Posts Tagged ‘tea party’
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on Civil Liberties, Electoral reform
If video won’t play go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ybl9roaHe0
Investigative reporter Greg Palast is on a speaking tour for his latest book Billionaires and Bandits: How to Steal and Election in 9 Easy Steps. Palast is best known for exposing the so-called “ex-felon” scrub list that deliberately disenfranchised tens of thousands of law abiding African Americans from voting in the 2000 presidential election in Florida. From his interview on RealNews, I suspect Billionaires and Bandits is probably his most important expose. In it he reveals, for the first time, the true motivation behind the Citizens United case, in which a small group of right wing activists obtained a Supreme Court ruling removing any limitation on corporate donations to political campaigns.
According to Palast, the real agenda behind the Supreme Court case was to keep the notorious Koch brothers (major founders and funders of conservative thinktanks like the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, the CATO Institute, and right wing Astroturf groups, such as the Campaign for America’s Future, the Campaign for a Fair Economy and the Tea Party) out of jail for illegal corporate donations they had made to Republican campaigns. In other words, the ruling decriminalized extensive lawbreaking by the Republican Party’s favorite billionaires. Palast stresses it was no accident that Ted Olsen, the Citizens United attorney, also happens to be legal counsel for Koch Industries.
The Koch Brothers’ Long History of Flouting the Law
As Palast reveals at the beginning of the interview, he was an FBI investigator prior to becoming an investigative journalist. During the late eighties, he was directly involved in investigating Charles Koch for illegally siphoning oil (beyond what Koch Industries had for) from Indian reservations. According to Palast, the FBI had videos of the whole operation, as well as numerous witness statements, including one from David and Charles’ younger brother Bill. The US attorney in Oklahoma had already filed an indictment against subject 67C (their code name for Charles Koch) when Koch leaned heavily on Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles (R 1988-2005) who exerted pressure to have the federal prosecutor replaced and had the indictment quashed.
With the possibility of criminal prosecution off the table, brother Bill Koch filed a civil lawsuit over the oil theft under the False Claims Act, which allows private plaintiffs to sue, on behalf of the government, companies and individuals which have defrauded it.
In December 1999, the jury found that Koch Industries had taken oil it didn’t pay for from federal land, and the company paid a $25 million settlement to the federal government.
The FBI next turned its attention to 350 criminal violations of environmental law, mainly due to faulty pipelines dumping oil sludge into rivers. After George W. Bush became president in 2000, the US Justice Department dropped 88 of the charges. Two days before the trial, Attorney General John Ashcroft settled for a plea bargain, in which the company pled guilty to falsifying documents. All major charges were dropped, and Koch and Ashcroft settled the lawsuit for a fraction of that amount.
The FBI – and Congress – Investigate Illegal Corporate Donations
Next on the FBI list of crimes was the smear campaign Koch Industries secretly funded, through Campaign for Our Children’s Futures, in 1994, when corporate campaign donations were still illegal. The campaign, which caused 25 incumbent Democrats to lose their seats, also caused Clinton to lose control of Congress in the 1994 midterms and again in 1996. The illegal campaign donations were funded through an entity called Triad Management Services. Senator Fred Thompson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee attempted to undertake an investigation into Triad. According to Palast, it was shut down the same day Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (who was also seriously ethically challenged) made a deal with President Bill Clinton not to investigate his illegal campaign donations from the Indonesian billionaire James Riady.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class, Mind Control and Disinformation, Things That Aren't What They Seem
(This is the 2nd of 4 blogs about the effect of OWS on the traditional working class.)
If OWS comes to be seen as a movement run predominantly by and for the working class, it will be the first grassroots movement to do so since the Great Depression. The last major mass movement during the Vietnam War was mainly a student-led movement. The working class, which in the sixties was represented by organized labor, was cleverly manipulated through a variety of strategies to throw their support behind the Vietnam War and other reactionary pro-corporate policies.
