‘Sharing,’ ‘Corporate Social Responsibility,’ & ‘Free Markets’ Themselves Require Social Democracy
This is a first installment of several about the phenomenon, or fantasy, of Corporate Social Responsibility. It contextualizes the entire series for readers, which will follow in upcoming posts.
Here we all are, a part of the sharing protocols of the world’s economy as it teeters on the verge of freefall crashes that could result from diverse dynamics, copious causes, or multiple directions. In fact, our personal or collective political-economic-survival-modules might hurtle over the edge and into a death dive from the merest nudge, according to some analysts, let alone from a ‘perfect storm’ of manifold interlocking effects.
In this context of, to say the least, tense anticipation and occasional intense dread about the future, voices en masse pose the question that ‘Vladimir Bolshevik’ asked citizens everywhere to ponder way back in 1917, to wit, “What is to be done?” Every Spindoctor installment has in fact insisted on offering suggestions respond to such an inquiry, though a much-too-substantial portion of the narratives that contain or imply this interrogatory in the wider mediated world either give no inclination to think in terms of solutions or provide only the most superficial, even naïve, directives and admonitions about how to manage the present pass.
In that regard, one might consider the marketing muscle, management theory, and public-relations punch that, at their best, have advanced as a response to Lenin something akin to the following summation. “The world is complicated, so fixing anything can’t happen overnight or easily; nevertheless, by facilitating and otherwise supporting and operationalizing Corporate Social Responsibility, both individuals and such collective agents as bureaucracies and political parties and other groups can have a powerful positive affect on the issues and difficulties characteristic of everything on Earth at the moment.”
Today’s exercise in a deeply-delved reportage will contemplate this notion. It will follow the organizational course of all the Spindoctor essays that have emanated from this Contributoriaphase of things, as with so much in this ‘brave new world’ of sustainability and crowd-funded disruption, a quicksilver blink of the proverbial eye.
This initial section, as has been the case since a friendly critic recommended such a shift, more or less begins with a brief capsulization of the hypothesis that, in rejoinder to management’s take above, this installment purports to prove. “As with every fix that capital advances in its own behalf, the trope of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ is at best a plausibly useful way of thinking that, in its current guise, represents most optimistically a woefully insufficient formulation and perhaps more likely a consciously-selected diversionary tactic for those who would do anything at all to delay, if not derail, the absolutely reasonable, and even indisputable, calls and actions for fundamental reforms—possibly revolutionary reforms—of contemporary ways of doing business.”
There now; that didn’t hurt too badly, did it? Such a mouthful of words, one can only hope, is clear enough in what it expresses, neither shelling out way too much nor sprinkling about not nearly enough, to set the stage for what follows, which in some ways questions whether capitalist norms are best, or at least whether they are indispensable, in any scheme of ‘doing business’ at the present stage of human development.
Defining Terms & Refining Approaches
In manifesting what comes next, a moment of definition and classification may be essential. Such an approach, in the warrens of Guardian Media, is in turn different from other Spindoctor pieces here, all of which have concerned either events that were tangible enough to require little definition, or socioeconomic or political-economic trends or developments that were also pretty clearly evident in and of themselves. On the ground, so to speak, plenty of other thinkers are also cogitating this sort of CSR explication, so much so that a very basic search–<“corporate social responsibility” definition OR meaning OR analysis OR explication OR delineation>–yields well over thirteen million links to look at.
From this rich field of source material, one might bring forth a fairly simple statement of CSR parameters. To wit, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility exists when something like a Fortune 500 firm performs so as simultaneously and consciously to maximize community health and well-being as well as profit, and to carry on in this manner without notable exceptions.’
Moving along a slightly different pathway, one way to proceed in matters of this sort, always a joy in English, is to look at the roots of the key term in the string, responsibility, and to ponder its sources. Not surprisingly, these come down to Latin elements, which specifically refer to the making of vows and the provision of dialogic or discursive guarantees.
The evolution of the word itself flows through the verb, “respond,” and the noun, “response,” which are both at least seven hundred years old and the adjective, “responsible,” which became common enough at most a few hundred years later. Essentially, then, the core of Corporate Social Responsibility has flowed from mutual conversation toward duty.
One of the web’s chief online etymological authorities gives an investigator a helpful start. “Responsibility” stemmed from “responsible,” which meant basically “’answerable’ (to another, for something), from obsolete French responsible (13c., Modern French responsable, as if from Latin *responsabilis), from Latin respons-, past participle stem of respondere ‘to respond’ (see respond). Meaning ‘accountable for one’s actions’ is attested from 1640s; that of ‘reliable, trustworthy’ is from 1690s. Retains the sense of ‘obligation’ in the Latin root word.“
Wikipedia’s service, the Wiktionary, also serves up useful material about the noun itself here in question, which in turn dates from the mid-to-late eighteenth century. Of particular note are the more-or-less corporate implications of the word in military terminology, where both the authority to carry out tasks and inherent attributes that relate to property and money are present.
Such linguistic thinking, on the one hand, can be dry, a bit formulaic, and can raise the mere behavior of using one’s vocal cords to pronounce certain sounds to a level of moral and practical consequence. On the other hand, however, such a process of pondering these language points can lead to fruitful ideation, if one remains open and creative about the practice as such.
In this case, for example, one can constructively notice the way that responsibility originates in answering back. The implication of dialog, of a two-way or multisided conversation among engaged agents, is a powerful starting point. At an absolute minimum, no responsibility would be valid or viable that was one-sided only, that emanated exclusively from one party’s views or agendas. This conceptualization has deep and widespread applicability in the arenas, contemporaneous as well as historical, in which such matters have arisen.
The proof of this assertion will soon be obvious. It boils down in some senses to the practical advice that students and other populations that the Spindoctor has studied have retorted to those who insisted that top-down reformulation and recontextualization would ‘help’ those who were struggling with whatever intensification of distress was under the microscope, so to say, in a given instance. As a recent syllabus repeated the notion, “Nothing about us, without us, can be for us.”
Practical & Operational Expressions of CSR
At this juncture, though, in addition to this admonition, we might want to weigh more practically and generally how actors in the here and now conceive of Corporate Social Responsibility, not simply as a meaningful phrase, but as a social, political, and economic progression. Several search strategies can assist this effort, much like these two: <“corporate social responsibility” exemplary OR specific OR particular OR individual cases OR firms OR companies OR corporations assessment OR benchmark OR scorecard OR evaluation OR measurement>; and <“corporate social responsibility” example OR examples OR “case study” OR “case studies” OR instance OR instances>, both of which provided well over ten million resulting connections.
Opinions vary about how to proceed to define CSR more specifically, but an observer might find some agreement—explicit or implicit—that the conception must include, at an absolute minimum, several core components. One would be that wage-earners in the company’s employ have their human rights, which absolutely must include their labor rights, respected without exception. Another would be that the company’s environmental impacts—its waste, its energy usage, its effluent streams, and more—would be fully sustainable. Yet another would be that its lobbying or other such activities would support the capacitation of workers elsewhere and the promulgation of environmental policies elsewhere in similar ways as the truly responsible corporation practiced in its homeland. A final piece of this assessment of CSR’s existence would be that such a firm, in its relationships with suppliers, sub-contractors, and other necessary or opportune joint venturers, would also deploy and insist on such standards.
One might add a good deal more. Issues of empire, of civil rights, of support for democracy, and further factors that a decent world entails—in which decent companies play their roles—might be useful or at least interesting to explore. Certainly, in any case, something like the core description above provides a launching pad for an explication of CSR in the here and now.
In thinking about whether CSR along these lines is extant in any context whatsoever, an investigator would at a minimum discern two overall camps that present polarized perspectives on the sense and consequence of this now-almost-ubiquitous formulation. One point-of-view would contend something like the best-case summation at the start of this report, more or less like this:
As a necessary adaptation in the evolution of the free market, large numbers of companies of different sizes in different industries have adopted various policies in relation to multiple issues—air quality, water quality, climate change, food additives and supplements, genetically modified organisms, workplace safety, labor rights to organize, payments to and standards for subcontractors, arms sales, waste clean up, renewable energy prioritization, and innumerable additional matters—that put a social good or benefit above profit or other ‘bottom-line’ orientation;
A decidedly opposing perception also appears quite frequently in the ‘marketplace of ideas:’ While apologists for capitalism want always to emphasize how ‘markets’ ‘efficiently’ incorporate necessary reforms—improved environmental quality, superior occupational safety standards, human rights improvements, the permitted presence of an active and worker-controlled labor movement, increased application of energy efficiency and appropriate technology, eliminating ethnic and gender chauvinism, reducing police predation, reduced predation against weaker nations, ending militarism and conquest, and so forth and so on and on and on—in reality such views are at most fantasies and more often cover-ups for institutional arrangements in which both business organizations and government agencies with which ‘executives’ share a revolving door always put profit uppermost, generally advance profit as the only business value, frequently engage in profiteering and other predatory behaviors, and occasionally indulge in corrupt practices or outright plunder, and then, finally, lie about, cover up, or ignore such customary behaviors.
A search such as this, <“corporate social responsibility” disagreement OR polarity OR polarization OR contradiction OR contrary OR contrariety OR dissent OR dispute>, elicits a bit more than six hundred fifty thousand citations of possible use in seeing this bifurcation of viewpoint more exactly. One might continue in this vein for many pages. However, perhaps readers and researchers could agree that an either-or differentiation does in fact describe this arena of the present-day, even as some analysts will balance their narratives with aspects of both points of view.
Thus, in essence, a two-part musical movement, as it were, delineates the meaning and subtext of Corporate Social Responsibility. On the one hand, defenders advance it as anything from useful reform to magical panacea. On the other hand, critics decry it as some combination of error and duplicity and malfeasance.
Coming Down to Cases: Getting Real About CSR
Having come to this conjunction, we are now ready to see how reality matches these dialectically juxtaposed perspectives. In the current unit’s iteration of things, this discourse will continue with a three-part rubric about the sorts of conditions that might, theoretically or conceivably, fulfill the much-vaunted promise of the CSR ‘movement.’ An appraisal of how responsibly companies and sectors are performing will accompany this introductory explication’s development.
If Corporate Social Responsibility is valid and viable as a construct or expression of the real world, then one of three things ought to be true: one, at least a single company of significant size and heft must exhibit a ‘socially responsible’ footprint across the board, as it were; two, some industrial or other operational nexus of capital generally and as a whole must demonstrate ‘social responsibility’ throughout its area of expertise and focus and output and so forth; or, three, some theoretical and conceptual thinkers or populizers or policy makers must offer a combination of credible ideas and tangible suggested actions that could realistically, in a current capitalist societal context, result in CSR’s imprimatur coming to pass in such bona fide ways as numbers one and two embody.
In the first place then, one may begin to wade through some of the tens of millions of search results to try to find a CSR pearl or two or three or more. Having done this for many years, a Spindoctor summary would be, quite simply, “It’s hopeless!” In any event, twenty pages deep in any of the various strings that have harvested such a copious crop of erstwhile responsible corporate wannabes, one cannot find a single real contender of “any significant size and heft.”
How paltry, some combination of hilariously or frighteningly so, this assertion of any general CSR foothold really appears becomes clear when one considers the actual articles that result from sifting through such evidence. The chronicler who shouts out that he has a solid example can only offer pipsqueaks, whose efforts are at best limited and self-regulated; any journalist who scrutinizes large industrial, financial, or otherwise commercial operations invariably finds multiple deficiencies in even the most elementary aspects of actual Corporate Social Responsibility.
Business Daily News, for instance, wants to advance twenty cases as providing some measure of proof that such qualities are more than fantasy. All of the listed firms are start-ups or otherwise tiny establishments at the outlying edges of corporate capital.
Moreover, their basis for inclusion as outposts of responsibility in the corporate sphere is uniformly self-diagnosed and rarely ventures beyond the merest whiff of ‘good citizenship.’ In other words, they give some money to charities of their own choosing or follow guidelines that they or others of their ilk have promulgated.
This is the sole visible typology of the outlier endeavors. Even if one bent backwards to find such capitalization of ‘significant size and heft,’ its instantiation simply would not fit the advertised bill of goods.
A much realer perspective is possible, of course. A present-day law review article examines four highly-capitalized, oligopolistic corporations—Coca Cola, Walmart, Apple Computers, and Canon—and paints a much bleaker portrait of the CSR landscape that these organizations depict, mentioning in passing Dukes v. Walmart as an indicator of how far one of the selected coterie has to travel to ‘measure up’ to even the most meager standards of decency and equity.
The authors in that journal might have noted much more on the debit side of the CSR ledger in relation to this little group. Coke’s seamy collaboration with murderous agents in its Colombian operations, Apple’s accession to despicable labor practices in various Asian venues, and Wal-Mart’s combination of essentially parasitic and predatory behavior in relation to the communities in which it operates, for starters, debunk the notion about these companies, and other investigatory work would churn up innumerable contradictions to these four erstwhile exemplars’ fulfillment of anything even vaguely kindred to CSR practices.authors in that journal might have noted much more on the debit side of the CSR ledger in relation to this little group. Coke’s seamy collaboration with murderous agents in its Colombian operations, Apple’s accession to despicable labor practices in various Asian venues, and Wal-Mart’s combination of essentially parasitic and predatory behavior in relation to the communities in which it operates, for starters, debunk the notion about these companies, and other investigatory work would churn up innumerable contradictions to these four erstwhile exemplars’ fulfillment of anything even vaguely kindred to CSR practices.
Reasoning counterfactually, to be able to proffer the affirmation of Corporate Social Responsibility in a completely convincing fashion, one would need to be able to state the following ‘facts’ as applicable to Coca Cola, or other firm of appropriate “size and heft,” for instance. ‘Everywhere that Coke has a corporate imprint, it pays a living wage and otherwise honors and supports its workers; it produces products that are close to 100% health-promoting and that do not deplete or pollute precious environmental resources; it does not target vulnerable populations with its advertising or use toxic or addictive ingredients.’
Whatever one feels about a particular brand—no one is suggesting that picking on Coke is helpful or fair—such a characterization as the prior paragraph contains is simply impossible to prove, and, in the alternative, it is quite simple to disprove. The company-by-company search for a valid CSR candidate, in other words, looks like a long shot indeed.
A young scholar from Australia has recently examined Starbucks communications policies in a somewhat similar fashion. “However, one can argue that there is a lack of salient self-beneficial economic motives throughout the report and the website in general, which could cause stakeholders to be somewhat skeptical. It can be interpreted that the motives behind the CSR activities are presented as being too philanthropic, which can cause the stakeholders to suspect ulterior hidden motives. This potential issue could be addressed by providing information illustrating how the different initiatives benefit Starbucks by creating value (i.e. profit or shareholder value).“
Put more matter-of-factly, this public-relations thinker is suggesting, if it looks and smells like bullshit, then proprietors had better apply perfume or otherwise adjust the bouquet if they want people actually to believe these types of representations. The web materials are replete with analyses like this, which acknowledge the weakness or self-serving and self-deceiving aspects of CSR operations in such a fashion as to suggest amelioration or fixes that do not actually create responsibility along social lines so much as proffer moves that can make the alleged ‘responsible’ corporate behavior appear more authentic and palatable to onlookers, and perhaps especially to prospective critics, not to mention shareholders or other investors.
One could, arguably with great ease, take the list of whatever corporate ventures are the set of firms of “significant size and heft” that all presently want desperately to merit the label of a CSR outfit and one-at-a-time demonstrate that not even a solitary corporation of this sort fits the CSR bill of fare. In miniature, this subsection and what follows does just that. With more time, or a specific challenge, all comers would, in the view of this report, ultimately fail to meet even minimal requirements of anything capable of sustaining the label, Corporate Social Responsibility.
SHINY NEW EXEMPLARS
Along similar lines, in the limelight of the ‘sharing’ and caring of supposedly up-to-the-minute instantiation of super, ultra-CSR efforts, Uber at once reveals the erstwhile epitome of ‘sharing success’ and, as is visible below, offers a cautionary tale in how exploitative and inequitable such arrangements actually are in day-to-day reality. In one of the few credible, if not ‘rags-to-riches’ at least Ford-to-Ferrari, success tales in the ‘new economy,’ Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp—not ‘trust-funded’ fellows, these, seemingly—managed to turn a modest investment of venture capital millions into untold billions of ‘shareholder value’ that has as a result ‘transformed current relationships in positive and far-reaching fashion.’
Or so the story goes. In an explanation that shows greater ‘critical distance,’ Internet Is Not the Answer author Andrew Keen makes the argument like this.
“Kalanick’s $18 billion venture is certainly a badass company, with customers accusing its drivers of every imaginable crime from kidnapping to sexual harassment. Since its creation, the unregulated Uber has not only been in a constant legal fight with (urban areas) and federal regulators, but has been picketed by its own nonunionized drivers demanding collective bargaining rights and health care benefits. …
With 7.5 million Americans working in part-time jobs in July 2014…(this) ‘revolutionizing’ of the world’s workforce is, in truth, a reflection of the new poorly paid class of peer-to-peer project workers, dubbed the ‘precariat’ by the labor economist Guy Standing. ‘With piecemeal gigs easier to obtain than long-term employment,’ warns the New York Times’ Natasha Singer, this highly insecure labor model, the dark underbelly of DIY capitalism, is becoming an increasingly important part of the new networked economy.”
Nor does this monograph single out Uber as ‘exceptional’ in this regard. The entire Silicon Valley miracle machine comes in for equally skeptical, if not scathing, treatment. “Class War” is its operational heart, its spiritual core. Destruction is its economic foundation, though the attendant mayhem and carnage is always ‘creative’ and ‘efficient’ from the POV of wealthy venture funds that seek a cashout from their routine functioning and success.
“If poor people and unions are the problem for Silicon Valley’s tech elite, then technology, and the Internet in particular, is always the answer. …(T)his delusional ‘thinking’ … has infected San Francisco, transforming one of the world’s most diverse cities…into a laboratory for an outsourced, networked economy that wants to feed people Soylent and employ them to wait in lines.
…(T)here is no role for unions, no place for anything protecting the rights of the laborer, no collective sense of identity, no dignity to work. …It’s a two-tier system of overlords and the unemployed and the underemployed and the occasionally employed. An economy in which menial tasks are handled by an outsourced underclass who will do anything for an hourly rate on labor networks… . commodifying life itself so that everything—from buying a rose to waiting in line—can be bought and sold.”
Another documentary item delineates very well the pros and cons of this ‘disruptive’ development and how it relates to both the whole realm of ‘sharing’ and corporate responsibility. In the end, everything bourgeois that succeeds becomes a vehicle for monopoly, for taking over everything and pulverizing any operation that competes into ruin.
This sort of new-age entrepreneurial “vision is much more than a better taxi service or nifty town cars for the masses… .(It contains) the potential for a smoothly functioning instant-gratification economy, powered by the smartphone as the remote control for life. ‘If we can get you a car in five minutes, we can get you anything in five minutes,… .’ But the desire to enter and dominate the ‘everything economy’ echoes the ambitions of much bigger and more established companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.”
A recent assessment in Naked Capitalism, meanwhile, illustrates political economic underpinnings of the inequality that is inescapable in such a context as in part a result of ‘rent-seeking’ in relation to already extant embodiments of value. This clearly applies to such phenomena as Uber and Lyft and other sharing archetypes, which in turn tout their more equitable and responsible corporate imprints and footprints and so forth. Unfortunately, among the multiple drawbacks of social relations and political economy that incarnate a rentier’s attitude are two especially onerous difficulties.
The first concerns the centrality of the agendas and protocols and property and pocketbooks of those who already own most of the planet. That is the implication of renting, taking what those who hold the title have, and simultaneously breaking it up into tinier and tinier pieces and charging people for any sort of access to those pieces. The ‘sharing’ that takes place is the right to gain access, for a fee in which one’s bargaining power is minimal or less, to some piece of the pie that already exists in our midst.
The second shortcoming flows ineluctably from the monopolists’ sated feeding on everything that they permit to contain value. What the world needs in this regard—affordable housing, adequate food, income-producing options for the majority who have nothing to rent but their sweat and their backs and their brains, environmental restoration, cultural rejuvenation, educational flourishing, and almost infinitely more—decidedly does not have ‘permission to contain value,’ although, arguably, such largesse ought to be part of what a democratic society stands for and offers to citizens.
The essence of living in a world where rent is the basis of capital and hence production, therefore, ends up characterizing exactly the opposite of social responsibility. Because such a fact is, to say the least, highly troubling, those who own all and want to be able to charge for doing anything in relation to what is under their control, see fit to beat their breasts with the promises of CSR, even though they not only never intend to deliver on those vows but also cannot possibly make good on such oaths without fundamentally altering the social relations of production and distribution.
In a more and more fully ‘capitalized’ global marketplace, such parsing of goods, an ‘outsourcing of everything’ in essence, is one response by wealthy stakeholders who want more than anything else to garner the percentage that guarantees that they’ll never have to work for a living or lose the ‘equity’ that they almost always inherited in the first place. But this ‘response’ is no more inherently responsible than the occasional aberration in Victorian times, as when John Stuart Mill argued that his eureka discovery of the ability to maximize utility promised a real expression of social justice and social equity, a nineteenth century articulation of CSR about which we’ll hear more in the fullness of time.
Another CSR leviathan, in any case, Amazon, has recently encountered a few bumps and lumps in its celebration of its dearly-beloved patina of responsibility in the markets that it dominates, in the event establishing almost a monopolist’s stranglehold on a particular realm of ‘rentals,’ which is to say the resale of used goods of all sorts, in the context of management tools that promise efficient and reliable exchanges for almost anything at all. A veritable shitstorm erupted fromNew York Times reportage that, accompanying its leviathan’s reach, it crushed its workers in every conceivable way, milking from them its small percentage but giant volume of profit in such a fashion as to break their bodies and depress their psyches and leave many as so much alienated, depressed wreckage in the process.
That Amazon has intended to posture as a truly responsible corporate entity is incontrovertible. Whereas the average Fortune 500 company, when one searches for its name plus “corporate social responsibility” OR csr, elicits plus or minus half a million hits, the following string brought forth thirteen-and-a-half million results: <amazon “corporate social responsibility” OR csr>.
Jeff Bezos’ clever acquisition and disruptive transformation of the Washington Post is in a general or overall way instructive in this regard as well. It returns readers to revelations that the Australian undergraduate just above made plain. These matters, more often than not—and perhaps almost universally—are about appearances much more so than they concern reality, ongoing practice, or actual performance. Mediation will always represent a critical component of making an appearance seem a manifestation of a preferred representation rather than a verifiable aspect of reality itself.
Thus, when WaPo seeks to expand internationally, to integrate more and more local publications into its operating nexus, and purports to position itself so as to flourish, even predominate, in regard to networking freelance writers as a labor pool and source of value, citizens and scribes both better beware. The promise of ‘sharing’ and ‘efficiency’ are quite likely to be another case of self-serving propaganda propagation, on the one hand, and soul-sucking drudgery for small change in return, on the other hand; at absolute best.
Just as with more venerable archetypes of bourgeois legerdemain, in the previous section, so too here then, the proposition is easy to demonstrate that not a single ‘major player’ in this ambit is capable of evincing more than a public-relations front of Corporate Social Responsibility. Should anyone want to challenge this idea, the only thing that needs to happen is a willingness of the naysayer to go to Nevada and put up enough of a wager to make the effort worthwhile. CSR as a purported attribute of the so-called “unicorn” successes among ‘Siliconic’ disruptors is, charitably, an absurd assertion.
The Spindoctor’s personal experience, on multiple fronts, further evidences the points here. In one instance, a must to ponder, he worked for the Corporate Social Responsibility website,Justmeans, as a blogger. In sixteen weeks there, he created well over half a million words, at the rate of four roughly ten-thousand research-based articles every seven days.
The ‘pay’ was plus-or-minus two hundred dollars a month. The plaudits were thick to start. But his ‘beat,’ energy, included multiple reports on matters nuclear as an inherent abrogation of CSR in any shape or form, including various stories—and at least one or two ‘scoops’—about Depleted Uranium.
Despite the fact that his contractual agreement was that he could write what he wanted, since the ‘pay’ was, stating the point generously, paltry, he soon enough received a ‘cease and desist’ order about anything that mentioned DU. Apparently, the business plan—to cash out with a purchase of the site by AOL—was looking problematic with his articles on view; so much, then, for CSR.
A bit later along the temporal arc, he produced for an already-established division of America Online, the Patch brand. He warned his soon-to-be assignment editor that any lengthy relationship with an AOL ‘brand’ was approximately as likely as a snowball’s longevity in the fieriest depths of hell, which received chortles and vows of eternal support.
Within five weeks, the Spindoctor’s head was in a sack, and checks from AOL no longer issued, especially at twice the standard rate that Jimbo negotiated measly recompense for the work that he did. Apparently, his predilection for looking askance at Walmart’s wondrous marvels and his desire to report about daily criminal incidents as social matters instead of as blameworthy moral lapses alienated the overlords on high in Manhattan—again, so much for even a pretense of a responsible corporate entity that wanted to serve its communities with diverse, accurate, and useful information.
Such personal encounters with the more or less total fraud of CSR do not give him ‘an ax to grind.’ He loved producing the materials that he did, on which he still owns a copyright, even though the remuneration for his work was either laughable or grotesque, depending on whether one’s bent at the moment of observation is comic or tragic. However, these very real and deeply felt cases of peonage and exploitation and dismissal do give him a perch from which to view other cases, all too similar, that reveal the reality beneath the veneer of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Without noticeable exception, therefore, the expressions of CSR that deal with individual cases as such are inseparable from the public relations and propaganda and outright buncombe that present these happenings to the public and thereby hope to increase shareholder equity and profits as a result of such characterizations. These SOP methods work hand in glove with the propagation of Corporate Social Responsibility as a pretend entity that means little more than “We want you to like, or at least accept, us enough to buy lots of our stuff or services, so we hope to convince you that we’ve got soul and ethics and really care about consumers and workers and communities and competitors and critics and such as much as, or even more than, we care about maximizing our profits.”
In terms of large outfits, therefore, enterprises of “size and heft,” so to speak, CSR is at best a façade and quite likely simply a falsehood. Whether the company in question is an old-line or new-school operation makes no difference. Profit still rules the roost, or other ‘bottom-line’ considerations necessitate that Corporate Social Responsibility is no more than an advertising slogan, of no greater substance than a cleverly-crafted PR campaign.
Certainly near the heart of this assessment lie a series of observations and appraisals of what we might term ‘monopoly finance capital.’ Through loans, control of equity, and generally holding the reins of political oversight, banks, venture capitalists, and clever ‘investors’ of various stripes—who in aggregate control if not out and out own almost every dollar in the stream of commerce—act as arbiters, gatekeepers, and boards of directors of everything that the ‘Western’ sphere proffers to the world and most everything that emanates from elsewhere as well.
The tentacles of big-money’s ‘Octopus,’ as Frank Norris titled the matter, run the show, own the tent, pocket the gate, and call the tune: top to bottom. No enterprise escapes this net.
Anyone who believes he can enter a brief that invalidates this point of view is welcome to speak up. I’m a wagering man. Let’s go to Nevada and talk about the details of a big bet: nothing even resembling a large corporation fulfills the requirements or delineates the rubric of a socially responsible entity.
In the second place then, one could expand the scope of this mainly clinical examination, as it were, to include entire industrial or other arenas. While an even lengthier effort at documentation than that which this report provides might go into as much detail here as has appeared in relation to individual firms just above, or even more digging might transpire, this is not necessary at this juncture.
An example, or a few, will do. Churches; Internet; steel; insurance; banking; retail: the possible organizational categories are numerous, but far from innumerable. The very idea that a sector of ‘production and society’ such as churches, in general, were exemplary of CSR would bring a smile to the lips of those who think subjunctively, to put the matter in grammatical terms. More mundanely, holding such a belief is, at a minimum, counterfactual.
One might merely assert, based on long experience monitoring such matters, that of all the sectors of society’s socioeconomic sphere that intersect with corporations, exactly one has a minimally plausible basis to survive a summary judgment motion, so to speak, against it in this CSR suit. That would be the non-profit or philanthropic region of modern bourgeois life.
After all, the conceptualization that great wealth ‘naturally’ wants to give back is as easy to ‘prove’ as the names of great foundations: Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Kellogg, MacArthur; for those who prefer their generous plutocrats’ exhibiting more currency, Gates or Soros are some of the recent comers. The idea, in other words, almost demonstrates itself.
Unfortunately, a thorough investigation of this topic would discern more complexity and contradiction than the standard story would contain. One might readily, after significant time and effort, come to the conclusion that this sector also does not live up to its ‘bill of goods.’
A BASIC ASSESSMENT THAT PROVES IMPLAUSIBILITY
However, a more elegant substantiation of this evaluation is possible. In any event, as noted, one would be hard-pressed to find a more presentable candidate for an industry-wide or operational area’s quintessence of CSR than philanthropy, at least on the surface, could proffer.
The brief against the vaunted non-profit, foundation, or non-governmental organization space as somehow more pure or sacrosanct than money or its corporate forms generally appear is easy enough to develop. In particular, one should note that the very form of these efforts to ‘do good’ retains its ties with the monumental aggregations of capital that almost universally elicit less favorable reviews in regard to goodness.
Additionally, two particular points powerfully undermine, even fatally undercut, any hope to pretend that these embodiments of enterprise escape taints that destroy responsibility in the form that we’ve been discussing. The first concerns in-depth research that refutes such stances. One might examine the results of a Google outreach like this: < philanthropy OR charity philanthropic OR foundations OR “nongovernmental organizations” OR ngo OR “non profits” “social justice” OR “human welfare” OR csr OR “corporate social responsibility” OR benefit OR advance bullshit OR hypocritical OR hypocrisy OR false OR nonsense OR propaganda> and discover among more than two and a half million citations a significant portion that make the case that shows up in these pages.
In the event, in addition, multiple well-known analyses develop just such an argument as the Spindoctor is making. Most recently, perhaps—as in within the past month or so—a Danish historian has promulgated a line of reasoning that contends that far from relieving large economic entities from the burdens of their overlordship, so to say, philanthropy and charity and non-profit efforts have in fact not only increased inequality but also have demonstrated their perfect congruence with systematic schisms and disparities and, in essence, continued overlordship of just their monopolistic, bourgeois sorts.
Mikkel Thorup labels this new tendency philanthrocapitalism, which his work examines as one of several “expressions of philanthropy as ideology: … corporate philanthropy, in which businesses engage in social work, and philanthropic associations reengineer themselves to mimic corporations; billionaire philanthropy, in which conspicuous consumption is now being supplemented with conspicuous philanthropy; and celebrity philanthropy, in which one of the hallmarks of being a celebrity today consists in the commitment to turn that fame towards a good purpose.”
His work “explore(s) how(just such) philanthropy may serve to justify extreme inequality.” Can anyone say, “Bye-Bye CSR?”
He goes on to develop the following contextualization. “One can interpret philanthrocapitalism as the latest expression of the modern era’s anti-revolutionary, pro-capitalist claims that a rebellion against capitalism will only end in misery and that there is actually no opposition between the market and the common good. In the 1990s the dominant versions of this antirevolutionary stance were encapsulated in Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of liberal-democratic capitalism as the last good idea and the hype of a high-tech, net-based ‘crisis free’ economy. Both claims quickly lost persuasive force. The IT-bubble crashed in early 2000 and the movements critical of globalization seriously questioned whether the ‘G8 World Order’ was the only world possible. It seems therefore fair to interpret the enormous attention to and hope in philanthrocapitalism as an attempt to close the legitimization deficit of contemporary ‘creative capitalism’ where some get more and more but many more get so much less; a development not halted but accelerated by the financial crisis and its aftermath of austerity.”
Again, such elucidation destroys even the possibility that, as a rule, philanthropic or foundation or non-profit endeavors manifest Corporate Social Responsibility in their routine operations. And once more, this is just one of multiple, authoritative critiques of this type.
The second fatal flaw in philanthropy’s case results from a general overview of the sphere and how it divides into different camps, more or less in terms of a polarization between ‘markets’ and ‘regulation,’ between ‘free enterprise’ and governance. This distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ outfits, between ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ non-profits, even as these terms are suspect and may in fact be almost meaningless, nonetheless guarantees that within the sector itself, plus or minus half of the operators look upon plus or minus half of the other operators as nefarious or unethical or at least less than optimal, a fact that practically removes all doubt that some participants fail in their ‘social responsibilities’ in one way or another.
In any case, even letting this division between opposing camps lie fallow, to coin a phrase, one more overarching example of errancy is possible to express. Another Danish duo dissects the most decidedly corporate arm of the philanthropic universe in this matter. Their overview deconstructs, in a persuasive way indeed, the notion that CSR authenticity is anything other than propagandistic turns of phrases.
“Over the past two decades, a growing number of large multinational corporations have come to view philanthropy as an important part of their business operations. This has stimulated research on the many different strategies that are pursued by these corporations in their attempts to become more philanthropic while remaining economically responsible. In this situation, some researchers have argued, corporations run the risk of being caught out as hypocrites. Through an analysis of the corporate social responsibility reports of the biggest multinational corporations, this article shows how the risk of hypocrisy is managed communicatively through the use of euphemisms. The article argues that the use of euphemisms makes it possible to communicate both economically and philanthropically without manifest contradictions. Euphemisms, however, are also risky in their own right.”
This brings at least a pair of issues to the fore. In the first place, the clear suggestion is that some substantial amount of corporate flack in its own behalf about its ‘philanthropy’ is bullshit. More pertinent still, perhaps, it implies that the same corporations that we’ve already proven deficient as CSR exemplars have captured, or at least co-opted a substantial part of the philanthropic field.
