ROAR Issue #4: State of Control is out now.
Featured illustration by Mirko Rastić.
We live in a topsy-turvy world. As one widely shared meme recently put it, “everything we feared about communism — that we would lose our houses and savings and be forced to labor eternally for meager wages with no voice in the system — has come true under capitalism.” Far from leading to greater economic and political freedom, as its acolytes and intelligentsia always claimed it would, the ultimate triumph of the neoliberal project has gone hand-in-hand with a dramatic expansion of state surveillance and control. More people are currently under correctional supervision in the United States than were in the Gulags at the height of Stalin’s terror. The NSA’s servers can now capture 1 billion times more data than the Stasi ever could. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, there were 15 border walls worldwide. Today there are 70. In many respects, the dystopian future of the novels and the movies is already here.
In its Faustian bid to restructure entire societies in line with the prerogatives of private profit and endless economic growth, neoliberalism has always placed the iron fist of the state firmly alongside the invisible hand of the market. In the wake of the global financial crisis, however, this collusion between private interests and public authority has been radicalized. Giorgio Agamben writes that we are witnessing “the paradoxical convergence today of an absolutely liberal paradigm in the economy with an unprecedented and equally absolute paradigm of state and police control.” Tracing the origins of this paradigm back to the emergence of the police and the bourgeois obsession with security in pre-revolutionary Paris, Agamben notes that “the extreme step has been taken only in our days, and it is still in the process of full realization.”
The terror attacks of 9/11 and the fallout of the Great Recession played an important role in catalyzing these developments, speeding up the ongoing de-democratization of the state and casting the fundamentally coercive nature of neoliberalism into ever-sharper relief. The result, for Agamben, has been the rise of a new political formation operating according to a logic of its own:
The state under which we now live is no more a disciplinary state. Gilles Deleuze proposed to call it the État de contrôle, or state of control, because what it wants is not to order and to impose discipline but rather to manage and to control. Deleuze’s definition is correct, because management and control do not necessarily coincide with order and discipline. No one has put it so clearly as the Italian police officer, who, after the Genoa riots in July 2001, declared that the government did not want for the police to maintain order but for it to manage disorder.
The management of disorder — this becomes the main paradigm of government under neoliberalism. Rather than directly confronting the underlying causes of political instability, ecological catastrophe or endemic social ills, the state of control considers it “safer and more useful to try to govern the effects.” And so, instead of fighting the obscene inequalities of wealth and power at the heart of financialized capitalism, it increasingly resorts to policing the precariat. Instead of overturning the social exclusion and economic marginalization of historically oppressed minority groups, it has long since resolved to harass, murder and incarcerate them. Instead of ending poverty and war, it now undertakes to erect new walls and fences to keep out the unwanted migrants and refugees. In short, instead of trying to address the multifaceted conflicts and crises facing humanity at their root causes, the state of control is content just to manage them.
If there is one image that has come to define this emerging paradigm of control, it is the phalanx of militarized riot police — armed with assault rifles and flanked by armored personnel vehicles — squaring off against mostly unarmed local populations in places like Rio de Janeiro, Diyarbakir and Standing Rock. From the visual appearance of the officers to the weapons and tactics deployed on the ground, these images clearly show how the world’s internal spaces of segregation have increasingly begun to resemble an occupied warzone. The resemblance is of course no coincidence: not only does law enforcement receive extensive surplus material from the military-industrial complex, including arms and vehicles that would otherwise have been deployed in actual warzones, but it has also begun to apply military methods of counter-insurgency to the policing of protest and urban space more generally. In fact, two of the four riot squads deployed to Ferguson in 2014 received their training in crowd control from Israeli police, whose skills were honed in the occupied territories of Palestine. Under neoliberalism, in short, the methods of military occupation abroad and of local policing at home are increasingly starting to blend into one.
The same type of fusion occurs at the threshold between private interests and public authority, or between corporate and state power. Just as the exigencies of Wall Street melt into the policy priorities of the US Federal Reserve and the US Treasury Department, and just as the interests of the weapons manufacturers continue to feed into the policy decisions made inside the White House and the Pentagon, so Silicon Valley’s capacity for data-mining and algorithmic control is rapidly becoming integrated into the US security and intelligence apparatus. Meanwhile, Western armies have increasingly come to rely on private military contractors to take on combat support and even active combat roles, just as private security personnel are taking over the role of the police, with the former now outnumbering the latter two-to-one globally. In other words, as the neoliberal state dramatically expands its control over increasingly restive populations at home and abroad, well-connected companies are successfully inserting themselves into the business of “managing disorder” for private gain.
All of this is topped off by the development of powerful new technologies — from the smartphones in our pockets to the drones hovering overhead — that allow for an unprecedented intrusion of the public-private power nexus into all corners of the globe and all aspects of our lives. Never before have a handful of private companies and state agencies had such unlimited access to the communications and whereabouts of so many unsuspecting citizens. And never before has a US president had so much control over such a sophisticated and versatile remote-control killing machine for his extrajudicial assassination campaigns. Now, with an authoritarian and racist oligarch moving into the White House, and equally dangerous right-wing demagogues awaiting in the wings across Europe and much of the rest of the world, the question inevitably arises how we will defend ourselves from this all-seeing and all-consuming state of control, with its intrinsic drive towards continuous self-expansion and its complete disregard for even the most basic human rights or political freedoms.
The fourth issue of ROAR Magazine considers this question in light of the deeply troubling developments of recent years. It looks at various new methodologies of state control, and the innovative forms of resistance emerging against them. Tracing the contours of authoritarian neoliberalism as it rears its ugly head across the globe, it offers both a dystopian assessment of our current political moment, as well as a radical vision for collective liberation and social transformation beyond the state of control. If everything we were once supposed to fear about communism has now come true under capitalism, the time may be ripe to start thinking of democratic anti-capitalist alternatives.