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The Bankruptcy of the American Left

6 Feb

 

There will be no economic or political justice for the poor, people of color, women or workers within the framework of global, corporate capitalism. Corporate capitalism, which uses identity politicsmulticulturalism and racial justice to masquerade as politics, will never halt the rising social inequality, unchecked militarism, evisceration of civil liberties and omnipotence of the organs of security and surveillance. Corporate capitalism cannot be reformed, despite its continually rebranding itself. The longer the self-identified left and liberal class seek to work within a system that the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” the more the noose will be tightened around our necks. If we do not rise up to bring government and financial systems under public control—which includes nationalizing banks, the fossil fuel industry and the arms industry—we will continue to be victims.

Corporate capitalism is supranational. It owes no loyalty to any nation-state. It uses the projection of military power by the United States to protect and advance its economic interests but at the same time cannibalizes the U.S., dismantling its democratic institutions, allowing its infrastructure to decay and deindustrializing its factory centers to ship manufacturing abroad to regions where workers are treated as serfs.

Resistance to this global cabal of corporate oligarchs must also be supranational. It must build alliances with workers around the globe. It must defy the liberal institutions, including the Democratic Party, which betray workers. It is this betrayal that has given rise to fascist and protofascist movements in Europe and other countries. Donald Trump would never have been elected but for this betrayal. We will build a global movement powerful enough to bring down corporate capitalism or witness the rise of a new, supranational totalitarianism.

The left, seduced by the culture wars and identity politics, largely ignores the primacy of capitalism and the class struggle. As long as unregulated capitalism reigns supreme, all social, economic, cultural and political change will be cosmetic. Capitalism, at its core, is about the commodification of human beings and the natural world for exploitation and profit. To increase profit, it constantly seeks to reduce the cost of labor and demolish the regulations and laws that protect the common good. But as capitalism ravages the social fabric, it damages, like any parasite, the host that allows it to exist. It unleashes dark, uncontrollable yearnings among an enraged population that threaten capitalism itself.

 

 

“This is a crisis of global dimensions,” David North, the national chairman of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States, told me when we spoke in New York. “It is a crisis that dominates every element of American politics. The response that we’re seeing, the astonishing changes in the state of the government, in the decay of political life, the astonishingly low level of political and intellectual discourse, is in a certain sense an expression of the bewilderment of the ruling elite to what it’s going through.”

“We can expect a monumental explosion of class struggle in the United States,” he said. “I think this country is a social powder keg. There is an anger that exists over working conditions and social inequality. However [much] they may be confused on many questions, workers in this country have a deep belief in democratic rights. We totally reject the narrative that the working class is racist. I think this has been the narrative pushed by the pseudo-left, middle-class groups who are drunk on identity politics, which have a vested interest in constantly distracting people from the essential class differences that exist in the society. Dividing everyone up on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference fails to address the major problem.”

North argues, correctly, that capitalism by its nature lurches from crisis to crisis. This makes our current predicament similar to past crises.

“All the unanswered questions of the 20th century—the basic problem of the nation-state system, the reactionary character of private ownership with the means of production, corporate power, all of these issues which led to the first and Second world wars—are with us again, and add to that fascism,” he said.

“We live in a global economy, highly interconnected,” North went on. “A globalized process of production, financial system. The ruling class has an international policy. They organize themselves on an international scale. The labor movement has remained organized on a national basis. It has been completely incapable of answering this [ruling-class policy]. Therefore, it falls behind various national protectionist programs. The trade unions support Trump.”

 

 

The sociologist Charles Derber, whom I also spoke with in New York, agrees.

“We don’t really have a left because we don’t have conversations about capitalism,” Derber said. “How many times can you turn on a mainstream news like CNN and expect to hear the word ‘capitalism’ discussed? Bernie [Sanders] did one thing. He called himself a democratic socialist, which was a bit transformational simply in terms of rhetoric. He’s saying there’s something other than capitalism that we ought to be talking about.”

