Democratic Governance vs. The State,
Voodoo Economics: The Third Worldization of America,
Real Alternatives

excerpted from the book

Against Empire

The Brutal Realities of U.S. Global Domination

by Michael Parenti

City Lights Books, 1995, paper

Democratic Governance vs. The State

The late FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover noted in a 1970 interview that "justice is merely incidental to law and order. It's a part of law and order but not the whole of it." Indeed, the whole of it, the indispensable goal of the law enforcement agencies of the state, Mr. Hoover made clear by his actions on many occasions, was the preservation of existing class relations, safeguarding the socio-economic structure from fundamental reform and revolutionary change. The preservation of public safety and justice are secondary concerns of the state. The state will violate both when it is deemed necessary to secure the dominant social order.

In 1947, President Harry Truman created the Central Intelligence Agency to gather and coordinate foreign intelligence. As ex-senator George McGovern noted (Parade, August 9, 1987):

Almost from the beginning, the CIA engaged not only in the collection of intelligence information, but also in covert operations which involved rigging elections and manipulating labor unions abroad, carrying on paramilitary operations, overturning governments, assassinating foreign officials, protecting former Nazis and lying to Congress.

In a book about J. Edgar Hoover, Anthony Summers noted that the FBI retained close links with organized crime. Former CIA operative Robert Morrow in his book Firsthand Knowledge records how unsettling it was to discover that the CIA was cozy with the mob. Over the years, several congressional investigative committees uncovered links between the CIA and the narcotics trade. With its deep operations, laundering of funds, drug trafficking, and often illegal use of violence, the national security state stands close to organized crime. And with its assassinations, intimidation of labor, expropriation of wealth, and influence in high places, organized crime stands close to the state.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the USA's most famous mobster, Al Capone, when reflecting on the wider political universe (Liberty Magazine, 1929), sounded unnervingly like J. Edgar Hoover:

The American system of ours, call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you like, gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it .... Bolshevism is knocking at our gates. We can't afford to let it in. We have got to organize ourselves against it, and put our shoulders together and hold fast. We must keep America whole and safe and unspoiled. We must keep the worker away from Red literature and Red ruses; we must see that his mind remains healthy.

In other "Western democracies" secret paramilitary forces of neofascist persuasion (the most widely publicized being Operation Gladio in Italy) were created by NATO, to act as resistance forces should anticapitalist revolutionaries take over their countries. Short of that, these secret units were involved in terrorist attacks against the Left. They helped prop up a fascist regime in Portugal, participated in the Turkish military coups of 1971 and 1980, and the 1967 coup in Greece. They drew up plans to assassinate social democratic leaders in Germany, and stage "preemptive" attacks against socialist and communist organizations in Greece and Italy. They formed secret communication networks and drew up detention lists of political opponents to be rounded up in various countries.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution repeatedly asserted in their private talks and letters to one another that an essential purpose of government was to resist the leveling tendencies of the masses and secure the interests of affluent property holders against the competing demands of small farmers, artisans, and debtors. They wanted a stronger state in order to defend the haves from the have-nots.

it is ironic that those conservative interests-so overweeningly dependent on government grants, tax credits, land giveaways, price supports, and an array of other public subsidies-keep denouncing the baneful intrusions of government. However, there is an unspoken consistency to it, for when conservatives say they want less government, they are referring to human services, environmental regulations, consumer protections, and occupational safety, the kind of things that might cut into business profits. These include all forms of public assistance that potentially preempt private markets and provide alternative sources of income to working people, leaving them less inclined to work for still lower wages.

While conservative elites want less government control, they usually want more state power to limit the egalitarian effects of democracy. Conservatives, and some who call themselves liberals, want strong, intrusive state action to maintain the politico-economic status quo. They prefer a state that restricts access to information about its own activities, taps telephones, jails revolutionaries and reformers on trumped-up charges, harasses dissidents, and acts punitively not toward the abusers of power but toward their victims. Conservatives also support repressive crime bills; limitations on the rights of women, minorities, gays and lesbians; censorship of films, art, literature, and television.