How Organized Labor Came to Represent Corporate Interests
The anti-union restrictions of the 1948 Taft-Hartley Act and extensive red-baiting during the McCarthy Era laid the groundwork for turning organized labor into the reactionary servant of corporate interests. After red-baiting caused the expulsion of militant rank and file unionists who previously held union officials to account, unions became largely toothless in addressing workplace grievances outside of wage demands. It also gave rise to a trade union bureaucracy that felt closer to management than the workers they supposedly represented. Corporate managers rewarded union officials with all manner of perks for delivering “labor discipline” (i.e. preventing rank and file workers from participating in disruptive industrial action). As former CIA officer Tom Braden bragged in the Saturday Evening Post in 1967, many AFL-CIO leaders were also on the CIA payroll. See http://revitalisinglabour.blogspot.com/2009/04/lenny-brenner-on-tom-braden.html, http://www.laboreducator.org/darkpast2.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Braden
Ideological Barriers to Organizing the Working Class
While the decline of the trade union movement (representing only 11.9 percent of US workers according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics – http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/organizations/b/bureau_of_labor_statistics/index.html?inline=nyt-org) is catastrophic event for workers left with no way to prevent massive layoffs and job and benefit cuts, it also means there are no well-funded institutions like the AFL-CIO to obstruct working class participation in populist causes.
In 2011 the main obstacle to organizing the working class is ideological. As Wilhelm Reich notes in his 1933 Mass Psychology of Fascism, fascism and reactionary politics have always exerted a powerful attraction for men (and some women) from authoritarian working class families. Karl Rove and other spin doctors in the Republican Party are masters at exploiting these tendencies to convince low income men and women that pro-corporate candidates like George Bush and last year’s freshmen Tea Party congressmen would significantly improve their lives. Obviously this flies in the face of a well established pattern of enacting laws that actually make living conditions much more difficult (for example, by cutting unemployment benefits, scrapping public services, laying off public service workers, and gutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and food and environmental standards).
As noted by Reich, John Strachey (The Coming Struggle for Power 1933) and other students of early fascism, working class allegiance to reactionary politics is only temporary, as reactionary lawmakers consistently fail to improve working and living conditions. This has certainly been the case with newly elected Tea Party congressmen, who abandoned basic Tea Party goals of shutting down the Federal Reserve and ending the Middle East wars the moment they took office.
The Danger of Progressive Involvement in Lifestyle Campaigns
Nevertheless the same right wing spin doctors who gave us George W Bush and the Tea Party movement have also been remarkably successful in painting liberals and progressives as politically correct intellectuals whose main goal in life is to moralize and dictate lifestyle choices for low-income Americans.
Unfortunately many liberals and progressives play into their hand by jumping in on the wrong side of lifestyle debates. When liberals and progressives champion anti-smoking, anti-obesity, and gun control campaigns, it only solidifies their reputation as politically correct lifestyle police. Low income workers have difficulty distinguishing these lifestyle campaigns from the moralizing and gatekeeping role many liberals play as “helping professionals” (teachers, lawyers, religious leaders, social workers, doctors, psychologists). Thus they serve to reinforce natural resentment, mistrust and class antagonism these professionals generate among disadvantaged groups as enforcers of so-called “appropriate” behavior (see prior blog http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/11/17/is-the-ows-movement-working-class/). This is doubly dangerous with reactionary spin doctors like Karl Rove in the wings, ready to gleefully exploit these feelings to win Republican votes.
by stuartbramhall in The Global Economic Crisis, Things That Aren't What They Seem
This is the last of three posts on ending the War on Drugs.
Unlike the federal government, states aren’t allowed to run deficits. Since the 2008 economic collapse, both Democratic and Republican dominated states have been extremely proactive in reducing law enforcement costs by enacting drug liberalization legislation. This mainly takes the form of laws legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes and laws reducing personal marijuana use to a misdemeanor punishable by a fine.
While marijuana decriminalization is typically associated with liberal Democratic states, it enjoys growing support in Republican states facing harsh budget realities. According to Mother Jones magazine, among Republicans, 61% support legalizing marijuana for medical use and 33% support total decriminalization. Approximately 50% of Americans overall support marijuana decriminalization. http://motherjones.com/politics/2010/09/tea-party-marijuana-legalization
Tea Party Support for Decriminalization
The Georgia Tea Party also supports decriminalization (http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=115334838544068&topic=56), as does a Kentucky Tea Party group called Take Back Kentucky. The latter, who were instrumental in Rand Paul winning a 2010 Senate seat strongly back hemp legalization, in part as an alternative crop for tobacco farmers hurt by anti-smoking legislation (http://www.willowtown.com/promo/blogfpnov10a.htm).