“As the [capitalist] system universalizes and becomes more and more intersectional, we need intersectional resistance,” Derber said. “At the end of the 1960s, when I was getting my own political education, the universalizing dimensions of the left, which was growing in the ’60s, fell apart. The women began to feel their issues were not being addressed. They were treated badly by white males, student leaders. Blacks, Panthers, began to feel the whites could not speak for race issues. They developed separate organizations. The upshot was the left lost its universalizing character. It no longer dealt with the intersection of all these issues within the context of a militarized, capitalist, hegemonic American empire. It treated politics as siloed group identity problems. Women had glass ceilings. Same with blacks. Same with gays.”

The loss of this intersectionality was deadly. Instead of focusing on the plight of all of the oppressed, oppressed groups began to seek representation for their own members within capitalist structures.

“Let’s take a modern version of this,” Derber said. “Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, she did a third-wave feminism thing. She said ‘lean in.’ It captures this identity politics that has become toxic on the left. What does ‘lean in’ mean? It means women should lean in and go as far as they can in the corporation. They should become, as she has, a major, wealthy executive of a leading corporation. When feminism was turned into that kind of leaning in, it created an identity politics that legitimizes the very system that needs to be critiqued. The early feminists were overtly socialists. As was [Martin Luther] King. But all that got erased.”

“The left became a kind of grab bag of discrete, siloed identity movements,” Derber said. “This is very connected to moral purity. You’re concerned about your advancement within the existing system. You’re competing against others within the existing system. Everyone else has privilege. You’re just concerned about getting your fair share.”

 

 

“People in movements are products of the system they’re fighting,” he continued. “We’re all raised in a capitalistic, individualistic, egoistic culture, so it’s not surprising. And it has to be consciously recognized and struggled against. Everybody in movements has been brought up in systems they’re repulsed by. This has created a structural transformation of the left. The left offers no broad critique of the political economy of capitalism. It’s largely an identity-politics party. It focuses on reforms for blacks and women and so forth. But it doesn’t offer a contextual analysis within capitalism.”

Derber, like North, argues that the left’s myopic, siloed politics paved the way for right-wing, nativist, protofascist movements around the globe as well as the ascendancy of Trump.

“When you bring politics down to simply about helping your group get a piece of the pie, you lose that systemic analysis,” he said. “You’re fragmented. You don’t have natural connections or solidarity with other groups. You don’t see the larger systemic context. By saying I want, as a gay person, to fight in the military, in a funny way you’re legitimating the American empire. If you were living in Nazi Germany, would you say I want the right of a gay person to fight in combat with the Nazi soldiers?”

“I don’t want to say we should eliminate all identity politics,” he said. “But any identity politics has to be done within the framework of understanding the larger political economy. That’s been stripped away and erased. Even on the left, you cannot find a deep conversation about capitalism and militarized capitalism. It’s just been erased. That’s why Trump came in. He unified a kind of very powerful right-wing identity politics built around nationalism, militarism and the exceptionalism of the American empire.”

“Identity politics is to a large degree a right-wing discourse,” Derber said. “It focuses on tribalism tied in modern times to nationalism, which is always militaristic. When you break the left into these siloed identity politics, which are not contextualized, you easily get into this dogmatic fundamentalism. The identity politics of the left reproduces the worse sociopathic features of the system as a whole. It’s scary.”

“How much of the left,” he asked, “is reproducing what we are seeing in the society that we’re fighting?”

 

Chris Hedges
Columnist
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books,…

Source: The Bankruptcy of the American Left

 

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A Timeline of 1968: The Year That Shattered America;

9 Jan

                               January 15

The nation is still reckoning with the changes that came in that fateful year

Movements that had been building along the primary fault lines of the 1960s—the Vietnam War, the Cold War, civil rights, human rights, youth culture—exploded with force in 1968. The aftershocks registered both in America and abroad for decades afterward.
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At age 87, Jeannette Rankin, who as a congresswoman from Montana voted against U.S. participation in both world wars, leads some 5,000 women on a march in Washington, D.C. to protest the Vietnam War. The event highlights generational, political and class differences among the marchers but gives the growing women’s movement a motto: “Sisterhood Is Powerful.”

