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Year 501

The Conquest Continues

By Noam Chomsky

Chapter Eleven

The Third World at Home

1. "The Paradox of '92"

2. "Fight to the Death"

3. "To Consult Our Neighbor"


1. "The Paradox of '92"

The basic theme of the 500-year conquest is misread if it sets Europe -- broadly construed -- against the subject domains. As Adam Smith stressed, the interests of the architects of policy are not those of the general population; the internal class war is an inextricable element of the global conquest. One of the memories that reverberates through the 500 years is that "European societies were also colonized and plundered," though the "better-organized" communities with "institutions for economic regulation and political self-government" and traditions of resistance were able to retain basic rights and even extend them through continuing struggle.1

The end of the affluent alliance and the onset of the "new imperial age" have intensified the internal class war. A corollary to the globalization of the economy is the entrenchment of Third World features at home: the steady drift towards a two-tiered society in which large sectors are superfluous for wealth-enhancement for the privileged. Even more than before, the rabble must be ideologically and physically controlled, deprived of organization and interchange, the prerequisite for constructive thinking and social action. "The paper has taken us one at a time and convinced us `how good the times' are," Wobbly writer T-Bone Slim commented: "We have no opportunity to consult our neighbor to find out if the press speaketh the truth."2 A large majority of the population regard the economic system as "inherently unfair," look back at the Vietnam war as not a "mistake" but "fundamentally wrong and immoral," favored diplomacy not war as the US prepared to bomb Iraq, and so on. But these are private thoughts; they do not raise the dread threat of democracy and freedom as long as there is no systematic way "to consult our neighbor." Whatever the individual thoughts may be, collectively we march in the parade. No presidential candidate, for example, could possibly say "I opposed the Vietnam war on principled grounds and honor those who refused to obey the order to fight a war that was `fundamentally wrong and immoral'."

In any system of governance, a major problem is to secure obedience. We therefore expect to find ideological institutions and cultural managers to direct and staff them. The only exception would be a society with an equitable distribution of resources and popular engagement in decision-making; that is, a democratic society with libertarian social forms. But meaningful democracy is a remote ideal, regarded as a danger to be averted, not a value to be achieved: the "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders" must be reduced to their spectator status, as Walter Lippmann phrased the theme that has long been common coin. The current mission is to ensure that any thought of controlling their destiny must be driven from the minds of the rascal multitude. Each person is to be an isolated receptacle of propaganda, helpless in the face of two external and hostile forces: the government and the private sector, with its sacred right to determine the basic character of social life. The second of these forces, furthermore, is to be veiled: its rights and power must be not only beyond challenge, but invisible, part of the natural order of things. We have travelled a fair distance on this path.

The rhetoric of the 1992 election campaign illustrates the process. The Republicans call for faith in the entrepreneur, accusing the "other party" of being the tool of social engineers who have brought the disaster of Communism and the welfare state (virtually indistinguishable). The Democrats counter that they only intend to improve the efficiency of the private sector, leaving its dictatorial rights over most of life and the political sphere unchallenged. Candidates say "vote for me," and I will do so-and-so for you. Few believe them, but more important, a different process is unthinkable: that in their unions, political clubs, and other popular organizations people should formulate their own plans and projects and put forth candidates to represent them. Even more unthinkable is that the general public should have a voice in decisions about investment, production, the character of work, and other basic aspects of life. The minimal conditions for functioning democracy have been removed far beyond thought, a remarkable victory of the doctrinal system.

