On Contact: Emergence of the global police state
On the show this week, Chris Hedges discusses the emergence of the global police state with Professor William I. Robinson. Robinson’s new book, The Global Police State, uses shocking data to reveal how far capitalism has become a system of repression. He argues the emerging megacities of the world are becoming the battlegrounds where the excluded and the oppressed face off against the global police state.
Robinson is Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies, at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Among his many award-winning books are Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity (CUP, 2014) and We Will Not Be Silenced (Pluto, 2017).
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Chris Hedges: Welcome to On Contact. Today we discuss the emergence of the global police state with Professor William Robinson.
William I. Robinson: 2001 of course was a turning point, the events of 2001 because they legitimated this much more sweeping militarization of the global economy and society and really moved us fully into a global war economy and we're still, of course, in that global war economy but the Pentagon budget increased between 1998 and 2011 by 98%, it nearly doubled and worldwide official government spending, military spending increased by 50% between 2006 and 2015. Of course that includes China we were just talking about China, currently official spending is moving towards $3 trillion which is more than three percent of the whole global world product but that doesn't include secret budgets, it doesn't include police budgets, it doesn't include homeland secure--so-called homeland security budgets, when you do that my calculation is that just this military and repression spending is five to six percent of the entire global economy.
CH: By 2018, 17 global financial conglomerates, collectively managed $15.1 trillion, more than half the GDP of the entire planet. The richest one percent led by thirty-six million millionaires and two thousand four hundred billionaires controlled more than half of the world's wealth while the bottom eighty percent was left to survive on 4.5% of the global wealth. The steady marginalization of most of the world's populations tossed aside by corporate capitalism as disposable, has created a permanent underclass with no real prospect of advancement. As inequality mounts our corporate rulers are creating ever more sophisticated tools of repression including wholesale surveillance, the world's largest prison system in the United States, the persecution of immigrants and refugees, a rigged judicial system, crippling debt peonage, and militarized police to exert iron control over those global capitalists consider disposable. Joining me to discuss the new global dystopia is William Robinson, professor of sociology, global studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California Santa Barbara and the author of The Global Police State. So at the beginning of the book, you talk--you list three kind of elements to the rise of this global police state which I want you to speak about, you talk about the omnipresent systems of mass social control, repression and warfare promoted by the ruling groups to contain the real and potential rebellion of the global working class and surplus humanity, can you lay that out for us?
WR: Sure. Yeah. Well, the starting point for talking about global police state is the crisis of global capitalism, now I wrote this book before the pandemic but the point here is that global capitalism was already facing an acute crisis, the pandemic only made it worse, the crisis is multi-dimensional I know it's ecological, it's a social crisis of survival for some 3.5 to 4 billion people but specifically in order to put it--place in context these three dimensions of global police state we want to look at two dimensions of the crisis which is structural, chronic stagnation in the global economy, and secondly a political crisis of state legitimacy and of capitalist hegemony, and capitalist states around the world have been unable to cope with this crisis even before the pandemic and the pandemic has exposed these states as instruments of wealth and corruption and are pushing these states to intensify global police state. For me this concept of global police state is critical to understanding where we're at in 2020, and the nature of global capitalism and those three dimensions you were asking me about is first of all we're seeing the extension and the deepening of transnational systems of repression, social control, and warfare to contain surplus humanity and the global working class which is experiencing complete admiseration and destabilization, the second dimension is in the face of chronic stagnation in the global economy what more technically we call over accumulation we--the global police state pushes forward what I termed in the book militarized accumulation and accumulation by repression which is to say that global police state is immensely profitable and at a time when there are not other outlets for capitalists to continue to make profits, and the third dimension of global police state is that we're moving towards political systems that can be called 21st Century fascism. Now these three dimensions in of--in and of themselves are not necessarily novel but they can't be separated from one another and we need to see how the three are intertwined in new ways in the context of global police state that signal this extremely dangerous phase in global capitalism with it's--with its severe crisis as the backdrop as the world descends into this repressive totality. So, I mean, I have an incredible amount of data and more contextualization but that in a nutshell is what I'm getting at with global police states.
CH: What you're really positing in the book is that the consolidation of power by the global capitalist elite is not going to be addressed given the structure--the governmental structures in place including in the United States and therefore the response will be an ever more sophisticated police state which you lay out the details of in the book, talk about the mechanisms that the global police state is using to maintain control and you refer of course to I.T. and everything else but talk about what we're seeing rising up to respond to this growing inequality and suffering.