For all their complaints about "cultural elites" and "liberal media," right-wingers worked hard to abolish the fairness doctrine, which mandated that persons attacked in the broadcast media had to be given air time to respond. Conservatives, including some in the Democratic party like President Clinton, have supported government subsidies to business and an expansion of the national security establishment.

Conservative propaganda that is intended for mass consumption implicitly distinguishes between government and state. It invites people to see government as their biggest problem. At the same time, such propaganda encourages an uncritical public admiration for the state, its flag and other symbols, and the visible instruments of its power such as the armed forces.

Nesting within the executive is that most virulent purveyor of state power: the national security state, an informal configuration of military and intelligence agencies, of which the CIA is a key unit.' The president operates effectively as head of the national security state as long as he stays within the parameters of its primary dedication which is the maximization of power on behalf of corporate interests and capitalist global hegemony...

A president who works closely with the national security state usually can operate outside the laws of democratic governance with impunity. Thus President Reagan violated several provisions of the Arms Export Control Act, including one requiring that he report to Congress when major military equipment is transferred to another country. He violated the Constitution by engaging in a war against Grenada without congressional approval. He violated the Constitution when he refused to spend monies allocated by Congress for various human services.

Reagan and other members of his administration refused to hand over information when specific actions of theirs were investigated by Congress. By presidential order, he removed Congress's restrictions on the CIA's surveillance of domestic organizations and activities, even though a presidential order does not supercede an act of Congress. His intervention against Nicaragua was ruled by the World Court, in a 13 to 1 decision, to be a violation of international law, but Congress did nothing to call him to account. He was up to his ears in the Iran-Contra conspiracy but was never called before any investigative committee while in office.

During the Iran-Contra hearings, Representative Jack Brooks (DTex.), taking his investigative functions seriously, asked Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North if there was any truth to the story that he had helped draft a secret plan, code-named Rex Alpha 84, to suspend the Constitution and impose martial law in the USA. A stunned expression appeared on North's face and the committee chair, Senator Daniel Inouye, stopped Brooks from pursuing the question, declaring in stem tones "I believe the question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area. So may I request that you not touch upon that, sir."

Brooks responded that he had read in several newspapers that the National Security Council had developed "a contingency plan in the event of emergency that would suspend the American Constitution, and I was deeply concerned about it." Inouye again cut him off. It was a tense moment. The committee's leadership was inadvertently admitting that it would refrain from asking about a secret, illegal plan, devised by persons within the national security state for a military coup d'etat in the United States.


Voodoo Economics: The Third Worldization of America

One of the great victories of Reaganomics was the abolition of the progressive income tax. When Reagan came into office, the top tax bracket was 70 percent. By the time he left, it had been reduced to 28 percent, the same as that of ordinary working people, a flat tax. Both the factory worker who earns $25,000 and the CEO who runs the factory and makes $2,500,000 pay roughly the same tax rate. The situation is even more inequitable because the CEO enjoys a host of deductions that are not available to the worker.

Today, the conservative goal is the Thirdworldization of America, to reduce the US. working populace to a Third World condition, having people work harder and harder for less and less. This includes a return to the "free market," free of environmental regulations, free of consumer protections, minimum wages, occupational safety, and labor unions, a market crowded with underemployed labor, so better to depress wages and widen profit margins. Conservatives also seek the abolition of human services and other forms of public assistance that give people some buffer against free-market forces.

Underemployment is a necessary condition for Third Worldization. Alan Budd, professor of economics at the London Business School candidly observed (Observer, June 21, 1992) that the Thatcher government's cuts in public spending were a cover to bash workers: "Raising unemployment was a very desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes. What was engineered-in Marxist terms-was a crisis in capitalism, which recreated a reserve army of labor, and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since."

