Subversion ain’t what it used to be. Today it scarcely figures as a significant force. Nation states are threatened by something else. Superversion: an attack from above.
It takes several forms. One is familiar, but greatly enhanced by new technology: the tendency of spooks and politicians to use the instruments of state to amplify undemocratic powers. We’ve now learnt that even members of the cabinet and the National Security Council had no idea what GCHQ was up to. No one told them that it was developing the capacity to watch, if it chooses, everything we do online. The real enemies of state (if by state we mean the compact between citizens and those they elect) are people like the head of MI5, and the home secretary, who seem to have failed to inform cabinet colleagues about these programmes.
Allied to the old abuses is a newer kind of superversion: the attempts by billionaires and their lieutenants to destroy the functions of the state. Note the current shutdown – and the debt-ceiling confrontation scheduled for Thursday – in the United States. The Republicans, propelled by a Tea Party movement created by the Koch brothers and financed by a gruesome collection of multimillionaires, have engineered what in other circumstances would be called a general strike. The difference is that the withdrawal of their labour has been imposed on the workers.
The narrow purpose of the strike is to prevent the distribution of wealth to poorer people, through the Affordable Care Act. The wider purpose (aside from a refusal to accept the legitimacy of a black president) is to topple the state as an effective instrument of taxation, regulation and social protection. The Koch shock troops in the Republican party seem prepared to inflict almost any damage in pursuit of this insurgency, including – if they hold out on Thursday – a US government default, which could trigger a new global financial crisis.
They do so on behalf of a class which has, in effect, seceded. It floats free of tax and the usual bonds of citizenship, jetting from one jurisdiction to another as it seeks the most favourable havens for its wealth. It removes itself so thoroughly from the life of the nation that it scarcely uses even the roads. Yet, through privatisation and outsourcing, it is capturing the public services on which the rest of us depend.
Using an unreformed political funding system to devastating effect, this superversive class demands that the state stop regulating, stop protecting, stop intervening. When this abandonment causes financial crisis, the remaining taxpayers are forced to bail out the authors of the disaster, who then stash their bonuses offshore.
One result is that those who call themselves conservatives and patriots appear to be deeply confused about what they are defending. In his article last week attacking the Guardian for revealing GCHQ’s secret surveillance programmes, Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail,characterised his readers as possessing an “over-riding suspicion of the state and the People Who Know Best”. Strangely, this suspicion of the state and the People Who Know Best does not appear to extend to the security services, whose assault on our freedoms Dacre was defending.
To the rightwing press and the Conservative party, patriotism means standing up to the European Union. But it also means capitulating to the United States. It’s an obvious and glaring contradiction, which is almost never acknowledged, let alone explained. In reality the EU and the US have become proxies for something which transcends national boundaries. The EU stands for state control and regulation while the US represents deregulation and atomisation.
In truth, this distinction is outdated, as the handful of people who have heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will appreciate. The European commission calls it “the biggest trade deal in the world”. Its purpose is to create a single transatlantic market, in which all regulatory differences between the US and the EU are gradually removed.
It has been negotiated largely in secret. This time, they’re not just trying to bring down international trade barriers, but, as the commission boasts, “to tackle barriers behind the customs border – such as differences in technical regulations, standards and approval procedures”. In other words, our own laws, affecting our own people.
A document published last year by two huge industrial lobby groups – the US Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope – explains the partnership’s aims. It will have a “proactive requirement”, directing governments to change their laws. The partnership should “put stakeholders at the table with regulators to essentially co-write regulation”. Stakeholder is a euphemism for corporation.
They want it; they’re getting it. New intellectual property laws that they have long demanded, but which sovereign governments have so far resisted – not least because of the mass mobilisation against the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act in the US – are back on the table, but this time largely inaccessible to public protest.
So are data protection, public procurement and financial services. You think that getting your own government to regulate bankers is hard enough? Try appealing to a transnational agreement brokered by corporations and justified by the deemed consent of citizens who have been neither informed nor consulted.
This deal is a direct assault on sovereignty and democracy. So where are the Daily Mail and the Telegraph and the other papers which have campaigned so hard against all transfers of power to the European Union? Where are the Conservative MPs who have fought for an EU referendum? Eerie silence descends. They do not oppose the TTIP because their allegiance lies not with the nation but with the offshored corporate elite.
These fake patriots proclaim a love for their country, while ensuring that there is nothing left to love. They are loyal to the pageantry – the flags, the coinage, the military parades – but intensely disloyal to the nation these symbols are supposed to represent. The greater the dissonance becomes, the louder the national anthem plays.
This article was first published in the Guardian on 14 October 2013.
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