|About Ron Ridenour|
Noam Chomsky is a steadfast effective critic of United States imperial foreign policy and the corporate global empire, and is probably the most influential single voice against those twin towers (1). His prodigious and prolific life as political analyst-commentator and renowned linguist has been an inspiration for untold thousands of peoples in many countries. Moreover, his dialogues with student youths have encouraged many to organize against the CGE.
Chomsky has led a useful life, one of progressive benefit for those who wish to shape a world in peace and for those billions who suffer under the heel of the CGE and its national comprador lackeys (2). And I consider him a friend, albeit I met him only once, in the mid-1980s, in Nicaragua where we were separately assisting the Sandinista government in its sovereign efforts to survive against the invading CGE (3).
I write this now after long considering its purpose and potential impact. My heart has procrastinated about making a critique of some of Chomsky’s views. We on the left are plagued with destructive criticism and lack of cooperation with one another—to the glee of our common enemy, the CGE. When Chomsky and I were activists against the US aggressive war against Southeast Asians there were two umbrella anti-war coalitions, which could rarely manage a joint action. Today, there are four such contentious umbrella coalitions in the US against the war on terrorism. We have not learned. So, I do not want to contribute to more splitting.
The idea for this interjection comes from a fan of Chomsky’s and a left-wing critic. What I seek to do is to illuminate what appears to me to be incongruities and even contradictions in some of Chomsky’s views about domestic laws, political policy and practice of the US government. There are also some discrepancies in his anti-imperialist stance in some instances—such as what he means about Cuba’s revolution as a vital political-economic system, and liberation/resistance fighters in various parts of the world—but I will limit my critique herein to some of his views about the monster internally.
I have sometimes made changes in my analytical perceptions and tactics when confronted with friendly, constructive criticism. My hope, then, is to offer such criticism, which might lead to changes in some of Chomsky’s conceptions.
The conceptions under scrutiny are: is the United States an “open society,” “more civilized”, “more democratic” than ever before and more so than much of the world; did the US give up using repression under the Woodrow Wilson government and since—including Chomsky’s thesis that McCarthyism wasn’t “that repressive”—by substituting the use of force with “manufacturing consent”.
1. Chomsky positions
In preparing for this essay, I have viewed eight documentaries, mostly You Tube productions, made of several Chomsky speeches (4), read many of his books, articles and speeches, and interviews with him, as well as articles about his views.
What follows are excerpts of his statements regarding the critical themes:
“Mid-19th century press was most free in US and UK, a lively popular press, widely read and very diverse reflecting public concerns. The way to eliminate free press was to start advertising and concentrate capital. In time dissent could be marginalized by refusing advertising…
“Advertising is part of the [now] huge public relations industry developing around World War 1. This replaces repression, the use of force to control…
“Actually, there’s a reason why the Wilsonian intellectuals [Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, 1913-21] had to turn to propaganda as a technique of manipulation and control, because force wasn’t available any longer…People were winning the franchise so you couldn’t shut them up anymore by force” (5).
“I don’t think there was that much repression in the 1950s. I think it was internalized [within individuals, presumably]. The actual repression associated with McCarthyism was not very much. The people who didn’t want to submit to it just laughed at it.”
“You could do what you wanted; nothing happened to you. There was no repression. [Mc Carthyism] was powerful because people accepted it. In the 1960s, they tried it again. People laughed at them and it collapsed” (g).
“The US is a very open society…” “The country is more civilized because of popular movements”… “The country is a lot more civilized—constant improvement since the Vietnam War…”(a) (b) (g).
“The government has no influence over the media” (b).
“We have an enormous amount of freedom…more opportunities than most people in the world; there’s no problem in carrying out activities” [presumably meaning protests, dissent] (g).
Finally I quote from an interview conducted in Havana, his only trip to Cuba (October 27-31, 2003), and printed in Counterpunch, November 3, 2003. He told Bernie Dwyer that in the United States there is “virtually no repression; its an unusually free country by comparative standards.”
2. Chomsky discrepancies
I now cite Chomsky’s statements to show inconsistencies in his own position that the US is a “very open society”, “more civilized, more democratic than ever before…” Sometimes he contradicts this position in the same speech.
“Manufacturing consent was [is] substituted to control opinion and attitude, both on the job and on off-time…They made [make] people into passive obedient consumers…trapping them, isolating them from one another….turning people into creatures who max out their five credit cards and not pay attention to what’s going on in the world ” (g)
“The government wants to silence critics…That’s the job of intellectuals…The objectors are put in jail…such as Eugene Debs for raising mild protest to World War 1…Others were repressed because they didn’t go along…Critics are not allowed to exist. They have to join the parade…We’ve gone beyond putting them in jail in the west; vilification, lies are used instead…You can not report what protestors are saying (a).”
“The public can’t react when they don’t know…” “National Security Strategy since September 2002 [launched] a huge propaganda campaign reflected in the media. Most of the public saw what the US government wanted, that Hussein and Iraq was a threat to the US and the world [thus creating] misperceptions” (e).
“In the US, you don’t murder [dissidents, drug dealers], you put them in jail”. The government uses “internal counter-intelligence campaigns against blacks and the poor” (e).
“Democracy, human rights, human beings are “endangered species” thanks to the US and its handling of 11/9”…”The US is one of the worst terrorist states in the world” (b).
“The US protects terrorists” inside the US such as Cuban exile terrorists in many organizations, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles among many (e).
“Democracy requires free access to information and opinion. By manufacturing consent, the public is kept on course for the elite…” About 80% of the population “follows orders”, and do “not think.” “The media is owned by large corporations—its purpose is to dull people’s brains…keep people from being aware and concerned about what the corporations and governments are doing.” The role of “sports is the same” to fabricate “irrational attitudes of submission to authority” (f).