Toward the more totalitarian end of the spectrum, self-styled "conservatives" seek to distract the rascal multitude with jingoist and religious fanaticism, family values, and other standard tools of the trade. The spectacle has elicited some bemused commentary abroad. Observing the 1992 Republican convention, from the pre-Enlightenment God and Country Rally on opening day to the party platform crafted by evangelical extremists, and the fact that the Democratic candidate "mentioned God six times in his acceptance speech" and "quoted from scriptures," the Economist wondered at a society "not ready yet for openly secular leaders," alone in the industrial world. Others watched with amazement as a debate between the Vice-President and a TV character occupied center stage. These are signs of the success in defanging democratic forms, to eliminate any threat to private power.3

Contemporary right-wing discourse can hardly fail to bring to mind earlier denunciations of "liberalism," with its call "for women's equality" and denial of the ancient truth that a woman's "world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home" (Adolf Hitler). Or the warning, from the same voice, that it is "a sin against the will of the Almighty that hundreds upon thousands of his most gifted creatures should be made to sink in the proletarian swamp while Kaffirs and Hottentots are trained for the liberal professions" -- however the current version may be masked in code words. The resort to "cultural" themes and religious-jingoist fervor revives the classic fascist technique of mobilizing the people who are under assault. The encouragement of religious "enthusiasm," in particular, has a long history within what E.P. Thompson called "the psychic processes of counter-revolution" used to tame the masses, breeding "the chiliasm of despair," the desperate hope for some other world than this one, which can offer little.4

Studies of public opinion bring out other strands. A June 1992 Gallup poll found that 75 percent of the population do not expect life to improve for the next generation of Americans -- not too surprising, given that real wages have been dropping for 20 years, with an accelerated decline under Reaganite "conservatism," which also managed to extend the cloud over the college-educated. Public attitudes are illuminated further by the current popularity of ex-presidents: Carter is well in the lead (74 percent) followed by the virtually unknown Ford (68 percent), with Reagan at 58 percent, barely above Nixon (54 percent). Dislike of Reagan is particularly high among working people and "Reagan Democrats," who gave him "the highest unfavorable rating [63 percent] of a wide range of public officials," one study found. Reagan's popularity was always largely a media concoction; the "great communicator" was quickly dismissed when the farce would no longer play.5

The Harris polling organization has been measuring alienation from institutions for 25 years. Its latest survey, for 1991, found the numbers at an all-time high of 66 percent. Eighty-three percent of the population feel that "the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," saying that "the economic system is inherently unfair," Harris president Humphrey Taylor comments. The concerns of the overwhelming majority, however, cannot be addressed within the political system; even the words can barely be spoken or heard. The journalist who reports these facts sees only people who are angry at "their well-paid politicians" and want "more power to the people," not "more power to the government." We are not allowed to think that government might be of and by the people, or that they might seek to change an economic system that 83 percent regard as "inherently unfair."6

Another poll revealed that "faith in God is the most important part of Americans' lives." Forty percent "said they valued their relationship with God above all else"; 29 percent chose "good health" and 21 percent a "happy marriage." Satisfying work was chosen by 5 percent, respect of people in the community by 2 percent. That this world might offer basic features of a human existence is hardly to be contemplated. These are the kinds of results one might find in a shattered peasant society. Chiliastic visions are reported to be particularly prevalent among blacks; again, not surprising, when we learn from the New England Journal of Medicine that "black men in Harlem were less likely to reach the age of 65 than men in Bangladesh."7

Also driven from the mind is any sense of solidarity and community. Educational reform is designed for those whose parents can pay, or at least are motivated to "get ahead." The idea that there might be some general concern for children -- not to speak of others -- must be suppressed. We must make "the true costs of bearing a child out of wedlock clear" by letting "them be felt when they are incurred -- namely at the child's birth"; the teenage high-school dropout must realize that her child will get no help from us (Michael Kaus). In the rising "culture of cruelty," Ruth Conniff writes, "the middle-class taxpayer, the politician, and the wealthy upper class are all victims" of the undeserving poor, who must be disciplined and punished for their depravity, down to future generations.