Decriminalization to Reduce Budget Deficits
Fifteen states and Washington D.C. have passed medical marijuana laws. This includes a number of traditionally Republican states (Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Nebraska, Alaska, Montana, and Nevada). Sixteen states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania) have passed laws making any marijuana possession (and in some states cultivation) for personal use a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine. The California law was signed by Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger before leaving office last year. Local authorities in eight other states (Arkansas, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Montana, Missouri, Michigan and Kansas) have made marijuana possession a misdemeanor within city limits.
Eight states are considering bills to fully decriminalize marijuana. Connecticut, the first state to enact paid sick leave, is also expected to be the first make marijuana possession a civil offense, like a traffic ticket, punishable with a $150 fine.
Decriminalization Efforts in California
With marijuana its largest cash crop, California has the strongest decriminalization movement. At $14 billion annually, cannabis-generated revenue is double that of vegetables and grapes combined.
A decriminalization initiative on the November 2010 ballot was narrowly defeated (53.8% No to 46.2%). A recent analysis in the Nation attributed the defeat to a conspiracy theory circulating among pot growers and elderly users that the tobacco giant R J Reynolds was buying up land and planning a corporate takeover of California production and distribution once personal marijuana use became legal. This was despite an absolute denial by the cigarette manufacturer that have any interest in expanding into marijuana. http://www.thenation.com/article/157001/altered-state-californias-pot-economy
Enter Big Pharma
The rumors have some basis in reality, given the way Big Pharma has moved into the medical marijuana market. In 2007, the British drug company GW Pharmaceuticals announced that it had partnered with the Japanese company Otsuka to bring “Sativex” – a liquefied marijuana sprayed under the tongue – to the U.S. Sativex recently completed Phase II efficacy and safety trials studies, and the manufacturer is in discussion with the FDA regarding Phase III testing. Phase III is generally thought to be the final step before the drug can be marketed in the U.S.
Sativex is already in use in Britain, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Canada, the Czech Republic and New Zealand.
by stuartbramhall in Challenging the Corporate Media, End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
This is the second of two posts on the role of food prices in triggering civil unrest.
One erroneous conclusion some American activists draw from Keiser’s and Zoellick’s “food theory” of revolution (see previous post) is that organizing is unnecessary – that all we have to do is wait until the food bill reaches 35-40% of workers’ income and leaves them no money for rent, clothes, medical care and other necessities. The first problem with this “no nothing” perspective is that it overlooks the years of sustained organizing by Egyptian unions and social justice groups that laid the groundwork for organized rebellion in February 2011 (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/02/23/egypts-invisible-labor-movement/).
The second problem with opting for inaction is that we greatly increase the probability the capitalistic political-economic system will collapse into utter chaos. If we simply wait for global capitalism to self-destruct, we will most likely end up with a violent, fragmented failed state – like Afghanistan, Somalia or post-Soviet Russia – controlled by criminal gangs and sociopathic warlords.
The Destruction of Civil Society
I see many alarming parallels between the US and the USSR of the 1980s. The most prominent is the virtual collapse of civil society. In Russia, this resulted in more than a decade of starvation, illness and early death because there was no community infrastructure in place when the Soviet infrastructure collapsed. For decades, the KGB systematically infiltrated and smashed all community groups, irrespective of their size or purpose, because the Communist Party elite saw them as a threat to state power. The reasons for the disintegration of American civil society are more complex. They include low wages, long work hours and a highly sophisticated public relations industry that continuously bombards Americans with individualistic anti-community and anti-organizing messages (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/03/01/thinking-like-egyptians/).