January 20

Game of the Century! Top-ranked UCLA, led by the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, faces second-ranked University of Houston, led by Elvin Hayes, at the Astrodome. Houston snaps UCLA’s 47-game winning streak, 71-69, in the first NCAA basketball game to be nationally televised in prime time—the granddaddy of March Madness.

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January 22

“Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” debuts as an NBC-TV series and, over six seasons, sets a standard for sketch comedy unmatched until NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” launches in 1975.

January 23

North Korea seizes the USS Pueblo, claiming the surveillance ship strayed into its waters. One U.S. crewman is killed and 82 others are imprisoned; an 11-month standoff with the United States follows.

January 30

 

January 30

 

North Vietnamese communists launch the Tet Offensive. The assault contradicts the Johnson administration’s claims that the communist forces are weak and the U.S.-backed south is winning the war.

 

 

Memphis sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker are crushed to death by a malfunctioning garbage truck. Their deaths lead to a strike that becomes a civil rights movement.

February 7

After a battle for the Vietnamese village of Ben Tre, an American officer tells Associated Press reporter Peter Arnett, “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.”

The quotation, printed in newspapers nationwide, becomes a catchphrase for opponents of the Vietnam War.

February 8

At the South Carolina State campus, police open fire on students protesting segregation at Orangeburg’s only bowling alley. Three protesters die and 27 more are wounded. Nine officers are tried and acquitted of charges related to the use of force. A protest coordinator is convicted of inciting to riot, serves seven months in prison—and is pardoned 25 years later.

February 27

March 1-8

 

 

February 27

(Matthew Twombly)

Walter Cronkite, in a CBS-TV special on his recent tour of Vietnam, says the U.S. war effort is “mired in stalemate” and amplifies public skepticism of the war.

 

February 29

The report of the Kerner Commission, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to examine the causes of race riots in American cities in previous years, declares the nation is…“moving toward two societies, one black, one white–seperate and unequal.”

March 1-8

March 1-8

Some 15,000 Latino high school students in Los Angeles walk out of classes to press their demand for a better education.

March 5

The government of Czechoslovakia abolishes censorship, underscoring the expansion of freedom during the “Prague Spring” and angering its Communist overlords in the Soviet Union.

March 6

Some 500 New York University students picket a university-sponsored recruiting event for the Dow Chemical Company, the principal manufacturer of napalm.

March 12

Nixon wins 78 percent of the vote in New Hampshire’s GOP primary. Eugene McCarthy, Minnesota’s antiwar senator, takes a shocking 42 percent of the Democratic vote.

March 13

Atlantic Richfield and Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil)  announce the discovery of an oil field beneath Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the largest oil and natural-gas discovery in North American history.

March 16

New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy enters the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying McCarthy’s showing in New Hampshire “has proven how deep are the present divisions within our party and country.” It “is now unmistakably clear that we can change these disastrous, divisive policies only by changing the men who make them.”

 

March 19

 

March 19

(Getty Images)

Hundreds of students take over the administration building at Howard University in Washington, D.C., seeking a greater voice in student discipline and the curriculum.

March 31

As war pressures mount, President Lyndon B. Johnson—who in 1964 won 61 percent of the popular vote, to Barry Goldwater’s 39—announces he is not running for re-election.

April 3

Some 1,000 men return their draft cards to government offices all over the country.

April 4

 

April 4

(Getty Images)

Martin Luther King Jr., in Memphis for the sanitation workers’ strike, is fatally shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Gunman James Earl Ray, a white supremacist, flees the country. Over the next week, riots in more than 100 cities nationwide leave 39 people dead, more than 2,600 injured and 21,000 arrested.

April 6

After a 90-minute shootout between Black Panthers and police in Oakland, California, police shoot Bobby Hutton, 17, as he tries to surrender.

April 11

Johnson signs the Fair Housing Act, banning discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. It is the last of the landmark civil rights laws he signed.