In order to go into war, the United States government “uses the media to prepare for it”. “Reagan scared people by having them believe the Sandinistas would march into Texas, that Khadafi would invade, that Hussein would invade” (g).
In Chomsky’s now famous book, thanks to Hugo Chavez, “Hegemony or Survival”, and in his most recent “Failed States”, I find other discrepancies regarding the “open society”. Part of his analysis for the success of US’s efforts to dominate the world are based upon its governments and its corporate media ally’s success in manufacturing “intentional ignorance”, creating a sense of “hopelessness” especially among the masses of US Americans.
In the alternative newspaper “Georgia Straight” article (October 5, 2006) writer Brian Lynch quoted Chomsky for contending that, “This is a very frightened country…Actually, it’s been a frightened country all through its history, where it’s been very easy to mobilize people in fear. That’s true of many countries, but particularly true here.”
A significant difference between Bush 11 regime and previous ones is a “new strain”. It has succeeded in producing “a feeling of hopelessness. I mean, we have every possible opportunity, and an incomparable legacy of freedom, of privilege, of opportunity, and there’s numbers that I’ve never seen involved, engaged and concerned. But they feel they can’t do anything. They feel hopeless.”
Chomsky’s explanation for this obvious contradiction is “the deliberate erosion of key institutional and organization structures, such as unions, in which people used to get together and form opinions and prepare actions.” He adds to that the rising tide of materialism, the “fabrication of consumers”.
Now, if the government and its boss, the CGE, is doing all this, if the media is not free and manipulates—whether encouraged or manipulated to do so by the government and/or because it is in the financial interests of capitalist media corporations—then how can the society be “open” and “democratic”?
If people are “trapped”, “dulled, passive”, if dissidents are jailed then they are not free and they are not able to benefit from an “open, democratic, civilized society”.
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966) defines repress(ion) thusly:
(1) “To keep under control, check, or suppress desires, feelings, actions, tears, etc; (3) To keep down or quell (sedition, disorder, etc.); synonyms: bridle, control, subdue, quash, crush.”
It seems obvious to me that that is exactly what Chomsky also means the US government and its fourth estate is all about. On the one hand the society is open, on the other it subdues; on the one hand the government does not intervene in media affairs, on the other hand it does. I am confused.
3. The facts of the repressive governments and society?
The second United States government administration established the first alien & sedition acts in 1798, in order to incarcerate President John Adams democratic enemies, the then Republican Party, including many newspaper editors who criticized his policies. The Republican Party became the Democratic Party and under its President Woodrow Wilson used these laws to incarcerate his left-wing critics.
Worried by the socialist revolution in Russia, Wilson appointed Mitchell Palmer as Attorney General with instructions to stop strikes and prevent unions and the left-wing from growing. Palmer recruited J. Edgar Hoover as his special assistant to launch the campaign. In one day in 1919 four thousand leftists were rounded up across the country. Within a short time, 10,000 were arrested during these Palmer Raids. Most of them were union members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). They could be “detained” indefinitely without due process as required under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Many told of being tortured. As many as 500 legal aliens were deported, among them Emma Goldman.
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover
Hoover used the renewed subversion laws (Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918) to register 150,000 American citizens on a special left-wing index. These persons were placed under surveillance and would be rounded up whenever it seemed appropriate. For Hoover’s diligent efforts to save democracy he became the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in 1924, and remained the head boss of “law and order” until his death in 1972.
This “Red Scare” occurred mid in the Wilsonian period, which is when Chomsky claims repression, the use of force to control citizens, was discarded—“no longer available”—and replaced with “manufacturing consent”.
In the next decade, the great depression caused the capitalist class and its politicians to worry that radical ideas, even revolutionary ones, might take hold of the working class and encourage them to overthrow their profit-making system and replace it with a more equalitarian one.
Unionists and would-be unionists were systematically fired, blacklisted, beaten and jailed by cops and some were murdered. There are many records of this reality, including novels and films. Perhaps the most famous is John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath”.
Manufacturing consent was obviously not the only tool that the ruling class was using to quell the population.
During the Second World War, the working class and the left-wing were engaged in fighting fascism and not bourgeois democracy, and there were few protests when 110,000 Japanese Americans were rounded up and incarcerated in concentration camps. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, considered one of few “progressive” presidents in US history, issued Executive Order No. 9066 for that purpose. This also led to the loss of these citizens’ homes, jobs and businesses.
Yet even before the US entered the war, Congress passed the Alien Registration Act or Smith Act, in 1940, making it a crime to “advocate, abet, advise or teach” (that means speech) “the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States”.
The suppressive law was first used against Trotskyists in Minnesota. Even before the US was at war, on June 27, 1941, members of the Socialist Workers Party, active in the Teamsters union, and other union activists were arrested for advocating strikes, which was interpreted as plotting to overthrow the US government. Twenty-three were convicted and sentenced to from 12 to 16 months in prison.
The Communist Party supported the bourgeois government and its anti-democratic law. Apparently, the SWP was a greater enemy. Maybe they thought their class collaboration would protect them against the Smith Act. But, in 1949, eleven leaders of the Communist Party were charged under the Smith Act. The accusation was that "they conspired . . . to organize as the Communist Party and willfully to advocate and teach the principles of Marxism-Leninism," which was equated with meaning "overthrowing and destroying the government of the United States by force and violence". They were also accused of conspiring to "publish and circulate . . . books, articles, magazines, and newspapers advocating the principles of Marxism-Leninism." Books by Marx and Engels, Lenin' and Stalin were introduced as evidence against them.
