Zygmunt Bauman has explained ‘power’ as ‘the way to manipulate probabilities to increase the likelihood of desirable conduct’. If the ‘powers that see’ are to tweak our behaviour – charting the chances that we’ll believe a particular lie, or purchase a particular brand of corporate injustice to pour on our breakfast cereal – then surely they’ll need data. The entirety of our phone and email records is a good starting point.
From Edward Snowden’s revelations, surveillance appears to be expanding without meaningful limits. Such a pattern jives with what information activist groups have pieced together through years of research, thwarted information requests and occasional leaks from insiders. The scope of data captured from our network communications is staggering, as discussed in our surveillance focus this issue. In addition to getting swept up in the arm of ‘metadata’, UK activists may be handpicked for tracking by secret police, who’ve compiled as many as 9,000 individual profiles on campaigners, explains Kevin Blowe.
While surveillance may feel vast, looming and obscure, it isn’t separate from the other battles we’re fighting. We need to examine the myriad ways the oppressed have been watched and controlled throughout history so we can integrate the fight against surveillance into our existing struggles. Discrimination under the guise of ‘security’ has long been a concern for racial justice activists, who have observed how black and brown communities are targeted for extra monitoring and often violent treatment at the hands of police. As surveillance winds itself even more tightly around other pillars of injustice, from war to wage labour, more of us need to look the issue in the eye.
In a Q&A in this issue, peace activist Medea Benjamin discusses the use of drone technology for both surveillance and international assassinations. Ewa Jasiewicz highlights surveillance as a workers’ issue, speaking to trade unionists who were monitored and blacklisted by construction companies. Anna Minton and Jody Aked explore how a multi‑billion pound industry meets economic deprivation at sites of ‘high security’ social housing. And Elia Zureik traces surveillance through colonial history, from fingerprinting during the British occupation of India to biometrics at modern borders.
Last year, students at Newcastle University fought the planned installation of fingerprint scanners in lecture halls to monitor attendance. The motivation was keeping tabs on international students, reporting their whereabouts to the UK Border Agency. The resistance that emerged brought together students against xenophobia, students concerned with their privacy rights and students interested in defending the university as a public good. Faced with head-spinning webs of injustice like this one, too many of us to count have a vested interest in uniting against surveillance.
Coming together requires that we build trust: the radical antidote to a divisive, fear-mongering ‘security’ state. It requires that we get personal, recognising that surveillance operates not just above us but through us. Being under constant watch insults our dignity, leads us to keep our most important perceptions hidden, makes us suspicious of others, disintegrates the social fabric of which we are a part.
Are there things you wouldn’t talk about in front of your boss? We generally accept that it’s pragmatic to ‘watch what we say’ in the presence of people who have power over us – and could change our lives with a single decision. But where is the unwatched space, where people with power over our lives can’t follow? Personally, I would have to steer clear of my computer, everywhere I use my debit card, and the entire length of the streets just outside my flat, which are lined with cameras. I’m tempted to profess I have nothing to hide, but I won’t.
Instead I’ll reiterate that I don’t consent to being watched by the same powers that are hell-bent on denying me equality and destroying our planet. Indeed, none of us consent to this. It is not possible to say ‘yes’ when we’re not given the choice of ‘maybe’, ‘wait a second’, or ‘no’ – even in these countries we call democracies.
What inventive, subversive, explosive, transcendent possibilities won’t we dream about out loud, when we know our trusted listeners aren’t the only ones listening?
Following the Snowden revelations, many commentators of many different political persuasions were quick to declare the leaked information ‘unsurprising’. In these times, when patriarchy, war, racism and other forms of abuse march on – finding newer, sharper tools to replace their bayonets – it’s not the ‘surprise factor’ that matters. It’s the imagination factor that will lead us out of a world that has been divided, enclosed, padlocked and ‘secured’ so many times over. It’s the solidarity factor that helps us remember we have something in common with the people outside our walls. It’s the courage within us that fades, but crops back up: never easy to predict, let alone intercept.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope