A Global Police State Is Emerging as World Capitalism Descends Into Crisis

In her novel Everything is Known, Liza Elliott describes a future dystopia where five global mega corporations, dubbed Affiliations, rule the planet. “Infested with the inescapable surveillance industry, the five global Affiliations manipulated Big Data to commodify and commercialize all human activity for profit.” The Affiliations had subordinated states to their domination: “George Orwell got it wrong. Big Brother did not come from a totalitarian state, but from a totalitarian non-state.” Big Data was “a relentless cybernetic grandmaster who with sneaky eyes and listening ears spied on everything: your clothes, your friends, recording every word you spoke or wrote. It kept account of all this and more to amass the info power it needed to control the market, the heartbeat of the money economy.” The world’s population had become divided into three segregated social clusters, the members of the Core, the Peripherals, and the Outliers who comprised a majority of humanity:

Outliers were the discarded people. If they could not function in the Affiliation run world, they were cast off. Their lives, such as they happened, were their own fault. There would never be sympathy. They scrounged out a life with the dregs, the overruns, and the un-sellable excesses from the opulent Core and stark Periphery. Some worked unpredictable marginal field-labor jobs while others scrounged in the leftovers, the scraps, and the trash.

The world Elliott describes could well be, with not much of a stretch, a portrait of the one we live in. The unprecedented concentration of capital at the global level has cemented the financial power of a transnational corporate elite that uses its economic power to wield political influence and control states. In 2018, just 17 global financial conglomerates collectively managed $41.1 trillion, more than half the GDP of the entire planet. That same year, the richest one percent of humanity, led by 36 million millionaires and 2,400 billionaires, controlled more than half of the world’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent had to make do with just 4.5 percent of this wealth. It is this mass of downcast humanity that make up Elliott’s Peripherals and Outliers, what in the pages to follow are referred to as surplus humanity.

Yet the technical infrastructure of the twenty-first century is producing the resources in which a political and economic system very different from the global capitalism in which we live could be achieved. Through popular political control of the new technologies we could collectively transform our world for the better. Machines are accomplishing tasks that were unimaginable a decade ago. As Srnicek and Williams remind us, the internet and social media are giving a voice to billions who previously went unheard, bringing global participative democracy closer than ever to existence. Open-source designs, copyleft creativity, and 3D printing all portend a world where the scarcity of many products might be overcome. New forms of computer simulation could rejuvenate economic planning and give us the ability to direct economies rationally in unprecedented ways. The newest wave of automation is creating the possibility for huge swathes of boring and demeaning work to be permanently eliminated. Clean energy technologies make possible virtually limitless and environmentally sustainable forms of power production. And new medical technologies not only enable a longer, healthier life, but also make possible new experiments with gender and sexual identity.

If we are to free ourselves through these new technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, however, we would first need to overthrow the oppressive and archaic social relations of global capitalism. At a time when both fascism and socialism again appear to be on the agenda around the world, it behooves us to study the system of global capitalism, less as an intellectual exercise in itself than in order to struggle against its depredations with a view towards replacing it with one that can avert catastrophe and meet the material and spiritual needs of humanity. Rather than serving to liberate humanity, the new technologies are being applied at this time by the agents of this system to bring about a global police state.

While I am hardly the first to talk about a police state, I mean in this book considerably more than what we typically associate with a police state — police and military repression, authoritarian government, the suppression of civil liberties and human rights. Certainly, we see this, and more, around the world. In this study, however, I want to develop the concept of global police state to identify more broadly the emerging character of the global economy and society as a repressive totality whose logic is as much economic and cultural as it is political. By global police state I refer to three interrelated developments.

First is the ever more omnipresent systems of mass social control, repression and warfare promoted by the ruling groups to contain the real and the potential rebellion of the global working class and surplus humanity. Savage global inequalities are politically explosive and to the extent that the system is simply unable to incorporate surplus humanity it turns to ever more violent forms of containment. The methods of control include sealing out the surplus population through border and other containment walls, deportation regimes, mass incarceration and spatial apartheid, alongside omnipresent new systems of state and private surveillance and criminalization of the poor and working classes. They also include the deadly new modalities of policing and repression made possible by applications of digitalization and fourth industrial revolution technologies. The global police state brings all of global society into what in Pentagon jargon is called “battlespace,” concentrated in the world’s megacities that are now home to more than half of humanity.

Second is how the global economy is itself based more and more on the development and deployment of these systems of warfare, social control, and repression simply as a means of making profit and continuing to accumulate capital in the face of stagnation — what I term militarized accumulation, or accumulation by repression. If it is evident that unprecedented global inequalities can only be sustained by ubiquitous systems of social control and repression, it has become equally evident that quite apart from political considerations, the ruling groups have acquired a vested interest in war, conflict, and repression as a means of accumulation. As war and state-sponsored violence become increasingly privatized, the interests of a broad array of capitalist groups shift the political, social, and ideological climate towards generating and sustaining social conflict — such as in the Middle East — and in expanding systems of warfare, repression, surveillance and social control. The bogus wars against drugs, terror, immigrants and refugees are enormously profitable enterprises. We are now living in a veritable global war economy.

And third is the increasing move towards political systems that can be characterized as twenty-first century fascism, or even in a broader sense, as totalitarian. The increasing influence around the world of neo-fascist, authoritarian, and rightwing populist parties and movements, symbolized above all by Trumpism in the United States, has sparked a flurry of debate on whether fascism is again on the rise. There has been a sharp polarization around the world between insurgent left and popular forces, on the one hand, and an insurgent far Right, on the other, at whose fringe are openly fascist tendencies.

A project of twenty-first century fascism is on the ascent in the civil societies of many countries around the world. The project has made significant advances in recent years in its competition to win state power, and in some cases, it has gained a foothold in the capitalist state. At the same time a neo-fascist culture appears to be emerging through militarism, misogyny, extreme masculinization and racism. Such a culture generates a climate conducive to mass violence, often directed against the racially oppressed, ethnically persecuted, women, and poor, vulnerable communities. But a fascist outcome is not inevitable. Whether or not a fascist project manages to congeal is entirely contingent on how the struggle among social and political forces unfolds in the coming years.

This global police state is emerging at a time when world capitalism descends into a crisis that is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the sheer scale of the means of violence that is now deployed around the world. In the first instance, the global police state is a story of control and repression of the poor and working classes. There are growing movements against the many expressions of global police state — mass incarceration, police violence, U.S.-led wars around the world, the persecution of immigrants and refugees, the repression of environmental justice activists.

Yet often these movements are based on moral appeal to social justice, which by itself begets, at best, mild reform. If these movements are to attack the global police state in its jugular vein, they must identify global capitalism as the driver of the systems of social control and repression that they are combating. This book attempts to do just that. It sets out to identify the contemporary dynamics of capitalist transformation and the novel forms that are emerging. This concept of a global police state allows us to specify how the economic dimensions of global capitalist transformation intersect in new ways with political, ideological and military dimensions of this transformation….

I offer a “big picture” of the emerging global police state in a short book that is eminently readable. The book may startle many readers and make them angry. I trust the work will serve as a warning to the dystopic future that is upon us. More importantly, by exposing the nature and dynamics of this out-of-control system, I hope it will contribute to the struggles to bring about an alternative future based on human freedom and liberation. We do face a crisis of humanity. The destruction under global capitalism of the social fabric worldwide and the extreme alienation of labor, our very species being, raises fundamental questions about what it means to be human and how to recover our humanity. It is in the nature of our species to work together to assure our collective existence. But the capitalist system that throws up a global police state turns such cooperation into a process of destruction for masses of humanity as we are made to compete with one another to survive. Crises of values, identity, meaning, and community ensue.

If we are to recover our humanity we must — contra capital — re-embed ourselves in relations of reciprocity and mutual well-being. [What are] the prospects for a renewal of emancipatory projects around the world? [We must] face [the] challenge of revitalizing a Left that could help bring about an ecological socialist future. Once we have exposed the brutal world of global capitalist inequality and exploitation the most urgent matter becomes how we can move forward toward greater social justice.