When the Caterpillar corporation recruited scabs to break a strike by the United Auto Workers, the union was "stunned" to find that unemployed workers crossed the picket line with no remorse, while Caterpillar workers found little "moral support" in their community. The union, which had "lifted the standard of living for entire communities in which its members lived," had "failed to realize how public sympathy had deserted organized labor," a study by three Chicago Tribune reporters concludes -- another victory in an unremitting business campaign of many decades that the union leadership refused to see. It was only in 1978 that UAW President Doug Fraser criticized the "leaders of the business community" for having "chosen to wage a one-sided class war in this country -- a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society," and having "broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a period of growth and progress." That was far too late, and the tactics of the abject servant of the rich who soon took office destroyed a good bit of what was left.8

The Tribune study sees the defeat of the union as "the end of an era, the end of what may be the proudest creation of the American labor movement in the 20th century: a large blue-collar middle class." That era, based on a corporation-union compact in a state-subsidized private economy, had come to an end 20 years earlier, and the "one-sided class war" had been underway long before. Another component of the compact was "the exchange of political power for money" by the union leaders (David Milton), a bargain that lasted as long as the rulers found it to their advantage. Trust in the good faith and benevolence of the masters will yield no other outcome.

A crucial component of the state-corporate campaign is the ideological offensive to overcome "the crisis of democracy" caused by the efforts of the rabble to enter the political arena, reserved for their betters. Undermining of solidarity with working people is one facet of that offensive. In his study of media coverage of labor, Walter Puette provides ample evidence that in the movies, TV, and the press the portrayal of unions has generally "been both unrepresentative and virulently negative." Unions are depicted as corrupt, outside the mainstream, "special interests" that are either irrelevant or actually harmful to the interests of workers and the general public, "un-American in their values, strategies, and membership." The theme "runs deep and long through the history of media treatment," and "has helped push the values and goals of the American labor movement off the liberal agenda." This is, of course, the historic project, intensified when need arises.9

Caterpillar decided in the '80s that its labor contract with the UAW was "a thing of the past," the Tribune study observes: the company would "permanently change it with the threat of replacement workers." That tactic, standard in the 19th century, was reinstituted by Ronald Reagan to destroy the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) in 1981, one of the many devices adopted to undermine labor and bring the Third World model home. In 1990, Caterpillar shifted some production to a small steel processor that had broken a Teamsters Local by hiring scabs, "a swift and stunning blow to the workers, a harbinger" of what was to come. Two years later, the hammer struck. For the first time in 60 years, a major US manufacturer felt free to use the ultimate anti-labor weapon. Congress followed shortly after by effectively denying railroad workers the right to strike after an employer lockout that stopped the trains.

Congress's General Accounting Office found that companies felt much more free to threaten to call in "permanent replacement workers" after Reagan used the device in 1981. From 1985 to 1989, employers resorted to the threat in one-third of all strikes, and fulfilled it in 17 percent of strikes in 1990. A 1992 study showed that "four of five employers are willing to wield the replacement-worker weapon," the Wall Street Journal reported after the Caterpillar strike, and one-third said they would use it at once.

Labor reporter John Hoerr points out that the decline in workers' income from the early 1970s has been paralleled by decline in strikes, now at the lowest ebb since World War II. Militant labor organizing during the Great Depression brought about labor's first -- and last -- political victories, notably the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) of 1935, which granted labor rights that had long been established in other industrial societies. Though the right to organize was quickly weakened by Supreme Court rulings, it was not until the 1980s that corporate America felt strong enough to return to the good old days, moving the US off the international spectrum once again. The International Labor Organization (ILO), taking up an AFL-CIO complaint in 1991, noted that the right to strike is lost when workers run the risk of losing their jobs to permanent replacements and recommended that the US reassess its policies in the light of international standards -- strong words, from an organization traditionally beholden to its powerful sponsors. Among industrial countries the US is alone, apart from South Africa, in tolerating the ancient union-busting devices.10

"Paradox of '92: Weak Economy, Strong Profits." The headline of a lead article in the Times business section captures the consequences of the "one-sided class war" waged with renewed intensity since the end of the affluent alliance. "America is not doing very well, but its corporations are doing just fine," the article opens, with corporate profits "hitting new highs as profit margins expand." A paradox, inexplicable and insoluble. One that will only deepen as the architects of policy proceed without interference from "meddlesome outsiders."11

