declared the existence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction to be “hard facts”.

“If you wonder,” wrote Robert Parry, “how the world could stumble into world war three – much as it did into world war one a century ago – all you need to do is look at the madness that has enveloped virtually the entire US political/media structure over Ukraine where a false narrative of white hats versus black hats took hold early and has proved impervious to facts or reason.”

Parry, the journalist who revealed Iran-Contra, is one of the few who investigate the central role of the media in this “game of chicken”, as the Russian foreign minister called it. But is it a game? As I write this, the US Congress votes on Resolution 758 which, in a nutshell, says: “Let’s get ready for war with Russia.”

In the 19th century, the writer Alexander Herzen described secular liberalism as “the final religion, though its church is not of the other world but of this”. Today, this divine right is far more violent and dangerous than anything the Muslim world throws up, though perhaps its greatest triumph is the illusion of free and open information.

In the news, whole countries are made to disappear. Saudi Arabia, the source of extremism and western-backed terror, is not a story, except when it drives down the price of oil. Yemen has endured twelve years of American drone attacks. Who knows? Who cares?

In 2009, the University of the West of England published the results of a ten-year study of the BBC’s coverage of Venezuela. Of 304 broadcast reports, only three mentioned any of the positive policies introduced by the government of Hugo Chavez. The greatest literacy programme in human history received barely a passing reference.

In Europe and the United States, millions of readers and viewers know next to nothing about the remarkable, life-giving changes implemented in Latin America, many of them inspired by Chavez. Like the BBC, the reports of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian and the rest of the respectable western media were notoriously in bad faith. Chavez was mocked even on his deathbed. How is this explained, I wonder, in schools of journalism?
Why are millions of people in Britain are persuaded that a collective punishment called “austerity” is necessary?

Following the economic crash in 2008, a rotten system was exposed. For a split second the banks were lined up as crooks with obligations to the public they had betrayed.
But within a few months — apart from a few stones lobbed over excessive corporate “bonuses” — the message changed. The mugshots of guilty bankers vanished from the tabloids and something called “austerity” became the burden of millions of ordinary people. Was there ever a sleight of hand as brazen?

Today, many of the premises of civilised life in Britain are being dismantled in order to pay back a fraudulent debt – the debt of crooks. The “austerity” cuts are said to be £83 billion. That’s almost exactly the amount of tax avoided by the same banks and by corporations like Amazon and Murdoch’s News UK. Moreover, the crooked banks are given an annual subsidy of £100bn in free insurance and guarantees – a figure that would fund the entire National Health Service.

The economic crisis is pure propaganda. Extreme policies now rule Britain, the United States, much of Europe, Canada and Australia. Who is standing up for the majority? Who is telling their story? Who’s keeping record straight? Isn’t that what journalists are meant to do?

In 1977, Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, revealed that more than 400 journalists and news executives worked for the CIA. They included journalists from the New York Times, Time and the TV networks. In 1991, Richard Norton Taylor of the Guardian revealed something similar in this country.

None of this is necessary today. I doubt that anyone paid the Washington Post and many other media outlets to accuse Edward Snowden of aiding terrorism. I doubt that anyone pays those who routinely smear Julian Assange – though other rewards can be plentiful.

It’s clear to me that the main reason Assange has attracted such venom, spite and jealously is that WikiLeaks tore down the facade of a corrupt political elite held aloft by journalists. In heralding an extraordinary era of disclosure, Assange made enemies by illuminating and shaming the media’s gatekeepers, not least on the newspaper that published and appropriated his great scoop. He became not only a target, but a golden goose.

Lucrative book and Hollywood movie deals were struck and media careers launched or kick-started on the back of WikiLeaks and its founder. People have made big money, while WikiLeaks has struggled to survive.
None of this was mentioned in Stockholm on 1 December when the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, shared with Edward Snowden the Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative Nobel Peace Prize. What was shocking about this event was that Assange and WikiLeaks were airbrushed. They didn’t exist. They were unpeople.

No one spoke up for the man who pioneered digital whistleblowing and handed the Guardian one of the greatest scoops in history. Moreover, it was Assange and his WikiLeaks team who effectively – and brilliantly – rescued Edward Snowden in Hong Kong and sped him to safety. Not a word.

What made this censorship by omission so ironic and poignant and disgraceful was that the ceremony was held in the Swedish parliament — whose craven silence on the Assange case has colluded with a grotesque miscarriage of justice in Stockholm.