One might insist on probing other realms, of course. Additional productive endeavors that could have a surface appearance of likely CSR validation include media undertakings and sports-and-entertainment enterprises. In the former case, the huge degree of detestation that characterizes present-day monopoly-media’s public opinion rankings would make such a view doubtful, or impossible. In the latter instance, the widespread whiff of corruption in regard to stadium shenanigans and the ‘professional’ disregard for player health, from concussions or otherwise, would likewise scuttle any credible representation of CSR validity.
Without any longing to flee or otherwise ‘cut things short,’ as it were, one can sense a stopping point here. The area, or perhaps two or three that most likely could materialize a Corporate Social Responsibility presence does not come close.
Again, as in a one-by-one firm search for a CSR paragon, one cannot here discern a paradigm that permits an onlooker to corroborate any field that is worthy of an imprimatur of Corporate Social Responsibility. Does that mean that such an eventuality can never come to pass? One purpose of today’s reportage is to approximate under what conditions such occurrences might actually happen.
For our purposes in this OVERTURE, in any event, we have provided an architecture for denying the plausibility of CSR in any real-world, real-time domain that is contemporary or historical, whatever the future may hold. The Spindoctor challenge in this regard remains uniform: “Would you like to bet?!” Inquiring minds, as ever, would like to know.
In the third place then, one would hunt for a school of thought or for theorists and practitioners in business and government who could credibly develop and defend the thesis that Corporate Social Responsibility was something that could become Standard Operating Procedure in such a way as to relieve the crises and conundrums that have been universal, and that have arguably intensified and grown less tractable, under corporate capitalism through the centuries. Indubitably, all types of institutional and individual interlocutors would argue forcefully that they could make such a case.
For example, the search, < csr OR “corporate social responsibility” possibility OR plausibility OR hope support OR backing OR validation OR validity OR proof scholarship OR analysis OR research >, delivers leads that number over thirteen million, many of which would offer staunch support for a CSR perspective. Outside of a dispensation of eternal life, or something similar, disproving them all would prove an impossibility. Logistics alone would depose such a herculean effort.
However, in analyzing the inadequacy of several common ideas about how to deliver CSR, this essay establishes a boundary of rebuttal that allows it to move on with the remainder of this exposition. A not infrequent criticism of these promoters of the possible existence of Corporate Social Responsibility is that they derive payment from, or otherwise maintain useful and important relationships with, the very beneficiaries of the conclusions that they reach. Such conflict-of-interest at the least biases, and quite likely invalidates, their perspectives as anything other than more PR hype.
Peter Fleming and Marc Jones offer what many would consider a devastating deconstruction of CSR pretensions in their recent monograph, The End of Corporate Social Responsibility: Crisis and Critique. They point out the blindness, the hypocrisy, the duplicity, and more that sums up Corporate Social Responsibility as fatuous, even evil.
They begin by relating their experience of sharing CSR images from Google, which often show depictions of Earth, held in strong, caring hands. Their classes, often consisting primarily of business majors, when asked to interpret these pictures, pretty uniformly note the hoped-for corporate interpretation of such photoshopped ‘graphical-user-interfaces:’ decency, caution, protection, gentility, and so on and so forth.
At that point, “we share with our students an alternative interpretation, one that makes them smile and sometimes frown. It is clear, to us at least, that there is something obviously (and humorously) ridiculous about the image. First the idea of giant hands around the world is creepy. They clasp the earth like some alien god that is omnipresent, evincing an image of total control. The hands are apparently human, but we never see a face or a body, and one could imagine an abrupt change of mind as the giant nonchalantly squeezes the globe until it bursts like an overripe tomato. The hands also protrude from a dark jacket that strongly resembles a business suit. They hold the globe close (especially when poor India or Africa is visible), conveying a Promethean dominion over the planet. … almost as if a meddling humanity has won (even though we know it never does when it has a face-off with Gaia). Only in its failure does it desire to call the shots and make right the havoc and destruction it has wreaked over the past two hundred years.”
They compare such imagery to the scene in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator when the fascist potentate bats around an inflated Earth with wrathful glee and disdain for social or environmental consequences. Such a grasp of the nub of at least aspects of CSR is widespread enough so as, minimally, to insist that no ‘summary judgment’ motion to validate a CSR filing would ever survive an impartial judge’s ruling.
Most centrally of all, though, in evoking the belief that Corporate Social Responsibility exists in any meaningful form other than self-promotion, proponents of such views must willingly, better yet enthusiastically, convoke collaborative and collective conversation on all the subjects that comprise CSR. In turn, not just some but all community voices and perspectives not only merit, but also command, a seat at the ‘round-table’ of social reasoning and debate.
Unfortunately, to put the matter gently, articulation has been primarily one-way, coming from on high. Those of us who are ‘low on the totem poll,’ so to put the case, await our opportunity to participate. Certainly, since all of us who read this are adults, we all recognize that any attempt to resolve conflict and crisis must be inclusive, or the supposed resolution will lack adequate legitimacy, meaning that ‘friction’ will continue and intensify.
This key juncture—where dialog meets society and not merely its upper class—is, quite likely, the real heart of Corporate Social Responsibility. Either we bring to pass a true social intercourse, or protests and discomfiture will be the least of our worries.
Having demonstrated the fallacy of the most likely assumptions about what could promulgate a CSR agenda, a generalization about other ideation in this vein is possible. To wit, anything that does not fundamentally reformulate, or remove the right to follow, the profit motive can ever be likely to effectuate Corporate Social Responsibility.
In fact, those rare but real instances of smaller corporate emanations that do at least come close to deserving the denomination of socially responsible are universally those that in fact reduce the otherwise voracious appetite for maximizing shareholder cash-out, now, not tomorrow, but right now. Thus, profiteering—which basically means and completely implies acting to gain additional profits—can under no circumstance allow the evolution of any sort of regime that we could agree to label an instance of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Readers may or may not accept such a sweeping statement, but a gentle request is apropos in the event of skepticism. Such a student of life should continue to peruse what follows apace, watching as the historical, empirical, circumstantial, and rational case for the summation above comes to the fore. Then, the sooner the better, we should talk about it!
The AFTERWORD returns to this issue. Perhaps a complete consideration of the various elements of this report’s arguments will convince one who currently has doubts. If not, we can always agree to disagree. And, as noted constantly, further research, debate, and engagement, in any event, are always possible.
Additional, & Summative, Points Prior to Making an Initial Exit
Having illustrated, if nothing else, that a potent brief exists against the idea that even a simple ‘proof of concept’ of CSR is defensible, one might say still a bit more than this prior to moving on toward matters prefatory in nature. The first point to make is that a more robust ‘proof of performance’ in regard to Corporate Social Responsibility must be further still from realization.
Furthermore, though much more appears about historical matters below, a mere mention seems useful that CSR sorts of beliefs, which show up as briefs in favor of reforming capitalism, are nothing new. Robert Owen, in one fashion, and Jeremy Bentham, in a related way, demonstrate this inherently CSRcreed as a nascent exhibition by those among the bourgeoisie who found themselves inclined to notice barbaric treatment and callous exploitation of workers and nature.
In the event, just a few summary observations can send us on our way, awaiting a fuller presentation soon enough. A first overall point is that profit always, in the end, took over operations; only propaganda was ‘pure.’ A second is that the bedrock premise of this kind of ‘critique’ was that the rich had to reform themselves, not that any participation was necessary, or even welcome, by workers themselves, who were after all much too likely to be rabble. Third, many of the specific reforms that Owen in particular advanced became part of a unified platform, which all believers in social justice or social democracy accepted and promoted, of which the most well-understood sample might be the Eight-Hour-Day. One might continue; such amplification awaits, in any case.
Also pertinent to both restatement and a widening of discourse is to amplify the argument, mentioned above, about engagement, dialog, and participation. Most any analysis of Owenite ‘failures,’ its ‘unfortunate’ tendency toward dissolution or corruption, would elevate the lack of participatory democracy as a key basis for systemic breakdown.
One could name names here. Jürgen Habermas comes to mind; Slavoj Zizek; Benjamin Barber; Paulo Freire; plus countless others. The interested student would not suffer for lack of material, a small sampling of which is also upcoming.
In any event, a reader who comes this far has seen quite a bit already. First, the additions and initial deductions here are apt to note. Second, the text has revealed multiple reconfigurations of the prime argumentation, so to speak. Third, various ways of thinking about, and wrestling with, the engagement with, evaluation of, and actions regarding Corporate Social Responsibility have put in appearances so far. The upshot, too, of course, is clear: CSR pretentions may be merely some mix of a shell game and a dog-and-pony-show, or they could be something more sinister and insidious; whatever the case may be, no workable demonstration of substantial CSR is extant; furthermore, and finally, the construction of the social tango about these questions is at best flawed and insufferably one-sided.
Ending Our Beginning
If nothing else, the briefing that takes place here permits a sturdy response to the frequent complaint that characterizes the current pass, in essence that the truly lovely potential of CSRhas gone down in flames or up in smoke because of bad people, bad management, or some combination of the two. On the contrary, any sort of careful evidence-based review would retort, the very heart of the matter or belly of capital’s beast makes even the best laid plans, the most beneficent of intentions, a chance to pave a path to hell.
Therefore, a reader might evince the capacity both to circumscribe and circumnavigate the realm of the denizen of Corporate Social Responsibility. In essence, the context of CSR presumes or substantiates the dominance of capital, an assumption or assertion of hegemony that everyone who is not a denizen of capital’s total imprimatur would do well to question closely and treat skeptically. This should do as a start, in any event.
A query related to defining and explicating CSR ought also to appear obvious. “Why are such ways of thinking and analysis so common now, and over the past period of time?” The next section addresses this query indirectly, by uncovering the deeper historical roots of capital’s ongoing tendency to devolve into disruption and mayhem.”
Here is an idea that I’ve expressed on wood, which my wife and I transform into art. “That yesterday affects today is no more in doubt than is the fact that the mother’s experience of gestation influences the birth and future development of her child: truly the past authors the present in similar fashion as the rains of Spring induce the growth of Summer and Autumn’s bounty, or lack thereof.”
Time’s touch often enough caresses one’s memory, as one might experience on birthdays or other repositories of fond recollection; at other junctures, however, the temporal interface has more in common with a jab in the gut or an ax in the face. Most people in North America would likely see September eleventh as such a problematic point in time for purposes of recalling the past.
Especially when pain or plaintive loss characterizes the way we remember a particular yesterday, we owe ourselves—unless our hope is to maximize the generation of more such memories—a stalwart attempt to understand how what was painful and harmful came to pass. Such thinking would, as just noted, probably apply to most Americans’ feelings about what happened in New York City fourteen years ago. Thus, we ought to inquire why and how jets flew into skyscrapers, and we should willingly dig deeply in seeking answers.
Especially in the United States, however, such sifting of days gone by for insight to the present pass presents a nearly intractable problem. Media repeatedly obfuscate and falsify, or at least trivialize, what happened. Standard-issue or other ‘accepted’ history books provide assessments that are partial or plain wrong. Discourse and debate about how ‘bad things happen to good people’ is, charitably, sadly inadequate.
Were the results of these patterns merely a lack of closure and a missing out on understanding, these eventualities would be bad enough. When such archetypes of prejudice and ignorance make probable, or even certain, upcoming new disasters that stem from inadequate capacity to contextualize the roots of events, the cost is incalculable, possibly including the destruction of human life on our planet.
In relation to matters like 9/11, plenty of writing on this year’s September 11th speak to issues of note in regard to our beliefs about andremembrance of things past. Very few of them, however, at least here at home, have anything to say about what took place twenty-eight years prior to 2001 on that day, thousands of miles to the South in Chile.
The events there—involving premeditated murder of at least ten thousand people—resulted from explicit planning-assistance and other resources that the United States made available to the assassins and butchers who ran Chile on behalf of demonstrably imperial and illegal interests for fifteen years after the terrible occasion of 9/11/1973. If citizens here do not understand these things, then the next ‘terrorist’ attack on North American soil will be much worse.
Therefore, on this day, the Spindoctor is posting a thorough—which means lengthy—investigation and analysis of what transpired in Chile forty-two years ago, reportage that has had a life online already but which is worth proffering again for people again to have the chance to read. At least, it is worthy of further reflection if we hope to avoid upcoming catastrophes markedly more dire than anything that’s take place plus far.
In our regular aggregation of Daily Links, a Thought of the Day appears. Here’s one from this week that may be apt. “What the futuremight deliver is often enough much more in keeping with one’s hopes and needs than the seemingly arcane intricacies and paradoxes of the tumultuous present, all of which of course comes to us from a past that appears inscrutable enough to forestall our investigating it carefully, a truly unfortunate error, since the only way that tomorrow’s light will be likely to shine sweetly in our favor is if we comprehend yesterday well enough both to see the current moment clearly and accurately, and then to set a course for an evolution of today’s reality that this awareness designates as at least plausible, as well as necessary for the fruition of our goals and objectives.”
As always, one might present the nub of today’s script simply. One chronicler has stated the matter under consideration like this: “The division of labor among nations is that some of them specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throat of Indian civilization.”
The winners are frequently easily recognizable, among them the likes of Henry Kissinger and Citibank; Richard Helms and the Central Intelligence Agency; the Guggenheim interests, the Rockefeller interests, and the panoply of well-heeled conquerors who dot the modern prospect. The losers often seem less obviously noteworthy or famous—Salvador Allende, Victor Jara, and Rene Schneider simply don’t have the same name recognition as, say, Richard Nixon does.
Those whose lives the winners snuffed out, sometimes in a hail of bullets and other times through hunger and more protracted forms of attrition, had many different hopes and dreams. Though one might easily have chosen differently, this essay focuses on some of those ‘losers’ who believed in social justice and social democracy, particularly in Chile during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The ‘winners,’ on the other hand, possessed a much more uniform consciousness and set of goals. They sought profit over all else; most importantly, they organized to crush the merest hints of any workable expression of sharing, of mutuality, of popular empowerment. They organized themselves in trust-funded operations that served a single purpose: the promotion and persistence of monopoly empire. Understanding these points about the commonly-held attitudes among history’s victors is at least half the problem of understanding why these travails have played out as they have.
As always with the Spindoctor’s profferrals, this article is lengthy. One may alleviate the burden by noting that the analysis here occurs in many sections. One a day, or one a week, might seem more manageable than any idea of gulping down the whole in one slurp.
With very few exceptions, the dramas and conflicts, the heroics and horror, that took place in and around Santiago Chile during the thirty years from 1960-1990 did not happen to the readers of this document. Thus, in order to dig into the heart and soul of these struggles for human decency and the battles of the above ‘winners’ against them, one needs a willingness to identify with both sides of the ‘class war’ that unfolded in these environs plus-or-minus forty years ago.
Identification with those who prevailed is much easier, since they own or control, along with most everything else on our fair planet, the means of production of information and knowledge. They hold the keys to the secrets that they still hide away. Identification with those who lost, often dying for their actions and beliefs and songs, presents a thornier problem. We have to try harder to see and feel what they underwent.
Such empathy, however, clearly does depend on imagination. Verses like these necessitate a fierce delving of plausible meaning, for example, while we fight to maintain our composure and avoid nervous distraction that borders on fear.
“How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment.”
One might picture a large stadium in one’s mind’s eye, at the cusp of a Southern Hemisphere Spring, ten days from the Vernal Equinox. The pitch has a huge table in the very center, its top splotched with mottled blood and pieces of flesh, patches of hair and tissue. At all the exits and facing the stands are uniformed men, most carrying assault rifles, all their faces grim and sleep-deprived except when the occasional joke or comment elicits derision and cackles; a few gather in groups around .30 and .50 caliber machine guns. They point these instruments of management and death casually at the stands.
These weapons have already killed a few score of the many thousands—some say only 5,000 or so, others that more than 10,000 were present, under arrest and awaiting their fate—who face their captors like cattle that are conscious of hamburger. One of the men among the captives, in what would be a sparse crowd for either a soccer finale or a ‘friendly’ with visiting gringos, seeks to give comfort to those present. Though fear constrains his voice, he sometimes leads songs.
At one point during the third day of this ‘spontaneous’ upwelling of fascism that took place in Santiago de Chile in the period after September 11, 1973, this man, whose name is Victor, approaches one of the commandantes with a request from an ailing comrade. The officer, at first impassive, grins with sadistic glee when he recognizes the speaker, mimicking a simpering guitarist, eyes arched inquisitively.
Victor’s face blanches. He must sense what is pending. At a signal from their leader, soldiers seize him by the elbows and lead him to the central stage.
Seated at the grimy table spattered with slime and fluid, he finds himself surrounded. Two men restrain him from rising. A third man extends his right arm, a fourth his left, into the bloody mess on the sturdy wooden surface where he sits, trembling. Another teniente smacks him in the head each time that he balls his fists. Ultimately, he splays his fingers, and the pistol-whipping stops.
Already battered and bruised from ‘interrogation,’ he breathes unevenly. He begins to weep. Standing nearby, a man with a machete—or is it a hand-axe of some sort?—whistles a tuneless, psychotic dirge.
At times, the verities of real-politick are so hideous and noisome that even mentioning them—let alone studying them thoroughly—brings on attacks of nausea and vertigo. One simply wants to flee, find a safe haven or asylum that doesn’t require noting and pondering the murder in the name of justice, depredation in the name of ‘development,’ and violent repression in the name of ‘freedom’ that have characterized imperial adventures in the modern sphere, with the United States—its vaunted ‘bastion-of-liberty’ notwithstanding—the leading villain.
On the other hand, an inability to deal with the real—to this day, “reality orientation” is a critical part of how ‘professionals’ evaluate one’s mental health—not only impedes effectiveness, but it might also result in more and more of exactly the types of events that we would rather deny existed. Nowhere in the immediately-prior-to-contemporary ambit—not in Palestine, not in Ukraine, not in the South China Sea, not in South Asia, not in Africa, not in any other geographic location—have such lethal dynamics come into play with more ferocity than until recently they did in Latin America. Not for nothing has Eduardo Galeano described the entire region as a body of “opened veins.”
Whatever social description of this vast Hispanic Diaspora has become apropos in the present moment, the U.S. has continued to persist in seeking to apply Monroe’s righteous doctrine. This shows up in Venezuela, in Argentina, and of course in Cuba, as well as elsewhere.
This Yankee morass of ‘magical’ pleasure and nightmarish torment has endured for a century-and-a-half or more. Over this entire period, arguably no event or series of occurrences has more clearly illustrated this locus of luxuriant horror than did the crushing of Salvador Allende’s idealistic Chilean experiment in electoral socialism. In any case, that outpouring of homicidal conspiracy is the context for the topic of the day.
The particular focus in these pages is the culture of love and optimism in which President Allende’s miracle came to fruition, how that popular expression of music and artistic passion has continued despite the imperial slaying of its primary proponents—men such as Victor Jara. Jara’s magnificent life and heroic death, then, are the center around which this narrative turns as it develops the thesis that this magnificence and heroism continue and are more crucial than ever to human survival.
Before we take an inevitably too brief—and also, for many readers, too lengthy—foray into this realm of art and power in faraway Chile, however, both in the remainder of this section and in the preface that follows, readers may view the violent heart of the brutal patterns that have characterized both this region’s relations with the United States and Latin American society’s internal dynamics generally for the centuries during which colonialism has evolved into the complexities of modern empire.
The overall idea about North America’s Latin American nexus is straightforward. For the better part of two centuries—since at least the War with Mexico—top administrators of the United States, at a minimum the President and the military establishment, have been likely culpable for mass homicide and conspiracy in Spanish speaking countries of the hemisphere. Such indictments may not be incontrovertible and might now and again fail to yield a conviction, but the accusations would be universally reasonable.
Especially in regard to Chile’s destruction on September 11th, 1973, the prosecutorial stance becomes even clearer and more pointed. With virtually no doubt, Richard Nixon is a murderer, a conspirator and accessory before and after the fact. With a similar degree of certitude, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Richard Helms is also a probable murderer. So too, in the same elliptical way, is National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger just about certainly guilty of conspiracy and aiding and abetting homicide.
Given facts both direct and circumstantial, both the result of documentation and eyewitness accounts, even lacking the still vast troves of inculpatory evidence that the U.S. refuses to release, no rational jury would likely find these men blameless or fail to reach a unanimous verdict. In the arena that this essay examines, therefore, with a degree of probability that approaches exactitude, Richard Nixon, Richard Helms, and Henry Kissinger are as responsible for the savage torture and killing of Victor Jara as if they had personally wielded the blade that chopped off his fingers, as if they had individually pulled the triggers that riddled his body with forty-four bullets.
The same would be also almost definitely true of a small army of ‘Yankee’ operatives, from various agencies of empire, who have all—like these ‘leaders of the free world’—escaped judgment. Quite plausibly, in any case, each of the primary actors would also be complicit in crimesagainsthumanity.
These pronouncements are quite specific. They are also, except by those whose fatuous commitment to propaganda and falsehood permits supercilious debate, close enough to indisputable to do as Chile and other jurisdictions have done, seeking the extradition of Henry Kissinger to question him about his role in these sorts of horrific crimes. Or, a scholar might examine Richard Helm’s conviction for lying to Congress about this countrywide torture and slaughter in the Andean nation. Anyhow, along with these more or less exact condemnations, we could also offer a more general statement in regard to Santiago and its environs.
To state this overview succinctly, we might employ a more or less definitive clause here: That the United States Proceeded in Chile as Elsewhere With MALICE Aforethought. This combination of subject and verb and modifiers itself contains an acronym: MALICE—Murder, Antipathy, Lies, Individualism, Conspiracy, Emiseration—that perfectly and more or less completely summarizes the period from 1960 till now in Chile and the so-called ‘Southern Cone. In fact, this is one of the many environments where John F. Kennedy disingenuously called for continuing a “good neighbor policy” that had arguably not existed when Franklin Roosevelt advanced it during the 1930’s and had close to zero correspondence to actuality during JFK’s Presidency or the administrations that followed.
An arguably crucial point in this regard is as follows. As Victor Jara, hands dripping gore and painful beyond sore, croaked out a last song—he had stood, stumps of fingers that spurted blood, and the leader of the butchers had commanded “sing for us now, poet”—in a voice choked with pain and fear, as he stared down the barrels of the automatic weapons that would end his life, he understood these things about empire and power and knew their central place in any future resistance to such events’ transpiring again.
Prefatory Matters—Monroe’s’ Doctrine’ to ‘War’s Racket’ Writ Large in Cuba
The all-too-standard view is that history is disposable, at best. “I don’t care about history. I don’t like history. History sucks.” No matter how toxic or tragic, such perspectives probably resonate with a majority of citizens.
When adults hold such views, this resembles a mature child who despises its parents. In a fashion that an earlier investigation here on Contributoria employed, such an attitude is like a panicked traveler who is seeking directions to ‘Portland’ without knowing where he is. Or, these beliefs mimic the difficulties of one who desperately wants to ‘find the way to Portland’ but doesn’t know where she came from to get wherever in hell she is.
Here we all are, in a world in which one empire-of-the-Americas has inordinate influence over the fates of every living human, and yet we really don’t come close to comprehending how this has all come about. Maybe at least a brief foray into the developments that took us from past to present could serve our interests.
In this regard, vast armies of dedicated scholars might spend many lifetimes deconstructing the conquest of the Americas by Europe. In doing so, the observer would want to account for the significant differences that distinguish Hispanic America from Anglo America.
Unfortunately, accomplishing such a task effectively and briefly is likely impossible, yet a few salient aspects of such interpretative work would at least suggest the parameters that an annalist might establish to examine these obvious differences.
A key element would likely be the relative importance of extractive versus agricultural and then industrial economies, which in turn affected everything in the spheres of production and trade.
The greater capacity for resistance, or at least persistence, of Chile’s Mapuche and the entire region’s indigenous population, is also likely important; one Spanish potentate whom Chilean Indian rebels captured early in the colonial fray, after they slaughtered all the soldiers who had accompanied him in his attempt to assert the continued enslavement of native laborers, may have died as a result of the Mapuche’s pouring molten gold, which he so craved, down his throat.
What one might call this ‘culture of conquistadors’ also probably played a role in establishing a landholding class that practically speaking predominated in much of Chile, and much of Latin America, until the past century or so; of course, the working classes that underlay such a system would differ at least slightly from the ‘regular people’ who formed the masses of folks further North in North America.
One might continue: geography, proximity to Europe and the ease of immigration, the different social developments that characterized England and Spain, and much more would tend to lay the basis for what ended up being quite distinct social and political communities in the Western Hemisphere.
In any event, these sorts of factors would indeed have established foundations for the way that actual relationships evolved as modern times approached and came to pass.
In this vein, from the point of view of the Spanish-speaking Americas, this initiation of the realm of the present, more or less, must emerge from the severing of colonial dominance from Madrid. Over the course of twenty years or so after 1800, every piece of Spanish America broke away from direct European dominance, with a few exceptions like Cuba and British Guyana.
Even cursory glances at the writings of such ‘rebels’ as Simon Bolivar illustrate that this process was not obviously similar to what happened in British colonial North America. In one letter or tract after another, El Liberator wrote of the lack of networks of power, of crushing debts that the means of production would not alleviate, of leaders so venal and greedy that they would likely turn on each other and defeat themselves given time and space to accomplish their natural inclinations. The end result of all these difficulties was an Iberian and ‘Holy Alliance’ counterattack on the erstwhile independent States in the early 1820’s, focused especially on Peru.
“Everything (in Lima) is in disorder; there is no government, no army. President La Mar has always been a godo(a selfish idiot), and most of the army heads have always been godos, and the naval commander at Callao as well. The chief of staff, the commanding officers of engineers, and the commanding officer of artillery are also godos. In these circumstances…(a) large(r) number of troops (than the 3,000 that Bolivar dispatched) is not being sent for the present because it is impossible. I have no ships, no provisions, and no troops here. We have already spent a hundred thousand pesos, and we are just beginning the enterprise. In order to send the next 3,000, God knows what we shall have to do, for we are burdened with debts, and we do not have the slightest credit.”
Bolivar’s vision was of a United States of South America, and his will that it should come to be was powerful. “(I)t shall be done, cost what it may.” Yet the leaders under his command conspired against each other as readily as—or even more readily than—they united to fight Spanish attempts to reassert its rule. They negotiated separate arrangements with England, the United States, and other rising industrial economies.
Chile’s place in these ventures—plus-or-minus 1823—was complex and not at all uniform. On the one hand, years earlier, Bolivar had considered Chile particularly apt to adopt ‘republicanism,’ especially under the aegis of Bernardo O’Higgins. For many years, Santiago had diligently supported federation and seemed a reliable bastion against Spain’s attempts to overthrow the young republics and to defeat their union.
One of Bolivar’s chief subordinates, J. Gabriel Perez, corresponded with Chile’s plenipotentiary to Peru in May, 1823. He laid out the strategic and geopolitical context that was developing, in which the “United States of North America” might join with Spain and Portugal themselves in recognition of the new rulers.
The complications in this situation centered on demands from Continental European powers—Prussia, Russia, and Austria, the so-called Holy Alliance—that Spain reinstate the Bourbon King and return his colonial imprimatur at the same stroke. “England has authorized her minister in Madrid to conclude an offensive and defensive alliance with Spain… .to induce (it) to recognize the sovereignty of the South American states…(a necessity) if we are to interest ourselves in this tremendous struggle or if she is to provide herself with an immense new market for her industry and manufactures.”
England’s work behind the scenes with anti-Bourbon Spaniards and anti-royalist Portuguese would serve to advance the English imperial domination that had been a primary result of Napoleon’s defeat eight years before. Yet the Spanish in the colonies often enough remained completely committed to another Bourbon ascendancy and to the renewal of colonial plunder that was mercantilist and thereby excluded England.
Bolivar obviously hoped that Chile would provision and maintain a troop contingent in Peru of 2,000 men or more “not only (to) counterbalance Spanish power united there, but…also (to) give Peru greater strength than her enemies and provide more reasons to be recognized and more justification for English intervention on her behalf.” The basis for presuming Chile’s agreement to such requests concerned the Andean nation’s desire for more territory—soon enough to come to fruition—and its ongoing courting of both English and United States commercial links in its seafaring enterprises.
Just two years subsequently, despite Bolivar’s insistence that only a union of the newly independent states could salvage their ongoing viability, Bolivar added a postscript in a lengthy missive to Francisco Santander, the Vice President of Colombia. “Chile is in a state of frightful anarchy. Freire has gone to Concepcion, and Pinto to Coquimbo. The province of Santiago is governed by its intendant. Reports have it that the Chilean Congress will send a deputation to recall O’Higgins,” which would favor the faction that backed a confederation and Bolivar against those whose interests were narrower and more in tune with strengthening North American and British connections.
Though inherently truncated and superficial, these depictions ought at a minimum to create a template for viewing how Latin America developed. Its attempts at union having come to nothing—with United States approval for the multiplicities of jurisdiction clear-cut—its dependence on U.S. and, especially, English capital and markets having increased, these divided nation-states unavoidably fell into the orbit of one imperial ambition or another.
This became especially problematic when, unlike Chile, the just-formed political entities themselves eschewed republican commitment-to-commerce-over-blood and sought to impose monarchies of one sort or another. In Brazil, such moves might prove tolerable to those in Washington whose growing strength ‘manifested an imperial destiny’ that would seemingly encompass the hemisphere and might eventually bridle the entire globe.
But when this longing for royalty took place across a border that gringos increasingly crossed with an intention to own whatever they might purchase ‘free-and-clear,’ in other words in Mexico, then such developments might appear almost insufferable. Moreover, Mexican sociopolitical choices invited European involvement in their monarchical fancies, which U.S. officials unequivocally rejected.
Thus, on the American side, the debates about how to respond to this spate of rebellions and the promulgation of James Monroe’s famous ‘Doctrine’ would mark the coming of a more or less contemporary attitudinal and political nexus toward our ‘neighbors’ to the South. In Washington, no matter the fierce debates between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, regardless of quibbling over how to couch trade with territorial expansion, almost universal agreement existed both that significant, or even critical, “American interests” were at stake in how the hemisphere developed to the South of the U.S. borders at the time and that the capacity to extend force, as in the development and extension of especially naval operations and commerce, would constitute a necessary component of this overarching ‘interest.’
The secession of Texas from Latin America, its annexation by the United States, and war with Mexico manifested destiny in ways that continue to resonate in almost every arena of contemporary American life. That Mexico’s caste and class divisions were vastly more critical in causing the inevitable war with the United States to be an unmitigated disaster than were the military prowess or tactical proficiency of U.S. armed forces is important to note, of course. So too is the point of crucial import that the to-the-death fight over slavery that rent the U.S. in many ways began with the entry of Texas as slave territory into the union; in any case, most of New England and substantial parts of the Eastern U.S. stoutly opposed the war against Mexico.
The end result of the conflict, nevertheless, was the establishment of an ‘Uncle Sam’s’ strategic force that was capable of becoming behemoth, whose territorial extent, growing industrial prowess, and combination of capitalism and social free-for-all for men of European ancestry inaugurated the rise of Pax Brittanica in the Western Hemisphere even as it ultimately threatened to replace England’s rule with its own vigorous combination of bigoted self-confidence and practical productive savvy. In this way, the Monroe Doctrine formed a wedge for British industrial products and capital, on the one hand, and for the ready extraction of necessary resources, on the other hand. Even the ‘scandal’ of England’s offer to purchaseTexas could not derail the ‘special relationship’ between U.S. expansionism and English commercial and naval supremacy.
The wild yarn of William Walker complements the tale of Texas, where U.S. agents and opportunistic interlopers combined to bring an on-paper-only Mexican rule crashing down. Walker in 1854 exemplified filibustering that newcomers North of the Rio Grande had field-tested in the early 1830’s, an important outlet for those in the United States who hoped to institutionalize slavery as a key part of Western Hemispheric capitalism.
Walker first led comrades in an invasion of Baja California. When anticipated popularity did not materialize—in other words, no additional mercenaries showed up to fight off the paltry Mexican forces that opposed him—he ‘surrendered’ to U.S. authorities just across the relatively new U.S. California border.
He made his mark as an adventurer in Central America. He and a few dozen armed and trained soldiers-of-fortune allied with local gunslingers to depose and then dispatch the President of Nicaragua in a firing squad. He abrogated the prohibition on slavery and instituted a ‘constitution’ that mimicked the likes of Tennessee and South Carolina.
Viewing Walker’s filibustering as either an aberration or as individualist heroism represents the preferred surface explanation for these events. What actually transpired is much more modern, spookily so.
The issues at hand combined logistics—transportation between Eastern and Western North America primarily—and marketing—determining which products would find a way to consumers and final purchases. Specifically, the owners of the primary delivery operation across Nicaragua deployed Walker to shift the Central American State’s licensing permissions for transiting the Isthmus when Cornelius Vanderbilt’s stock manipulations in New York were eliminating Walker’s employers’ ownership of the company.
Vanderbilt reacted with typical efficiency to this challenge. He oversaw the organization of British and different Central American and dissident Nicaraguan counterattacks against Walker’s ‘Presidency.’ They permitted the dapper Tennessean to exit and warned him not to return. When instead he organized another filibuster and came back, they captured him and shot him to pieces in Honduras.
A half-century later, after a sectional bloodletting imposed a tepid emancipation of African-Americans and revolutionized the productive forces of the U.S. at one and the same time, a continental capitalist gargantuan erupted that had only been nascent during Walker’s day, late in the 1800’s tied together by rails and telegraph lines. In fulfilling this ‘sea-to-shining-sea’ destination, any further expansion, inevitably, had to occur outside Yankee borders.
More and more, like England after Waterloo, the United States needed an “Open Door” for its industrial and agricultural products and ‘freedom of access’ to natural resources in foreign jurisdictions. Miraculously, in less than a century, the tiny thirteen original states had spanned North America, and the Stars & Stripes prepared to take on the task of governing the world.
Frederick Jackson Turner’s note about the ‘frontier’s’ role in all this process, equal parts fantasy and description, resonates still. He spoke of the way that Americans saw themselves, to an extent, and totally of how ‘Uncle Sam’s’ rulers wanted to present themselves.