April 23

Students take over five buildings on Columbia University’s campus and briefly hold a dean hostage, calling for the university to cut its ties to military research. Before dawn on April 30 administrators call in the police, who respond with about 1,000 officers. More than 700 people are arrested, and 132 students, four faculty and 12 officers are injured.

April 29

Hair opens on Broadway and runs for more than 1,700 performances, introducing mainstream theatergoers to sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll and draft resistance.

 

May 6

 

May 6

(AP)

A riot breaks out between police and more than 5,000 university students in Paris. Within a week workers throughout France are staging sympathy strikes, threatening the economy.

May 10

The United States and North Vietnam begin peace talks in Paris.

 

May 17

 

May 17

(Getty Images )

Nine antiwar activists enter a Selective Service office in Catonsville, Maryland, remove nearly 400 files and burn them in the parking lot with homemade napalm. The example of the Catonsville Nine (later convicted of destruction of government property and sentenced to jail terms between 24 and 42 months) spurs some 300 similar raids on draft boards over the next four years.

 

The Supreme Court rules 7-1 that burning a draft card is not an act of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

 

May 27

 

June 3

 

June 3

(Matthew Twombly)

Andy Warhol is shot and critically wounded in his New York City loft by Valerie Solanas, apparently for losing a copy of a play she’d written. She pleads guilty to assault and spends three years in prison.

 

June 4

 

June 4

(Getty Images)

Robert F. Kennedy, gaining momentum in his presidential campaign, wins the California primary—and is assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Gunman Sirhan Sirhan, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian descent, is captured at the scene. Now 73, he is serving life in prison.

 

June 8

James Earl Ray is arrested in London. Extradited to the United States, he pleads guilty to murdering King but later recants, saying he was an unwitting pawn in a conspiracy. He dies in prison of liver failure in 1998, age 70.

 

June 8

(Matthew Twombly)

 

June 19

 

June 19

(Getty Images)

The efforts of the Poor People’s Campaign climaxes in the Solidarity Day Rally for Jobs, Peace, and Freedom in Washington, D.C. Fifty thousand people join the 3,000 participants living at Resurrection City on the National Mall to rally around the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign on Solidarity Day.

July 1

 

July 1

(Getty Images)

Johnson signs the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which remains the world’s primary means of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states and reducing nuclear weapons in the world.

July 18

Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce incorporate their microprocessor manufacturing firm. After rejecting the name “Moore Noyce” as too close to “more noise,” they eventually settle on Intel.

July 20

The first Special Olympics opens at Chicago’s Soldier Field, with more than a thousand athletes with intellectual disabilities competing in 200 events.

July 23

 

July 23

(The Cleveland Press Collection)

In Cleveland, the Glenville Shootout, between police and black militants, leaves three dead on each side, plus one bystander. Riots rock the city for five days. Mayor Carl Stokes, seven months into his term as the first black official to lead a major U.S. city, later writes, “That night was to haunt and color every aspect of my administration.”

 

July 25

 

July 25

(Matthew Twombly)

Pope Paul VI issues Humanae Vitae, reaffirming the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial contraception and rejecting recommendations made under his predecessor, Pope John XXIII.

 

August 5–8

The Republican National Convention formally nominates Nixon for president.

August 20

The Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia, halting the Prague Spring.

August 21

 

Pvt. First Class James Anderson Jr., who died covering an enemy grenade to protect fellow Marines during a firefight in Vietnam, becomes the first black recipient of the Medal of Honor.

 

August 21

 

August 26

“Hey Jude,” the first Beatles single issued on their Apple label, is released in the U.S. At more than seven minutes, it becomes the longest song to hit Number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

August 28

 

August 28

 

At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, police and Illinois National Guardsmen go on a rampage, clubbing and tear-gassing hundreds of antiwar demonstrators, news reporters and bystanders, with much of the violence broadcast on national TV. The next day, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, perceived as the heir of Johnson’s war policies, wins the Democratic nomination, mostly through delegates controlled by party bosses.

September 7

 

September 7

(AP)

Feminists protest the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

 

September 9

 

September 9

(Matthew Twombly)

Arthur Ashe wins the U.S. Open, becoming the first black man to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament.