What the "paradox" entails for the general population is demonstrated by numerous studies of income distribution, real wages, poverty, hunger, infant mortality, and other social indices. A study released by the Economic Policy Institute on Labor Day, 1992, fleshed out the details of what people know from their experience: after a decade of Reaganism, "most Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and considerably less security," and "the vast majority" are "in many ways worse off" than in the late 1970s. From 1987, real wages have declined even for the college educated. "Poverty rates were high by historic standards," and "those in poverty in 1989 were significantly poorer than the poor in 1979." The poverty rate rose further in 1991, the Census Bureau reported. A congressional report released a few days later estimates that hunger has grown by 50 percent since the mid-1980s to some 30 million people. Other studies show that one of eight children under 12 suffers from hunger, a problem that reappeared in 1982 after having been overcome by government programs from the 1960s. Two researchers report that in New York, the proportion of children raised in poverty more than doubled to 40 percent, while nationwide, "the number of hungry American children grew by 26 percent" as aid for the poor shrank during "the booming 1980s" -- "one of the great golden moments that humanity has ever experienced," a spokesman for the culture of cruelty proclaimed (Tom Wolfe).12

The impact is brought out forcefully in more narrowly-focused studies; for example, at the Boston City Hospital, where researchers found that "the number of malnourished, low-weight children jumped dramatically following the coldest winter months," when parents had to face the agonizing choice between heat or food. At the hospital's clinic for malnourished children, more were treated in the first nine months of 1992 than in all of 1991; the wait for care reached two months, compelling the staff to "resort to triage." Some suffer from Third World levels of malnutrition and require hospitalization, victims of "the social and financial calamities that have befallen families" and the "massive retrenchment in social service programs."13 By the side of a road, men hold signs that read "Will Work for Food," a sight that recalls the darkest days of the Great Depression.

But with a significant difference. Hope seems to have been lost to a far greater extent today, though the current recession is far less severe. For the first time in the modern history of industrial society, there is a widespread feeling that things will not be getting better, that there is no way out.

2. "Fight to the Death"

The victory for working people and for democracy in 1935 sent a chill through the business community. The National Association of Manufacturers warned in 1938 of the "hazard facing industrialists" in "the newly realized political power of the masses"; "Unless their thinking is directed we are definitely headed for adversity." A counteroffensive was quickly launched, including the traditional recourse to murderous state violence. Recognizing that more would be needed, corporate America turned to "scientific methods of strike-breaking," "human relations," huge PR campaigns to mobilize communities against "outsiders" preaching "communism and anarchy" and seeking to destroy our communities, and so on. These devices, building upon corporate projects of earlier years, were put on hold during the war, but revived immediately after, as legislation and propaganda chipped away at labor's gains, with no little help from the union leadership, leading finally to the situation now prevailing.14

The shock of the labor victories of the New Deal period was particularly intense because of the prevailing assumption in the business community that labor organizing and popular democracy had been buried forever. The first warning was sounded in 1932, when the Norris-LaGuardia Act exempted unions from antitrust prosecution, granting labor rights that it had received in England sixty years earlier. The Wagner Act was entirely unacceptable, and has by now been effectively reversed by the business-state-media complex.

In the late 19th century, American workers made progress despite the extremely hostile climate. In the steel industry, the heart of the developing economy, union organization reached roughly the level of Britain in the 1880s. That was soon to change. A state-business offensive destroyed the unions with considerable violence, in other industries as well. In the business euphoria of the 1920s, it was assumed that the beast had been slain.

American labor history is unusually violent, considerably more so than in other industrial societies. Noting that there is no serious study, Patricia Sexton reports an estimate of 700 strikers killed and thousands injured from 1877 to 1968, a figure that may "grossly understate the total casualties"; in comparison, one British striker was killed since 1911.15

A major blow against working people was struck in 1892, when Andrew Carnegie destroyed the 60,000 member Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AAISW) by hiring scabs -- yet another anniversary that might have been commemorated in 1992, when the UAW was laid low by the very same methods, revived after a sixty-year lapse. The leading social historian Herbert Gutman describes 1892 as "the really critical year" that "shaped and reshaped the consciousness of working-class leaders and radicals, of trade unionists." The use of state power for corporate goals at that time "was staggering," and led to "a growing awareness among workers that the state had become more and more inaccessible to them and especially to their political and economic needs and demands." It was to remain so until the Great Depression.