“Another wave rolls on. The men of capital and enterprise come. The settler is ready to sell out and take advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man of capital and enterprise in turn. The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen. Broad-cloths, silks, leghorns, crapes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue. Restaurants, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue. Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.”
However, the inevitable offshoot of such a dynamic was the ‘restless’ search for, even necessary acquisition of, markets and resources outside the ‘small-village’ ambit. After all, this sort of development ended with the ‘closing of the frontier.’ In this context, voila! All manner of divided and ‘underdeveloped’ polities lay close at hand, ready for propositioning or even more aggressive incursions.
Thus, war with Spain became an inevitable crusade, righteously defended in the name of liberty but operationalized in terms of industrial plantation agriculture and the decimation of grassroots, legitimate liberation movements in Cuba and the Philippines.
And the seeds that promised revolutionary growth in Cuba thereby percolated in fertile soil. None other than Che Guevara spoke of how this ‘duty’ in relation to Havana and its surrounds had played out as a historical pattern.
“(W)e all know the nature of that duty. (T)hat same duty took to account a sovereign nation, which is Mexico, for its expression of indignation at the violent and bestial economic aggression unleashed against Cuba. This duty of the United States is the same duty that compelled it to assassinate the patriot Sandino and put into power in Nicaragua the justly hated Somoza. The duty of the United States was to give arms and planes, first to Batista and then to those who continue his work. …Thus do the rulers of the most powerful nation in this hemisphere understand their duties. These are our ‘good neighbors,’ those who would defend us, who place a military base on our soil and pay us two thousand pesos a year for it; the sower of atomic bases on all the world’s continents, the barons of oil, tin, copper, and sugar—the heirs of monopoly.”
Through all of this maturation of empire, from the first presence of U.S. Navy forces off Chile in the 1820’s, as part of the regime of various trade necessities—in California and Asia both—to the massive investments far to the North of Santiago that took place as World War was guaranteeing at least temporary demand for Chilean Nitrate and copper, Washington’s relations with the slender Republic that stretched from Peru to Antarctica were relatively benign. Nothing disturbed a surface bustle that dealt with commerce and resources and a tendency to ‘leave well enough alone.’ At the same time, knowledge of such developments is less than sparse.
“Few however have pursued contemporaneous U.S. capital flow into overseas frontiers such as those in Chile, Venezuela, and elsewhere. ‘The Americans who invested in Chile were interested in any good proposition,’ notes Wilkins, ‘whether it lay in the arid lands bordering the Andes, in the Russian Caucasus, in Northern Mexico, or in the hills of Montana.’ By 1914, the Guggenheim mining group had spent $169 million in getting the Chilean mines off to a roaring start. …By 1929, U.S. investments in Chilean copper and Venezuelan petroleum had surpassed American efforts in both of those industries in Mexico.”
That such an agenda in fact typified the U.S. imprint in the region generally is obvious on the surface. Its placidity and businesslike amicability were only skin deep, however. “Banana Republics” is not merely a catchy phrase. Dozens of military invasions took place in the half century from the end of the U.S. war with Spain and the rise of Chile’s “New Song” and Salvador Allende’s dream of elected socialist power.
Eduardo Galeano speaks eloquently to such contentions: “After invading Panama, (George Herbert Walker Bush in 1991)…declared, ‘The world is a dangerous place.’ This pearl of wisdom has remained over the years as the most irrefutable justification for the highest war budget on the planet, mysteriously called the ‘defense budget.’ The name constitutes an enigma. The United States hasn’t been invaded by anybody since the English burned Washington in 1812. Except for Pancho Villa’s fleeting excursion during the Mexican Revolution, no enemy has crossed its borders. The United States, in contrast, has always had the unpleasant habit of invading others.”
Thus, a ‘Good Neighbor’ façade held little in the way of promise for social progress or popular power. In 1919, while he was advocating a League of Nations to assume the ‘duties’ that nations risked war in assuming, Woodrow Wilson stated the foundations of such ‘friendly’ viciousness succinctly. “Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?”
One of the most fascinating witnesses to this ongoing processing of commercial hegemony regardless, and military imposition as necessary, twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor. He served for the better part of a decade as Commanding General of the United States Marine Corps. Then he resigned to write War Is a Racket and seek a different way of approaching the production and control of life’s goods and services.
In fact, Smedley Butler acted very much like a socialist, or even a communist. His fiery populist statements, mostly applicable to Latin America, drew on thirty-odd years of military service. “I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. … I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.”
In keeping with Butler’s observations, Roosevelt’s and the American elites’ conception of Latin America was as a repository of resources for the conduct of Yankee assumption of the imperial crown that Britain had worn for so long. This was the nature of the U.S.-Chilean conjunction seventy-five years ago, as World War Two launched an ‘American Century,’ much more modest than Germany’s hoped-for ‘thousand year reich.’
In this manifestation of economic servitude, and all the social stew that accompanied such patterns, that exemplified Chile’s development as of the last half century or so, truly astounding cultural and literary expressions were mushrooming West of the Andes. Not that this was utterly atypical of Latin creativity, on the contrary, the region has burgeoned with film and poetry and music and drama and more for a long century or more. But these gardens of story in Chile were especially fertile in producing their blossoms.
One such set of materials form the subject matter of Sebastian Allende’s work, La Influencia Anarquista en la Literatura Chilena(“The Anarchist Influence in Chilean Literature). A central argument in his efforts revolves around the idea that anarchism and socialism, and even communism, have often conflated in Chilean culture. The ultimate goals of human liberation and worker solidarity transcend ideological niceties.
Another publication, more standard and encyclopedic in its orientation, but redolent of the extent and power of Chilean stories, is a sixty year old volume from Francisco Dussuel. Historia de la Literatura Chilena covers four centuries of tales that have emanated from Santiago and environs, though it does not emphasize indigenous mythology or all sectors of society equally.
A vastly larger compendium of explorations of Chile’s output might appear here. But that would divert us from reaching our goal of exploring the work of Victor Jara and the New Song Movement, both of which were en route to social transformation when the CIA and Augusto Pinochet and company cut off Jara’s hands and shot him dead, in many ways effectively decapitating the movement.
We are going to arrive at Jara’s critically important contribution to human life via an examination of his friend and comrade in struggle to achieve a better Chile, the Nobel Laureate and poet, Pablo Neruda. Amazingly though, Neruda’s was not the first instance of the Swedish committee’s notice of Chile.
Gabriela Mistral was an austere school teacher from a humble family in the dry foothills of Northern Chile’s mining regions, who also, miraculously given her far-from-upper-class roots, served as an occasional diplomat—a not infrequent practice that showed the reverence for culture that at times typified Chile and Spanish-speaking states more generally. “She pushed her way out of poverty and obscurity through publishing poetry and a range of teaching materials for use in schools.”
She wrote simple and ethereally beautiful verse. Often not overtly political, she nonetheless advocated for listening to Bolivar’s advice and decried the depredations of empire and fascism in her region and the Spanish Civil War. Before he died, Garcia Lorca wrote a dedication to her that alluded to her love of land and Leo Tolstoy’s brand of peasant social anarchism: “When you lie still – ay, Gabriela, Gabriela – the Andes will cradle you – as if in a mint – and will make you a clay sarcophagus – that you may always have land.”
She corresponded with wealthy literati elsewhere in the Southern Cone, who sought her out and considered the issues of the day in tandem with her, especially as she acted as one of Chile’s diplomatic corps. She fulminated on the rights of women and children and found herself caught in the grip of uprisings of anarchists and communists and the reactionary counterattacks of the rulers of the established order.
Both her fundamentally progressive mindset and her achieving the highest award in literature—the only woman from Hispanic America and the first Latin American to do so—directs the onlooker to consider the man whose poetry remains more memorable, but not necessarily any more important, in understanding Chile and its cultural gifts to all the world. Certainly, Pablo Neruda would have responded with both joy and grief to her ferocious insistence that justice required radical transformation.
“The whole world has gone astray. Selfishness, lust for power, and ignorance being the reasons why. The greater number of us are a burden on the few, the ones who rule with a startling brazenness and inhumanity. Fear, weapons, violence and concentration camps are turning man into a veritable puppet, stripping him ruthlessly of his greatest possession: his freedom to think and act and his creative mind.”
By Way of Introduction—Pablo Neruda’s Revolutionary Spirit
In this context of Chilean magnificence, the poetry and politics and lusty loving nature of Pablo Neruda form a seamless whole. Moreover, his origins, as much so as any Nobel Prize winner ever, illustrate the way that humble roots can percolate a body of work that, so to speak, caffeinates truly radical words, insurrectionary verses that touch on every realm of life.
The hope here is not even to approximate an exhaustive portrait of this poet, both earthy and heartfelt, whose massive output and tremendous love for humanity continue to astonish anyone who notices. On the contrary, a relatively few brushstrokes should serve this narrative’s needs.
The primary purpose of Neruda’s inclusion in this essay is to draw parallels between the lives, literary output, and moral sensibilities of two great creators—one a Nobel Prize winning poet, the other a revered folk singer and dramatist. Chile’s working class, its lusty earthiness, its grand isolation amid astounding natural beauty, the Spanish language, and the dire struggles of wage-earners for dignity and justice joined Neruda and Jara, as if nature had conjoined them at the hip.
Like Gabriela Mistral, Neruda’s poetic name resembles his given name not in the least. His father worked Chile’s rails in the time before trucking, when the only way to traverse almost three-thousand miles was via trains that the British had financed and built. His mother died of tuberculosis before he had reached his second birthday.
He adored his stepmother, ‘Mamadre,’ who adopted the half-sister whom his father conceived with a lover while she was still nursing their son, the future ‘Pablo’s’ half brother. He loved words from the age of ten at least, though his father discouraged him from fantasizing about seeking to support himself with his wrist.
Nevertheless, he began to publish little bits and pieces on the sly, from the age of thirteen on. Perhaps miraculously, in the guise of fate if nothing else, the principal of the girl’s school adjacent to his academy was none other than Ms. Mistral, on the way to a Nobelist’s renown of her own.
She encouraged the fifteen year old, whom she directed to read Russian writers whenever he could. From this guidance came his discovery of the Czech poet, Jan Neruda, whose patronymic he adopted, along with the common ‘Pablo,’ a change of his name that he hoped would keep from altogether alienating his father.
In the event, his talent transferred a soulful passion for life to the page in raging, fiery, delicious, lusty verses that caused his receiving almost instant recognition as a scribe. Following his graduation from University, and the publication of Twenty Love Poems & a Song of Despair, Chile sent him abroad, indulging its more-than-occasional practice of awarding writers with diplomatic assignments—his first posting was to Burma.
In Argentina for a time in the 1930’s, he opened his eyes to the sociopolitical realm, even as he was composing the most abstract verses of his life. He befriended Garcia Lorca and ended up with an attaché’s position in Spain shortly thereafter.
He powerfully propounded the Republican movement. So much so did he support this anti-monarchical cause that Chile recalled him from his post. However, he returned to Europe in 1938 where, from Paris, he helped to find Spanish refugees places to live in the Western Hemisphere.
His popularity was skyrocketing at this point, as was his income, yet he had already begun to circle the Communist cause that was to define the remainder of his life. He served Chile in Mexico in the early 1940’s, returning to Santiago to run for the Senate in 1944 and win, as a Communista.
His criticism of a dour and reactionary President—albeit a man whom he had supported in the election, and whose party won in an alliance with the Communists—contributed to Gonzales Videla’s outlawing the Communist Party and issuing a warrant for Neruda’s arrest. He lived underground for nearly two years, before his comrades and supporters helped him to escape the Andes for half a decade.
He spoke publicly and fully for the first time, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, of this experience. He rode through the Andes for as much as a week, crossing icy rivers late in the Southern Winter. Four rural roustabouts guided him through trackless forests surrounded by glaciers and massive peaks. These horsemen hacked trees to mark their return path.
When they passed makeshift bowers that marked some fallen sojourner, they would each cut new branches to add to the bedding for the dead. Crossing a mirrored, snow-fed waterway, his horse nearly shed him as it swam in water over its head. One of his companeros had followed with a lasso in case the poet fell, in waters that had years before swept the young guardian’s father to his death.
Fleeing prison, perhaps demise, he and his comrades came upon a flower-strewn meadow that bloomed with Spring’s approach. There, they encountered a natural chapel that housed an open, ox-skull altar where each of the travelers placed dried fruit or bits of money, gifts that bypassers might find in the dead beast’s staring eye-sockets. They each danced to honor the deity that lived in the bones, hopping a circle around the gleaming bleached horns, with only the sky and the rocks and the wind and the trees and the snows to winess.
Shortly after, they saw a rocky redoubt where entire trees burned more or less constantly to warm and provide process heat for Argentine workers who made cheese at sixteen thousand feet and sang and shared their lives and their food and their wine with Chileans who welcomed the opportunity to douse themselves in volcanically heated baths and treasured the chance to sleep inside, safe from police or soldiers or freezing to death. When Neruda sought to give money to these creators of processed food, his generous hosts, they refused.
He continued his ruminations about what this experience of life had taught about simplicity and solidarity and plenty more besides.
“(I)f the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind’s products: bread, truth, wine, dreams. If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity. Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.”
Throughout his life, Pablo Neruda—who legally changed his name in 1946—openly celebrated the erotic and carnal fires that he and his adored companions lit with each other, in each other, through each other. Darker visions blended with these volcanic expressions of life’s core, forming a fabric of desire and loss, joy and pain, that appeared in much of his work, expressive attributes that he shared with all kinds of other Chilean and Hispanic wordsmiths.
Returning to Chile in 1952, he had become even more staunchly Marxist and committed to the Communist cause, at the same time that he engaged in stern critique of Stalin after Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 condemnation of the dictator. All over the world, people translated and bought his poetry. He continued to carry around his copy of Whitman’s Song of Myself, one of his muses.
He ran as a Communist candidate for President against Salvador Allende and Jorge Alessandri, the CIA darling in 1970, siding with Allende in the runoff. A passage from his Nobel speech thirteen years later illuminated such a choice. “By extending to these extreme consequences the poet’s duty, in truth or in error, I determined that my posture within the community and before life should be that of in a humble way taking sides. I decided this when I saw so many honourable misfortunes, lone victories, splendid defeats. In the midst of the arena of America’s struggles I saw that my human task was none other than to join the extensive forces of the organized masses of the people, to join with life and soul with suffering and hope, because it is only from this great popular stream that the necessary changes can arise for the authors and for the nations. And even if my attitude gave and still gives rise to bitter or friendly objections, the truth is that I can find no other way for an author in our far-flung and cruel countries, if we want the darkness to blossom, if we are concerned that the millions of people who have learnt neither to read us nor to read at all, who still cannot write or write to us, are to feel at home in the area of dignity without which it is impossible for them to be complete human beings.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Neruda’s glorious oeuvre graces very few literature courses below the graduate level in the United States. Such a distancing is consciously political on the part of Yankee institutional ‘objectivity.’
“’No writer of world renown is perhaps so little known to North Americans as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda,’ observed New York Times Book Review critic Selden Rodman. Numerous critics have praised Neruda as the greatest poet writing in the Spanish language during his lifetime, although many readers in the United States have found it difficult to disassociate Neruda’s poetry from his fervent commitment to communism.”
Agelessly, Neruda’s monumental presentation to the audience in Stockholm serves as a gentle remonstrance to North American ignorance and arrogance. “We have inherited this damaged life of people’s dragging behind them the burden of the condemnation of centuries, the most paradisiacal of peoples, the purest, those who with stones and metals made marvellous towers, jewels of dazzling brilliance – peoples who were suddenly despoiled and silenced in the fearful epochs of colonialism which still linger on.”
A secondary rationale for including Don Pablo here is that he too died shortly after Pinochet’s minions ripped Chile’s social fabric to shreds and slaughtered and disappeared thousands of civilians who supported Allende. Since one focus of the Pinochetista bloodlust was on communist artists, many people contend that the fascists killed Neruda in some fashion similarly as they dispatched Victor Jara and so many others.
However this is not likely true. At sixty-nine, Neruda was in a Santiago hospital and fighting cancer.
Inevitably, he encountered mediated presentations of the dance of death that Pinochet and the CIA were delivering to his native land, where his political opponent-turned-comrade, the socialist Allende, had been President when he entered his sickbed.
His wife of many years, the love of his life, recalls some of what her beloved underwent in the twelve days that followed September 11th. She had returned to his side when he had summoned at one point. “I dashed up to his room and sat down beside him. I was exhausted with nervous tension. Pablo is very agitated. He said that he has spoken with many friends and that it is incredible that I don’t know what is going on in the country. ‘They’re killing people,’ he tells me. ‘They’re handing over bodies in pieces. The morgue’s full of the dead, the people are outside in their hundreds, claiming the bodies. Didn’t you hear what happened to Victor…Jara? He was one of those they tore to pieces, they destroyed his hands.’ As I had tried to avoid his finding out about all the hair-raising news those days, he thought I was ignorant of everything. ‘The body of Victor Jara in pieces. Didn’t you know that? Oh my God, that’s like killing a nightingale. And they say that he kept on singing and singing, and that drove them wild.’”
Most probably, Pablo Neruda in the end died a few day later of a broken heart. The clinical record of ‘heart attack’ as cause of death would in that case be accurate.
Pinochet personally forbade any public display for his funeral. For days, despite this ban, thousands of people gathered to honor Pablo Neruda and bring flowers and song to his grave.
Core Matters—Poignant Paradox & Pointed Protests
Chile’s outsize cultural impact has already had a turn on this essay’s stage. The work of Mistral and Neruda and others worked as antidote to heartbreak, even in the most woeful evolution of the world’s twists and turns. This literary and artistic heft represents a multidimensional fabric that serves to support both Chilean society most specifically, Latin society with almost the same degree of clarity and completeness, and the wider world more broadly speaking.
A few additional notes can assist in launching this narrative’s central sections. In each case, elements of the life and labor of Victor Jara are also part of the web that this briefing describes.
Frank sexuality and sensuality, as already alluded to, form a part of Chilean consciousness and enculturation. That this happens in an arena where strict Catholicism holds sway is less paradoxical than one might imagine.
Isabel Allende, the assassinated President’s relative, not only composed entire novels through which a strongly feminine earthiness and lustiness expressed itself, but she also spun out briefer yarns that were even more graphic. “Toad’s Mouth” is one of these.
It tells the tale of a vast sheep preserve in Chile’s South, practically inaccessible and owned by a pair of married British investors. With few exceptions, all of the locals are men, strong but lonely, whose sole sexual outlets are either autonomous or bestial: both sheep and skinned seals serve on occasion.
Into this realm comes a powerful dervish of a woman. She serves as confessor and consort to all of these men. The particular customer of any give moment depends on who wins the games that she invents, one of which involves tossing a coin at her vaginal opening as she sits in a circle with legs spread wide.
She gyrates her hips in such a way that only rarely does a man gain a blessed hour or two with her as a result of this contest. Along comes a slender, diminutive Argentine, taciturn and fierce of mien.
He has arrived in search of her. He has an intuition that she is his mate. In the game, he pitches his coin with such accuracy that she accepts him as her partner for a couple of hours or so.
They do not emerge from their embraces till the long afternoon and evening and night have yielded to a new dawn. She packs her things and the newly inaugurated couple ventures forth toward a joined fate.
Strongly feminist and strongly anti-machismo are the lines of Allende’s stories. This quality matches Mistral’s work, as already noted. Many other feminist and lusty women also share these attributes with the author of House of the Spirits.
One other especially notable is Maria Bombal, whose metered paragraphs burst with longing. She gives voice to a woman’s fierce desire, which, if unmet evokes complete chaos. Such emotional and spiritual passion characterize her two brief novels and also intertwine with every line of her astounding short story, “The Tree.”
She ends this abbreviated mythic paean to music and carnal love almost with a manifesto. “They had stolen her intimacy, her secret; she found herself naked in the middle of the street, naked before an old husband who turned his back on her in bed, who had given her no children. …Lies! Her resignation and serenity were lies; she wanted love, yes love, and trips and madness, and love, love.”
A powerful contextualization of intuition and the average person’s capacity to see and to seek is also readily apparent in both Chilean music and literature. While as ever one might find dozens or even hundreds of cases to exemplify this, two writers offer exemplary insights about this aspect of the Chilean Canon.
Robert Ampuero’s detective novels, literary gems, display this all-consuming yearning for knowledge. Only his most recent installment in a multi-volume series is available in English, as The Neruda Case. Undoubtedly, some kind of epistemological motivation is inherent in the detective genre, yet the contours of this longing is especially provocative in this series.
“If Cayetano’s case is driven by the poet’s quest for closure, the novel also reexamines the disjunctions between political philosophies and personal politics during that long tour from country to country. The closing chapter, returning readers to 21st-century Chile, provides an ironic and potentially redemptive coda to the book’s vivid depictions of troubled histories. Closely related to all this, Cayetano’s musings on detective fiction quickly show how the investigative techniques of first-world novels don’t apply to the uncertainties of the Latin American landscape. Unlike in the rational and logical world of Maigret, ‘in Latin America — where improvisation, randomness, corruption, and venality were the order of the day — everything was possible.’”
Much better known, already dead though he just barely attained his first half century, Roberto Bolano also manifested—in the chatter and chants of an astounding variety of voices—the common folk’s perspectives on life. Such a capacity is ubiquitous in The Savage Detectives, 2666, and Chile by Night.
In a different formulation of what Chile has to teach us, Roberto Bolano—or for that matter Isabel Allende, whose work the youthful Roberto attacked with brutal vitriol —might easily take center stage. For now, a few further lines will do that this additional masterful yarnspinner from the Andes served up as forthrightly as he might announce his name.
“What twisted people we are. How simple we seem, or at least pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down. How paltry we are and how spectacularly we contort ourselves before our own eyes, and the eyes of others…And all for what? To hide what? To make people believe what?”
This leaves altogether out of the mix the author’s poetry, which he considered his literary life force even as he turned to fiction in order to make money for the family that he knew that he would soon leave behind as a result of liver disease. In any case, this vocalization of the incongruous and wild aspects of everyday life capture a core piece of literature’s magic, in all of which his roots in Chile —he returned from Mexico just in time for 9/11/73, escaping by happenstance—play a powerful role.
A consistent recognition that class and power-relations underlie the nature of story itself becomes rapidly apparent in Ampuero’s and Bolano’s writing, as it also does in Mistral’s, Neruda’s, and other Chileans. Before we move on to the way that these components of the Chilean contextualize the life and work of Victor Jara, we ought to mention the body of work of Jose Donoso.
“Donoso, whose first published stories were in English, could have become a Latin American Joseph Conrad had he adopted English as his literary language. Instead, he returned home and began to craft his intricate, minute, and brilliant fictions about the Chilean Bourgeoisie.”
“The Walk,” an eerie and discomfiting short story that he wrote in the middle of Allende’s brief stay in power, combines themes of psychological and psychosocial oppression that pervade upper-crust life with characterization that grapples with these difficulties like a stubborn wolverine. The spinster sister takes to ambling about with her dog after the beast urinates on the parlor floor. Her perambulations end up with her being out at all hours of the night, returning disheveled and gay instead of like her brothers, who are almost mad with worry and fear of a breach of decorum.
Then, like thousands of Chileans soon enough, she disappears. Her nephew ponders all of this with amazement, a combination of fear and longing that aptly describe what many Chileans were seeking, despite the risks, during Allende’s abortive reign.
Whatever the merits of Bolano’s savaging of Isabel Allende, her work, more so than any other writer’s—with the exception of Neruda and Jara—embraces the political aspects of human life. This is no accident. “The bloody military coup that resulted in the death of her uncle, the first democratically elected Marxist President in the hemisphere, was the confessed turning point of her life. Forced to face and, ultimately, to flee a systematically imposed reign of terror under the Pinochet regime, Allende emigrated with (her family) to Venezuela.”
Out of this nexus of love and loss, hope and terror, have grown lyrical and popular literary labors. Out of this cauldron have appeared her “overtly political (work that) address(es) through a love story the horrors of the ‘disappeared,’ who were taken off by the …authorities to be secretly tortured and murdered, but whose bodies were never returned.”
One could easily continue, but these additions to the groundwork of previous sections will further anchor what we have to learn about the bard from the barnyard, Victor Jara. For his rise to prominence depended on this supportive hammock that Chilean literature and music and culture has provided to its people, despite all the contradictions and tensions and polarities that were also present.
Victor Jara’s Iconic Presence
Once in a while, a man’s life, or a woman’s existence, so crystallizes an age that its narrative can become a key component of consciousness. Victor Jara embodies core themes of contemporary existence in this way. His dirt-poor rural roots; his soulful transformation of deeply religious teachings into a revolutionary social message; his joyous capacity to sing and perform and communicate with people that led him to attain truly a global audience that included all but fascist social milieus; his rising above the machismo and chauvinism that were a powerful component of his culture, so as to revere women as equal partners; to achieve the insight necessary to identify messages critical to human advance, even survival, and then to show the skill to craft those ideas in accessible ways, in various media, and then to demonstrate the courage essential to voice these views despite threats and assaultive violence; these were all characteristics of this actor and director and folklorist and folksinger and social justice activist.
The youngest of six boys that a tenant farmer and his wife conceived and bore into the world, his was a world from the time that he began to walk of nature and work. His father foresaw that six male children would permit his accumulation of land that would allow for social elevation for his family. As such, he fully intended to deny his youngsters schooling.
This caused a conflict with Victor’s mother, Amanda, who was a wedding singer and a popular folk musician in the region to the South of Santiago where Victor grew up. She knew the power of words and wanted “at least the letters” to be available to her sons.
Whatever manifold complications and difficulties beset the Jara family, the father ultimately began drinking heavily, and fights between the parents ended with the dissolution of their marriage. Existence became economically marginal but never lost fulsome spiritual and cultural joie-de-vivre.
When Amanda Jara took work in Santiago in the early 1940’s, she discovered that she had a natural talent for making spaces and operations functional. Soon enough, she sent for her boys, and the two youngest received disciplined and rigorous training at Catholic elementary schools. Victor showed early acumen and got a scholarship to more advanced education.
What might have been a rags-to-riches story of a more conventional nature unraveled when his mother died when he was only fifteen. Not only did this profoundly afflict the youngster, but it also landed him in a seminary where he appreciated the community and the rigor but was able to discern that he lacked anything like a true calling to be a priest.
Within a fortnight of his exit from this training ground, he found himself under the obligation to serve a stint in the military. Physically, he excelled as a inductee, but his natural shyness and lack of macho made this period extremely difficult.
Upon exiting, however, a series of chance opportunities in the early 1950’s led to his being part of a national choir and having performance options in both theater and dance. His early scholastic training stood him in good stead, and soon enough he had scholarships to the National University, where he excelled both in folklore pursuits and in drama.
In one of his roles as an actor and dancer, he played opposite Joan Turner, his future wife. Shortly after their work together, he received a year’s appointment to England, where he continued to excel, to the extent that more than one theater troupe invited him to remain, six thousand miles or so away from his home.
Even at this point, in his early-to-mid twenties, however, he knew that his calling in life was to serve Chile’s and Latin America’s people, so sooner rather than later he returned to his studies and his homeland. He received offers to direct where he had been studying soon enough.
Upon graduation, his capacity to engage and bring out the best in people led to repeated successes as a director. So much so was he magical in this ability to orchestrate dramatic production that An Appearance of Happiness, one of the first plays that he produced more or less on his own, ended up touring four other Latin American countries.
One of those countries was Cuba, and he immediately recognized that what was happening in education, in agriculture, in health care, and in the organization of social relations generally, were all apropos to what his family and friends and neighbors had long needed on the West coast of Latin America. An affiliation with communism matured into an identification as a Communist.
After the early 1960’s, his theater work became more and more political. His were works that suggested the possibilities for change, the tragedies of reactionary thinking, and the fundamental, core problem of empire—or as he would put it, of “Yankee imperialism.” In the late 1960’s, he produced a version of Viet Rock that ended up being wildly popular, one of several other touring gigs that took him to Western and Eastern Europe and Russia and the United States, as well as traveling on other occasions to various Latin American venues. He even met with and dedicated a song to a Vietnamese delegation in Scandinavia as the war there was turning decisively against the United States.
Parallel to his theatrical labors, he continued to collect and curate folksongs and folk stories of Chile. His voice’s sweet tenor clarity, his glorious good looks, and his natural enthusiasm on stage led to his making contact with such musicians and seminal Chilean performers as Violeta Parra, with whose son Victor formed a lifelong friendship.
Angel Parra purportedly was responsible for Victor’s rise as a folk-singing star. The young Parra had started a club in Santiago—soon replicated elsewhere in Chile—where intimate spaces and freewheeling songfests began to draw regular and enthusiastic crowds.
At one such outpouring of song and energy, Angel supposedly threw a guitar to Victor in the audience and commanded, “Ahora, a cantar!” Before long, recording contracts, international chances to play, and a lifelong adoration of Pete Seeger translated into people’s more commonly recalling him as a songbird rather than an actor and director and producer.
The key point in this regard is that all of this effort was much the same for Victor. The purpose of his life was the engagement with communities, the creation of performance and touching of consciousness in such a way as to impel common folks to develop a regard for their power, an understanding of their lives and problems, and a willingness to try to do things on their own behalf.
Again and again, the still young singer and creator made this clear in his public articulation of his life. He was a servant of the people, and success—with its measures of love and joy, challenge and conflict—was something that he measured in terms other than those of the music business accountant. His was a mission to shift the world rather than to become, in the American paradigm, “rich and famous.”
‘New Songs,’ New Politics—Salvador Allende’s & Unidad Popular’s Social Roots
The huge role that the so-called ‘New-Song movement’ played in the popular embrace of Salvador Allende’s faith in democratic socialism would be difficult to overestimate. While plenty of intellectual Marxists—and even, despite their suspicions of the petty bourgeois, communisty thinkers and strategists—supported this longstanding political activist, his Unidad Popular Party was overwhelmingly a working class and grassroots movement that increasingly also drew adherents from among poor rural populations.
A to-some-extent fortunate confluence coincided with this development as the 1960’s came to a close. The Communists had long supported folk musicians such as Violeta Parra, as well as new groups such as Quilapayun also affiliated with party goals and played at events and festivals that were radical and progressive.
But only when the party pressed a few hundred Long-Play records and instantly sold them all did this energy become a phenomenon that could truly finance a campaign. After helping to elect Allende, in fact, the Communist ‘label,’ DICAP, was selling nearly a quarter million albums a year. Moreover, after the U.P. electoral victory, Allende’s cultural ministry partially nationalized the primary large commercial recording operation in the country, owned by RCA, which led both to expanded volume and sales—the ‘local’ operation had held down its output to promote North American products—to further inroads by radicals of various stripes in the cultural realm.
A hugely successful annual folk festival, cosponsored by the Catholic University, started in 1968, and this too advanced the Nueva Cancion Chilena further still. As chronicler Nancy Morris points out, Jara from its inception became even more popular than he already was, splitting a significant prize at the first gathering for the Best Song.
Nor did this suggest even a tiny diminution of political fervor or poignant social commentary. Plegaria a un Labrador, or Prayer to a Peasant, was the winning number, and it very explicitly advocated rural/urban working class unity, a strategic goal of import on the part of both U.P. and the Communist Party.
Angel Parra and Victor Jara both had played for Allende through his 1964 and 1970 campaigns, the first one a narrow loss that resulted in part because of CIA propaganda and fiscal support for Eduardo Frei. The rise of a broad based movement stemmed from a mixture of this political connection and the deeply felt working class identification of an honestly community-based musical upsurge. The cultural dimension of politics became central to developing winning coalitions and strategies.
Though one might find reason to explore much more broadly and deeply in this matter of the cultural connection in Allende’s rise to power, one further point bears special note. The party’s rousing campaign song, Venceremos!, or We Will Win!, was addictive in its tuneful harmony and roused crowds of many thousands, or tens of thousands repeatedly during the campaign.
One annalist of ‘victory’ put the case thus. “When the socialist politician Salvador Allende dramatically won Chile’s presidential election in 1970, a powerful cultural movement accompanied him to power. Folk singers emerged at the forefront, proving that music could help forge the birth of a new society. As the CIA actively funded opposition media against Allende during his campaign, the New Chilean Song Movement rose to prominence, viscerally persuading voters with its music. Víctor Jara, a central protagonist at the time, became an icon in Chile, Latin America, and beyond for his revolutionary lyrics and life. Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, and other musicians contributed by singing before audiences of workers outside factories or campesinos in Chile’s rural countryside.”
Nor did the fervor of this eruption of popular folk culture diminish after Allende’s ascension to the chief executive’s position. On the contrary, it at least held its own through 1973, acting to expand its lyrical and performance outreach in both theater and poetry and dance as well as song. Lack of commercial pressure meant that more people were listening, seeing, and otherwise participating in an actual artistic scene, instead of more money flowing to profit centers because of more sales of commodities that had only a random connection to either artistry or human need.
“Within this climate of affiliation with art, popular musicians moved decisively toward the creation of instrumental music with high levels of sophistication. Three factors came together in the rise of instrumental music within the context of NCC: the existence of instrumental music in Andean culture, which fed strongly into the NCC movement, as we have seen, and appeared in the work of Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara; the use of instrumental music as incidental music for theater and dance; and the exploration of the possibilities of the guitar, NCC’s central instrument.”
The evidence of this phenomenon—musical, visual, and documentary—rouse a sense of wonder at the power of el pueblo. Astonishment at the capacity of people to mobilize and connect with self-expression and artistic creations, for their own purposes rather than for commerce, offers an object lesson in what the intersection of culture and politics might be.
In the event, one might legitimately advance a thesis that part of what Pinochet guaranteed his Yankee sponsors was that no more of such a nonsensical practice —people-powered, grassroots, not-for-profit art—would occur under Augusto’s august and violent imprimatur. Whatever the case may be, after assassinating the political elite of the Unidad Popular, a substantial number of the prioritized contract killings were against artists, of which Victor Jara’s is the most infamous.
One of the new juntas first acts was the precise outlawing of Nueva Cancion Chilena itself. Artists fled the country as fast as news of Jara’s severed fingers spread —or perhaps Junta thugs had merely battered and broken Jara’s hands.
In addition to providing yet another proof that ‘free markets’ are at absolute best fraudulent poses, a further upshot of this unfolding, CIA-sponsored mayhem, was a complete marginalization of community culture or grassroots artistic participation. “Under the military dicatorship, the task of Canto Nuevo(N.C.C.’s successor) has been to communicate the reality of a people whose outlets for group expression and social interaction have been intentionally and systematically restricted. As such, Canto Nuevo has been inherently dissident and marginalized since its inception.”
As Operation Condor took shape in the aftermath of Washington’s and Santiago’s collaboration in crimes against humanity, the spread of ‘new-song’ camps might have experienced some degree of a tempering of what had appeared to be likely to show up as a wildfire event in much of the region. Pinochet’s thugs and the torture that they practiced do not permit an answer to this question, for what had blossomed in Chile had succumbed to scorched-earth tactics at the behest of Yankee capital.
A Crushing Coup—Murder’s Signature Centrality to U.S. Imperial Sway
As noted above, rational disagreement about the broad parameters of what actually happened in Chile over the decade 1965-75 is impossible. Murder and mayhem, spycraft and sabotage, lies and deceit, fraud and depredation against a democratically socialist Chile established the ‘order-of-battle’ in such a fashion that the United States never deviated from this criminal construction of plunder and plutocracy.
Joan Jara, Victor’s wife and the author of his biography, Victor Jara: An Unfinished Song, summarized that the final authorization for overthrowing Allende, a directive that was a death warrant for her husband, probably resulted not from Unidad Popular’s problemsbut from the fact that the majority of Chileans were better off despite all-out economic warfare on the part of the U.S. against Chile.
Ms. Jara called U.P.’s gaining of seats and popular votes in Chile’s midterm elections, both of which happened early in 1973, “almost unprecedented” in Chilean history. Moreover, anti-feminist attacks on Allende had backfired, as women were continuing to vote their interests and not reactionary, Church-backed fantasies.
In this context, Victor Jara, though very anxious and ‘out-of-his-element’ as a public speaker, took to the stump to warn of Yankee and plutocrat plans for plunder. “(F)or the first time in his life … he made campaigning political speeches. It wasn’t a moment to hang back and say, ‘No, I can’t. I’m an artist, not a politician.’ It made Victor very nervous because he wasn’t used to that kind of speaking, but he was ready to do anything that was useful, and in his own informal way he explained to people why it was necessary, at all costs, to support the Popular Unity government and to prevent the reactionary opposition from overthrowing Allende before his term as President was completed. The rapid rise of fascism in Chile had to be halted.”
But the writing was literally ‘on the wall’ that fascism was the treasonous Chilean elites’ general response to such social improvement. “Djakarta’s coming” warnings sprouted everywhere, spray painted graffiti, dripping blood red threat, “a reminder of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists in Indonesia in 1965.”
Peter Kornbluh’s work through the National Security Archive at George Washington University has led the powerful exposition of the U.S. thuggery in recruiting, financing, and operationalizing mass murder in Chile. This is not how Professor Kornbluh would state the matter. He is a careful scholar.
“That the secrecy surrounding Chile and U.S. relations with Pinochet has been maintained for so long reflects both the controversial nature of this past, as well as its continuing relevance to the ongoing and future debate over American interventions abroad and the moral foundations of U.S. foreign policy. The declassified documents in the following pages are, in essence, a dossier in atrocity and accountability, addressing not only the general and his regime, but also the shameful record of U.S. support for bloodshed and dictatorship.”
In the eleven years since he published The Pinochet File, the director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project has become more forceful in his accusations. Just recently in Foreign Affairs, he gained access to the establishment forum’s pages to make his case quite strongly indeed. He was responding to an earlier article, “What Really Happened in Chile?” that argued that the entire mess was in the nature of a series of unfortunate events, a combination of errors all around and overreaching on the part of Santiago’s armed forces.
“In (Jack Devine’s) view, the military coup and the bloody Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted nearly 17 years, were unfortunate but unintended consequences. But that is not what really happened in Chile. …(I)n the fall of 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to orchestrate a military putsch that would prevent the recently elected Allende from assuming office. …Devine benignly characterizes (this) as a misguided covert action. In fact, (it) centered on a violent criminal scheme. The plan was to kidnap Chile’s commander in chief, General René Schneider, who firmly opposed the idea of a military coup. ‘The CIA was aware of the plan,’ Devine notes, as if the agency were an innocent bystander, simply gathering intelligence on the operation. The truth is far more sinister. The Schneider operation was a CIA-sponsored plot: CIA officials pressed the agency’s station in Santiago to come up with a way to ‘remove’ Schneider because he was standing in the way of a military coup. CIA representatives met repeatedly with the conspirators, led by a retired Chilean army general, Roberto Viaux, and an active-duty brigadier general, Camilo Valenzuela. On October 19, CIA headquarters sent the station six untraceable submachine guns and ammunition in a diplomatic pouch, to be provided to the plotters. The agency also provided $50,000 to Valenzuela to bankroll the operation and thousands more to Viaux to keep the operation ‘financially lubricated,’ as one CIA cable stated. Given the risks involved, the CIA issued the plotters life insurance policies.”
Nor does Kornbluh focus only on the early days of Allende’s regime and the attempts then to unseat the nearly-elected President. Both in his book and his various other writings on this massive crime against humanity that the United States orchestrated, he details the way that U.S. operatives and their counterparts in the Southern Cone established the necessary protocols for either a ‘surgical removal’ of Allende, or, if he refused to cooperate, his assassination.
In his just-published article, this careful scholar notes, “A May 1973 memorandum to CIA Director James Schlesinger noted that the agency had ‘accelerated efforts against the military target’ in order to ‘better monitor any coup plotting and bring our influence to bear on key military commanders so that they might play a decisive role on the side of the coup forces.’ Moreover, the CIA was not the only part of the U.S. government bringing its influence to bear. The U.S. Department of Defense also maintained contact with the generals. Indeed, a full year before the coup, U.S. military officials met with Pinochet and his aides in the Panama Canal Zone. A declassified intelligence report recorded Pinochet’s belief that Allende ‘must be forced to step down or be eliminated’ and a clear message from U.S. Army officers in response: the ‘U.S. will support [a] coup against Allende with ‘whatever means necessary’ when the time comes.’”
In other words, as Victor Jara sweated over his ‘toastmaster’ duties and his wife worried about implicit threats to their lives, the U.S. was one hundred percent behind the conspiracy to torture and maim and kill and ‘disappear’ those who stood for social progress in Chile. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of pages from the State Department, the CIA, earlier investigations such as the Church Senate Committee Hearings, and more, further amplify the vicious impunity with which the ‘leaders of the free world’ have conducted themselves toward our ‘good neighbor’ to the South.
These records, likely now representing a majority of the once uniformly classified and unavailable documentation of U.S. and Chilean elite-perfidy, are far from all the assessments that indict the Nixon, Kissinger, Pinochet, and the entire array of lower-level personnel and institutional arrangements that characterize the ‘Military-Industrial-Complex,’ the ‘Intelligence-Establishment,’ or any of the other descriptors of United States empire. While we needn’t explore anything like a complete range of such items, a few additional investigations do implore citizens to take note and pay attention.
The stalwart folks at School of America’s Watch convey to the interested researcher that plus-or-minus one-in-seven of Chile’s officer corps in the 1970’s had studied at the so-called School of the Americas. The nickname ‘School of Assassins’ was in large measure a rational descriptor. Augusto Pinochet was not one of them, but the U.S. has named a building at the ‘campus’ in his ‘honor.’
The Spanish language training manuals from SOA detailed for enrolled officers the niceties of infiltrating popular organizations, planting agents provocateurs, planning assassinations, conducting tortures of various sorts, and so on and so forth. This was the training for democracy that the U.S. Department of Defense conducted at its facility in Panama, which eventually relocated to Fort Benning in Georgia, where it remains to this day, a target for an annual mass demonstration just before Thanksgiving. The protest opposes teaching ‘public servants’ the crafts of murder and mayhem, and the gathering commemorates the millions of SOA victims, including those from Chile, such as Victor Jara.
A substantial spate of publications from the period prior to substantial declassification, as well as additional investigators since President Clinton’s orders in 1999 and 2000 to open up the secrecy vaults just a tad, has also proffered data and analysis of the horrors that U.S. authorities planned and financed against untold thousands of Chilean—and later other Latino—victims.
To suggest the import of what is accessible, we will examine a single such article from Atlantic Magazine in 1982. Legendary investigator Seymour Hersh delivered “The Price of Power—Kissinger, Nixon and Chile.” Twenty years prior to Peter Kornbluh’s work, with only informants and clever acuity in documentary research, Hersh assembled a powerful case—based on documentation, testimony, and circumstance—that the U.S. had criminally deposed Salvador Allende.
The able author assembles a litany of facts and analysis to show criminal conspiracy, accessory to murder, and general skullduggery on the part of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his National Security Adviser. Others too played occasionally crucial but often ancillary or support roles.
One of Hersh’s witnesses was a Navy Yeoman who had just replaced a civilian secretary in an extremely optimum job for finding things out. He assisted the Admiral who acted as liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Security Council.
While this lengthy and deeply reported analysis contains many revelations, this young Mormon enlisted man, in pursuit of a commission and a career in service to his country and his God and freedom, gives readers a dose of the horror and tragedy that have typified American foreign policy for well over the last century.
His superior officer “was deeply involved in the secret Kissinger and Nixon operations against Salvador Allende Gossens…who had astounded the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House by winning the September 4 popular election… . Radford, who arrived at his new post a few weeks after the Chilean election, vividly recalls the sense of crisis: ‘This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a real blow. All of a sudden, the pudding blew up on the stove.’ Admiral Robinson and his superiors were ‘wringing their hands’ over Chile, Radford says, ‘almost as if they [the Chileans] were errant children.’ Over the next few weeks, Radford says, he saw many sensitive memoranda and options papers, as the bureaucracy sought to prevent Allende from assuming office. Among the options was a proposal to assassinate Allende. One options paper ‘discussed various ways of doing it,’ Radford says. ‘Either we have somebody in the country do it, or we do it ourselves. I was stunned; I was aghast. It stuck in my mind so much because for the first time in my life, I realized that my government actively was involved in planning to kill people.’ The options papers had been prepared for Nixon in the weeks after Allende’s election. ‘They were exploring ways to get Allende out of there,’ Radford says, and murder was one of the ways. The thrust of the option was clear: ‘I don’t know if they used the word assassinate, but it was to get rid of him, to terminate him—he was to go.’”
Additional context for what this young recruit discovered about his country was that all of this planning to crucify Chile’s democracy was taking place in “one of the CIA’s success stories” from the 1960’s. The agency had manipulated elections, bought media and politicians with equal alacrity, and generally run the country like a casino for the copper companies and purveyors of soft-drinks and telecommunications services.
From an entirely different background and perspective Peter Winn also has an immense trove of data and insight to convey to willing readers. Studying Chile while on sabbatical from Yale when the coup happened, he might nearly have found himself alongside Victor Jara at the notorious stadium and its killing fields. He was trying to collect oral histories—of which he already had several hundred—from the just recently dispossessed workers who had maintained control, before Allende’s murder, of the giant Yarur Textile Mill near Santiago.
In early December, “I was denounced anonymously, detained by the Army, and taken at bayonet point to a regimental barracks, where I was interrogated at midnight by its commander. After three days of interrogation and investigation, he informed me, ‘We have no proof that you have committed a crime, exactly speaking, Professor Winn, but talking with workers, interviewing union leaders, all this is very suspicious. We do not want anyone talking to our workers.”
What the courageous academic conveys in his monograph, Weavers of Revolution: the Yarur Workers and Chile’s Road to Socialism, is that under Allende the nationalized factory at Yarur, the largest textile operation in Chile was succeeding. Despite the concerted efforts of every powerbroker and gatekeeper with whom the company had to deal as a labor collective, wages were up, productivity was up, efficiency was way up, and the enterprise was viable in terms of income and outgo.
Nor were these former wage-earners and current owner-operators alone. Various other firms that Chile had turned over to employees were also making a go of things. This was the context for the march—hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Santiago in support of socialism—in the waning Southern Hemispheric Winter of 1972, exactly one year and one week before the unleashing of well-plotted homicidal mania.
“One month later, a work stoppage by a small group of truck owners in… .the far South…triggered a national walkout and lockout by merchants and manufacturers, professionals and shopkeepers, that rapidly engulfed Chile in a virtual class war, complete with paramilitary attacks and terrorist bombings. At bottom Paro de Octobre…was a ‘general strike’ of the bourgeoisie, intended to demonstrate their power as a class, stop the advance toward socialism, and create the conditions within which Allende could be ousted—by military coup or Congressional impeachment.”
The “Demands of Chile,” the product of a year’s planning that in retrospect one can say definitely involved support from U.S. institutions, were non-negotiable. Either Popular Unity would “reverse its revolutionary course, abandon its socialist goals, and surrender its political project,” or the deluge would ensue.
Salvador Allende died defending his theretofore democratic approach to revolution with a machine gun in his hands. While some of his closest comrades joined him, most of the toilers at the cotton mill demurred at the notion of ‘armed resistance.’ The time for the training and equipping to effect such an eventuality was many months, or even years, prior to Pinochet’s pragmatic execution of mass murder.
Communists had advised against such steps as training and arming the work force to resist the military in the event of a coup “as provocative, and the Socialists and the MIR(Moviemiento de lzquierda Revolucionaria, or Movement of the Revolutionary Left) proved themselves ‘just theoreticians, not practical revolutionaries,’ who failed to prepare for the military coup that they themselves had predicted.”
A few handfuls of plants and firms did resist the putsch. The junta deployed its completely equipped modern heavy weaponry against these makeshift ‘barricades’ one by one and crushed them all. “Within a week, the illusion of ‘popular power’ had been destroyed, leftist fantasies of a division in the military or a popular rising dispelled, and a military dictatorship consolidated. The fighting was over, but the killing had just begun. During the weeks that followed, some 25,000 Chileans were killed by their own armed forces.”
This would amount to plus-or-minus a million casualties in a nation the size of today’s United States. This meticulous and clearly brilliant and brave young professor explained why these barbaric steps were essential from the perspective of the Chilean ruling class—and, behind the scenes, their gringo sponsors.
Chile’s increasingly organized and militant working class was the only social force that might muster the capacity to oppose the military. Thus, calculated decimation was an important lesson to impart, along with firings and blacklists and permanent unemployment for as much as 20% of the industrial leftists who, unslaughtered, remained behind.
“The scope and intensity of the repression reflected the extent and depth of popular mobilization in Chile by September, 1973. It was an ironic tribute to the success of the revolution from below.”
Did Pinochet at least ‘make the trains run on time,’ as the pundit apologists for Mussolini suggested about Il Duce? This is in some ways the most noisome aspect of the whole affair. The moderate and conservative members of the working class, the vaunted ‘shopkeepers’ and small business owners—many of whom nodded smugly at the butcher’s butchery—as well as the young and the old and anyone socially vulnerable, were all, within a decade of Pinochet’s predatory rampage, more or less utterly destitute, with prospects worse than ever before in verdant Chile’s modern history.
How and why this transpired, though, truly describes the parameters of a tragedy. One assessment develops this reasoning clearly and incisively.
“Pinochet, with the help of 400 CIA advisers, privatized the social and welfare system and destroyed the Chilean trade union movement. As Malcolm Coad pointed out: ‘This was achieved through wholesale privatisation, a complete opening to the international economy, fixing the exchange rate artificially low, and pumping in foreign loans during the petro-dollar glut of the late 1970s. The result was the destruction of national industry and much of agriculture, then near-collapse in the early 1980s amid a frenzy of speculation, consumer imports, and debt crisis. The state bailed out most of the country’s banking sector and unemployment rose to an official level of over 30 per cent.’”
And yet still additional sources ought to be on the conscientious observer’s radar screen so to speak. At the very least, such repositories as the following need to be available for examination.
*The Defense Intelligence Agency’s and National Security Agency’s records without any doubt contain masses of still-secret datasets that would help understand processes and protocols in this case.
*Financial, industrial, and media archives that are either miraculously open or possibly liable to legal discovery—particularly among the food processing, copper, and services companies that already show up as part of CIA planning, need to be under scrutiny, and researchers need to develop plans to obtain such records.
*Massive archives in Spanish, not only in Chile, but in other Operation CONDOR States are generally not on the roadmap of English readers; this needs to change, and quickly.
*Cuban and possibly other State-level sources of data also contain material that could completely upend ‘plausible deniability’ in these matters; in addition to discerning what holdings might be accessible in Havana, the records of Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela might be caches that a clever researcher might get hold of.
*Court and administrative records from both the United States and abroad, in both civil and criminal filings, are often full of attachments to motions and other pleadings; with the right leverage and plenty of diligence, at least some of such materials might yield occasional treasures.
In considering such monumental tasks as this essay introduces, in even making ourselves aware of the information that exists if we’re willing to ferret it out, the basic question that comes to mind is simple to state: “How much do we want to know about how the world really works?” And we might add, “How badly do we want to find out?”
The Spindoctor not only desperately loves to probe how things operate, but he also can’t help himself: he wants people to start acting like they want to be responsible citizens despite how risky that seems, despite what a complete and utter pain-in-the-ass the whole process can be. He asks that readers who manage to get this far, at the very heart of this narrative, listen to a young woman from Chile, one of the interviewees for this project. She is the great granddaughter of the junta’s first possible victim, Arturo Araya III, who died on July 27, 1973 with a bullet in his lung, while the ambulance that his in-laws had summoned failed to appear for nearly an hour.
Here is the question that Josefa fielded from us. “As someone born after 1990, what role do you think the dictatorship has in your life, and that of your generation? Does it affect you, and if so, how?”
And this is how she answered. “It affects us tremendously, and for many reasons. More than anything I think it’s a thing about a common history, and building a collective identity; we are located in a social context that is marked everywhere by the things that happened during the dictatorship. Everything from the laws that govern our country and shape our lives up to the fact that the dictatorship left the social fabric fractured. For me, the dictatorship is a very deep wound in Chilean collective memory, perhaps the worst in our history, because it made Chileans confront and seek to destroy each other. I think that in order to heal the wound much is still missing: it is a process that is not yet even half accomplished. People of generations that did not live through it (nevertheless) live in the aftermath (that it) left and … continues to manifest. We all carry the weight of what happened during the dictatorship somehow—some in more direct ways and others more indirectly, but we all live on(in this world that comes from then) after all. We know people who had relatives who disappeared as prisoners, or people whose parents or grandparents were involved in the disappearances. (Not just) at a social level, but all areas of the Chilean social life are marked by what happened.”
Resisting State-Sponsored Terror—Inside Chile & Out
Direccion de Intelligentsia Nacional, or DINA, evolved as a result of such institutional expressions of U.S. hegemony as the Central Intelligence Agency, of course. Moreover, however, the already-mentioned Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former School of the Americas, continued to provide training to its special agents.
Many socialists and communists from Latin America see the Allende administration as an experiment. In such a view, perhaps a non-violent mechanism for achieving fundamental social change would be possible.
This underlay the decision not to arm workers, despite all the signs that the U.S. would support a vile killing thrust against a democratically selected group of leaders, and despite all the evidence of history that then vast numbers of innocents would likely face torture and painful death and disappearance at the hands of plotters and psychopaths and efficiency experts in charge of electroshock and clean-up. That the results of this science project in the political arts do not look favorable to friendly approaches to social change is, to say the least, an understatement.
Nor did the aftermath of the first months of slaughter attenuate such a dire perspective, as Professor Winn made clear above. Two very brief additional bits will round out this section.
One was the inability of the ‘theorists’ at MIR to mount a successful underground resistance to Pinochet’s fascism. Within a year of the putsch, more or less, Miguel Enriquez and other leaders of the organization were all dead or effectively no longer present and accounted for in Chile.
The other was the much wider scope that Chile’s terrorism assumed in the years following its mass killing of its own citizens. This basically concerned such joint ventures as mutual assistance among assassins in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay, which we now know as Operation CONDOR.
The assassination of a Chilean military man in Argentina who remained loyal to Allende, Carlos Prats, caused a significant outcry at the time. Lawsuits against the perpetrators have made their way through the Federal Courts of the United States. Some evidence suggests that various official agents of the United States played roles in the work of the cooperating Southern Cone intelligence agencies.
The second instance of a broadening of the reach of Chile’s ‘terror police,’ the DINA, involved a massive car bomb on the streets of the District of Columbia. The assassination of an opponent of Pinochet, Orlando Letelier, not only severed the former diplomats legs but also killed his assistant, Ronnie Moffitt, and caused crippling injuries to Ms. Moffitt’s husband.
From Cautious Democratic Resurgence to Attempted Truth & Reconciliation
Many generations might need to pass before anything like general or routine comity could be possible. John L. Rector’s The History of Chileconcludes with a sober note that, even after thirty years, recriminations between Communists and the “far right” of the U.D.I. continue—if not unabated, then still powerful.
A retired Naval officer from Chile, Arturo Araya IV, also noted this tendency. “All many people want now is to be victims and to blame Pinochet and the government for their problems.” He also mentions how, in his estimation, “almost all” the former adherents of the dictator skulk about “with guilty expressions on their faces, turning every corner as if they suspect they will soon be arrested.”
He himself initiated a lawsuit against the military for its possible role and likely cover-up of the killing of his father, the Naval attaché whose connections with Cuba may have played a part in his targeting. He and others in the family, who had in general accepted Pinochet’s rule when it happened and on occasion strongly backed it, gathered together after Señor Araya had issued a press release that announced the Court’s acceptance of this litigation.
Moreover, the recent trials and possible convictions of some of the men responsible for Victor Jara’s torture and murder have come to pass. His widow, his children, his supporters still honor his life and celebrate such steps as these developments, which they view as something resembling moves toward justice and validation.
Joan Jara, who lost her husband forty-one years ago, has also initiated a civil suit in the United States, applying the Alien Torts Claim Act and other theories. She is seeking damages for the extrajudicial torture and murder of her husband by Pedro Barrientos, who now lives in Miami, one of the lieutenants in charge of the folksinger at the stadium that now bears Victor Jara’s name.
Whatever transpires in such matters, the original amnesties for military personnel that Pinochet negotiated in 1989 no longer apply uniformly. Just now, President Michelle Bachelet—whose father of course was a victim of the Pinochetistas—has announced while visiting Mexico to show solidarity for disappeared students there the sentencing of eleven former agents of the junta. Manuel Contreras, the leading killer among them all—each of whose convictions were for promoting “forced disappearance”—faces 426 years in prison for his crimes.
Yet other interviewees suggest that “nobody is much interested in all that old stuff.” And, no doubt, ‘life goes on,’ as the saying would have us believe.
Still, though one might develop a much longer discourse about this set of issues, even a cursory glimpse of contemporary Chile does prove that some citizens continue to struggle with the concepts of truth and reconciliation. That such a focus persists may offer the only hope for avoiding a repeat of 9/11/1973.
A distinguished Chilean scholar has expressed this idea most forcefully. Manuel Carreton argues that without “an official commemoration, we have no country.” The award-winning sociologist specifies both the what and the how of such a process. ”A great need exists for a formal collective memory, transmitted through the educational system, quantified by measures of justice and truth, but also of punishment.”
He completes his presentation with concepts with which arguably every American, whether Northern or Southern in origin, needs to be familiar. “The national conscience must become one about this, one that condemns the military coup and the violation of human rights. Making a purely political assessment of our historical past, and not a moral one, will do more to divide us than to unite us and help move Chile forward.”
Concluding Concepts—Imperialism & Humanity Can No Longer Coexist
Near the end of a long journey, this narrative would hope that readers consider six points in conclusion. Prior to stating those items, the narrator asks folks to ponder a chilling bit of nihilism that one of history’s hypercapitalists expressed over a century before the here and now.
In essence, if we are to avoid eviscerating ourselves, we must avoid fulfilling the prophecy of robber baron Jay Gould. “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”
With the possible exception of Costa Rica, the United States has joined with ruling elites in every Hispanic or Portuguese speaking country in the hemisphere so as to cause Gould’s ghoulish prediction to transpire. Che Guevara, in speaking of the U.S. attempts to unseat Cuba’s revolution, articulates this notion in terms that are national in their scope and yet obviously entail one sector of workers’ seeking to destroy another proletarian contingent.
“From the beginning, it was generally understood in Latin America that the United States backed the invasion (at the Bay of Pigs), and that it would therefore be successful (of course, it was not),… a fait accompli… . (Total puppets) Haiti and the Dominican Republic … had already broken or suspended relations with Cuba… . Honduras joined the anti-Castro camp, suspending relations in April and proposing the formation of an alliance of Central American and Caribbean nations to have it out with Cuba by force. The proposal—which was also suggested independently by Nicaragua—was quietly dropped” when the rest of the hemisphere either vacillated or actively and strongly opposed any such scheme of using the working class soldiers of the hemisphere to snuff the Cuban rejection of imperial domination. Notably, in Chile, “the government found strong opposition in all circles to open military intervention by any state against the Castro regime.”
In these presentations, Che Guevara was quoting from a lengthy U.S. State Department cable that the Cubans had intercepted. Later in this missive, the gringos demonstrate further their playing the role of Mr. Gould in seeking to set one set of toilers against another.
“In every respect, (despite the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation), the member states of the OAS are now less hostile toward United States intervention in Cuba than before the invasion, but a majority of them—including … more than half the population of Latin America(in Mexico and Brazil)—are not willing to intervene actively or even to join a quarantine against Cuba. …(Especially), (a)s long as Brazil refuses to act against Castro, it is probably that a number of other nations, including Argentina and Chile, will not wish to risk adverse internal repercussions to please the United States.”
As the rambling cable draws to a close, it expresses why a nation, like Gould, might want to hire ‘half the working class’ to destroy the other half. “The most immediate danger of Castro’s example for Latin America might well be the danger to the stability of those governments that are at present attempting evolutionary social and economic change, rather than for those that have tried to prevent such changes, in part because of the tensions and awakened hopes accompanying such social changes and economic development. …The Alliance for Progress might well furnish the stimulus to carry out more intensive reform programs, but unless these programs are started quickly and soon begin to show positive results,…they will not be enough of a counterweight to increasing pressure from the extreme left. The years ahead will…witness a race between those forces that are attempting to initiate evolutionary reform programs and those that are trying to generate support by the masses for fundamental economic and social revolution.”
A FIRST DEDUCTION
Of course, Che was not Chilean. Nor were clear violations of international law against Cuba attacks on Chile. But these evident admissions impel the thinker to a first inference that flows from this essay: the decimation of Salvador Allende and allies like Victor Jara both intended to hurt and sought to undermine Cuba’s revolution, and by extension the possibility to obtain social democracy in Latin America’s ‘real world.’
In similar fashion as the poet and singer whose profiles appear here, Che was the loathed serpent in capital’s faux edenic garden, where at least the rich lived like emperors and empresses, and more or less everything was on sale for money to purchase. He was Fidel’s comrade and persisted in advancing the idea of a hemispheric armed uproar against gringo wealth and hegemony.
Moreover, real links joined Havana and Santiago. One of Che’s chief financial advisers in restructuring Cuban agriculture and industry was the Chilean, Carlos Romeo. A member of the inner circle of Chile’s national bank under both Frei and Allende, Romeo demonstrated both technical excellence and socialist fervor in his practice of economics.
Pablo Neruda also promoted the Cuban revolution as a model; more importantly, he foresaw that the consciousness of Cuban success would free his countrymen and working people around the world from any slavish devotion to ‘free markets,’ which were never free, to commoditized models which ultimately impoverished workers to exactly the extent that they enriched the owners of everything, to holy righteousness that suppressed the true spirit and lusty wonder of human life.
And Victor Jara himself formed friendships in Cuba. He and Silvio Rodriguez sang together. Cuba received him as a distinguished guest. He also traveled more than once to the Soviet Union.
Moreover, even though Cuba’s more-or-less victorious uprising against capital’s various ‘mobs’ depended on armed and aggressive action, Cuba’s leadership in general suggested that Chile’s citizens commit themselves to a peaceful path to social democracy. Such statements were often enough completely explicit.
In 1971, “(s)tanding shoulder to shoulder with President Salvador Allende, Castro advised workers that Chile was not Cuba and that, in light of that country’s history, a parliamentary path, not a revolutionary one, would represent the ‘Chilean road to socialism.’ The result was the disarming of workers, who were thus unable to undertake an independent revolutionary struggle and were left unprepared for the military and right-wing parties led by the infamous General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew Allende and installed a dictatorship that killed tens of thousands of workers.”
Finally, two of the people that this essay’s developers interviewed about this matter also mentioned the importance of Cuba. One of these has requested anonymity. Monica Hayden, the other, had married the son of the naval attaché, Arturo Araya, Junior, whose murder on July 27, 1973, may have been the first strike against those members of the military who eschewed the coup. She pointed out that her former father-in-law had often worked with the Cubans and had that very evening returned from what he described, immediately before an assassin cut him down, as a “critically important” dinner at the Cuban Embassy.
In all kinds of ways, therefore, both the emanation of Chile’s Marxist moment and its evisceration by a U.S. organized terrorist operation resulted from, or at least felt the substantial influence of, Cuba’s inputs. That attacks on Allende also assaulted Castro is clearly evident. And such interconnections form the heart of what we can conclude about empire as seven billion cousins approach the third decade of the second millennium of the present pass.
A SECOND DEDUCTION
Closely related to the initial culminating thought, we ought to acknowledge that anti-communism guarantees anti-solidarity. The applicability of this idea to Latin America stems from events well before Augusto Pinochet’s murderous rampage. Pablo Neruda’s flight from his native land was a clear case of anti-communism. These tendencies became particularly powerful under the aegis of the young CIA during Eisenhower’s two administrations.
Even earlier, in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.’s ‘fanaticism’ in invading the nascent Soviet Union in order to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle,” U.S. leaders noted the utility of anti-red thinking in Hispanic America. Republican Secretary of State Frank Kellogg made this point with crystal clarity in 1927.
“The Bolshevik leaders have had very definite ideas in respect to the role which Mexico and Latin America are to play in their general program of world revolution. They have set up as one of their fundamental tasks the destruction of what they term American imperialism as a necessary prerequisite to the successful development of the international revolutionary movement in the New World. …Thus Mexico and Latin America are conceived as a base of activity against the United States.”
This sort of attitude had practical implications. In Chile, as we have seen, the CIA shortly after Cuba’s consolidation of its independence initiated sophisticated and potent actions against Allende’s 1964 campaign, based on the notion that he was communist. Recent scholarship has explored this situation in some detail, explaining precisely how such activity harmed solidarity among workers and other groups that might otherwise have found easier methods for working together.
“In order to prevent Allende’ selection, the U.S. government massively intervened in Chile’s 1964 presidential election (in the form of) the Scare Campaign. The Scare Campaign was a multimedia propaganda blitz that used fear to convince Chileans that they should vote for Eduardo Frei and against Salvador Allende. Working in conjunction with Chileans, the U.S. government developed, designed, ﬁnanced, and implemented the Scare Campaign. The campaign attempted to convince Chileans, especially women, that Allende’s triumph would lead to the destruction of the family and the undermining of women’sroles as mothers. By incorporating ideas about femininity and masculinity into its efforts to oppose Allende, this U.S.-sponsored propaganda campaign engendered anticommunism in Chile.”
Other analysis demonstrates that in the run-up to and aftermath of the murder of Allende and Jara and more, the CIA’s operations targeted staunch Catholics. In the event, many priests and churches were among those that facilitated people’s accepting this barbaric coup as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ given their inclination toward anti-communism that the U.S. had specifically amplified.
The practical upshot is simple, therefore. If the best interests of U.S. citizens is that Chilean citizens despise and turn on each other, then we should encourage anti-communism. Otherwise, we should fight it more or less religiously.
A THIRD DEDUCTION
Out of such ideation emerges an acceptance of the necessity of internationalism, and in the context of this storyline the absolute primacy of multilingual capacity, the ability to sing in many tongues, so to speak. This is, thus far in any event, a mostly pragmatic and common-sense perspective.
The role of cultural outpourings in favor of liberation and justice in one place means that the likelihood of outsiders’ willingness to crush these developments would rise inasmuch as the interlopers lacked the ability to understand the words and stories and songs that were promoting positive transformation. A quick search of the literature finds no expert concurrence that an idea of exactly this sort would contribute to progress.
Related notions, primarily concerning the operation of academia or the ability to follow literary narratives, do find a place in the recent canon. In any event, intuitively and rationally, the events of the 1970’s in Chile argue in favor of insisting that more Americans learn Spanish and more Chileans and other Latin Americans understand and speak English.
No matter what else one believes, anyway, the fact that two disparate bodies of knowledge—both of which contain millions of pages or more of documentation and evidence about the realities and beliefs which surround Santiago in 1973—exist, one Spanish and one English, militates in favor of a radical bilingualism. Nothing else can ever make sense, till the day arrives when the tower-of-Babel itself rises no more.
A FOURTH DEDUCTION
In promoting this deconstruction of Babel, as it were, we would also accede to the utter toxicity of secrecy. Varied pages from history’s annals reveal a few of the cases that evidence such a contention.
One of the ways that the Bolsheviks totally infuriated their erstwhile ‘allies’ against the Kaiser was in bringing to light the many hidden agendas that World War One’s elite combatants had shared. Such revelations undermined the sense of a ‘gentleman’s club’ that aristocrats and plutocrats alike wanted to be able to operate without any requisite naming of names or public scrutiny. Comprehensive histories of intelligence highlight that such presumption always serves as a prominent perquisite of ruling classes, especially in the modern era.
In the current context, multiple non-governmental organizations express their primary objectives in terms of bringing ‘government into the sunshine.’ The entire concept of a ‘Freedom of Information Act’ is that democracy necessitates this sort of access to what is happening.
James Madison states the issue most clearly, though he was writing nearly two hundred years ago. “A popular government without popular knowledge or the means of acquiring it is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”
In relation to Chile’s past half century, multiple threads portray the hideous results that attend fatuous belief in keeping secrets. The problem is that, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “everybody knows that the dice were loaded.” Citizens are the only parties whom duplicity keeps in the dark, so that regular people fail to realize that the allegations against their leaders are true, that the ‘people who hate us’ have good cause to do so, and so on and so forth.
In the final analysis, a widely reviewed monograph—generally extolled by those who favor democracy over secret arrangements for terroristic control, and hated by so-called ‘conservatives’—exhibits the chilling results of governing-by-secret-agendas. The volume’s title and subtitle summarize this reasoning incisively: Killing Hope: U.S. Military & CIA Interventions Since World War Two.
Augusto Pinochet himself also indicates the way that secrecy and corruption, hypocrisy and horror, fit as seamlessly as a hand in a custom-made glove. Pinochet—whose murderous ways are now so thoroughly documented that trying to make excuses for the recently deceased homicidal butcher only makes his defenders appear to support killing-in-support of profiteering—enriched himself at every turn of his bloody career.
That this kind of allegation is not allegorical but completely concrete becomes clear when one looks at Pinochet himself. A 2005 “US Senate investigation of terrorist financing discovered that Pinochet had opened and closed at least 128 bank accounts at Riggs Bank and other US financial institutions in an apparent money-laundering operation. It seems that Pinochet had illegally obtained a $28m fortune during his period as a dictator of Chile.” Moreover, as noted in the section above on the dictator’s rule, this self-dealing was part of the payoff that he received for absolutely destroying the Chilean economy in service to profit maximization.
Without much effort, an investigator could make hay in whatever sunshine might be possible to cast on these dark fields for hundreds of thousands of pages or more. After all, we live in the age that has begun with the initiation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the revelation of Daniel Ellsberg, to mention just a pair of instances at the beginning of the last fifty years, and that has ended, literally over the past few instants, in whatever new leak or cover-up or attempt to hide an agenda makes its way to the headlines of the moment.
The conclusion that democratic citizens could make about such events and patterns ought to be possible to state in a way that ordinary folks would nod agreement. “Since the primary ‘secrets’ in these cases are those that regular people don’t know, and since the harms of such lying hypocrisy almost always affect ordinary people at the same time that they enrich the cognoscenti, we should do away with such governance altogether.”
At the very least, we ought to be debating such propositions. Instead, the presumption of secrecy’s necessity continues. Meanwhile, the entire human race could die in a war that such mendacity makes, ultimately, inevitable.
Without the least doubt, another view entirely might also make sense. We could accede that rich fascist thugs will always practice dark arts of subterfuge and immolation, and that popular resistance to these killers must also therefore deploy the most murderous techniques and hidden methods in order to depose the Nazis and their minions.
If this kind of view appears less than salubrious, one might ponder what we should expect under the circumstances that prevail. In such a context—in which lies and half-truths in favor of the wealthy rule every policy and statute—citizens, at least arguably, have little choice but to revolt. An absolute ban on secrecy and a complete affirmation of transparency are the only operational decisions that make any sense in the alternative.
In such a case, Victor Jara might have lived as long as his murderers: Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, for instance. Otherwise, simple demands of self-defense turn the artist’s and the humanitarian’s thoughts toward dark and dire deeds indeed.
A FIFTH DEDUCTION
Having attained a vantage which, in most cases, allows our contextualization of reality based on the potential for as complete a compilation of knowledge as is possible, we should praise the power of enculturation and artistic expression and foster persistence in expressing such efforts at storytelling and articulation and depiction. And here, more or less precisely opposite the situation in regard to the third conclusion bubbles up. Instead of finding little or nothing in scholarly and authoritative sources about this point, the flood of data and hypothesis would require a lifetime of endeavor to delve in even a rudimentary way.
For example, one might consider the following search. Storytelling OR narrative OR “literary invention” importance OR critical OR utility, gathers a hundred and thirty-six million citations, more or less.
If we are to make sense of the horrors that seem ubiquitous in recent and historical memory, then stories about these matters arguably could serve humanity better than another tale about superheroes or another film about returning from heaven to console one’s lonely spouse. Victor Jara’s and Pablo Neruda’s continued place of honor in Chilean society speaks well of a nation with plenty of problems still and all kinds of potential for backsliding.
How about the good old U.S.A.? Different views are undoubtedly possible in responding to such an inquiry. Whatever the upshot of such conversations ended up being, however, that the U.S. needs a powerfully grassroots-driven storytelling revival—one that looks fearlessly at such subjects as the ‘original 9/11’—ought to be obvious.
A SIXTH DEDUCTION
Finally, in this fashion of generally examining what seems reasonable to conclude, we might pronounce as critical the belief that atonement and accountability, so long as the actors in a struggle still live, can never arrive too late in a process. This is another conclusion that one might spend centuries perfecting.
However, the intuitive moral and ethical voice that drives this author’s thinking makes this assertion feel like a no-brainer. Does a world of victimization and revenge serve us well? If not, then coming up with processes that forestall this cycle of decimation and mass-collective suicide would seem to make sense.
Anyhow, simply searching for data about these things is instructive. Googling “mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” for example elicits slightly more than 400,000 hits. Merely adding one word to this string, the name of a country—“mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” chile—increases the useable results to almost 2,700,000.
Can one infer a clear interest in such processing of human pain from this? Not only is such a deduction ineluctable, but one might also add that the more specific the desire to make amends, the more likely we are to find a tremendous sense of need, a longing to achieve closure, to find a sense of justice, to reach a place where acknowledgment, if not compensation, is available in some shape, form, or fashion.
In addition to these specific effects of a broader and deeper understanding of Victor Jara and Chile, this essay definitely follows a rubric in which three components lie at the core of this sort of work. Every article that has a Spindoctor cast will contain each of these elements.
First is a deep reporting of what history has to tell us. The past so permeates the present that delving into the records and evidences that yesterday left will always make sense. Therefore, though many readers might object that they ‘just want the facts’ of the here and now—that, in essence, they ‘just want to know the way to Portland’—essays like this one proffer all manner of unexpected and often unexplicated pieces of the long ago, with some thoughts about how their impact continues this very second, and, assuming that people survive, on into the distant future as well.
The second is an attempt always to show the political economic—legal, military, technological, and other related inputs—realm in which any social eventuality unfolds. Thus, the C.I.A. background forms a part of this narrative. The industrial and trade elements of whatever one labels the United States—liberator or empire—also make appearances. The legal aspects of Chile’s and U.S. courts come to the fore at different points as well. One might easily continue.
Third comes a weaving together of the social relations that underlie occurrences—matters of class and caste and color and gender and plenty in addition besides. Certainly, Victor Jara’s sharecropper-parents in juxtaposition to his comrade Salvador’s upper-crust upbringing present definite instances of this sort of examination. The Weavers of Revolution characters in relation to their bosses and the military cadres who oversaw them after 1973 show another kind of this type of effort. And one could mention many other instances.
Coming to these conclusions and activating the general approach that this investigation suggests, obviously enough, will not likely yield instant popularity or overnight success. This kind of work goes against the grain in more ways than a writer would want to list. Nevertheless, adhering to such systematic rules, and in doing so being able to assert some fairly fundamental pointers to complete this work, does lead to the potential to learn how and why things have evolved as they have. This is true whether one examines the Ukraine, Chile, or any other place or aspect of social life and human political and economic development.
Such conclusions as result in all these matters can be risky in all sorts of ways. Whether one focuses on bringing to light what those in charge would just as soon leave in the dark or invests some hopeful alternative with meaning that elites have little or no interest in bringing to fruition, one takes chances that could be dire in doing this work. Still, inasmuch as inquiring minds do want to know, one may legitimately wonder, “what exactly would be a viable different option?”
In a similar vein, everthing in Victor Jara’s statements and actions showed that he understood quite fully what he was risking. But the alternative so sickened him that he kept confronting the potential that he would end up ‘in the belly of the beast,’ so to say.
In 1969, he wrote, “US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe. With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called ‘protest music’; second, the creation of ‘idols’ of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear. Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people. The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused. I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song.’”
No magic formula prohibits a resurgence of the homicidal fury in pursuit of power and lucre that characterized the crimes against humanity that took place as Salvador Allende tried to run a democratic government. This potential persistence of monstrous depredation remains true despite the lethal effects this would clearly be likely to have on hemispheric comity or even on human survival. In essence, we can collectively stumble toward mass collective suicide, or we can countenance democratic insistence that people share with each other.
The present situation in Cuba remains the most obvious example of this point. The wealthiest and most powerful empire in history has seen fit for fifty-four years to threaten and bully an island nation that, when it revolted against and displaced venal and vicious U.S. puppets, was one of the poorest places on Earth, with the lowest life expectancy in the hemisphere.
The plots to assassinate Fidel Castro are beyond dispute. Government documents admit as much in various forums. Had he dealt with these attacks in the same liberal manner as typified Salvador Allende’s dealings, he very probably would have ended up as the man whom he admired in Chile did: shot in the back, executed for defending democratic transformation.
Meanwhile, Cuba has advanced to be one of the more resilient economies in the region, and its citizens live nearly as long as—and arguably much more fully than—do U.S. residents. Yet, the ‘blockade’ against Communism remains in effect.
Fidel Castro, imprisoned in 1953 for seeking to overthrow the plutocratic puppet and killer, Fulgencio Batista, delivered a renowned presentation to the court when he faced twenty-six years behind bars—the title was “History Will Absolve Me.” Therein, he laid out an argument that was analogous to the economic program of Salvador Allende. “The nation’s future… cannot continue to depend on the selfish interests of a dozen big businessmen nor on the cold calculations of profits that ten or twelve magnates draw up in their air-conditioned offices. The country cannot continue begging on its knees for miracles from a few golden calves (which) cannot perform miracles of any kind. The problems of the Republic can be solved only if we (reject) ‘(s)tatesmen’ like Carlos Saladrigas, whose statesmanship consists of preserving the status quo and mouthing phrases like ‘absolute freedom of enterprise,’ ‘guarantees to investment capital,’ and ‘law of supply and demand,’… . Those ministers can chat away in a Fifth Avenue mansion until not even the dust of the bones of those whose problems require immediate solution remains. …A revolutionary government backed by the people and with the respect of the nation, after cleansing the different institutions of all venal and corrupt officials, would proceed immediately to the country’s industrialization, mobilizing all inactive capital, currently estimated at about 1.5 billion pesos, through the National Bank and the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank, and submitting this mammoth task to experts and men of absolute competence totally removed from all political machines for study, direction, planning, and realization.”
This process of expropriation and transformation actually happened in Cuba. A nation of fewer than twenty million people, mobilized and overwhelmingly supportive of defending a revolutionary process, withstood the massed power and fanatical hatred of the world’s premier imperial machine. The lesson that capital learned was stark: under no conditions would they tolerate “another Cuba.”
In fact, much of the violence against human development in the hemisphere—whether under the guise of ‘neighborliness’ or ‘allying for progress’—stems directly from the loathing and fear that capitalist elites still feel toward Cuban socialism. If recent events in Venezuela, Argentina, Honduras, and Mexico—to name just a few obvious cases—provide any indication, truly barbarous upheaval persists as a preferred means for advancing U.S. corporate and imperial agendas.
Moreover, as the reader will have noticed already, a significant—arguably central—aspect of the U.S. decision to foment mayhem and death in Chile, flowed directly from Allende’s and his collaborators’ seeking deeper ties with Cuba. Victor Jara revered both Che and Fidel. Cuban poetry and performance followed Jara’s template, often enough, of “revolutionary music.” One purpose—and some would argue the primary objective—of the brutal example that Pinochet’s thugs made of Salvador and Victor and thousands of others was to destroy without mercy any hope of emulation of what Cuba had won.
Nevertheless, both in Chile and throughout the region, cultural dynamism reflects the human capacity for resistance and solidarity. Cuba just recently held a conference to increase the reach of local television networks and production, attended by over sixty nations. Rock, rap, and other ‘folk’ music acts from Mexico to Chile and Argentina have railed against imperial preponderance and powerfully asserted human rights and elimination of neo-colonial patterns of dominance. Film festivals that advance social democratic messaging are occurring more than occasionally in the various localities of Latin America. Literary awards proudly assert the ‘magic’ of Latino fiction and poetry, even as such Chilean authors as Isabel Allende, the niece of the butchered President, articulate a vision much more in tune with social justice than with the dictates of profiteering that ITT and PepsiCo and their financial and corporate cohorts promulgate now as much as they did in 1973.
An interlocutor like Ms. Allende, however, for all her hope in regard to a socially decent human prospect, does not shrink from describing the hideous horror that imperial imprimatur has yielded. “The Cuban Revolution was enough; no other socialist project would be tolerated, even if it was the result of a democratic election. On September 11, 1973, a military coup ended a century of democratic tradition in Chile and started the long reign of General Augusto Pinochet. Similar coups followed in other countries, and soon half the continent’s population was living in terror. This was a strategy designed in Washington and imposed upon the Latin American people by the economic and political forces of the right. In every instance the military acted as mercenaries (for) the privileged groups in power. Repression was organized on a large scale; torture, concentration camps, censorship, imprisonment without trial, and summary executions became common practices. Thousands of people ‘disappeared,’ masses of exiles and refugees left their countries running for their lives.”
Her uncle, from beyond the grave, also encourages thoughtful participants in social affairs to learn, to speak up, and to act on their own behalf. He consciously presented his plans for Chilean socialism, which the Chilean people chose, and which the United States confronted with monstrous murder.
“Now the question is, “Who is going to use whom?” …(T)he answer (obviously) is the proletariat. If it wasn’t so I wouldn’t be here. I am working for Socialism and through Socialism. As for the bourgeois state, at the present moment, we are seeking to overcome it, to overthrow it.… Our objective is total, scientific, Marxist socialism. We already had success in creating a democratic, national government that is revolutionary and popular. That is how socialism begins, not with decrees.”
Bruce Springsteen, for the fortieth anniversary of the original, Chilean, 9/11 catastrophe—in which the attacking ‘terrorists’ are easy to identify and find, though they often remain at large, abroad, in the United States and elsewhere—went to Santiago to honor his fallen friend, Victor Jara. Before a rapt audience that interrupted his Spanish commemoration with frequent applause, he sang Jara’s anthem, “Manifesto.”
Springsteen, struggling to maintain his composure and to remember the Spanish which he had memorized, spoke simply. “’In 1988 we played for Amnesty International in Mendoza, Argentina, but Chile was in our hearts. We met many families of desaparecidos, who had pictures of their loved ones. It was a moment that stays with me forever. A political musician, Victor Jara, remains a great inspiration. It’s a gift to be here that I receive with humility.’”
Jara’s words, however, provide the most fitting exit from our assessment of this magnificent human being, who held up the hands from which his killers had just severed his fingers and raised his voice in song. Of course, he knew what that would yield, but he did not falter.
On September 7th, 1973, an interviewer asked him what ‘love’ meant. His response is iconic: “Love of my home, my wife and my children./ Love for the earth that helps me live./ Love for education and of work./ Love of others who work for the common good./ Love of justice as the instrument that provides equilibrium for human dignity./ Love of peace in order to enjoy one’s life./ Love of freedom, but not the freedom acquired at the expense of others’ freedom, but rather the freedom of all./ Love of freedom to live and exist, for the existence of my children, in my home, in my town, my city, among neighboring people./ Love for freedom in the environment in which we are required to forge our destiny./ Love of freedom without yokes: nor ours nor foreign.”
TRANSGENDER ‘IDENTITY’ & THE CONSCIOUS SUBSTITUTION OF THE SURREAL FOR THE REAL
Just as so often will be the case in these occasional ‘Popular Topix’ installments, so too in this inaugural instance we would do well to remember Harry Frankfurt’s pointed opening to his essay, On Bullshit. “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, we have no theory.”
Frankfurt’s explication of the ‘theory of bullshit’ will serve us well today, as we consider what one stalwart defender of advertising and monopoly media called “The Making of Caitlyn Jenner: A Media Campaign Like No Other.” The author described simply what was “(t) he goal: To make it possible for Bruce Jenner to live normally, and perhaps even profit from, his new identity as Caitlyn Jenner.”
This missive in no way disrespects the possibility or choice of transgendered identity; it does not criticize or cast aspersions at Jenner herself, or at the former Jenner himself; it does not question the right of anyone to make such choices.But it fiercely disputes the celebration of celebrity culture and the elevation of incredibly marginal social phenomena to the absolutely central, obsessively and strategically so, spectacle that the whole affair has become.
How this concerns bullshit is simple. Varied cases of the framing of Jenner’s decision have used descriptors such as courage(), commitment(), human rights(), determination(), and freedom(), among other fashionable phrasings of identity and individualism. At best, such characterizations tell barely half the story, and precisely this partiality and selective focus are the prototypical attributes of propaganda and other aspects of contemporary public relations and purposefully mediated bullshit.
Before unfolding the brief that constitutes the fleshing out of this relatively simple concept, i.e., ‘Caitlyn Jenner’s reinvention = bullshit,’ we would do well to recognize a few things that this missive is not. It in no way disrespects the possibility or choice of transgendered identity; it does not criticize or cast aspersions at Jenner herself, or at the former Jenner himself; it does not question the right of anyone to make such choices.
But it fiercely disputes the celebration of celebrity culture and the elevation of incredibly marginal social phenomena to the absolutely central, obsessively and strategically so, spectacle that the whole affair has become. Its stalwart critique, today at any rate, stems from four central points, and one intellectual assessment, though with even a modicum of additional attention, the entire assessment could easily expand to cover many a monograph of social deconstruction.
To inaugurate this discussion, one might focus on data about just how widespread anything that we might call transgendered life and consciousness is. Finding such information, despite the billions of clicks that Ms/r. Jenner’s experience has caused, proves difficult. However, at least one source(), vaguely authoritative, does present readers with a sense of how likely transgender phenomena have become since such an idea has gained popularity over the past half century or so.
The upshot of this search is the likely fact that in sixty-nine years—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—plus-or-minus 36,000 people() have had similar psycho-physiological experiences as has Ms. Caitlyn Jenner, in that they have moved beyond a mere inclination to consider themselves as different from their birth gender to take steps to transform into the other half, as it were. In other words, at any given point over the past seven decades, maybe ten or fifteen thousand folks would have fallen into an active embodiment of a transgendered experience.
Having started with a quotation from the good professor’s Bullshit monograph, I would ponder the deeper meaning of that number. After all, we inhabit a planet on which seven billion people or so live, on which a billion or so a day are in the process of starving, on which tens of millions of people have died in combat during the same span, on which hundreds of million or even billions have faced stark conditions of incarceration over the same decades. Literally one could go on and on and on and on and on in tallying those whose cause, let alone whose person, has failed to merit a spot on the cover of Vanity Fair or Time Magazine.
From this I would posit an initial argument, first, that the amount of notice that s/he has received is wildly disproportionate either to the general extent of the social occurrence that sets Jenner apart, or to the actual numbers of real people involved. Without any doubt, other groups—vastly larger—and at least equally deserving of attention—their relative obscurity at least in part a function of both their not having come from inherited wealth and their not focusing fanatically or even exclusively on themselves—have not garnered as much publicity or interest.
Essentially limitless examples exist of very precise social types—to go along with the more general social sets noted above—who are, at a minimum, equally ‘dedicated’ as Jenner, equally ‘brave’ as Jenner, equally ‘individual’ as Jenner, whose stories and accomplishments rank with Jenner’s, and who are just massively more numerous than are Jenner and all h/er/is coventurers. To name just a tiny few, we might consider plus-or-minus a hundred million veterans who have served in wars, the more or less five million veterans who have died in wars, uncounted tens or hundreds of thousands of people who have killed themselves because of their ‘medications,’ a smaller but still substantial cohort of people who have killed others because of their ‘medications,’ sixty million or more people who have suffered abuse because of their refugee status, billions of people who have faced horrific victimization because of their ethnic status, tens of millions or more people who have lost their homes, further billions of people who have endured the ravages of poverty and homelessness, etc., etc., etc.
Whether in the supermarket isles, where tabloids give credence to the notion of an ‘All-Jenner-All-the-Time’ media, or in more ‘serious’ broadcast, web-based, or print journalism over the past few months or so, basically nothing—till Charleston’s grotesque mayhem evolved—has outperformed Caitlyn’s and Bruce’s ratings. Hell, they’ve outhyped the NBA playoffs and the Stanley Cup by a ratio of five or ten to one on many measures. Although one might hope the conclusion would be obvious, one can never take such points for granted in the kind of vapid vacuum that typifies contemporary critical thinking.
Therefore, here is that deduction that ought to ‘go without saying:’ this almost incredible level of promotion of a particular cause, at best a little brazen, and completely bizarre to boot, has zero to do with the social or philosophical or scientific importance of the underlying eventualities, which is to say that a wealthy superstar has been taking hormones, has elected not to cut off his penis or root out his testicles, and now can claim to look pretty striking in fashionable and no doubt extremely expensive women’s attire. Something is out of kilter in this whole scenario. It is much more than merely a ‘tempest in a teapot,’ another case of a ‘tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Having come to this point, then, second, I simply must contend that the reasons why Ms. Caitlyn Jenner has received this blessed attention are important to understand. Among them is the fact that, as already alluded to, s/he came from substantial money, with recent evidence of this fact clearly present, such as in her/is membership in a $300,000 membership private men’s club that primarily offers its members chances to play golf. Jenner’s birthplace in Westchester County New York was one of the world’s wealthiest places, and his place at that point in such a scheme of things ought to be obvious in relation to his marriage to Kris Kardashian, the trust-funded heiress whose husband had been the “high-powered” and upper-crust barrister, Robert Kardashian.
While nothing about silver spoons inherently condemns them to evil ways or vicious beliefs, no matter the Nazarene’s thoughts about any particular camel’s difficulty in waltzing through a needle’s eye, both one’s capacity to pay for the expenses of sex-change fetishes and the networks and cashola to manage a massive media campaign about such a choice are much easier to manifest if one has a gigantic bankroll to bring to the process. In part because he was a savvy businessman before she came to the forefront, in part because he was ‘to the manor born,’ Jenner has brought just such wads of cash and plethora of connections to all of his ventures.
Another rationale for this really wacky level of interest in this erstwhile paltry matter is that it focuses on a particular element of individuality, or identity, that by its nature one can imagine as exclusive in every sense—i.e., ‘no one else is precisely like me,’ and ‘only those very much like me are welcome, or worthy of membership, in my club,’ for example. An obsession with self, in other words, on anyone’s part, may represent a sine qua non of becoming a cause célèbre. That such a ‘culture of narcissism’ (lasch) prevails in the good old U.S.A. is, if not utterly certain, an easy-to-argue possibility that many people who study such things closely would agree is a part of the cultural heritage of Yankee life, the ‘American Century,’ and so on and so forth.
An additional component of zeroing in on why this rich person’s highly and purposefully personal affairs ended up so popular is that such a project entails a substantial potential for developing commodified interventions—the special dildos to keep her/is faux-vaginal opening ready, willing, and able; fashion lines for that specific ‘plus-size’ that includes former pro athletes who have feminized themselves; training schools for the surgeons and attendants who participate in various aspects of the ‘big snip;’ and so on and so forth, etc., etc., etc.
This substitution of magic nonsense for any real sense of achievement or transformation is a major piece of how capitalism manages its social and psychological difficulties in a fashion that does not threaten the system whatsoever.
One overall aspect of this section would also be a discussion of commodity fetishism, possibly in conjunction with alienation. This substitution of magic nonsense for any real sense of achievement or transformation is a major piece of how capitalism manages its social and psychological difficulties in a fashion that does not threaten the system whatsoever. The assertion that nonsense is a part of the package is as simple as the fact that Jenner has elected to keep her penis, even as she insists that absolutely nothing is amiss in her assertion of a female status.
The overall point of this second sort of assessment of the Jenner juggernaut basically adds up to being real about both the sources of the story’s every reaching the top-of-the-fold, so to speak, and being clear about what the narrative will never really be about. Thus, in any event, such focal pieces of Caitlyn’s story have next-to-nothing to do with human rights, absolutely zero to do with social justice, and less than nothing to do with serving humankind generally.
Third, for this initial new blog item, one has little choice but to explore the very definite social imbroglio, with immense potential for real harm, that inevitably attends this very intentional obsession with her/im. For one thing, this genuflection to Jenner provides a flashpoint for conflict that not only can go nowhere, but also must in fact make people want to give up dialog and engagement completely.
For another, more obviously, the capitalization of bullshit inevitably causes a huge opportunity cost, in that little or no mediated space is available for actually crucial problems and issues that afflict, every day, all men or all women, which happens to be almost exactly one hundred thousand times more people than have undergone, in seventy years, what Caitlyn has experienced of late. Of course, plenty of crucial issues, which receive little or no sustained attention of the sort that Ms/r. Jenner has attained, also affect everybody on Earth, which is to say two hundred thousand times more people on a daily basis than fit in Jenner’s fetishized category over the course of seven long decades.
Again, bringing such discourse to the table does not for an instant question Jenner’s rights to live as a woman, her/is legitimate expectation of decency and respect or at least a willingness to tolerate on the part of other citizens, her/is freedom to promote herself/himself in any way that he wants. But it critiques and calls to account all of those who would orchestrate these rights, expectations, and freedoms as centrally—or really even marginally—important elements of the general social dialog about humanity and how we are to live and thrive in relation to each other instead of collapsing and dissolving in fantasies of individual fetish and distorted views of life and psyche and nature.
Fourth, in keeping with this inevitable grappling with nature’s imprimatur, if one wants to foster even the merest modicum of integrity, one must deal with biology, even if that will make probable major shitstorms of contention and abuse. While one can posit masculine and feminine as social categories that aggregates of different people, at different times, have constructed differently, one simply cannot avoid the bedrock reality and necessity of male and female as biological categories that have the same potent essence as categories of plant and animal, of primate and ungulate, of newborn and elder, and all of such elements of nature’s sweet and sour panoply.
Moreover, in the specifically human realm, whatever the role of constructed identities, the overwhelmingly vast majority of men live as men and women live as women. So much is this so that, in percentage terms, at the absolute maximum one two thousandth of one percent of men or women are following the Jenner way, so to say. And such a generous view of the matter would assume that all 36,000 of trans folks from the past seven decades were creating themselves anew now, which the data do not support.
Again, to repeat, this does not demean Jenner or any of his tiny coterie of cohorts. It does not impugn their election to switch. It does not impinge on their liberty to spend their trust funds or hard-earned coin as they see fit. It merely points out the biological anomaly that they evince and questions, stringently, the manipulated spotlight on Jenner that has resulted in a mediated frenzy about this very, very tiny slice of human existence. Surely, wondering about the rationality, not to mention the optimality, of such a relentless highlighting is worth a thought or two or three.
In this regard, the recent brouhaha about Rachel Dolezal provides a rich nexus of instruction. In terms of her storyline, she is essentially indistinguishable from Caitlyn. Of Czech, German, and Swedish genealogy, for reasons of inclination and opportunity, she ‘passed’ as a Black woman for many years. She now maintains that such a decision was justifiable because she ‘identified,’ or in other words, liked to believe that she was an African American, precisely analogous to Jenner’s ‘identification’ as a woman, which amounts to little more than her/is sensibility that this choice-of-identity makes her/is assertion of it a fact.
In this regard, Dolezal bears more than a passing resemblance too to untold but possibly large numbers of partially African-American folks who’ve passed themselves off as ‘Caucasian’ over at least the past couple of centuries, including even light-skinned slaves() who escaped the lash by going on safari with darker members of their families, who played their chattel and their servants for the show. These types of accounts prove dispositively that the whole concept of ‘race’ is nonsensical from the start(LINK). Unlike gender, racial categories have absolutely zero biological basis.
The reason is simple why this story about a fabricated racial identity appears here, adjacent to a critique of how the social presentation of Caitlyn Jenner’s fabricated gender identity has unfolded. Jenner’s handlers offer her/im up as a heroine, whereas Dolezal wears the mantle of the charlatan and the villain. If for no other reason than to inquire about double standards, Ms. Dolezal deserves her turn on our stage. In other words, “Why is Caitlyn Jenner a heroic role model, while Ms. Dolezal is an execrable fraud?”
A reformulation of the ‘why’ question can round out the analytical section of this essay. We definitely find narratives like this alluring, whether Bruce or Caitlyn is the tagline, a man’s abandonment of himself to become a female simply an irresistible premise for clicks and views and what not. These yarns tantalize us like the science fiction of M.A. Foster, whose characters lived for centuries and generally spent a hundred years as a woman, followed by ten decades or so as a man, and then back again.
The deep fascination that we feel for such sorties more or less fully emanates from the way that, with a dark intensity, the font and frolic and frenzy of our fucking—sex and human sexuality in all possible ‘flavors’— compels a level of captivation that is unsurpassed in its ferocity. Eros provides half or more of literature’s energy source and nearly all the wellspring from which our continuation as a species is possible. Is Caitlyn Jenner’s coming-out party really so special in this light?
Caitlyn’s story has next-to-nothing to do with human rights, absolutely zero to do with social justice, and less than nothing to do with serving humankind generally.
One could easily turn to a Nobel Prize laureate like Sigrid Undset, whose Kristin Lavransdatter and Master of Hestviken series ooze erotic fervor and every sort of twisting and turning of the masculine and feminine that are today au courant. Or one might delineate how Geronimo, when he was leading the Apache resistance, used cross-dressing tactics to instill terror and foster mayhem among gringo and Spanish cavalry alike. Or one would be able easily to locate manifold mythic traditions that have bent gender’s ‘natural’ appearance: father’s assuming mother’s garb at rites of passage can be de rigueur; maenad fury at prying men’s participating in their ritual abandon forms the stuff of legend and drama. These and countless other examples are readily accessible, any one of which is at once juicier and richer than the innuendo and pretense that are the primary material of the Caitlyn shtick.
Furthermore, and finally, in the course of a life fairly full of incident and experience, I personally have encountered transgendered people, in contexts that compelled interest and attention, though no one had the public relations muscle and hustle to command a Vanity Fair or Time Magazine cover. My first long term sweetheart, dear Doris, when we broke up in a burst of gory glory, ended up with a fine fellow who within a decade had taken Bruce’s route for himself, albeit two decades ahead of Ms/r. Jenner. Doris’ partner kept his ‘equipment,’ but otherwise he lived as a woman, so that his two sons had, in a complicated sort of way, a birth mother and a father-mother as well.
In another instance, in one of the many logistical interludes that formed a part of my ‘back’s supporting my wrist’ strategy for almost a quarter century, a good friend whom I moved for the third or fourth time promised me a rare treat “for your story files,” as she put the case with a knowing nod. After I had assembled the bed and attached all the mirrors and such, she ushered an extremely striking woman into our midst. She was at least six foot three inches tall and extremely well-proportioned. She was once a he, my friend explained later, something that I had almost instantly surmised, though I wouldn’t have guessed that s/he had served as a flanker for the Atlanta Falcons, a pro-bowl candidate, moreover, whose orientation was gay.
He “switched teams,” as my merry friend stated things, and broke off his long-term relationship with one of his opponents on the New Orleans Saints, an even burlier Black linebacker with whom he had been lovers since college days. “She wanted to try men who wanted women,” my client said. Three years or so later, this friend and customer called to schedule another relocation, and she took the time to give me an update as well. “There’s a lot more,” she conveyed with a tone of amazement.
The football couple had cared too much for each other’s company to part permanently, so the newly inaugurated she took up again with her former lover, only this time as a heterosexual experience. That went on for a time, and then the once-fully-gay linebacker decided that he wanted to experience attachment with men who really dug women, so he went through the change as well, surgery included, like his former gay and now transgendered sweetie. That kept on for a year or so, but the connection between these two athletic specimens was just too powerful, so they became, in the end, a transgendered lesbian couple, which continues to this day, despite the wear and tear of managing their manufactured vaginas.
These tales are captivating; no one can deny that, whether one’s perspective is judgmental or tolerant, whether one is like me and subscribes to a live-and-let-live philosophy or feels that morality should rule between the sheets and below the belt, so to say. The point, however, is that, in a final sort of assessment, their meaning is much more about the fancies and fetishes that we buy, the alienated itch to try a different path, and mediated manipulation that aims to distract people from certain types of stories by substituting other renditions in their place, than it is about rights or courage or any other significant moral, ethical, or social good. And that conclusion stands in stark contrast to the tone and content of Caitlyn’s and Bruce’s plus or minus hundred million Google hits.
At the end of the day, another remark from Harry Frankfurt, early in his essay, provides an apt way to end today’s episode. “Excrement is not designed or crafted at all; it is merely emitted, or dumped. It may have a more or less coherent shape, or it may not, but it is in any case certainly not wrought.
The notion of carefully wrought bullshit involves, then, a certain inner strain. Thoughtful attention to detail requires discipline and objectivity. It entails accepting standards and limitations that forbid the indulgence of impulse or whim. It is this selflessness that, in connection with bullshit, strikes us as inapposite. But in fact it is not out of the question at all.
The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who — with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth — dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right.“
The Princeton philosopher’s observations clearly apply, both to Mr. Jenner’s marketing decision to become Ms. Jenner, and to the carefully crafted contextualization of this elective move as a ‘courageous,’ ‘determined,’ and deeply ‘personal’ ‘commitment’ to such values as ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights.’ Such a storyline is bullshit, and today’s posting proffers, if nothing else, an inaugural and limited corrective to this.
