New York City police deploy new counterterrorism unit


By Sandy English
23 November 2015

The political establishment in New York City is using the November 13 attacks in Paris to justify the further militarization of the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

At a media event last Monday, the city’s Democratic Mayor, Bill de Blasio, and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced the formation of the new counterterrorism unit called the Critical Response Command (CRC), comprised of more than 500 officers. De Blasio emphasized “how critical it is to have our own capacity to deal with each and every situation.” The creation of the new unit has been in the works for months.

About 100 CRC cops will be on duty at all times. The unit will be headquartered at Randall’s Island, which offers quick access to all five of the city’s boroughs. Randall’s Island is also where the NYPD conducted riot training during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

CRC teams will be equipped with special cars that can hold Colt M4 semiautomatic long rifles. The CRC, as the New York Times noted, will also be trained to “conduct undercover ‘hostile surveillance’ to detect those who might be gathering information about potential targets, and the use of new devices.”

On Thursday the new unit held training maneuvers in the city’s subway system with other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security. The mock scenario included terrorists with automatic weapons and suicide vests. One hundred CRC cops will be present at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday.

In line with a number of officials and former officials in the federal military-intelligence apparatus, Bratton also called last week for eliminating restrictions on police surveillance in New York. “The [offensive] in our case is intelligence, the gathering of intelligence, nobody does it better than the NYPD and our partnership with the FBI,” he told the media. Promoting the campaign against the use of encryption software he noted: “We encounter that all the time. We’re monitoring and they go dark. They go on to sites that we cannot access.”

The CRC joins other specialized heavily armed NYPD units, such as the 800-member Strategic Response Group comprised of patrol officers, and the 700 cops in the Emergency Service Unit, the NYPD’s SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. In the last few months, the NYPD has roughly tripled the number of officers armed with high-powered semi-automatic rifles.

The NYPD also operates a massive spying apparatus of thousands of cops that includes the Intelligence Division and the Counterterrorism Unit. The notorious Demographic Unit that spied on Muslims at mosques, restaurants and other businesses after the terrorist attacks of 2001 was a part of the Intelligence Division. Combined, these units have offices in 11 cities worldwide.

This year the de Blasio administration supported several increases in funding for the NYPD, one of which included the hiring of 1,000 more cops, “that will be focused on counter-terrorism and crowd management,” as Bratton told NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday.

Bratton’s reference to “crowd management” is significant, and hints at the real purposes behind the increasing militarization of the NYPD.

During the frequent and sometimes massive protests against police violence late last year and early this year—provoked by longstanding grievances with the police that had been building for years, and especially by the refusal of a grand jury to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who choked to death Staten Island resident Eric Garner in July 2014. Demonstrators have noted the presence of NYPD officers wearing jackets that identified them as members of special counterterrorism units.

In January Bratton confirmed the NYPD’s intention to deploy militarized police against these and other peaceful protesters when he announced plans to form a heavily armed counterterrorism unit to “deal with events like our recent protests.”

This was entirely in line with the character of NYPD intimidation against the non-violent Occupy Wall Street protesters in lower Manhattan in late 2011. Demonstrators were besieged by hundreds of police every day, who filmed them, pepper-sprayed them, used sound cannons to disperse them, and eventually expelled them from their encampment in Zuccotti Park.

The reemergence of thousands of protesters on the streets of New York City in the last few years has been brought about by increasingly precarious social conditions for millions of New Yorkers. Rents have skyrocketed, wages have declined, real unemployment remains in the double digits, and the behavior of the NYPD itself has only increased the social volatility.

Last week the New York Times and Siena College conducted a survey of New Yorkers, which noted that half of those polled “say they are struggling economically, making ends meet just barely, if at all, and most feel sharp uncertainty about the future of the city’s next generation.”

Thirty-three percent of residents in the Bronx and 25 percent of residents in Brooklyn, the two poorest boroughs, said, “the prospects for finding a job are poor,” and 44 and 36 percent in each borough respectively said, “the chance that a family member will be incarcerated is very likely or almost certain.”

Twenty-one percent citywide said that there had been times in the last 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food for themselves or their family, and 66 percent citywide said that local government’s responsiveness to the needs of their neighborhood was fair or poor. Even in the less socially polarized borough of Staten Island, 46 percent of respondents said that life was getting worse.

Such sentiments will produce a response by millions, and the NYPD and other police agencies are arming and training elite and specialized forces to protect the privileges of the handful of multimillionaires and billionaires who rule the city.

Paris attacks: it’s time for a more radical reaction

By Claire Veale On November 19, 2015

Post image for Paris attacks: it’s time for a more radical reactionIn the wake of the Paris attacks fingers were pointed in all directions, but few were directed at France itself. What has radicalized the French youth?

Photo: A young man is arrested at a student protest in Paris, by Philipe Leroyer, via Flickr.

The deadly attacks in Paris on the night of Friday, November 13, were quickly met by a global rush of solidarity with France and the French people. From world leaders expressing their sympathies, to raising the French flag on buildings across the globe, and more visibly, on Facebook profiles, everyone stood unequivocally united with France.

The sentiment of solidarity behind this mass concern is heart-warming, however it must come hand in hand with a demand for a serious debate on matters of terrorism, violence and war. Rage and sadness should not hinder our ability to think.

Why Paris? Who were the attackers, and how could they do such things? How can we counter these kind of attacks? Before bowing to the often narrow interpretations provided by the media and our political leaders, we must look for well-informed answers to these important questions. The current response–including more French bombings in Syria and extreme security measures on French territory–may be a fuel for further violence, rather than bring viable solutions.

“Us versus Them”

As a French national, the sudden inundation of the tricolored flag on my Facebook wall was a little unsettling. I do feel grateful for the surge of solidarity and wonderful messages calling for love and unity from all over the world. However, I find myself wondering if the French flag is truly the appropriate symbol to demonstrate this call for peace and inclusiveness, and to bring people together in unity against terror.

To me, the French flag represents first and foremost the French state, the respective governments that have ruled my country, and their foreign policies. Domestically, it is mostly a nationalist symbol, too often used by the likes of Marine Le Pen to create enemies out of foreigners. It represents certain values defined as “French”, as opposed to foreign values France should not welcome, and as such it can be a dangerous vector of racism.

In parallel to this bleu-blanc-rouge frenzy, many artists and humorists have responded to the attacks defending the stereotypes of French culture; drinking wine, enjoying life, smoking on terrasses. They state that any attack on French values is an attack on enjoying life itself. Although flattering in a way, as they praise what may seem the essence of being French, it unjustly encourages us to see the attacks through the lens of the “clash of civilisations” where enemy and foreign ideals threaten our way of life, our moral values.

Let us be clear about two things. First, in this “us” versus “them” discourse, I am not sure who the “us” is supposed to be. Am I–a French citizen who has long opposed aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East–all of a sudden on the same side as my government?