Communists were convicted and sentenced to several years in prison. Many served five years plus being fined up to $10,000. Hundreds of socialists and communists were prosecuted under this law until 1957 when the Supreme Court overturned some convictions on the basis of freedom of speech. Nevertheless, the law is still on the books as are many others, which do prohibit advocacy and or acts to establish a socialist economy and government.
Immediately following WW11, the United States started the Cold War. In 1950, Congress passed the Internal Security Act (ISA, also known as the McCarran Act), which required communists (widely defined) to register with the Attorney General, who established the Subversive Activities Control Board to investigate “un-American” activities. Non-citizen members of groups so deemed by SACB could not become citizens. If one did not register, one could be jailed for “disloyalty” as some were.
Although Truman had decreed the “Loyalty Order”, in 1947,
he vetoed the ISA for being “the greatest danger to freedom of
speech, press, and assembly since the Alien & Sedition laws of 1798”.
Nevertheless, Congress overrode his veto. The Senate then created the
Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), which was used to investigate
the enforcement of the ISA. It was the Senate’s counter-part to
the more infamous and widely used House Committee on Un-American Activities
established in 1938 and abolished in 1975.
Senator Joe McCarthy
The term McCarthyism became the catch-all term for anti-communism hysteria and for anti-democratic methods used to suppress opinions and ideologies in opposition to capitalism and its political rule known as parliamentary democracy or bourgeois democracy. “McCarthyism” already began with the use of the Smith Act in 1940. It was also that year that HUAC tried to intimidate Hollywood star Humphrey Bogart and writer John Howard Lawson by subpoenaing them for allegedly having communist views.
HUAC first looked into Nazi subversion but soon became a permanent committee (1945) against leftists. In 1947, it began the witch hunt into Hollywood by subpoenaing ten writers and directors. Over the next few years, it interrogated hundreds of Hollywood workers. The studios boycotted 300 Hollywood stars, writers and directors. Some were unable to find work; a few committed suicide. After McCarthyism lost its intimidating powers, only about ten percent of those Hollywood workers boycotted succeeded in reestablishing careers.
One of McCarthyism’s targets was writer Lillian Hellman. She wrote in “Scoundrel Times”, 1976:
“Lives were being ruined and few hands were raised in help.”
McCarthy also attacked homosexuals despite the fact that his chief aide, Roy Cohn, was a homosexual and a Jew. He was also a prosecutor of Ethel Rosenberg, which is portrayed in the film “Citizen Cohn”. Anti-communism/McCarthyism condemned strong women, feminists with a political cause. Red purges punished deviant behavior, reinforcing the need for “patriarchal emblems of masculinity” in the “fight against communism” (6).
McCarthyism murdered the Rosenbergs. It also punished strong union organizers and leaders, such as Harry Bridges and the west coast-based International Longshoremen & Warehouse Union, and other militant unions, which the AFL or CIO expelled from their coalitions of unions.
Progressive-minded educators were also a target. Hundreds of professors, especially in the California bay area, were fired. At least one subpoenaed witness from Stanford University, William K. Sherwood, killed himself, in 1957, rather than testify before HUAC.
McCarthyism also had a “long-lasting influence on domestic social policies and the development of the social work profession…It led organized social work to retreat from the progressive and reformist orientation it adopted during the New Deal and World War5 11,” said Sigmund Freud’s grand-daughter Sophie Freud (6).
I can not find definitive statistics but the “Second Red Scare” caused the loss of livelihood of thousands and the jailing of hundreds of persons cited for contempt or perjury or for advocating other forms of economy and government than considered legitimate by capitalist politicians. McCarthyism also resulted in the deportation of several foreign-born Communists, and had the affect of reducing the Communist Party USA’s membership from 50,000 at the end of the war to around 20,000 by the mid-50s.
Running parallel to McCarthyism was federal government assistance to its capitalist class by making it difficult to organize work places and struggle for collective bargaining and contracts. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 was (is) a major tool for employers, allowing them to express anti-union views, even allowing then to require workers to attend anti-union meetings without equal time for pro-union workers. If employers violate some aspect of that law or the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which governs labor relations for most of the private sector, there are no punitive damages.
According to union lawyer Andrew Storm, these laws have aided the capitalist class in reducing the numbers of workers organized in 1947 from 40% to under 10%. The United States has fewer organized workers than any other first world country (7).
In the 1960s, McCarthyism was tried again. Chomsky said it disappeared under laughter. Ridicule was an effective tool but McCarthyism was merely substituted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program (1956) used extensively throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
The FBI’s counter-intelligence program “became the extra-constitutional vehicle by which social activist organizations such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Black Panthers, Lesbian/Gay Liberation Movement and the broad organized opposition to the Viet Nam War were targeted for espionage, infiltration and disruption by the U.S. government” (8).
I use myself as a concrete example of how repression was used by the federal government and the Los Angeles Police Department red squad, in conjunction with capitalist enterprises.
My first run-in with government interference in my economic life was in the summer of 1962 when I took a temporary job as a mail clerk at the Aerospace Industry, in El Segundo, California. I had to fill out a “security questionnaire”, which included six loyalty questions and a list of 47 organizations considered subversive. Association with any one would prevent my employment. I wrote no to their questions and stated I was not a member of anything “subversive”. I was hired on July 25 pending final clearance. On August 31, I was summarily fired. In 1977, when I received about 1,000 pages of various national security agencies dossiers on me, I would learn for the first time why I had been fired. An internal FBI report stated that I had “misrepresented” myself on the questionnaire. It did not state specifically what I had “misrepresented”.