Communism & Reaction, Fascism & War, Finance & Community in ‘Little Russia’
repost from Social Policy, Fall 2014 issue
One of the little pieces of art that my wife and I create has this inscription on it: “The Needle of Consciousness Will Penetrate Next to Nothing If Our Thirst for Knowledge Does Not Outweigh Our Fear of Honesty.” In particular, when we investigate the intertwining of geography, history, culture, and economics in some definite conflicted place, we must ask—and be willing to discover without fleeing—“At what point can we pinpoint the inception of patterns similar to those currently present?”
Do organizers pose such questions? I know that I have. Perhaps, often enough though, faith that people themselves know this background and the press of the present combine to make a shrug an easy enough answer.
The current moment’s crushing weight is irremediable. But, at least on this side of the Atlantic—and throughout that portion of Europe that the United States ‘freed’ through the Marshall Plan and other means—most folks are unaware of anything akin to nuanced Ukrainian reality. They see pictures of death raining from on high. They hear repeated imprecations that what Reagan hypocritically called ‘Evil Empire’ has again ascended to the political pinnacle. They have little other than horror or distorted nonsense to guide them, in other words.
The intention of these pages is to provide some context in this context, as it were. I tell my students, “Context is king.” And the only way to grasp such underpinnings is through examining the past.
Certainly, the former group presents wisps of comprehensible explication: vaguely defined lure of empire; desperate drive for hydrocarbon stocks; desire to tame and dismember Russia; fierce determination to forestall the looming threat of BRICS, the Eurasian Union, and so forth. And obviously these are compelling components of a plausible explanation.
But they do not elicit a full-bodied account. If such rationale truly rule, if Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, or the union of China and Russia and all in between were really core issues here, then—unless they are complete idiots, buffoons of legendary stupidity—our present world’s rulers would not act so as to necessitate a stronger BRICS, a Eurasian Union powerful enough to destroy their empire.
So what is going on? This essay contends that analysts must wrestle with historical timelines to create a fabric out of today’s seemingly disconnected threads. From facts and reasoning that concern these issues, a hypothesis appears—four parts, stemming from just before1900 until World War Two’s evisceration and slaughter yielded a ‘Cold War.’
First, Ukraine’s longstanding radicalism, even Bolshevism, peaked during this timespan; simultaneously, anti-communism emerged as the official ‘Western’ response to these socialist inclinations, a visceral hatred capable of fostering mass murder.
Second, ‘international communism’ so terrified big-business that ‘free-market’ advocates embraced fascist means as a predominant way to shape policy, if not always openly to contextualize public relations.
Third, Earth’s self-anointed rulers recognized that cycles of collapse and destruction fundamentally grounded political economy, with one depression, war, and bloodletting following another—implosions and attendant opportunistic explosions that also contributed to Nazism and its ‘fellow-travelers.’
Fourth, financiers—cold-blooded and cool-headed impulsion to own, control, and dispose of everything in existence their primary drive—also came to the fore during these decades of working class uprising, fascist response, and militarization of underlying economic relations, all of which now serves as nexus for Armageddon on Europe’s fertile Southeast plains.
This four-piece dynamic explains how Ukraine came to be what it is today; it rests on historical reality. Ukrainians themselves—in Crimea, Donetsk, Odessa, especially, will nod in recognition at what shows up here. We need to acknowledge these nods.
This analysis in turn rests on evidence from the past ten thousand years, till the end of the eighteen hundreds, in which other important factors have also played a role. These other components persist, too, though we leave their discussion for another time and place.
As well, this contextualization interweaves with seven decades of a so-called ‘American Century.’ Zbigniew Brzezinsky ‘champions’ this “New-Rome” vision. His monograph, The Grand Chessboard, summarizes in very businesslike language imperial plutocrats’ perspectives.
“Russian recovery is essential … . But any recovery of its imperial potential would be inimical… . Moreover, this issue (could cause) differences between America and some European states, especially as the EU and NATO expand. Should Russia be considered a candidate for eventual membership …? And what then about Ukraine? The costs of the exclusion of Russia could be high — creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in the Russian mindset — but the results of dilution of either the EU or NATO could also be quite destabilizing.”
Today’s narrative focuses primarily on parts one and two of the analytical quatrain above. Foundations will appear for the third and the fourth components, but these will only qualify as the most basic abstracts. Social Policy readers may anticipate, should fortune favor such, a Part Two to the present initial installment.
As things stand, today’s plus-or-minus five thousand words barely initiate the empirical exploration of this fifty-year evolution of the present pass. The explication here does constitute a testable set of assertions, though, that starts to add things up so the final tally tallies, so to speak.
Honestly, our lives may well depend on such bottom-line comprehension.
To the soil and spirit of Eastern Ukraine and Southeast Russia, no better English-language introduction exists than Mikhail Sholokhov‘s And Quiet Flows the Don. Love, treachery, landlust, loyalty, social-conservatism, and revolution course through the novel in frank and graphic succession.
A key role in the story, though the character appears near the end, is a Chernigov-Province Ukrainian, a Communist machine gunner who successfully converts Grisha-the-Cossack to Communism, while they are in a hospital recovering from wounds that almost blinded them. Grisha, the tale’s spiritual center, regains his sight and for the first time in his life opens his eyes.
“Most terrible of all, Grigory began to think Garanzha was right, and that he was impotent to oppose him. He realized with horror that the intelligent and bitter Ukrainian was gradually but surely destroying all his former ideas about the tsar, the country, and his own military duty as a Cossack. Within a month of the Ukrainian’s arrival the whole system on which Grigor’s life had been based was a smoking ruin. It had already grown rotten, eaten up with the canker of the monstrous absurdity of the war, and it needed only a jolt. That jolt was given, and Grigory’s artless straightforward mind awoke.”
A primary character throughout the novel, moreover, Ilya Bunchuk, a Cossack from the Don region immediately adjacent to Ukraine, was another clever, forthright Marxist-Leninist. Machine-gun expertise, because such knowledge defended the revolution, was also his forte. His physical prowess, choice of arms, and dedicated revolutionary consciousness, in fact, closely paralleled those of an actual comrade from Odessa, who rose to become Minister of Defense and member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee, General Rodion Malinovsky.
The war’s mayhem, for the Cossacks and Ukrainians, occurred largely on the terrain of ‘Little Russia.’ At one point, survivors of an engagement, having seen half their number literally cut to pieces by Austrian machine-gunners in Galicia, returned to find Golovachev, the Division Chief-of-Staff, showing off snapshots of the action that he had taken and developed. A lieutenant struck him in the face and then collapsed in sobs. “Then Cossacks ran up and tore Golovachev to pieces, made game of his corpse, and finally threw it into the mud of a roadside ditch. So ended this brilliantly inglorious offensive.”
But these communistic proclivities did not spring forth full-blown from the Russian Revolution or from Russia’s and Ukraine’s horrific experience of WWI. The radicalism that permeated Ukrainian culture also contributed to the area’s being a center of the 1905 uprising against the Czar, where the insurrection on the Battleship Potemkin took place in Sevastopol. As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth in fact, what we now know as Ukraine—which was then ‘Little Russia’—was home to diverse radicals and militants.
One whom many Ukrainians consider a ‘national poet,’ Ivan Franko, embraced Marxism, socialism, and internationalism on occasion, while also feeling the populist pull toward nationalistic pride and rejection of Russian preeminence. In displaying the complexities of Ukraine, he demonstrated the fierce core of a ‘to-the-ramparts’ orientation. Many other commentators also note the late-nineteenth century prevalence of socialist, communist, and other anti-establishment movements and analyses among Ukrainians, with the common emergence of revolutionary leaders here such as Leon Trotsky.
But these fiery threads of contrariness go back further still in regional history. Partly, this relates to the role of Jewish culture in the region, on the one hand serving as exploitative agency for the czar’s tax-collections, on the other hand yielding the wage-earners and artists and thinkers who rejected their forebears’ legacy to become the region’s first proletarians and gadfly intellectuals.
Not that these veins of insurrection were the only elements of Ukrainian life, on the contrary, deeply reactionary forces, loyal to czar or Archduke or church, also existed. Many Jewish people feared and loathed their neighbors. Memories of discrimination and murder, of double-dealing and betrayal, were also part and parcel of the lives that unfolded here. Yet, central conduits of these bubbling cauldrons of contrariety were radical; citizens more often than not spit at the czar, studied Marx, plotted revolution.
Part of this red strain also results from the mines that are today part of the very locus of contemporary carnage in the area, and in the 1870’s gave birth to wildcat strikes and syndicalist actions that spread through all Ukraine. Nikita Khrushchev came into the world in East Ukraine, outside Donetsk; his father worked the mines, and young Nikita followed him at age sixteen as war engulfed the entire region.
The bloody mess of World War sparked the seething spirit of rebellion among workers and soldiers, Cossacks, Jews, Russians, Ukrainians, and the mélange of nationalities that inhabit these lands. Extensive, well-rooted stalks of revolt blossomed in showers of blood, from abbatoirs of human flesh.
Khrushchev joined the Red Army rather than continue mining coal, returning a seasoned Party activist who helped build socialism in Ukraine throughout the 1920’s. In addition, many of his associates and opponents also started out nearby. One of his longstanding comrades, as noted above, could have been the prototype for Sholokov’s character, Ilya, the machine gunner. The burly, earthy, much-beloved Malinovsky, from an Odessa-area peasant family, frequently paralleled Bunchuk‘s profile.
As the Bolsheviks wrested control of Russia from capital’s predominance and signed a peace treaty with Germany—fueling a sense of betrayal among the rulers of Europe that was volcanic in its intensity —Ukraine on its own also accepted German terms, but only after its political leaders pocketed plus-or-minus fifty million francs of bribes from France to desist parlaying with Berlin.
The agreement with Germany basically turned over Europe’s ‘grainbasket’ to the Triple-Alliance and threatened to boost the planned German offensive in Spring 1918. That Ukraine so blithely instituted this arrangement, from which attacks on Jewish residents increased and criminalization of dissent also flowed, showed in this instance the power of local nationalists and counterrevolutionaries.
As Germany’s defeat approached, however, in no small part because of Bolshevik organizing efforts, Ukrainians revolted and before the final defeat of ‘White-Army reactionaries,’ Kiev also entered the communist camp. The industrialized East, in particular, led the way in these developments, overturning the ‘patriots’ who had parlayed with German militarists.
Before the Armistice with Germany, meanwhile, England and the United States intervened in Russia to ‘free’ allies trapped among reds and to wreak havoc on the Bolsheviks. With increasing intensity during the Winter of 1918-19, all of the enemy combatants and allies of the just-finished capitalist slaughter turned savagely on the Soviets.
The White Armies persisted partially because of ‘Western’ support. Otherwise, the revolution would likely have triumphed by the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. Meanwhile, Americans invaded Siberia; Austrians, British, and minor contingents from elsewhere led armed incursions into Mother Russia and the Caucasus; France joined Greece and Turkey in trying to consolidate Ukraine, which might permit recovery of some of the fifty million pilfered francs.
Such interventions elicited powerful outcries. These attacks targeted workers who wanted to find different ways to do business, after years of mass murder in the service of profit. In London, in Berlin, in New York, pamphleteers and demonstrators shouted out for wage-earners at home to stand in solidarity with revolutionaries abroad. Lenin, Trotsky and others made direct appeals to fellow toilers far afield.
Jacob Abrams, who near Kiev had played some significant part in 1905 unrest, fled to Brooklyn to escape Russian-Ukrainian secret police and encountered political authorities every bit as thoroughgoing as anything on Europe’s Eastern fringes. In New York, he joined anarchists, socialists, communists who remonstrated against assaults on the barely-born Soviet Union.
All these workers and writers and thinkers abhorred the war when it came. They even more stringently objected to the intervention against the Bolsheviks, in which the United States, as noted, had joined with Germany and Turkey, its recent enemies, as well as with its various allies.
To make their objections concrete, Abrams and his comrades printed flyers that called out Woodrow Wilson—“The President was afraid to announce to the American people the intervention in Russia. …too much of coward to …say, ‘We Capitalistic nations cannot afford to have a proletarian republic in Russia.’ …This is not new. The tyrants of the world fight each other till they see a common enemy—working class enlightenment—as soon as they see a common enemy they combine together to crush it”—and defended the rights of Russians to act as they saw fit. “Workers in the ammunition factories, you are producing bullets, bayonets, cannon to murder not only the Germans but also your dearest, best, who are in Russia and are fighting for freedom.”
Thus, Jacob Abrams and his fellows faced the wrath of the U.S. Palmer-Raid police state; he and all of his cohorts confronted twenty or more years in prison, a sentence that represented a sick travesty of “free speech,” according to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ minority opinion. Eventually, Abrams and his co-defendants accepted deportation back to ‘Little Russia,’ from whence the peripatetic Ukrainian perambulated to Mexico to play chess with Leon Trotsky before the latter’s assassination. He and his comrades irritated the Soviets as they had the Americans, so that their complicated cases, which again intersected with Ukraine in various ways, have no easily identifiable ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’.
In a sense though, Ukraine spread a anarcho-social-democratic, revolutionary web that covered the planet, a phenomenon that occurred because such militancy indisputably permeated Ukrainian culture and society. That some rank-and-file hourly employees in the West felt similarly is equally verifiable. An additional palpable empirical reality was the United States’ outraged response to this, as if its imprimatur ought also to have spanned the globe.
The U.S. and its allies and enemies from the recent carnage evinced a fury and horror at Bolshevism that went much further than rhetoric and intervention, though, as the following section demonstrates. In the recent war, nationalist fervor had been adequate. “Over there!” complemented “Willy the Happy Hun,” and all but a handful of non-Bolshevik-infected socialists joined up and went to war as patriots, just as Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler did in Italy and Austria.
But after the Soviet ‘cowardice’ in surrendering, H.G. Wells and George Kennan were just two of hundreds of annalists who documented the vituperation that greeted Boshevism among the upper classes, the landed and moneyed sets. At the level of Winston Churchill or Henry Ford, down through the coteries of capital to many a floor manager or shopkeeper, the portrayal of Commies as execrable scum was rife.
In sum, then, the multilayered, often contradictory radicalism of the Ukraine, together with the visceral hatred of these socialistic or anarchistic tendencies on the part of ruling interests further West, expresses a pattern. This dynamic persisted, as the next sections amply demonstrate, and it today underlies a continuing fury on the part of the privileged and powerful at Eastern Ukraine and Russia.
This connection with the present, in terms of analogous interventions, is obvious. Not by accident are the Ukrainian sectors now under attack realms where streets bear the names of Lenin and Stalin. Not by chance is this the part of Ukraine where those who are community leaders still imagine a social democratic society.
Moreover, the general historical connection between Ukraine and Russia is also indubitable. Communism and the Soviet way were every inch Ukrainian, ‘Little Russian’ attributes.
Just as many residents in 1900 rejected “Ukrainian nationalism,” so too now such ideation is far from overwhelmingly prevalent. Indeed, the 16th edition of Britannica had only this to say about Ukraine:“The name formerly given to a district of European Russia, now comprising the governments of Kharkov, Kiev, Podolia, and Podova. The portion East of the Dnieper became Russian in 1686, and the portion West of that in 1793.”
Kiev, Kharkov, Little Russia, and more merited many pages of narrative, however, noteworthy as dispositive circumstantial evidence of the interpenetration of ‘Great Russia’ and ‘Little Russia.’ The rubric of nationalism, in other words, was at least in part a construction of those who wanted soldiers to march and shoot as instructed.
As upcoming paragraphs reveal, Communists struggled both to accept and transcend the many ‘nationalisms’ that they inherited. And many people in these places understood, revered, fought for, and have remained committed internationalists, in a word ‘Reds’ such as those whom capitalist cronies throughout the world have detested from the very start.
When Winston Churchill spoke of wanting to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its crib,” he was thus, at least by extension, referring to Ukraine. This resort to high-handed violence, mass murder as a social policy, might seem bizarre given the decimation that had for four years eviscerated the populations of Europe. But its anomalous nature does not undermine its actuality.
This detestation led to all manner of tactics against the young Soviet regime. Agents from the war period merely adjusted their caps slightly and continued spying and provoking and so forth. Economic warfare occasionally manifested in trade and such, but especially Germany desperately needed any relationships that was not immediately worth less as a result of reparations; this dependency on Bolshevik New Economic Policy commodities and currency fostered Soviet growth and survival.
Both this inherent need for connection and the infiltration of spies that it permitted affected Ukraine, at once beneficence and affliction. Soviet food supplies in any event depended on this fertile region of large and productive farms. And the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, including the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, moved forward, which mortified and further infuriated the upper reaches of capital’s ruling classes no end.
So the intrepid murderers who placed themselves at the apex of ‘freedom-and-plutocracy’ needed some other way to eviscerate the Reds. Not by accident did the rise of various Nazi strains follow immediately on the victory of Bolshevism. All manner of ‘scholarly’ writing conflates communism and fascism in some shape, form, or fashion. For our purposes, this should suffice about such attempts: they are at best pathetic and wrong, all too often intellectually dishonest or worse, apologies for Nazism. But the fascist ‘triumph’ did indeed come to pass.
This fascist ascendancy flowed from many sources, for example that national patriotism had lost its ‘divide-and-conquer’ allure, after various mechanisms had annihilated tens of millions of workers ‘for God and country.’ Some new motivation, more potent, at once authoritative and authoritarian, was necessary.
This new embrace of madness and mayhem devolved into the rise of a new form of capitalism, which utilized the wheat stocks, or fasces, that pervaded Roman symbology and represented ‘strength in unity.’ Hence the world birthed fascism, which came to the fore as an explicit assault on the rise of working class movements that sought power over capital.
Churchill was just one of dozens of Western business and political leaders ‘charmed’ by Il Duce. FDR praised the “fine Italian gentleman.” The corporate press often and the business press almost unanimously promoted the Italian model. Churchill gave the clearest rationale for such attitudes, which seem—to put the matter mildly—bizarre in hindsight; “(Italy under Mussolini) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.”
Mussolini’s initial foray into fascist State power served as something akin to an experiment. In the end, it did not meet the many-pronged necessities that big business was seeking: economic stagnation continued; the capacity actually to war against communism was missing; fascism in Italy remained insular rather than expansionist. Further North and East, however, a perfect storm was brewing.
Capital’s early fascination with Hitler did not begin and end with German manufacturers and merchants. Quite the contrary, from the early 1920’s, this artist and poet and believer in Germany’s volksreich attracted influential patrons from further afield than Central Europe.
The Rapallo Treaty between Germany and Russia, meanwhile, showed the risk of permitting even a ‘liberal’ German polity free rein in the aftermath of Versailles. Trade and even collaboration with communists rooted and grew.
This then is the context for the origins of Mein Kampf and the conflation of Jewishness and banking by social reactionaries. As opportunities dissipated, as jobs disappeared, as those who had lived gaily and sweetly found themselves hungry and fearful, the attraction of ‘strong policies’ that squashed unions, eliminated immigrants, emphasized warlike investment became irresistible for many. But this social setting for fascism did not pay the tab.
Who Financed Hitler is one of many sources that prove that the potent attraction that industrial and even finance capital felt for Adolf Hitler elicited his ascendancy. Again, this took place not only among German titans but throughout the haute bourgeoisie in the ‘free world’ as a whole.
A fascinating case study in this regard concerns Henry Ford’s admiration and support for the Austrian corporal and his National Socialist machine. Readers may find a thorough introduction to this tale here. Hitler kept a portrait of Ford behind his desk, the only such depiction in his office. Mein Kampf itself owed allegiance to Ford’s monograph on “international jewry,” which the industrialist had bequeathed to the Nazi leader without strings. Ford Motor Company laid the basis for the expansion of military production that, as Ford and Hitler both agreed, would have the primary purpose of annihilating the Soviet Union.
Under such circumstances, that a centenarian survivor of the French resistance might, in relation to the upsurge of fascism in the world, recently points an accusatory finger at the wealthy is unsurprising. That Indignez Vouz’s condemnation is not better known evidences both the propaganda or evasion that characterizes ‘established’ explication about these matters, and the confusion or ignorance that is almost universal concerning these issues.
“’When I try to understand what caused fascism, what caused the invasion by it and by Vichy, I tell myself that the wealthy, with their selfishness, have been terribly afraid of the Bolshevik revolution. They have been guided by their fears.’ In relation to Nazism, ‘the sense of history is the irresistible path of disaster to disaster.’”
While this decade-long fertilization of the fascist curse was occurring in the West, moreover, a parallel seeding of the ground took place on the fringes of Russia. Even inside the Soviet state, agents operated to lay the basis for upheaval in the present and collaboration with Nazis in the future.
The Georgian uprising and other cases of sallies against the Russians occurred throughout this period. The Polish State, weeks after its creation, with tens of thousands of its citizens languishing from Typhus and a million and a half of its children eating from the bread bowl of the American relief fund, decided to invade the Soviet Union and seize Moscow, though in the event, the Poles decided to seize Ukraine first.
George Kennan is just the most cogent, easily available chronicler to detail this sort of madness, which actually sounds strikingly like some of the developments of recent history. The Russians begged for negotiations. The Poles assaulted and won Kiev, where ragged pieces of a pro-Western administration remained.
The ‘victorious’ advances of anti-communist forces fell to pieces, however, and elicited the Red Army’s counterattack to the gates of Warsaw. Embedded French advisers, dispensing American money and British arms and ordnance, eventually drive the Bolsheviks back. Weary of carnage, all sides agree to a truce.
“So much for the Russian-Polish War. It was really only a delayed phase of the Russian intervention and civil war: delayed because the Poles did not want to be associated in any way with the White Russian opponents of the Bosheveki, and preferred to tackle the Soviet Communists themselves.”
The Arcos imbroglio is merely another instance of this sort of hostile relationship. The All-Russian-Cooperative Society was a British firm. However, just as the ‘free world’ spied on and agitated in and near the Soviet Union, so too did Russian agents seek access to useful intelligence and contacts in London or New York, in many cases with Ukrainian agents. And after all manner of dramatic testimony of illicit activity and unwelcome trading came to light, the English MI-5 authorized a general raid of and destruction of the outfit.
The events even extended to the U.S. “Jacob Moness was arrested in New York after information recovered by the Metropolitan Police in the ARCOS raid of 1927 implicated him in a worldwide Soviet espionage organization. The American authorities discovered a large number of documents at Moness’s New York apartment. These provided considerable proof of Soviet espionage networks in the US and revealed that the Russians’ principal interest in the US lay in their armed forces and defence industries.”
Thus, in a way that inextricably intersected with the products and personnel and prospects of Ukraine, a treacherous dynamic was in place between Europe and the U.S., on the one hand, and Soviet compatriots, on the other. This was transpiring, more to the overall point, in the context of absolute acceptance—and frequent monetary and constant political support—for Nazi initiatives and parties in German and Italy and throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
A contemporary socialist chronicle sums up some of this overall dynamic. “What was the real situation in the 1930s? The appeasement policy was not the result of some failure to stand up to the dictator Hitler, but involved a very definite set of calculations. British accommodation to the Nazi regime was based on the hope that Hitler would carry out the program outlined in his book Mein Kampf and launch a war against the Soviet Union, from which British imperialism would be able to benefit. Britain had pursued the overthrow of the Soviet regime from the day after the revolution of October 1917. There was no more passionate supporter of this goal than Churchill, who advocated military intervention by the imperialist powers to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle.”
The overall point of noting these attempts aggressively to assault and brutalize Russia is that Nazism as well existed to strike blows against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, including Ukraine, where Nikita Khrushchev was a rising leader in the Soviet leadership. These developments represented an explicit strategy, having nothing to do with any real hope for such ‘values’ as democracy. They did opportunistically enlist nationalist critics and opponents of Russia, but this is a different issue from the central choice to ally with fascism.
Of course, none of these points rebut the fact that Joseph Stalin was one of history’s monstrous criminals. His most strident accuser ended up being Nikita Khrushchev, because this ardent comrade and proponent of a people’s socialism was aware of the damage that ‘Uncle Joe’ had done to this cause.
More to the point of this narrative, Stalin’s viciousness resulted in the starvation of literally millions of Ukrainians when he forced the concentration of agricultural production in the region. This mass murder is of course inexcusable. Still, substantial numbers of Ukrainians support social democracy and recognize that this tremendous brutality occurred in a context of significant attacks on the Soviets and forced isolation of the Russians from trade and other sources of growth and exchange. Agents of the West, moreover, used the horror at what happened to build their intelligence arms and abilities in Ukraine, which in turn supported Hitler’s work when the time came for the Germans to invade.
In fact, the fascist gangs that presently plunder East Ukraine and sit in the halls of power in Kiev in many cases emanate directly from Stepan Bandera and his ilk. Such ‘liberal’ outposts as New York Review of Books have the temerity to play down Bandera’s fascism and label him a hero: nor is NYRB alone in such amelioration of Nazis.
The biographical facts are accessible in many places. Bandera came of age in the aftermath of the Soviet’s coming to power. He and his family, near the Polish border, were strongly nationalistic and accepted German help and funds. They participated in various actions during the Soviet years and orchestrated multiple slaughters of Poles and Jews and Communists until the Nazis themselves turned against Bandera and had him interned for the rest of the war. He died as a result of cyanide poisoning at the hand of the KGB in 1959.
The key facts here—those which more than any of the others ‘define’ this fellow—were the alliance with Nazis early on; the insistence on an ethnically ‘pure’ nation in an area with literally dozens of nationalities; the promulgation of mass murder. No matter what extenuating circumstances exist, one can no more ground a polity’s present on such a past, without fascism, than one can hail to Hitler as a hero and escape the Nazi brush.
Anyhow, as in the case of Bandera, more generally too, laying the groundwork for WWII, German interests in some cases merely networked with former or current English or French operations. Intelligence networks on the borders of and perhaps inside of the U.S.S.R. thus played a sinister role in preparing for what was one obvious ultimate purpose of Nazism, the utter evisceration of the Soviet Union and elimination of a Communist regime there.
The recruitment of local residents on the road to invading Russia was obviously a part of this process. Trade contacts, communication with public officials—such as police, administrative officials, public health functionaries, and more—and other means facilitated Western, and ultimately Nazi, access to knowledge of and power inside of Ukraine and other areas at the borders of Soviet control. These connections soon enough came into play.
The horrors of the war period in Ukraine stagger the imagination. The worst massacres, the most casual brutality, the most hideous violence and nonchalant bigotry took place in and around Ukraine. And for two years, Ukraine was a Nazi locus, till the Red Army—with tens of thousands of eager Ukrainian recruits—rooted them out.
One way of thinking about such things is to state that on June 29-30, 1941, German and Ukrainian operatives undertook the monumental task of slaughtering 33,000 Jews and Communists at Babi Yar, near Kiev. The hourly rate boggles the mind: a thousand corpses per hour; twenty thousand hasty burials per day; such statistics induce nausea.
The summary murder of as many as 50,000 more in Odessa a month later—this time with Romanian and local troops and police—imposes a similar psychic space. That both of these events—most people killed and the third-largest massacre of the entire Holocaust—occurred in Ukraine exemplifies both the complicated mayhem that the region is capable of manifesting and the presence in these places of agents with whom Nazis had for some time been in contact.
Another way to look at these developments is through the lens of literature. Here is Mikhail Sholokhov.
“His entire face was a cry; bloody tears were raining from his eyes that had been forced out of their sockets. …(O)ne leg, torn away at the thigh, was dragged along by a shred of skin and a strip of scorched trouser; the other leg was gone completely. He crawled slowly along on his hands, a thin, almost childish scream coming from his lips… . No one attempted to go to him.
‘Both legs gone!’
‘Look at the blood!’
’And he’s still conscious.’
Uryupin touched Grigory on the shoulder… . (and) drew Grigory along by the sleeve… . Under Zharkov’s belly the pink and blue intestines were steaming. The tangled mass lay on the sand, stirring and swelling. Beside it the dying man’s hand scrabbled at the ground.”
The point of any such capsulization, whether empirical or narrative, however, includes the following idea. These facts and atrocities resulted from consciously adopted directives. They were not accidents; nor miscalculations; nor mistakes.
The carnage’s aftermath, too, came down to a policy by the U.S. almost the obverse of its post-WWI invasion, taking the form of recruiting and finding homes around the world for thousands, or tens of thousands of German, Ukrainian, Romanian, and other fascist adherents. To an extent, such choices were religious, paralleling the Catholic Church’s well-documented embrace of Nazi forms and dreams. To an extent, these moves were tactical, ‘lesser-of-two-evil’ comradeship with the followers of Hitler and the promulgators of holocaust.
To wrap up this section, therefore, one might note that out of an initial revulsion for a locus of revolutionary critique grew a response that we now define as fascist, a deployment of tools-to-rule that persists to today and will keep on appearing tomorrow. A deeper penetration of the annals of this process will—without a single doubt—further prove that the United States explicitly and completely allied itself with fascism as the primary means of undercutting socialists, communists, and other anti-capitalists, both in Ukraine and more generally.
The connection with the present should be palpable. The social basis for fascist thinking is as simple to manifest as the massive uptick in downward mobility among the erstwhile ‘middle-classes,’ which is to say the shop-owners and insurance agencies and other small operators who collapse sooner or later as crisis follows crisis and the rich get richer. Unemployed and otherwise disaffected workers also join in. The ideological basis often comes down to an appeal to honor the nation, and, more particularly the state.
In the world of the here and now, and for the better part of a century, any fiercely nationalistic furor has skated along this route, a road to hell paved with good intentions perhaps. To insist on the nation, as a category superior to humanity, always now invites the Nazi wolf into the fold. These forces in Ukraine today not only have such obvious and discernible social and ideological roots, however, but they also both symbolically and actually have ties to the Banderas and Von Brauns and the predators whom the U.S. extricated following Germany’s collapse in 1945.
TSUNAMIS FROM CAPITALISM’S COLLAPSES
As noted at the outset, the brevity of the next two components of this argument result from exigencies of time and space. Much more remains to develop above. Even more so is that true below.
The ‘received wisdom’ in 1914 was that war was impossible. Integration would prohibit it. Except it did not do so. Among the topics and evidence important to consider here are the following.
Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes’ prescient warning about particularly Britain’s and France’s attempts to extract reparations from Germany.
The Merchants of Death ideation, both as an independent scholarly explication and as the result of the Senator Gerald Nye extensive committee hearings about the banking boons that resulted from financing Europe’s war.
The Manhattan Project, as a prototypical embodiment of conjoining State and War and production.
The Marshall Plan, which both unleashed the productive capacity that had burgeoned from the corpses that war created and acted to forestall Soviet involvement with Western Europe’s imperial states.
The governmental reorganization —DOD, CIA, NSA, AEC, & more all began between 1945 and 1950—that put into ongoing practice what the Manhattan Engineering District had foretold.
This short overview, then, establishes a three-part intersection that prevailed throughout this time and space: economic crisis, technological and organizational development, and the political commitment to warfare-Keynsianism. A continuation of these forces still marks the here and now.
The connection with the present day is therefore as simple to show as the ouster of Victor Yanukovich after he refused an IMF ‘loan’ and instead accepted a Russian plan. No sooner had Petro Poroschenko taken charge than he set in motion the political networking and quid pro quos to accede to the Western loan that Yanukovich had rejected.
Such apparently rational and natural choices as Yanukovich’s flow from the way that repeated prosperous bubblings collapse into destitution. Nevertheless, under the present relations of power and property, any similar decision is fundamentally impermissible. It violates the basic nature of the standard operation procedures, agendas, and needs of the powers-that-be. Soon enough, planes explode in midair and threats of utter annihilation replace the saber rattling of yore. And the past becomes a foggy plain, full of the stench of rotted corpses and the fear of instant death, that no one wants to venture to view.
The financiers who sit at society’s peak—at least on occasion—make sure that inhibitions against any deeper examination are powerfully present—in the news, in the halls of government, in the political and financial contextualization of such matters. After all, these bankers and traders and arbitrage experts hold levers of power that permit such obfuscation and deflection to proceed apace.
THE CIA-BANKING NEXUS AND ITS TARGETING CRIMEA
A grand compromise drove this supremacy of banking and finance. This entente allowed unions and other working-class empowerment. Social security became the norm. Its shadow, however was a ‘national socialism’ with which it must eventually clash, even as the hope among both some financiers and many industrialists was that unleashing Germany against Stalin’s Russia would eliminate the threat of organized communism while at the same time making fascism weak enough or tractable enough to manage.
The connection with the present day contains readily identifiable elements. The non-governmental organizations that sowed the fields that we are now readying to reap in Ukraine emanated from the likes of Pierre Omidyar and George Soros on ‘the left’ and from more obviously reactionary sorts as the Hoover Foundation and the Council for Foreign Relations on ‘the right ,’ not to mention various opportunistic outsiders, from Ukrainian-Israeli billionaires to the legal-eagle sons of Vice Presidents.
‘Left’ and ‘right’ are directions to turn. They do not represent any necessary polarity of opposition. Not so communist and capitalist, which, particularly as the moneybags’ stranglehold on policy becomes unstoppable, manifest a Manichean necessity of conflict to the bitter end.
A CONCLUDING INVITATION TO CONTINUING CONVERSATION
Another piece of art that my wife and I produced has this to say. “The Complex Convolutions of Contemporary Social Crises Mandate Inclusive, Forthright, & Complete Conversations, Freewheeling Debates That Foster Popular Empowerment & Enlightenment, Which in Turn Yield Potent Democratic Action; Unfortunately for Human Prospects, All Inclusive Discursive Movements Elicit Often Fierce & Official Resistance: Hypocritical ‘Gatekeepers,’ Polite Hosts, & Timid Citizens Mainly Either Proscribe or Avoid Any Discussion That Threatens to Touch on Sensitive Issues Critical to Human Survival—Humanity’s Epitaph Might Soon Enough Read, ‘They Could Have Solved Their Problems, But Didn’t Care to Talk About Them.’”
