Information is an underestimated weapon in war, especially class war. Which messages each side is absorbing decides their morale, and therefore their capacity to fight. The flow of information also decides what the masses in a disputed territory think, which can determine which side wins out over that territory while impacting the morale of the fighting forces (depending on whether public sentiment is working for or against them). The U.S. National Security State understands all of this. In an email that was revealed in last year’s Blue Leaks — where the details of numerous U.S. intelligence operating procedures got exposed — an individual named Terry Atkins writes about how the state uses information warfare to drive the members of the class struggle into breakdowns:
The goal is to identify the victim’s strengths and vulnerabilities. With that information, perpetrators begin to publicly trivialize the target. Perpetrators are often fixated on the past…they often publicly label targets as unstable, drug addicted, or threat to society either through misinformation or the repeated conjuring of past events. The goal is alienation and isolation. The next phase includes psychological attacks through cognitive and emotional infiltration. Organized stalkers attempt to invoke self-doubt through misinformation aimed at the manipulation of memory and perception often referred to as gas-lighting.
It’s a cleverly sadistic strategy on their part: hammer in people’s past shortcomings so much that the targets of these psychological warfare campaigns come to believe that these old missteps will always define them, no matter how much they improve as people. Make someone believe that they’re worthless by convincing those around them that this is the case, preferably using propaganda that’s based off of real missteps from the victim and that will therefore hit hardest. It fits with our noxious social media culture, where no one is allowed to make real or perceived missteps without mobs being ready to condemn them for it endlessly. And the fact that the intelligence agencies use social media as a weapon in their information war makes apparent the all-encompassing nature of this effort to mentally destroy the state’s enemies.
But this grand, devious system the state has built up goes both ways. The online tools for proliferating information that surveillance capitalism has created can also be used for exposing the crimes of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism. Which, as the National Security State’s strategists have articulated, has the potential to make them lose the coming class war.
In Joint Publication 3–24: Counterinsurgency, the U.S. military explains how indispensable it is for the U.S. to hold control over the minds of the people in any given disputed territory:
COIN [counter-insurgency] is distinguished from traditional warfare due to the focus of its operations — a relevant population — and its strategic purpose — to gain or maintain control or influence over — and the support of that relevant population through political, psychological, and economic methods…The struggle for legitimacy with the relevant population is typically a central theme of the conflict between the insurgency and the HN [host nation] government. The HN government generally needs some level of legitimacy among the population to retain the confidence of the populace and an acknowledgment of governing power. The insurgency will attack the legitimacy of the HN government while attempting to develop its own legitimacy with the population. COIN should reduce the credibility of the insurgency while strengthening the legitimacy of the HN government.
If the capitalist state loses its popular perception of legitimacy, it will lose its ability to control the disputed territory. When a population is infused with a burning desire to see the state which rules over it annihilated, the only way for the state to pacify the population is an Israeli-style repressive grip where the movements, speech, and resource intakes of the masses are controlled with quantum levels of obsessive detail. While the U.S. government is bringing something similar to this into America’s most impoverished neighborhoods, with police putting black communities under effective military occupation and a surveillance state tightening throughout all of American society, the iron fist isn’t sustainable. The state’s control has to extend into the minds of the masses, or the threat of revolution will be ever present. Israel, for all of its social control over the Palestinians, knows this reality well.
Also take the example of India under the Nazi-inspired Bharatiya Janata Party, which gives us some sense of what the U.S. will look like when it’s embraced more of Israel’s extreme repressive tactics. As the BJP intensifies a genocidal campaign against the country’s Muslim population, the government is creating a social registry to track the lives of all Indians, at this pount not even trying to justify mass surveillance as necessary for the public good; naked class warfare is its goal. And the state’s grip over information is naturally as tight as imaginable. As one person from India recently told me on Twitter to argue against my statements of optimism for the class struggle within the country: “The situation is so bad that even a privileged urbanite gets arrested for keeping Das Capital at his home under the sedition law, and people cheer the govt’s decision.”
Yet even a state with this thorough of a grip on the flow of information is scared of incriminating itself in the eyes of the public. For all its might and ferocity, it fears taking its efforts to suppress the class struggle too far and consequently losing the support of the masses. As Foreign Policy’s Sumit Ganguly wrote this week about why India’s armed forces remain unable to suppress the country’s communist insurgencies:
Although the Indian Army has had extensive counterinsurgency experience and has, for the most part, acquitted itself creditably, it is extremely loath to be deployed within the nation’s borders. Shooting at its own population is a task the military takes on with supreme reluctance for two reasons. First, it detracts from the military’s principle function: the defense of the nation’s borders. Second, the military is also concerned that repeated deployments aiding civil operations within the country could promote fissures within its ranks.
The U.S. government shares this fear of making a mistake that alienates the masses, of bringing its global wars home and then having the population within its borders rise up against it in retribution. It’s a fear so acute that a 2016 U.S. Army War College document articulates it explicitly, stating about the plans among military technocrats to try to invade and occupy urban areas within the U.S. when domestic class revolts appear:
Presenting compelling narratives can enhance legitimacy and authority in the eyes of many stakeholders (such as the urban population). Understanding the utility and power of digital media, therefore, allows for enormous reach and breadth that can indirectly alter the battlefield. The user-friendliness of mass media and mobile technology allows adversaries to manipulate and garner favorable public opinion and recruit support. For these reasons and more, civilian and military leaders cannot afford to ignore the requirement for compelling narratives…In the final analysis, the battle of narratives and the contradictions of security are likely to be at the forefront, especially as the most likely contingencies will be humanitarian or stabilization operations. Moreover, such operations could even take place within the continental United States, as demonstrated by the Los Angeles riots and the responses to Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Presenting a positive image of the military to the American public is indispensable for continued support.
When the U.S. government carries out war crimes against its own people during the coming decades of escalating class and anti-colonial struggle — and there’s no doubt that it will, given that it bombed an entire Philadelphia block in 1985 just to suppress a black liberation group — it will do everything possible to put a lid on the public backlash for these atrocities, to cover up its bloody hands. The War College report recommends shutting down internet and cell phone access within the near-future combat areas, and targeting journalists who might expose the military’s sins: “Part of IPB [intelligence preparation for the urban battlefield] prior to any action in a megacity or sub-megacity must be to identify the services providers for both telecommunications and the Internet. It is also important to identify online opinion-makers who could have a major impact in any controversy over US military intervention.”
What they’ll try to do to those journalists who reveal their atrocities is hinted at in their treatment of Julian Assange, who’s been continuously tortured in varying ways by the U.S. empire for years for using WikiLeaks to expose American war crimes. They want to make Assange into an example so that others will be too scared to show people the horrors that they’re preparing to commit against their own people.
They won’t succeed if we make it a sure thing that the masses will be exposed to news of the state’s atrocities. To accomplish this task, we must address these questions posed last fall by the Indigenous Anarchist Federation: “What do we do when social media bans anti-capitalists and anti-colonialists? What do we do when our cell phones fully become monitoring devices we willingly keep by our side, all to the benefit of state intelligence services? What happens when our cell phone numbers are blocked from service? How will the revolutionaries continue to communicate locally, regionally, and internationally?”
The solution presented by the IAF’s post (which I recommend reading) is to build our own, encrypted radio networks which can distribute information outside of the state’s grip. If we follow this post’s instructions and gain the tools to independently transmit news regionally or internationally, when the class conflict has intensified to a decisive point and the state is extremely vulnerable to losing its perceived legitimacy, we’ll be able to leak reports of the state’s sins into the crucial areas. This will be a fitting comeuppance for a government that’s weaponized information against freedom fighters.
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