One could say that being fired from a job is not repression and is something that happens to millions of people. Well taken, albeit we must have an income to live. The FBI placed me on its “rabble rouser” and “agitator” lists, and a February 15, 1963 FBI report shows that I was placed on its Security Index priority one. It was later revealed that Nixon was prepared to round up thousands of us radical-revolutionaries and even some academic and media critics and incarcerate us in concentration camps a lá Japanese-Americans. But the Watergate caper and scandal got to him before employing that repression.
When I returned from being jailed for a week in Costa Rica, because I had participated in a demonstration protesting raises in electric rates by the US-UK electric company, my passport was confiscated by federal agents. I was unable to travel for five years until 1968.
The FBI later got me fired from my employment as an editor of the California daily newspaper, the Riverside Press-Enterprise. I had just been praised and promoted by the publisher. However, when two FBI agents visited him to let him know that I was a “subversive”, that I supported the Black Panther Party and that I was also trying to organize the newspaper, I was summarily fired. I was then banned from employment by the newspaper employers association.
I was one of tens of thousands beaten and jailed for anti-Vietnam war and civil rights activities. Sometimes federal agents assisted local police; sometimes National Guards were used. At least seven students were murdered and 21 wounded by guards and police at Ohio and Mississippi state colleges and at People’s Park of Berkeley.
Like thousands more, I was subject to false imprisonment. The first time was in Mississippi during the 1964 “long hot summer” organizational drive to force the state to allow black people the simple right to vote. I was swept up from my host’s lawn by local police and beaten in the local jail. This was the same time that other Mississippi policemen-KKK members were murdering three of our co-workers: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
Throughout the 1950s-60s civil rights movement, police and their civilian racist allies beat, jailed and murdered untold numbers of black people and some whites. The FBI often helped them especially under its director J. Edgar Hoover. I recount one horrible example.
I take from an Untied Press International dispatch about the September 15, 1963 Birmingham, Alabama murders of four girls: Denise McNair (11 years old); Carol Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins (all 14).
“A bomb hurled from a passing car blasted a crowded Negro church, killing four girls in their Sunday school classes and triggering outbreaks of violence that left two more dead in the streets.”
Four hundred persons, including 80 children, were in church when the bomb exploded. This was the fourth racist-motivated bombing in four weeks in Birmingham and the 21st in eight years. Several members of the KKK, including a key leader, Robert Chambliss, were picked up and interrogated by police and FBI agents but were let free. One of the KKK members in the area associated with racist attacks was an FBI informer, Gary Rowe. Hoover once described Rowe as “the best undercover agent we’ve ever seen”.
Rowe wrote an autobiography in which he reported that he was approached, in 1960, to be an informer in the Klan. He agreed. In 1963, he killed an unidentified black man in Birmingham. His handlers told him to be quiet about it. Rowe also transported guns to be used to prevent integration in schools. His KKK superior was Robert Chambliss. FBI records, and the 1980 Justice Department investigation, reveal that the FBI knew about and covered up Rowe’s criminal actions and fatal attacks upon black people. Hoover specifically hid evidence about the KKK execution of these children. He thought it more important to hide the identity of his informer.
Only after Hoover died could Alabama authorities acquire FBI records that allowed them to bring Chambliss to court for those murders, and this was a unique event. Most murders of black people don’t even get investigated and almost never are there any convictions or substantial punishments for such racist crimes. From 1882 to 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of ending school segregation, the Brown decision to which Hoover objected, 4,500 murders by lynching alone were registered by authorities. Many more went unregistered. During Hoover’s tenure as the nation’s number one law enforcement agency director over 2,000 lynching took place. Almost no charges or convictions were forthcoming.
But such racist crimes are not limited to the south or to local police and their racist allies. When the black power movement grew out of the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, Hoover declared war on the Black Panther Party (BPP) and made it “enemy number one”. The BPP, and other blacks asserting the right to self defense, the right to bear arms, which tens of millions of white men demand and maintain, were to be eliminated.
I was a supporter of the BPP and kept abreast of their program and repression against them. Much of their activities were social, educational and food programs in ghettoes. This threat to the Establishment was such that police and FBI killed many and helped create an atmosphere of distrust so that internecine warfare occurred. During a two-year period (1969-71), more than 30 Panthers were killed by police or due to internal warfare.
The FBI and the CIA use the terms: “bad-jacketing” or “snitch-jacketing” when referring to their practice of creating suspicion by spreading disinformation and manufacturing evidence that their enemies are the perpetrators of terror and other crimes that the CIA-FBI themselves perform. The CIA (Operation Chaos) and FBI (COINTELPRO) did precisely that against the Black Panther Party, the Student National Coordinating Committee, the Martin Luther King-led Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the American Indian Movement and other ethnic liberationists. They also performed such political crimes against anti-Vietnam war dissidents and some unions, such as the United Farmworkers.
I was subject to “snitch-jacketing” when I worked for the LA Free Press. Some government agency, perhaps the local police red squad, circulated information sent from “a friend” that I was a military agent infiltrated in the left. They sent a falsified income tax report I supposedly had filled out, indicating that I had received money from military intelligence, to a competitive alternative newspaper and to anti-war groups. Fortunately, I was able to convince the newspaper that the evidence was false and prevented an article “exposing” me from being published.
I call this kind of activity repression.
The Los Angeles Police Department had several departments devoted to repressing different political groups: the traditional Communist left, the new left (mainly white), civil rights and black power groups, brown berets and other Chicano groups. Many of us were set up for imprisonment, others were murdered. In the period 1966-70, there were 55 known killings of blacks by police, mainly in the Watts ghetto, “and not one police officer has been prosecuted for them,” said Marge Buckley, Peace and Freedom Party candidate for Attorney General, in a L.A. Free Press interview, October 30, 1970.