To many of us, the political elites of the country, who have insisted in involving France in wars that we did not want, are part of the problem. The different successive French governments have indirectly contributed to the rise of extremist groups and the radicalization of young men to join them. Waving the French flag could contribute to diminishing their role and the responsibility they hold in this crisis. Worse, it could legitimize further undesirable military actions abroad.

And second, who is “them”? The “War on Terror”, as it has been clearly framed by world leaders, is not a war in the traditional sense, with a clear, visible enemy. The attackers of the Paris killings weren’t foreigners; most of them were French or European citizens, born and raised on European soil. We are not talking about a mysterious, faraway enemy, but about young French men and women who are as much a part of French society as anyone else.

A show of force

And yet, the French president so promptly declared “war” and intensified the direct and aggressive bombings of IS targets in Syria. The terrorists being mostly European citizens, may it not be wiser to ask ourselves what is wrong in our own societies instead of taking such rash military action abroad?

Worryingly, there has been little resistance within the media or even within French left-wing circles, to Hollande’s policies. Has the emotion and anger from the Paris attacks impeded our ability to recognize that dropping bombs in the Middle East will not resolve the security threats that emanate from within?

Terrorism is an invisible enemy emanating from complex socio-political circumstances, which needs to be tackled in a more subtle and thought-through way. History has shown us that 14 years of “War against Terror” in the Middle East has only contributed to more violence, more terrorism and sadly, more deaths. Isn’t it time we started thinking about different tactics?

Since the attacks, Francois Hollande has proposed changes in the constitution, to make it easier for the state to resort to the use of force when facing terrorism. These changes include an increase in presidential powers, allowing Mr Hollande to enforce security measures without the usual scrutiny of the parliament. The president wants to extent the duration of the state of emergency, limiting freedom of movement and freedom of association, including mass demonstrations, in the name of national security.

The suggested changes could also result in widening the definition of targeted citizens to anyone who is “seriously suspected” of being a threat to public order, opening the door to a worrying reality of aggressive police tactics directed towards poor, disillusioned youth. Furthermore, Hollande wants to withdraw French nationality to any bi-national citizen suspected of terrorism acts.

The president’s reaction is deeply disturbing, and reinforces the skewed vision of a “foreign” enemy, which will inevitable result in discriminatory and racist policies and reactions towards foreigners, or anyone perceived as foreign, in France. More worrying still, is a recent poll in Le Parisien, which shows that 84% of respondents supported the decision to increase the manoeuvring power of the police and the army, while 91% agreed with the idea of withdrawing French nationality to suspected terrorists.

Where are the French values of openness and multiculturalism that we so ardently defend now? We must not let fear and an inaccurate “us” versus “them” discourse justify aggressive policies against our own citizens, or against anyone else for that matter, including refugees fleeing the very terror we claim to fight.

Why did French citizens decide to kill?

The reason why the media has focused on this angle of opposing the French values of liberté, egalité, fraternité, with the fearful and hateful values preached by the IS, is that it gives easy answers to complex questions. Why was Paris attacked? Because, we are told, it represents the heart of freedom, multiculturalism, secularism and joie de vivre. But does it really? France doesn’t always seem to live up to the values it professes.

The real question should be: why did young French (and Belgian) men and boys decide to sacrifice their life to kill members of their own society?

Two answers seem to have emerged. The first, mainly employed by the political elite and the media, is that the killers were “insane”, “brainwashed” and “barbaric”, and could not have acted rationally. This approach refuses proper analysis of the killers’ motives, brushing them aside to favour irrational and extremist religious ideology, and thus justifying a purely violent and heavy-handed response.

The second answer, coming from many left-wing, anti-racist circles, claims that such acts of terrorism are a direct result of France’s foreign and domestic policy. Although both seem radically opposed, they do have one thing in common: they undermine the agency and accountability of the attackers. This second approach, which points out undeniable political considerations, remains flawed in the same way as the first: it forgets that the killers are people who think and act, and not simply passive products of racist and imperialist foreign policy.

It is important to recognize the attackers as human beings, capable of acting and thinking rationally, as it is a first step towards understanding the reasoning behind their actions. Religious fanaticism is simply a vector of violence, as has been the case for many other ideologies in the past, such as nationalism, fascism, or communism. These ideologies are not the root causes of violence. Although this may seem obvious, there is a need to stress that religious extremism is not the reason why a young man would take up a gun and shoot into a crowd, it is simply an instrument to channel their anger.

We must try to look at the very roots of these young men’s discontent. Debates should be opened about the school system, about the ghettoization of urban areas across France, about police violence and domestic anti-terror security measures, about the prison system, about structural racism, about our skewed justice system, about oppressive and strict secularism; and the list goes on.

These questions are complex ones, and ones that are not easy to address. Thus, we prefer to paint the picture in black and white, our values versus their values, rather than to face the internal problems of our broken societies.

The little research that has been conducted on IS fighters, abroad and within Europe, shows that young men don’t necessarily join the extremist group for religious reasons. The Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo shootings had suffered a difficult childhood in poverty after the suicide of their mother, with little support from social services and surrounded by extreme violence as children.

Anger at injustices they face, alienation, and years of increasing humiliation from the very societies they are meant to be a part of can push young men to express their frustrations through the vehicle of religious extremism. IS just happens to be an organized group, which seriously threatens European societies, and which offers these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity and their pride.

As Anne Aly explains: “Religion and ideology serve as vehicles for an ‘us versus them’ mentality and as the justification for violence against those who represent ‘the enemy’, but they are not the drivers of radicalization.”

Radical solutions to radical problems

Radical solutions mean, first and foremost, tackling the problem at its roots.Julien Salingue expressed this idea very eloquently after the Charlie Hebdo shootings: “Deep change, and therefore the questioning of a system that generates structural inequalities and exploitation of violence is necessary”.

Every injustice and every act of humiliation towards a member of society can only cause anger and hatred, which might someday transform into violence. James Gilligan has written extensively about the way the prison system in America serves to intensify the feeling of shame and humiliation that push individuals to violence in the first place. This analysis is useful when looking at European societies, and the processes of discrimination and humiliation that push young men to react violently.

We must condemn all policies, discourses and actions that legitimize and reinforce the politics of hatred. Police violence towards young men of Arab origin, for instance, is frequent in France. Amedy Coulibaly, another actor in the Paris shootings in January 2015, suffered the death of his friend in a police “slipup” when he was 18. This kind of direct aggression perpetrated on a daily basis adds to the structural violence and discrimination young men from underprivileged backgrounds experience in European societies. War for them is not such a distant, disconnected reality, but closer to their every day life.

Every racist insult, act of police brutality, unfair trial, or discriminatory treatment brings them one step closer to carry out tragedies as the massacre in Paris. We must therefore question the very system we live in and the way of life we defend so defiantly after the attacks, for the problem may be closer to us than we imagine.

