Repression and Surveillance: The State v the People

November 18, 2008

As most may have noticed, there has been a recent increase in the number of police stop and search operations outside tube stations and in the streets. Under the protection of section 60AA of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act or section 44 of the Terrorism Act, police carry out what are clear abuses of authority and intrusion in our personal lives. A now hackneyed terrorist bogeyman serves to justify any arrest, whether of anti-war and anti-capitalist protesters or of any remotely ‘suspicious’ individual. With the DNA database expanding to further layers of the population, state control – enhanced through science and technology – is turning us all into potential suspects, at the expense of hard-won civil liberties.

Besides the misuse inherent in such control techniques, this grand scheme wrongly assumes that surveillance and repression can be a solution to what is caused by deep social or political problems. Crime is not so much the problem as inequality and discrimination, and a brutal clamp down on the people hit hardest by these will never affect the root causes of the problem.


As the introduction of the ID card for non-EU students and foreign nationals shows, control measures apply first and foremost to vulnerable people or minorities. The ID card scheme uses them as guinea pigs for a future society in which the government would keep files of everyone’s personal data. This further toughening of migration controls means nothing less in practice than the institution of state discrimination. The new points based system of selective migration, which was recently made public through aggressive advertising campaigns, is another example of this. Designed by the Home Office as part of the Immigration and Citizenship Bill, it is used to send all migrants a clear message: have the right status, work and behave – or else the UK Border Agency will deal with you.

Regardless of the fact that we should all have freedom of movement, border controls will never stop immigration as long as organized capitalism continues exploiting the poorest countries. But as much as capitalism needs competing countries to reduce wages and increase profits, states use capitalism to justify their existence. The protection of state borders and the enforcement of oppressive policies by governments at home and abroad serve both for their own protection and that of the exploitative capitalist system.


Another state-funded advertising campaign testifying to the increasing surveillance to which we are subjected is the current one against benefit fraud. Playing on the same feelings of scare and threat, the government makes us all feel guilty by warning us that it is now ‘closing in’. Once again the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us are being targeted, while big corporations and banks making profits on the backs of workers are being granted tax relief or being heavily subsidised in order to remain competitive. The irony of such a bullying campaign, which wastes vast amounts of public money on useless marketing in order to try to save a pittance, is all the more despicable as many people cannot access the benefits they are entitled to due to lack of information, red tape or simply the state’s miserly benefits policies.

Such strategies, which show the state in its true light – a strong, merciless authoritarian figure – only reinforce exploitation, and by pervading society with general suspicion damage all community and social relationships. Combined with the fact that the UK is the Western country with the most CCTV cameras,this shows that Britain is now more than ever a surveillance society.


Increasingly reminiscent of George Orwell’s Big Brother, the state is a bureaucratic machine that turns against individuals in the name of public interest. Founded on the principle of authority as control, it is government from above – which can only result in the exploitation of the majority by a privileged minority class. This is illustrated by the history of the state, which is mostly that of the appropriation of communal land and resources through private property. Since the end of the Middle Ages, almost all legislation in Britain has been established with the aim of protecting the interests of the ruling class, backing informal privileges with the force of law.


Some would argue that the state is twofold and that while it has a firm repressive right hand it also has a generous left hand, in the form of the welfare state. In society as it is today, there is definitely room to argue for the preservation and improvement of state institutions such as the NHS and education. However, while nationalized services are better than strictly profit-run privatized ones, they do not challenge the current property system and are no guarantee against exploitation. Whether property is that of private companies or the state, collective ownership remains obstructed and the same fundamental structure denies workers the right to manage their own activities. As far as the working-class is concerned, state capitalism is business as usual. What some regard as two different aspects of the state are actually part of the same structure and based on the same essential characteristics of hierarchy, domination and exploitation. The left and right hand of the state belong to the same bureaucratic monster, sometimes referred to as a Leviathan.


By imposing top down authority upon the members of society, the state acts as a social relationship, bringing people against each other where a community of interests should prevail. The functions of the state divide the working class and provide for the conditions of its exploitation. Surveillance, propaganda and threat are encouraging the suspicion and rejection of the vulnerable, while control, force and repression are used to protect the ‘legal privileges’ of a wealthy minority. Ultimately, this oppressing and alienating social relationship needs to be done away with in its entirety if we want to create a free and just society for all, based on solidarity and mutual aid. Attempts to reform the state will just not do, for nothing good can arise from a fundamentally rotten structure.


Category: Uncategorised