The same can be said for many major cities throughout the US. When police murder blacks nothing happens, and the FBI backs this up. That is federal complicity with local authority repression. Many black people killed are petty criminals, some are innocent by-standers and others are politically active people. Political activists not killed are often falsely imprisoned, falsely convicted because of planted evidence, racist prosecutions and racist jurors and judges.
Sometimes political police arrest white activists on false charges as well and fabricate evidence for convictions. Lying against innocent defendants is endemic to the job of “law enforcement”. I offer a couple personal examples.
When picketing a sweat-shop employer in Los Angeles, Chic Lingerie Company, which was hiring scabs to replace workers trying to organize a union, I was jumped by four plain-clothed, unidentified police as I explained, in Spanish, to Mexicans just brought across the border to become scabs, that a strike was on. That use of free speech cost me six months in jail.
In 1972, I was arrested while photographing two plain-clothes policemen—Joe
Robinson and Mike Moran, who had pretended to be demonstrators and were
then beating paraplegic Ron Kovic with blackjacks as he sat in his wheelchair
protesting Richard Nixon’s reelection in Los Angeles (9). No matter
that I was a reporter for the weekly “Los Angeles Free Press”
covering the demonstration in front of a Nixon campaign office.
A Los Angeles undercover cop, Stanley Frugard, alias Bob Burns, was in the crowd and gave the order for my arrest. My film was also confiscated. I was convicted of the usual false charge—interfering with an arrest—one of the charges against me in the Chic Lingerie protest.
“They beat me because I represented the undeniable truth of the war. I represented war, the crimes of this war. They couldn’t understand somebody losing three-fourths of his body and still coming out so outspoken against the war. It’s absurd that you [me] should get one year in jail for taking pictures of me being beaten,” Ron Kovic said.
My sentence was overturned on appeal. Testimony by Frugard’s estranged wife was helpful.
So repression is still a major policy and practice. Manufacturing consent is a major tool of the capitalist class but the government does intervene to assist its capitalist allies in the media empire, contrary to what Chomsky says. I give one personal example.
During the democratically elected Salvador Allende’s term in government, Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart wrote the book, “How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic”.
They showed how Disneyworld was used ideologically against social democracy and for US imperialist interests. A comic book in “their arsenal of psychological warfare” was Disneylandia, December 1971. Its publication coincided with “the first mass rallies of native fascism, the so-called `march of the empty pots and pans´”. The point was to “conquer the minds”, in the words of General Pinochet. So, the affable Donald Duck advocated the need to “restore the king”.
After the US-backed fascist coup succeeded, the book was translated into English and 4000 copies were sent to New York for distribution. But the US government intervened against the First Amendment rights of free speech and press on the side of private enterprise. As Dorfman later wrote:
“The English edition of this book was banned by the US Customs. Almost 4000 copies of the book were seized by the US government (1976)…It can be assumed [the government acted] in the interests of the Walt Disney Corporation, which did not approve of this academic critique of its comic book characters.”
At that time, I was an editor of the weekly “Los Angeles Vanguard”. We obtained a smuggled copy of the subversive book and printed a four-page pullout of some chapters. Our May 21-28, 1976 front-page headline read:
“How to Read Donald Duck: The book denounced by Disney, Banned by Customs and Printed Exclusively in the Vanguard”.
We actually received a threatening letter from the United States Customs but no action was taken against this small weekly. Had we been taken to court, the costs of defense in this “open society” would probably have caused our bankruptcy.
I end this section on repression by citing from a book about the crimes of U.S. intelligence agencies. One of the four authors of “The Lawless State” is Morton Halperin, a former national security aide to Henry Kissinger (10).
“By 1952, the FBI had checked over 6.6 million citizens for possible `disloyalty´ to determine whether they should retain their government position or were fit to serve…Individuals were tried [in disloyalty hearings] without being able to confront their accusers,” in violation of the bill of rights.
The authors show that the FBI’s authority to monitor “subversive activities” was not curtailed following Joseph Mc Carthy’s censure in 1954.
“The FBI COINTELPRO…transformed McCarthyism into an underground operation. Under COINTELPRO, however, the FBI had even more leeway to disrupt the political activity of citizens and organizations for it could conduct its war in secret, unhindered by the law.”
The Security Index list “had top priority in case of national crisis” with 11,982 names cited for “preventive detention”. I was one of those.
“FBI agents conducted anonymous letter operations to have `subversive´ fired from their jobs.”
“The bureau planted so-called `snitch jackets´…to make it appear that they were police informers…The FBI invaded the privacy of political associations to provoke paranoia inside groups…While this is the stock-in-trade of foreign intelligence agencies, the FBI was plying it against American citizens.”
“President Nixon authorized the Huston Plan in 1970, a joint FBI, CIA, NSA and military program to collect intelligence on the antiwar and black protest movements by using informers, illegal burglaries, and mail opening…Hundreds of agents used every available technique…Each year, the [CIA] opened over 10,000 letters. Most of the information was sent to the FBI. The FBI and the CIA opened private correspondence without warrants or probable cause, and in violation of Untied States statutes.”
The authors say that many of the records of their crimes conducted have been destroyed but it is known that “the FBI conducted at least 239 `black-bag jobs´ aimed at `fifteen domestic groups´ and over ninety burglaries against the Socialist Workers party” in a relatively short period of time.
“Agents even `roughed up´ radical antiwar activists to frighten them or to disrupt protest rallies.”
“The CIA became involved in disrupting demonstrations in Washington D.C. The military, also sharing information with the bureau, conducted photographic surveillance of demonstrators to let them know they were being watched…America was on the verge of acquiring a full-scale secret police with the FBI at its center.”