Claire Veale is a graduate from the SOAS, University of London, in Violence, Conflict & Development. Having lived and worked in several continents, she is particularly interested in writing about social movements, Latin American politics, gender rights and international development issues.

The state of emergency and the collapse of French democracy


19 November 2015

The measures being taken by the government of President François Hollande in response to Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris constitute an unprecedented attack on democratic rights.

The Socialist Party (PS) government has declared a state of emergency and mobilized more than 100,000 security personnel throughout the country, including regular police, gendarmes, paramilitary riot police and military forces. It is impossible to walk the streets of any major city without running into individuals decked out in camouflage or dressed in black, toting automatic rifles. These paramilitary forces have been given the power to raid any home and arrest or kill anyone declared a threat, with no opposition from within the political or media establishment.

Now Hollande is proposing to amend the French Constitution to allow the president to decree emergency rule, extendable indefinitely, and vastly expand the powers granted to the army and police. The proposal, published online, provides the legal basis for transforming France into a presidential dictatorship.

The existing 1955 law grants the president and the security forces far-ranging powers during a state of emergency. They can carry out warrantless searches and seizures, impose curfews and ban public assemblies, detain and order the house arrest of anyone “whose activity proves dangerous to security and public order,” and dissolve any organization linked to people under house arrest that “participates in, facilitates or incites” disturbances of public order.

The changes introduced by the Socialist Party’s constitutional amendment make the law even more ominous. President Hollande has declared that he intends to renew it as long as France faces a threat from any terrorist group similar to ISIS, i.e., for an indefinite period of time.

An examination of the amendment makes clear, however, that the measures are not about fighting ISIS, which in any case emerged from the NATO powers’ own policy of sponsoring Islamist militias as proxy forces to wage war for regime-change in Syria. The horrific attacks in Paris are the pretext for implementing dictatorial measures that cannot be rationally explained by the threat posed by ISIS.

Under the cover of fighting ISIS, the French state is giving itself absolute powers against anyone it calls a threat to “security and public order.” This vague, all-embracing category has long been used against the constitutionally-protected right to strike and protest—as in the Socialist Party’s decision last year to ban protests against the Israeli state’s war in Gaza.

The legal changes introduced by the PS document effectively make any expression of oppositional sentiment potential grounds for arrest. Instead of allowing police to detain persons whose “activity proves dangerous for public security and order,” the amended law allows them to detain anyone “who gives reason to believe that his behavior constitutes a threat to security and public order.” The PS explains that this allows police to target “people who attracted the attention of police or intelligence services by their behavior, friendships, statements, or plans.”

The implications of these proposals are immense. To arrest and detain someone, police will have to do no more than assert that they believe that this person might conceivably disturb public order at some future time, based on something this person said or posted on social media, or on someone with whom he associated.

A statement suggesting sympathy with calls for strike action against a wage cut or factory closure, for a protest against war, or for any number of legal activities would be grounds for detention and house arrest.

It is worth recalling that the law the PS is now proposing to expand was drafted in 1955 to provide the legal framework for France to carry out mass torture and repression in a failed attempt to crush the Algerian people’s struggle for independence in the 1954-1962 war against French colonial rule. This brutal war cost the lives of between 250,000 and 400,000 Algerians. It anticipated and fed into deep social tensions within France that erupted in the general strike of May-June 1968.

The current moves to effectively dismantle democratic rights in France are motivated by a similar crisis of class rule. First, as its ultimately unsuccessful attempt to ban last year’s Gaza war protests showed, the PS government is desperate to suppress all opposition to the militarist policies of French imperialism. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Hollande has moved rapidly to expand France’s bombing campaign in Syria, part of the efforts of the French ruling class to assert its interests on a world stage.

Second, bourgeois democracy can no longer handle and adjudicate the immense and increasingly uncontrollable social tensions of contemporary capitalist society. In all of the advanced capitalist countries, including France, the state is controlled by tiny, super-wealthy elites who view rising discontent among broad masses of workers with hatred and fear.

The Hollande government epitomizes the domination of the financial aristocracy. Elected on promises that “austerity was not our destiny,” Hollande soon proved to be a pro-austerity politician presiding over surging unemployment and a “zero growth” economy.

The PS turned to a strategy of trying to divert social opposition to reactionary domestic policies by means of a foreign policy based on militarism and war. As Hollande launched a war in Mali in 2013, one official told Le Point that the PS hoped it would be their version of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Falkland Islands war: a “military adventure that ensured her re-election in 1983.” Wars across France’s old colonial empire, however, have only contributed to the growing social tensions within France.

The political dynamic in France is mirrored in every major capitalist country. Since the “war on terror” began in 2001, governments throughout the world, led by the United States, have sought to erode and dismantle basic democratic rights. They have participated in the “extraordinary rendition” of prisoners for torture, mass warrantless wiretapping and extra-judicial drone murder. The domestic deployment of heavily-armed military units is now common.

From the police suppression of the 2011 youth riots in London to last year’s heavily-armed crackdown on protests against the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, these measures are ever more clearly directed at the suppression of class struggle.

There is virtually no constituency for the defense of democratic rights within the political or corporate establishment. That task falls to the working class, which retains a deep commitment to democratic principles. However, there is no room for political complacency. The ruling class is moving very far with dictatorial measures to deal with internal crises for which it has no solution.

The defense of democratic rights and opposition to police-state forms of rule must be rooted in the independent political mobilization of the working class, based on a struggle against imperialist war and social inequality and their source in the capitalist system.

Alex Lantier

US officials seize on Paris attacks to press for “back door” to encryption


By Joseph Kishore
18 November 2015

US officials are moving rapidly to exploit the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday to push forward with already existing plans to undermine encrypted communications and vastly expand the powers of the state.

The Obama administration, which created the conditions for the tragedy in Paris with its war policy that has laid waste to much of the Middle East, is now using it to further its criminal operations. The campaign is being led by John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, who has been personally implicated in both the NSA’s illegal and unconstitutional spy programs and the CIA’s torture program.

In remarks delivered Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Brennan blamed insufficient spying capacities for the terrorist attacks. “A lot of technological capabilities that are available right now… make it exceptionally difficult, both technically as well as legally, for intelligence and security services to have the insight they need,” he claimed.

As with responses to other attacks, there is no effort to reconcile claims that insufficient “intelligence” allowed the attacks in Paris to happen with the fact that the individuals who carried out the shootings were known to intelligence agencies, with several being actively monitored. One of the alleged attackers, Omar Ismaïl Mostefai, had been flagged by French police for suspected “radicalization” but had been allowed to travel to and from Syria unhindered. Warnings from Turkish officials were ignored.