 

September 16

 

September 16

(Wiki Commons)

Nixon, seeking to dispel his sourpuss image, appears on Laugh-In just long enough to proclaim, “Sock it to me” on-camera. It is a rare intersection of politics and entertainment—Humphrey declines a similar invitation.

September 24

 

CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” debuts. It is now the longest continuously running prime-time program in history.

 

September 24

 

September 30

 

September 30

(Getty Images)

Boeing rolls out the 747 Jumbo Jet, the biggest passenger plane the world has seen to date—231 feet long, wings spanning 196 feet and seats for 490.

October 2

 

October 2

 

In Mexico City, police and troops fire on a student-led protest, killing or wounding thousands. The precise number is still unknown.

October 11-22

The Apollo 7 mission, which spends more time in space than all the Soviet flights to that time combined, makes the first live TV broadcast from up there.

October 16

 

October 16

(AP)

At the Olympic Games in Mexico City, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos receive the gold and bronze medals in the 200-meter dash, then raise gloved fists during the national anthem to protest violence toward and poverty among African-Americans. The next day, the International Olympic Committee strips their medals and sends them home.

October 31

Citing progress in the Paris peace talks, Johnson orders a halt to “all air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam,” effective the next day.

November 5

 

November 5

(Matthew Twombly)

Nixon wins the presidency, beating Humphrey by just 0.7 percent of the popular vote. Segregationist candidate George Wallace carries five Southern states.

 

November 5

 

November 5

(Matthew Twombly)

Shirley Chisholm of New York becomes the first black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

November 9

 

November 9

(AP)

Yale University, after 267 years, decides to admit female undergraduates, beginning  in 1969.

November 12

The Supreme Court unanimously rules that an Arkansas law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools violates the First Amendment.

Novem​ber 20

Consolidation Coal’s No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Virginia, explodes, killing 78 miners and becoming a catalyst for new mine-safety laws.

November 26

O.J. Simpson of USC wins the Heisman Trophy. (In 1999, it is auctioned for $255,500, which goes toward the $33.5 million civil judgment against him in the killing of his ex-wife and a friend of hers.)

 

December 3

 

December 3

(Matthew Twombly)

Elvis Presley begins a comeback from years of torpor and schlock with a one-hour special on NBC-TV.

 

December 9

Douglas C. Engelbart’s 90-minute demonstration at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco includes the world’s first mouse and word processor.

 

December 9

(Matthew Twombly)

 

December 21-27

 

December 21-27

(NASA)

Apollo 8 becomes the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon and return safely to Earth. During the mission the “Earthrise” photograph is taken.

December 23

 

December 23

(Getty Images)

North Korea releases the Pueblo crew but keeps the ship. It is now an exhibit in the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang.

 

 

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Noam Chomsky on the Long History of US Meddling in Foreign Elections

26 Dec

20728676_1163894960420571_5540511333003075468_o bomber

 

Thursday, January 19, 2017By C.J. PolychroniouTruthout | Interview

 

A wide range of politicians and media outlets have described the alleged Russian interference in the last US presidential election (by way of hacking) as representing a direct threat to American democracy and even to national security itself. Of course, the irony behind these concerns about the interference of foreign nations in the domestic political affairs of the United States is that the US has blatantly interfered in the elections of many other nations, with methods that include not only financial support to preferred parties and the circulation of propaganda but also assassinations and overthrows of even democratically elected regimes. Indeed, the US has a long criminal history of meddling into the political affairs of other nations — a history that spans at least a century and, since the end of World War II, extends into all regions of the globe, including western parliamentary polities. This interview with Noam Chomsky reminds us that the United States is no stranger to election interference; in fact, it is an expert in this arena.

C. J. Polychroniou: Noam, the US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of interference in the US presidential election in order to boost Trump’s chances, and some leading Democrats have actually gone on record saying that the Kremlin’s canny operatives changed the election outcome. What’s your reaction to all this talk in Washington and among media pundits about Russian cyber and propaganda efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor?

