Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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.
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook