Section D - How does statism and capitalism affect society?
D.1 Why does state intervention occur?
D.1.1 Does state intervention cause the problems to begin with?
D.1.2 Is state intervention the result of democracy?
D.1.3 Is state intervention socialistic?
D.2 What influence does wealth have over politics?
D.2.1 Is capital flight that powerful?
D.2.2 How extensive is business propaganda?
D.3 How does wealth influence the mass media?
D.3.1 How does the size, concentrated ownership, owner
wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant
mass-media firms affect media content?
D.3.2 What is the effect of advertising as the primary
income source of the mass media?
D.3.3 Why do the media rely on information provided by
government, business, and "experts" funded and approved
by these primary sources and agents of power?
D.3.4 How is "flak" used by the wealthy and powerful as a
means of disciplining the media?
D.3.5 Why do the wealthy and powerful use "anticommunism" as
a national religion and control mechanism?
D.3.6 Isn't it a "conspiracy theory" to suggest that the media are
used as propaganda instruments by the elite?
D.3.7 Isn't the "propaganda thesis" about the media contradicted by
the "adversarial" nature of much media reporting, e.g. its
exposes of government and business corruption?
D.4 What is the relationship between capitalism and the ecological crisis?
D.4.1 Why must capitalist firms "grow or die?"
D.5 What causes imperialism?
D.5.1 Has imperialism changed over time?
D.5.2 What is the relationship between imperialism and the
social classes within capitalism?
D.5.3 Does globalisation mean the end of imperialism?
D.6 Are anarchists against Nationalism?
D.7 Are anarchists opposed to National Liberation struggles?
D.8 What causes militarism and what are its effects?
D.8.1 Will militarism change with the apparent end of the Cold War?
D.9 What is the relationship between wealth polarisation and
D.9.1 Why does political power become concentrated
D.9.2 What is "invisible government"?
D.9.3 Why are incarceration rates rising?
D.9.4 Why is government secrecy and surveillance of
citizens on the increase?
D.9.5 But doesn't authoritarian government always involve
D.9.6 What does the Right want?
D.10 How does capitalism affect technology?
D.11 What causes justifications for racism to appear?
D.11.1 Does free market ideology play a part in racist tendencies
Section D - How does statism and capitalism affect society?
This section of the FAQ indicates how both statism and capitalism affect
the society they exist in. It is a continuation of sections B (Why do
anarchists oppose the current system?) and C (What are the myths of
capitalist economics?) and it discusses the impact of the underlying social
and power relationships within the current system on society.
This section is important because the institutions and social relationships
capitalism and statism spawn do not exist in a social vacuum, they have deep
impacts on our everyday lives. These effects go beyond us as individuals
(for example, the negative effects of hierarchy on our individuality) and have
an effect on how the political institutions in our
society work, how technology develops, how the media operates and so on.
Therefore it is worthwhile to point out how (and why) statism and capitalism
affect society as a whole outwith the narrow bounds of politics and economics.
So here we try and sketch some of the impact of concentrations of political
and economic power has upon society. While many people attack the *results*
of these processes (like state intervention, ecological destruction,
imperialism, etc.) they ignore their *causes.* This means that the
struggle against social evils will be never-ending, like a doctor fighting
the symptoms of a disease without treating the disease itself. We have
indicated the roots of the problems we face in sections B and C; now we
discuss some of the other problems they create. This section of the FAQ
explores the interactions of the causes and results and draws out how the
authoritarian and exploitative nature of capitalism affects the world we
It is important to remember that most supporters of capitalism refuse to
do this. Yes, many of them point out *some* flaws and problems within
society but they never relate them to the system as such. As Noam Chomsky
points out, they will attribute the catastrophes of capitalism "to any
other cause *other* than the system that consistently brings them about."
[_Deterring Democracy_, p. 232]
That the system and its effects are interwoven can best be seen from the
fact that while right-wing parties have been elected to office promising
to reduce the role of the state in society, the actual size and activity
of the state has not been reduced, indeed it has usually increased in
scope (both in size and in terms of power and centralisation). This is
unsurprising, as "free market" implies strong (and centralised) state --
the "freedom" of Management to manage means that the freedom of workers
to resist authoritarian management structures must be weakened by state
action. Thus, ironically, state intervention within society will continue
to be needed in order to ensure that society survives the rigours of market
forces and that elite power and privilege are protected from the masses.
D.1 Why does state intervention occur?
The state is forced to intervene in society because of the anti-social
effects of capitalism. The abstractly individualistic theory on which
capitalism is based ("everyone for themselves") results in a high degree
of statism since the economic system itself contains no means to combat
its own socially destructive workings. The state must also intervene in
the economy, not only to protect the interests of the ruling class but
also to protect society from the atomising and destructive impact of
capitalism. Moreover, capitalism has an inherent tendency toward
periodic recessions or depressions, and the attempt to prevent them has
become part of the state's function. However, since preventing them is
impossible (they are built into the system -- see section C.7), in
practice the state can only try to postpone them and ameliorate their
severity. Let's begin with the need for social intervention.
Capitalism is based on turning both labour and land into commodities. As
Karl Polyani points out, however, "labour and land are no other than the
human beings themselves of which every society consists and the natural
surroundings in which it exists; to include labour and land in the market
mechanism means to subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws
of the market." [_The Great Transformation_, p. 71] And this means that
"human society has become an accessory to the economic system," with
humanity placing itself fully in the hands of supply and demand. But such
a situation "could not exist for any length of time without annihilating
the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically
destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness." [Ibid.,
To expect that a community would remain indifferent to the scourge of
unemployment, dangerous working conditions, 16-hour working days, the
shifting of industries and occupations, and the moral and psychological
disruption accompanying them -- merely because economic effects, in the
long run, might be better -- is an absurdity. Similarly, for workers to
remain indifferent to, for example, poor working conditions, peacefully
waiting for a new boss to offer them better conditions, or for citizens
to wait passively for capitalists to start voluntarily acting responsibly
toward the environment, is to assume a servile and apathetic role
for humanity. Luckily, labour refuses to be a commodity and citizens
refuse to stand idly by while the planet's ecosystems are destroyed.
Therefore state intervention occurs as a form of protection against the
workings of the market. As capitalism is based on atomising society in
the name of "freedom" on the competitive market, it is hardly surprising that
defence against the anti-social workings of the market should take
statist forms -- there being few other structures capable of providing
such defence (as such social institutions have been undermined, if not
crushed, by the rise of capitalism in the first place). Thus, ironically,
"individualism" produces a "collectivist" tendency within society as
capitalism destroys communal forms of social organisation in favour of
ones based on abstract individualism, authority, and hierarchy -- all
qualities embodied in the state. In a free (i.e. communal) society,
social self-defence would not be statist but would be similar in nature
to trade unionism and co-operatives -- individuals working together in
voluntary associations to ensure a free and just society (see section I).
In addition to social protection, state intervention is required to
protect a country's economy (and so the economic interests of the ruling
class). As Noam Chomsky points out, even the USA, home of "free
enterprise," was marked by "large-scale intervention in the economy after
independence, and conquest of resources and markets. . . [while] a
centralised developmental state [was constructed] committed to [the]
creation and entrenchment of domestic manufacture and commerce,
subsidising local production and barring cheaper British imports,
constructing a legal basis for private corporate power, and in numerous
other ways providing an escape from the stranglehold of comparative
advantage." [_World Orders, Old and New_, p. 114]
In the case of Britain and a host of other countries (and more recently in
the cases of Japan and the Newly Industrialising Countries of the Far
East, like Korea) state intervention was, oddly enough, the key to
development and success in the "free market." In other "developing"
countries which have had the misfortune to be subjected to "free-market
reforms" (e.g. neo-liberal Structural Adjustment Programs) rather
than following the interventionist Japanese and Korean models, the
results have been devastating for the vast majority, with drastic
increases in poverty, homelessness, malnutrition, etc. (for the elite,
the results are somewhat different of course).
In the nineteenth century, states only turned to laissez-faire once they
could benefit from it and had a strong enough economy to survive it. "Only
in the mid-nineteenth century, when it had become powerful enough to
overcome any competition, did England [sic!] embrace free trade." [Noam
Chomsky, Op. Cit., p. 115] Before this, protectionism and other methods
were used to nurture economic development. And once laissez-faire started to
undermine a country's economy, it was quickly revoked. For example,
protectionism is often used to protect a fragile economy and militarism
has always been a favourite way for the ruling elite to help the economy,
as is still the case, for example, in the "Pentagon System" in the USA
(see section D.8).
State intervention has been a feature of capitalism from the start. As
Kropotkin argued, "nowhere has the system of 'non-intervention of the
State' ever existed. Everywhere the State has been, and still is, the
main pillar and the creator, direct and indirect, of Capitalism and its
powers over the masses. Nowhere, since States have grown up, have the
masses had the freedom of resisting the oppression by capitalists. . .
The state has *always* interfered in the economic life in favour of
the capitalist exploiter. It has always granted him protection in
robbery, given aid and support for further enrichment. *And it could
not be otherwise.* To do so was one of the functions -- the chief
mission -- of the State." [_Evolution and Environment_, pp. 97-8] Its
limited attempts at laissez-faire have always been failures, resulting
in a return to its statist roots. The process of selective laissez-faire
and collectivism has been as much a feature of capitalism in the past as
it is now. Indeed, as Noam Chomsky argues, "[w]hat is called 'capitalism'
is basically a system of corporate mercantilism, with huge and largely
unaccountable private tyrannies exercising vast control over the economy,
political systems, and social and cultural life, operating in close
co-operation with powerful states that intervene massively in the domestic
economy and international society. That is dramatically true of the United
States, contrary to much illusion. The rich and privileged are no more
willing to face market discipline than they have been in the past, though
they consider it just fine for the general population." ["Anarchism,
Marxism and Hope for the Future", _Red and Black Revolution_, issue 2]
Therefore, contrary to conventional wisdom, state intervention will always
be associated with capitalism due to: (1) its authoritarian nature; (2) its
inability to prevent the anti-social results of the competitive market;
(3) its fallacious assumption that society should be "an accessory to
the economic system"; (4) the class interests of the ruling elite; and
(5) the need to impose its authoritarian social relationships upon an
unwilling population in the first place.
State intervention is as natural to capitalism as wage labour. As Polyani
summarises, "the countermove against economic liberalism and laissez-faire
possessed all the unmistakable characteristics of a spontaneous reaction. .
. [and] a closely similar change from laissez-faire to 'collectivism' took
place in various countries at a definite stage of their industrial
development, pointing to the depth and independence of the underlying
causes of the process." [Op. Cit., pp. 149-150] For "government cannot
want society to break up, for it would mean that it and the dominant class
would be deprived of sources of exploitation; nor can it leave society to
maintain itself without official intervention, for then people would
soon realise that government serves only to defend property owners. . .
and they would hasten to rid themselves of both." [Errico Malatesta,
_Anarchy_, p. 22]
And neither should it be forgotten that state intervention was required to
create the "free" market in the first place. To quote Polyani again,
"[f]or as long as [the market] system is not established, economic
liberals must and will unhesitatingly call for the intervention of the
state in order to establish it, and once established, in order to maintain
it." [Op. Cit., p. 149] Protectionism and subsidy (mercantilism) -- along
with the liberal use of state violence against the working class -- was
required to create and protect capitalism and industry in the first place
(see section F.8 - What role did the state take in the creation of
In short, although laissez-faire may be the ideological basis of capitalism
-- the religion that justifies the system -- it has rarely if ever been
actually practised. So, while the ideologues are praising "free enterprise"
as the fountainhead of modern prosperity, the corporations and companies
are gorging at the table of the State.
The recent enthusiasm for the "free market" is in fact the product of an
extended boom, which in turn was a product of a state co-ordinated war
economy and highly interventionist Keynesian economics (a boom that the
apologists of capitalism use, ironically, as "evidence" that "capitalism"
works) plus an unhealthy dose of nostalgia for a past that never existed.
It's strange how a system that has never existed has produced so much!
D.1.1 Does state intervention cause the problems to begin with?
Usually, no. This does not mean that state intervention cannot have bad
effects on the economy or society. Given the state's centralised,
bureaucratic nature, it would be impossible for it *not* to have bad
effects. State intervention can and does make bad situations worse in
many cases. As Malatesta notes, "the practical evidence [is] that whatever
governments do is always motivated by the desire to dominate, and is
always geared to defending, extending and perpetuating its privileges
and those of the class of which it is both the representative and
defender." [_Anarchy_, p. 21].
However, for economic liberals (or, as we would call them today,
neo-liberals or "conservatives"), state intervention is the root of all
evil, and for them, it is precisely the state's interference with the
market which causes the problems that society blames on the market.
But such a position is illogical, for "whoever says regulation says
limitation: now, how conceive of limiting privilege before it existed?
... [I]t would be an effect without a cause" and so "regulation was a
corrective to privilege" and not vice versa. [P-J Proudhon, _System of
Economic Contradictions_, p. 371] As Polyani explains, the neo-liberal
premise is false, because state intervention always "dealt with some
problem arising out of modern industrial conditions or, at any rate,
in the market method of dealing with them." [Karl Polyani, Op. Cit.,
p. 146] In fact, these "collectivist" measures were usually carried
out by convinced supporters of laissez-faire, who were as a rule
uncompromising opponents of all forms of socialism (and often
introduced to undermine support for socialist ideas caused by the
excesses of "free market" capitalism).
Thus state intervention did not spring out of thin air, but occurred in
response to pressing social and economic needs. This can be observed in
the mid 19th century, which saw the closest approximation to laissez-faire
in the history of capitalism. As Takis Fotopoules argues, "the attempt to
establish pure economic liberalism, in the sense of free trade, a
competitive labour market and the Gold Standard, did not last more than 40
years, and by the 1870s and 1880s, protectionist legislation was back. . .
. It was also significant. . . [that all major capitalist powers] passed
through a period of free trade and laissez-faire, followed by a period of
anti-liberal legislation. ["The Nation-state and the Market," p. 48,
_Society and Nature_, Vol. 3, pp. 44-45]
The reason for the return of protectionist legislation was the Depression
of 1873-86, which marked the end of the first experiment with pure
economic liberalism. Paradoxically, then, the attempt to liberalise the
markets led to more regulation. In light of our previous analysis, this
is not surprising. Neither the owners of the country nor the politicians
desired to see society destroyed, the result to which unhindered
laissez-faire leads. Apologists of capitalism overlook the fact that "[a]t
the beginning of the Depression, Europe had been in the heyday of free
trade. [Polyani, Op. Cit., p. 216] State intervention came about in
response to the social disruptions resulting from laissez-faire. It did
not cause them.
Similarly, it is a fallacy to state, as Ludwig Von Mises does, that "as
long as unemployment benefit is paid, unemployment must exist." This
statement is not only ahistoric but ignores the existence of the
*involuntary* unemployment which caused the state to start paying out a
dole in order eliminate the possibility of crime as well as working class
self-help, which could conceivably have undermined the status quo. The
elite was well aware of the danger in workers organising for their own
Sadly, in pursuing of ideologically correct answers, capitalist apologists
often ignore common sense. If one believes people exist for the economy
and not the economy for people, one becomes willing to sacrifice people
and their society today for the supposed economic benefit of future
generations (in reality, current profits). If one accepts the ethics of
mathematics, a future increase in the size of the economy is more important
than current social disruption. Thus Polyani again: "a social calamity is
primarily a cultural not an economic phenomenon that can be measured by income
figures" [Op. Cit., p. 157]. And it is the nature of capitalism to ignore and
despise what cannot be measured.
D.1.2 Is state intervention the result of democracy?
No. Social and economic intervention by the modern state began long
before universal suffrage became widespread. For example, in Britain,
"collectivist" measures were introduced when property and sexual
restrictions on voting rights still existed. The centralist and
hierarchical nature of "representative" democracy means that the
population at large has little real control over politicians, who
are far more influenced by big business, business lobby groups, and
the state bureaucracy. This means that truly popular and democratic
pressures are limited within the capitalist state and the interests
of elites are far more decisive in explaining state actions.
The "New Deal" and the post-war Keynesianism measures of limited state
intervention to stimulate economic recovery from the Depression were
motivated by more material reasons than democracy. Thus Takis Fotopoules
argues that "[t]he fact . . .that 'business confidence' was at its lowest
could go a long way in explaining the much more tolerant attitude of those
controlling production towards measures encroaching on their economic
power and profits. In fact, it was only when -- and as long as -- state
interventionism had the approval of those actually controlling production
that it was successful" ["The Nation-state and the Market", p. 55,
_Society and Nature_, Vol. 3, pp. 44-45]
An example of this principle can be seen in the 1934 Wagner Act in the
USA, which gave US labour its first and last political victory. The act
made it legal for unions to organise, but this placed labour struggles
within the boundaries of legal procedures and so meant that they could be
more easily controlled. In addition, this concession was a form of
appeasement whose effect was to make those involved in union actions less
likely to start questioning the fundamental bases of the capitalist
system. Once the fear of a militant labour movement had passed, the
Wagner Act was undermined and made powerless by new laws, laws which
made illegal the tactics which forced the politicians to pass the
Wagner Act in the first place and increased the powers of bosses over
Needless to say, the implication of classical liberal ideology that
popular democracy is a threat to capitalism is the root of the fallacy
that democracy leads to state intervention. The notion that by limiting
the franchise the rich will make laws which benefit all says more about
the classical liberals' touching faith in the altruism of the rich than it
does about their understanding of human nature or their grasp of history.
The fact that they can join with John Locke and claim with a straight face
that all must abide by the rules that only the few make also says a lot
about their concept of "freedom."
Of course some of the more modern classical liberals (for example,
right-wing libertarians) advocate a "democratic state" which cannot
intervene in economic matters. This is no solution, however, as it only
gets rid of the statist response to real and pressing social problems
caused by capitalism without supplying anything better in its place.
Anarchists agree that the state, due to its centralisation and
bureaucracy, crushes the spontaneous nature of society and is a handicap
to social progress and evolution. However, leaving the market alone to
work its course fallaciously assumes that people will happily sit back and
let market forces rip apart their communities and environment. Getting
rid of state intervention without getting rid of capitalism and creating a
free, communal society would mean that the need for social self-protection
would still exist but that there would be even less means of achieving it
than now. The results of such a policy, as history shows, would be a
catastrophe for the working class (and the environment, we must add)
and beneficial only for the elite (as intended, of course).
The implication of the false premise that democracy leads to state
intervention is that the state exists for the benefit of the majority,
which uses the state to exploit the rich minority! Amazingly, many
capitalist apologists accept this as a valid inference from their
premise, even though it's obviously a *reductio ad absurdum* of that
premise as well as going against the facts of history.
D.1.3 Is state intervention socialistic?
No. Libertarian socialism is about self-liberation and self-management of
one's activities. Getting the state to act for us is the opposite of
these ideals. In addition, the question implies that socialism is
connected with its nemesis, statism, and that socialism means even more
bureaucratic control and centralisation. The identification of socialism
with the state is something that Stalinists and capitalist apologists
*both* agreed upon. However, as we'll see in section H.3, "state socialism"
is in reality just state capitalism -- the turning of the world into "one
office and one factory" (to use Lenin's expression). Little wonder that most
sane people join with anarchists in rejecting it. Who wants to work under a
system in which, if one does not like the boss (i.e. the state), one cannot
The theory that state intervention is "creeping socialism" takes the
laissez-faire ideology of capitalism at its face value, not realising that
it is ideology rather than reality. Capitalism is a dynamic system and
evolves over time, but this does not mean that by moving away from its
theoretical starting point it is negating its essential nature and
becoming socialistic. Capitalism was born from state intervention, and
except for a very short period of laissez-faire which ended in depression,
has always depended on state intervention for its existence.
The claim that state intervention is "socialist" also ignores the
realities of power concentration under capitalism. Real socialism
equalises power by redistributing it to the people, but as Noam Chomsky
points out, "[in] a highly inegalitarian society, it is most unlikely that
government programs will be equalisers. Rather, it is to be expected that
they will be designed and manipulated by private power for their own
benefits; and to a significant degree the expectation is fulfilled" [_The
Chomsky Reader_, p. 184]. "Welfare equals socialism" is nonsense.
Similarly, in Britain and the nationalisation of roughly 20% of the
economy (the most unprofitable sections of it as well) in 1945 by the
Labour Government was the direct result of ruling class fear, not
socialism. As Quintin Hogg, a Tory M.P. at the time, said, "If you don't
give the people social reforms they are going to give you social
revolution." Memories of the near revolutions across Europe after the
First World War were obviously in many minds, on both sides. Not that
nationalisation was particularly feared as "socialism." As anarchists at
the time noted, "the real opinions of capitalists can be seen from Stock
Exchange conditions and statements of industrialists [rather] than the
Tory Front bench. . . [and from these we] see that the owning class is not
at all displeased with the record and tendency of the Labour Party"
[Vernon Richards (ed.), _Neither Nationalisation nor Privatisation --
Selections from _Freedom_ 1945-1950_, p. 9].
So where do anarchists stand on state intervention? Usually we are
against it, although most of us think state health care services and
unemployment benefits (for example) are more socially useful than arms
production, and in lieu of more anarchistic solutions, better than the
alternative of "free market" capitalism. This does not mean we are happy
with state intervention, which in practice undermines working class
self-help, mutual aid and autonomy. Also, state intervention of the
"social" nature is often paternalistic, run by and for the "middle classes"
(i.e. professional/managerial types and other self-proclaimed "experts").
However, until such time as a viable anarchist counterculture is created,
we have little option but to "support" the lesser evil (but let's make no
mistake, it *is* an evil).
This is not to deny that in many ways such state "support" can be used as
a means of regaining some of the power and labour stolen from us by
capitalists in the first place. State intervention *can* give working
people more options than they otherwise would have. If state action could
not be used in this way, it is doubtful that capitalists and their hired
"experts" would spend so much time trying to undermine and limit it. As
the capitalist class happily uses the state to enforce its power and
property rights, working people making whatever use they can of it is
to be expected. Be that as it may, this does not blind anarchists to
the negative aspects of the welfare state and other forms of state
intervention (see section J.5.15 for anarchist perspectives on the
One problem with state intervention, as Kropotkin saw, is that the state's
absorption of social functions "necessarily favoured the development of an
unbridled, narrow-minded individualism. In proportion as the obligations
towards the State grew in numbers, the citizens were evidently relieved
from their obligations towards each other" [_Mutual Aid_, p. 183]. In
the case of state "social functions," such as the British National
Health Service, although they were created as a *result* of the social
atomisation caused by capitalism, they have tended to *reinforce* the
individualism and lack of personal and social responsibility that produced
the need for such action in the first place. (Forms of community and
social self-help and their historical precedents will be discussed in
The example of nationalised industries is a good indicator of the
non-socialist nature of state intervention. Nationalisation meant
replacing the capitalist bureaucrat with a state one, with little real
improvement for those subjected to the "new" regime. At the height of the
British Labour Party's post-war nationalisations, anarchists were pointing
out its anti-socialist nature. Nationalisation was "really consolidating
the old individual capitalist class into a new and efficient class of
managers to run. . . state capitalism" by "installing the really creative
industrialists in dictatorial managerial positions" [Vernon Richards, Op.
Cit., p. 10].
Anarchists are in favour of self-directed activity and direct action to
get improvements and defend reforms in the here and now. By organising
strikes and protests ourselves, we can improve our lives. This does not
mean that using direct action to get favourable laws passed or
less-favourable ones revoked is a waste of time. Far from it. However,
unless ordinary people use their own strength and grassroots organisations
to enforce the law, the state and employers will honour any disliked law
purely in the breach. By trusting the state, social self-protection
against the market and power concentrations becomes hollow. In the end,
what the state gives (or is pressurised into giving), it can take away
but what we create and run ourselves is always responsive to *our*
desires and interests. We have seen how vulnerable state welfare
is to pressures from the capitalist class to see that this is a
D.2 What influence does wealth have over politics?
The short answer is: a great deal of influence, directly and indirectly.
We have already touched on this in section B.2.3 ("How does the ruling class
maintain control of the state?") Here we will expand on those remarks.
State policy in a capitalist democracy is usually well-insulated from popular
influence but very open to elite influence and money interests. Let's consider
the possibility of direct influence first. It's obvious that elections cost
money and that only the rich and corporations can realistically afford to
take part in a major way. Even union donations to political parties cannot
effectively compete with those from the business classes. For example, in
the 1972 US presidential elections, of the $500 million spent, only about $13
million came from trade unions. The vast majority of the rest undoubtedly
came from Big Business and wealthy individuals. For the 1956 elections, the
last year for which direct union-business comparisons are possible, the
contributions of 742 businessmen matched those of unions representing 17
million workers. And this was at a time when unions had large memberships
and before the decline of organised labour.
Therefore, logically, politics will be dominated by the rich and powerful
-- in fact if not in theory -- since only the rich can afford to run and
only parties supported by the wealthy will gain enough funds and
favourable press coverage to have a chance (see section D.3, "How does
wealth influence the mass media?"). Even in countries with strong union
movements which support labour-based parties, the political agenda is
dominated by the media. As the media are owned by and dependent upon
advertising from business, it is hardly surprising that independent
labour-based political agendas are difficult to follow or be taken
seriously. Moreover, the funds available for labour parties are always
less than those of capitalist supported parties, meaning that the
ability of the former to compete in "fair" elections is hindered. And
this is ignoring the fact that the state structure is designed to
ensure that real power lies not in the hands of elected representatives
but rather in the hands of the state bureaucracy (see section J.2.2)
which ensures that any pro-labour political agenda will be watered down
and made harmless to the interests of the ruling class.
To this it must be added that wealth has a massive *indirect* influence
over politics (and so over society and the law). We have noted above that
wealth controls the media and their content. However, beyond this there
is what can be called "Investor Confidence," which is another important
source of influence. If a government starts to pass laws or act in ways
that conflict with the desires of business, capital may become reluctant
to invest (and may even disinvest and move elsewhere). The economic
downturn that results will cause political instability, giving the
government no choice but to regard the interests of business as
privileged. "What is good for business" really is good for the
country, because if business suffers, so will everyone else.
David Noble provides a good summary of the effects of such indirect
pressures when he writes firms "have the ability to transfer production
from one country to another, to close a plant in one and reopen it
elsewhere, to direct and redirect investment wherever the 'climate' is
most favourable [to business]. . . . [I]t has enabled the corporation to
play one workforce off against another in the pursuit of the cheapest
and most compliant labour (which gives the misleading appearance of
greater efficiency). . . [I]t has compelled regions and nations to
compete with one another to try and attract investment by offering
tax incentives, labour discipline, relaxed environmental and other
regulations and publicly subsidised infrastructure. . . Thus has
emerged the great paradox of our age, according to which those nations
that prosper most (attract corporate investment) by most readily
lowering their standard of living (wages, benefits, quality of life,
political freedom). The net result of this system of extortion is a
universal lowering of conditions and expectations in the name of
competitiveness and prosperity." [_Progress Without People_,
And, we must note, even when a country *does* lower its standard of
living to attract investment or encourage its own business class to
invest (as the USA and UK did by means of recession to discipline
the workforce by high unemployment), it is no guarantee that capital
will stay. US workers have seen their companies' profits rise while
their wages have stagnated and (in reward) hundreds of thousands have
been "down-sized" or seen their jobs moved to Mexico or South East Asia
sweatshops. In the far east, Japanese, Hong Kong, and South Korean workers
have also seen their manufacturing jobs move to low wage (and more
repressive/authoritarian) countries such as China and Indonesia.
As well as the mobility of capital, there is also the threat posed by
public debt. As Doug Henwood notes, "[p]ublic debt is a powerful way of
assuring that the state remains safely in capital's hands. The higher
a government's debt, the more it must please its bankers. Should bankers
grow displeased, they will refuse to roll over old debts or to extend
new financing on any but the most punishing terms (if at all). The
explosion of [US] federal debt in the 1980s vastly increased the
power of creditors to demand austere fiscal and monetary policies to
dampen the US economy as it recovered . . . from the 1989-92 slowdown."
[_Wall Street_, pp. 23-24] And, we must note, Wall street made a
fortune on the debt, directly and indirectly.
Commenting on Clinton's plans for the devolution of welfare programmes
from Federal to State government in America, Noam Chomsky makes the
important point that "under conditions of relative equality, this could
be a move towards democracy. Under existing circumstances, devolution is
intended as a further blow to the eroding democratic processes. Major
corporations, investment firms, and the like, can constrain or directly
control the acts of national governments and can set one national
workforce against another. But the game is much easier when the only
competing player that might remotely be influenced by the 'great beast' is
a state government, and even middle-sized enterprise can join in. The
shadow cast by business [over society and politics] can thus be darker,
and private power can move on to greater victories in the name of freedom."
[Noam Chomsky, "Rollback III", _Z Magazine_, March, 1995]
Economic blackmail is a very useful weapon in deterring freedom.
D.2.1 Is capital flight really that powerful?
Yes. By capital flight, business can ensure that any government which
becomes too independent and starts to consider the interests of those who
elected it will be put back into its place. Therefore we cannot expect a
different group of politicians to react in different ways to the same
institutional influences and interests. It's no coincidence that the
Australian Labour Party and the Spanish Socialist Party introduced
"Thatcherite" policies at the same time as the "Iron Lady" implemented them
in Britain. The New Zealand Labour government is a case in point, where
"within a few months of re-election [in 1984], finance minister Roger
Douglas set out a programme of economic 'reforms' that made Thatcher and
Reagan look like wimps. . . .[A]lmost everything was privatised and the
consequences explained away in marketspeak. Division of wealth that had
been unknown in New Zealand suddenly appeared, along with unemployment,
poverty and crime." [John Pilger, "Breaking the one party state," _New
An extreme example of capital flight being used to "discipline" a naughty
administration can be seen in the 1974 to '79 Labour government in
Britain. In January, 1974, the FT Index for the London Stock Exchange
stood at 500 points. In February, the Miner's went on strike, forcing
Heath (the Tory Prime Minister) to hold (and lose) a general election.
The new Labour government (which included many left-wingers in its
cabinet) talked about nationalising the banks and much heavy industry. In
August, 1974, Tony Benn announced plans to nationalise the ship building
industry. By December, the FT index had fallen to 150 points. By 1976 the
Treasury was spending $100 million a day buying back its own money to
support the pound. [_The Times_, 10/6/76]
_The Times_ noted that "the further decline in the value of the pound has
occurred despite the high level of interest rates. . . . [D]ealers said
that selling pressure against the pound was not heavy or persistent, but
there was an almost total lack of interest amongst buyers. The drop in the
pound is extremely surprising in view of the unanimous opinion of bankers,
politicians and officials that the currency is undervalued." [27/5/76]
The Labour government, faced with the power of international capital,
ended up having to receive a temporary "bailing out" by the IMF, which
imposed a package of cuts and controls, to which Labour's response was, in
effect, "We'll do anything you say," as one economist described it. The
social costs of these policies were disastrous, with unemployment rising
to the then unheard-of-height of one million. And let's not forget that
they "cut expenditure by twice the amount the IMF were promised" in an
attempt to appear business-friendly. [Peter Donaldson, _A Question of
Economics_, p. 89]
Capital will not invest in a country that does not meet its approval. In
1977, the Bank of England failed to get the Labour government to abolish
its exchange controls. Between 1979 and 1982 the Tories abolished them and
ended restrictions on lending for banks and building societies:
"The result of the abolition of exchange controls was visible almost
immediately: capital hitherto invested in the U.K. began going abroad. In
the _Guardian_ of 21 September, 1981, Victor Keegan noted that 'Figures
published last week by the Bank of England show that pension funds are now
investing 25% of their money abroad (compared with almost nothing a few
years ago) and there has been no investment at all (net) by unit trusts in
the UK since exchange controls were abolished.'" [Robin Ramsay, _Lobster_
no. 27, p. 3]
Why? What was so bad about the UK? Simply stated, the working class was
too militant, the trade unions were not "shackled by law and subdued," as
_The Economist_ recently put it [February 27, 1993], and the welfare state
could be lived on. The partial gains from previous struggles still existed,
and people had enough dignity not to accept any job offered or put up with
an employer's authoritarian practices. These factors created "inflexibility"
in the labour market, so that the working class had to be taught a lesson
in "good" economics.
By capital flight a rebellious population and a slightly radical government
were brought to heel.
D.2.2 How extensive is business propaganda?
Business spends a lot of money to ensure that people accept the status
quo. Referring again to the US as an example (where such techniques are
common), various means are used to get people to identify "free
enterprise" (meaning state-subsidised private power with no infringement
of managerial prerogatives) as "the American way." The success of these
campaigns is clear, since many working people now object to unions as
having too much power or irrationally rejecting all radical ideas as
"Communism" regardless of their content.
By 1978, American business was spending $1 billion a year on grassroots
propaganda (known as "Astroturf" by PR insiders, to reflect the appearance
of popular support, without the substance, and "grasstops" whereby influential
citizens are hired to serve as spokespersons for business interests). In
1983, there existed 26 general purpose foundations for this purpose with
endowments of $100 million or more, as well as dozens of corporate
foundations. These, along with media power, ensure that force -- always
an inefficient means of control -- is replaced by the "manufacture
of consent": the process whereby the limits of acceptable expression are
defined by the wealthy.
This process has been going on for some time. For example "[i]n April 1947,
the Advertising Council announced a $100 million campaign to use all media
to 'sell' the American economic system -- as they conceived it -- to the
American people; the program was officially described as a 'major project
of educating the American people about the economic facts of life.'
Corporations 'started extensive programs to indoctrinate employees,' the
leading business journal _Fortune_ reported, subjected their captive
audiences to 'Courses in Economic Education' and testing them for
commitment to the 'free enterprise system -- that is, Americanism.' A
survey conducted by the American Management Association (AMA) found that
many corporate leaders regarded 'propaganda' and 'economic education' as
synonymous, holding that 'we want our people to think right'. . . [and
that] 'some employers view. . . [it] as a sort of 'battle of loyalties'
with the unions' -- a rather unequal battle, given the resources available."
[Noam Chomsky, _World Orders, Old and New_, pp. 89-90]
Various institutions are used to get Big Business's message across, for
example, the Joint Council on Economic Education, ostensibly a charitable
organisation, funds economic education for teachers and provides books,
pamphlets and films as teaching aids. In 1974, 20,000 teachers
participated in its workshops. The aim is to induce teachers to present
corporations in an uncritical light to their students. Funding for this
propaganda machine comes from the American Bankers Association, AT&T, the
Sears Roebuck Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
As G. William Domhoff points out, "[a]lthough it [and other bodies like
it] has not been able to bring about active acceptance of all power elite
policies and perspectives, on economic or other domestic issues, it has
been able to ensure that opposing opinions have remained isolated, suspect
and only partially developed." [_Who Rules America Now?_, pp. 103-4] In
other words, "unacceptable" ideas are marginalised, the limits of
expression defined, and all within a society apparently based on
"the free marketplace of ideas."
The effects of this business propaganda are felt in all other aspects of
life, ensuring that while the US business class is extremely class
conscious, the rest of the American population considers "class" a swear
D.3 How does wealth influence the mass media?
Anarchists have developed detailed and sophisticated analyses of how
the wealthy and powerful use the media to propagandise in their own
interests. Perhaps the best of these analyses is the "Propaganda Model"
expounded in _Manufacturing Consent_ by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman,
whose main theses we will summarise in this section (See also Chomsky's
_Necessary Illusions_ for a further discussion of this model of the
Chomsky and Herman's "propaganda model" of the media postulates a set of
five "filters" that act to screen the news and other material disseminated
by the media. These "filters" result in a media that reflects elite
viewpoints and interests and mobilises "support for the special interests
that dominate the state and private activity." [_Manufacturing Consent_,
p. xi]. These "filters" are: (1) the size, concentrated ownership, owner
wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms; (2)
advertising as the primary income source of the mass media; (3) the
reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and
"experts" funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of
power; (4) "flak" (negative responses to a media report) as a means
of disciplining the media; and (5) "anticommunism" as a national religion
and control mechanism.
"The raw material of news must pass through successive filters leaving
only the cleansed residue fit to print," Chomsky and Herman maintain. The
filters "fix the premises of discourse and interpretation, and the
definition of what is newsworthy in the first place, and they explain the
basis and operations of what amount to propaganda campaigns." [_Manufacturing
Consent_, p. 2] We will briefly consider the nature of these five filters
below (examples are mostly from the US media).
We stress again, before continuing, that this is a *summary* of Herman's
and Chomsky's thesis and we cannot hope to present the wealth of evidence
and argument available in either _Manufacturing Consent_ or _Necessary
Illusions_. We recommend either of these books for more information on and
evidence to support the "propaganda model" of the media.
D.3.1 How does the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and
profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms affect media
Even a century ago, the number of media with any substantial outreach was
limited by the large size of the necessary investment, and this limitation
has become increasingly effective over time. As in any well developed
market, this means that there are very effective *natural* barriers to
entry into the media industry. Due to this process of concentration, the
ownership of the major media has become increasingly concentrated in fewer
and fewer hands. As Ben Bagdikian's stresses in his book _Media
Monopoly_, the 29 largest media systems account for over half of the
output of all newspapers, and most of the sales and audiences in
magazines, broadcasting, books, and movies. The "top tier" of these --
somewhere between 10 and 24 systems -- along with the government and wire
services, "defines the news agenda and supplies much of the national and
international news to the lower tiers of the media, and thus for the
general public" [Ibid., p. 5]
The twenty-four top-tier companies are large, profit-seeking corporations,
owned and controlled by very wealthy people. Many of these companies are
fully integrated into the financial market, with the result that the
pressures of stockholders, directors, and bankers to focus on the bottom
line are powerful. These pressures have intensified in recent years as
media stocks have become market favourites and as deregulation has
increased profitability and so the threat of take-overs.
The media giants have also diversified into other fields. For example GE,
and Westinghouse, both owners of major television networks, are huge,
diversified multinational companies heavily involved in the controversial
areas of weapons production and nuclear power. GE and Westinghouse
depend on the government to subsidise their nuclear power and military
research and development, and to create a favourable climate for their
overseas sales and investments. Similar dependence on the government
affect other media.
Because they are large corporations with international investment
interests, the major media tend to have a right-wing political bias. In
addition, members of the business class own most of the mass media, the
bulk of which depends for their existence on advertising revenue (which in
turn comes from private business). Business also provides a substantial
share of "experts" for news programmes and generates massive "flak." Claims
that they are "left-leaning" are sheer disinformation manufactured by the
"flak" organisations described below.
Thus Herman and Chomsky:
"the dominant media forms are quite large businesses; they are controlled
by very wealthy people or by managers who are subject to sharp constraints
by owners and other market-profit-oriented forces; and they are closely
interlocked, and have important common interests, with other major
corporations, banks, and government. This is the first powerful filter
that effects news choices." [Ibid., p. 14]
Needless to say, reporters and editors will be selected based upon how
well their work reflects the interests and needs of their employers.
Thus a radical reporter and a more mainstream one both of the same
skills and abilities would have very different careers within the
industry. Unless the radical reporter toned down their copy, they are
unlikely to see it printed unedited or unchanged. Thus the structure
within the media firm will tend to penalise radical viewpoints,
encouraging an acceptance of the status quo in order to further a
career. This selection process ensures that owners do not need to
order editors or reporters what to do -- to be successful they will
have to internalise the values of their employers.
D.3.2 What is the effect of advertising as the primary income source
of the mass media?
The main business of the media is to sell audiences to advertisers.
Advertisers thus acquire a kind of de facto licencing authority, since
without their support the media would cease to be economically viable.
And it is *affluent* audiences that get advertisers interested. As Chomsky
and Herman put it, "The idea that the drive for large audiences makes the
mass media 'democratic' thus suffers from the initial weakness that its
political analogue is a voting system weighted by income!" [Ibid., p.16].
Political discrimination is therefore structured into advertising
allocations by the emphasis on people with money to buy. In addition,
"many companies will always refuse to do business with ideological enemies
and those whom they perceive as damaging their interests." Thus overt
discrimination adds to the force of the "voting system weighted by
income." Accordingly, large corporate advertisers almost never sponsor
programs that contain serious criticisms of corporate activities, such as
negative ecological impacts, the workings of the military-industrial
complex, or corporate support of and benefits from Third World
dictatorships. More generally, advertisers will want "to avoid programs
with serious complexities and disturbing controversies that interfere with
the 'buying mood.'" [Ibid., p. 18].
This also has had the effect of placing working class and radical papers
at a serious disadvantage. Without access to advertising revenue, even the
most popular paper will fold or price itself out of the market. Chomsky
and Herman cite the UK pro-labour and pro-union _Daily Herald_ as an
example of this process. The Daily Herald had almost double the
readership of _The Times_, the _Financial Times_ and _The Guardian_
combined, but even with 8.1% of the national circulation it got 3.5%
of net advertising revenue and so could not survive on the "free market".
As Herman and Chomsky note, a "mass movement without any major media support,
and subject to a great deal of active press hostility, suffers a serious
disability, and struggles against grave odds." [Ibid., pp. 15-16] With
the folding of the _Daily Herald_, the labour movement lost its voice in
the mainstream media.
Thus advertising is an effective filter for new choice (and, indeed,
survival in the market).
D.3.3 Why do the media rely on information provided by government,
business, and "experts" funded and approved by government and business?
