Imperialism’s information war and the importance of insurgent communication

"Because class struggle inevitably extends into the domain of the Internet, this means that there is an urgent need for professionally organised, insurgent communication", writes Oliver Dodd
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The necessity for principled, communist, anti-imperialist, insurgent communication, is more important than ever.  

Capitalist imperialism has never simply been coercive in character –– just as the Spanish colonialists depended on the Catholic Church to justify aggression and terror, so too does capitalist imperialism rely on a sustained campaign of ideological warfare to justify domination, interventionism, and terrorism.  

Class struggle takes place not just at the level of production and the state apparatus, but also in the more discursive and ideological domain of society. It is therefore important for anti-imperialists to prioritise ideological struggle alongside various other forms of struggle, to win over the masses to the revolutionary struggle, and to expose and undermine the hegemonic imperialist order.  

Ideological struggle is not only important for undermining and combating the propaganda and deception of the class enemy –– it is also important in developing a firm consciousness within our own ranks, as a way of building and maintaining our resolve, and creating the necessary combative spirit for resisting a tough and determined opponent.  

By engaging in ideological struggle as part of a broader organisational strategy, we build the necessary foundations for revolution, which allow us to take the war of position and eventually advance to the war of manoeuvre at the expense of our very capable and determined enemies.  

In other words, while we hold high the centrality of combining various forms of struggle in the strategy for socialism, we do not neglect the role of propaganda, communist ethics, education, and ideological consciousness, because they are essential ingredients to building and maintaining a formidable anti-imperialist and revolutionary movement that can challenge the dominant class.  

The importance of agitational propaganda, ideological study, and clandestine revolutionary communication, is important not least because the ruling class is historically bound to do everything in its power to resist the struggle for socialism by any means possible. 

It is the job of the dominant classes to try to stop us in our struggle for revolutionary change; it our job to do it anyway! 

The problem of ‘non-governmental organisations’

Today perhaps more than ever before, a strong alliance exists between transnational capital and self-described humanitarian organisations, especially in Latin America, and particularly in Colombia. Organisations that are falsely described as ‘NGOs’, but which in reality are sponsored by foreign capitalist interests, have become leading tools for imperialism.  

In Colombia, the organisation called ‘Crisis Group’, which is overwhelmingly supported and funded by Western transnational corporations and imperialist states, is just one example. These organisations are used to create conditions conducive for capital accumulation in the name of human rights.  

In respect of its links to neo-colonialism and imperialism, Crisis Group crudely describes itself as an ‘independent’ and ‘neutral’ organisation working to resolve armed conflict.  

However, when we look at the reality, we see that these falsely named human rights groups have a different understanding of conflict resolution to us. They do not see it as a resolution of underlying contradictions, such as addressing the basic needs of peasants and workers and ending the dictatorship of capital, but rather as the pacification of resistances to imperialism.  

As the US academic, James Petras, warned twenty years ago: “In reality non-governmental organizations are not non-governmental. They receive funds from overseas governments or work as private subcontractors of local governments… [They] co-opt the language of the left [but] this language is linked to a framework of collaboration with donors and government agencies that subordinate practical activity to non-confrontational politics”.  

So, it seems to me that greater urgency is needed to expose the imperialist ‘human rights’ project, to wage a struggle not just against those who openly oppress workers and peasants, but also against those forces who conceal their imperialist identities under the pretext of human rights, democracy, and social justice.  

Combating the manipulation of NGOs is a strategic area where insurgent information is crucial. We must challenge the hegemony of the imperialist project by unmasking the bourgeois human rights project for what it is: an ideological campaign to manufacture consent for the global imperialist order and aimed to undermine revolutionary, anti-capitalist methods of resistance.  

Information as a key component of hybrid warfare

The utilisation of information, fake news, and deception has become increasingly central to the political-military strategy of imperialism today. Academics, strategic planners, and military leaders, often refer to this strategy as hybrid warfare.  