Noam Chomsky: Much of the world must be astonished — if they are not collapsing in laughter — while watching the performances in high places and in media concerning Russian efforts to influence an American election, a familiar US government specialty as far back as we choose to trace the practice. There is, however, merit in the claim that this case is different in character: By US standards, the Russian efforts are so meager as to barely elicit notice.

Let’s talk about the long history of US meddling in foreign political affairs, which has always been morally and politically justified as the spread of American style-democracy throughout the world.

The history of US foreign policy, especially after World War II, is pretty much defined by the subversion and overthrow of foreign regimes, including parliamentary regimes, and the resort to violence to destroy popular organizations that might offer the majority of the population an opportunity to enter the political arena.

Following the Second World War, the United States was committed to restoring the traditional conservative order. To achieve this aim, it was necessary to destroy the anti-fascist resistance, often in favor of Nazi and fascist collaborators, to weaken unions and other popular organizations, and to block the threat of radical democracy and social reform, which were live options under the conditions of the time. These policies were pursued worldwide: in Asia, including South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Indochina and crucially, Japan; in Europe, including Greece, Italy, France and crucially, Germany; in Latin America, including what the CIA took to be the most severe threats at the time, “radical nationalism” in Guatemala and Bolivia.

Sometimes the task required considerable brutality. In South Korea, about 100,000 people were killed in the late 1940s by security forces installed and directed by the United States. This was before the Korean war, which Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings describe as “in essence” a phase — marked by massive outside intervention — in “a civil war fought between two domestic forces: a revolutionary nationalist movement, which had its roots in tough anti-colonial struggle, and a conservative movement tied to the status quo, especially to an unequal land system,” restored to power under the US occupation. In Greece in the same years, hundreds of thousands were killed, tortured, imprisoned or expelled in the course of a counterinsurgency operation, organized and directed by the United States, which restored traditional elites to power, including Nazi collaborators, and suppressed the peasant- and worker-based communist-led forces that had fought the Nazis. In the industrial societies, the same essential goals were realized, but by less violent means.

 

 

Yet it is true that there have been cases where the US was directly involved in organizing coups even in advanced industrial democracies, such as in Australia and Italy in the mid-1970s. Correct?

Yes, there is evidence of CIA involvement in a virtual coup that overturned the Whitlam Labor government in Australia in 1975, when it was feared that Whitlam might interfere with Washington’s military and intelligence bases in Australia. Large-scale CIA interference in Italian politics has been public knowledge since the congressional Pike Report was leaked in 1976, citing a figure of over $65 million to approved political parties and affiliates from 1948 through the early 1970s. In 1976, the Aldo Moro government fell in Italy after revelations that the CIA had spent $6 million to support anti-communist candidates. At the time, the European communist parties were moving towards independence of action with pluralistic and democratic tendencies (Eurocommunism), a development that in fact pleased neither Washington nor Moscow. For such reasons, both superpowers opposed the legalization of the Communist Party of Spain and the rising influence of the Communist Party in Italy, and both preferred center-right governments in France. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described the “major problem” in the Western alliance as “the domestic evolution in many European countries,” which might make Western communist parties more attractive to the public, nurturing moves towards independence and threatening the NATO alliance.”

US interventions in the political affairs of other nations have always been morally and politically justified as part of the faith in the doctrine of spreading American-style democracy, but the actual reason was of course the spread of capitalism and the dominance of business rule. Was faith in the spread of democracy ever tenable?

No belief concerning US foreign policy is more deeply entrenched than the one regarding the spread of American-style democracy. The thesis is commonly not even expressed, merely presupposed as the basis for reasonable discourse on the US role in the world.

The faith in this doctrine may seem surprising. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which the conventional doctrine is tenable. If by “American-style democracy,” we mean a political system with regular elections but no serious challenge to business rule, then US policymakers doubtless yearn to see it established throughout the world. The doctrine is therefore not undermined by the fact that it is consistently violated under a different interpretation of the concept of democracy: as a system in which citizens may play some meaningful part in the management of public affairs.