Brennan went on to denounce NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for exposing the blanket surveillance of communications all over the world. “[I]n the past several years because of a number of unauthorized disclosures and a lot of handwringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists, there have been some policy and legal and other actions that are taken that make our ability collectively internationally to find these terrorists much more challenging.”

In other words, the CIA and NSA must be given the power to spy on all communications, and any challenge to these powers (“handwringing”) provide aide and comfort to terrorists. By “legal” actions, Brennan is referring to a handful of court decisions that have ruled some aspects of the vast NSA spying apparatus illegal, prompting Congress to pass the “USA Freedom Act” last year. Far from undermining the NSA programs, however, the act—which Brennan supported—gives a pseudo-legal cover for unconstitutional spying to continue.

Michael Morell, Obama’s former CIA deputy director, also blamed encrypted communications for the attacks on Monday. “I now think we’re going to have another public debate about encryption, and whether government should have the keys, and I think the result may be different this time as a result of what’s happened in Paris,” he said on CBS’s “This Morning” program.

The US Congress had considered but has not yet adopted a law that would require private companies to allow “backdoor” access by the state to any encrypted communications. This legislation will likely now be revived.

Both Democrats and Republicans have joined in denouncing Snowden and insisting that the powers of the state must now be vastly expanded. Former press secretary for George W. Bush, Dana Perino, expressed the thinking of the ruling class most crudely, tweeting on Friday night, “F Snowden. F him to you know where and back.” Perino is currently a pundit for Fox News.

Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, denounced telecommunications companies on Monday, saying: “I have asked for help and I haven’t gotten any help. If you create a product that allows evil monsters to communicate in this way, to behead children, to strike innocents, whether it’s at a game in a stadium, in a small restaurant in Paris, [to] take down an airliner, that’s a big problem.”

US spy agencies have spent vast resources in the effort to gain access to all communications, including emails, Internet records and phone records. The aim is to be able to monitor the political activities and associations of all individuals, in the United States and internationally. The September 11 attacks were used to expand these powers enormously, but intelligence officials have long complained that encryption technologies have undercut their efforts, allowing individuals to “go dark” and avoid surveillance.

A Justice Department memorandum from November 10, three days before the Paris attacks, stated that “among the greatest challenges the department faces in [the area of cybersecurity] is that malicious actors are increasingly relying on encryption and other technological advances to remain elusive and thwart the government’s efforts to isolate and mitigate cyber threats.”

In September, the Washington Post obtained an email from Robert Litt, general counsel for the Director of National Intelligence complaining that the climate in Congress of a law to require a backdoor to encrypted communications was “hostile” but that this could change “in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.” The intelligence agencies now have their attack, and they are determined to use it to the full.

On Tuesday, Bill Bratton, the police commissioner for New York City’s Democratic Party Mayor Bill de Blasio, added his own denunciation of encrypted communications after announcing the deployment of 500 “counter-terrorism” police officers who will be given “shoot to kill” orders in the event of a terrorist attack. These heavily-armed police forces throughout the city have been accompanied by the deployment of National Guard troops.

“One of the most fruitful avenues, which was our ability to potentially listen in, has been closed in a very significant way,” Bratton complained on Tuesday.

New York has been a center of protests over police violence over the past year, particularly after police strangled to death Eric Garner in July 2014. Earlier this year, when the city unveiled a new counterterrorism “Strategic Response Group”, Bratton let slip that one of the main aims of the new police unit would be to “deal with events like our recent protests.”

The principal driving force behind all of these measures is not the threat posed by terrorism, but the state of social relations in the United States. In the face of growing social inequality and widespread public opposition to war, the American corporate and financial aristocracy is using the tragic events in Paris as an opportunity to shift the framework of discussion further to the right, intensifying the attack on the democratic and social rights of the working class and accelerating the implementation of police-state forms of rule.

How Western Militarists Are Playing Into the Hands of ISIS

After Paris, politicians and pundits clamor for more force and repression—just as ISIS wants them to.

Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) – Sunni jihadist group. Self-proclaimed as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over Muslims worldwide. Al-Qaeda is a global militant Islamist organization.
Photo Credit: Steve Allen

The Islamic extremists who killed over 125 Parisians on November 14 were heartless murderers, but they were also political operators implementing a carefully conceived strategy. A February 2015 article in Dabiq, the official magazine of ISIS, offers a clear window into their agenda. Published in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the essay was titled, “The Extinction of the Grayzone.”

“The presence of the Khilafa [Islamic Caliphate] magnifies the political, social, economic, and emotional impact of any operation carried out by the mujahadin [freedom fighters] against the enraged crusaders,” Dabiq stated. “This magnified impact compels the crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves, the zone in which many of the hypocrites and deviant innovators living in the West are hiding….”

Here, ISIS revealed its intention to unravel the fabric of Western civil society — what it calls the “grayzone” — by provoking governments into carrying out disproportionate military reprisals and adopting draconian security measures.

Once repression and Islamophobia in Western societies reaches sufficiently unbearable levels, the author wrote, “The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the kufri [infidel] religion propagated by Bush, Obama, Blair, Cameron, Sarkozy, and Hollande in the name of Islam so as to live amongst the kuffar [infidels] without hardship, or they perform hijrah [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.”

In the mind of the Dabiq author, who appeared to be among the ideological vanguard of ISIS, the West’s descent into full-blown fascism would force Muslim immigrants to flee for the sanctuary provided by the Islamic State.

To bring this scenario to fruition, IS has aimed to cultivate favorable terrain for the Western political elements most likely to incite against Muslims, campaign for repressive surveillance laws, and ultimately play out an apocalyptic clash of civilizations. Indeed, IS is doing everything in its power to propel the militarists also seeking to extinguish the grayzone.

The reactions to the Paris attacks by influential political actors across the West suggest that ISIS may have gotten exactly the result it wants. Vowing a “pitiless war,” French President Francois Hollande ordered a series of airstrikes around the ISIS-controlled city of Raqqa. To convince himself that another bombing run over the smoldering ruins of Syria would do anything to improve France’s security, Hollande clearly ignored the final words of one of the gunmen who massacred theatergoers in Paris: “Hollande should not have intervened in Syria!” But with mainstream French conservatives like Laurent Qauquiez calling for placing thousands of terror suspects in an internment camp, Hollande may have had no political space to act rationally.

Suggesting the surveillance laws rammed through parliament this year were not sweeping enough, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve proposedthe dissolution of French mosques where “hate is preached.” As Poland abruptly pulled out of the EU refugee resettlement plan, neo-fascists Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen called for ending all immigration to Europe.

In the U.S., where Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder suddenly rescinded plans to take in Syrian refugees, right-wing pundits exploited the Paris attacks to lash out at everyone from gun control advocates to college students demonstrating for racial justice. Major pro-Israel lobbying organizations andnews outlets seized the opportunity to link the massacre in Paris to Palestine solidarity activism, even though no such connection exists.