Hybrid warfare blends the traditional forms of warfare –– conventional military operations –– with irregular, more unconventional operations, such as cyberwarfare, lawfare, deception, and fake news. It seeks to generate confusion and plausible deniability. The key aim of hybrid warfare is to allow imperialism to avoid public responsibility for its crimes of aggression, and thereby enable it to portray itself as a benign force.   

The use of hybrid warfare can be seen very clearly in the case of Venezuela, where in the run-up to the attempted coup against President Nicolas Maduro in 2019, the imperialists covertly sabotaged electricity grids across Venezuela. Their aim was to ferment widespread panic, anger, and demoralisation. This covert assault was accompanied by lawfare, fake news, and economic sabotage, which are all hallmarks of the strategy of hybrid warfare.  

Recognising that they could not openly invade Venezuela and replace its government with an imperialist puppet, the United States, together with the Colombian State and Venezuelan opposition forces, employed a more covert strategy, particularly relying on information warfare, as well as highly trained mercenary forces, to achieve its expansionist objectives.  

In another example of hybrid warfare, last year in May 2021, the Colombian State, working with US intelligence agencies, covertly ambushed and assassinated the revolutionary Jesus Santrich, a leader of Colombia’s Clandestine Communist Party (PCCC) and the FARC-EP – Segunda Marquetalia.  

Learning from the blowback of the assassination of the FARC-EP revolutionary Raul Reyes in Ecuadorian territory in 2008, this time the Colombian State concealed its cross-border operation and assassination of Santrich in Venezuelan territory and spread the false information that he had been killed by random criminal groups – the purpose of which was to generate confusion and “plausible deniability” for an act of war against Venezuela.  

Since the successful assassination of Santrich in a covert mercenary operation, the Colombian State has continued with these cross-border practices and regularly breaches the sovereignty of Venezuela. In December, the Colombian State also assassinated Hernán Darío Velásquez (El Paisa) and Henry Castellanos (alias Romaña) inside Venezuela territory. 

Secret cross-border operations today are common military procedures, especially for Colombia, the United States, Britain, and Israel, as they seek to benefit from plausible deniability based on the use of covert commando operations and mercenary forces.  

As in the case of Santrich and others, such forces often do not wear official military uniforms bearing the flags or the insignia of nation states. Nevertheless, they are essentially part of, and work for, the states that sent them. Indeed, the use of mercenary private military contractors is associated with hybrid warfare, in that they help to conceal the aggressive militarism of imperialism.  

Ultimately, then, not only do we have a duty to expose these hybrid operations and clearly identify them with the present strategy of imperialism, but we also have a responsibility to prepare for them, and to respond to them. We must study and learn from our enemy. We must recognise imperialism’s strengths and learn to adapt and overcome imperialism’s Machiavellian use of force.  

The cyber offensive

While the use of deception and false information in political and military strategy is not novel, the role of the Internet and social media has encouraged imperialism to place information warfare at the very centre of its political-military strategy today.  

Just as the ruling classes have always been unwilling to stand idly by as effectively communists communicate on the streets, in workplaces, and establish their influence using newspapers, they are also unwilling to stand idly by as communists effectively exploit the opportunities of the Internet. That is especially true if communists are backed by a serious political organisation that does not simply pay lip service to revolution, but has a meaningful and serious economic strategy, including thousands of militants ready and able to commit wholeheartedly to the frontlines of the antiimperialist struggle.  

The Internet is a domain that offers communists and anti-imperialists opportunities to communicate more effectively, to resist censorship, and reach wider audiences. It can give them credibility, and it can help them to establish political connections and influence. Whereas it was once extraordinarily difficult for serious communist movements to reach international audiences, today it can be achieved even from isolated and rural conditions.  

Today, because of the Internet, communists can connect via video in real time, relatively securely, and establish a more formidable network and political strategy across borders. It is no longer necessary for revolutionaries to constantly take the risk of meeting in person and in large groups. As such, hybrid warfare, which includes information warfare, is a flexible political-military strategy that can be exploited by revolutionary forces, and cyber techniques must form part of any serious organisational strategy today.  