A key reason why the United States is becoming increasingly like the Third World is because corporate America is going Third World, literally, not only downgrading jobs and downsizing, but moving whole industries to Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

The aim of modern imperialism is not to accumulate colonies nor even just to provide outlets for capital investment and access to natural resources. The economist Paul Sweezy noted that the overall purpose is to turn Third World nations into economic appendages of the industrialized countries, encouraging the growth of those kinds of economic activities that complement the advanced capitalist economies and thwarting those kinds that might compete with them. Perhaps Sweezy relies too much on the nation-state as the unit of analysis. The truth is, the investor class also tries to reduce its own population to a client-state status. The aim of imperialism is not a national one but an international class goal, to exploit and concentrate power not only over Guatemalans, Indonesians, and Saudis, but Latin Americans, Canadians, and everyone else.


Real Alternatives

The "moderate" Democrats led by President Bill Clinton, who acceded to the White House in 1993, have proven about as faithful in their service to corporate America as their Republican predecessors. During his first two years in office, Clinton repeatedly noted that economic recovery "must come through the private sector." He fought like a lion for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), both of which bypass the gains made in environmental, consumer, and labor protections-by circumventing the sovereign power of the nation-states themselves, bestowing upon unelected secret international tribunals the right to set standards for investments, thereby circumventing popular sovereignty.

In addition, the Clinton administration has done next to nothing about the environmental crisis, nothing about putting the nation's transportation systems on an ecologically sane course, nothing in regard to developing alternative energy sources. It has made no real changes in foreign policy, offering little support to democratic forces in the Third World, while continuing to prop up murderous antidemocrats such as Jonas Savimbi in Angola. The Clinton administration has given full backing to the CIA and its covert actions throughout the world and to the global military empire, its gargantuan budget and grandiose goals. When it comes to empire at home and abroad, a change in political party brings little change in state policy. US. imperialism remains an unexamined, unchallenged, and largely unperceived phenomenon in this country.

In a few limited ways Clinton has attempted to deal with the wreckage caused by the Reagan-Bush years. He did introduce a $21 billion expansion of tax credits for low-wage workers and created some new housing, job training, and community development programs. While grossly inadequate in scope, these initiatives represented a departure from the punitive policies of his predecessors. For the most part, however, in regard to policies of empire and republic, the Clinton administration manifested a continuity with previous ones that is no less dismaying for being expected.

The ruling politico-economic elites conveniently believe that the environment is doing just fine, certainly on their estates, resorts, and ranches. They dislike what they think are the overheated jeremiads of the environmentalists, who call for the kind of regulations that limit the prerogatives of industrial capital. They equate the wellbeing of their class and their investments with the national interest, and see the poor and the working multitudes as deserving of lesser consideration because they supposedly contribute so little.

Fundamental reform is so difficult because it does not serve the powers that be. But it should be no mystery what needs to be done to improve our economy and the life conditions of our people.

... top-down class warfare by the ruling elites against the middle and lower classes is what we already have as an everyday occurrence. It is only when the many begin to fight back against the few that class warfare is condemned by political and media elites.

Witness the case of Haiti, a country with generations of brutal class oppression, where the military and the rich have lived off the impoverished people and regularly made war upon them. Yet U.S. media and U.S. political leaders started using the term "class warfare" only when the people elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president, a populist reformer who attacked the crimes and privileges of the rich. So in other countries and in this one too: the moment the common populace begin to fight back, even peaceably and democratically, the moment democracy infringes upon powerful class interests, ruling-class leaders and their media mouthpieces denounce "class warfare." In the early 1990s in the United States, when some liberal Democrats started talking about taxing the rich, they were accused of class warfare. But when the rich advance their interests at our expense in ways too numerous to delineate here, it is called "national policy."

In his last State of the Union message, George Bush said that people who challenge the prerogatives of the rich are driven by envy and jealousy. I suspect it is not envy that most of us feel when we see somebody ride by in a Rolls Royce-and someone else sleeping in a doorway. We feel outrage. We just do not want to live in a society where millions must suffer acute privation and insecurity so that the very rich can maintain their lavish lifestyle. We do not want to change places with the opulent; we just want to get them off our backs. We want to stop the ruination of our society and environment by the conglomerates of wealth, those who engineer and finance national elections, who manage national policy and use crimes of state to eviscerate and trivialize democratic governance at home and abroad. If challenging and stopping such class power is class warfare, then let us have more of it.

Against Empire

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