Among the most disturbing reactions to the attacks is neoconservative writer David Frum’s call to “repatriate the Middle Eastern mass migration of the last two years…because unemployed and alienated 2nd generation populations are so susceptible to radicalization and violence.”

With his demand for the expulsion of millions of Muslims from Europe back to the moonscape of Syria, Frum was unwittingly agitating for the same goal ISIS outlined in Dabiq — “they will perform hijrah to the Islamic State.”

Frum has been much more than a passive observer of the rise of the Islamic State. As a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, he crafted the notorious “Axis of Evil” phrase Bush deployed in his 2002 State of the Union address to link Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to Al Qaeda. A year later, America invaded Iraq on pretenses fabricated by Frum and his neoconservative fellow travelers, transforming a formerly stable Arab state into a sectarian meat grinder and setting the stage for the rise of ISIS.

After leaving the Bush administration, Frum published An End To Evil with Richard Perle, the neoconservative former Pentagon official who pushed for regime change in Iraq. The book reads like a mirror inverse of Dabiq, arguing for the application of total violence to purge the world of evil. Frum and Perle demanded regime change in North Korea, the toppling of the Iranian regime, an invasion of Libya and the termination of the Palestinian bid for statehood. (So far, only two of their radical fantasies have been fulfilled.) On the homefront, they urged the creation of a panopticon-style surveillance regime and implementation of political criteria for denying citizenship to immigrants. The only regret the two expressed over the failed invasion of Iraq was that the disgraced con artist Ahmed Chalabi had not been installed as the country’s provisional leader.

Neither Frum nor Perle nor any of the Bush administration figures behind the war on Iraq faced any consequences for the destruction they wreaked. Instead, they have been rewarded with cushy fellowships at think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, or been called on to advise Republican presidential candidates. Others made fortunes on reconstruction contracts, took prestigious academic posts and led international financial institutions. Frum was eventually hired as senior editor at the putatively liberal Atlantic Magazine. In March, the Atlantic published a widely read cover story glowingly portraying the criminal mafia of ISIS as an authentic embodiment of orthodox Islamic theology — exactly as it has marketed itself.

Billions of dollars have been spent and hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the global war on terror. At every step of the way, Western governments played directly into the hands of Islamic extremists, falling for their ploys and fueling their ambitions. As Osama Bin Laden tauntingly proclaimed back in 2004, “All that we have to do is to send two mujahadin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written Al-Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”

For the handful of ideologues guiding the forever war, those personal and political benefits justified the price of failure. After the latest assault on Paris, it’s not surprising to see them clamoring for more force, more surveillance, more silence from progressives and more airtime for themselves. As they occupy the political center, the grayzone fades to black.

Max Blumenthal is a senior writer for AlterNet, and the award-winning author of Goliath and Republican Gomorrah. His most recent book is The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. Find him on Twitter at @MaxBlumenthal.

FBI director admits use of spy planes over Ferguson and Baltimore


By Tom Hall
26 October 2015

FBI Director James Comey admitted in testimony last week before the House Judiciary Committee that the agency conducted surveillance flights over mass protests against police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland over the past year, at the request of local police departments. Comey’s remarks confirmed an earlier Associated Press report revealing the FBI’s extensive use of secret flyovers throughout the country.

The hearing itself, mislabeled as being dedicated to the “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” was a further indication of the ability of government agencies like the FBI to carry out illegal mass surveillance against the American population with impunity. Comey contradicted himself at key points through his testimony, which the members of the Committee allowed to pass without comment.

He absurdly claimed in his testimony that the FBI’s flyovers are not used for “mass surveillance,” but only to track specific individuals targeted by an investigation, despite the obvious fact that low-flying, camera-equipped aircraft are ideally suited to follow large numbers of people simultaneously over a wide area. As the ACLU noted recently on its website, new technologies that are now commercially available to police departments nationwide can monitor an area of 25 square miles from low-circling aircraft.

Comey subsequently contradicted this claim when he effectively admitted that the FBI’s spy planes were deployed to Ferguson and Baltimore to spy on the protests as a whole and not specific individuals. “If there is tremendous turbulence in a community, it’s useful to everybody, civilians and law enforcement, to have a view of what’s going on,” Comey told the Committee. “Where are the fires in this community? Where are people gathering ? Where do people need help? And sometimes the best view of that is above rather than trying to look from a car on the street (emphasis added).”

In fact, the federal government closely coordinated with state and local police from day one in both Ferguson and Baltimore in directing the military-style crackdown on largely peaceful protesters. Leading Washington officials, including Barack Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder, lent their voices to the demonization of protesters in order to legitimize the use of violence against them. There can be no doubt that the FBI, an organization with a long history of political repression against dissident groups, was intimately involved at the highest levels in the direction of the crackdown.

Comey then explained under direct questioning that the agency does not obtain warrants before carrying out flyovers, because, as he claimed, “We are not collecting the content of anybody’s communication or engaging anything besides following someone in that investigation … The law is pretty clear that you don’t need a warrant for that kind of observation.” However, Comey later admitted to the Committee that at least some FBI planes are also equipped with “Stingray” technology, which mimics cell phone towers in order to fool nearby phones into establishing connections with it, enabling police to monitor communications and track users’ whereabouts.

Although the Justice Department changed its internal policy last month to require the FBI and other agencies to obtain search warrants before using “Stingray” devices, state and local police are able to use their own devices, subsidized by the federal government, with complete secrecy and without even token oversight. Furthermore, while a recent Justice Department memo banned agencies from using drones “solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment,” this restriction does not apply to manned aircraft such as those operated by the FBI.

Comey’s claim of a limited scope for surveillance does not square with the extraordinary level of secrecy surrounding the program. The Associated Press story this June, which first revealed the FBI’s use of surveillance flights, traced over 50 aircraft to shell companies set up by the bureau throughout the country, and found that the agency had conducted more than 100 flights in 11 states during a one-month span this spring.

The AP found that some flights circled “large, enclosed buildings,” such as malls and airports, “where aerial photography would be less effective than electronic signals collection,” suggesting the use of “Stingray” technology.

Furthermore, numerous flyovers have been observed in Dearborn, Michigan, a Detroit suburb with the country’s largest Arab-American community and which has been subjected to routine harassment by local and federal police since the September 11th attacks.

Comey’s frank admission of the FBI’s use of aerial surveillance was met with hardly a word of protest from the members of the House Judiciary Committee, ostensibly tasked with overseeing the activities of the federal police. Neither Comey’s claim that the FBI planes were not conducting “mass surveillance” in Ferguson nor his argument that such flights did not require a warrant were challenged by the Committee. Instead, members of the Committee competed with one another in showering Comey and his organization with fawning praise.