WR: Sure. Well, and I want to--yes, I'm going to go into that but I also want to stress that what we're seeing, you know, in global police state is this convergence of global capitalism's political need for social control in the face of what is a real and a potential expansion of a global revolt with its economic need to continue to make profit in the face of stagnation. So, there's so many different dimensions of global police state and we see for example these--privatized so that's not just the United States, there's over 200 private prisons now in the growing--they're growing very rapidly. We're seeing immigrant--the expansion of--an extension of immigrant attention and deportation regimes around the world, we're seeing the construction of border and containment walls, and there's a brand new report that came out after I wrote the book that there's 63 containment walls built in borders to keep out the oppressed refugees migrants, 63 new containment walls built around the world, we're seeing the extension of systems of mass surveillance and geotracking to control the movement of human beings and to repress human beings, and this is being of course this is heightened in the context of the pandemic. We're seeing the--in every single mega city of the world, we're seeing militarized urban policing, we're seeing the extension of paramilitary armies, and private security forces being deployed all around the world and of course that's a profit-making opportunity as well as a--as a mechanism of extended, you know, of repression. We're seeing the blurring of military and civilian forms of warfare and of social control, and increasingly the mega cities around the world are turning into active war zones in which you see a blurring of the boundaries between the corporate repression and corporate control and capitalist states. So, you know, I can go on and on. These are some of the dimensions of global police state you know I would also add that--and you point--you pointed out at the beginning this unprecedented inequality in global capitalist society and these inequalities can only be sustained through extreme violence and extreme militarization and repression, and so you have also these bogus wars on drugs and on terrorism it has nothing to do with stopping drugs and has nothing to do with stopping terrorism, and the US State is the biggest terrorist--purveyor of terrorism in the world. But they legitimate global police state but they also these wars on terrorism--so-called wars on terrorism, and on drugs, and on gangs, and on youth more generally, and on immigrants, these also have the result of dispossessing tens and hundreds of millions of more people and then open up their resources and their labor to exploitation by capital. So it's going to keep on coming back to how the--how the accumulation of capital and profit making by a tiny corporate elite worldwide converges with this political need for social control to contain mass revolt from below.
CH: You also…
WR: And, by the way, and Chris, I just want to mention also that at some point, I would love to go over just some of the shocking data on the extent to which global police state is so massively profitable.
CH: Yeah. I want to do that, I want to talk first about this point you make in the book of how this is really supranational.
WR: Yes. Yeah, I mean, I think it's a big mistake for us to think in Terms of the nation state when we talk about these issues, I mean, here in the United States we have 30 million people taking to the streets in the wake of the police murder of George--of George Floyd, and of course those people faced, you know, head-on, faced this new global police state. But we want to think about this and every country in the world in every corner of the world and that just as I was saying that civilian and military dimensions of global police state and repression are becoming blurred, the same thing is that--is that war--there's no longer--these--there's no longer wars and conflicts in the confines of nation states, we need to see this as transnational struggles, transnational conflict, transnational repression, you know, another example is that we have private military firms, are now have at least when I finished the book and this is expanding 15 million soldiers work for private military firms for profit, and states all around the world are employing these private military firms. So they were in Standing Rock you know a private military company they're now going up to Enbridge but these same private military…
WR: …firms are in Iraq and in the Middle East, they're in Latin America, they're in Southern Africa, they're all around the world. We have 20 million private police in the world, again these are corporations that are doing this for profit, more private police than there are public police, and these are being deployed in Portland, and in Standing Rock, and now where Enbridge is being constructed, but also all around the world. So these corporations, they are hired all around the world, we can't think of them as you know, as national and we can't think of global police state as national, there's much more to discuss if you ask you know how is this transnational is that transnational capital goes into Mexico or Central America to seize resources, disrupts people, displaces them from the land and that so they're repressed inside Central America by police and military forces both private and public, but then they migrate to the United States because they've been dispossessed and they're refugees and here in the United States they say--face the same public and private military and security forces and systems of repression. So absolutely we--that's why the, you know, the title of the book is not Police State but Global Police State.
CH: Well, I was stopped at Standing Rock by one of these private sort of mercenary forces and what was so unsettling is they had set up a roadblock, they were dressed in black with Kevlar, with long-barreled weapons but they had no identification at all on their uniforms.
CH: They demanded all of my credentials and yet they refused my request to identify themselves, and so there's--what you're building is not just a global police force, you're building global mercenary units that are completely unaccountable.
WR: Yeah. Corporate warriors.
WR: Serving capital.
CH: Great. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about the global police state with Professor William Robinson. Welcome back to On Contact. We continue our conversation about the rise of the global police state with Professor William Robinson. So we were talking before about the transnational aspect of the global police state. This is because, of course, capital has become transnational. These large corporations have no loyalty to any particular country including our own. And yet they, as you point out in the book, they need the nation state. What is the relationship between the nation state and these global entities?