For all these reasons, US imperialism in particular has sought to monopolise the Internet and to control communication in the cyber realm. While mainstream social media platforms should and can be exploited to a certain extent by revolutionary forces, the leading social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are intimately connected with the imperialist project, censoring movements that begin to pose a serious threat to the imperialist capitalist order. For example, Twitter and Facebook actively collaborate with the US State, so much so that these companies have essentially become inseparable from US imperialist objectives. In this sense, such platforms can only be employed as part of a broader informational strategy, which must be combined with various forms of struggle, including cybersecurity.   

Because class struggle inevitably extends into the domain of the Internet, this means that there is an urgent need for professionally organised, insurgent communication. Just as we cannot resist and overcome imperialism successfully without using the methods of revolutionary organisation on the streets, workplaces, and in the countryside, we cannot hope to challenge the influence of the imperialists on the Internet without a serious revolutionary commitment, where the qualities of organisational discipline, clandestineness, and compartmentalisation, are central.  

That includes an understanding of cybersecurity. We must be able to balance the need for insurgent and revolutionary communication with the risk of exposing comrades, plans, and locations if messages are intercepted. Part of this can be achieved by exploiting and organising from so-called “ungoverned spaces” –– those more strategically located territories where imperialism does not benefit from the collaboration of local governments.  

Conclusion

Comrades, we must combine various forms of struggle to overcome imperialism. Precisely because the dominant class enjoys a monopoly on power, we cannot afford to ignore or belittle the role played by the ideological and informational struggle. 

Propaganda and communication have always served as ideological projectiles for building up our forces and creating the foundations of revolution. This reality is something imperialism recognises, and why it dedicates so many resources to information warfare.  

Nevertheless, as communists we know that economic, political, military, and communication struggles, are not separate entities but are dialectically related and rooted in conditions of class struggle. So, we also cannot afford to ignore the role played by revolutionary organisation, capable and proven leadership, discipline, clandestineness, and compartmentalisation. The more a particular revolutionary organisation poses a threat, the more desperate the enemy becomes. We must therefore be guided by the revolutionary qualities of organisational discipline, communist ethics and values, tactics, and strategy.  

Nowhere is the desperation of the imperialist enemy clearer than in the case of Colombia. The revolutionary struggle in Colombia is of utmost importance to the international struggle as a whole.  

US imperialism has long-prioritised Colombia as a client-state and a bulwark to dominate the Americas and safeguard its geostrategic interests in the Panama Canal. As the gateway to Central and South America, Colombia’s state and territory is regarded as central to imperialism today, which can be derived from the countless number of US military bases, as well as the obsessive concern of imperialism –– revealed by tens of thousands of Wikileaks –– with the question of communist resistance in Colombia.  

Colombia, with the potential to develop a balanced economy and bordering five countries, including the Panama Canal, is on the frontlines of the struggle against imperialism and is at the vanguard of the internationalist struggle, especially as the country possesses a qualitatively advanced communist resistance. Victory over imperialism by Colombia’s communist resistance would reignite and renew the communist struggle internationally.  A victory for the Colombian communist movement would have a great impact internationally.  

In summary, because capitalist imperialism has never purely been coercive in character and maintains itself partly through information and ideological warfare, insurgent communication must always be placed at the forefront of our struggle alongside other forms and methods.  

Comrades, in the struggle against capital, as long as there is the will to fight there is hope for victory! 

La Lucha Sigue; Venceremos!  

Paper presentation for the virtual forum event “Insurgent Communication” hosted by the Venezuelan-based ABP Noticias (https://abpnoticias.org), 08/04/22.

Oliver Dodd, is a PhD candidate at Nottingham University in Political Economy and is researching Colombia’s legacy of class struggle, as well as the country’s (counter)insurgency and peace-making experience

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