Addressing Psychological Oppression
The lesson I derive from the food theory of revolution is not that progressives shouldn’t organize – but that they need to focus less on political oppression (low wages, attacks on unions and civil liberties, cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Wall Street criminality, etc) and more on psychological oppression. Wilhelm Reich makes the same argument in The Mass Psychology of Fascism. It’s pointless trying to organize the working class around political and economic injustice without addressing the psychological rigidity that imprisons all of us as products of a profoundly authoritarian social and family structure.
To a large extent, this involves counteracting the steady diet of psychological messages from the mainstream media that shape Americans’ identity and values, as well as pressuring them to consume (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/03/03/overcoming-pro-corporate-messaging/).
Overcoming Psychological Oppression
In my experience, the first step in overcoming this pro-corporate messaging is making a conscious decision to increase our level of civic engagement – even in activities, such as the Girl Scouts, that aren’t overtly political. In getting to know our neighbors and joining community groups, we model (the most powerful teaching tool) and inspire family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers to do the same. The idea is to disrupt Americans’ individualized relationship with their TVs, Computers, Ipods and Androids and get them to interact with each other instead.
The moment they do, they begin to express doubts about the fairness and legitimacy of government authority. These thoughts are surprisingly close to the surface but only become conscious once people have the opportunity to express them.
This, for me explains the phenomenal early success of the Tea Party movement. People immediately identified with the message that the two party system failed to address their needs. They flocked in droves to Tea Party events so long as they believed it was a genuine movement – and quickly abandoned it on realizing the Republican leadership and corporate media were subverting it into a partisan movement.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class, Things That Aren't What They Seem
How Nonviolence Protects the State is the title of a 2007 book by Peter Gelderloos. It can be downloaded free at http://zinelibrary.info/files/How%20Nonviolence%20Protects%20The%20State.pdf
As a long time activist, I have always been troubled by the militant nonviolent perspective that dominates the progressive movement in the US. In some circles, the taboo is so absolute that activists are systematically demonized for raising the subject. I tend to get suspicious whenever I see the politically correct thought police swing into action – especially when they embrace views that are clearly counterproductive to successful organizing (the US left, in contrast to other countries, is a shambles). An arbitrary taboo against specific topics is often a sign that your movement has been infiltrated, either by Cointelpro or left gatekeeper agents.
The systematic misrepresentation of Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s views on violence also puzzles me. Neither were militant pacifists. Gandhi clearly articulated situations in which he would advocate violence as a strategy. Whereas as Mark Kurlansky describes in 1968, King employed violence strategically in some of his marches (in which female protestors slapped cops to provoke a violent overreaction) to maximize media attention.
Likewise I have never understood the failure to distinguish between property destruction and interpersonal violence. If anything progressive organizers come down harder on activists who break shop windows (because of its greater harm to corporate interests?) than those who get into scuffles with cops or counter protestors.
Alienating the Working Class
As an organizer, however, what bothers me most is that militant nonviolence is totally alien to working class culture and creates a major stumbling block in drawing blue collar workers into the movement for change. We try to recruit working class activists by appealing to their deep resentment over the unfairness of wage exploitation and privilege. Then we outlaw their natural reaction – to level that privilege by destroying property and looting (to reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs) or bashing a cop or security guard who is manhandling them or standing between them and food for their kids. I have repeatedly seen blue collar activists marginalized and demonized in these debates. And yet people wonder why they are drawn to the Tea Party movement (which isn’t bound by politically correct niceties) rather than the left.
Reviving the Debate
Obviously I’m extremely pleased to see Gelderloos, American Indian Movement activist Ward Churchill, environmental activist Derrick Jensen and even the culture jamming group Adbusters revive the debate. In 2008 Churchill released the second edition of Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America. This can also be downloaded free at http://www.cambridgeaction.net/images/c/c7/Pacifism_As_Pathology.pdf
Moreover I am unsurprised to learn that the taboo against violent protest isn’t a spontaneous development in the American progressive movement. As in the case of alternate media outlets that refuse to report on 911 or the JFK assassination, there is increasing evidence that government-backed left gatekeeping foundations have carefully inserted themselves into roles where they dominate the dialogue around the issue of violence.