Even after the intense years of protest and congressional hearings into national security agency “discrepancies”, the “FBI still conducts surveillance of Americans engaged in lawful political activity”
Anti-communism/McCarthyism laid the ideological-propaganda basis for the aggressive imperial foreign policy during the Reagan years—the dark 1980s-90s. Reagan is considered the United States’ most popular president because he “defeated communism”. The fall of state socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe was hailed not only by the capitalist class and its governments but by the vast majority of citizens in the “First World”. This reality ushered in the Bush years with its open bravado for terror wars to gain energy resources and dominate the entire world.
2000+ Patriot Act
Once the “neo-cons” got their wish—a catastrophe as great as Pearl Harbor—their imperial program (Project for a New American Century) was guaranteed. The first step was the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF, in September 2001). The attack on Afghanistan was on. A key objective was to use its territory for an oil pipeline, under contract with the Texas oil firm Unocal. This will allow cheaper transport of oil from Turkmenistan into Pakistan, a key US military dictatorship ally. There is enough oil to fulfill US needs for 30 years. The Taliban regime, which the US had earlier installed, had not accepted Unocal’s conditions for the pipeline.
With their war underway, the neo-cons rammed the PA through a complacent congress. Most lawmakers admittedly didn’t even read it. With the nation gripped in fear, Bush declared himself Protector Against Terrorism (PAT) and his PA gave him enabling characteristics never before held by presidents.
That is the distinction between this law and the many laws already on the books against terror and subversion.
“Put simply, the criminal statutes, investigative rules and court procedures which safeguarded our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in previous anti-terror legislation were stripped away by the Patriot Act. They have been replaced by a system of Executive Branch fiat, now institutionalized in the department of Homeland Security” (8).
I’m certain that Chomsky and most readers of this essay realize how the Patriotic Act does limit US Americans civil liberties, even the abolition by presidential fiat of basic constitutional rights granted upon the very creation of the United States of America, and how it is used to jail alien residents and foreign visitors without the minimal of due process. What is not evident to me is why Chomsky does not view the post-9/11 attacks upon basic democratic rights as use of force, as repression.
Under the umber of “uniting and strengthening America by providing appropriate tools required to obstruct terrorism”, the United States created a torture chamber on the illegally occupied territory of Cuba at Guantánamo. It imprisons in secret locations within the US, or anywhere in the world, thousands of non-US citizens suspected of some terrorist connection thus abrogating the basic liberty of habeas corpus, Article four of the US constitution.
The principle of habeas corpus, “you should have the body”, which allows a prisoner the right to be brought before a judge and to make a “writ” requiring such, no longer exists for non-citizens. They can be held in total darkness and tortured in other ways for the rest of their lives.
With the fear of terrorism, the US has installed 30 million surveillance cameras inside the US. www.look-themovie.com concludes that the average person in the US is watched 200 times a day.
Co-author of “The Case for Impeachment”, Dave Lindorff, recently wrote that the multitude of government spying agencies have come up with lists of 325,000 “suspected terrorists” (11). He reports that some of the “suspects” are actually US citizens and are held without any rights of counsel and held without any visitations rights.
Indefinite detention in new concentration camps is once again being planned. Vice-President Richard Cheney’s favorite CGE corporation, Halliburton was granted $385 million to build secret concentration camps inside the US, which can hold 400,000 people.
Lindorff also wrote that a Pentagon document, dated June 1, 2007, declares that there is an “insurgency” developing within the US. This judgment leads the Pentagon to lay out “a whole martial law counterinsurgency campaign against legal dissent”. Therewith, Lindorff concludes, “you have all the ingredients for a military takeover of the United States”.
The Patriotic Act provision known as “National Security Letters” allows the search of telephones, emails, access to business records, including library and financial records. And the persons so subject are forced, under pain of incarceration, not to reveal that they are subject to such. Recently, federal courts have determined that the NSL is unconstitutional. But that doesn’t stop this anti-terror terrorist government.
The Justice Department’s own Inspector General placed the number of NSL’s issued between 2003 and 2005 at 143,000 (12).
Definitions of terrorism and support for it are so broad that US citizens can be imprisoned for ten years for doing solidarity work with alleged terrorists. Liberation organizations—such as FARC in Colombia, PFLP in Palestine, or wherever in the world where people take up arms against US-backed brutal governments—are no longer considered legitimate but terrorists. This means that support for the African National Congress would have led to imprisonment today. Of course, Israel is not considered a terrorist state and thus support for it is quite admirable.
At least 1,000 US citizens have been placed on a “no-fly” list. Several anti-war activists have been “flagged” and refused the right to travel outside the US. Even the last of the Kennedy brothers, Senator Ted Kennedy, was flagged five times in March 2004. It took this powerful member of congress and his staff three weeks to convince “Homeland Security” that he should be able to fly without being stopped, frisked and interrogated (13).
Under the Military Commission Act of 2006, congress extended most of the above mentioned provisions. A few were altered. But regardless of some positive court cases rejecting parts of the laws, the essence of these police state laws and enforcement practices continue, just as Bush defied the Supreme Court decision that prisoners at Guantánamo should have rights of due process.
Pete Seegar has said that the current repression is far worse than under McCarthyism, and has had the impact of preventing protests against the war in Afghanistan. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney is worried that the laws suppress unionist rights, curb collective bargaining and are a hindrance to striking. Bush has prevented some strikes using the PA.
Tom Engelhardt captured the essence of how repressive the Patriotic Act is in his article, “The Bush Legacy (Take One”). Here are excerpts (14):
“This is what `homeland security´ means in the United States today. It means putting your country in full lockdown mode. It means the snarl at the border, the nasty comment in the waiting room, the dirty cell, the handcuffs, even the chains. It means being humiliated. It means a thorough lack of modulation or moderation.”