“When the truth is replaced by silence,” said the Soviet dissident Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.”

It’s this kind of silence we journalists need to break. We need to look in the mirror. We need to call to account an unaccountable media that services power and a psychosis that threatens world war.

In the 18th century, Edmund Burke described the role of the press as a Fourth Estate checking the powerful. Was that ever true? It certainly doesn’t wash any more. What we need is a Fifth Estate: a journalism that monitors, deconstructs and counters propaganda and teaches the young to be agents of people, not power. We need what the Russians called perestroika – an insurrection of subjugated knowledge. I would call it real journalism.

It’s 100 years since the First World War. Reporters then were rewarded and knighted for their silence and collusion. At the height of the slaughter, British prime minister David Lloyd George confided in C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: “If people really knew [the truth] the war would be stopped tomorrow, but of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

It’s time they knew.

The above text is the transcript of  John Pilger’s address to the Logan Symposium, “Building an Alliance Against Secrecy, Surveillance & Censorship”, organised by the Centre for Investigative Journalism, London, 5-7 December, 2014. www.johnpilger.com

Repression, Resistance, and Rebellion in “Police State Ferguson”

By Larry Everest
December 02, 2014
Global Research

 

Ferguson-police-Screenshot Sunday, November 30, Ferguson, Missouri. The governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency on November 17, and this is what’s been happening in Ferguson and St. Louis County, Missouri:

You drive past a major traffic and commercial intersection like Chambers and West Florissant and you see the cross-street barricaded by a half-dozen or so police cars with bubble lights flashing, crime scene tape, a military Humvee, armed soldiers, and more police in the Walgreen’s / mini-mall across the street. You often hear helicopters circling overhead, at night sometimes you can see their searchlights sweeping nearby. Meanwhile, the airspace has been closed off to all other traffic, reportedly to prevent news helicopters from providing video and pictures of what is going on below.

You go to a protest—whether in the streets or at a shopping mall—and you see a heavy police presence, often backed up by uniformed military personnel and undercover cops. Nonviolent marches and rallies can be (and have been) declared “illegal assemblies” and then violently shut down on the slightest pretext. Sometimes this means massive riot vehicles firing volleys of teargas—effectively collective punishment of the whole crowd for the alleged actions of one or two. Sometimes military-like riot police line up threateningly, or even charge the crowd. Pepper spray, bean-bag rounds, and clubs have all been deployed and used. Those who speak up in outrage have been pointed out by the police, and then a gang of six or eight cops jump, throw down, arrest, and drag them away.

After claiming to be a democracy that respects the people’s right to assemble, speak, and protest, the government has deployed dozens of police, spies, and military organizations that have been planning for months about how to contain and suppress expected protests. They’ve arrested more than 500 people in the area since August, and have conducted widespread surveillance on political activists, organizers, and journalists—some of whom have then been arrested driving in their cars, or when they come to protests. Revolutionaries and other resisters have been targeted, slandered, and vilified in the media.

If all this was taking place in countries that the U.S. has a conflict with—like Russia, China, or Iran—the same mainstream media that are now supporting the repression of protesters and the people in Ferguson would be condemning those countries as “dictatorships” and “tyrannies.” Well, that is what is going on here.

Ferguson—Epicenter of an Uprising Rocking the Country

This is happening because Ferguson has been the epicenter of a powerful uprising that has rocked the whole country and awakened millions to the fraud of “civil rights progress” and “equal rights,” and to the reality of the vicious oppression and murder of Black and other oppressed people in America today.

Michael Brown was murdered by Ferguson cop Darren Wilson on August 8, triggering a massive rebellion and waves of protest across the country. The system responded with a military deployment in the streets of Ferguson that further outraged millions and exposed the founding lies of America: that this country is a global beacon of freedom, a place unlike any other in the world in its respect for people’s rights, including the right to speak out and to protest.

Since then, authorities in St. Louis County, as well as nationwide up to the highest levels, have been preparing for the day the prosecuting attorney’s office would announce whether Michael Brown’s murderer would even be charged.

Leading up to the announcement, Loyola University law professor and associate legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Bill Quigley, wrote, “Dozens and dozens of different police forces will be surrounding the protesters in Ferguson when the Michael Brown verdict is announced. There will be federal FBI agents, Homeland Security, US Marshals, State Police troopers, County Sheriffs, and local city cops from the dozens of little towns in and around St. Louis.”