This essay invites ongoing conversation. Unlike Goldilocks, it does not pretend to have everything ‘just right.’
It develops a set of arguments that flow from intuition and observation and match aspects of evidence and knowledge about a place and time, some of which just showed up on my radar screen and some of which I’ve dug out with the help of my wife and other colleagues. This place and time, Ukraine more or less immediately prior to the present pass, must interest us, at least if our common thriving, even survival, has any appeal at all.
“Stamp of Ukraine Stepan Bandera 100 years” by The stamp was designed by Vasil Vasilenko . It most likely uses this photo. – own scan by Vizu. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stamp_of_Ukraine_Stepan_Bandera_100_years.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Stamp_of_Ukraine_Stepan_Bandera_100_years.jpg
Every homicide is a suicide. As Trayvon Martin’s mother stated“Trayvon was my son, but Trayvon was your son too.” What should be obvious is that a culture or a species that specializes in such ultimately suicidal outbursts as the wanton killing of Trayvon Martin is at risk of extinction. Trayvon’s dirge, in other words, plays for all of us.
Furthermore, that modern human polities, bristling with weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rulers who project their ‘terroristic’ tendencies onto faceless others-towelheads, sand-niggers, Islamofascists, and like ‘nonentities’-might be particularly prone to self-destruction is worth considering. Any such consideration, of course, requires that people give a good Goddamn about these matters.
More pertinent to this narrative-since in some sense, many tens of millions of people do ‘care’ about what went down in Sanford, Florida-such consideration also premises that people are willing to dig deeply enough into these persistent instances of immolation to figure out what causes and patterns are at work in them. Mere compassion and concern yield little that might avert such mayhem in the days and months and centuries to come-that is, if our thanatopic tendencies do not first manifest themselves so robustly as to wipe us all from the planet, like some sort of ‘pink slime’ that blights the natural order.
Similarly, mere knee-jerk reaction-in which mediated manipulation focuses attention on ‘all the usual suspects’-will never move us a millimeter in the direction of justice and democracy and popular personal and collective power. And if we fail to find a fashion to inch society toward social justice and democracy, then no force on earth will stop Trayvon’s face from appearing again, in slightly different guise, on the morning talk shows and the infinite plethora of portals on the World Wide Web that thrive on such reportage. In essence, we all risk facing Trayvon’s destiny.
Troy Davis’ recent murder by the state of Georgia chillingly illustrates this assertion; at least anyone willing to listen with his heart and ponder with her brain will see the irrefutable logic at play, easy enough to state in simple language . Young, swarthy men, whose wildness and toughness is an inevitable attribute of all youthful manhood’s manifesting itself, represent both a uniquely contemporary and a classically resplendent and grotesque instantiation of scapegoating.
Readers might think about the following additional cases, all of which have come to pass more or less in tandem with Trayvon’s soulless culling from our family.
• Staff Sgt. Robert Bale’s carnage against sixteen Afghans, mainlywomen and kids; • The continued outcry against the ongoing Guantanamo incarceration of Omar Khadr, whose likely killing of a U.S. soldier apparently obviates all need for due process or openness in relation to the then-15 year old, who is now 24 and still has never faced trial or gotten independent legal counsel; • The Mississippi conviction of and doling out a life sentence toDeryl Dedmon, a White teenager who hatefully drove down a Black man at random, as part of a ‘posse’ of young paragons of racial purity, none of whom-thus far-has had to stand before the bar of justice; •Yesterday’s carnage in the Bay Area, in which a disaffected former student mowed down seven people and wounded three others at an Asian religious college.
A thorough expansion of such a list as this could easily run into the hundreds or thousands of cases-in Ohio’s schools, in various police jurisdictions, and in the innumerable murder-suicides that typify American life, all in the past few weeks or so. And in a sense, they are all Trayvon; their victims are all Trayvon; their legacies threaten all humanity with Trayvon’s end.
Whether these terrible, merciless matters of savagery and slaughter appear in the costume of the robed judges who ignore all the evidence of their senses in order to kill Troy, or in the confused glance of the pathetic worm who shot down Trayvon himself, or in some other way that random killshots come along, what is happening concerns a denial, projection, justification, expiation, and psychic management of political, economic, and historical crimes. The variations on the theme may be, practically speaking, endless. Nevertheless, Trayvon, blameless and wanting little more than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, appears in all of them.
Those who wish to shun this history of racketeering and brutality project its violence onto victims. This in turn justifies or explains the entire dynamic, albeit in a way that is objectively baseless and prospectively hopeless. The wild brouhaha that ensues in the aftermath of every such explosive manifestation then serves to expiate the sense of sinfulness of a modern culture always on the verge of meltdown. Thus, the complete cycle-from denial to pretenses of penance-manages life today-like some ancient cleansing ritual that avoids grappling with the real issues in play-without necessitating the transformation that has to occur if we’re to survive, if we’re all to avoid ending up as Trayvon did.
A Plausible Explanatory Nexus
Yet we do want to find out facts, even if the data we search out facilitates no change whatsoever. We long for everything to fit in some orderly, coherent way that forces no one really to assume responsibility. We seem to want a story that doubles as indictment and exculpation, as both a justification of forgetting and a basis for keeping a false consciousness intact.
This humble correspondent happened to be in the right place at the right time to uncover evidence that absolved Troy Davis. Herepeatedlymade this point, in writing and speech, to no avail. The honesty of this narrative and the accuracy of these allegations of innocence were immaterial. In fact, they violated the sacrosanct apprehension of institutional honor without which we’d be much more likely to riot in the streets and so forth. Hence, this humble correspondent watched with a sickening sense of horror as Georgia-and the majority of Georgians-made themselves into cold-blooded murderers.
He has no such inside knowledge in relation to George Zimmerman, who ‘stood his ground’ and blew Trayvon Martin away. Moreover, he hasn’t any resources to pursue a full recounting. This is true at the same time that the ubiquity of those who ask pointless questions and develop heated non-sequiturs as argument is ever more prevalent. In this context, nevertheless, this humble correspondent can construct a reasonable depiction of what happened-a ‘creative delineation’ that can serve as a first step toward a potent response to this entire typical expression of American social insanity and criminal duplicity.
Judgmental, officious, aggressive, and impotent people are everywhere apparent these days. Many of them exude the initial noisome qualities as a mask for the final characteristic. The result is always depressing, and often these sorts describe their maladies as one form or other of ‘Depression.’
We might contemplateMr. Zimmerman in such terms. Unemployed, unable to complete his criminal justice studies, or otherwise gain entrance to the fraternity of those who wear badges, despite his issuing from a father who wore judicial garb, he promulgated the mythos that he could address the issues of powerlessness and pointlessness in his existence by externalizing them, blaming shadowy intruders who were ready to invade his realm and upset the fake semblance of security and comity that supposedly prevailed there. His pugnacity and righteousness, which led him to show enough audacity to justify gunning down an unarmed youth on a harmless commercial mission-skittles and soda, appear as something akin to a cover for the worthlessness that his face showed him to feel.
Ah, but the booking photo is not the ‘real’ Mr. Z, folks might say. Another shot, quite popular among the fascists and reactionaries who dominate the web and the media, purported ‘liberal’ proclivities thereof notwithstanding, shows George with ahuge smile: “George and the Giant Grin,” the caption might read.
When this humble correspondent looked at that depiction, the reaction was, like, an instantaneous ‘gulp!…Killer!’ This was primordial, beyond any rational decision-making nexus.
But maybe one is not skilled at detecting fake and lethal smiles. Certainly, no one else seems to be writing about this.
Let’s hear a few kudos for the BBC. This still arguably authentic news organization provides a 20-person line-up to test the capacity to detect counterfeit affability. This humble correspondent got 16 out of twenty , and only called one ‘genuine’ smile fake.
Based on the easily available images of George Z’s facial expressions, including of the blurred video of his entry at the police station in Florida, and on multiple descriptions of his rage reactions in various situations, a rational participant might see Zimmerman as a prime candidate for medication for ‘depression.’ He looks that way, acts that way, and blows people away that way.
Blunted affects are a common side-effect of anti-depressants. Impotenceinevitably accompanies the use of some of them, not likely to be the sweetest outcome for this son-of-a-judge who had to be grappling with the ‘loser’ label for most of the last decade or so. Whatever the state of his pharmacological profile, Mr. Zimmerman has not been a happy camper for some time. In the event, here is a plausible story: maybe ‘medicine’ has played a role; perhaps not, but whatever the case may be, this psychosocially pathetic exemplar was acting out his psychopathology in predictably homicidal fashion, given his place in the bigger picture of the ‘American way.’
He was tiring of the plus or minus ten 911 calls a year that did not climax appropriately, from the point of view of George’s infuriated nihilism, in ‘getting the bad guy.’ “These assholes always get away,” he says moments before putting a bullet through Trayvon’s heart. With or without detailed premeditation, he may very well have imposed a script something like the following on the timeline of the evening of February 26th, an imposition that guaranteed a fulfilling release of the tensions in his life.
There you are; you’re not getting away this time….
I don’t know what you’re talking about, I…
(Whispering, though with a furious spit)Nigger.
What the fuck?
(Still whispering forcefully)Coon!
Fuck you, motherfucker!
(Baffled)What the hell?
Help me! Please, help me! (He moves closer and closer to Trayvon, his pistol at his side.)
God, someone please help me!!!
(He is within a meter of Trayvon, who adopts a defensive stance as the stranger approaches, raising his shooting arm as he closes the distance between them.)
What happens next, in this rendering, is akin to a dress rehearsal, except that it represents a costuming after the fact instead of before the performance. George lies on his back next to the dying Trayvon, the young man’s death throes the most gratifying experience for George in many, many years. He stalwartly bangs his head on the concrete, until he can feel abrasions and blood. He then turns over, as Trayvon’s last bubbling bleed-out comes about and slams his face, nose first, against the pavement, satisfied when he himself begins to bleed out his nostrils.
The police arrive to find a bloodied and disoriented Mr. Zimmerman, a dead Mr. Martin, and the rest is ‘stand-your-ground’ history. But another view is obviously possible. Maybe Trayvon went ballistic.
After all, the criminally fraudulent and intentionally delusional actions of Trayvon’s school, in the thrall of the so-called ‘War-on-Drugs’ that permits among its many heinous consequences the criminalization of education, had recently led to his ten-day suspension. A baggie in his possession had detectable ‘traces’ of THC. This had caused a ‘grounding’ at home, a state in which, over and over again, young adults languish angrily here in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’
In such a context, the ‘angry young man’ might easily ‘snap’ to the fore, as it were. So here’s another conceivable script. The ethnic slurs in this iteration are optional, though they certainly would add to the impetus to violence.
‘Chu following me for?
(Surprised)Stay back there nigger; I got something for you.
(Angry)Fat chump, I could kick your ass.
Fucking coon; I’ll kill your ass. (Trayvon is on him in a second, tackling him and pounding him in one fell swoop). Helllppp!
Cracker pig. (He hits him again, pushing his head into the cement.)
(Yelling)Help me! (He pulls his pistol, still screaming.) Somebody, help!!
(Unaware of the weapon, whipping the larger man)Pussy!
Clearly, the thirty to ninety seconds that ended in a discharged weapon and a mortally wounded Trayvon Martin might have included, literally, an infinite number of details. Without doubt, these facts occurred at least somewhat differently from what this humble correspondent has estimated. On the other hand, arguably, the two categories of scenario depicted here represent something like what probably transpired in the chilly dark of Trayvon’s last seconds of life.
No matter what, we can never assure ourselves that we have reconstructed the events of that night with total fealty to the facts as they unfolded. In fact, one way of viewing the entire affair is that we are not meant ever to figure it out entirely. Instead, the manifest intention of the entire outpouring of attention over the event is to cause people to bicker about details and miss the points that, truly, do matter. In any case, with hundreds of millions of web portalsnow leading to “Trayvon Martin,” the overwhelming majority of them do have this sort of diversionary effect.
Various Pointless or Insipid Responses
Absolutely one of the two most common perspectives that result from the constant litany of murder, of which Trayvon’s execution is one instance, is that we ought to make weapons illegal or at least diminish the presence of guns in America. Such perspectives in relation to Trayvon, ranging from New York Times cartoons to breast-beating editorials hither and yon, number in the hundreds of thousands or more. Unfortunately, examined in even the most open-minded fashion possible, attacking guns as the source of the carnage that has claimed Trayvon is weak and stupid.
The weakness stems from various factors. Disingenuous is a charitable label for such critiques. Here we are in the world’s primary instigator of armed mayhem, in the planet’s most fully-stocked arms bazaar, where as much as half the productive economy relates in one way or other to merchandising death through weapons, and ‘liberals’ and pacifists are wont to say that the problem is hand-guns and other firearms in the possession of common citizens. It is tantamount to saying that the primary problem in European Nazi territories in the 1930′s and ’40′s was the presence of occasional armed gangs who would attack and terrorize Jewish people.
In a milieu that celebrates and institutionalizes armed violence, focusing on ‘grassroots’ emanations of such cruelty and brutality is at best a dodge from the primary underlying machinations of mayhem. More pertinent, such feints are typical in their effect, inasmuch as they focus public attention with absolutely zero attendant risk of enforced alteration of established relationships of oppression and opprobrium. The hue and cry for gun-control, in other words, will never in a million years attack the problems of poverty, of class-and-color-based incarceration, of the emergence of police-state mentality as de rigueur politics, of the idiotic corruption and cupidity of the ‘War-on-Drugs,’ or any of the other real factors lurking beneath Trayvon’s murder.
In an entirely different vein, the importance of Second Amendment, whatever one’s personal attitude toward weapons and violence, is utterly missing in the blame placed on citizen-owned ordnance. Whatever the analytical and evidentiary failings of Libertarians and different stripes of ‘patriots,’ they understand implicitly that the government, as currently constituted, represents an enemy force, and an occupying force, in their communities. Whether one listens to Dead Prezor Hank Williams Junior, this message resonates from the masses. “As long as the army, navy, air-force, and marines got gatt, we’re gonna pack heat too.”
Nor is such a view wrong-headed or useless. One need look no further than the bulging prisons, the lengthening unemployment lines, and the growing army of bailed-out plutocrats for confirmation that governing bureaucracies and administrators operate according to protocols different from those which would assist the interests of common people. The ‘right to keep and bear arms’ enshrined in the Bill of Rights was a nod to this pattern of rulers’ imposition on the ruled, a check in the system of checks and balances that retains resonance even in this day of purported commitment to non-violent means of dispute resolution.
The stupidity of focusing on pistols and bullets flows from the fact that winning a political battle that puts the criminalization of weapons at its center will, inevitably, further divide working people and ruin their capacity to stick up for themselves in relation to the most heavily armed police and military forces on earth. This tactic-divide and conquer-shows up repeatedly in such matters as this, helping to insure that the learning and insight that are possible from such horrors never leads anywhere productive for the victims.
The most common response to this situation, however, even more prevalent than bemoaning the ubiquity of ‘Gatt’ on the streets and in the neighborhoods of our society, is twofold, either a furious denunciation of ‘racism’ in this case or a denial that ‘racial’ motives make much of a difference here. The search for a mechanism of blame, on the one hand, and the attempt to preclude any measure of accepting responsibility, on the other hand, are a false duality, again perfect for keeping people who need to unite separate and wrangling.
Explications that revolve around the presence or absence of race or racism are as hopeless as accounts that blame the victim, or his clothes. Anyone who doubts the presence of White-supremacist thinking in this country needs a mental-health exam, stat. Anyone who fails to recognize that social privilege accompanies White skin is similarly deficient in brain functioning.
Nonetheless, even though such factors are obvious rationale for understanding what went on here, they simply don’t go nearly far enough. Moreover, they obscure critical points that concern politics and economics instead of social relations. Most problematically, such perspectives guarantee that theentire nauseating roller-coaster ride will make its rounds again, in the next ‘bread-and-circuses’ interlude that fails to examine what Richard Wright made clear in Native Son, his classic novel of scapegoating young men of color.
Can we listen to Wright’s communist attorney for Bigger Thomas and hear parallels, from all directions, to what is happening today? This humble correspondent is dubious, but the parallels are omnipresent if one is but willing to think about it.
“Crimes of even greater brutality and horror have been committed in this (area). Gangsters have killed and have gone free to kill again. But none of that has brought forth an indignation equal to this.
…Wh(at), then, fanned this hate into fury? Whose interest is th(e) thoughtless and misguided mob(in Trayvon’s case both the defenders and assailants of George Zimmerman)serving?
The State’s Attorney, knows for he promised the Loop bankers that if he were reelected demonstrations for relief would be stopped! The Governor of the State knows, for he has pledged the Manufacturer’s Association that he would use troops against workers who went out on strike! The Mayor knows, for he told the merchants of the city that the budget would be cut down, that no new taxes would be imposed to satisfy the clamor of the masses of the needy. …
There is guilt in the rage that(overflows here). …All of them-the mob and the mob-masters; the wire-pullers and the frightened; the leaders and their pet vassals-know and feel that their lives are built on a historical deed of wrong against many people, people from whose lives they have bled their leisure and their luxury.”
In terms of the historical and political-economic attributes, Bigger Thomas and Trayvon Martin represent a merely slightly divergent manifestation of fate. The first takes place in an era of Klan justice, whereas the second happens in the presence of an extremely brilliant and sympathetic Black President. But both young men represent the culmination of historical and material forces that must be part of what we deal with if we want to make things better.
Why, in Political Terms, ‘What Really Happened’ Does Not Matter
Thus, for citizens capable of contemplating Wright’s challenge, the relative ‘guilt’ or ‘innocence’ of George Zimmerman is immaterial, just as the remote possibility that Trayvon ‘blew up’ matters not a whit. The central issues that emerge from Trayvon Martin’s killing concern the wasted lives-White, Black, and Hispanic-that flow from the present U.S. methodology as foreseeably as does the inevitability that some of these lives laid waste will in turn ‘waste’ the chances of others, with the pull of triggers, the plunging of needles, and otherwise.
Equally significant as the faultiness of popular consciousness are the motives and rule of those in charge. As Wright recognized, and as we ought to emphasize so emphatically that all misleading distraction is easy to throw away, those at the helm of society-mediators, interpreters, executives, pontificators, administrators, pundits, and more-gain leverage, political space, and key social objectives in continuing our confusion about what Trayvon’s death means. Once these patterns become clear, neither the sick victimization of Trayvon, nor the soulless wastage of George Zimmerman’s life, is germane to our improving things. Only transformation of revolutionary scope can lead anywhere useful. Those who would address error, poor management decisions, better laws, and the like are, at best, promulgating futility.
“It’s not a ‘mistake,’” is something we should shout out. An absolute principle in law and science is that if a process or dynamic or a reaction appears often enough, then its appearance is part of the plan, a component portion of the overall dynamic in play. To put the case most baldly, in avoiding a reality orientation to the past and present political economics of American society, Trayvon’s death was our choice, and until we shift our approach and relate to each other differently, worsening horror will also amount to our preference.
A nation of murderers and accomplices-of victims and bystanders who blame others in a way that locks in persistent sadism, spite, and inhumanity-is the ineluctable fruition that will blossom from Trayvon’s death unless we adjust the ways that we see and understand.
Can we undertake to accomplish such a transformation is vision and consciousness? Human viability likely depends on figuring out how to answer affirmatively.
The Surface Meaning of Trayvon Martin’s Death and the Popular Response to It
A depth-reporting investigation of the Trayvon phenomenon would reveal that it has many simulacra in recent memory. O.J. Simpson, Columbine, Nidal Hasan: the list of greater and lesser ‘madmen’ who have gone on killing sprees would run in to the hundreds in North America in the last decades or so alone. The most obvious upshot of such continued brutalization is fairly easy to state; it’s the ‘American way,’ in its most essential aspect.
“We can sell this:” the spectacularization and commodification of murder for the passive and powerless has subsumed every aspect of American culture, from YouTube to ‘Reality TV,’ from stand-up to talk-talk-talk-talk radio. As horrifying as this admission is, only one blind to what happens in the aftermath of an incident will deny the likelihood of this conclusion. A combination of ‘bread-and-circuses’ and scapegoating is at work here.
The benefits to those atop the heap, as it were, are many. They make money from nothing. They divert attention from the underlying problems that would strip them of power were we collectively to address them. They divide those who can only stand against entrenched wealth and privilege if they find a way to unite. The list goes on and on.
For those who want to ‘defend’ George Zimmerman, a Spanish aphorism is apt. “No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver.” The English translation is apropos for those who would demonize Mr. Martin. ‘Nothing is worse than a blind man who does not want to see.’
Nor is the innocence of Trayvon Martin central here. His sanctity as a human being was undermined by the standard operating procedures of everyday America. Only by rejecting that SOP can we honor Trayvon and gain anything that is not specious from his death.
The Deeper Meaning of Trayvon’s Murder and the Inauthenticity in Response
Would anyone dare suggest that slavery was just a mistake? That lynch-law was merely a series of unintended errors? That mass incarceration that targets Blacks and other ‘minorities’ is somehow ‘accidental?’ At the absolute best, interpretations of this ilk would elicit waves of revulsion.
Yet almost everything that appears near the top of the millions of citations that ponder this travesty is making just this sort of argument. If we get rid of the ‘mistake’ of ‘stand-your-ground,’ the moral error of ‘racism,’ then all will somehow heal. Or, alternatively, if we either recognize that George Zimmerman was only confused or overzealous, or-obviously worse-acknowledge that many or most Blacks are somehow ‘criminal,’ then we’ll stop blowing the entire incident out of proportion.
While the intellectual integrity of the former analyses are much more credible than the latter sorts of scrutiny, the point to take away from thinking about the matter is that neither is adequate to overturn further instances of havoc against future Trayvons. Most critically, this inadequacy is equivalent, in that neither type of assessment delves deeply enough into the matter to locate the lynchpin of the nearly infinite recurrence of such lynchings in this culture.
Who would have thought that spindoctorjimbo would ever write about Miley Cyrus? While she served as something like a role model for my daughter—presumptions of privilege and wealth, libertine lifestyle, flashy au courant style—her imprimatur has remained ‘outside the contemplative box’ for the likes of this humble correspondent(THC). Still, Cyrus’ recent work, “Liberty Walk,” and commentary on it, command a reply from the spindoctor’s pen, as it were.
Certainly, this brouhaha contains interesting economic underpinnings and impacts. Equally so, the political meaning of the piece and its interpretation are noteworthy. Finally, the social implications of the situation are especially interesting. Although these three categories are actually inseparable, a brief examination that uses this economic-political-social rubric gives THC a chance to say his piece.
The overarching economic fact of the last forty years, more or less, has been that capital’s leadership has failed to deliver on its promises for most inhabitants of the planet. This is to say that more and more marginalization of working people has occurred, while the so-called middle-class section of the laboring masses has found its toehold on decent living conditions increasingly tenuous.
This economic quagmire has manifested in a variety of fascinating and important ways. A few of these follow here:
Only through the repeated expansion and monetization of credit have economic leaders averted total meltdown, and even this persistent reliance on a ‘bubble system’ appears now to be breaking down.
While every civilian productive sector has confronted glut after glut, each sector—agriculture, energy, textiles, metals, everything—has also created massive productivity gains that could readily serve community purposes instead of existing exclusively for profit.
This contradiction has necessitated, on the one hand, an ever-growing reliance on militarized spending, including the massive expansion of the ‘Prison-Industrial-Complex’ via the ‘War-on-Drugs,’ the ‘War-on-Sex,’ etc., and, on the other hand, a burgeoning focus on fetishized commodification, ranging from plastic surgery and Viagra to tanning beds and hyper-inbred pets, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
Objectively, Ms. Cyrus’ slickly produced and fetchingly packaged music extravaganza fits into this second category of the ‘functioning’ economy of capitalism now.
This précis of the contemporary moment, though condensed and capable of plenty of amplification, allows an observer to ponder an aspect of Miley’s most recent effort to ‘build her brand.’
Meanwhile, the central political fact of the present period—again, the last four decades or so—has been a dismantling of ‘liberalism’ as constituted in ‘safety nets’ and ‘New Deals’ and a concomitant surge in repressive, even fascistic, laws and approaches to politics. Inevitably, in inchoate ways here in Central North America and in more organized fashion in parts of the world less ‘liberated’ by the constraints of being the imperial center and the misled ‘bastion’ of ‘freedom and patriotism,’ resistance to this amped-up oppression has risen among the working folks for whom capitalism isn’t working very well anymore anyhow.
This subjugation to plutocracy has, as in the economic sphere above, shown-up in myriad ways of note and import. A few of these follow here:
Even as ‘information’ has proliferated and become one of the current, purported ‘freedoms,’ actual access to data and knowledge has suffered severe diminution, at the same time that various whistleblowers—and ‘Wiki-Blowers’ have sought to counteract this trend toward both secrecy and fee-based exclusion from facts.
Even as international political norms have become ubiquitous in all areas of politics, so that on the surface all and sundry are subject to the rule of law, in actuality, imperial crimes occur with increasing impunity—ranging from the mundane frauds of everyday life—three hundred dollar seat-belt tickets to make people ‘safer’—to the most murderous plunder—mass carnage in Fallujah that served both to open new territory for capital’s untrammeled sway and to cover up capital’s complicity in creating what it saw fit to destroy there.
Even as the celebration of ‘the blessings of liberty’ have advanced on every front, political participation and the forms of democracy have become ever more tenuous, especially in the ‘belly-of-the-imperial-beast’ here in the United States; what with mass disfranchisement, purposeful political paralysis, and decreasing legitimacy of dissent, even the façade of majority rule is at risk.
Even as any promise in the Bill of Rights takes center stage in all established mediation of power and justice, progressively more draconian suppression of real rights—from the negative capacity to avoid ‘unreasonable’ searches and seizures to the positive autonomy to speak and organize for a better world—continues to manifest itself; the Patriot Act is only an ongoing explication of this long standing and now seemingly intractable trend.
Even as capital has, in these varied ways, arrogated ever-greater legitimacy to its hegemony, protest to this arrogant disregard for human rights and social potential has increased, especially in recent years, as the economy has spiraled downward.
Non-assaultive political and economic responses of bourgeoisie rulers to such outbursts of discontent has operated in tandem: the packaging of radical-chic and the lionizing of ‘liberty’s guardians’—especially those in places like Cuba and China and Egypt—has always proceeded in both the marketplace and in every arena of power politics.
Objectively, Miley Cyrus’s work operates both as real dissension and as an easily-packaged deflection and cooptation of discord; to an extent, her own coming of age has made resistance to the machinations of domination unavoidable, simultaneously as her ‘brand’ had to seek to commoditize and neutralize this nevertheless honest disagreement with the powers-that-be.
Politics, like economics, proffers onlookers with a lens for examining “Liberty Walk” and those who would deconstruct it.
Just as what Marcuse called ‘one-dimensionality’ has taken over economics and politics, so too compression and limitation have come to characterize the social realm. This process is all-the-more astounding in its delicious contradictions and luscious paradoxes.
Thus maximum ‘diversity,’ ‘identity,’ and pluralistic mores coexist with straitjacketed uniformity and lack of individual capacitation.
Entirely new, ‘revolutionary’ developments of community have led to diminished social contact and collectivity.
Maximization of conformity has accompanied the most profound ‘desublimation’ of inhibition in every area of existence.
At once, surreality passes for reality and alienation passes for compassion and empathy.
Aggressive attacks on ‘depression’ and unhappiness yield the highest degree of cynicism and fatalism ever.
Wherever one looks, the processes of emiseration call forth countervailing tendencies, toward human fulfillment and the realization of the potential that exists in the combination of social labor and technique. Yet, still, those in charge seek ways to subvert and divert these outpourings of social desire for justice and democracy.
Once again, Miley Cyrus straddles both of these tendencies. Hers are liberating tropes at the very same instant that they represent marketing fetishes and misleading triviality.
One cannot watch “Liberty Walk” without seeing the deepest challenge to capital’s sway. Nevertheless, by itself, the effort therein is completely inadequate, since lacking a combination of dialogic capacity-building and conscious action-against-oppression, the song and its performance represent primarily another Walmart ledger entry, a further rationale for an i-Pod existence that lacks any creative or liberating outlet in the realm of the real.
Further Reflections on the Planned Judicial Murder of Troy Anthony Davis
Now and again, off and on, everything in this essay consists of ideas and facts that I have been conveying and reporting for years. The text here basically accomplishes two things. It presents the information that I received about Troy Anthony Davis when I was a reporter in Savannah on another assignment, in 2003. It summarizes the meaning of that data, in relation to the likely murder of Troy Davis tomorrow. It suggests what a rational, powerful response to Mr. Davis’ lawful and stupid and evil execution would be. As I noted to start, none of this is new. The lack of a media that has the resources to communicate such material adequately is another item that I have long sought to proffer, something in fact that I’ve been reporting for thirty-odd years as I’ve talked repeatedly about the need for Peoples Information Networks and Popular Action Networks with which they conjoin, especially in relation to the Southern U.S.
Several times in the Winter and Spring of 2003, I found myself in Savannah to cover the unjust and ludicrously biased disbarment of a powerful and prominent local Black attorney, Joyce Marie Griggs. As the saying goes, that “is another story.” However, as a result of that process–with its components of color prejudice, bigotry, and the elimination of threats to the powers-that-be–I learned what the true definition of a mistake is, in the context of one of several conversations about Troy Anthony Davis. “A man who says, ‘we made a mistake,’ almost always is asking you to overlook that he has just violated you in the most profound way, robbed you of your humanity, and that he hopes to escape any consequences for such brutality.”
The speaker, a promoter of a Black Holocaust Museum in Savannah, was comparing the lynch-mob justice that had caught Troy Davis in its web, with the vast crimes of slavery and Jim Crow, responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans and African Americans. He affirmed what three other Savannah residents, as well as Attorney Griggs, testified to as common knowledge ‘in the ‘hood’ in the city.
First, Troy Davis did not kill Officer MacPhail.
Second, the police knew this and had employed strong-arm tactics to gather the necessary ‘evidence’ to convict an innocent man.
Third, the police, and many in the community, knew who had killed Officer MacPhail, one of the ‘witnesses’ against Davis.
Fourth, this man–occasionally an informant for the police–had terrorized and threatened and eliminated people who had suggested that they would rat him out.
Fifth, the Savannah police were notoriously brutal and corrupt, in the nature of an organized gang of thieves and dictators who operated rackets in the city for the upper classes.
As I have said, I have spoken and written about these matters before. I have implored various individuals and agencies for help in investigating these allegations. Even a hint of truth to most of them ought to exonerate Troy Davis, perhaps even extricate him from prison. Nothing ever has come of these requests on my part; now and again, though, I have continued to write about this matter.
What these reported facts imply is clear. The likely execution of Troy Davis tomorrow will be the most horrific sort of soulless, brutal, and evil act, a murder based on false witness and opportunism and hypocrisy and corruption. Millions of Georgians, either through collusion or silence, will become accessories to a venal and vicious homicide.
Someday, within a couple of years at the most, Georgia will admit that it “made a ‘mistake,'” though unfortunately Mr. Davis will likely be dead. If it manages the second time to nab the Black man–a career criminal, according to many witnesses–who did in fact gun down Officer MacPhail, then in a sense, this most bigoted of States will be getting ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ in ridding itself of two African Americans.
That those who carry out this murder will argue that they were ‘mistaken’ cries out for a response. What should people do about this murderous duplicity and criminal impunity on the part of constituted authorities?
Organizers of a ‘liberal’ bent have been beating the bushes to save Mr. Davis’ life. They have, through a heroic effort, gathered 600,000 signatures calling for clemency, which the State Board of Pardons and Parole, predictably, ignored. They have conducted vigils and marches and speaking tours.
Unfortunately, their tactical response otherwise has been tame. ‘Write letters,’ they have advised. ‘Make phone calls’ to complicit leaders, they have counseled. ‘Quietly and peacefully protest,’ they have asked. The time for such tactics has passed, in my estimation. Here are some minimal ways that people should react, should Davis die by a ‘mistaken’ needle tomorrow.
Everyone, in and out of Georgia, should do the utmost to boycott Georgia businesses, unless they have explicitly contributed to and participated in the effort to commute Davis’ sentence.
No one except those who like to pal around with murderers should ever again go to college in Georgia, again unless an institution clearly fought for sparing Davis’ life.
No convention should ever again occur in Georgia, until reparations and justice have been provided, except of course that those organizations that support judicial murder of the innocent ought to come only to Georgia.
Everyone who can speak, write, and otherwise communicate should set aside time each year to continue condemning Georgia as in league with all that is satanic and wrong in the human condition.
Anyone who works for the state of Georgia, or does business for the State of Georgia, should quit their employment, or quit providing services to the State of Georgia, unless they want to support judicial murder of the likely innocent.
Again, this is a minimalist response, one which I have on other occasions embedded in both text and conversation.
However, the likely murder of Troy Anthony Davis demands a more stringent response. This is also something that I have said in the past.
Self-defense is the very essence of much that passes for “human rights.” As a matter of self-defense, citizens must begin to organize to take action that goes well beyond any ‘hat-in-hand’ request for assistance. We must in fact, begin to organize to be able to show up, en masse and in force, to participate in bringing democracy–majority rule–to fruition, in some ways for the first time in U.S. history.
Joe Hill is another victim of judicial murder. Only recently, have scholars demonstrated ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt,’ the way that corrupt criminals in power ‘made a mistake’ and shot Joe Hill to death by firing squad in Utah. He might well have advised us to consider thinking along the following lines. ‘If 100 people showed up to blockade a prison and demand the release of those held within, the ‘forces-of-disorder’ in charge of the world would arrest them and put them behind bars; if a thousand people showed up at such a blockade, the authorities would arrest or shoot them down; they might even mow down ten thousand; but would they so easily be able to subvert the popular will if 100,000 or a million citizens showed up at the prison gates and demanded, with Moses, “Let my people go!”?