“A new Pentagon term came into use in the Bush era. With the invasion of Iraq, reporters were said to be `embedded´ in U.S. military units. That term – so close in sound to be `in bed with´ – should have wider uses. You could, for instance, say that Americans have, since September 2001, been `embedded´, largely willingly, in a new lockdown universe defined by a general acceptance of widespread acts of torture and abuse, as well as of the right to kidnap (known as "extraordinary rendition"), and the creation and expansion of an offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice, all based on the principle that a human being is guilty unless proven (sometimes even if proven) innocent. What might originally have seemed like emergency measures in a moment of crisis is now an institutionalized way of life. Whether we like it or not, these methods increasingly define what it means to be an American.”
“And yet, don't for a second think that nothing has changed. Part of the Bush legacy lies in a new ethos in this country. In my childhood in the 1950s, for example, we knew just who the torturers were. We saw them in the movies. They were the sadistic Japanese in their prison camps, the Gestapo in their prisons, and the Soviet Secret police, the KGB, in their gulags (even if that name hadn't yet entered our world). As the President now says at every opportunity, and as we then knew, Americans did not torture.
“Today, and it's a measure of our changing American world, a child turning on the TV serial `24´ or heading for the nearest hot, new action flick at the local multiplex knows that Americans do torture and that torture, once the cultural province of our most evil enemies, is now a practice that is 100% all-American and perfectly justifiable (normally by the ticking-bomb scenario). And few even blink. In lockdown America, it computes. The snarl at the border fits well enough with what our Vice President has termed a `no-brainer´, a `dunk in the water´ in the torture chamber. There is no deniability left in the movies – and little enough of it in real life” (14).
Chomsky is right in saying that all this has not stopped protests. I contend, however, that that does not mean that real repression is not used. It may well be that the protests against the governments’ wars, against its very repression are not as strong and all-encompassing as otherwise had these laws and practices not been adopted. For instance, there is hardly a voice lifted, even within the left and anti-war groups, in support of liberation fighters, especially not the resistance movement fighting for their sovereign rights in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such expression could easily lead one into prison, at least repercussions at work and socially. And lockdown, dulled Americans are not inclined to protest so our numbers and importance is less meaningful than without PAT and PA.
Chomsky wrote in his book “9/11” that such “terrorist atrocities are a gift to the harshest and most repressive elements on all sides…(and will) accelerate the agenda of militarization, regimentation, reversal of social democratic programs, transfer of wealth to narrow sectors, and undermining democracy in any meaningful form.”
So, why does he not recognize that the state still uses repression, which he says is “no longer available since Wilsonian times”?
On page 35, he seems to provide an answer:
“I do not think it will lead to a long-term restriction of rights internally in any serious sense.”
I contend that the restrictions I cite—and many more not listed here—show the contrary.
Even the state legislature of Vermont seems to agree with me in its declaration that the Patriotic Act is “the greatest challenge to civil liberties since the passage of the Alien & Sedition Acts” of 1798.
Patriotic Act and war is good for business
What can be better for big business than waging wars? Profits rise for the weapons and aircraft industry, for the metal industry, for the reconstruction-of-war ruins industry. And there is the special reward for the capitalist class of dividing the working class. Several millions of workers in those industries are singled out for good wages for producing the means to murder their ideological brethren. These workers identify with imperialism. They see no material interest in acting in solidarity with oppressed and militarily invaded workers.
There are many other economic and ideological interests achieved from this “war on terror”, which I call the “Permanent War Age”.
In the first months following the terror war, the US profit rate growth
was the world’s greatest. It has since dropped but war is still
profitable for sectors of the capitalist class. Yankee bases and soldiers
are now stationed around Russia in the previous USSR. The US got removed
the irritating, independent general director from the UN/OPCW position.
José Bustani had proposed checking all powers for chemical weapons.
The US has the world’s largest amount. It also got removed Mary
Robinson as UN high commissioner for Human Rights. She criticized the
violation of international law regarding US prisoners at Guantánamo
base and criticized Israel for racism.
The list of advantages is long. Nothing on this list indicates to me that the United States is “more civilized”, “more democratic” than before. I think that this contention can mislead many of his admirers and can curb their development as revolutionary thinkers and actors.
The dictionary states that “civilize” means: to “enlighten”, to “refine”; “the civilized world must fight ignorance”.
It is not civilized that so many US Americans are dulled and do not think. It is not civilized to torture people and do so quite openly, even proudly, for many US Americans today. It is not a civilized society that incarcerates people in greater numbers proportionately than any other country in the world, which executes more prisoners than any other country in the world—many of them proven to be innocent post-mortem? It is not a civilized society that incarcerates people for many years for having smoked a marijuana cigarette? It is not a civilized society when prison guards and police torture people without rebuke, and not infrequently kill them even though their own lives are not threatened.
How can Chomsky call the United States the greatest terror state in the world on the one hand, and then deem it one of the most “civilized”? Does he mean it is uncivilized outside its borders but civilized inside its borders? Is it not both? One can not murder people and starve people to death on a systematic daily basis and be “civilized”.
My calculations--based upon reading US government documents and many books and websites (one example iswww.krysstal.com/democracy )--are that the US has intervened with barrels of money, with damaging sanctions, with bombs and other conventional weapons, and or with chemical, biological or radioactive weaponry, with military troops and killer mercenaries, or directly invaded 66 countries a total of 159 times since 1947.
That includes arranging 35 coups in 28 lands. Six of those countries’ governments were toppled two or three times since WW11: Greece in 1949, 1967; Guatemala in 1954, 1963; South Vietnam in 1955, 1963; Laos in 1958, 1959, 1960; South Korea in 1960, 1979; Bolivia in 1964, 1970. It failed in Venezuela in 2002.