Two of the main reasons for the media's reliance on such sources are
economy and convenience: Bottom-line considerations dictate that the
media concentrate their resources where important news often occurs, where
rumours and leaks are plentiful, and where regular press conferences are
held. The White House, Pentagon, and the State Department, in Washington,
D.C., are centres of such activity.
Government and corporate sources also have the great merit of being
recognisable and credible by their status and prestige; moreover, they
have the most money available to produce a flow of news that the media can
use. For example, the Pentagon has a public-information service employing
many thousands of people, spending hundreds of millions of dollars every
year, and far outspending not only the public-information resources of any
dissenting individual or group but the *aggregate* of such groups.
Only the corporate sector has the resources to produce public information
and propaganda on the scale of the Pentagon and other government bodies.
The Chamber of Commerce, a business *collective*, had a 1983 budget for
research, communications, and political activities of $65 million. Besides
the US Chamber of Commerce, there are thousands of state and local
chambers of commerce and trade associations also engaged in public
relations and lobbying activities.
To maintain their pre-eminent position as sources, government and
business-news agencies expend much effort to make things easy for news
organisations. They provide the media organisations with facilities in
which to gather, give journalists advance copies of speeches and upcoming
reports; schedule press conferences at hours convenient for those needing
to meet news deadlines; write press releases in language that can be used
with little editing; and carefully organise press conferences and "photo
opportunity" sessions. This means that, in effect, the large
bureaucracies of the power elite *subsidise* the mass media by
contributing to a reduction of the media's costs of acquiring the raw
materials of, and producing, news. In this way, these bureaucracies gain
special access to the media.
Thus "[e]conomics dictates that they [the media] concentrate their
resources were significant news often occurs, where important rumours
and leaks abound, and where regular press conferences are held. . .
[Along with state bodies] business corporations and trade groups are
also regular purveyors of stories deemed newsworthy. These bureaucracies
turn out a large volume of material that meets the demands of news
organisations for reliable, scheduled flows." [Ibid., pp. 18-19]
The dominance of official sources would, of course, be weakened by the
existence of highly respectable unofficial sources that gave dissident
views with great authority. To alleviate this problem, the power elite
uses the strategy of "co-opting the experts" -- that is, putting them on
the payroll as consultants, funding their research, and organising think
tanks that will hire them directly and help disseminate the messages deemed
essential to elite interests. "Experts" on TV panel discussions and news
programs are often drawn from such organisations, whose funding comes
primarily from the corporate sector and wealthy families -- a fact that
is, of course, never mentioned on the programs where they appear.
D.3.4 How is "flak" used by the wealthy and powerful as a means of
disciplining the media?
"Flak" refers to negative responses to a media statement or program. Such
responses may be expressed as phone calls, letters, telegrams, e-mail
messages, petitions, lawsuits, speeches, bills before Congress, or other
modes of complaint, threat, or punishment. Flak may be generated by
organisations or it may come from the independent actions of individuals.
Large-scale flak campaigns, either by organisations or individuals with
substantial resources, can be both uncomfortable and costly to the media.
Advertisers are very concerned to avoid offending constituencies who might
produce flak, and their demands for inoffensive programming exerts
pressure on the media to avoid certain kinds of facts, positions, or
programs that are likely to call forth flak. The most deterrent kind of
flak comes from business and government, who have the funds to produce it
on a large scale.
For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, the corporate community sponsored
the creation of such institutions as the American Legal Foundation, the
Capital Legal Foundation, the Media Institute, the Center for Media and
Public Affairs, and Accuracy in Media (AIM), which may be regarded as
organisations designed for the specific purpose of producing flak.
Freedom House is an older US organisation which had a broader design but
whose flak-producing activities became a model for the more recent
The Media Institute, for instance, was set up in 1972 and is funded by
wealthy corporate patrons, sponsoring media monitoring projects,
conferences, and studies of the media. The main focus of its studies and
conferences has been the alleged failure of the media to portray business
accurately and to give adequate weight to the business point of view, but
it also sponsors works such as John Corry's "expose" of alleged left-wing
bias in the mass media.
The government itself is a major producer of flak, regularly attacking,
threatening, and "correcting" the media, trying to contain any deviations
from the established propaganda lines in foreign or domestic policy.
And, we should note, while the flak machines steadily attack the media,
the media treats them well. While effectively ignoring radical critiques
(such as the "propaganda model"), flak receives respectful attention and
their propagandistic role and links to corporations and a wider right-wing
program rarely mentioned or analysed.
D.3.5 Why do the power elite use "anticommunism" as a national religion
and control mechanism?
"Communism," or indeed any form of socialism, is of course regarded as the
ultimate evil by the corporate rich, since the ideas of collective
ownership of productive assets, giving workers more bargaining power, or
allowing ordinary citizens more voice in public policy decisions threatens
the very root of the class position and superior status of the elite.
Hence the ideology of anticommunism has been very useful, because it can
be used to discredit anybody advocating policies regarded as harmful to
corporate interests. It also helps to divide the Left and labour
movements, justifies support for pro-US right-wing regimes abroad as
"lesser evils" than communism, and discourages liberals from opposing such
regimes for fear of being branded as heretics from the national religion.
Since the end of the Cold War, anti-communism has not been used as
extensively as it once was to mobilise support for elite crusades.
Instead, the "Drug War" or "anti-terrorism" now often provide the public
with "official enemies" to hate and fear. Thus the Drug War was the
excuse for the Bush administration's invasion of Panama, and "fighting
narco-terrorists" has more recently been the official reason for
shipping military hardware and surveillance equipment to Mexico (where
it's actually being used against the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, whose
uprising is threatening to destabilise the country and endanger US
Of course there are still a few official communist enemy states, like
North Korea, Cuba, and China, and abuses or human rights violations in
these countries are systematically played up by the media while similar
abuses in client states are downplayed or ignored. Chomsky and Herman
refer to the victims of abuses in enemy states as *worthy victims,* while
victims who suffer at the hands of US clients or friends are *unworthy
victims.* Stories about worthy victims are often made the subject of
sustained propaganda campaigns, to score political points against
"If the government of corporate community and the media feel that a story
is useful as well as dramatic, they focus on it intensively and use it to
enlighten the public. This was true, for example, of the shooting down by
the Soviets of the Korean airliner KAL 007 in early September 1983, which
permitted an extended campaign of denigration of an official enemy and
greatly advanced Reagan administration arms plans."
"In sharp contrast, the shooting down by Israel of a Libyan civilian
airliner in February 1973 led to no outcry in the West, no denunciations
for 'cold-blooded murder,' and no boycott. This difference in treatment
was explained by the _New York Times_ precisely on the grounds of
utility: 'No useful purpose is served by an acrimonious debate over the
assignment of blame for the downing of a Libyan airliner in the Sinai
peninsula last week.' There *was* a very 'useful purpose' served by
focusing on the Soviet act, and a massive propaganda campaign ensued"
[Ibid., p. 32].
D.3.6 Isn't it a "conspiracy theory" to suggest that the media are used as
propaganda instruments by the elite?
Chomsky and Herman address this charge in the Preface to _Manufacturing
Consent_: "Institutional critiques such as we present in this book are
commonly dismissed by establishment commentators as 'conspiracy theories,'
but this is merely an evasion. We do not use any kind of 'conspiracy'
hypothesis to explain mass-media performance. In fact, our treatment is
much closer to a 'free market' analysis, with the results largely an
outcome of the workings of market forces."
They go on to suggest what some of these "market forces" are. One of the
most important is the weeding-out process that determines who gets the
journalistic jobs in the major media. "Most biased choices in the media
arise from the preselection of right-thinking people, internalised
preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of
ownership, organisation, market, and political power."
In other words, important media employees learn to internalise the values
of their bosses. "Censorship is largely self-censorship, by reporters and
commentators who adjust to the realities of source and media organisational
requirements, and by people at higher levels within media organisations who
are chosen to implement, and have usually internalised, the constraints
imposed by proprietary and other market and governmental centres of power."
[Ibid., p. xii].
But, it may be asked, isn't it still a conspiracy theory to suggest
that media leaders all have similar values? Not at all. Such leaders
"do similar things because they see the world through the same lenses, are
subject to similar constraints and incentives, and thus feature stories or
maintain silence together in tacit collective action and leader-follower
The fact that media leaders share the same fundamental values does not
mean, however, that the media are a solid monolith on all issues. The
powerful often disagree on the tactics needed to attain generally shared
aims, and this gets reflected in media debate. But views that challenge
the legitimacy of those aims or suggest that state power is being
exercised in elite interests rather than the "national" interest" will
be excluded from the mass media.
Therefore the "propaganda model" has as little in common with a "conspiracy
theory" as saying that the management of General Motors acts to maintain
and increase its profits.
D.3.7 Isn't the "propaganda thesis" about the media contradicted by the
"adversarial" nature of much media reporting, e.g. its exposes of
government and business corruption?
As noted above, the claim that the media are "adversarial" or (more
implausibly) that they have a "left-wing bias" is due to right-wing PR
organisations. This means that some "inconvenient facts" are occasionally
allowed to pass through the filters in order to give the *appearance* of
"objectivity"-- precisely so the media can deny charges of engaging in
propaganda. As Chomsky and Herman put it: "the 'naturalness' of these
processes, with inconvenient facts allowed sparingly and within the proper
framework of assumptions, and fundamental dissent virtually excluded from
the mass media (but permitted in a marginalised press), makes for a
propaganda system that is far more credible and effective in putting over
a patriotic agenda than one with official censorship" [Ibid., Preface].
To support their case against the "adversarial" nature of the media,
Herman and Chomsky look into the claims of such right-wing media
PR machines as Freedom House. However, it is soon discovered that
"the very examples offered in praise of the media for their independence,
or criticism of their excessive zeal, illustrate exactly the opposite."
[Ibid.] Such flak, while being worthless as serious analysis, does help
to reinforce the myth of an "adversarial media" (on the right the "existing
level of subordination to state authority is often deemed unsatisfactory"
and *this* is the source of their criticism! [Ibid., p. 301]) and so
is taken seriously by the media.
Therefore the "adversarial" nature of the media is a myth, but this
is not to imply that the media does not present critical analysis.
Herman and Chomsky in fact argue that the "mass media are not a solid
monolith on all issues." [Ibid., p. xii] and do not deny that it does
present facts (which they do sometimes themselves cite). But, as they
argue, "[t]hat the media provide some facts about an issue. . . proves
absolutely nothing about the adequacy or accuracy of that coverage. The
mass media do, in fact, literally suppress a great deal . . . But even
more important in this context is the question given to a fact - its
placement, tone, and repetitions, the framework within which it is
presented, and the related facts that accompany it and give it meaning
(or provide understanding) . . . there is no merit to the pretence that
because certain facts may be found by a diligent and sceptical researcher,
the absence of radical bias and de facto suppression is thereby
demonstrated." [Ibid., pp xiv-xv]
D.4 What is the relationship between capitalism and the ecological crisis?
Environmental damage has reached alarming proportions. Almost daily there
are new upwardly revised estimates of the severity of global warming,
ozone destruction, topsoil loss, oxygen depletion from the clearing of
rain forests, acid rain, toxic wastes and pesticide residues in food and
water, the accelerating extinction rate of natural species, etc., etc.
Some scientists now believe that there may be as little as 35 years to act
before vital ecosystems are irreparably damaged and massive human die-offs
begin [Donella M. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, and Jorgen Randers, _Beyond
the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable
Future_, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1992]. Or, as Kirkpatrick Sale
puts it, "the planet is on the road to, perhaps on the verge of, global
ecocide" ["Bioregionalism -- A Sense of Place," _The Nation_ 12:
Many anarchists see the ecological crisis as rooted in the psychology of
domination, which emerged with the rise of patriarchy, slavery, and the
first primitive states during the Late Neolithic. Murray Bookchin, one of
the pioneers of eco-anarchism (see section E), points out that "[t]he
hierarchies, classes, propertied forms, and statist institutions that
emerged with social domination were carried over conceptually into
humanity's relationship with nature. Nature too became increasingly
regarded as a mere resource, an object, a raw material to be exploited as
ruthlessly as slaves on a latifundium." [_Toward an Ecological Society_
p. 41]. In his view, without uprooting the psychology of domination,
all attempts to stave off ecological catastrophe are likely to be
mere palliatives and so doomed to failure.
Bookchin argues that "the conflict between humanity and nature is an
extension of the conflict between human and human. Unless the ecology
movement encompasses the problem of domination in all its aspects, it
will contribute *nothing* toward eliminating the root causes of the
ecological crisis of our time. If the ecology movement stops at
mere reformism in pollution and conservation control - at mere
'environmentalism' - without dealing radically with the need for an
expanded concept of revolution, it will merely serve as a safety
value for the existing system of natural and human exploitation."
[Ibid., p. 43]
Since capitalism is the vehicle through which the psychology of
domination finds its most ecologically destructive outlet, most
eco-anarchists give the highest priority to dismantling capitalism.
"Literally, the system in its endless devouring of nature will reduce the
entire biosphere to the fragile simplicity of our desert and arctic
biomes. We will be reversing the process of organic evolution which has
differentiated flora and fauna into increasingly complex forms and
relationships, thereby creating a simpler and less stable world of life.
The consequences of this appalling regression are predictable enough in
the long run -- the biosphere will become so fragile that it will
eventually collapse from the standpoint human survival needs and remove
the organic preconditions for human life. That this will eventuate from a
society based on production for the sake of production is . . .merely a
matter of time, although when it will occur is impossible to predict."
[Ibid., p. 68]
It's important to stress that capitalism must be *eliminated* because it
*cannot* reform itself so as to become "environment friendly," contrary to
the claims of so-called "green" capitalists. This is because "[c]apitalism
not only validates precapitalist notions of the domination of nature, . . .
it turns the plunder of nature into society's law of life. To quibble with
this kind of system about its values, to try to frighten it with visions
about the consequences of growth is to quarrel with its very metabolism.
One might more easily persuade a green plant to desist from photosynthesis
than to ask the bourgeois economy to desist from capital accumulation."
[Ibid., p. 66]
Thus capitalism causes ecological destruction because it is based upon
domination (of human over human and so humanity over nature) and
continual, endless growth (for without growth, capitalism would die).
D.4.1 Why must capitalist firms "grow or die?"
Industrial production has increased fifty fold since 1950. Obviously such
expansion in a finite environment cannot go on indefinitely without
disastrous consequences. Yet, as the quotation above suggests, it is
impossible *in principle* for capitalism to kick its addiction to
growth. It is important to understand why.
Capitalism is based on production for profit. In order to stay
profitable, a firm must be able to produce goods and services cheaply
enough to compete with other firms in the same industry. If one firm
increases its productivity (as all firms must try to do), it will be able
to produce more cheaply, thus undercutting its competition and capturing
more market share, until eventually it forces less profitable firms into
bankruptcy. Moreover, as companies with higher productivity/profitability
expand, they often realise economies of scale (e.g. getting bulk rates on
larger quantities of raw materials), thus giving them even more of a
competitive advantage over less productive/profitable enterprises.
Hence, constantly increasing productivity is essential for survival.
There are two ways to increase productivity, either by increasing the
exploitation of workers (e.g. longer hours and/or more intense work for
the same amount of pay) or by introducing new technologies that reduce
the amount of labour necessary to produce the same product or service.
Due to the struggle of workers to prevent increases in the level of their
exploitation, new technologies are the main way that productivity is
increased under capitalism (though of course capitalists are always
looking for ways to increase the exploitation of workers on a given
technology by other means as well).
But new technologies are expensive, which means that in order to pay for
continuous upgrades, a firm must continually sell *more* of what it
produces, and so must keep expanding its capital (machinery, floor space,
workers, etc.). Indeed, to stay in the same place under capitalism is to
tempt crisis - thus a firm must always strive for more profits and thus
must always expand and invest. In other words, in order to survive, a firm
must constantly expand and upgrade its capital and production levels so it
can sell enough to *keep* expanding and upgrading its capital -- i.e. "grow
or die," or "production for the sake of production."
Thus it is impossible in principle for capitalism to solve the ecological
crisis, because "grow or die" is inherent in its nature:
"To speak of 'limits to growth' under a capitalistic market economy is as
meaningless as to speak of limits of warfare under a warrior society. The
moral pieties, that are voiced today by many well-meaning environmentalists,
are as naive as the moral pieties of multinationals are manipulative.
Capitalism can no more be 'persuaded' to limit growth than a human being
can be 'persuaded' to stop breathing. Attempts to 'green' capitalism, to
make it 'ecological', are doomed by the very nature of the system as a
system of endless growth." [Murray Bookchin, _Remaking Society_,
As long as capitalism exists, it will *necessarily* continue its "endless
devouring of nature," until it removes the "organic preconditions for human
life." For this reason there can be no compromise with capitalism: We must
destroy it before it destroys us. And time is running out.
Capitalists, of course, do not accept this conclusion. Most simply ignore
the evidence or view the situation through rose-coloured spectacles,
maintaining that ecological problems are not as serious as they seem or
that science will find a way to solve them before it's too late. Right
libertarians tend to take this approach, but they also argue that a
genuinely free market capitalism would provide solutions to the ecological
crisis. In section E we will show why these arguments are unsound and why
libertarian socialism is our best hope for preventing ecological
D.5 What causes imperialism?
In a word: power. Imperialism is the process by which one country dominates
another directly, by political means, or indirectly, by economic means.
As we will discuss in the following sections, imperialism has changed over
time, particularly during the last one hundred years (where its forms and
methods have evolved with the evolving needs of capitalism). But even in
the classic days of empire building imperialism was driven by economic
forces. In order to make one's state secure, it had to be based on a
strong economy; and by increasing the area controlled by the state, one
increased the wealth available. Therefore states, by their nature, are
expansionist bodies, with those who run them always wanting to increase
the range of their power and influence. This can be best seen from the
massive number of wars that have occurred in Europe over the last 500
years, as nation-states were created by Kings declaring lands to be their
Here we will focus mainly on modern capitalist imperialism. As
power depends on profits within capitalism, this means that modern
imperialism is caused more by profit and other economic factors than
purely political considerations (although, obviously, this factor does
play a role). As will be seen in section D.5.1, imperialism serves capital
by increasing the pool of profits available for the imperialistic country
in the world market. This is the economic base for imperialism, allowing
the import of cheaper raw materials and goods *and* the export of capital
from capital-rich areas to capital-poor areas (in order to benefit from
lower wages and fewer environmental and social controls and laws). Both
allow profits to be gathered at the expense of the oppressed nation. In
addition, having an empire means that products produced cheaply at home
can be easily dumped into foreign markets with less developed industry,
undercutting locally produced goods and consequently destroying the local
economy along with the society and culture based on it. Empire building
is a good way of creating privileged markets for one's goods.
Since capitalism, by its very nature, is growth-based, it must expand
in order to survive. Hence capitalism is inevitably imperialistic. In
pre-capitalist societies, there is often extensive cultural resistance
to the attempts of foreign capitalists to promote the growth of the
free market. However, "primitive" people's desire to be "left alone" was
rarely respected, and "civilisation" was forced upon them "for their own
good." As Kropotkin realised, "force is necessary to continually bring new
'uncivilised nations' under the same conditions [of wage labour]" [_Anarchism
and Anarchist Communism_, p. 53]
Imperialism has always served the interests of Capital. If it did not, if
imperialism was bad for business, the business class would have opposed it.
This partly explains why the colonialism of the 19th century is no more
(the other reason being social resistance to foreign domination, which
obviously helped to make imperialism bad for business as well). There
are now more cost-effective means than direct colonialism to ensure
that "underdeveloped" countries remain open to exploitation by foreign
capital. Once the costs exceeded the benefits, colonialist imperialism
changed into the neo-colonialism of multinationals, political influence,
and the threat of force (see next section).
As Capital grew in size, its need to expand into foreign markets caused it
to be closely linked with the nation-state. As there were a number of
competing capitalist nations, however, tension and conflict developed
between them for control of non-capitalist areas to exploit. It was this
international competition between developed nations that led to both World
After the Second World War, the European countries yielded to pressure
from the USA and national liberation movements and grated many former
countries "independence" (not, we may add, that the USA was being altruistic
in its actions, independence for colonies weakened its rivals as well
as allowing US capital access to these markets). This process was
accompanied by capital expanding *beyond* the nation-state into
multinational corporations. The nature of imperialism and imperialistic
wars has changed accordingly. Today, instead of direct rule over less
developed nations (which is too costly), indirect forms of domination
are now preferred, with force resorted to only if "business interests"
are threatened. Examples of new-style imperialistic wars include Vietnam,
the US support for the Contras in Nicaragua and the Gulf War. Political
and economic power (e.g. the threat of capital flight or sanctions) is
used to keep markets open for corporations based in the advanced nations,
with military intervention being used only when required.