In any event, until we have the capacity and the will to manifest such a potent expression of majority rule, then we will never be able to say, as Georgia’s most magnificent preacher did before he too was cut down, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last.”
A fascination with, aversion toward, and utter confusion about the United States are all paradoxically possible at the same point in time. To an extent, these seemingly incompatible feelings accompany the imperial position of hegemony that the U.S.A. currently occupies. In this context, what happens in the U.S., particularly when lives are at stake and oppression appears irresistible, deserves the world’s compassionate attention. Legal matters, especially when capital punishment is at issue, are typical of this sort of important development that mandates a closer look.
Though I’m not an attorney, as a wordsmith I know that a fascination with language and meaning is a lawyer’s stock in trade. A while back, contemplating the term ‘accessory,’ in its criminal legal sense, seemed particularly apt in regard to the State of Georgia, where until recently I resided in the Southern U.S. A wide-ranging and authoritative definition of ‘accessory’ shows up in Black’s Law Dictionary and multiple other sources: “one who is not the chief actor in the offense, nor present at its performance, but in some way concerned therein, either before or after the act committed; one who aids, abets, commands, or counsels another in the commission of a crime. Accessory after the fact–person who, knowing a felony to have been committed by another, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the felon, in order to enable him to escape from punishment, or the like. Accessory before the fact–one who orders, counsels, encourages, or otherwise aids and abets another to commit a felony and who is not present at the commission of the offense. Accessory during the fact–one who stands by without interfering or giving such help as may be in his power to prevent the commission of a criminal offense.”
Inasmuch as any Georgia resident, who is not actively protesting the pending execution of Troy Anthony Davis, either is or ought to be aware of this coming killing, such a one is quite likely about to become every sort of accessory to this still young man’s judicial murder, which, if Davis is innocent, is at the very least a negligent homicide. Let me be completely clear: this means that not only would Governor Nathan Deal and most of the State’s legislature be culpable for what is as likely as not a major felony, it would mean that the several million Peach State occupants who are doing nothing would also be chargeable, in that their silence and inattention, or, in far too many cases of misguided vengefulness, their active support and direction, provided aid and comfort to the actual executioners.
Undoubtedly, someone viciously killed Mark Allen MacPhail on August 19, 1989. Just as obviously, a Savannah, Georgia jury convicted Troy Davis of that brutal murder in August, 1991. Lacking physical evidence that Mr. Davis was the killer, however, or any circumstantial evidence other than his presence at the scene, where off-duty officer MacPhail was attempting to break up a parking lot melee, Chatham County prosecutors relied on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses to make the charges against Troy Anthony Davis stick.
Today, seven of those nine observers take back their testimony, admitting that they cannot state with any certainty who pulled the trigger and slayed an honest cop doing good work. Several recanting witnesses speak of blatant police misconduct, including threats of imprisonment if they did not implicate Troy Davis.
Mark Allen MacPhail’s death is a fact; that someone gutlessly murdered him is a fact; Troy Anthony Davis’ conviction for that soulless crime is a fact. But we should make no mistake: given copious other facts that are now at hand, including and in addition to the recantation of over three quarters of the eyewitnesses who formed the sole basis for the State’s pinning this act on Mr. Davis in the first place, his actual guilt is at best one possibility among many others to account for the cretinous and hateful destruction of Officer MacPhail’s life.
Thus, at the very least, a significant possibility exists, a possibility that any reasonable person would acknowledge adds up to a “reasonable doubt” that was unavailable to jurors in Savannah in August, 1991, that Mr. Davis, an innocent man, has served over twenty years in prison, almost all 240 of those months on death row, for something that he did not do. Moreover, of course, all Georgians who do not insist that he receive clemency are in one way or another playing a role in a murder of Troy Anthony Davis that will be, if he is guiltless, at least as sinister and cruel and stupid as the killing for which he may unjustly soon lose his life.
In a word, passively or actively, millions of Georgians are about to become accessories before, during, and after the fact to a homicide that even those who count themselves staunch advocates of capital punishment can only claim is possibly, or at most probably, a justifiable taking of human life. Obviously, these millions of ‘accessories’ will never face justice for their acts. Procedural layers of contemporary law protect them as seamlessly as a kevlar vest would fend off a BB gun.
Perhaps those who bother to read this missive will take comfort in their legal blamelessness, even as Troy Anthony Davis suffocates on a ‘cocktail’ of lethal poisons administered by agents of the Georgia citizenry. Nevertheless, to execute a blameless bystander for a horrifying homicide merely compounds the crime; not only does no one responsible face justice, but also all of those who impassively watch the new killing become morally bankrupt, whatever escape clauses permit them to evade proper criminal blame.
I for one refuse to stand with the murderers, and I pray for an upwelling and outpouring of support to the same effect. I’m not a particularly religious person, but if Troy Anthony Davis dies at the hands of Georgia’s criminal authorities on September 21 or the days that follow, then the vast majority of my former home-State’s citizenry deserve a common epithet delivered to the guilty: “May God have mercy on their souls.”
The equinox this year, in the event of Troy’s wanton execution, will portend an endless night of gruesome injustice. What must result from that, sooner or later, is a fulfillment, whatever particular ‘war of attrition’ comes as
comeuppance for the arrogance of vicious murder by which Georgia operates, of Abraham Lincoln’s inquiry in his Second Inaugural.
“‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh. If we shall suppose that American slavery(or Troy Davis’ murder by acts of omission and commission by Georgia’s people) is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives … this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash(or the hypodermic) shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”
Why should someone who is not a U.S. citizen care about this? One might just as easily pose the question of a resident of Maine, or California, who looks askance on the bigotry and brutality so characteristic of oxymoronic “Southern justice.” The answer depends on the individual in question. Does he or she complain about imperious American actions? Or does he or she long for a world with more of a balanced distribution of power? For the resident of other states: do they ever deplore that a cretin like George Bush stole the Presidency? Do they ever wish for fairer criminal justic policies, a rejection of fascistic laws such as the U.S.A. Patriot Act, or a general diminution of the power of the ‘prison-industrial-complex?’
For non U.S. citizens or non Georgia residents who never ponder issues such as these, or who feel in fact that everything is more or less hunky-dory on the planet earth, the answer to the initial question about why some should care is simple. “They needn’t care a bit about Mr. Davis’ murder by the State and the accessory status of Georgia’s citizenry.”
But for anyone else, anyone who knows, with Hamlet, that “something is rotten” indeed in the State-of-Everything-on-Earth, the answer to the first interrogatory above is simple, but not quite so easy. To them, a concerned observer might suggest, “people who want significant reform need viewpoints that proffer something to fight the powers-that-be. Being able to note, with complete accuracy, that most Georgians are culpable for an innocent man’s murder, because they are too vicious, lazy, bigoted, or ignorant to be other than criminal accessories to such a crime, sounds to me like ammunition in the battle about what kind of future we hope to fashion for our progeny.”
When I investigated this story in 2004, I uncovered evidence that the Savannah Police know precisely what they’re doing. Executing an innocent man, while the killer is on their payroll is part of Departmental protocol somehow. In any event, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it, with an update that is more concerned with my work on the case, and actions available to those who oppose murdering innocent men, due out early next week.
In the previous three sections, readers will have considered, in Part One, an overall overview of the very idea of memorializing 9/11; the point there was that we cannot commemorate unless we understand.
Part Two, in investigating the 1945 Peace Treaty with Japan, proffered a ‘book-end’ for the period of time that 9/11 arguably closed; this assessment both cast an appraising eye back in time and recounted events that followed in the aftermath of WWII’s denouement, which effectively inaugurated the period that ranged to at least September 10, 2001.
Part Three contained two sections: the first utilized events in Santiago, Chile as a focal point for grappling with the second half of the period between 1945 and 2001, a time in which the contradictions and paradoxes of corporate, imperial imprimatur became increasingly difficult to manage, though the plutocrats did try; the second gave a lightning tour of the parameters of post-9/11 existence, a glum and grim decade that will surely appear like ‘the good old days’ unless working people manage to throw off corporate rule and bring something akin to participatory democracy to pass.
Today’s final piece of this little puzzle provides readers with conclusions to ponder and the nerdy reflections of this humble correspondent about what is most important in this material. Paulo Freire, whose Pedagogy of the Oppressed ought to be universally mandatory reading, has contended that becoming fully human requires a dialogic nexus. Whenever readers are ready would be a good time to start.
CONCLUSIONS–Rationale for Continuity, Inevitability of Karma, & Transformative Possibility
The upshot of this analysis ought to operate essentially as a no-brainer. ‘What is going on?’ The USA is continuing on a path that has always been one aspect of its tendencies, from the theft of North America and the enslavement of Africans through the wholesale slaughter of civilians on every continent save Australia and Antarctica. This, put simply, is the pathway of imperial imprimatur, dressed up as ‘development’ and assistance and ‘freedom.’
‘Why did 9/11 happen?’ The comeuppance of ‘what goes around comes around’ had to take place. Sowing the wind cannot but reap the whirlwind; this humble correspondent’s wife, whose grandfather died in a hail of Pinochet-inspired bullets, understands this much more deeply than do most hyper-privileged ‘middle-class’ Americans. But obviously, even the fantasy of this ‘middle-class’s’ existence is on the wane.
‘Why has the aftermath of 9/11 made the world even less secure and more prone to mass collective suicide?’ The fundamental contradictions of SOP political economy, the vicious suppression of democracy while purporting to support majority rule, and misguided and mistaken consciousness all portend ill. Only the last of these, a grappling with consciousness, can yield the possibility of transformation however.
Such conclusions are obvious to anyone who can stand the storm of condemnation that attends speaking truth to power. In the midst of imperial arrogance, truly, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
One might anticipate that, at least occasionally, intimations of such thinking would wend their way into the primary mediated expressions upon which most residents of the planet rely. Not only has this been rarer than hen’s teeth, but the opposite is also manifestly the case: corporate views are practically universal in one form or another, from laudatory reporting on ‘tea-party’ fatuousness to superficial boosterism in regard to ‘Obama’s job initiative,’ from fetishistic accounts of individuated ‘art’ at Burning Man’s petty bourgeois celebration of nihilism to the latest Hollywood gossip, and on and on and on and on and on, apparently ad infinitum, world without end.
At the very least, one might hope that, confronted with crisis after crisis, with every indication that all the accepted nostrums are crashing and burning, organized contingents of citizens would begin to network with each other to contend for power. Instead, through a combination of hypocrisy, bigotry, laziness, and willful ignorance, folks in the United States seem inclined to ‘worship false gods’ and rely on greedy, venal ‘leadership’ to rescue them from looming crises on every front.
One need not, thankfully, hope for a Western Hemisphere ‘Congress of Soviets’ to set things right. On the contrary, homegrown models are readily available. The Economic Bill of Rights is solid thinking for a transition in the direction of social justice and actual democracy. Tens of thousands of individual initiatives to achieve justice and empower communities occur every day. These have appeared in SERMCAP’s work and elsewhere that this humble correspondent has published.
As well, this humble correspondent is one of the many scattered grassroots thinkers who want to light a pathway toward something akin to sustainability and human flowering. A “New Ten Commandments” is a recent example. From number one, “The Golden Rule Reigns supreme,” to number four, “All Who Work Are Equal,” to number ten, “All Else Is Negotiable,” it represents a common-sensical, class conscious morality and ethics that might underlie democracy.
The epilogue to this hortatory set of ten rules serves as well as anything to close this brief section. “The central task of the social reformer, or ‘progressive,’ as the first decades of the twenty-first century unfold, is to form relationships that are durable and pointed enough to begin, on the one hand, to dismantle the Imperial-Financial-Military-Prison-Pharaceutical-Industrial Complex, the various arms of which–the ‘War on Drugs, Homeland Security, Xenophobia-Incorporated, Operation Iraqi Liberation and similar exercises in military mass murder and social control, and so on and so forth–effect the enervation of the working class, both in terms of consciousness and in terms of action, and, on the other hand, to work to reconstitute the social and productive forces in that ‘Complex’–now turned to exploitation and repression and inanity–so that they can start to express humanity’s innate creative capacity to construct a human existence.”
As this series has hammered home, such a capacity to reform and resuscitate has to start with analysis and continue with conversation. This humble correspondent is having his say herein. He’d love to hear from folks.
AFTERWARD–The Dialogic Necessity of Exchanges That Deal with Ideology and Consciousness
W.E.B. Du Bois, genius that he was, estimated that “the great problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” Perhaps the grand dilemma of the twenty-first century is the conundrum of false consciousness.
In saying this, as the final paragraphs of a series on ‘Understanding 9/11’ spin-out, this humble correspondent is remonstrating that we must either demonstrate a willingness to talk about all of these things together, holding fast to the standards of evidence and intellectual honesty of any debate that hopes to learn and teach something, or we face a more or less rapid decline as a species. At the least, no ‘good life,’ as in an evolution of humans to include conscious agents who shape their lives and the world, can transpire if we refuse the mental labor that this series extols and proffers.
The title of one of William Appleman Williams volumes neatly summarizes the ideation and ideology of citizens of the United States in this regard, at least since the 1940’s. The Great Evasion remains a timely manual for what Americans choose to ignore. Survivors of the storm that is breaking upon us now may well recall the phrase and nod ruefully.
Williams was writing of the wisdom that Karl Marx evinced; he subtitled this slender volume, “an essay on the contemporary relevance of Karl Marx and on the wisdom of admitting the heretic into the dialogue about America’s future.” Others who have followed the traditions of that thinking include, of course, this humble correspondent. As well, readers not afraid of engaging the real, and its sexy cousin, the possible, may want to consult innumerable additional intellectuals. Three will serve to close our interlude here.
**Jurgen Habermas has for decades sought the joining of art, science, and morality. The conjunction depends, in the current context of rampant compartmentalization, on the only glue that can cause these things to stick together: honest and respectful conversation.
Against the opportunistic thugs of ‘neoconservatism’ and ‘neoliberalism,’ not to mention the hypocritical bourgeoisie who worship at the ‘cult of the expert,’ Habermas defends the modernist prospect: to comprehend reality, to work with others to shape that reality, to transform consciousness and reality in league with others so as to have a positive impact on the world. He offers sage ideas to readers willing to listen.
“(W)ith the decisive confinement of science, morality, and art to autonomous spheres separated from the life-world and administered by experts,” precisely the protocols in place in all establishment government agencies and most Non-Governmental Organization granting agencies, “what remains from the project of cultural modernity”–learning so as to rescue ourselves from perdition–“is only what we would have if we were to give up the project of modernity altogether.” And ‘to give up altogether’ is to invite, and to deserve, the long darkness that looms.
**Paulo Freire is another proponent and practitioner of mutual dialog in the service of empowerment and transformation. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, cited above, he sticks to the contention that only through mutual dialog is full humanity accessible. He thus rejects the one-way manipulation of advertising, foreswears the ‘bank-deposit’ pretension of U.S. pedagogy, and overturns any reliance on the ‘cult of expertise’ that capital uses to hide its sins and justify its excesses. Basically, in this view, we desperately need listening sessions in which the working class gets its chance to speak.
As one commentator summarized, “Freire’s life and work as an educator is optimistic in spite of poverty, imprisonment, and exile. He is a world leader in the struggle for the liberation of the poorest of the poor: the marginalized classes who constitute the “cultures of silence” in many lands. On a planet where more than half the people go hungry every day because nations are incapable of feeding all their citizens, where we cannot yet agree that every human being has a right to eat and to be housed, Paulo Freire toils to help men and women overcome their sense of powerlessness to act in their own behalf.”
**David Graeber is brilliant American anthropologist, teaching in Ireland, who reveals indelible connections among morality, money, debt, and governments, connections that ‘free-market’ flacks would have us believe are ‘theoretically’ unnecessary. Ranging incisively through historical and anthropological evidence, he proves his negative case–that the ‘free market’ is a fraud–decisively, and makes a good start on supporting his positive point, that humans have long cycles defined by alternating uptake of commodity and debt monetary relationships.
Such nerdy fellows as these, and the multitudes of other men and women who refuse to compartmentalize and insist on wide-ranging analysis and honest political economy, can contribute to the capability to discuss the world intelligently. But ultimately, much larger groups of folks are going to have to jump into the game, if we’re to have a prayer to rescue something for our progeny. That, above all else, is the lesson of 9/11: Learn and Participate, or die.
Truly, the working people of all the Earth must find a basis for unity–winning a world and losing our chains simultaneously. Otherwise, we will merit nothing less than the carnage that is already happening and will, more or less steadily, worsen during this period of darkness that could portend a new dawn or might preface a long and possibly endless night for the lucky fuckers here who are busy pissing away our birthright–consciousness and reason–out of a perverse combination of greed and fear and wanton self-righteous indulgence in infantile narcissism.
In two previous installments, this humble correspondent has provided, first of all, an overall contextualization of how to think about this tenth anniversary. Secondly, an oh-so-rudimentary–and yet lengthy and too-involved for many readers–examination has appeared here of the inception of the epoch that 9/11arguaby brought to an end. The previous post ranged back-and-forth from that sixty-six year old anniversary.
As was the case in Part Two, this humble correspondent’s lens chooses not to home-in on what members of the British general-staff first labeled the ‘Mid-East’. That John Foster Dulles, not yet head of the State Department, and his brother, Allen Dulles, not yet head of the CIA were crucial to the popularization of the term in the U.S., is useful info. But such bon mots, and the analysis which flows from them, are not present here. This does not stem from lack of capacity to tell that part of the tale, nor from a belief that such narrative is unimportant.
Others, however, have covered that ground, as has this humble correspondent in a different context. In fact, reviewing ‘leftist’ and ‘progressive’ attempts to tell the tale of 9/11, the focus is often more or less exclusively on Israel, Saudi Arabia, and so forth. This direly imperils the attempt to know what is happening in relation to 9/11; the American empire spans the globe, and ‘changing Mid-East policy,’ reducing our ‘greed for oil,’ and other laudable reforms are no more enough to forestall future carnage than cutting out a lung cancer is an adequate response to a tumorous invasion that has metastasized to brain and liver and bones.
Thus, today, readers will encounter another pair of summations. The first investigates, again with lightning speed, a significant ‘bump-in-the-road’ that followed by a few decades the ‘ides-of-September’ beginning of our age. Miraculously enough, this occurrence also took place on September eleventh, though the vast majority of Americans are as ignorant of this dual conjunction of late Summer tragedy as they are of the Federalist Papers, the history of World War One, or any other matter, no matter how crucially relevant to their lives, that is unlikely to be popular in People Magazine, Facebook, or the sports and fashion newscape.
The second element of today’s posting confronts readers with the here-and-now. As noted in Part One, Earth’s sojourners are headed toward dock at a definable bend of the river, a passage that does not have a pretty ending. This portion of the series looks at those ends, dealing with plausible, arguably likely, results that will become increasingly inevitable in the lee of 9/11–which, in turn, represents the unfolding of a new chapter in world history–results that might manifest very differently were engaged and capacitated groups of citizens to show up to contend for power.
BODY #2–Adjusting to Contrariety and Contraction, Trying to Finance Miracles on the Installment Plan, Falling Back on the Old Standard–‘Divide & Conquer’
As noted on Sunday, USA elites’ expectations of an extended reign went smoothly enough for a quarter century. As the Vietnamese intervention unraveled, however, at a cost of plus-or-minus a million butchered Asians, challenges to unilateral imposition of United States proclivities cropped up on every continent.
As one might expect in looking into any complicated phenomenon, this ‘falling-apart’ of one way of doing business had many components. One could pick and choose among dozens of eventualities, or more, that help to explicate how things worked out as they did, why certain choices seemed attractive or even inevitable. For purposes of this series, the focus falls on events in the Western hemisphere early in September, 1973.
Imperial Impunity in a State of Denial
Rebellions in Central America had long been heating up, regardless of the self-congratulation that typified U.S. agents’ beliefs about ‘successes’ in undercover operations–murder and mayhem, incorporated–in Guatemala and elsewhere over the years. At the same time, further South, Chile had evinced the temerity to elect a socialist, Salvador Allende, who preached that he needn’t overthrow capitalism since he had won an election that allowed him to establish a constitutional socialist agenda.
Financiers and industrialists found the idea nauseating that, not only could a daring and savvy revolutionary fighter, such as Fidel Castro, once in a while win a bout with the mightiest nation on earth, but that elections themselves–which were so firmly under control stateside–might soon produce similar effects as had emanated from armed conflict. In the course of 1973, these upper-crust malcontents made common cause with the higher strata of Chile’s military, which felt similar discontent at the developing radicalism of Chilean society.
In the event, roughly twenty-eight years after the conclusion of the slaughter of WWII, which in turn left the U.S. master of the whole world, the boards of directors and top bureaucrats of government secretariats–who, by the way, were almost to a man(or an occasional woman)exactly the same people–had little choice, in their view of the priorities in play, but to unleash a brutal unhinging of Salvador Allende and his companeras y companeros. Senor Allende and many others faced summary execution on that day, 9/11/1973.
This gruesome torture and homicidal mania ultimately killed in excess of ten thousand, possibly many more, solidifying the idea in popular thinking of the ‘desaparicidos,’ those who have simply vanished from the world. Alberto Bolano, the masterful Chilean novelist and poet, writes about them, pushed from planes, taken on terminal jaunts into deserts and jungles, bundled up and trundled away to eliminate messy evidence of murder. Thus, the ‘masters-of-the-universe’ in charge of America began a new chapter with thuggish killing many times greater than what took place a decade ago in New York and Washington.
The same sort of scenario, though stretched over more years, happened in relation to Iran–which rid itself of Reza Pahlavi, the storied psycho whom Dulles and Dulles and BP put into place in Persia in ’54–ten years in the aftermath of Chile’s descent into the inferno. This Southwest Asia imbroglio involved an equally obvious criminal conspiracy, in which President-elect Ronald Reagan–the ‘gipper’ himself–played a formative, “October Surprise,” role.
The Iran-Contra chicanery, a vile and vicious hoax that supplied drug-financed ordnance for the decimation of tens of thousands of Nicaraguans who had demonstrated the insolence of seeking a democracy to replace U.S. corporate henchmen and killers like Anastasio Somoza, involved the highest levels of multiple executive departments of the U.S. Government. A few, like Oliver North, were convicted of felonies–though North’s ‘sentence’ was “a fine, community service, and probation, and some spent time in prison, though they now reap thousands per appearance on a lecture circuit that celebrates criminal conspiracy in the name of anti-communism.
The invasion of Panama continued this trend, albeit in a slightly different vein. The removal of Manuel Noriega from power occurred after he threatened to unleash torrents of information about the hypocrisy, venality, and misrepresentation that underpinned both the War on Drugs and our relations with Latin America generally, without doubt clouded now by “corruptions of memory”.
While imperial servants thus throttled one monster of our own making, whose vision in some ways paralleled that of another favorite Frankenstein–Saddam Hussein–U.S. money and policy, funneled as usual through the CIA, gave birth to the slimy upper-class cabal that would inflict the poison of 9/11 twenty-two years later. Of course, anyone who looks into the matter discerns the facts, yet Americans remain almost utterly ignorant: Osama Bin Laden was a highly-paid contract employee of the U.S., to spread depredation and death against Russia.
“Charlie Wilson’s War” is farcically evil in many of its conveyances, at the same time that the film does ‘spin’ a tale that makes self-serving selections of reality a part of the narrative. Bin Laden was ‘our guy’ before he was the ‘bad guy.’ For his multi-billion dollar wages, this scion of a Bush-connected oil family saw fit to plot attacks on the house of the ‘hand that fed him.’
This quick accounting deserves a much deeper attention and a complete unveiling of the as-yet ‘classified’ materials that continue to hide big sections of what actually makes up our past. And many other cases remain to tell, so soon as citizens insist on the real story of their lives. Finding new ways to practice death-worship and new techniques for perfecting theft and corruption, however, could not forestall the economic wreckage of the 1970’s, which is another characteristic of the new phase of things, for which Salvador Allende and countless others paid with their lives.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting States, naturally, was in significant part a creature of corporate capital and imperial convenience, in which ‘developing countries’ like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia get far more credit for ‘independence’ than is their due. Its oil-shock and the fiscal precipice that loomed ahead of what Americans received due encouragement to blame OPEC for, both followed from and furthered a deconstruction of many elements of the famed, and critically important Bretton Woods agreements, among them Nixon’s ending of the gold standard.
This linking of economic decline and energy politics and massive deficit-spending has proved an unshakeable connection. M. King Hubbert, ‘Mr. Peak Oil’ himself, early on saw this, although very few commentators, this humble correspondent excepted, note that he ended his life a devoted proponent of solar-energy and other legitimately renewable technologies.
The imposition of nuclear energy–and the continued budgeting of nuclear megadeath–thus has also shown up as a never-to-end aspect of this new age, never mind popular opposition, the potential for the end of human life on Earth as a result, and the unbearable expense of atomic technologies. Anti-nuclear activists simply cannot explain such ‘nonsense’, since they eschew analyzing the historical and political-economic underpinnings of what they deplore; in similar fashion, they also fail to connect such matters with 9/11, preferring insularity and a narrow focus, no matter how impotent.
In the past forty years, every new ‘creation of wealth,’ about which stock-brokers and other financial accessories of a flailing capitalism crow constantly– the second half of the Reagan reign, under Bill Clinton until the dot.com implosion, and so on–has ineluctably caused a bursting bubble more nauseating and horrifying than the last one. ‘Tea-Partiers’ and other reactionaries, Ron Paul included, importune about debt and ‘fiat currency’ and the evils of the Federal Reserve, completely missing that their parties and policies and leadership in the past has been at least equally as responsible as any Democrat has been for all such developments.
Capital’s travails extend to every single sector of the economy, from the most stolid to the most ‘innovative’. Citizens intuit such contradictions and misrepresentation that are everywhere apparent. Yet they have yet to develop their own capacity, as the working Americans who create all the wealth of the nation, to insist that a worker-friendly policy come to the fore.
As Pete Seeger and millions of adherents have intoned, in Ralph Chaplin’s International Workers of the World song of class solidarity, “It is we who plowed the prairies, built the cities where they trade, Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid. Now we stand outcast and starving ‘mid the wonders we have made, But the union makes us strong.” In place of ‘solidarity forever,’ however, an initial chipping away at the rights of workers and the poor became an avalanche of crushing blows to workers’ perquisite. The social effects of such developments were, of course, quite predictable.
Unraveling the Social Safety Net and Promoting Internecine Uproar
The War on Drugs is arguably the most successful criminal fraud in history. Quite logically, its initiation was exactly congruent both with the open decimation of popular politics in Chile and elsewhere and with the crashing of the vaunted ‘free market’ into repeated implosions of despondency, debt, and decline.
Additionally , the creation of a ‘black market’ that overwhelmingly victimized Blacks and other poor and minority folks paralleled one case after another of attacking and beginning to dismantle FDR’s ‘New Deal’ policies. Of course, some of them, for example labor’s right to organize, had already received death sentences, during the prior decades, in the form of ‘right-to-work’ amendments and so forth.
Liberal unemployment benefits and easily obtainable workmen’s compensation became increasingly dicey for many workers in many states. America, more and more, began to resemble a debtor’s prison .
Moreover, welfare programs came under unparalleled attacks during each of the three Presidencies preceding 9/11. In many ways, Bill Clinton’s handling of ‘welfare reform’ ended up being the most draconian.
These varied assaults on the viability of working class life–what many folks wrongheadedly and erroneously label ‘middle-class’ existence, which had remained a sine qua non of U.S. politics for four decades after the bruising battles of the 1930’s had occurred–picked up steam and began to eviscerate political support for the socially vulnerable. At the same time, regulatory responses to structural problems of corporate profiteering–environmental agencies, ‘fairness’ laws of all types for ‘consumers,’ and ‘equal opportunity’ approaches to built-in inequality, became the norm. Title VI, Title IX, and so forth helped to fuel an inescapable swamp of growing resentment between men and women, White and Black, immigrant and ‘native.’
Despite this threefold ruling-class response to the crises of the 1970’s, however, a return to Kennedy’s ‘Camelot’ or Ike’s ‘good old days’ never transpired. Instead, as one crisis made way for a new inflationary miracle, each sickening pop of each new bubble led to precipices that apparently verged on unfathomable abysses. And the people, rather than regularly and compliantly either shutting up or turning on each other, looked like they might find a basis for unity in a new sort of politics –spirituality, technology, and plain old class consciousness played a role here.
As the second millennium of the ‘current era’ came to a close, prospects had rarely appeared bleaker for the captain’s of capital and their cohorts in the manipulation of mass consciousness. Of course, then the ‘unimaginable’ came to pass, just like in a movie of ‘evildoer terrorists’ who dared to assault the nicest folks on the planet.
Thus, a new groove seemed accessible to big business and its minions–the ‘homeland security’ spigot, a never-ending ‘war-on-terror,’ a blacklist flexible enough to encompass almost anybody who argued. Those who refuse to recognize these actualities will have only themselves to blame if sufficient numbers survive to the new ‘dark ages’ that could easily loom ahead. In many ways, such an imposed brutality might resemble Chile in the late 1970’s.
BODY #3–Revealing the iron Fist Inside the Velvet Glove, Preparing for a Dark Eternity
Interestingly enough, twenty-eight years to the day following one of history’s most-ignored mass-murders–carnage in the ‘Southern Cone’, American and United jets purportedly brought down the Twin Towers. This heart-stopping drama, paradoxically and yet irresistibly, laid the basis for a reassertion of the most nakedly imperialistic elements of U.S. rule.
One can “deal in conspiracy facts,” in the vein of a Michael Ruppert. His Crossing the Rubicon makes a prosecutor’s case for the notion that everything that transpired ten years ago was the result of a careful and well-thought out criminal enterprise. ‘Malice aforethought’ is everywhere, in this view.
Or one can merely note how conveniently the prod–of planes that flew into buildings–“fit to a ‘t'” the needs and plans of a ruling plutocracy steeped in blood and convinced of its own righteous omnipotence. And people shouted their demands that the government respond to the victimization of Americans with a policy of retributive vengeance. Either way, the track that ran on after 9/11 followed perfectly the course that the imperialists had long advocated.
Never mind that millions upon millions also protested the drive toward a ‘war without end.’ Corporate media, corporate government, and corporate enterprise blithely turned a mostly blind eye toward all who complained that ‘justice’ ought not to include serial killing of millions of innocents in the name of Americans who would never profit from the process like the capitalists who had designed and sought to implement such a program from the 1970’s on. The components of this programmatic state-terror are starkly easy to view.
**National Security States and the Termination of ‘Freedom’**
The so-called Patriot Act just stands out as the easiest-to-see example of fascism in America resplendent. ‘Homeland Security,’ the war on immigrants, and more have become a part of the log-rolling, money-making operations that defenestrate all pretense of ‘liberal’ bourgeois democracy.
**Instant Access to the National Treasury for Militarists, and Their Imprisonment-and-Pharmaceutical-Pacification Allies, and a Disenfranchisement of all Other Constituencies**
Operation Iraqi Liberation(O.I.L.)was too transparent even for an administration as filled with apparent morons as was that of Yale’s stupidest-ever graduate. However, as the ‘hope’ that Barack-the-Magnificent embodied has proven to be the facade that thinkers such as this humble correspondent promised, anyone who cares to contemplate the matter can see that this dual process–everything for the ‘merchants of death,’ penury for everybody else–has continued and promises to be the sine qua non for many years to come, but for the rise of America’s ‘missing’ working class.
**Endless War and Guaranteed Bad Guys**
The ‘fall’ of communism, even as Hugo and Evo and Lula and Daniel joined Fidel in this hemisphere, and the Chinese showed themselves more astute as bourgeois producers than perhaps they had ever been as ‘Red’ levelers, necessitated a new locus of ‘evil.’ That Osama was ‘our creature’ from the get-go mattered not at all. That the Iraqis were at odds with the Bin Laden racket was immaterial. The ‘fix was in,’ and only a populist uprising that seemed like a worse wager than a drunken lotto-pick could turn the tide.
That this long-odds potential is real fits with many facts. For the most part, though, all of these eventualities stand alone, alienated and isolated from each other.
Post-9/11/2001, Augusto Pinochet, another American darling mass-murderer, finally faced justice at the behest of Spain, which had undergone its own bout of bloodletting–For Whom the Bell Tollsanyone?–in a furious civil war that had at its heart the fascistic notion that pursuit of social democracy deserved a death-sentence. Pinochet died before he had to confront a final accounting for the crimes that he committed as an accessory to the USA’s empire of blood.
Many Chileans do not remember 9/11 as do a likely majority of U.S. citizens. One difference between the two groups is that the Chileanas and Chileanos are cognizant of what went down in 2001. Would that we could say that even a significant fraction of North Americans were similarly aware about the ‘terrorist’ shit-storm, which the United States of America unleashed on thousands upon untold thousands of innocents, for the ‘crime’ of believing in social democracy.
Hundreds of cases like these exist. Innumerable thousands of such stories go without adequate mediation. Literally billions of residents of our lovely planet would be on the right side of a choice, were the dialog and democratic process to make such a choice in place.
The list of hopeful signs, separate and generally unconnected, is practically infinite. Uniting them, in a mass movement for democracy and social justice, is the missing ingredient. But that’s like saying when we have the butter and eggs and sugar and fixings to create the sweetest feed ever, flour is the missing ingredient for a cake.
Can we stand up, as in the song? “They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn, But without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn. We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn That the union makes us strong.”
An organized solidarity, based on thorough and persistent analyses of the realities of this Earth, beckons citizen-workers to save their own lives, the futures of their children, and the possibility of a human community. Truly, we have only to lose the chains of false consciousness that our ‘superiors’ yank with such legerdemain in enslaving us.