Direct military invasions have been justified “in the interests of national security”, that is to say for “civilization and democracy”, against 15 countries since WW11: Korea 1950-53; Cuba 1961; Vietnam from 1962 to 1975; Dominican Republic 1965; Laos between 1965 and 1972; Cambodia 1969-73; Lebanon 1982-3; Nicaragua 1982-88; Panama 1989; Iraq 1991, followed by severe bombings and sanctions until the 2003 reinvasion; Somalia in 1992 and 2007; Sudan 1998; Afghanistan 2001.
And before WW11, the US performed in the same manner but mainly against its “backyard”, Latin America, and in 100 wars against Native Americans.
And when the war machine is so gigantic and gruesome many of the “civilized” society’s soldiers and its highly paid private mercenaries are understandably reduced to murderers. Some of them become fascist Minute Men, common murderers or serial murderers, and rapists. It is this mentality that leads to murdering poor Mexican workers in the hundreds each year simply because they seek work across the US-imposed border. That “patriotic” mentality breeds racism so extreme that it legitimizes murdering and torturing people because of their skin color, culture or religion, even because they abort fetuses. This “civilized” society creates sub-human, anesthetized, violent citizens.
It embarrasses me to note all this, because Chomsky knows it all. What I don’t understand is how he can conclude that despite this conduct the United States is still an “open”, “democratic”, “civilized society”. There is no significant difference between a rich white man being president than a rich or upper-middle-class black woman or a Mexican-American being elected or appointed into the capitalist class’ government. What does it matter that women, or minority Uncle Toms, use their equal rights to become exploiting, profit-gauging bank directors, war ministers or war presidents, or boxers glorifying violence?
The only way that the people can achieve power and exercise it is by taking it and demolishing the structures of capitalist economy and government. And they can’t do that unless there are tens of millions of them prepared to struggle to their death. And that can’t happen unless they are conscious of the need to do so. And they can’t be conscious as long as they are “trapped, dulled feeling hopeless”.
Therefore, repression—and not merely manufacturing consent—is used to limit advocacy and action oriented at reforming the system or aimed at creating a system of economy and governing that is distinct from capitalism and bourgeois democracy, which means a form of parliamentarianism ruled by a minority: the capitalist class.
1. Chomsky refers to the United States monopoly capitalist system as the global corporate empire. As a columnist for axisoflogic.com, I will use the initials CGE for the term its editors coined: Corporate Global Empire. Both terms mean the same thing: the transnational hegemonist capitalist economic system and its imperialist state allies under the lead of the United States government, and which includes most political parties in the world.
2. Intermediaries in “Third World” countries serving the interests of foreign businesses and/or foreign governments. They are business go-betweens or local and national political leaders, often dictators and militarists but also “democratic” governments, who betray traditional native cultures and egalitarian economies for coins tossed to them by CGE and its “First World” political leaders. History is filled with such lackeys, from 18th century Chinese factotums to the current CGE-imposed governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, including the so-called Iraq Communist Party.
3. Chomsky wrote an inscription to my book, “Yankee Sandinistas: interviews with North Americans living & working in the new Nicaragua”, and one for “Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn”, about Cuban double agents fighting CIA subversion.
4. Pepe Crespo of Almería, Spain encouraged this essay. He makes
DVDs with political themes. He transcribes and translates from the English
into Spanish. His twelve DVD is a compilation of seven documentaries
of Chomsky’s speeches and interviews. I have taken Chomsky’s
own words from these: (a) Power, Dissidence and Racism; (b) Power and
Terror; (c) Chomsky on Iraq; (d) Distorted Morality; (e) The Grand Imperial
Strategy and Latin America; (f) Manufacturing Consent; and (g) Rebel
without a Pause. Crespo’s DVD title is: Historia, Mentiras y Guerras—Noam
Chomsky. See: Producciones Porcinas Crespo 2007
5. These quotes are taken from (g) “Rebel without a Pause” and (f) “Manufacturing Consent”. I could make a word or punctuation error given that I transcribed from viewing the documentaries and do not have original texts. This will be the case for most of my Chomsky quotes. I regret any errors but I am certain that there are no errors of content or meaning.
6. From “An Absent Presence” by Caroline Chung Simpson, who cites Wendy Kozol, a professor in gender and women’s studies.
7. “U.S. Labor Law”, Dollars & Sense magazine, September/October 2003.
8. “What is the USA Patriot Act?” by Kellie Gasnik & William Pleasant of the Green Party in Savannah, Georgia.
9. Ron Kovics became a well-known activist against the war. He had been seriously wounded in Vietnam where he was a soldier. He wrote the book, “Born on the Fourth of July”, which became a film.
10. “The Bureau (FBI) in War and Peace” excerpted from the book, “The Lawless State”, Penguin, 1976.
It is sometimes unclear to me if I cite the direct words of the book’s authors or of the excerpter. I trust that whether my citations are the direct words of the authors or of the excerpters that the facts are accurate. See also: “Agents of Repression” by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, South End Press, 1988.
11. I take here from his article, “Martial law threat is real”, July 31, 2007. Dave is a former colleague of mine at the “Los Angeles Vanguard” and an award-winning journalist and co-author of “The Case for Impeachment: Legal Arguments for Removing President George W. Bush from Office.”
12. American Civil Liberties Union reported
13. The August 20, 2004 Washington Post ran a story about Senator Kennedy being “stopped and questioned” five times in March of that year, because he was on the “no-fly” list.
14. Journey to the Dark Side: The Bush Legacy
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