So, what lessons can be drawn from all this about the concept of democracy as understood by US policy planners in their effort to create a new world order?

One problem that arose as areas were liberated from fascism [after World War II] was that traditional elites had been discredited, while prestige and influence had been gained by the resistance movement, based largely on groups responsive to the working class and poor, and often committed to some version of radical democracy. The basic quandary was articulated by Churchill’s trusted adviser, South African Prime Minister Jan Christiaan Smuts, in 1943, with regard to southern Europe: “With politics let loose among those peoples,” he said, “we might have a wave of disorder and wholesale Communism.” Here the term “disorder” is understood as threat to the interests of the privileged, and “Communism,” in accordance with usual convention, refers to failure to interpret “democracy” as elite dominance, whatever the other commitments of the “Communists” may be. With politics let loose, we face a “crisis of democracy,” as privileged sectors have always understood.

In brief, at that moment in history, the United States faced the classic dilemma of Third World intervention in large parts of the industrial world as well. The US position was “politically weak” though militarily and economically strong. Tactical choices are determined by an assessment of strengths and weaknesses. The preference has, quite naturally, been for the arena of force and for measures of economic warfare and strangulation, where the US has ruled supreme.

 

 

Wasn’t the Marshall Plan a tool for consolidating capitalism and spreading business rule throughout Europe after World War II?

Very much so. For example, the extension of Marshall Plan aid in countries like France and Italy was strictly contingent on exclusion of communists — including major elements of the anti-fascist resistance and labor — from the government; “democracy,” in the usual sense. US aid was critically important in early years for suffering people in Europe and was therefore a powerful lever of control, a matter of much significance for US business interests and longer term planning. The fear in Washington was that the communist left would emerge victorious in Italy and France without massive financial assistance.

On the eve of the announcement of the Marshall Plan, Ambassador to France Jefferson Caffery warned Secretary of State Marshall of grim consequences if the communists won the elections in France: “Soviet penetration of Western Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East would be greatly facilitated” (May 12, 1947). The dominoes were ready to fall. During May, the US pressured political leaders in France and Italy to form coalition governments excluding the communists. It was made clear and explicit that aid was contingent on preventing an open political competition, in which left and labor might dominate. Through 1948, Secretary of State Marshall and others publicly emphasized that if communists were voted into power, US aid would be terminated; no small threat, given the state of Europe at the time.

In France, the postwar destitution was exploited to undermine the French labor movement, along with direct violence. Desperately needed food supplies were withheld to coerce obedience, and gangsters were organized to provide goon squads and strike breakers, a matter that is described with some pride in semi-official US labor histories, which praise the AFL [American Federation of Labor] for its achievements in helping to save Europe by splitting and weakening the labor movement (thus frustrating alleged Soviet designs) and safeguarding the flow of arms to Indochina for the French war of re-conquest, another prime goal of the US labor bureaucracy. The CIA reconstituted the mafia for these purposes, in one of its early operations. The quid pro quo was restoration of the heroin trade. The US government connection to the drug boom continued for many decades.

US policies toward Italy basically picked up where they had been broken off by World War II. The United States had supported Mussolini’s Fascism from the 1922 takeover through the 1930s. Mussolini’s wartime alliance with Hitler terminated these friendly relations, but they were reconstituted as US forces liberated southern Italy in 1943, establishing the rule of Field Marshall [Pietro] Badoglio and the royal family that had collaborated with the Fascist government. As Allied forces drove towards the north, they dispersed the anti-fascist resistance along with local governing bodies it had formed in its attempt to establish a new democratic state in the zones it had liberated from Germany. Eventually, a center-right government was established with neo-fascist participation and the left soon excluded.