The day following his testimony before Congress, Comey gave a speech at the University of Chicago Law School in which he attempted to pin the blame on a supposed rise in crime rates on the increased public scrutiny of police in the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing last year. Comey was in Chicago in advance of this week’s conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“I don’t know whether that explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year,” Comey said. “I’ve been told by a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video … Lives are saved when those potential killers are confronted by a police officer, a strong police presence and actual, honest-to-goodness, up-close ‘What are you guys doing on this corner at 1 o’clock in the morning’ policing. We need to be careful it doesn’t drift away from us in the age of viral videos, or there will be profound consequences.”

The theory that a spike in violent crime nationwide in US cities is due in part to fear on the part of police that their activities will be recorded by hostile bystanders and posted on Youtube, known as the “Ferguson Effect,” has no basis in fact.

In the first place, there is no evidence that, outside of a few municipalities, there has been a statistically meaningful spike in violent crime in the United States at all. Second, the claim that police are legitimately concerned that they could face punishment if videos of their activity were recorded does not hold water when even officers who have been filmed committing acts of murder have not been disciplined, let alone arrested and charged with a crime. Finally, the only significant slowdowns in arrest rates this year have been due to work slowdowns, such as those organized in New York City and Baltimore, directed against city administrations deemed to be insufficiently fervent in their defense of the police.

Instead, the Ferguson Effect “theory” is a politically-motivated slander against police brutality protesters designed to portray police as victims and shield their activities from scrutiny. It has been most heavily promoted by right-wing demagogues and officials of local police unions. Even the New York Times, which functions as a compliant mouthpiece for the American state, was compelled to admit in its reporting of Comey’s remarks that the existence of a “Ferguson Effect” was “far from settled.”

The decision by Comey to publically solidarize himself with the arguments of the far-right was allegedly a source of some embarrassment to the Obama administration (the Times cited unnamed officials who “privately fumed” at Comey’s remarks).

However, the administration itself has deliberately allowed killer police to operate with impunity, intervening against the plaintiffs in every police brutality case heard by the Supreme Court, and, through its massive expansion of government surveillance and funneling of military hardware to local police departments, has contributed significantly to erecting the scaffolding of police state forms of rule.

If Comey felt secure in scapegoating police brutality protesters the day after he confirmed that the FBI conducted surveillance against them, it is because he knows his agency is subjected to virtually no democratic restraints.

Breaking the chains: precarity in the Age of Anxiety

By Joseph Todd On October 15, 2015

Post image for Breaking the chains: precarity in the Age of AnxietyIn our Age of Anxiety, society assaults us from every possible angle with an avalanche of uncertainty. How do we fight back under conditions of precarity?

An Age of Anxiety is upon us, one where society assaults us from every possible angle with an avalanche of uncertainty, fear and alienation. We live with neither liberty nor security but instead precariousness. Our housing, our income and our play are temporary and contingent, forever at the whim of the landlord, policeman, bureaucrat or market. The only constant is that of insecurity itself. We are gifted the guarantee of perpetual flux, the knowledge that we will forever be flailing from one abyss to another, that true relaxation is a bourgeois luxury beyond our means.

Our very beings come to absorb this anxiety. We internalize society’s cruelty and contradiction and transform them into a problem of brain chemistry, one that is diagnosed and medicated away instead of being obliterated at root. All hope is blotted out. Authentic experience, unmediated conversation, distraction-free affection and truly relaxed association feel like relics of a bygone era, a sepia dream that perhaps never existed.

Instead we have the frenetic social arenas of late capitalism: the commodified hedonism of clubs and festivals, express lunches, binge culture and the escapist, dislocating experience of online video games, all underlined by either our desperate need to numb our anxieties or to create effective, time-efficient units of fun so we are available for work and worry.

This is assuming we have work, of course. Many of us are unemployed, or are instead held in constant precarity. Stuck on zero-hour contracts or wading through as jobbing freelancers in industries that used to employ but don’t anymore, we are unable to plan our lives any further than next week’s rota, unable to ever switch off as the search for work is sprawling and continuous.

And if we do have traditional employment, what then? We are imprisoned and surveilled in the office, coffee shop or back room, subject to constant assessment, re-assessment and self-assessment, tracked, monitored and looped in a perpetual performance review, one which even our managers think is worthless, but has to be done anyway because, hey, company policy.

Continuous is the effective probationary period and we are forever teetering on the edge of unemployment. We internalize the implications of our constant assessment, the knowledge that we’re always potentially being surveilled. We censor ourselves. We second-guess ourselves. We quash ourselves.

And thanks to the effective abolition of the traditional working day, work becomes unbearable and endless. The security of having delineated time — at work and then at play — has been eradicated. Often this is because individuals have to supplement their atrocious wages with work on the side. But it is also because traditional 9-to-5 jobs have suffered a continuous extension of working hours into out-of-office time, enabled and mediated by our laptops and smartphones. These gadgets demand immediacy and, when coupled with the knowledge that you are always reachable and thus available, they instill in us a frantic need to forever reply in the now.

And with this expectation comes obligation. Hyper-networked technologies gift our bosses the ability to demand action from us at any moment. Things that had to wait before become doable — and thus are done — in the now. If you are unwilling, then someone is ready to take your place. You must always be at their beck and call. From this, our only refuge is sleep, perhaps the last bastion of delineated time against frenetic capitalism, and one that is being gradually eroded and replaced.

For those that are out of work the situation is no better. They face the cruel bureaucracy of the Job Centre or the Atos assessment, institutions that have no interest in linking up job seekers with fulfilling employment but instead attempt only to lower the benefits bill through punitive, arbitrary sanctions and forcing the sick back to work. Insider accounts of these programs betray the mix of anxiety inducing micro-assessment and surveillance they employ.

Disabled claimants — always claimants, never patients, insists Atos — are assessed from the moment they enter the waiting room, noted as to whether they arrive alone, whether they can stand unassisted and whether they can hear their name when called. Compounding this is the hegemonic demonization of those that society has failed: if you are out of work, you are a scrounger, a benefit cheat and a liar. Utterly guilty of your failure, a situation individualized in its totality and attributable to no system, institution or individual but yourself.

We are surveilled, monitored and assessed from cradle to grave, fashioned by the demand that we must be empirical, computable and trackable, our souls transformed into a series of ones and zeros. This happens in the workplace, on the street and in various government institutions. But its ideological groundwork is laid in the nursery and the school.

These institutions bracket our imaginations while still in formation, normalizing a regime of continuous surveillance and assessment that is to last for the rest of our lives. Staff are increasingly taken away from educating and nurturing and instead are made to roam nurseries taking pictures and recording quotes, all to be computed and amalgamated so authorities can track, assess and predict a child’s trajectory.

It is true that this does not trouble the child in the same way traditional high intensity rote examination does. But what it instead achieves is the internalization of the surveillance/assessment nexus in our minds; laying the groundwork for an acquiescence to panoptical monitoring, a resignation to a private-less life and a buckling to regimes of continuous assessment.