This is a system based on white supremacy, one whose functioning and interests are directly contrary to those of the vast majority of people, and one whose rule is maintained by violence. It’s a system that understands that particularly the Black masses—like the people who’ve risen up in Ferguson—pose a threat to its existence—including because when Black people rise up, it calls forward the best of other sections of the people. When they talk about government “of the people, by the people, for the people” they mean violently enforcing oppression.

In the 108 days between Michael Brown’s murder and the announcement that Wilson would walk free, the powers-that-be coordinated and built up their police response, including Governor Jay Nixon’s November 17 announcement of a state of emergency, even as they made a (thin) pretense that they would give protesters “an opportunity to express their first amendment rights,” as St. Louis Mayor Slay put it.

Then came the November 24 announcement that Darren Wilson was getting off free, that a Black person could be murdered in America any time, any place, by law enforcement in particular, without consequence. The rage that erupted was deep and wide. That night the system lashed back and the next day Nixon tripled the National Guard presence to 2,200, escalated its role, and the police adopted even more aggressive tactics.

Police State Ferguson—This Is What American Imperialist Democracy IS Like

On Monday night, November 24, people in front of the Ferguson police station were confronted with huge riot vehicles, were massively tear gassed, and many were forced from the streets. Sixty-one were arrested that night, some with felony charges. And for all the system’s bullshit about “outside agitators”—as if that is a bad thing—these were actually overwhelmingly local residents.

Tuesday night, November 25, the section of West Florissant around Canfield Apartments—where Michael Brown lived and was executed—was blocked off. Police declared illegal and broke up a protest of about 60 at the corner of Chambers and West Florissant without provocation. On South Florissant police tear gassed and dispersed a protest of hundreds in front of the police station.

Wednesday, the 26th, I saw police violently shut down a mass demonstration in central St. Louis, pepper spraying some demonstrators and snatching people just for speaking out.

Intimidation on Black Friday

Friday, the 28th, I saw a big police presence, including undercover cops in Walmart’s parking lot. When I went up to one regular car with a young Black man inside to ask him what he thought of the Black Lives Matter boycott, he said, “Step back from the car.” I thought he just meant to back off a little, but when I tried to ask him a question he began to get out and said more loudly, “No, I mean step back from the car.” I did. He was an undercover pig and there were more nearby. There was also a large police presence at the Galleria in Richmond Heights. (See reports on the Black Friday protests.)

One of the activists who shut down a Walmart in St. Louis County told me:

There were aggressive, armed security and dogs at Walmart. We started chanting, and rallied at the exit. There was a wall of police. Police were yelling at shoppers: “If you’re gonna shop, shop”—as if to warn people, don’t pay attention to them. When we were chanting outside Walmart, police officers put hands on their pistols! I found that shocking, if believable. Almost grotesque in the sense that this is just a store. You have a police presence in a store to protect private property, and this holiday, and these transactions.

The Blinding of Dornella Conners

On Saturday, November 29, Dornella Conners, a young, pregnant Black woman, was in a car with her boyfriend simply trying to drive away from a police clampdown. The police blocked the car, front and back, and fired a bean bag at the window. It shattered the glass, sending shards of glass into her face and blinding her in one eye. “I weren’t looting or anything. I was just out with my boyfriend. We were just riding around respecting Mike Brown,” she told a local radio station. “How can a pregnant person in a car be causing chaos?” her father asked.

A Broad, Countywide, Unconstitutional Pattern of Repression

These are not isolated incidents. Kris Hermes, the National Lawyer’s Guild (NLG) legal worker vice president, described a broad multi-dimensional pattern of repression against the people and those protesting.

“Chasing people out of an area to disperse them, as happened on Tuesday, November 25, near the Ferguson Police Department, because of some property destruction, instead of allowing people to demonstrate—this was violating the constitutional right to assemble and protest.”

So is using weaponry against protesters like rubber and plastic bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas. “This is not individual punishment for breaking the law, this is collective punishment,” Hermes said. “Tear gas is indiscriminate. Shooting rubber bullets into a crowd is indiscriminate. Pepper spray is indiscriminate.”

One particularly egregious example was the tear gassing of people at MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse in south St. Louis in the early morning hours of Tuesday, November 25. This was supposed to be a safe space and people were in the café and outside on the patio having coffee, a popular hangout for people active in the struggle for justice for Michael Brown and VonDeritt Myers Jr., a young Black man who was shot eight times and murdered by St. Louis police on October 8. But around 1:00 am, police fired tear gas at people at the café, and then a little later even tear gassed people attempting to get to St. John’s Episcopal Church, another safe haven. Jennifer McCoy, an NLG legal observer, told me that when people went into the church, there was so much tear gas on their clothes that they were forced back outside.