WR: Sure. Well, I mean, this goes--I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here but I've been writing about global capitalism in the nation state for now 25, 30 years and Global Police State is simply an extension of that, you know, that larger story. And while capital moves about the world in an attempt to seize resources, open up new profit, making opportunities and in the process repress any resistance, they--capital--this nation state has been serving global capital ever since globalization was launched in the late 20th Century, so what the nation state does is it takes the global police state and imposes it at the nation state level and carries out that repressive function for global--for global capital, that social control function. But secondly, the nation state also--and you are--you know, this is your--you've written so much about this. Imposes neoliberalism, and austerity, and de-regulation, and everything necessary for global capital to be able to exploit resources and labor forces and take over national economy. So again, these two come together and just to summarize, you know, response to your question is that the nation state carries out these two key functions of opening up opportunities for profit making inside each country and guaranteeing that social control function in each country but all of that is done in function of the interest of global capitalism. So the capitalist state these days is simply an instrument of what I call the transnational capitalist class or global capital.
CH: You open the book by quoting this novel by Liza Elliott Everything Is Known. I think you do that on purpose because you're kind of projecting where we're going. This is a kind of dystopian novel about the future. I want to first ask about China, to what extent China is a model for social control with face recognition and, you know, even this thing you talk about where people get points for being good and demerits for being bad and talk a little bit about that and then tell us about the size, you know, run through some of these statistics which are truly staggering, but let's first talk about where they're headed. Because as the disparities go and the suffering grows, I think your argument is that this kind of draconian form of control is just going to get more and more pronounced.
WR: Yeah. You know, so China is very revealing because as China has moved into the center of the global economy and, you know, if we look at--I only talk about the global economy because we can't box it off into nation states but if we did look at, you know, say, national economies, China will displace the United States in the next couple of decades as the biggest national economy. And as that does so, China is more--it's becoming more advanced than the United States in terms of technological sophistication and forms of organizing capitalism and that's a whole discussion in itself. But so we see--we look at China, we see a mirror of the future for the whole world. And so China, in many respects actually has--is developing more sophisticated systems of repression and social control, is really in the front mind. You mentioned facial recognition but across the board, there's--China is much more advanced in using--I mean, we all carry around cell phones and we all go on the internet. And I think the figure now is 60%, 70% of the world's population is now connected and that's going to go up to close to a hundred percent in the next few years. But China is really even more advanced than the United States in using our connection to our cell phones for, you know, total totalitarian social control and, you know, I think it's, you know, it's a myth that China is an alternative to global capitalism. It might be a different type of capitalism than we have in the United States but it's fully integrated into global capitalism. And in many ways, again, it's leading--it's leading the way in the new technologies of global police state and, you know, one hands-on example also, like, you know, I want to point out is that China has its--as Chinese corporations and capitalists including state capitalists have spread around the world, they've deployed global police state in new ways actually. I mean, you know, it can teach things at this point to the United States and in Ecuador, there's a particular example that I mentioned in the book that they opened up mines deep in the Amazon by displacing, you know, militarily and displacing the indigenous in these Amazonian territories with the help, of course, of the Ecuadorian state. And, you know, the systems--the sophistication of the systems of military and surveillance control on these indigenous populations is just really unmatched, you know, so I think that's the significance of China here. And China together with Israel and the United States are, you know, massive exporters of these technologies and I think Chinese is going to--China at this point is behind Israel in terms of exporting this so-called homeland security systems but I think they're going to take over in the--in the--in the future.
CH: Let's talk about, number one, these systems. And number two, the size of this global policing apparatus.