Britain is particularly bad in this respect. Not only does our government have a fetish for closed-circuit television like no other, but also, GCHQ was at the heart of the Snowden revelations. Revelation, however, is slightly misleading — as what was most telling about the leaks wasn’t the brazen overstep by government institutions, but that few people were surprised. Although we didn’t know the details, we suspected such activity was going on. We acted as if we were being watched, tracked and monitored anyhow.

In this we see the paranoid fugitive of countless films, books and television dramas extrapolated to society writ large. We are all, to some extent, that person. Our growing distrust of governments, the knowledge that our technologically-integrated lives leave a heavy trace and the collection of “big” data for both commercial and authoritarian purposes contributes to our destabilized, anxious existence. An existence that impels us towards self-policing and control. One where we do the authority’s job for them.

Many individuals offer the amount of choice we have, or the amount of knowledge we can access at the click of a button, as the glorious consequences of late capitalist society. But our rampant choice society, one where we have to make an overwhelming number of choices — about the cereal we eat, the beer we drink, or the clothes we wear — is entirely one sided. While we have an incredible amount of choice over issues of little importance, we are utterly excluded from any choice about the things that matter; what we do with the majority of our time, how we relate to others or how society functions as a whole. Nearly always these choices are constricted by the market, the necessity of work, cultures of overwork and neoliberal ideology.

Again we find this ideology laid down in primary education. Over the years more and more “continuous” learning has been introduced whereby children, over a two week period or so, have to complete a set of tasks for which they can choose the order. This is an almost perfect example of how choice functions in our society, ubiquitous when insignificant but absent when important. The children can choose when they do an activity, which matters little as they will have to do it at some point anyway, but cannot choose not to do it, or to substitute one kind of activity with another.

Why does this matter? Because meaningful choices about our lives give us a sense of certainty and control. Avalanches of bullshit choices that still have to be made, as study after study has shown, make us incredibly anxious. Each of them takes mental effort. Each contains, implicitly, the multitude of choices that we didn’t make; all those denied experiences for every actual experience. This is fine if there are only one or two. But if there are hundreds, every act is riddled with disappointment, every decision shot with anxiety.

Compounding this orgy of choice, and in itself another root cause of anxiety, is the staggering amount of information that assaults us every day. Social media, 24-hour news, the encroachment of advertising into every crack — both spatially and temporally — and our cultures of efficiency that advocate consuming or working at every possible moment all combine to cause intense sensory overload. This world, for many, is just too much.

Although we’ve talked mostly about work, surveillance, assessment and choice, there are a multitude of factors one could add. The desolation of community due to the geographical dislocation of work, the increased transiency of populations and the growing privatization of previously public acts — drinking, eating and consuming entertainment are increasingly consigned to the home — shrinks our world to just our immediate families.

Camaraderie, extended community and solidarity are eroded in favor of mistrust, suspicion and competition. Outside of work our lives become little more than a series of privatized moments, tending to our property and ourselves rather than each other, flitting between the television shows, video games, home DIY and an incredible fetish for gardening with no hint towards the thought that perhaps these experiences would be better if they were held in common, if they appealed to the social and looked outward rather than in.

In the same way we could mention the ubiquity of debt — be it the mortgage, the credit card or the student loans — and the implicit moral judgment suffered by the debtor coupled with the anxiety-inducing knowledge that they could lose everything at any moment. Or we could consider the near-existential crises humanity faces, be it climate change, ISIS or the death throes of capitalism; all too abstract and total to comprehend, all contributing to a sense that there is no future, only a grainy, distant image of lawless brutality, flickering resolutely in our heads.

But the crux, and the reason anxiety could become a revolutionary battleground, is that neoliberal ideology has individualized our suffering, attributing it to imbalances in our brain chemistry, constructing it as a problem of the self, rather than an understandable human reaction to a myriad of cruel systemic causes. Instead of changing society the problem is medicalized and we change ourselves, popping pills to mold our subjectivities to late-capitalist structures, accepting the primacy of capitalism over humanity.

This is why “We Are All Very Anxious”, a pamphlet released by the Institute of Precarious Consciousness, is so explosively brilliant. Not only does it narrate the systemic causes of anxiety, but it situates the struggle within a revolutionary strategy, constructing a theory that is at once broad and personal, incorporating one’s own subjective experience into an explanatory framework, positing anxiety as a novel, contemporary revolutionary battleground, ripe for occupation.

It is, they claim, one of three eras spanning the last two-hundred years where we have progressed between different dominant societal affects. Until the postwar settlement we suffered from misery. The dominant narrative was that capitalism benefited everybody; while at the same time overcrowding, malnourishment and slum dwelling were rife. In response to this appropriate tactics such as strikes, mutual aid, cooperatives and formal political organization were adopted.

After the postwar settlement, until around the 1980s, a period of Fordist boredom ensued. Compared to the last era, most people had stable jobs, guaranteed welfare and access to mass consumerism and culture. But much of the work was boring, simple and repetitive. Life in the suburbs was beige and predictable. Capitalism, as they put it, “gave everything needed for survival, but no opportunities for life.” Again movements arose in opposition, positioned specifically against the boredom of the age. The Situationists and radical feminism can be mentioned, but also the counter-culture surrounding the anti-war movement in America and the flourishing DIY punk scene in the UK.

This period is now finished. Capitalism has co-opted the demand for excitement and stimulation both by appropriating formerly subversive avenues of entertainment — the festival, club and rave — while dramatically increasing both the amount and intensity of distractions and amusements.

In one sense we live in an age of sprawling consumerism that avoids superficial conformity by allowing you to ornament and construct your identity via hyper-customized, but still mass-produced products. But technological development also mean that entertainment is now more total, immersive and interactive; be it the video game or the full-color film watched on a widescreen, high-definition television.

Key to this linear conception is the idea of the public secret, the notion that anxiety, misery or boredom in these periods are ubiquitous but also hidden, excluded from public discourse, individualized and transformed into something unmentionable, a condition believed to be isolated and few because nobody really talked about it. Thus to even broach the subject in a public, systematic manner becomes not just an individual revelation but also a collective revolutionary act.

I’ve seen this first-hand when running workshops on the topic. Sessions, which were often argumentative and confrontational, became, when the subject was capitalism and anxiety, genuinely inquisitive and exploratory. Groups endeavored to broaden their knowledge of the subject, make theoretical links and root out its kernel rather than manning their usual academic ramparts and launching argument after rebuttal back and forth across the battlefield.

But more than this, there was a distinct edge of excitement, the feeling that we were onto something, a theory ripe with explosive newness, one that managed to combine our subjective experiences and situate them in a coherent theoretical framework.