Needless to say, the Soviet Union also participated in imperialist
adventures, although on a lesser scale and for slightly different reasons.
As can be seen by Russia's ruthless policy towards her satellites,
Russian imperialism was more inclined to the defence of what she already had
and the creation of a buffer zone between herself and the West. Unlike
most Empires, the flow of money was usually out of, not into, the Soviet
Union. The Soviet elite also aided "anti-imperialist" movements when it
served their interests which (along with US pressure which closed off
other options) placed them within the Soviet sphere of influence
Obviously anarchists are opposed to imperialism and imperialistic wars. It
is impossible to be free while dependent on the power of someone else.
If the capital one uses is owned by another country, one is in no position
to resist the demands of that country. To be self-governing, a community
must be economically independent. The centralisation of capital implied by
imperialism means that power rests in the hands of others, not with those
directly affected by the decisions made by that power. Thus capitalism
soon makes a decentralised economy, and so a free society, impossible.
This does not mean that anarchists blindly support national liberation
movements or any form of nationalism. Anarchists oppose nationalism just
as much as they oppose imperialism - neither offer a way to a free society
(see sections D.6 and D.7 for more details)
D.5.1 How has imperialism changed over time?
Imperialism has important economic advantages for those who run the
economy. As the needs of the business class change, the forms taken by
imperialism also change. We can identify three main phases: classical
imperialism (i.e. conquest), indirect (economic) imperialism, and
globalisation. We will consider the first two in this section and
globalisation in section D.5.3. However, for all the talk of globalisation
in recent years, it is important to remember that capitalism has always
been an international system and that the changing forms of imperialism
reflect this international nature and that the changes within imperialism
are in response to developments within capitalism itself.
Direct conquest had the advantage of opening up more of the planet for the
capitalist market, thus leading to more trade and exploitation of raw
materials and labour (and often slavery as well). This gave a massive boost
to both the state and the industries of the invading country in terms of
new profits, so allowing an increase in the number of capitalists and
other social parasites that could exist in the developed nation. As
Kropotkin noted at the time, "British, French, Belgian and other capitalists,
by means of the ease with which they exploit countries which themselves
have no developed industry, today control the labour of hundreds of millions
of those people in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. The result is that the
number of those people in the leading industrialised countries of Europe
who live off the work of others doesn't gradually decrease at all. Far
from it." ["Anarchism and Syndicalism", in _Black Flag_ no. 210, p. 26].
This process of expansion into non-capitalist areas also helps Capital to
weather both the subjective and objective economic pressures upon it which
cause the business cycle (see sections C.7 - "What causes the capitalist
business cycle?" for more on these). As wealth looted from "primitive"
countries is exported back to the home country, profit levels can be
protected both from working-class demands and from any relative decline in
surplus-value production caused by increased capital investment (see
section C.2 for more on surplus value). In fact, imperialism often allowed
the working class of the invading country to receive improved wages and
living conditions as the looted wealth was imported into the country. And
as the sons and daughters of the poor emigrated to the colonies to make a
living for themselves on stolen land, the wealth extracted from those
colonies helped to overcome the reduction in the supply of labour at home
which would increase its market price. This loot also helps reduce
competitive pressures on the nation's economy. Of course, these
advantages of conquest cannot totally *stop* the business cycle nor
eliminate competition, as the imperialistic nations soon discovered.
This first phase of imperialism began as the growing capitalist economy
started to reach the boundaries of the nationalised market created by the
state within its own borders. Imperialism was then used to expand the
area that could be colonised by the capital associated with a given
nation-state. This stage ended, however, once the dominant powers had
carved up the planet into different spheres of influence and there was
nowhere new left to expand. In the competition to increase sales and
access to cheap raw materials and foreign markets, nation-states came into
conflict with each other. As it was obvious that a conflict was brewing,
the major European countries tried to organise a "balance of power."
This meant that armies were built and navies created to frighten other
countries and so deter war. Unfortunately, these measures were not enough
to countermand the economic and power processes at play. War did break
out, a war over empires and influence, a war, it was claimed, that would
end all wars. As we now know, of course, it did not.
After the First World War, the identification of nation-state with national
capital became even more obvious, and can be seen in the rise of extensive
state intervention to keep capitalism going -- for example, the rise of Fascism
in Italy and Germany and the efforts of "national" governments in Britain
and the USA to "solve" the economic crisis of the Great Depression. As
protectionist methods increased and capital growth stagnated, another war
was only a matter of time.
After the Second World War, imperialism changed under the pressure of
various national liberation movements. As Kropotkin realised, such social
movements were to be expected for with the growth of capitalism "the number
of people with an interest in the capitulation of the capitalist state system
also increases." [Peter Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 26] Unfortunately these
"liberation" movements transformed mass struggle from a potential struggle
against capitalism into movements aiming for independent capitalist nation
states. However, these struggles ensured that capitalism had to change itself
in face of popular resistance and the old form of imperialism was replaced by
a new system of "neo-colonialism" in which newly "independent" colonies are
forced, via political and economic pressure, to open their borders to
foreign capital. If a state takes up a position which the imperial powers
consider "bad for business," action will be taken, from sanctions to
outright invasion. Keeping the world open and "free" for capitalist
exploitation has been America's general policy since 1945. It springs
directly from the expansion requirements of private capital and so cannot
Capital investments in developing nations have increased steadily over the
years, with profits from the exploitation of cheap labour flowing back
into the pockets of the corporate elite in the imperialist nation, not to
its citizens as a whole (though there are sometimes temporary benefits to
other classes, as discussed below). In addition, other countries are
"encouraged" to buy imperialist countries' goods (often in exchange for
"aid", typically military "aid") and open their markets to the dominant
power's companies and their products. Imperialism is the only means of
defending the foreign investments of a nation's capitalist class, and by
allowing the extraction of profits and the creation of markets, it also
safeguards the future of private capital.
So, imperialism remains intact, as Western (namely U.S.) governments
continue to provide lavish funds to petty right-wing despots under the
pseudonym, "foreign aid". The express purpose of this foreign aid,
noble-sounding rhetoric about freedom and democracy aside, is to ensure
that the existing world order remains intact. "Stability" has become the
watchword of modern imperialists, who see *any* indigenous popular movements
as a threat to the existing world order.
This is accomplished by channelling public funds to the wealthy business
classes in Third World countries. The U.S. and other Western powers provide
much-needed war material and training for these governments, so that they
may continue to keep the business climate friendly to foreign investors
(that means tacitly and overtly supporting fascism around the globe).
"Foreign aid", basically, is when the poor people of rich countries give
their money to the rich people of poor countries to ensure that the
investments of the rich people of rich countries is safe from the poor
people of poor countries!
(Needless to say, the owners of the companies providing this "aid" also
do very well out of it.)
Thus, the Third World sags beneath the weight of well-funded oppression,
while its countries are sucked dry of their native wealth, in the name of
"development" and in the spirit of "democracy and freedom". The United
States leads the West in its global responsibility (another favourite
buzzword) to ensure that this peculiar kind of "freedom" remains
unchallenged by any indigenous movements. Thus, the fascist regimes
remain compliant and obedient to the West, capitalism thrives
unchallenged, and the plight of people everywhere simply worsens.
And if a regime becomes too "independent", military force always
remains an option (as can be seen from the 1990 Gulf War).
D.5.2 What is the relationship between imperialism and the
social classes within capitalism?
The relationship between the ruling class and imperialism is quite
simple: Due to capital's need to grow, find markets and raw materials,
it seeks to expand abroad (see section D.5). Consequently, it needs an
aggressive and expansionist foreign policy, which it achieves by buying
politicians, initiating media propaganda campaigns, funding right-wing
think tanks, and so on, as previously described. Thus the ruling class
benefits from, and so usually supports, imperialism -- only when the
costs out-weight the benefits will we see members of the elite oppose
it (as in the latter stages of the Vietnam war, for example, when it
was clear that the US was not going to win).
The relationship between the working class and imperialism is more
complex. Foreign trade and the export of capital often make it possible
to import cheap wage goods from abroad and increase profits for the
capitalist class, and in this sense, workers gain because they can improve
their standard of living without necessarily coming into conflict with
their employers. Moreover, capital export and military spending under
imperialistic policies may lead to a higher rate of profit for capitalists
and allow them to temporarily avoid recession, thus keeping employment
higher than would be the case otherwise. So workers benefit in this sense
as well. Therefore, in imperialistic nations during economic boom times,
one finds a tendency among the working class (particularly the
unorganised sector) to support foreign military adventurism and an
aggressive foreign policy. This is part of what is often called the
"embourgeoisment" of the proletariat, or the co-optation of labour by
capitalist ideology and "patriotic" propaganda.
However, as soon as international rivalry between imperialist powers
becomes too intense, capitalists will attempt to maintain their profit
rates by depressing wages and laying people off in their own country.
Workers' real wages will also suffer if military spending goes beyond a
certain point. Moreover, if militarism leads to actual war, the working
class has much more to lose than to gain. In addition, while imperialism
can improve living conditions (for a time), it cannot remove the hierarchical
nature of capitalism and therefore cannot stop the class struggle, the spirit
of revolt and the instinct for freedom. So, while workers may sometimes
benefit from imperialism, such periods cannot last long and "ultimately
the more fundamental and lasting opposition of the working class must come
to the surface. On this, as on other issues, the interest and policies of
capital and labour are fundamentally antagonistic." [Paul Sweezy, _Theory
of Capitalist Development_, p. 316]
Thus Rudolf Rocker was correct to stress the contradictory (and
self-defeating) nature of working class support for imperialism:
"No doubt some small comforts may sometimes fall to the share of the
workers when the bourgeoisie of their country attain some advantage over
that of another country; but this always happens at the cost of their
own freedom and the economic oppression of other peoples. The worker. . .
participates to some extent in the profits which, without effort on
their part, fall into the laps of the bourgeoisie of his country from
the unrestrained exploitation of colonial peoples; but sooner or later
there comes the time when these people too, wake up, and he has to pay all
the more dearly for the small advantages he has enjoyed. . . [Imperialism
means that] the liberation. . . from wage-slavery is pushed further and
further into the distance. As long as the worker ties up his interests
with those of the bourgeoisie of his country instead of with his class,
he must logically also take in his stride all the results of that
relationship. He must stand ready to fight the wars of the possessing
classes for the retention and extension of their markets, and to defend
any injustice they may perpetrate on other people." [_Anarcho-Syndicalism_,
It is difficult to generalise about the effects of imperialism on the
"middle class" (i.e. professionals, self-employed, small business people,
peasants and so on -- *not* middle income groups, who are usually working
class). Some groups within this strata stand to gain, others to lose. This
lack of common interests and a common organisational base makes the middle
class unstable and susceptible to patriotic sloganeering, vague theories of
national or racial superiority, or fascist scapegoating of minorities for
society's problems. For this reason, the ruling class finds it relatively
easy to recruit large sectors of the middle class (as well as unorganised
sectors of the working class) to an aggressive and expansionist foreign
policy, through media propaganda campaigns. Since organised labour tends
to perceive imperialism as being against its overall best interests, and
thus usually opposes it, the ruling class is able to intensify the
hostility of the middle class to the organised working class by portraying
the latter as "unpatriotic" and "unwilling to sacrifice" for the "national
interest." Hence, in general, imperialism tends to produce a tightening
of class lines and increasingly severe social conflict between contending
interest groups, which has a tendency to foster the growth of
authoritarian government (see section D.9).
D.5.3 Does globalisation mean the end of imperialism?
No. While it is true that the size of multinational companies has
increased along with the mobility of capital, the need for nation-states
to serve corporate interests still exists. With the increased mobility
of capital, i.e. its ability to move from one country and invest in
another easily, and with the growth in international money markets, we
have seen what can be called a "free market" in states developing.
Corporations can ensure that governments do as they are told simply by
threatening to move elsewhere (which they will do anyway, if it results
in more profits).
While transnational companies are, perhaps, the most well-known
representatives of this process of globalisation, the power and mobility
of modern capitalism can be seen from the following figures. From 1986 to
1990, foreign exchange transactions rose from under $300 billion to $700
billion daily and were expected to exceed $1.3 trillion in 1994. The World
Bank estimates that the total resources of international financial
institutions at about $14 trillion. To put some kind of perspective on
these figures, the Balse-based Bank for International Settlement estimated
that the aggregate daily turnover in the foreign exchange markets at
nearly $900 billion in April 1992, equal to 13 times the Gross Domestic
Product of the OECD group of countries on an annualised basis [_Financial
Times_, 23/9/93]. In Britain, some $200-300 billion a day flows through
London's foreign exchange markets. This the equivalent of the UK's annual
Gross National Product in two or three days.
Little wonder that a _Financial Times_ special supplement on the IMF
stated that "Wise governments realise that the only intelligent response
to the challenge of globalisation is to make their economies more
acceptable" [Op. Cit.] More acceptable to business, that is, not their
populations. This means that under globalisation, states will compete
with each other to offer the best deals to investors and transnational
companies, such as tax breaks, union busting, no pollution controls, and
so forth. The effects on the countries' ordinary people will be ignored in
the name of future benefits. For example, such an "acceptable" business
climate was created in Britain, where "market forces have deprived workers
of rights in the name of competition" [_Scotland on Sunday_, 9/1/95] and
the number of people with less than half the average income rose from 9%
of the population in 1979 to 25% in 1993. The share of national wealth
held by the poorer half of the population has fallen from one third to one
quarter. However, as would be expected, the number of millionaires has
increased, as has the welfare state for the rich, with the public's tax
money being used to enrich the few via military Keynesianism, privatisation
and funding for Research and Development. Like any religion, the
free-market ideology is marked by the hypocrisy of those at the top and
the sacrifices required from the majority at the bottom.
In addition, the globalisation of capital allows it to play one work force
against another. For example, General Motors plans to close two dozen
plants in the United States and Canada, but it has become the largest
employer in Mexico. Why? Because an "economic miracle" has driven wages
down. Labour's share of personal income in Mexico has "declined from 36
percent in the mid-1970's to 23 percent by 1992." Elsewhere, General
Motors opened a $690 million assembly plant in the former East Germany.
Why? Because there workers are willing to "work longer hours than their
pampered colleagues in western Germany" (as the _Financial Times_ put it)
at 40% of the wage and with few benefits [Noam Chomsky, _World Orders,
Old and New_, p.160]
However, force is always required to protect private capital. Even a
globalised capitalist company still requires a defender. Therefore it
makes sense for corporations to pick and choose between states for the best
protection, blackmailing their citizens to pay for the armed forces via
taxes. For the foreseeable future, America seems to be the rent-a-cop of
choice. Therefore, far from ending imperialism, globalisation will see it
continue, but with one major difference: the citizens in the imperialist
countries will see even fewer benefits from imperialism than before,
while still having to carry the costs.
This is an inherently revolutionary situation, which will "justify" further
intervention in the Third World by the US and other imperialist nations,
either through indirect military aid to client regimes or through outright
invasion, depending on the nature of the "crisis of democracy" (a term used
by the Trilateral Commission to characterise popular uprisings).
In addition, with the advent of a "global market" under GATT, corporations
still need politicians to act for them in creating a "free" market which
best suits their interests. Therefore, by backing powerful states,
corporate elites can increase their bargaining powers and help shape the
"New World Order" in their own image.
To sum up, globalisation will see imperialism change as capitalism
itself changes. The need for imperialism remains, as the interests of
private capital still need to be defended against the dispossessed. All
that changes is that the governments of the imperialistic nations become
even more accountable to capital and even less to their populations.
D.6 Are anarchists against Nationalism?
To begin to answer this question, we must first define what we mean by
nationalism. For many people, it is just the natural attachment to home,
the place one grew up. These feelings, however, obviously do not exist in
a social vacuum. Nationality, as Bakunin noted, is a "natural and social
fact," as "every people and the smallest folk-unit has its own character,
its own specific mode of existence, its own way of speaking, feeling,
thinking, and acting; and it is this idiosyncrasy that constitutes the
essence of nationality." [_The Political Philosophy of Bakunin_, p. 325]
Perhaps it is in the interest of anarchists to distinguish between
*nationality* or *ethnicity* (that is, cultural affinity) and *nationalism*
(confined to the state and government itself) as a better way of defining
what we support and oppose -- nationalism, at root, is destructive and
reactionary, whereas ethnic and cultural affinity is a source of community,
social diversity and vitality.
Such diversity is to be celebrated and allowed to express it itself on its
own terms. Or, as Murray Bookchin puts it, "[t]hat specific peoples should
be free to fully develop their own cultural capacities is not merely a
right but a desideratum. The world would be a drab place indeed if a
magnificent mosaic of different cultures does not replace the largely
decultured and homogenised world created by modern capitalism."
["Nationalism and the 'National Question'", _Society and Nature_,
pp. 8-36, No. 5, pp. 28-29] But, as he also warns, such cultural freedom
and variety should *not* be confused with nationalism. The latter is far
more (and ethically, a lot less) than simple recognition of cultural
uniqueness and love of home. Nationalism is the love of, or the desire to
create, a nation-state. And for this reason anarchists are opposed
to it, in all its forms.
This means that nationalism cannot and must not be confused with
nationality. The later is a product of social processes while the
former to a product of state action and elite rule. Social evolution
cannot be squeezed into the narrow, restricting borders of the nation
state without harming the individuals whose lives *make* that social
development happen in the first place.
The state, as we have seen, is a centralised body invested with power
and a social monopoly of force. As such it pre-empts the autonomy of
localities and peoples, and in the name of the "nation" crushes the
living, breathing reality of "nations" (i.e. peoples and their cultures)
with one law, one culture and one "official" history. Unlike most
nationalists, anarchists recognise that almost all "nations" are in
fact not homogeneous, and so consider nationality to be far wider in
application than just lines on maps, created by conquest. Hence we think
that recreating the centralised state in a slightly smaller area, as
nationalist movements generally advocate, cannot solve what is called
the "national question."
Ultimately, as Rudolf Rocker argues, the "nation is not the cause,
but the result of the state. It is the state that creates the nation,
not the nation the state" [_Nationalism and Culture_, p. 200].
Every state is an artificial mechanism imposed upon society by
some ruler in order to defend and make secure the interests of
privileged minorities within society. Nationalism was created to
reinforce the state by providing it with the loyalty of a people
of shared linguistic, ethnic, and cultural affinities. And if
these shared affinities do not exist, the state will create them
by centralising education in its own hands, imposing an "official"
language and attempting to crush cultural differences from the people's
within its borders.
Hence we see the all too familiar sight of successful "national liberation"
movements replacing foreign oppression with a home-based one. This is
unsurprising as nationalism delivers power to local ruling classes as
it relies on taking state power. As a result, Nationalism can never
deliver freedom to the working class (the vast majority of a given
"nation"). Moreover, nationalism hides class differences within the
"nation" by arguing that all people must unite around their supposedly
common interests (as members of the same "nation"), when in fact they have
nothing in common due to the existence of hierarchies and classes. Its
function is to build a mass support base for local elites angry with
imperialism for blocking their ambitions to rule and exploit "their"
nation and fellow country people:
"[W]e must not forget that we are always dealing with the organised
selfishness of privileged minorities which hide behind the skirts of
the nation, hide behind the credulity of the masses [when discussing
Nationalism]. We speak of national interests, national capital, national
spheres of interest, national honour, and national spirit; but we forget
that behind all this there are hidden merely the selfish interests of
power-loving politicians and money-loving business men for whom the
nation is a convenient cover to hide their personal greed and their
schemes for political power from the eyes of the world." [Rudolf Rocker,
Op. Cit., pp. 252-3]
Moreover, the Nation has effectively replaced God in terms of justifying
injustice and oppression and allowing individuals to wash their hands
of their own actions. For "under cover of the nation everything can be
hid" argues Rocker (echoing Bakunin, we must note). "The national
flag covers every injustice, every unhumanity, every lie, every outrage,
every crime. The collective responsibility of the nation kills the
sense of justice of the individual and brings man to the point where
he overlooks injustice done; where, indeed, it may appear to him a
meritorious act if committed in the interests of the nation." [Op.
Cit., p. 252] (perhaps, in the future, the economy will increasingly
replace the nation just as the nation replaced god as the means of
escaping personal responsibility of our acts? Only time will tell,
but "economic efficiency" has been as commonly used to justify
oppression and exploitation as "reasons of state" and "the national
interest" have been).
Thus anarchists oppose nationalism in all its forms as harmful to
the interests of those who make up a given nation and their cultural
identities. However, anarchists are opposed to all forms of exploitation
and oppression, including imperialism (i.e. a situation of external
domination where the ruling class of one country dominates the people
and territory of another country - see section D.5). While rejecting
Nationalism, anarchists do not necessarily oppose national liberation
struggles against such domination (see section D.7 for details).
However, it goes without saying that national "liberation" movements
that take on notions of racial, cultural or ethnic "superiority" or
"purity" or believe that cultural differences are somehow "rooted"
in biology get no support from anarchists.
D.7 Are anarchists opposed to National Liberation struggles?
While anarchists are opposed to nationalism (see last section), this does
not mean that they are indifferent to national liberation struggles. Quite
the opposite. In the words of Bakunin, "I feel myself always the patriot of
all oppressed fatherlands. . . Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact
which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general
acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that
which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is
not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every
nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to
live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of
the general principal of freedom." [quoted by Alfredo M. Bonanno in
_Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle_, pp. 19-20]
More recently Murray Bookchin has expressed similar sentiments: "No left
libertarian. . . can oppose the *right* of a subjugated people to establish
itself as an autonomous entity -- be it in a [libertarian] confederation.
. . or as a nation-state based in hierarchical and class inequities."
["Nationalism and the 'National Question'", _Society and Nature_,
pp. 8-36, No. 5,, p. 31] Even so, anarchists do not elevate the
idea of national liberation into a mindless article of faith, as much
of the Leninist-influenced left has done this century, calling for
support for the oppressed nation without first inquiring into "what
kind of society a given 'national liberation' movement would likely
produce." To do so, as Bookchin points out, would be to "support national
liberation struggles for instrumental purposes, merely as a means
of 'weakening' imperialism," which leads to "a condition of moral
bankruptcy" as socialist ideas become associated with the authoritarian
and statist goals of the "anti-imperialist" dictatorships in "liberated"
nations. [Ibid., pp. 25-31] "But to oppose an oppressor is not
equivalent to calling for *support* for everything formerly colonised
nation-states do." [Ibid., p. 31]
Thus anarchists oppose foreign oppression and are usually sympathetic
to attempts by those who suffer it to end it. This does not mean that
we necessarily support national liberation movements as such (after all,
they usually desire to create a new state) but we cannot sit back
and watch one nation oppress another and so act to stop that oppression
(by, for example, protesting against the oppressing nation and trying
to get them to change their policies and withdraw from the oppressed
A major problem with national liberation struggles is that they usually
counterpoise the common interests of "the nation" to those of an
oppressor, but assume that *class* is irrelevant. Although nationalist
movements often cut across classes, they still seek to increase autonomy
for certain parts of society while ignoring that of other parts. For
anarchists, a new national state would not bring any fundamental change in
the lives of most people, who would still be powerless both economically
and socially. Looking around the world at all the many nation-states in
existence, we see the same gross disparities in power, influence and
wealth restricting self-determination for working-class people, even if
they are free "nationally." It seems hypocritical for nationalist leaders
to talk of liberating their own nation from imperialism while advocating
the creation of a capitalist nation-state, which will be oppressive to
its own population and, perhaps, eventually become imperialistic itself
as it develops to a certain point and has to seek foreign outlets for
its products and capital in order to continue economic growth and realise
suitable profit levels (as is happening, for example, with South Korea).
In response to national liberation struggles, anarchists stress the
self-liberation of the working class, which can be only achieved by its
members' own efforts, creating and using their own organisations. In
this process there can be no separation of political, social and economic
goals. The struggle against imperialism cannot be separated from the
struggle against capitalism. This has been the approach of most, if
not all, anarchist movements in the face of foreign domination --
the combination of the struggle against foreign domination with the
class struggle against native oppressors. In many different countries
(including Bulgaria, Mexico, Cuba and Korea) anarchists have tried, by
their "propaganda, and above all *action*, [to] encourage the masses to
turn the struggle for political independence into the struggle for the
Social Revolution." [Sam Dolgoff, _The Cuban Revolution - A critical
perspective_, p. 41 - Dolgoff is referring to the Cuban movement here,
but his comments are applicable to most historical -- and current --
Moreover, we should point out that Anarchists in imperialist countries
have also opposed national oppression by both words and deeds. For
example, the prominent Japanese Anarchist Kotoku Shusi was framed
and executed in 1910 after campaigning against Japanese expansionism.
In Italy, the anarchist movement opposed Italian expansionism into Eritrea
and Ethiopia in the 1880s and 1890s, and organised a massive anti-war
movement against the 1911 invasion of Libya. In 1909, the Spanish
Anarchists organised a mass strike against intervention in Morocco.
More recently, anarchists in France struggled against two colonial wars
(in Indochina and Algeria) in the late 50's and early 60's, anarchists
world-wide opposed US aggression in Latin America and Vietnam (without,
we must note, supporting the Cuban and Vietnamese Stalinist regimes),
opposed the Gulf War (during which most anarchists raised the call of
"No war but the class war") as well as opposing Soviet imperialism.
In practise national liberation movements are full of contradictions between
the way the rank and file sees progress being made (and their hopes and
dreams) and the wishes of their ruling class members/leaders. The leadership
will always resolve this conflict in favour of the future ruling class.
Most of the time that makes it possible for individuals members of these
struggles to realise this and break from these politics towards anarchism.
But at times of major conflict this contradiction will become very apparent
and at this stage it's possible that large numbers may break from nationalism
*if* an alternative that addresses their concerns exists. Providing that
anarchist do not compromise our ideals such movements against foreign
domination can be wonderful opportunities to spread our politics, ideals
and ideas -- and to show up the limitations and dangers of nationalism itself
and present a viable alternative.
For anarchists, the key question is whether freedom is for abstract
concepts like "the nation" or for the individuals who make up the
nationality and give it life. Oppression must be fought on all fronts,
within nations and internationally, in order for working-class people to
gain the fruits of freedom. Any national liberation struggle which bases
itself on nationalism is doomed to failure as a movement for extending
human freedom. Thus anarchists "refuse to participate in national liberation
fronts; they participate in class fronts which may or may not be involved
in national liberation struggles. The struggle must spread to establish
economic, political and social structures in the liberated territories,
based on federalist and libertarian organisations." [Alfredo M. Bonanno,
_Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle_, p. 12]
So while anarchists unmask nationalism for what it is, we do not disdain
the basic struggle for identity and self-management which nationalism
diverts. We encourage direct action and the spirit of revolt against all
forms of oppression -- social, economic, political, racial, sexual,
religious and national. By this method, we aim to turn national liberation
struggles into *human* liberation struggles. And while fighting against
oppression, we struggle for anarchy, a free confederation of communes
based on workplace and community assemblies. A confederation which will
place the nation-state, all nation-states, into the dust-bin of history
where it belongs.
And as far as "national" identity within an anarchist society is concerned,
our position is clear and simple. As Bakunin noted with respect to the
Polish struggle for national liberation during the last century,
anarchists, as "adversaries of every State, . . . reject the rights and
frontiers called historic. For us Poland only begins, only truly exists
there where the labouring masses are and want to be Polish, it ends where,
renouncing all particular links with Poland, the masses wish to establish
other national links." [quoted in "Bakunin", Jean Caroline Cahm, in
_Socialism and Nationalism_, volume 1, pp. 22-49, p. 43]
D.8 What causes militarism and what are its effects?
There are two main causes of capitalist militarism. Firstly, there is
the need to contain the domestic enemy - the oppressed and exploited
sections of the population. The other, as noted in the section on
imperialism, is that a strong military is necessary in order for a
ruling class to pursue an aggressive and expansionist foreign policy.
For most developed capitalist nations, this kind of foreign policy
becomes more and more important because of economic forces, i.e. in order
to provide outlets for its goods and to prevent the system from collapsing
by expanding the market continually outward. This outward expansion of,
and so competition between, capital needs military force to protect its
interests (particularly those invested in other countries) and give it
added clout in the economic jungle of the world market.
Capitalist militarism also serves several other purposes and has a number
of effects. First, it promotes the development of a specially favoured group
of companies involved in the production of armaments or armament related
products ("defence" contractors), who have a direct interest in the
maximum expansion of military production. Since this group is particularly
wealthy, it exerts great pressure on government to pursue the type of
state intervention and, often, the aggressive foreign policies it wants.
This "special relationship" between state and Big Business also has the
advantage that it allows the ordinary citizen to pay for industrial
Research and Development. Government subsidies provide an important way
for companies to fund their research and development at taxpayer expense,
which often yields "spin-offs" with great commercial potential as consumer
products (e.g. computers). Needless to say, all the profits go to the
defence contractors and to the commercial companies who buy licences to
patented technologies from them, rather than being shared with the public
which funded the R&D that made the profits possible.
It is necessary to provide some details to indicate the size and impact of
military spending on the US economy:
"Since 1945. . . there have been new industries sparking investment and
employment . . In most of them, basic research and technological progress
were closely linked to the expanding military sector. The major innovation
in the 1950s was electronics . . . [which] increased its output 15 percent
per year. It was of critical importance in workplace automation, with the
federal government providing the bulk of the research and development
(R&D) dollars for military-orientated purposes. Infrared instrumentation,
pressure and temperature measuring equipment, medical electronics, and
thermoelectric energy conversion all benefited from military R&D. By
the 1960s indirect and direct military demand accounted for as much as
70 percent of the total output of the electronics industry. Feedbacks also
developed between electronics and aircraft, the second growth industry of
the 1950s. By 1960 . . . [i]ts annual investment outlays were 5.3 times
larger than their 1947-49 level, and over 90 percent of its output went
to the military. Synthetics (plastics and fibers) was another growth industry
owning much of its development to military-related projects. Throughout the
1950s and 1960s, military-related R&D, including space, accounted for 40
to 50 percent of total public and private R&D spending and at least 85%
of federal government share." [Richard B. Du Boff, _Accumulation and Power_,
Not only this, government spending on road building (initially justified
using defence concerns) also gave a massive boost to private capital
(and, in the process, totally transformed America into a land fit for
car and oil corporations). The cumulative impact of the 1944, 1956 and 1968
Federal Highway Acts "allowed $70 billion to be spent on the interstates
without [the money] passing through the congressional appropriations
board." The 1956 Act "[i]n effect wrote into law the 1932 National
Highway Users Conference strategy of G[eneral] M[otors] chairman
Alfred P. Sloan to channel gasoline and other motor vehicle-related
excise taxes into highway construction." GM also illegally bought-up
and effectively destroyed public transit companies across America, so
reducing competition against private car ownership. The net effect of
this state intervention was that by 1963-66 "one in every six business
enterprise was directly dependent on the manufacture, distribution,
servicing, and the use of motor vehicles." The impact of this process
is still evident today -- both in terms of ecological destruction
and in the fact that automobile and oil companies are still dominate
the top twenty of the Fortune 500. [Op. Cit., p. 102]
This system, which can be called military Keynesianism, has three advantages
over socially-based state intervention. Firstly, unlike social programmes,
military intervention does not improve the situation (and thus, hopes)
of the majority, who can continue to be marginalised by the system,
suffer the discipline of the labour market and feel the threat of
unemployment. Secondly, it acts likes welfare for the rich, ensuring
that while the many are subject to market forces, the few can escape
that fate - while singing the praises of the "free market". And, thirdly,
it does not compete with private capital.
Because of the connection between militarism and imperialism, it was
natural after World War II that America should become the world's leading
military state at the same time that it was becoming the world's leading
economic power, and that strong ties developed between government,
business, and the armed forces. American "military capitalism" is
described in detail below, but the remarks also apply to a number of
other "advanced" capitalist states.
In his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned of the danger posed to
individual liberties and democratic processes by the "military-industrial
complex," which might, he cautioned, seek to keep the economy in a state
of continual war-readiness simply because it is good business. This echoed
the warning which had been made earlier by sociologist C. Wright Mills (in
_The Power Elite_, 1956), who pointed out that since the end of World War
II the military had become enlarged and decisive to the shape of the
entire American economy, and that US capitalism had in fact become a
military capitalism. This situation has not substantially changed since
Mills wrote, for it is still the case that all US military officers have
grown up in the atmosphere of the post-war military-industrial alliance and
have been explicitly educated and trained to carry it on. So, despite
recent cuts in the US defence budget, American capitalism remains
military capitalism, with a huge armaments industry and defence
contractors still among the most powerful of political entities.
D.8.1 Will militarism change with the apparent end of the Cold War?
Many politicians seemed to think so in the early nineties, asserting that a
"peace dividend" was at hand. Since the Gulf War, however, Americans have
heard little more about it. Although it's true that some fat was trimmed
from the defence budget, both economic and political pressures have tended
to keep the basic military-industrial complex intact, insuring a state of
global war-readiness and continuing production of ever more advanced
weapons systems into the foreseeable future.
Since it's having more and more trouble dominating the world economically,
America now claims superpower status largely on the basis of its military
superiority. Therefore the US won't be likely to renounce this
superiority willingly-- especially since the prospect of recapturing world
economic superiority appears to depend in part on her ability to bully
other nations into granting economic concessions and privileges, as in the
past. Hence the US public is being bombarded with propaganda designed to
show that an ongoing US military presence is necessary in every corner of
For example, after the Gulf War the draft of a government White Paper was
released in which it was argued that the US must maintain its status as
the world's strongest military power and not hesitate to act unilaterally
if UN approval for future military actions is not forthcoming. Although
then President Bush, under election-year political pressures, denied that
he personally held such views, the document reflected the thinking of
powerful authoritarian forces in government -- thinking that has a way of
becoming public policy through secret National Security Directives (see
section D.9.2, "Invisible government").
For these reasons it would not be wise to bet on a deep and sustained
American demilitarisation. It is true that troop strength is being cut
back in response to Soviet withdrawals from Eastern Europe; but these
cutbacks are also prompted by the development of automated weapons systems
which reduce the number of soldiers needed to win battles, as demonstrated
in the Persian Gulf.
Although there may appear to be no urgent need for huge military budgets
now that the Soviet threat is gone, the US has found it impossible to kick
its forty-year addiction to militarism. As Noam Chomsky points out in
many of his works, the "Pentagon System," in which the public is forced
to subsidise research and development of high tech industry through subsidies
to defence contractors, is a covert substitute in the US for the overt
industrial planning policies of other "advanced" capitalist nations, like
Germany and Japan. US defence businesses, which are among the biggest
lobbyists, cannot afford to lose this "corporate welfare." Moreover,
continued corporate downsizing and high levels of unemployment will
produce strong pressure to maintain defence industries simply in order to
keep people working.
Despite some recent modest trimming of defence budgets, the demands of US
military capitalism still take priority over the needs of the people. For
example, Holly Sklar points out that Washington, Detroit, and Philadelphia
have higher infant death rates than Jamaica or Costa Rica and that Black
America as a whole has a higher infant mortality rate than Nigeria; yet
the US still spends less public funds on education than on the military,
and more on military bands than on the National Endowment for the Arts
["Brave New World Order," in Cynthia Peters, ed., _Collateral Damage_,
1992, pp. 3-46]. But of course, politicians continue to maintain that
education and social services must be cut back even further because there
is "no money" to fund them.
A serious problem at this point, however, is that the collapse of the
Soviet Union leaves the Pentagon in desperate need of a sufficiently
dangerous and demonic enemy to justify continued military spending in the
style to which it's accustomed. Saddam Hussein was temporarily helpful,
but he's not enough of a menace to warrant the robust defence budgets of
yore now that his military machine has been smashed. There are some
indications, however, that the US government has its sights on Iran.
The main point in favour of targeting Iran is that the American public
still craves revenge for the 1979 hostage humiliation, the Lebanon
bombing, the Iran-Contra scandal, and other outrages, and can thus be
relied on to support a war of retribution. Hence it would not be
surprising to hear much more in the future about a possible Iranian
nuclear threat and about the dangers of Iranian influence in the Moslem
republics of the ex-Soviet empire.
In the wake of the Persian Gulf War, the United States has quietly been
building a network of defence alliances reminiscent of the Eisenhower years
after World War II, so that America may now be called upon to police
disturbances all over the Arab World. Sending troops to Somalia appears
to have been designed to help accustom Americans to such a role.
Besides Iran, unfriendly regimes in North Korea, Cuba, and Libya, as well
as communist guerrilla groups in various South American nations, also hold
great promise as future testing grounds for new weapons systems. And of
course there is the recent troop deployments to Haiti and Bosnia, which
provide the Pentagon with more arguments for continued high levels of
defence spending. In a nutshell, then, the trend toward increasing
militarism is not likely to be checked by the present military
"downsizing," which will merely produce a leaner and more efficient
D.9 What is the relationship between wealth polarisation and
We have previously noted the recent increase in the rate of wealth
polarisation, with its erosion of working-class living standards. This
process has been referred to by Noam Chomsky as "Third-Worldisation." It
is appearing in a particularly acute form in the US -- the "richest"
industrialised nation which also has the highest level of poverty, since it
is the most polarised -- but the process can be seen in other "advanced"
industrial nations as well, particularly in the UK.
Third World governments are typically authoritarian, since harsh measures
are required to suppress rebellions among their impoverished and
discontented masses. Hence "Third-Worldisation" implies not only economic
polarisation but also increasingly authoritarian governments. As Philip
Slater puts it, a large, educated, and alert "middle class" (i.e. average
income earners) has always been the backbone of democracy, and anything
that concentrates wealth tends to weaken democratic institutions [_A Dream
Deferred_, p. 68].
If this is true, then along with increasing wealth polarisation in the US
we should expect to see signs of growing authoritarianism. This
hypothesis is confirmed by numerous facts, including the following:
continuing growth of an "imperial presidency" (concentration of political
power); extralegal operations by the executive branch (e.g. the
Iran-Contra scandal, the Grenada and Panama invasions); skyrocketing
incarceration rates; more official secrecy and censorship; the rise of the
Far Right; more police and prisons; FBI requests for massive wiretapping
capability; and so on. Public support for draconian measures to deal with
crime reflect the increasingly authoritarian mood of citizens beginning to
panic in the face of an ongoing social breakdown, which has been brought
about, quite simply, by ruling-class greed that has gotten out of hand --
a fact that is carefully obscured by the media.
One might think that representative democracy and constitutionally
guaranteed freedoms would make an authoritarian government impossible in
the United States and other liberal democratic nations with similar
constitutional "protections" for civil rights. In reality, however, the
declaration of a "national emergency" would allow the central government
to ignore constitutional guarantees with impunity and set up what Hannah
Arendt calls "invisible government" -- mechanisms allowing an
administration to circumvent constitutional structures while leaving
them nominally in place (see section D.9.2).
In this regard it is important to remember that the Nazis created a
"shadow government" in Germany even as the "democratic" Weimar
constitution continued to operate in theory. Hitler at first implemented
his programmes through the constitution, using existing government agencies
and departments. Later he set up Nazi Party bureaus that duplicated the
functions of the Weimar government, allowing the latter to remain in place
but without power, while the Nazi bureaus (especially the SS, and of
course Hitler himself) held the actual power. The Communist Party in
Russia created a similar invisible government after the Bolshevik
revolution, leaving the revolutionary constitution as well as the
government bureaucracy in place while Communist Party agencies and the
General Secretary wielded the real power [See Marilyn French, _Beyond
Power_, p. 349].
If the drift toward social breakdown continues in the "advanced"
industrial nations, it's not difficult to conceive of voters electing
overtly authoritarian, right-wing administrations campaigning on
"law-and-order" platforms. In the face of widespread rioting, looting,
and mayhem (especially if it spilled over from the ghettos and threatened
the suburbs), reactionary hysteria could propel authoritarian types into
both the executive and legislative branches of government. The "middle
classes" (i.e. professionals, small business people and so on) would then
support charismatic martial-style leaders who promised to restore law and
order, particularly if they were men with impressive military or police
Once elected, and with the support of willing legislatures and courts,
authoritarian administrations could easily create much more extensive
mechanisms of invisible government than already exist, giving the
executive branch virtually dictatorial powers. Such administrations could
also vastly increase government control of the media, implement martial
law, escalate foreign militarism, further expand the funding and scope of
the police, national guard units, secret police and foreign intelligence
agencies, and authorise more widespread surveillance of citizens as
well as the infiltration of dissident political groups. Random searches
and seizures, curfews, government control of all organised meetings,
harassment or outright banning of groups that disagreed with or attempted
to block government policies, and the imprisonment of political dissidents
and others judged to be dangerous to "national security" would then become
These developments would not occur all at once, but so gradually,
imperceptibly, and logically -- given the need to maintain "law and order"
-- that most people would not even be aware that an authoritarian take-over
was underway. Indeed, it is already underway in the US (see Bertram
Gross, _Friendly Fascism_, South End Press, 1989).
In the following subsections we will examine some of the symptoms of
growing authoritarianism listed above, again referring primarily to the
example of the United States. We are including these sections in the FAQ
because the disturbing trends canvassed here give the anarchist programme of
social reconstruction more urgency than would otherwise be the case. For
if radical and dissident groups are muzzled -- as always happens under
authoritarian rule -- that programme will be much more difficult to achieve.
D.9.1 Why does political power become concentrated under capitalism?
Under capitalism, political power tends to become concentrated in the
executive branch of government, along with a corresponding decline in the
effectiveness of parliamentary institutions. As Paul Sweezy points out,
parliaments grew out of the struggle of capitalists against the power of
centralised monarchies during the early modern period, and hence the
function of parliaments has always been to check and control the exercise
of executive power. For this reason, "parliaments flourished and reached
the peak of their prestige in the period of competitive capitalism when
the functions of the state, particularly in the economic sphere, were
reduced to a minimum." [_Theory of Capitalist Development_, p. 310]
As capitalism develops, however, the ruling class must seek to expand its
capital through foreign investments, which leads to imperialism, which in
turn leads to a tightening of class lines and increasingly severe social
conflict, as we have seen earlier (see section D.5.2). As this happens,
legislatures become battlegrounds of contending parties, divided by
divergent class and group interests, which reduces their capacity for
positive action. And at the same time, the ruling class increasingly
needs a strong centralised state that can protect its interests in
foreign countries as well as solve difficult and complex economic
problems. "Under the circumstances, parliament is forced to give up
one after another of its cherished prerogatives and to see built up
under its very eyes the kind of centralised and uncontrolled authority
against which, in its youth, it had fought so hard and so well."
[Ibid., p. 319]
This process can be seen clearly in the history of the United States.
Since World War II, power has become centralised in the hands of the
president to such an extent that scholars now refer to an "imperial
presidency," following Arthur Schlesinger's 1973 book of that title.
Contemporary US presidents' appropriation of congressional authority,
especially in matters relating to national security, has paralleled the
rise of the United States as the world's strongest and most imperialistic
military power. In the increasingly dangerous and interdependent world
of the 20th century, the perceived need for a leader who can act quickly
and decisively, without possibly disastrous obstruction by Congress, has
provided an impetus for ever greater concentration of power in the
This concentration has taken place in both foreign and domestic policy,
but it has been catalysed above all by a series of foreign policy
decisions in which modern US presidents have seized the most vital of all
government powers, the power to make war. And as they have continued to
commit troops to war without congressional authorisation or public debate,
their unilateral policy-making has spilled over into domestic affairs as well.
In the atmosphere of omnipresent crisis that developed in the fifties, the
United States appointed itself guardian of the "free world" against the
Red Menace. This placed unprecedented military resources under the control
of the President. At the same time, the Eisenhower Administration
established a system of pacts and treaties with nations all over the
globe, making it difficult for Congress to limit the President's
deployment of troops according to the requirements of treaty obligations
and national security, both of which were left to presidential judgement.
The CIA, a secretive agency accountable to Congress only after the fact,
was made the primary instrument of US intervention in the internal affairs
of other nations for national security reasons.
With President Johnson's massive deployment of troops to Vietnam, the
scope of presidential war-making power took a giant leap forward. Unlike
Truman's earlier decision to commit troops in Korea without prior
congressional approval, the UN had not issued any resolutions to
legitimate US involvement in Vietnam. In justifying the President's
decision, the State Department implied that in the interdependent world of
the twentieth century, warfare anywhere on the globe could constitute an
attack on the United States which might require immediate response, and
hence that the Commander-in-Chief was authorised to take "defensive" war
measures without congressional approval or UN authorisation.
Following Vietnam, the presidency was further strengthened by the creation
of an all-volunteer military, which is less subject to rebellions in the
face of popular opposition to a foreign war than a conscripted force.
With their control over the armed forces more secure, presidents since
Nixon have been liberated for a much wider range of foreign adventures.
The collapse of the Soviet military threat now makes it easier than ever
for the President to pursue military options in striving to achieve
foreign policy objectives, as the Persian Gulf conflict clearly showed.
United States involvement there would have been much more difficult during
the Cold War, with the Soviet Union supporting Iraq.
It is sometimes argued that Watergate fatally weakened the power of the US
presidency, but this is not actually the case. Michael Lind lists
several reasons why [in "The Case for Congressional Power: the
Out-of-Control Presidency," _The New Republic_, Aug. 14, 1995]. First,
the President can still wage war at will, without consulting Congress.
Second, thanks to precedents set by Bush and Clinton, important economic
treaties (like GATT and NAFTA) can be rammed through Congress as
"fast-track" legislation, which limits the time allowed for debate and
forbids amendments. Third, thanks to Jimmy Carter, who reformed the
Senior Executive Service to give the White House more control over career
bureaucrats, and Ronald Reagan, who politicised the upper levels of the
executive branch to an unprecedented degree, presidents can now pack
government with their spoilsmen and reward partisan bureaucrats. Fourth,
thanks to George Bush, presidents now have a powerful new technique to
enhance presidential prerogatives and erode the intent of Congress even
further -- namely, signing laws while announcing that they will not obey
them. Fifth, thanks also to Bush, yet another new instrument of arbitrary
presidential power has been created: the "tsar," a presidential appointee
with vague, sweeping charges that overlap with or supersede the powers of
As Lind also points out, the White House staff that has ballooned since
World War II seems close to becoming an extra-constitutional "fourth
branch" of government The creation of presidential "tsars" whose powers
overlap or supersede those of department heads is reminiscent of the
creation of shadow governments by Hitler and Stalin (see also section
D.9.2 - What is "Invisible government"?).
Besides the reasons noted above, another cause of increasing political
centralisation under capitalism is that industrialisation forces masses of
people into alienated wage slavery, breaking their bonds to other people,
to the land, and to tradition, which in turn encourages strong central
governments to assume the role of surrogate parent and to provide
direction for their citizens in political, intellectual, moral, and even
spiritual matters [see Hannah Arendt, _The Origins of Totalitarianism_,
1968]. And as Marilyn French emphasises [in _Beyond Power_], the growing
concentration of political power in the capitalist state can also be
attributed to the form of the corporation, which is a microcosm of the
authoritarian state, since it is based on centralised authority,
bureaucratic hierarchy, antidemocratic controls, and lack of individual
initiative and autonomy. Thus the millions of people who work for large
corporations tend automatically to develop the psychological traits
needed to survive and "succeed" under authoritarian rule: notably,
obedience, conformity, efficiency, subservience, and fear of responsibility.
The political system naturally tends to reflect the psychological conditions
created at the workplace, where most people spend about half their time.
Reviewing such trends, Ralph Miliband concludes that "[h]owever strident
the rhetoric of democracy and popular sovereignty may be, and despite the
'populist' overtones which politics must now incorporate, the trend is
toward the ever-greater appropriation of power at the top" [_Divided
Societies_, Oxford, 1989].
D.9.2. What is "invisible government"?
We've already briefly noted the phenomenon of "invisible government" or
"shadow government" (see section D.9), which occurs when an administration
is able to bypass or weaken official government agencies or institutions
to implement policies that are not officially permitted. In the US, the
Reagan Administration's Iran-Contra affair is an example. During that
episode the National Security Council, an arm of the executive branch,
secretly funded the Contras, a mercenary counterinsurgency force in
Central America, in direct violation of the Boland Amendment which
Congress had passed for the specific purpose of prohibiting such funding.
The fact that investigators could not prove the President's authorisation
or even knowledge of the operation is a tribute to the presidential
"deniability" its planners took care to build into it.
Other recent cases of invisible government in the United States involve
the weakening of official government agencies to the point where they can
no longer effectively carry out their mandate. Reagan's tenure in the
White House again provides a number of examples. The Environmental
Protection Agency, for instance, was for all practical purposes
neutralised when employees dedicated to genuine environmental protection
were removed and replaced with people loyal to corporate polluters.
Evidence suggests that the Department of the Interior under
Reagan-appointee James Watt was similarly co-opted. Such detours around
the law are deliberate policy tools that allow presidents to exercise much
more actual power than they appear to have on paper.
One of the most potent methods of invisible government in the US is the
President's authority to determine foreign and domestic policy through
National Security Directives that are kept secret from Congress and the
American people. Such NSDs cover a virtually unlimited field of actions,
shaping policy that may be radically different from what is stated
publicly by the White House and involving such matters as interference
with First Amendment rights, initiation of activities that could lead to
war, escalation of military conflicts, and even the commitment of billions
of dollars in loan guarantees -- all without congressional approval or
According to congressional researchers, past administrations have used
national security orders to intensify the war in Vietnam, send US
commandos to Africa, and bribe foreign governments. The Reagan
Administration wrote more than 320 secret directives on everything from
the future of Micronesia to ways to keep the government running after a
nuclear holocaust. Jeffrey Richelson, a leading scholar on US
intelligence, says that the Bush Administration had written more than 100
NSDs as of early 1992 on subjects ranging from the drug wars to nuclear
weaponry to support for guerrillas in Afghanistan to politicians in
Panama. Although the subjects of such orders have been discovered by
diligent reporters and researchers, none of the texts has been
declassified or released to Congress. Indeed, the Bush Administration
consistently refused to release even *un*classified NSDs!
On October 31, 1989, nine months before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait,
President Bush signed NSD-26, ordering US agencies to expand political and
economic ties with Iraq, giving Iraq access to US financial aid involving
a billion-dollar loan guarantee as well as military technology and
foodstuffs later sold for cash. Members of Congress, concerned that
policy decisions involving billion-dollar commitments of funds should be
made jointly with the legislature, dispatched investigators in 1991 to
obtain a list of the secret directives. The White House refused to
co-operate, ordering the directives kept secret "because they deal with
national security." Iraq's default on the loans it obtained through
NSD-26 means that American taxpayers are footing the billion-dollar
The underlying authoritarianism of politicians is often belied by their
words. For instance, even as Reagan claimed to favour diminished
centralisation he was calling for a radical increase in his control of the
budget and for extended CIA activities inside the country -- with less
congressional surveillance -- both of which served to increase centralised
power [Tom Farrer, "The Making of Reaganism," New York Review of Books,
Jan 21, 1982, cited in Marilyn French, _Beyond Power_, p. 346]. President
Clinton's recent use of an Executive Order to bail out Mexico from its
debt crisis after Congress failed to appropriate the money falls right
into the authoritarian tradition of running the country by fiat.
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation to emerge from the Iran-Contra
affair was the Reagan administration's contingency plan for imposing
martial law. Alfonso Chardy, a reporter for the _Miami Herald_, revealed
in July 1987 that Lt. Col. Oliver North, while serving on the National
Security Council's staff, had worked with the Federal Emergency Management
Agency on a plan to suspend the Bill of Rights by imposing martial law in
the event of "national opposition to a US military invasion abroad."
This martial law directive was still in effect in 1988 [ Richard O. Curry,
ed., _Freedom at Risk: Secrecy, Censorship, and Repression in the
1980s_, Temple University Press, 1988].
Former US Attorney General Edwin Meese declared that the single most
important factor in implementing martial law would be "advance
intelligence gathering to facilitate internment of the leaders of civil
disturbances" [Ibid., p. 28}. As discussed in B.16.5, during the 1980s
the FBI greatly increased its surveillance of individuals and groups
judged to be potentially "subversive," thus providing the Administration
with a convenient list of people who would be subject to immediate
internment during civil disturbances. The Omnibus Counter-terrorism Bill
now being debated in the US Congress would give the President virtually
dictatorial powers, by allowing him to imprison and bankrupt dissidents by
declaring their organisations "terrorist."
D.9.3 Why are incarceration rates rising?
A large prison population is another characteristic of authoritarian
regimes. Hence the burgeoning US incarceration rate during the past decade,
coupled with the recent rapid growth of the prison "industry" must be
regarded as further evidence of a drift toward authoritarian government,
as one would expect given the phenomenon of "Third-Worldisation."
Prison inmates in the US are predominantly poor, and the sentences handed
out to people without social prestige or the resources to defend
themselves are much harsher than those received by people with higher
incomes who are charged with the same crimes. Federal Bureau of Justice
Statistics show that the median incomes of male prisoners before
sentencing is about one-third that of the general population. Median
incomes of inmates are even lower if the relatively few (and
more-affluent) white-collar criminals are not included in the
Since the poor are disproportionately from minorities, the prison
population is also disproportionately minority. By 1992, the American
authorities were imprisoning black men at a rate five times higher than
the old apartheid regime had done at its worst in South Africa, and there
were more prisoners of Mexican descent in the US than in all of Mexico
[Phil Wilayto, "Prisons and Capitalist Restructuring," _Workers' World_,
January 15, 1995].
Michael Specter reports that more than 90 percent of all the offences committed
by prison inmates are crimes against property ["Community Corrections," _The
Nation_, March 13, 1982]. In an era where the richest one percent of the
population owns more property than the bottom 90 percent combined, it's
hardly a surprise that those at the very bottom should try to recoup illegally
some of the maldistributed wealth they are unable to obtain legally.
In the 1980s the United States created mandatory sentences for dozens of
drug offences, expanded capital punishment, and greatly increased the
powers of police and prosecutors. The result was a doubling of the
prison population from 1985 to 1994, according to a report recently issued
by the US Department of Justice. Yet the overall crime rate in the U.S.
has remained almost constant during the past twenty years, according to
the same report. Indeed, the rate dropped 15 percent from 1980 to 1984, yet
the number of prisoners increased 43 percent during that same period.
The crime rate then increased by 14 percent from 1985 to 1989, while the
number of prisoners grew by 52 percent.
Although the growth of the US prison population has been swollen out of
proportion to the crime rate by new drug sentencing laws, drug use has
not decreased. Repressive measures are clearly not working, as anyone
can see, yet they're still favoured over social programmes, which continue to
be scaled back. For example, a recently passed crime law in the US
commits billions of dollars for more police and prisons, while at the same
time the new Republican Congress eliminates family planning clinics,
school lunch programmes, summer youth jobs programmes, etc. Prison
construction has become a high-growth industry, one of the few "bright"
spots in the American economy, attracting much investment by Wall Street
D.9.4 Why is government secrecy and surveillance of citizens on the increase?
Authoritarian governments are characterised by fully developed secret
police forces, extensive government surveillance of civilians, a high
level of official secrecy and censorship, and an elaborate system of state
coercion to intimidate and silence dissenters. All of these phenomena
have existed in the US for at least eighty years, but since World War II
they have taken more extreme forms, especially during the 1980s. In this
section we will examine the operations of the secret police.
The creation of an elaborate US "national security" apparatus has come
about gradually since 1945 through congressional enactments, numerous
executive orders and national security directives, and a series of Supreme
Court decisions that have eroded First Amendment rights. The policies of
the Reagan administration, however, reflected radical departures from the
past, as revealed not only by their comprehensive scope but by their
institutionalisation of secrecy, censorship, and repression in ways that
will be difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate. As Richard Curry
points out, the Reagan administration's success stems "from major
structural and technological changes that have occurred in American
society during the twentieth century -- especially the emergence of the
modern bureaucratic State and the invention of sophisticated electronic
devices that make surveillance possible in new and insidious ways."
[Curry, Op. Cit., p. 4]
The FBI has used "countersubversive" surveillance techniques and kept
lists of people and groups judged to be potential national security
threats since the days of the Red Scare in the 1920s. Such activities
were expanded in the late 1930s when Franklin Roosevelt instructed the FBI
to gather information about Fascist and Communist activities in the US and
to conduct investigations into possible espionage and sabotage. FBI chief
J. Edgar Hoover interpreted these directives as authorising open-ended
inquiries into a very broad category of potential "subversives"; and by
repeatedly misinforming a succession of careless or indifferent presidents
and attorneys general about the precise scope of Roosevelt's directives,
Hoover managed for more than 30 years to elicit tacit executive approval
for continuous FBI investigations into an ever-expanding class of
political dissidents [Geoffrey R. Stone, "The Reagan Administration, the
First Amendment, and FBI Domestic Security Investigations," in Curry,
The advent of the Cold War, ongoing conflicts with the Soviet Union, and
fears of the "international Communist conspiracy" provided justification
not only for covert CIA operations and American military intervention in
countries all over the globe, but also contributed to the FBI's rationale
for expanding its domestic surveillance activities.
Thus in 1957, without authorisation from Congress or any president,
Hoover launched a highly secret operation called COINTELPRO:
"From 1957 to 1974, the bureau opened investigative files on more than
half a million 'subversive' Americans. In the course of these investigations,
the bureau, in the name of 'national security,' engaged in widespread
wire-tapping, bugging, mail-openings, and break-ins. Even more insidious
was the bureau's extensive use of informers and undercover operative to
infiltrate and report on the activities and membership of 'subversive'
political associations ranging from the Socialist Workers Party to the
NAACP to the Medical Committee for Human Rights to a Milwaukee Boy Scout
troop." [Stone, Ibid., p. 274].
But COINTELPRO involved much more than just investigation and
surveillance. It was used to discredit, weaken, and ultimately destroy the
New Left and Black radical movements of the sixties and early seventies,
i.e. to silence the major sources of political dissent and opposition.
The FBI fomented violence through the use of agents provocateurs and destroyed
the credibility of movement leaders by framing them, bringing false
charges against them, distributing offensive materials published in their
name, spreading false rumours, sabotaging equipment, stealing money, and
other dirty tricks. By such means the Bureau exacerbated internal
frictions within movements, turning members against each other as
well as other groups.
Government documents show the FBI and police involved in creating
acrimonious disputes which ultimately led to the break-up of such groups
as Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panther Party, and the
Liberation News Service. The Bureau also played a part in the failure of
such groups to form alliances across racial, class, and regional lines.
The FBI is implicated in the assassination of Malcolm X, who was killed in
a "factional dispute" that the Bureau bragged of having "developed" in the
Nation of Islam, and of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was the target of an
elaborate FBI plot to drive him to suicide before he was conveniently
killed by a sniper. Other radicals were portrayed as criminals,
adulterers, or government agents, while still others were murdered in
phoney "shoot-outs" where the only shooting was done by the police.
These activities finally came to public attention because of the Watergate
investigations, congressional hearings, and information obtained under the
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In response to the revelations of FBI
abuse, Attorney General Edward Levi in 1976 set forth a set of public
guidelines governing the initiation and scope of the bureau's domestic
security investigations, severely restricting its ability to investigate
The Levi guidelines, however, proved to be only a temporary reversal of
the trend. Although throughout his presidency Ronald Reagan professed to
be against the increase of state power in regard to domestic policy, he in
fact expanded the power of the national bureaucracy for "national
security" purposes in systematic and unprecedented ways. One of the most
significant of these was his immediate elimination of the safeguards
against FBI abuse that the Levi guidelines had been designed to prevent.
This was accomplished through two interrelated executive branch
initiatives: Executive Order 12333, issued in 1981, and Attorney General
William French Smith's guidelines, which replaced Levi's in 1983.
The Smith guidelines permitted the FBI to launch domestic security
investigations if the facts "reasonably indicated" that groups or
individuals were involved in criminal activity. More importantly,
however, the new guidelines also authorised the FBI to "anticipate or
prevent crime." As a result, the FBI could now investigate groups or
individuals whose statements "advocated" criminal activity or indicated an
*apparent intent* to engage in crime, particularly crimes of violence.
As Curry notes, the language of the Smith guidelines provided FBI
officials with sufficient interpretative latitude to investigate virtually
any group or individual it chose to target, including political activists
who opposed the administration's foreign policy. Not surprisingly, under
the new guidelines the Bureau immediately began investigating a wide
variety of political dissidents, quickly making up for the time it had
lost since 1976. Congressional sources show that in 1985 alone the FBI
conducted 96 investigations of groups and individuals opposed to the
Reagan Administration's Central American policies, including religious
organisations who expressed solidarity with Central American refugees.
The Smith guidelines only allowed the Bureau to investigate dissidents.
Now, however, there is a far greater threat to the US Bill of Rights
waiting in the wings: the so-called Omnibus Counter-Terrorism Bill. If
passed, this bill would allow the President, on his own initiative and by
his own definition, to declare any person or organisation "terrorist."
Section 301(c)6 states that these presidential rulings will be considered
as conclusive and cannot be appealed in court. The Attorney General would
also be handed new enforcement powers, e.g. suspects would be considered
guilty unless proven innocent, and the source or nature of the
evidence brought against suspects would not have to be revealed if the
Justice Department claimed a "national security" interest in suppressing
such facts, as of course it would. Suspects could also be held without
bail and deported for any reason if they were visiting aliens. Resident
aliens would be entitled to a hearing, but could nevertheless be deported
even if no crime were proven! US citizens could be put in jail for up to
ten years and pay a $250,000 fine if declared guilty.
An equally scary provision of the Counter-Terrorism Bill is Section 603,
which subsumes all "terrorist" crimes under the RICO (Racketeer-Influenced
Criminal Organisation) civil asset forfeiture statutes. Thus anyone
merely accused of "interfering" or "impeding" or "threatening" a current
or former federal employee could have all their property seized under
"conspiracy to commit terrorism" charges. Some in Congress now want to
designate all local gun-related charges as federal terrorist crimes.
Obviously the Counter-Terrorism Bill would simply add to the abuses that
are already widespread in drug cases under the seizure and forfeiture laws.
This is hardly surprising, since Federal and state agencies and local
police are encouraged to make seizures and get to keep the property for
their own use, and since anonymous informants who make charges leading to
seizures are entitled to part of the property seized.
If this bill passes, it is certain to be used against the Left, as
COINTELPRO was in the past. For it will greatly increase the size and
funding of the FBI and give it the power to engage in "anti-terrorist"
activities all over the country, without judicial oversight. The mind
reels at the ability this bill would give the government to suppress
dissidents or critics of capitalism, who have historically been the
favourite targets of FBI abuses. For example, if an agent provocateur
were to bring an illegal stick of dynamite to a peaceful meeting of
philosophical anarchists, he could later report everyone at the meeting to
the government on charges of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act. The
agent could even blow something up with the dynamite and claim that other
members knew of the plan. Everyone in the group could then have all their
property seized and be jailed for up to ten years!
Even if the Counter-Terrorism Bill doesn't pass in its present form, the
fact that a draconian measure like this is even being considered says
volumes about the direction in which the US -- and by implication the
other "advanced" capitalist states -- are headed.
D.9.5 But doesn't authoritarian government always involve censorship?
Yes. And central governments have been quietly increasing their power
over the media for the past several decades. Monopolistic control of mass
communications may not be readily evident in nominally democratic
societies, where there seem to be many different sources of information.
Yet on closer inspection it turns out that virtually all the major media
-- those that reach the vast majority of people -- promulgate essentially
the same neocapitalist world view. This is because the so-called "free"
press is owned by a handful of capitalistic media conglomerates. Such
uniformity insures that any facts, concepts, or opinions that clash with
or tend to discredit the fundamental principles of that world view are
unlikely to reach a wide audience (see section D.3).
There are numerous ties between government, news magazines, and
newspapers. Corporate interests dominate television and radio; and for
reasons described earlier, the interests of major corporations largely
coincide with those of the government. The tendency in recent
years has been toward the absorption of small independent print media,
especially newspapers, by conglomerates that derive their major profits
from such industries as steel, oil, and telephone equipment. As Marilyn
French notes, the effect of these conglomerates' control "is to warn
communications media away from anything that might be disturbing, and
toward a bland, best-of-all-possible-worlds point of view. Although
people have a wide range of reading and viewing material to choose from,
the majority of it offers the same kinds of distraction -- fads and
fashions, surface glitter -- or tranquillisation: all problems are
solvable, no serious injustice or evil is permitted to continue" [French,
Op. Cit., p. 350]. In other words, people are granted ever-increasing
access to an ever-decreasing range of "acceptable" ideas.
These trends represent an unofficial and unsystematic form of censorship.
In the United States, however, the federal government has been extending
official and systematic forms of censorship as well. Again, the Reagan
Administration proceeded furthest in this regard. In 1983 alone, more
than 28,000 speeches, articles, and books written by government employees
were submitted to government censors for clearance. The Reagan government
even set a precedent for restricting information that is not classified.
This it accomplished by passing laws requiring all government employees
with security clearances to sign Standard Form 189, which allows them to
be prosecuted for divulging not only classified information but that which
is "nonclassified but classifiable." The latter is a deliberately vague,
Catch-22 category that has sufficient interpretative latitude to allow for
the harassment of most would-be whistle-blowers [Curry, Op. Cit.].
The United States Information Agency (USIA), which sends scholars overseas
as part of its AMPARTS programme of educational and cultural exchanges, has
attempted to screen the political opinions of scholars it selects for
foreign speaking engagements. In 1983 the House Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on International Operations criticised USIA officials for
"violating the letter and spirit of its charter" in choosing its AMPARTS
speakers on the basis of "partisan political ideology."
In early 1984 the USIA's policies became a national scandal when the
_Washington Post_ revealed that since late 1981 the USIA had been
compiling a blacklist containing not only the names of prominent academics
but of national figures, including Coretta Scott King, Congressman Jack
Brooks, and former Senator Gary Hart. Under the Immigration,
Naturalisation, and Nationality Act (known as "the McCarran Act") foreign
nationals have been denied entry into the United States because of their
political and ideological beliefs. Among the most notable among the
thousands who have been so denied are Nobel Prize-winning authors Gabriel
Garcia Marquez and Czeslaw Milosz, as well as author Carlos Fuentes,
playwright Dario Fo, actress Franca Rame, novelist Doris Lessing, NATO
Deputy Supreme Commander Nino Pasti, renowned Canadian writer Farley
Mowat, American-born feminist writer Margaret Randall, and Hortensia
Allende, widow of the former Socialist president of Chile, Salvador
In perhaps the most disturbing censorship development in recent years, the
Reagan Administration used the powers of the Trading with the Enemy Act to
place an embargo on magazines and newspapers from Cuba, North Vietnam, and
Albania (but not China or the ex-Soviet Union), and confiscated certain
Iranian books purchased by television journalists abroad. These materials
were not embargoed because they contained American secrets, but simply
because it was thought they might contain information the Administration
did not want Americans to know [French, Op. Cit., p. 433].
Official censorship was also highly evident during the recent Persian Gulf
massacre. In this one-sided conflict, the government not only severely
curtailed the press's access to information about the war, restricting
reporters to escorted "press pools," but to a large extent turned the
major news media into compliant instruments of Administration propaganda.
This was accomplished by creating competition between the TV networks and
news services for the limited number of slots in the pools, thus making
news departments dependent on the government's good will and turning news
anchors into cheerleaders for the US-led slaughter.
Reporting on the Gulf War was also directly censored by the military, by
news and photo agencies, or by both. For instance, when award-winning
journalist Jon Alpert, a longtime NBC stringer, "came back from Iraq with
spectacular videotape of Basra [Iraq's second largest city, population
800,000] and other areas of Iraq devastated by US bombing, NBC president
Michael Gartner not only ordered that the footage not be aired but forbade
Alpert from working for the network in the future" [Fairness and Accuracy
in Reporting, _Extra, Special Issue on the Gulf War_, 1991, p. 15].
As John R. Macarthur has documented, congressional approval for the war
might not have been forthcoming without a huge preliminary propaganda and
disinformation campaign designed to demonise Saddam Hussein and his
troops. The centrepiece of this campaign -- the now infamous story of
Iraqi soldiers allegedly ripping premature Kuwaiti babies from their
incubators and leaving them to die on the cold hospital floor -- was a
total fabrication masterminded by an American public relations firm funded
by the Kuwaiti government-in-exile and eagerly disseminated by the
Administration with the help of a credulous and uncritical news
establishment [John R. Macarthur, _Second Front: Censorship and
Propaganda in the Gulf War_, Hill & Wang, 1992; also, John Stauber and
Sheldon Rampton, _Toxic Sludge is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies
and the Public Relations Industry_, Common Courage Press, 1995].
These trends toward a system of official and unofficial censorship do not
bode well for future freedom of speech and of the press. For they
establish precedents for muzzling, intimidating, and co-opting the primary
sources of public information -- precedents that can be invoked whenever
an administration finds it convenient. This is just one more piece of
evidence that late capitalism is leading inexorably toward authoritarian
D.9.6 What does the Right want?
In his book _Post-Conservative America_ Kevin Phillips, one of the most
knowledgeable and serious conservative ideologues, discusses the
possibility of fundamental alterations that he regards as desirable in the
US government. His proposals leave no doubt about the direction in which
the Right wishes to proceed. "Governmental power is too diffused to make
difficult and necessary economic and technical decisions," Phillips
maintains. "[A]ccordingly, the nature of that power must be re-thought.
Power at the federal level must be augmented, and lodged for the most part
in the executive branch" [p. 218].
In the model state Phillips describes, Congress would be reduced to a mere
tool of a presidency grown even more "imperial" than it already is, with
congressional leaders serving in the Cabinet and the two-party system
merged into a single-party coalition. Before we dismiss this idea as
impossible to implement, let's remember that the distinction between the
two major parties has already been virtually obliterated, as each is
controlled by the corporate elite, albeit by different factions within it.
Despite many tactical disagreements, virtually all members of this elite
share a basic set of principles, attitudes, ideals, and values. Whether
Democrat or Republican, most of them have graduated from the same Ivy
League schools, belong to the same exclusive social clubs, serve on the
same interlocking boards of directors of the same major corporations, and
send their children to the same private boarding schools [See G. William
Domhoff, Who Rules America Now? 1983; C. Wright Mills, _The Power Elite_,
1956]. Perhaps most importantly, they share the same psychology, which
means that they have the same priorities and interests: namely, those of
Hence there's actually only one party already -- the Business Party -- which
wears two different masks to hide its real face from the public. Similar
remarks apply to the liberal democratic regimes in the rest of the advanced
capitalist states. The absence of a true opposition party, which itself is
a main characteristic of authoritarian regimes, is thus an accomplished fact
already, and has been so for many years.
Besides the merging of the major political parties, other forces are
leading inexorably toward the scenario described by Phillips. For
instance, the power of the executive branch continues to grow because the
authority of Congress has been progressively weakened by scandals,
partisan bickering, gridlock, and ongoing revelations of legislative
corruption. Indeed, bribe-taking, influence-peddling, check-bouncing,
conflicts of interest, shady deals, sex scandals, and general
incompetence now seem almost routine on Capitol Hill. Unless something is
done to restore congressional respectability, the climate will remain
conducive to a further consolidation of power in the presidency.
Phillips assures us that all the changes he envisions can be accomplished
without altering the Constitution. Such marvels are indeed possible. The
Emperor Augustus centralised all real power in his own hands without
disbanding the Roman Senate or the Roman Republic; Hitler implemented
his Nazi programmes while leaving the Weimar constitution intact; Stalin
ruled under the revolutionary constitution which was theoretically
The facts cited here as evidence for the gradual authoritarianisation
of the United States have been canvassed before by others, sometimes
accompanied by warnings of impending dictatorship. So far such warnings
have proven to be premature. What is especially alarming today, however,
is that the many signs of growing authoritarianism examined above are now
coinciding with the symptoms of a social breakdown -- a "coincidence" which
in the past has heralded the approach of tyranny.
Fully authoritarian regimes in the US and other First World nations would
represent far more than a mere threat to citizens' civil liberties and
their hopes for a better society. For authoritarian regimes tend to be
associated with reckless military adventurism led by autocratic heads of
state. Thus, in a nuclear world in which Europe and Japan followed the US
lead toward authoritarian government, the likelihood of nuclear aggression
by irresponsible politicians would continue to grow. In that case, the
former anxieties of the Cold War would seem mild by comparison. Hence the
urgency of the anarchist programme of anti-authoritarianism, political
decentralisation, and grassroots democracy -- the only real antidotes to the
disturbing trends described above.
As an aside we should note that many naysayers and ruling class apologists
often deny the growing authoritarianism as "paranoia" or "conspiracy
theorising." The common retort is "but if things are as bad as you say,
how come the government lets you write this seditious FAQ?"
The reason we can write this work unmolested is testimony to the lack
of power possessed by the public at large, in the existing political
culture--that is, countercultural movements needn't be a concern to the
government until they become broader-based and capable of challenging the
existing economic order--only then is it "necessary" for the repressive,
authoritarian forces to work on undermining the movement.
So long as there is no effective organising and no threat to the interests
of the ruling elite, people are permitted to say whatever they want. This
creates the illusion that the society is open to all ideas, when, in fact,
it isn't. But, as the decimation of the Wobblies and anarchist movement
after the First World War first illustrated, the government will seek to
eradicate any movement that poses a significant threat.
The proper application of spin to dissident ideology can make it seem that
*any* alternatives to the present system "just wouldn't work" or "are
utopian", even when such alternatives are in the self-interest of the
population at large. This ideological pruning creates the misperception in
people's minds that radical theories haven't been successfully implemented
because they are inherently flawed--and naturally, the current authoritarian
ideology is portrayed as the only "sane" course of action for people to follow.
For example, most Americans reject socialism outright, without any
understanding or even willingness to understand what socialism is
really about. This isn't because (libertarian) socialism is wrong; it's
a direct result of capitalist propagandising of the past 70 years (and
its assertion that "socialism" equals Stalinism).
Extending this attitude to the people themselves, authoritarians (with
generous help from the corporate press) paint dissidents as "crackpots"
and "extremists," while representing themselves as reasonable "moderates",
regardless of the relative positions they are advocating. In this way, a
community opposing a toxic waste incinerator in their area can be lambasted
in the press as the bad guys, when what is really happening is a local
community is practising democracy, daring to challenge the
In the Third World, dissenters are typically violently murdered and tossed
into unmarked mass graves; here, in the First World, more subtle subversion
must take place. The "invisible hand" of advanced capitalist authoritarian
societies is no less effective; the end result is the same, if the
methodology differs--the elimination of alternatives to the present
D.10 How does capitalism affect technology?
Technology has an obvious effect on individual freedom, in some ways
increasing it, in others restricting it. However, since capitalism is
a social system based on inequalities of power, it is a truism that
technology will reflect those inequalities, as it does not develop
in a social vacuum.
No technology evolves and spreads unless there are people who benefit
from it and have sufficient means to disseminate it. In a capitalist
society, technologies useful to the rich and powerful are generally
the ones that spread. This can be seen from capitalist industry, where
technology has been implemented specifically to deskill the worker, so
replacing the skilled, valued craftperson with the easily trained (and
eliminated!) "mass worker." By making trying to make any individual
worker dispensable, the capitalist hopes to deprive workers of a means
of controlling the relation between their effort on the job and the pay
they receive. In Proudhon's words, the "machine, or the workshop, after
having degraded the labourer by giving him a master, completes his
degeneracy by reducing him from the rank of artisan to that of common
workman." [_System of Economical Contradictions_, p. 202]
So, unsurprisingly, technology within a hierarchical society will tend
to re-enforce hierarchy and domination. Managers/capitalists will select
technology that will protect and extend their power (and profits), not
weaken it. Thus, while it is often claimed that technology is "neutral"
this is not (and can never be) the case. Simply put, "progress" within
a hierarchical system will reflect the power structures of that system.
As George Reitzer notes, technological innovation under a hierarchical
system soon results in "increased control and the replacement of human
with non-human technology. In fact, the replacement of human with
non-human technology is very often motivated by a desire for greater
control, which of course is motivated by the need for profit-maximisation.
The great sources of uncertainty and unpredictability in any rationalising
system are people. . . .McDonaldisation involves the search for the means
to exert increasing control over both employees and customers." [George
Reitzer, _The McDonaldisation of Society_, p. 100] For Reitzer,
capitalism is marked by the "irrationality of rationality," in which
this process of control results in a system based on crushing the
individuality and humanity of those who live within it.
In this process of controlling employees for the purpose of maximising
profit, deskilling comes about because skilled labour is more expensive
than unskilled or semi-skilled and skilled workers have more power over
their working conditions and work due to the difficulty in replacing
them. In addition it is easier to "rationalise" the production process
with methods like Taylorism, a system of strict production schedules
and activities based on the amount of time (as determined by management)
that workers "need" to perform various operations in the workplace, thus
requiring simple, easily analysed and timed movements. And as companies
are in competition, each has to copy the most "efficient" (i.e. profit
maximising) production techniques introduced by the others in order to
remain profitable, no matter how dehumanising this may be for workers.
Thus the evil effects of the division of labour and deskilling becoming
widespread. Instead of managing their own work, workers are turned into
human machines in a labour process they do not control, instead being
controlled by those who own the machines they use (see also Harry Braverman,
_Labour and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth
Century_, Monthly Review Press, 1974).
As Max Stirner noted (echoing Adam Smith), this process of deskilling and
controlling work means that "[w]hen everyone is to cultivate himself into
man, condemning a man to *machine-like labour* amounts to the same thing
as slavery. . . . Every labour is to have the intent that the man be
satisfied. Therefore he must become a *master* in it too, be able to
perform it as a totality. He who in a pin-factory only puts on heads, only
draws the wire, works, as it were mechanically, like a machine; he remains
half-trained, does not become a master: his labour cannot *satisfy* him,
it can only *fatigue* him. His labour is nothing by itself, has no object
*in itself,* is nothing complete in itself; he labours only into another's
hands, and is *used* (exploited) by this other." [_The Ego and Its Own_,
p. 121] Kropotkin makes a similar argument against the division of
labour ("machine-like labour") in _The Conquest of Bread_ (see chapter
XV -- "The Division of Labour") as did Proudhon (see chapters III and
IV of _System of Economical Contradictions_).
Modern industry is set up to ensure that workers do not become "masters"
of their work but instead follow the orders of management. The evolution
of technology lies in the relations of power within a society. This is
because "the viability of a design is not simply a technical or even
economic evaluation but rather a political one. A technology is deemed
viable if it conforms to the existing relations of power." [David Noble,
_Progress without People_, p. 63]
This process of controlling, restricting, and de-individualising labour
is a key feature of capitalism. Work that is skilled and controlled by
workers in empowering to them in two ways. Firstly it gives them pride
in their work and themselves. Secondly, it makes it harder to replace
them or suck profits out of them. Therefore, in order to remove the
"subjective" factor (i.e. individuality and worker control) from the
work process, capital needs methods of controlling the workforce to
prevent workers from asserting their individuality, thus preventing
them from arranging their own lives and work and resisting the
authority of the bosses.
This need to control workers can be seen from the type of machinery
introduced during the Industrial Revolution. According to Andrew Ure, a
consultant for the factory owners, "[i]n the factories for spinning coarse
yarn. . .the mule-spinners [skilled workers] have abused their powers
beyond endurance, domineering in the most arrogant manner. . . over their
masters. High wages. . . have, in too many cases, cherished pride and
supplied funds for supporting refractory spirits in strikes. . . . During
a disastrous turmoil of [this] kind. . . several capitalists. . . had
recourse to the celebrated machinists. . . of Manchester. . . [to
construct] a self-acting mule. . . . This invention confirms the great
doctrine already propounded, that when capital enlists science in her
service, the refractory hand of labour will always be taught docility"
[Andrew Ure, _Philosophy of Manufactures_, pp. 336-368 -- quoted by
Noble, Op. Cit., p. 125]
Why is it necessary for workers to be "taught docility"? Because "[b]y the
infirmity of human nature, it happens that the more skilful the workman,
the more self-willed and intractable he is apt to become, and of course
the less fit a component of mechanical system in which . . . he may do
great damage to the whole." [Ibid.] Proudhon quotes an English Manufacturer
who argues the same point:
"The insubordination of our workmen has given us the idea of dispensing
with them. We have made and stimulated every imaginable effort to replace
the service of men by tools more docile, and we have achieved our object.
Machinery has delivered capital from the oppression of labour." [_System
of Economical Contradictions_, p. 189]
As David Noble summarises, during the Industrial Revolution "Capital
invested in machines that would reinforce the system of domination
[in the workplace], and this decision to invest, which might in the
long run render the chosen technique economical, was not itself an
economical decision but a political one, with cultural sanction."
[Op. Cit., p. 6]
A similar process was at work in the US, where the rise in trade unionism
resulted in "industrial managers bec[oming] even more insistent that skill
and initiative not be left on the shop floor, and that, by the same token,
shop floor workers not have control over the reproduction of relevant
skills through craft-regulated apprenticeship training. Fearful that
skilled shop-floor workers would use their scare resources to reduce
their effort and increase their pay, management deemed that knowledge
of the shop-floor process must reside with the managerial structure."
[William Lazonick, _Organisation and Technology in Capitalist
Development_, p. 273]
American managers happily embraced Taylorism (aka "scientific management"),
according to which the task of the manager was to gather into his possession
all available knowledge about the work he oversaw and reorganise it. Taylor
himself considered the task for workers was "to do what they are told to
do promptly and without asking questions or making suggestions." [quoted
by David Noble, _American By Design_, p. 268] Taylor also relied exclusively
upon incentive-pay schemes which mechanically linked pay to productivity
and had no appreciation of the subtleties of psychology or sociology (which
would have told him that enjoyment of work and creativity is more important
for people than just higher pay). Unsurprisingly, workers responded to
his schemes by insubordination, sabotage and strikes and it was "discovered
. . . that the 'time and motion' experts frequently knew very little
about the proper work activities under their supervision, that often they
simply guessed at the optimum rates for given operations . . . it meant
that the arbitrary authority of management has simply been reintroduced
in a less apparent form." [David Noble, Op. Cit., p. 272] Although, now,
the power of management could hide begin the "objectivity" of "science."
Katherine Stone also argues (in her account of "The Origins of Job Structure
in the Steel Industry" in America) that the "transfer of skill [from the
worker to management] was not a response to the necessities of production,
but was, rather, a strategy to rob workers of their power" by "tak[ing]
knowledge and authority from the skilled workers and creating a management
cadre able to direct production." Stone highlights that this deskilling
process was combined by a "divide and rule" policy by management by wage
incentives and new promotion policies. This created a reward system in
which workers who played by the rules would receive concrete gains in
terms of income and status. Over time, such a structure would become
to be seen as "the natural way to organise work and one which offered
them personal advancement" even though, "when the system was set up,
it was neither obvious nor rational. The job ladders were created just
when the skill requirements for jobs in the industry were diminishing
as a result of the new technology, and jobs were becoming more and more
equal as to the learning time and responsibility involved." The modern
structure of the capitalist workplace was created to break workers
resistance to capitalist authority and was deliberately "aimed at altering
workers' ways of thinking and feeling -- which they did by making workers'
individual 'objective' self-interests congruent with that of the employers
and in conflict with workers' collective self-interest." It was a means of
"labour discipline" and of "motivating workers to work for the employers'
gain and preventing workers from uniting to take back control of
production." Stone notes that the "development of the new labour
system in the steel industry was repeated throughout the economy in
different industries. As in the steel industry, the core of these new
labour systems were the creation of artificial job hierarchies and the
transfer pf skills from workers to the managers." [Root & Branch (ed.),
_Root and Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements_, pp. 152-5]
This process was recognised by libertarians at the time, with the I.W.W.,
for example, arguing that "[l]abourers are no longer classified by difference
in trade skill, but the employer assigns them according to the machine
which they are attached. These divisions, far from representing differences
in skill or interests among the labourers, are imposed by the employers
that workers may be pitted against one another and spurred to greater
exertion in the shop, and that all resistance to capitalist tyranny may
be weakened by artificial distinctions." [quoted by Katherine Stone,
Op. Cit., p. 157] For this reason, anarchists and syndicalists argued
for, and built, industrial unions -- one union per workplace and industry
-- in order to combat these divisions and effectively resist capitalist
Needless to say, such management schemes never last in the long run nor
totally work in the short run either -- which explains why hierarchical
management continues, as does technological deskilling (workers always
find ways of using new technology to increase their power within the
workplace and so undermine management decisions to their own advantage).
This of process deskilling workers was complemented by many factors -- state
protected markets (in the form of tariffs and government orders -- the "lead
in technological innovation came in armaments where assured government orders
justified high fixed-cost investments"); the use of "both political and
economic power [by American Capitalists] to eradicate and diffuse workers'
attempts to assert shop-floor control"; and "repression, instigated and
financed both privately and publicly, to eliminate radical elements [and
often not-so-radical elements as well, we must note] in the American labour
movement." [William Lazonick, _Competitive Advantage on the Shop Floor_,
p. 218, p. 303]) Thus state action played a key role in destroying
craft control within industry, along with the large financial resources
of capitalists compared to workers.
Bringing this sorry story up to date, we find "many, if not most,
American managers are reluctant to develop skills [and initiative]
on the shop floor for the fear of losing control of the flow of
work." [William Lazonick, _Organisation and Technology in Capitalist
Development_, pp. 279-280] Given that there is a division of knowledge
in society (and, obviously, in the workplace as well) this means that
capitalism has selected to introduce a management and technology mix
which leads to inefficiency and waste of valuable knowledge, experience
Thus the capitalist workplace is both produced by and is a weapon
in the class struggle and reflects the shifting power relations
between workers and employers. The creation of artificial job
hierarchies, the transfer of skills away from workers to managers
and technological development are all products of class struggle.
Thus technological progress and workplace organisation within
capitalism have little to do with "efficiency" and far more to
do with profits and power.
This means that while self-management has consistently proven to
be more efficient (and empowering) than hierarchical management
structures (see section J.5.12), capitalism actively selects
*against* it. This is because capitalism is motivated purely
by increasing profits, and the maximisation of profits is best
done by disempowering workers and empowering bosses (i.e. the
maximisation of power) -- even though this concentration of power
harms efficiency by distorting and restricting information flow
and the gathering and use of widely distributed knowledge within
the firm (as in any command economy) as well as having a serious
impact on the wider economy and social efficiency.
Thus the last refuge of the capitalist/technophile (namely that the
productivity gains of technology outweigh the human costs or the means
used to achieve them) is doubly flawed. Firstly, disempowering technology
may maximise profits, but it need not increase efficient utilisation of
resources or workers time, skills or potential (and as we argue in greater
detail later, in section J.5.12, efficiency and profit maximisation are two
different things, with such deskilling and management control actually
*reducing* efficiency -- compared to workers' control -- but as it allows
managers to maximise profits the capitalist market selects it). Secondly,
"when investment does in fact generate innovation, does such innovation yield
greater productivity?. . . After conducting a poll of industry executives
on trends in automation, _Business Week_ concluded in 1982 that 'there
is a heavy backing for capital investment in a variety of labour-saving
technologies that are designed to fatten profits without necessary
adding to productive output.'" David Noble concludes that "whenever
managers are able to use automation to 'fatten profits' and enhance their
authority (by eliminating jobs and extorting concessions and obedience from
the workers who remain) without at the same time increasing social product,
they appear more than ready to do." [David Noble, _Progress Without People_,
pp. 86-87 and p. 89]
Of course the claim is that higher wages follow increased investment and
technological innovation ("in the long run" -- although usually "the long
run" has to be helped to arrive by workers' struggle and protest!). Passing
aside the question of whether slightly increased consumption really makes
up for dehumanising and uncreative work, we must note that it is usually
the capitalist who *really* benefits from technological change in money
terms. For example, between 1920 and 1927 (a period when unemployment
caused by technology became commonplace) the automobile industry (which was
at the forefront of technological change) saw wages rise by 23.7%. Thus,
claim supporters of capitalism, technology is in all our interests. However,
capital surpluses rose by 192.9% during the same period -- 8 times faster!
Little wonder wages rose! Similarly, over the last 20 years the USA and
many other countries have seen companies "down-sizing" and "right-sizing"
their workforce and introducing new technologies. The result? Simply
put, the 1970s saw the start of "no-wage growth expansions." Before
the early 1970s, "real wage growth tracked the growth of productivity
and production in the economy overall. After . . ., they ceased to do
so. . . Real wage growth fell sharply below measured productivity growth."
[James K. Galbraith, _Created Unequal_, p. 79] So while real wages have
stagnated, profits have been increasing as productivity rises and the
rich have been getting richer -- technology yet again showing whose
side it is on.
Overall, as David Noble notes (with regards to manufacturing):
"U.S. Manufacturing industry over the last thirty years . . . [has
seen] the value of capital stock (machinery) relative to labour
double, reflecting the trend towards mechanisation and automation.
As a consequence . . . the absolute output person hour increased
115%, more than double. But during this same period, real earnings
for hourly workers . . . rose only 84%, less than double. Thus, after
three decades of automation-based progress, workers are now earning
less relative to their output than before. That is, they are producing
more for less; working more for their boss and less for themselves."
[Op. Cit., pp. 92-3]
"For if the impact of automation on workers has not been ambiguous,
neither has the impact on management and those it serves -- labour's
loss has been their gain. During the same first thirty years of our
age of automation, corporate after tax profits have increased 450%,
more than five times the increase in real earnings for workers."
[Op. Cit., p. 95]
But why? Because labour has the ability to produce a flexible amount
of output (use value) for a given wage. Unlike coal or steel, a worker
can be made to work more intensely during a given working period and
so technology can be utilised to maximise that effort as well as
increasing the pool of potential replacements for an employee by
deskilling their work (so reducing workers' power to get higher
wages for their work). Thus technology is a key way of increasing
the power of the boss, which in turn can increase output per worker
while ensuring that the workers' receive relatively less of that output
back in terms of wages -- "Machines," argued Proudhon, "promised us an
increase of wealth they have kept their word, but at the same time
endowing us with an increase of poverty. They promised us liberty. . .
[but] have brought us slavery." [Op. Cit., p. 199]
But do not get us wrong, technological progress does not imply that
we are victims. Far from it, much innovation is the direct result
of our resistance to hierarchy and its tools. For example, capitalists
turned to Taylorism and "scientific management" in response to
the power of skilled craft workers to control their work and working
environment (the famous 1892 Homestead strike, for example, was a
direct product of the desire of the company to end the skilled workers'
control and power on the shop-floor). In response to this, factory
and other workers created a whole new structure of working class
power -- a new kind of unionism based on the industrial level. This
can be seen in many different countries. For example, in Spain, the
C.N.T. (an anarcho-syndicalist union) adopted the *sindicato unico*
(one union) in 1918 which united all workers of the same workplace
in the same union (by uniting skilled and unskilled in a single
organisation, the union increased their fighting power). In the UK,
the shop stewards movement arose during the first world war based on
workplace organisation (a movement inspired by the pre-war syndicalist
revolt and which included many syndicalist activists). This movement
was partly in response to the reformist TUC unions working with the
state during the war to suppress class struggle. In Germany, the
1919 near revolution saw the creation of revolutionary workplace unions
and councils (and a large increase in the size of the anarcho-syndicalist
union FAU which was organised by industry). In the USA, the 1930s saw a
massive and militant union organising drive by the C.I.O. based on
industrial unionism and collective bargaining (inspired, in part, by
the example of the I.W.W. and its broad organisation of unskilled
More recently, workers in the 1960s and 70s responded to the
increasing reformism and bureaucratic nature of such unions as
the CIO and TUC by organising themselves directly on the shop
floor to control their work and working conditions. This informal
movement expressed itself in wildcat strikes against both unions
and management, sabotage and unofficial workers' control of production
(see John Zerzan's essay "Organised Labour and the Revolt Against
Work" in _Elements of Refusal_). In the UK, the shop stewards'
movement revived itself, organising much of the unofficial strikes
and protests which occurred in the 1960s and 70s. A similar
tendency was seen in many countries during this period.
So in response to a new developments in technology and workplace
organisation, workers' developed new forms of resistance which
in turn provokes a response by management. Thus technology and
its (ab)uses is very much a product of the class struggle, of
the struggle for freedom in the workplace.
With a given technology, workers and radicals soon learn to
resist it and, sometimes, use it in ways never dreamed off to
resist their bosses and the state (which necessitates a transformation
of within technology again to try and give the bosses an upper hand!).
The use of the Internet, for example, to organise, spread and co-ordinate
information, resistance and struggles is a classic example of this
process (see Jason Wehling, "'Netwars' and Activists Power on the
Internet", _Scottish Anarchist_ no. 2 for details). There is
always a "guerrilla war" associated with technology, with workers
and radicals developing their own tactics to gain counter control
for themselves. Thus much technological change reflects *our*
power and activity to change our own lives and working conditions.
We must never forget that.
While some may dismiss our analysis as "Luddite," to do so is
make "technology" an idol to be worshipped rather than something
to be critically analysed. Moreover, to do so is to misrepresent
the ideas of the Luddites themselves -- they never actually opposed
*all* technology or machinery. Rather, they opposed "all Machinery
hurtful to Commonality" (as a March 1812 letter to a hated Manufacturer
put it). Rather than worship technological progress (or view it
uncritically), the Luddites subjected technology to critical analysis
and evaluation. They opposed those forms of machinery that harmed
themselves or society. Unlike those who smear others as "Luddites,"
the labourers who broke machines were not intimidated by the modern
notion of progress. Their sense of right and wrong was not clouded
by the notion that technology was somehow inevitable or neutral.
They did not think that *human* values (or their own interests)
were irrelevant in evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of a given
technology and its effects on workers and society as a whole. Nor
did they consider their skills and livelihood as less important
than the profits and power of the capitalists. In other words,
they would have agreed with Proudhon's comment that machinery
"plays the leading role in industry, man is secondary" *and* they
acted to change this relationship. [Op. Cit., p. 204] Indeed,
it would be temping to argue that worshippers of technological
progress are, in effect, urging us *not* to think and to sacrifice
ourselves to a new abstraction like the state or capital. The Luddites
were an example of working people deciding what their interests were
and acting to defend them by their own direct action -- in this case
opposing technology which benefited the ruling class by giving them
an edge in the class struggle. Anarchists follow this critical
approach to technology, recognising that it is not neutral nor
For capital, the source of problems in industry is people. Unlike
machines, people can think, feel, dream, hope and act. The "evolution" of
technology will, therefore, reflect the class struggle within society and
the struggle for liberty against the forces of authority. Technology, far
from being neutral, reflects the interests of those with power. Technology
will only be truly our friend once we control it ourselves and *modify*
to reflect *human* values (this may mean that some forms of technology
will have to be written off and replaces by new forms in a free society).
Until that happens, most technological processes -- regardless of the other
advantages they may have -- will be used to exploit and control people.
Thus Proudhon's comments that "in the present condition of society,
the workshop with its hierarchical organisation, and machinery" could
only serve "exclusively the interests of the least numerous, the least
industrious, and the wealthiest class" rather than "be employed for the
benefit of all." [Op. Cit., p. 205]
While resisting technological "progress" (by means up to and including
machine breaking) is essential in the here and now, the issue of
technology can only be truly solved when those who use a given
technology control its development, introduction and use. Little
wonder, therefore, that anarchists consider workers' self-management
as a key means of solving the problems created by technology. Proudhon,
for example, argued that the solution to the problems created by the
division of labour and technology could only be solved by "association",
and "by a broad education, by the obligation of apprenticeship, and by
the co-operation of all who take part in the collective work." This
would ensure that "the division of labour can no longer be a cause of
degradation for the workman [or workwoman]." [_The General Idea of the
Revolution_, p. 223]
While as far as technology goes, it may not be enough to get rid of
the boss, this is a necessary first step in creating a technology which
enhances freedom rather than controlling and shaping the worker (or user
in general) and enhancing the power and profits of the capitalist (see
also section I.4.9 -- Should technological advance be seen as
D.11 What causes justifications for racism to appear?
The tendency toward social breakdown which is inherent in the growth of
wealth polarisation, as discussed in section D.9, is also producing a growth
in racism in the countries affected. As we have seen, social breakdown leads
to the increasingly authoritarian government prompted by the need of the
ruling class to contain protest and civil unrest among those at the
bottom of the wealth pyramid. In the US those in the lowest economic
strata belong mostly to racial minorities, while in several European
countries there are growing populations of impoverished minorities
from the Third World, often from former colonies. The desire of the
more affluent strata to justify their superior economic positions
is, as one would expect, causing racially based theories of privilege
to become more popular.
That racist feelings are gaining strength in America is evidenced by the
increasing political influence of the Far Right, whose thinly disguised
racism reflects the darkening vision of a growing segment of the
conservative community. Further evidence can be seen in the growth of
ultraconservative extremist groups preaching avowedly racist philosophies,
such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations, the White Aryan Resistance,
and others [see James Ridgeway, _Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan,
Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture_,
Thunder's Mouth Press, 1990]. Thus, American Politicians and organisers
such as Pat Buchanan, David Duke, and Ralph Metzger have been able to
exploit the budding racism of lower- and middle-class white youths, who
must compete for increasingly scarce jobs with desperate minorities who
are willing to work at very low wages. The expanding popularity of such
racist groups in the US is matched by a similar phenomenon in Europe,
where xenophobia and a weak economy have propelled extreme right-wing
politicians into the limelight on promises to deport foreigners.
Most conservative US politicians have taken pains to distance themselves
officially from the Far Right. Yet during the 1992 presidential campaign,
mainstream conservative politicians used code words and innuendo ("welfare
queens," "quotas," etc.) to convey a thinly veiled racist message.
David Duke's candidacy for the governorship of Louisiana in 1991 and for
the presidency in 1992, as well as the Republican Convention speeches of
Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson, reflected the increasing influence of the
Far Right in American politics. More recently there has been Proposition
187 in California, targeting illegal immigrants.
What easier way is there to divert people's anger than onto scapegoats?
Anger about bad housing, no housing, boring work, no work, bad wages and
conditions, job insecurity, no future, and so on. Instead of attacking the
real causes of these (and other) problems, people are encouraged to direct
their anger against people who face the same problems just because they
have a different skin colour or come from a different part of the world!
Little wonder politicians and their rich backers like to play the racist
card -- it diverts attention away from them and the system they run (i.e.
the *real* causes of our problems).
Racism, in other words, tries to turn class hatred into race hatred.
Little wonder that sections of the ruling elite will turn to it, as
and when required. Their class interests (and, often, their personal
bigotry) requires them to do so -- a divided working class will never
challenge their position in society.
Therefore, justifications for racism appear for two reasons. Firstly,
to try and justify the existing inequalities within society (for example,
the infamous -- and highly inaccurate -- "Bell Curve" and related works).
Secondly, to divide the working class and divert anger about living
conditions and social problems away from the ruling elite and their
system onto scapegoats in our own class.
D.11.1 Does free market ideology play a part in racist tendencies to increase?
The most important factor in the right-wing resurgence in the US has been
the institutionalisation of the Reagan-Bush brand of conservatism, whose
hallmark was the reinstatement, to some degree, of laissez-faire economic
policies (and, to an even larger degree, of laissez-faire rhetoric). A
"free market," Reagan's economic "experts" argued, necessarily produced
inequality; but by allowing unhindered market forces to select the
economically fittest and to weed out the unfit, the economy would become
healthy again. The wealth of those who survived and prospered in the
harsh new climate would ultimately benefit the less fortunate, through
a "trickle-down" effect which was supposed to create millions of new
All this would be accomplished by deregulating business, reducing taxes
on the wealthy, and dismantling or drastically cutting back federal
programmes designed to promote social equality, fairness, and compassion.
The aptly named Laffer Curve illustrated how cutting taxes actually *raises*
government revenue. In actuality, and unsurprisingly, the opposite happened,
with wealth flooding upwards and the creation of low-paying, dead-end jobs.
(the biggest "Laffers" in this scenario were the ruling class, who saw
unprecedented gains in wealth at the expense of the rest of us).
The Reaganites' doctrine of inequality gave the official seal of approval
to ideas of racial superiority that right-wing extremists had used for
years to rationalise the exploitation of minorities. If, on average, blacks
and Hispanics earn only about half as much as whites; if more than a
third of all blacks and a quarter of all Hispanics lived below the poverty
line; if the economic gap between whites and non-whites was growing --
well, that just proved that there was a racial component in the
Social-Darwinian selection process, showing that minorities "deserved"
their poverty and lower social status because they were "less fit."
In the words of left-liberal economist James K. Galbraith:
"What the economists did, in effect, was to reason backward, from the
troublesome effect to a cause that would rationalise and justify it
. . . [I]t is the work of the efficient market [they argued], and the
fundamental legitimacy of the outcome is not supposed to be questioned.
"The *apologia* is a dreadful thing. It has distorted our understanding,
twisted our perspective, and crabbed our politics. On the right, as one
might expect, the winners on the expanded scale of wealth and incomes are
given a reason for self-satisfaction and an excuse for gloating. Their
gains are due to personal merit, the application of high intelligence,
and the smiles of fortune. Those on the loosing side are guilty of sloth,
self-indulgence, and whining. Perhaps they have bad culture. Or perhaps
they have bad genes. While no serious economist would make that last
leap into racist fantasy, the underlying structure of the economists'
argument has undoubtedly helped to legitimise, before a larger public,
those who promote such ideas." [_Created Unequal: The Crisis in American
Pay_, p. 264]
The logical corollary of this social Darwinism is that whites who are
"less fit" (i.e., poor) also deserve their poverty. But philosophies of
racial hatred are not necessarily consistent. Thus the ranks of white
supremacist organisations have been swollen in recent years by
undereducated and underemployed white youths frustrated by a declining
industrial labour market and a noticeably eroding social status [Ridgeway,
Ibid., p.186]. Rather than drawing the logical Social-Darwinian
conclusion -- that they too are "inferior" -- they have instead blamed
blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Jews for "unfairly" taking their jobs.
Thus the neo-Nazi skinheads, for example, have been mostly recruited from
disgruntled working-class whites below the age of 30. This has provided
leaders of right-wing extremist groups with a growing base of potential
Therefore, laissez-faire ideology helps create a social environment in
which racist tendencies can increase. Firstly, it does so by increasing
poverty, job insecurity, inequality and so on which right-wing groups
can use to gather support by creating scapegoats in our own class to
blame (for example, by blaming poverty on blacks "taking our jobs" rather
than capitalists moving their capital to other, more profitable, countries
or them cutting wages and conditions for *all* workers -- and as we
point out in section B.1.4, racism, by dividing the working class,
makes poverty and inequality *worse* and so is self-defeating). Secondly,
it abets racists by legitimising the notions that inequalities in pay
and wealth are due to racial differences rather than a hierarchical system
which harms *all* working class people (and uses racism to divide, and
so weaken, the oppressed). By pointing to individuals rather than to
institutions, organisations, customs, history and above all power -- the
relative power between workers and capitalists, citizens and the state,
the market power of big business, etc. -- laissez-faire ideology points
analysis into a dead-end as well as apologetics for the wealthy, apologetics
which can be, and are, utilised by racists to justify their evil politics.