The NLG’s Hermes said that widespread arrests as well as blocking off streets—a stretch of West Florissant in this case—are also a means of preventing or suppressing protest. One hundred twenty people had been arrested since Monday night when the grand jury decision was announced, 30 of them for felonies. Contrary to all the government and media talk about the uprising being driven by outsiders, Hermes said, “The vast majority were local residents.”

Quigley—the CCR’s constitutional law expert—wrote that the whole notion that the government can tell people when, where, and how to protest—as police have been doing in Ferguson—is unconstitutional.

“The government will say people can only protest until a certain time, or on a certain street, or only if they keep moving, or not there, not here, not now, no longer. Such police action is not authorized by the U.S. Constitution. People have a right to protest, the government should leave them alone.”

Quigley points out that police intimidation—showing up in full riot gear—is also an unconstitutional suppression of dissent.

The National Guard—Actively Helping Suppress Protest

The National Guard has been portrayed as playing a passive role in simply protecting property, but Hermes emphasized this is not the case, that they are playing an active role in suppressing protest: “The National Guard has helped block off an entire stretch of West Florissant, preventing vehicular and pedestrian traffic, which is itself a suppression of rights.

“The National Guard,” Hermes added, “has also appeared on the scene at the Ferguson Police Department, an act of intimidation and a form of policing against crowds there to peacefully protest. Friday night, there were a couple dozen or so National Guard there. Together with law enforcement agencies they outnumbered the protesters. This kind of massive show of force is a form of intimidation.”

Widespread Surveillance and Targeting of Activists

Hermes stressed that “heavy surveillance has been a foundation” of what the police have been doing.

“They are intensely videotaping activists across the St. Louis area, targeting particular people and picking particular people out of a crowd—often for brutal arrest. They’re going after organizers.”

One example was the arrest of videographer and live-streamer Bassem Masri, who has been very prominent and active in the protests. He was being followed by police and was then arrested and detained on a $15,000 cash bond for allegedly driving a vehicle with a revoked license. This constitutes an act of preventive detention. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in St. Louis quickly raised the money through crowdfunding to get Masri out.

Hermes reports that:

“Some of what is going on is people are being filmed, and if they seem to be leaders or organizers, they are then later targeted at demonstrations. This has been common and has happened over and over again. The protests have been going on weeks and weeks and this has gone on for that time. I would say dozens of times. It’s a practice they’ve been using since August. There have been over 500 arrests since then.”

Three NLG legal observers were illegally arrested on November 21 while monitoring and filming the police.

The Bronx Defenders, a legal group whose mission is to “zealously defend the rights of clients, fight for systemic change and promote justice for the community,” sent a delegation to Ferguson and their Tweets paint a similar picture:

Like in the Bronx, but perhaps even more marked here, it’s clear the legal system as a whole is ground zero for injustice in #Ferguson.

Heard a LOT this evening at county jail from protestors & spectators hauled in on trumped up charges and abused by police in #Ferguson.

The St. Louis County police denying access to counsel here in Clayton to visit with arrested #Ferguson protestors.

NYPD Spying on Protest Leaders

It has also been reported (WNYC, November 25) that the NYPD has sent experts to Ferguson to identify “professional agitators.” “We have a number of our detectives out there, have had them out there for over a week to help out in terms of intelligence we have on some of the professional agitators who are involved in these types of activity,” NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said.

Coming from New York’s police commissioner, this is an outrageous self-exposure and admission of illegal actions by the authorities. First, it’s not against the law to be a “professional agitator,” whatever that means. The targeting of “agitators” is not being based on any specific allegations of illegal activity but simply people the NYPD doesn’t think have the right to speak out against police brutality and murder!

Reports seem to indicate this strategy is being put into action: In Ferguson as well as in New York, Los Angeles, and other cities, activists and “agitators,” including communist revolutionaries, have been targeted simply for political speech, and snatched out of crowds and arrested.

What’s described above is, no doubt, just some of the state’s illegitimate violence, violation of rights, and repression being wreaked on the people. Email your stories to revolution.reports@yahoo.com. The whole world needs to know!

Larry Everest is a correspondent for Revolution newspaper / revcom.us, where this article first appeared, and author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage, 2004). He can be reached via www.larryeverest.org www.larryeverest.org