Here too, the plan was for the working classes and the poor to bear the burden of reconstruction, with lowered wages and extensive firing. Aid was contingent on removing communists and left socialists from office, because they defended workers’ interests and thus posed a barrier to the intended style of recovery, in the view of the State Department. The Communist Party was collaborationist; its position “fundamentally meant the subordination of all reforms to the liberation of Italy and effectively discouraged any attempt in northern areas to introduce irreversible political changes as well as changes in the ownership of the industrial companies … disavowing and discouraging those workers’ groups that wanted to expropriate some factories,” as Gianfranco Pasquino put it. But the Party did try to defend jobs, wages and living standards for the poor and thus “constituted a political and psychological barrier to a potential European recovery program,” historian John Harper comments, reviewing the insistence of Kennan and others that communists be excluded from government though agreeing that it would be “desirable” to include representatives of what Harper calls “the democratic working class.” The recovery, it was understood, was to be at the expense of the working class and the poor.

Because of its responsiveness to the needs of these social sectors, the Communist Party was labelled “extremist” and “undemocratic” by US propaganda, which also skillfully manipulated the alleged Soviet threat. Under US pressure, the Christian Democrats abandoned wartime promises about workplace democracy and the police, sometimes under the control of ex-fascists, were encouraged to suppress labor activities. The Vatican announced that anyone who voted for the communists in the 1948 election would be denied sacraments, and backed the conservative Christian Democrats under the slogan: “O con Cristo o contro Cristo” (“Either with Christ or against Christ”). A year later, Pope Pius excommunicated all Italian communists.

A combination of violence, manipulation of aid and other threats, and a huge propaganda campaign sufficed to determine the outcome of the critical 1948 election, essentially bought by US intervention and pressures.

The CIA operations to control the Italian elections, authorized by the National Security Council in December 1947, were the first major clandestine operation of the newly formed agency. CIA operations to subvert Italian democracy continued into the 1970s at a substantial scale.

In Italy, as well as elsewhere, US labor leaders, primarily from the AFL, played an active role in splitting and weakening the labor movement, and inducing workers to accept austerity measures while employers reaped rich profits. In France, the AFL had broken dock strikes by importing Italian scab labor paid by US businesses. The State Department called on the Federation’s leadership to exercise their talents in union-busting in Italy as well, and they were happy to oblige. The business sector, formerly discredited by its association with Italian fascism, undertook a vigorous class war with renewed confidence. The end result was the subordination of the working class and the poor to the traditional rulers.

Later commentators tend to see the US subversion of democracy in France and Italy as a defense of democracy. In a highly-regarded study of the CIA and American democracy, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones describes “the CIA’s Italian venture,” along with its similar efforts in France, as “a democracy-propping operation,” though he concedes that “the selection of Italy for special attention … was by no means a matter of democratic principle alone;” our passion for democracy was reinforced by the strategic importance of the country. But it was a commitment to “democratic principle” that inspired the US government to impose the social and political regimes of its choice, using the enormous power at its command and exploiting the privation and distress of the victims of the war, who must be taught not to raise their heads if we are to have true democracy.

A more nuanced position is taken by James Miller in his monograph on US policies towards Italy. Summarizing the record, he concludes that “in retrospect, American involvement in the stabilization of Italy was a significant, if troubling, achievement. American power assured Italians the right to choose their future form of government and also was employed to ensure that they chose democracy. In defense of that democracy against real but probably overestimated foreign and domestic threats, the United States used undemocratic tactics that tended to undermine the legitimacy of the Italian state.”

The “foreign threats,” as he had already discussed, were hardly real; the Soviet Union watched from a distance as the US subverted the 1948 election and restored the traditional conservative order, keeping to its wartime agreement with Churchill that left Italy in the Western zone. The “domestic threat” was the threat of democracy.

The idea that US intervention provided Italians with freedom of choice while ensuring that they chose “democracy” (in our special sense of the term) is reminiscent of the attitude of the extreme doves towards Latin America: that its people should choose freely and independently — as long as doing so did not impact US interests adversely.

The democratic ideal, at home and abroad, is simple and straightforward: You are free to do what you want, as long as it is what we want you to do.

Note: Some of the material for this interview was adapted from excerpts from Deterring Democracy (Verso).

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

C.J. POLYCHRONIOU

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish. He is the author of Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books.

Source: Noam Chomsky on the Long History of US Meddling in Foreign Elections

 

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