WR: Right. Well, look at this. Well, 2001 of course was a turning point, the events of 2001 because they legitimated this much more sweeping militarization of the global economy and society and really moved us fully into a global war economy and we're still, of course, in that global war economy but the Pentagon budget increased between 1998 and 2011 by 98%, it nearly doubled and worldwide official government spending, military spending increased by 50% between 2006 and 2015. Of course that includes China we were just talking about China, currently official spending is moving towards $3 trillion which is more than three percent of the whole global world product but that doesn't include secret budgets, it doesn't include police budgets, it doesn't include homeland secure--so-called homeland security budgets, when you do that my calculation is that just this military and repression spending is five to six percent of the entire global economy. In addition, there's a--there's a merging global market for what's called Homeland Security. That's a euphemism of course which currently is valued at $500 billion but is expected to rise in the next few years to trillions of--trillions of dollars. You know, I'm just looking here for this very dramatic quote that the other thing--another dimension of this is that as global revolt spreads and it's inevitably--it's already spreading and it's going to get much more intense during the pandemic and after the pandemic. So Lloyd's of London, which you know is this massive global financial conglomerate issued this report and the report, just let me read this one, "Instances of political violence contagion are becoming more frequent and headed towards what it calls PV pandemics, political violence pandemics. Super strains of PC--PV include anti-imperialist and independence movements, social movements calling for the removal of an occupying force. Mass pro-reform protests against national governments and austerity. Armed insurrections inspired by Marxism." And then it goes on but here's the key conclusion of this report. It says that then there is this vast market opening up worldwide for what it calls riot contagion systems and this will be worth trillions of dollars in the future. So I'm, you know, we can go on and on but this is really an inflection point. This is a new stage in global capitalist repression in the face of a--of the revolt. There's, you know, there's another thing in the book, I quote a number of representatives of what I call the transnational capitalist class, and they're expressing how deeply fearful they are of this global revolt and they're expressing how they want to rely on global police state and they need to. Just, you know, one of the number of dramatic quotes here that John Rupert, he's the CEO of Cartier which together with Tiffany's is the two biggest elite jewelry, you know, companies. He said in an interview a couple years ago, look, I haven't been able to get to sleep at night in years now because I'm worried about the prospects of the--of the poor rising up. It keeps me awake at night. And then he added I'm also worried that this global revolt is going to scare the elite into not buying the jewelry because if they put it on them, they'll appear ostentatious, you know, in the face of, you know, resistance from below. So, I mean, there's so much more here but this is, you know, some of--some of these dimensions.
CH: Let's just run through some of the tools which you mentioned in the book. The level of sophistication, the ability to create profiles on all of us is something unseen in human history. You take very advanced police states like the Stasi state in East Germany. They didn't come close to what they can do now. And just lay out how intrusive these systems of internal surveillance and control are.
WR: Yeah. You know, and this also--this also, you know, and to segue into responding to that, we want to remember that Silicon Valley is so--is at the very core of global police state. And what I and others have referred to as fourth industrial revolution technologies which includes, of course, artificial intelligence. It includes robotization, nanotechnology, biotechnology, 3D printing and, you know, there's all of these new cutting edge technologies just coming online now. And they are being developed in large part in order to develop--in order to beef up and bring to a new level global police state. And our smartphones now are--means that we are monitored in every bit of the--every bit of movement and in every single thing we do and that is not new. I didn't come up with that fact but it is now spreading to the entire planet. And one of the things going on and this is being intensified with the pandemic, is what's called geo-fencing. So geo-fencing is actually first introduced to controlled cattle, on giant ranches, and so they're plugged in, you know, put in the cattle this tiny little chip. And then from a computer terminal which could be 6,000 miles away, you monitor where the cattle are moving. And once they leave the grazing zone, you can quickly mobilize people on the ground to get them back into the proper grazing zone. And so that's called geo-fencing. And now geo-fencing is being applied through our smartphones, so that when people in inner cities or that are supposed to not be moving around or the--or that the police state needs to control, when they move out of their particular zone, you'll instantly mobilize a more intense surveillance of them and you ready actual police and military forces to move in. The other thing is every single--every single movement and every single communication on the planet can now be--can now be monitored 24/7. There's something else going on. I mean, there's too much to even to get in here in the brief interview is what I call global green zoning and global gray zoning. If I have just a minute to quickly throw this out, when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, they set up in the center of Iraq and I know, you know, you know all of this. They since set up what they call the green zone. Inside that green zone they have impenetrable barriers. You couldn't get in, you couldn't get out. Even, you know, big bombs couldn't even bring down the green zone. Inside was the US military and political occupation forces and the new Iraqi elite cultivated and brought to power by that invasion. Outside was the gray zone where it's this massive immiseration, daily warfare and destruction, and death. And so you have these two different worlds separated by these barriers. Now what we're seeing is worldwide in the world's mega cities, we're seeing green zoning and gray zoning, so the elite, that, you know, 20% of humanity that has 95% of the world's wealth are being green zoned and these massive new sophistications of social control protect them inside the green zones and then they're applied to those outside the green zones, in the gray zones and the zones of warfare. So we have this new global spatial partied. We see the restructuring of space all around the world in function of social control and protection of the rich and the--and the powerful. And all of that depends on these new technologies that have been developed by Silicon Valley. So, you know, just to conclude, we're seeing a coming together really of these three fat groups of capital. We're seeing the tech capital which is now the cutting edge of the global economy especially with the pandemic. They come together with the--with the military industrial security complex. And then they come together in turn with the global financial conglomerates and these three triangulation is really the leading edge now of global capitalism, the leading edge of these systems of repression and control and of global police state.
CH: Great. Thank you very much. That was sociology professor William Robinson about his new book, The Global Police State.
WR: Thank you so much for having me on.