Surveillance of the Left

by Pat Noble

You are being spied on.

When you organize for an upcoming demonstration, you are being spied on. When you call, e-mail, or text message other activists about an upcoming demonstration, you are being spied on. When you attend a demonstration, you are definitely being spied on. Even after you go home following a demonstration, and you are engaging in everyday activities that are not related to radical politics and activism, you are being spied on.

As Socialists, this is our reality.

Is this really our reality, or merely a shade of it? It is possible that we are not being spied on specifically, or at least not all of the time. How are we to know either way?

Surveillance of radical politics is nothing new. Every government and regime in history has attempted to contain its hard-lined opposition in one form or another. Let us remember that many of these governments and regimes not only failed to do so but are no longer in existence as a result.

We should always assume that we are being watched, and act accordingly. I do not know how many comrades have expressed this to me over the past few years of my involvement in radical politics, but I truly appreciate it every time I hear it. However, the question of how we should act in response to government surveillance is a matter of debate.

The information released by individuals like Edward Snowden have made cracks in the outer wall of the Empire that are large enough to peek through and catch a glimpse of the system’s inner mechanics. For many working class people, this has both confirmed old fears and created new ones. Fear is what the capitalist system needs to survive, and a lack of fear is what will suffocate it. After all, fear is a very powerful motivator to force people to work against their best interests. The government counts on us not only being afraid of what we know they can do, but also what we believe they are capable of.

Fear of the surveillance state exists both in the Socialist movement and in the working-class as a whole. To pretend otherwise for the sake of looking tough and revolutionary serves no purpose. The fear exists that we are always being watched by the government. More importantly, the fear exists that the government can spy on us at will. I make this distinction because fear of action and fear of the possibility of action are different and should be understood separately.

As I see it, there are two options that we can pursue. The first involves us retreating from radicalism and joining forces with the center-left reformists that seek to change the system from within. After all, what purpose would it serve to monitor the activities of political moderates that are content with getting in line when asked, so long as they do not feel directly threatened by the government?

The second option, which I believe in, is to turn towards the fire and accelerate forward. The surveillance state has expanded far beyond the radicals. In today’s society, everyone can expect to be monitored. Especially when there is nowhere to retreat to, there can be no retreat from our beliefs and ideals.

If the capitalist class chooses to have its government spy on us all, so be it. Not only will it not help their cause but it will also hurt it. The exponential expansion of the surveillance state has brought it into clear focus for the vast majority of the working class. Between the growth of spying on the general population, and the sharp rise of racial profiling, it is extremely disturbing to think that people of color can expect to be closely watched, both in public and in the so-called privacy of their homes.

Imagine, for a moment, that the government actually used its ocean of collected data to move against the masses. This act, which would seemingly shore up support for the capitalist regime, would instead push it towards oblivion. It is important to remember that, as with everything else in this society, the surveillance state exists because the masses have not united and demanded otherwise. The so-called middle class, which is no more than adequately paid workers that have been blinded by false promises of wealth and prosperity, has been spoon-fed the notion that surveillance exists for our own protection, and therefore we must defend it. If the government were to move against the masses, these well-paid workers would no doubt see some of their own disappear into the surveillance machine. Solidarity between workers will deny the capitalists of the mass fear and middle-class support they need to keep their system alive.

As socialists, how can we combat the capitalists without giving their government the ammunition to crush our movement? The answer lies in our ideas, and how we convey them to the masses.

We all recognize that socialism is the ideology of working class liberation, and the ideas that stem from it are based on democratic control of the means of production. We represent these ideas in our activism, and in turn, these ideas represent us.

How we convey socialism to the masses is the key to breaking the surveillance state. If we immerse ourselves in socialism to the point where it is part of us, and if we present these ideas to the overall working class in such a positive way that any attack on socialist ideas is an attack on them, then the surveillance state loses its power over us all. The capitalists will be unable to directly act against us without directly acting against the masses, and they cannot do that without risking their way of life.

Above all, we must remember that our aim is for a mass movement to overthrow capitalism and replace it with a new system of democracy, equality, and solidarity. As we organize and the snowball effect begins, surveillance on our activities will become less and less relevant. The masses control the survival of government surveillance and the capitalist system, and their collective move towards a new society will cause the collapse of the old system and its creations.

Let the capitalists and their puppet government listen to us. If they listen closely, they will hear the floodgates preparing to open.

PAT is an elected member of the Board of Education in Red Bank, New Jersey, a member of the SPUSA – Monmouth/Ocean Counties Local, and the Treasurer of the Socialist Party USA.


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