The Government Role in Promoting Nonviolence
Australian journalist and researcher Michael Barker is one of the most prolific writers about the role of CIA, Pentagon and State Department linked foundations in the nonviolent movement. The ones he has followed most closely are the National Endowment for Democracy, the US Institute for Peace, the Albert Einstein Institute, the Arlington Institute, Freedom House, the NED-funded Human Rights Watch, the International Republican Institute, and the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/38214).
Most of the research into these foundations focuses on their work overseas, particularly their active role in creating “color” revolutions in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. However as Barker points out, the ICNC also has major influence, via its workshops, literature and documentaries, on progressive organizing in the US.
To be continued
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
The Neoliberal Goal to Privatize All Public Services
Neoliberal Republicans and Tea Partiers (and now Barack Obama and Department of Education director Arne Duncan) give lip service to improving achievement levels for students in inner city schools. However instead of improving funding to these struggling schools, the one intervention supported by statistical research, they continue to aggressively shift education funding from public schools to private charter schools – despite the Stanford study showing that charter programs don’t improve achievement levels (see previous blog). In my mind, this is totally consistent with what I believe is their real agenda – namely privatizing public education.
Neoliberalism seeks to privatize all public services (education, social security, water, prisons, public transportation, welfare services) – leaving a bare bones government with a strictly security and military role. Neoliberals argue that public provision of these services is inefficient and wasteful – problems that can only be corrected by subjecting them to free market competition. But as we have seen in the case of prison, water, and welfare privatization, there are always windfall profits for businesses and corporations when billions of public, taxpayer dollars are transferred to private hands.
Milton Friedman: the Father of School Privatization
Milton Friedman, the father of neoliberal economics, is also the father of the school privatization movement. He initially envisioned (in 1955) using a school voucher system to incrementally privatize public schools. Under such a system a student receives a voucher valued at the “per pupil equivalent” (i.e. the amount the government would pay for their public education – when the first voucher programs started in the 1990s, this was between $2,000-3,000). The child’s parent then applies the voucher towards the $10,000-20,000 private school tuition.
Shortly after his election in 1980, Ronald Reagan and his secretary of education William Bennett (who coined the term “throwing money at schools”) began an unprecedented and far reaching attack on teachers, teachers unions and school district bureaucracy. Bennett liked to refer to school boards and school districts as “the blob.” One of the goals of school privatization is to replace democratically elected school boards – accountable to both parents and the public – with a more efficient corporate-like board, which meets in secret and isn’t open to public scrutiny or freedom of information.
Reagan accompanied his public attack on teachers and public schools with a simultaneous 50% cut in federal Title I funding for schools in low income districts. His attempt to push voucher legislation through Congress failed, owing to concerns that vouchers subsidizing tuition at private religious schools violated constitutional separation of church and state provisions. At this point Reagan backtracked, promoting school choice via the creation of privately run “charter” schools, subsidized with state, local and federal education funds.
Right Wing Think Tanks Behind the Charter School Movement
Bush senior restored Reagan’s cuts to Title 1, though he promoted the concept of school choice and the development of voucher programs on a state-by-state basis. It was right wing philanthropists and their corporate funding think tanks who provided most of the momentum behind the charter school movement when the first charter school opened in 1991. The long list of conservative think tanks involved includes the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Black America’s Political Action Committee, the Cato Institute, Center for the study of Popular Cultures, the Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family, Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and the Hoover Institution. (See http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html).
To be continued, with a discussion of the billions of dollars of private funding going to charter schools – and why.
by stuartbramhall in Challenging the Corporate Media, End of Capitalism, Mind Control and Disinformation, The Global Economic Crisis, Things That Aren't What They Seem
It seems it should be easy to blog about Vaknin’s 2nd criterion (see full criteria below) for a semi-failed state: a disgruntled, hostile and suspicious citizenry. I don’t know anyone who thinks Obama has done a good job of running the country. Both right wing Republicans and left leaning progressives have been extremely vocal about this – both in the media and in the streets. I suspect, based on Bush’s low approval ratings, that this dissatisfaction with government remains quite constant, no matter which party is in power.
Yet I find it really difficult to separate genuine dissatisfaction with government from the anti-big government hype put out by Fox News, Glen Beck, and the Teapartiers’ other media allies. In fact, the entire mainstream media seems really skilled at deflecting this negativity towards Obama and the Democrats.
The De Facto Embargo on Objectivity
The one clear constant I see, across the political spectrum and through different administrations, is this increasing sense that the government chronically lies to us. I have received interesting feedback on three prior blogs about America’s status as a failed or semi-failed state. Thus far, the only firm conclusions I can draw are 1) Americans who follow world events are aware of our country’s declining status among world powers, 2) most Americans (including me) find failed statehood and/or collapse very difficult concepts to get our heads around, and 3) most of us sense we are not being told the truth about the US economy and body politic.
For example, the mainstream media tells us for two years that the economy is recovering, when it;s clearly not. They tell us unemployment is 9.7%, when we know the true number is 20% or more (that the government doesn’t include part timers unable to get full time work or people out of work for more than two years). They tell us that American cattle don’t carry mad cow disease, while whistle blowers produce compelling evidence that they do. And finally they tell us that oil has stopped flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, while independent geologists and engineers have photographic evidence that it hasn’t.
Being Lied to Breeds Anger and Mistrust
In my opinion the root cause of most of the hostility and suspicion towards government is Americans’ increasing difficulty filtering any meaningful information from the “spin” we are offered – in the form mass distraction (aka infotainment), jingoistic propaganda, “massaged” statistical data, cover-ups, and frank lies. I think even Americans who accept Fox News as gospel recognize – at least some of the time – the corrupting influence corporations have on elections and government policy via campaign donations and “lobbying” (I’m sure lawmakers get lots of free pens and other perks – like doctors get from drug companies). Unfortunately Fox viewers don’t seem to recognize that corporate money has the same corrupting effect on the disinformation they receive from Fox News and other media outlets.
Sam Vaknin’s criteria for a semi-failed state (see http://samvak.tripod.com/failedstate.html):
1. It maintains all the appearances of power, legitimacy and control but is actually a “political and societal zombie state” in its failure to perform the domestic governing functions expected of a national government. It only continues in power due to the absence of other alternatives.
2. Its citizenry is characteristically disgruntled, hostile and suspicious
3. It”s generally regarded by other countries with derision, fear and abhorrence.
4. It replaces rational reconstruction and policy making at home with Empire building.
5. Social fragmentation occurs as popular and local leaders, backed by angry and rebellious constituents, take matters into their own hands.
To be continued with a discussion of criteria 3-5 and implications for political activists.
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
In The Coming Struggle for Power, Strachey also writes about the important role of fascism associated with end stage capitalism. He explains how declining profits and growth will result in reduced wages, poorer working conditions and a claw back of social welfare benefits enacted during more productive periods. This, in turn, leads to more conflict between workers and capitalists, at the same time that capitalist controlled governments are experiencing increasing conflict with foreign capitalist controlled governments.
According to Strachey, ensuring that production continues during a period of heavy stagnation necessitates the rise of fascism – in which the capitalists themselves organize workers to install governments which enact laws unfavorable to working people.
Where Did the Tea Party Come From?
The Astroturf (fake grassroots) origin of the reactionary Tea Party is an excellent example of corporate elites organizing working people around a right wing political agenda harmful to their own economic interests (for example, that opposes minimum wage increases, extensions of unemployment benefits and regulations enforcing workplace health and safety). I did several blogs in June exploring why blue collar workers are susceptible to this type of psychological manipulation. See my posts on The Mass Psychology of Fascism at http://tinyurl.com/2vftjrh
Paul Krugman explores the origin of the Tea Party in the April 12, 2009 New York Times. He points out that the public was deceived by the media spin that early Tea Party events occurred as were spontaneous popular uprisings. They were actually organized and paid for by Freedom Works, a group organized by former Republican majority leader Richard Armey, with generous support from right wing billionaires. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/13/opinion/13krugman.html).
In The Coming Struggle for Power, Strachey shows how these so-called “populist” mass organizations are used to justify a stricter, more totalitarian government regime that suppresses worker freedoms and dissent (for example, authorizing warrantless searches, covert break-ins, wiretaps and electronic eavesdropping and suppressing habeas corpus and freedom of the press – sound familiar?). In his view fascism is always a transitional state, as right wing popular movements are unpredictable and difficult to manage. He asserts that reactionary forces either use fascism to create totalitarian dictatorships (as occurred in Nazi Germany), or the fascist movement dissolves as economic conditions improve.
What is Fascism?
There is a lot of disagreement over the precise definition of fascism. The Italian fascist dictator Mussolini defined it as a merging of corporate and government power. Strachey defines it as a political environment where workers no longer sell their labor as free agents – but are physically (as opposed to economically) compelled to work.
I’m not totally comfortable with Strachey’s definition. I question whether it’s humanly possible to force someone to work. I’m aware that third world dictators sometimes “terrorize” people into working by assassinating and disappearing union leaders and workers who complain about wages and working conditions. However, especially in the case of skilled work, it’s virtually impossible to get someone to put out high quality work at satisfactory rate – if he or she is determined not to do so.
In fact I believe innate stubbornness, a nearly universal human trait, may be the root cause of the collapse of the totalitarian Soviet regime. “Free market” capitalism and state capitalism (which Marx and Lenin view as a necessary transition between free market capitalism and true communism) only operate effectively if workers are satisfied that two basic requirements are met: 1) that working will enable them to meet their families’ fundamental needs and 2) that their government might skim a little off the top but will ultimately act in their best interest.
Otherwise people have absolutely no reason to go to turn up everyday to a job they hate that pays them a little less than they need to live on.
In the 1980s the Soviet people lost faith, deciding they were prepared to risk their jobs and live out of garbage cans, rather than continuing to put out for political system that was totally indifferent to their needs and promised no future for themselves and their families. Productivity (quantity and quality of work) dropped to the point the Soviet economy ceased to be sustainable, leading to the collapse of the entire political infrastructure.
by stuartbramhall in Mind Control and Disinformation
Where Progressives Go Wrong
From Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933)
As a long time activist, I am understandably alarmed to see low income Americans flock to the Tea Party and Patriot movement and the ultra conservative candidates they support. Especially after similar trends in 1980, 1994 and 2000 installed conservative Republican governments that enacted legislation that significantly worsened the economic standing of the political base that put them into office. It raises a question I have struggled with for three decades now – why the New Right is so successful in engaging the working poor. Surely this is a group that should be supporting progressive candidates and policies that offer genuine solutions to their economic difficulties.
As Reich’s 1933 Mass Psychology of Fascism lays out, the allure of fascism and reactionary politics for the working poor is actually a very old problem. Reich, a Marxist psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, relates it to an innate fear of freedom and social responsibility that stems from authoritarian child rearing styles that characterize western industrialized society.
Indoctrinating the Poor Doesn’t Work
Reich lays out some interesting alternatives for effective outreach to minimum wage workers (who constitute the majority of US society). He asserts, I believe rightly, that progressives are wasting their time trying to educate the masses about political and economic injustice without first addressing the innate fear of freedom and social responsibility that makes the far right so attractive. He makes a very strong case for this fear and lack of self-confidence being learned, as a result of early childhood experience. (Fascists and ultra-conservatives would attribute it to human nature – arguing that poor and non-white people are born innately inferior.) Reich argues strenuously that it can be overcome – that shifts can and do occur in the way large populations view themselves and the society around them.
What Reich advocates is that instead of educating them about economic and political injustice, progressives ought to directly address the emotional baggage the working poor carry from authoritarian family and school experiences. He proposes that the best way to do this is to engage in self-aware social reform activities, primarily directed towards youth – to facilitate their capacity to become resilient adults unhampered by their parents’ insecurities – and towards women.
The Need to Focus On Teenagers – and Women
During his lifetime, Reich was an outspoken champion of women’s rights – arguing that freeing women from authoritarian family structures was the best way to free their children from them. He campaigned tirelessly for women’s ability to access (free) birth control and abortion – recognizing that many women are forced to raise their children in a paternalistic, authoritarian families for economic reasons – as well as for laws and programs promoting women’s economic independence. He also advocated that progressives involve themselves in parent and teacher education (to specifically address authoritarian child rearing and teaching styles) and sex education (as anxiety about sexual functioning seems to be nearly universal in western society).
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
In prescribing exactly how progressives should take on this “social reform” work, Reich recommends that we merely do what we are good at – as teachers, health care workers, scientists, writers, artists, counselors – but in a self-aware way. We all, based on our own upbringing, carry the capacity to be taken in my reactionary thinking. He lays out two specific pitfalls we need to be wary of. Specifically
1. A tendency towards moralizing and punitive attitudes towards the people we are trying to recruit. According to Reich, the non-voting majority can only become more politically aware and active by becoming more confident of their ability to function without the rigid control of an external authority. We have no hope of accomplishing this by trying to substitute our own values and rules for those of the reactionary right.
2. Getting caught up in the “anti” position (e.g. wanting to punish smoking, unhealthy lifestyles, using the wrong kind of lightbulbs and dare I say, the desire to own a gun). Reich stresses, repeatedly, that this is a trap politicians draw us into seeking to distract us from what we are really about. True freedom fighters must be about the positive actualization of our acquired knowledge and skills in a more democratic future.
To be continued, with examples of activities that Reich lays out
by stuartbramhall in Electoral reform, Mind Control and Disinformation
Why Americans Don’t Vote
(From Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism – 1933)
In the US only half of eligible adults register and a little over fifty percent of registered voters actually vote. Reich argues that it’s typical in highly authoritarian “democracies” for the passive, non-voting population to constitute the majority. The fact that other western democracies (Europe and New Zealand, for example) experience a higher turn-out would suggest that these countries are somewhat more “democratic” (less authoritarian). This could also explain why US turn-out was better prior to the rise of the New Right in the 1980s – which has been accompanied by an increase in political and social repression (including loss of earning power and workplace protections, loss of Constitutional rights, smoking bans, warrantless surveillance and wiretaps and mandatory airport searches and workplace urine screens).
Why the Left Fails to Engage the Working Class
Reich also stresses, with examples from Germany, Japan, Italy and other totalitarian states that it’s is precisely this passive, non-voting majority that fascists and ultra-conservatives reach out to in achieving power. He is very critical of the Left for attempting to engage this demographic by addressing their appalling economic conditions – a strategy he insists is doomed to failure. According to Reich, what the Left needs to grasp – and never does – is that owing to the social conditions they grow up in, this politically inactive majority are too caught up in the inner struggle to function as effective adults to think in terms of their economic needs. To put it crudely, personal needs, such as getting laid, and driving a fast car and watching the Superbowl on a flat screen TV will always be a much higher priority than their wages or working conditions.
Not Voting is an “Active” Choice
Reich also makes the point that just because this group is “non-political” in no way means they are passive. To the contrary, he argues that their withdrawal from the political process is actually a highly active (though unconscious) defense against the social responsibility inherent in making political choices. Reich’s definition of “freedom” is the ability and responsibility for each individual to shape his own personal, occupational and social existence in a rational way. He also asserts that there is nothing more terrifying to the average person than the responsibility entailed in this level of freedom. Because the experience of being raised in excessively authoritarian family, educational and religious structures denies men and women any experience of the human organism’s natural capacity of self-regulation – they reach adulthood with no confidence in their ability to conduct their lives without external authority to guide and compel them.
Moreover because all of this is unconscious, it never occurs to most people that their unhappiness and perceived lack of freedom stems from their own fears and anxieties about taking full responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings – and lives.
Why the Extreme Right is So Appealing
As Reich outlines, the reactionary right knows exactly how to appeal to these unconscious fears and anxieties. First by creating even more rigid and authoritarian structures – that provide immediate relief of anxiety by limiting choice. And secondly by promoting racist or pseudo-racist ideology that projects this group’s unhappiness and perceived lack of freedom away from themselves onto an external “enemy” – Jews, Moslems, socialists, immigrants, terrorists, Hispanics, blacks, feminazis, liberals, intellectuals (this was Bush’s favorite scapegoat) and increasingly teenagers.
To be continued, with Reich’s specific recommendations for the Left