However, we must be critical. To posit anxiety as a specifically modern affect, unique to our age, is contentious. What about the 1950s housewife, someone mentioned in one of the sessions, with her subjectivity rigidly dictated by the misogyny and overbearing cultural norms of the time? Didn’t this make her feel anxious?

Well, perhaps. But if we take anxiety to mean a general feeling of nervousness or unease about an uncertain outcome — with chronic anxiety being an actively debilitating form — then we can draw distinct differences. Although the housewife was oppressed, her oppression was codified and linear, her life depressingly mapped out with little room for choice or maneuver. Similarly with the slave — surely the universal symbol of oppression — hierarchies aren’t nebulous but explicit, domination is ensured by the whip and the gun, the master individualized and present.

This is in stark contrast to the current moment. While it is obvious that oppressions are distinct and incomparable, we can nevertheless see that the fug of the 21st century youth is of a different nature. Our only certainty is that of uncertainty. Our oppressor is not an individual but a diffuse and multiplicitous network of bureaucrats, institutions and global capital, hidden in its omnipotence and impossible to grasp.

We aren’t depressed by the inevitability of our oppression, but instead are baffled by its apparent (but unreal) absence, forever teetering on the brink, not knowing why, nor knowing who we should blame.

Similarly it is bold to claim that anxiety is the dominant affect of Western capitalism, tantamount to pitching it as the revolutionary issue of our age. Yet if we analyze the popular struggles of our time — housing, wages, work/life balance and welfare — they are often geared, in one way or another, towards promoting security over anxiety.

Housing for many is not about having a roof over their heads, but about security of tenure, be it via longer fixed-term tenancies or the guarantee that they won’t be priced out by rent rises that their precarious employment can’t possibly cover. In the same way struggles over welfare are often about material conditions, but what particularly strikes a chord is the cruel insecurity of a life on benefits, forever at the whim of sanction-wielding bureaucrats who are mandated to use any possible excuse to remove your only means of support.

Anxiety is also a struggle that unites diverse social strata, emanating from institutions such as the job center, loan shark, university, job market, landlord and mortgage lender, affecting the unemployed, precariously employed, office worker, indebted student and even the comparatively well-off. Again we find this unification in the near-universal adoption of the smartphone and other hyper-networked technologies. All of us, and especially our children, are beholden to a myriad of glowing screens, flitting between one identity and another, alienated and disconnected from our surroundings and each other.

This is not to say a movement against anxiety itself will ever arise. Such a rallying cry would be too abstract and fail to inspire. Instead, anxiety must be conceptualized both as an affect which underlies various different struggles, and a schema within which they can be assembled into a revolutionary strategy.

So, what is our tangible aim here? In part it must be to reduce the level of general anxiety so as to increase quality of life. Yet if we are to take a revolutionary rather than a mere humanitarian approach, this drop in anxiety must in some way translate into a rise in revolutionary disposition. In certain ways it obviously will. If there is a public realization that large swathes of the mentally ill are not as such because of their unfortunate brain chemistry but instead because of a misconfiguration of society, people are already thinking on an inherently challenging, systemic level.

Similarly, conflict with the state or capital — be it on the street, in the workplace or inside one’s own head — tends to be high-impact and anxiety-inducing. A drop in general anxiety will make it more likely that individuals will engage in such moments of conflict and, crucially, experience the intense radicalization and realization of hegemonic power that can only be achieved through such visceral moments. But a second part to this, hinted at already and integral to giving the struggle a revolutionary edge, is to emphasize that there is a public secret to be aired. As well as combating the sources of anxiety, we must say we are doing so; we must situate these struggles within larger frameworks and provide education on its systemic nature.

Thus, any strategy would need to be both abstract and practical. On one hand we must explode the public secret by raising consciousness. This would require a general onslaught of education, including, but not limited to, consciousness-raising sessions, participatory workshops, articles, books, pamphlets, leaflets, posters, YouTube videos and “subvertised” adverts. The emphasis would be to educate but also to listen, to intermingle theoretical understanding with subjective experience.

The second part would be to strategically support campaigns and make demands of politicians that specifically combat anxiety in its various different guises. When it comes to work, the abolition of zero-hour contracts, the raising of the minimum wage in line with the actual cost of living, and the tightening of laws on overwork as part of a broader campaign to assert the primacy of life over work, of love over pay, would be a good start.

For those out of work, underpaid or precarious, the introduction of a basic citizen’s income would represent a revolutionizing of the job market. In one move it would alleviate the cultural and practical anxieties of worklessness — ending the bureaucratic cruelty of the job center while removing the anxiety-inducing stigma associated with claiming benefits — while simultaneously allowing individuals to pursue culturally important and revolutionary activities such as art, music, writing or (dare I say it?) activism, without the crushing impossibility of trying to make them pay. When we look to housing obvious solutions include mandatory, secured five-year tenancies, capped rent increases and a guarantee of stable, suitable social housing for those who need it.

There are many more reforms I could list. You will notice, however, that these are indeed reforms; bread and butter social democracy. Does that mean such a program is counter-revolutionary? A mere placatory settlement between capital and the working class? No, it does not. Revolution does not emerge from the systematic subjection of individuals to increased misery, anxiety and hardship as accelerationist logic demands. Instead it flourishes when populations become aware of their chains, are given radical visions for the future and the means to achieve them. It is when leftists critique but also offer hope. It is when the population writ large are included in and are masters of their own liberation; not when they are viewed as a lumpen, otherly mass, of only instrumental importance in achieving the glorious revolution.

Look at the practicalities and this becomes obvious. How can we expect individuals to launch themselves into high-tension anxiety-inducing conflicts if the mere thought of such a situation causes them to have a panic attack? How can individuals, in the face of near panoptical surveillance and monitoring, combat the overwhelming desire to conform if they aren’t awarded some freedom from the practical anxieties of life? How are we to think and act in a revolutionary, and often abstract, manner if the very real and immediate anxieties of work, home and play fog our minds so totally?

This is not to say freedom will be given to us. It must always be taken, and we must not rely on electoral politics to hand us the revolution down from above. Nor will true struggle ever be an anxiety-free leisure pursuit. Genuine conflict with the state and capital will always entail danger, stress and the possibility of intensified precariousness.

Nevertheless, the dismissal of electoral politics in its totality represents abysmal revolutionary theory. The pursuit of reforms by progressive governments being bitten at the heels by sharp, vibrant social movements can produce real, tangible change.

It was what should have happened with Syriza, and it is what will hopefully happen with the new Labour leadership in the UK. And if, as individuals and communities, we are to puncture the distress, precariousness and general sense of cruel unknowing so particular to the moment in which we live, if we are to overcome the avalanche of bullshit and reclaim our confidence, if we to construct and disseminate a distinctly communal, hopeful revolutionary fervor, such changes are imminently needed.

Joseph Todd is a writer and an activist. Find more of his writings here or follow him on twitter.