The 1892 confrontation at Homestead, commonly called "the Homestead strike," was actually a lockout by Carnegie and his manager on the scene, the thuggish Henry Clay Frick; Carnegie chose to vacation in Scotland, dedicating libraries he had donated. On July 1 the newly-formed Carnegie Steel Corporation announced that "No trade union will ever be recognized at the Homestead Steel Works hereafter." The locked-out workers could reapply individually, nothing more. It was to be "a Finish Fight against Organized Labor," the Pittsburgh press proclaimed, a fight "to the death between the Carnegie Steel Company, limited, with its $25,000,000 capital, and the workmen of Homestead," the New York Times reported.

Carnegie and Frick overcame the workers of Homestead by force, first sending Pinkerton guards, then the Pennsylvania National Guard when the Pinkertons were defeated and expelled by the local population. "The lockout crushed the largest trade union in America, the AAISW, and it wrecked the lives of its most devoted members," Paul Krause writes in his comprehensive history. Unionism was not revived in Homestead for 45 years. The impact was far broader.

Destruction of unions was only one aspect of the general project of disciplining labor. Workers were to be deskilled, turned into pliable tools under the control of "scientific management." Management was particularly incensed that "the men ran the mill and the foreman had little authority" in Homestead, one official later said. As discussed earlier, it has been plausibly argued that the current malaise of US industry can be traced in part to the success of the project of making working people "as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be," in defiance of Adam Smith's warning that government must "take pains to prevent" this fate for the "labouring poor" as the "invisible hand" does its grim work (see pp. 18, 103). On the contrary, business called upon state power to accelerate the process. Elimination of the mechanisms "to consult our neighbor" is a companion process in the taming of the herd.

Homestead was a particularly tempting target because workers there were "thoroughly organized," and in control of local political life as well. Homestead held firm through the 1880s while a few miles away, in Pittsburgh, labor suffered severe defeats. Its multi-ethnic work force demanded their "rights as freeborn American citizens" in what Krause describes as "a workers' version of a modern American Republic," in which workers would have freedom and dignity. Homestead was "the nation's preeminent labor town," Krause writes, and Carnegie's next target in his ongoing campaign to destroy the right to organize.16

Carnegie's victory at Homestead enabled him to slash wages, impose twelve-hour workdays, eliminate jobs, and gain monumental profits. This "magnificent record was to a great extent made possible by the company's victory at Homestead," a historian of the company wrote in 1903. Carnegie's "free enterprise" achievements relied on more than the use of state violence to break the union. As in the case of other industries from textiles to electronics, state protection and public subsidy were critical to Carnegie's success. "Under the beauties of the protective tariff system the manufacturing interests of the country are experiencing unparalleled prosperity," the Pittsburgh Post reported on the eve of the lockout, while Carnegie and others like him were preparing "an enormous reduction in the wages of their men." Carnegie was also a master swindler, defrauding the city of Pittsburgh in collusion with city bosses. Famed as a pacifist as well as philanthropist, Carnegie looked forward to "millions for us in armor" in construction of battleships -- purely for defense, he explained, hence in accord with his pacifist principles. In 1890 Carnegie had won a large naval contract for his new Homestead plant. "It was with the help of...powerful politicians and crafty financiers who operated in the grand arenas of national and international government -- as well as in the backrooms of Pittsburgh's businesses and city hall -- that Carnegie was able to construct his immense industrial fiefdom," Krause writes: the world's first billion-dollar corporation, US Steel. Meanwhile, the new imperial navy was "defending" the US off the coasts of Brazil and Chile and across the Pacific.17

The press gave overwhelming support to the Company, as usual. The British press presented a different picture. The London Times ridiculed "this Scotch-Yankee plutocrat meandering through Scotland in a four-in-hand opening public libraries, while the wretched workmen who supply him with ways and means for his self-glorification are starving in Pittsburgh." The far-right British press ridiculed Carnegie's preachings on "the rights and duties of wealth," describing his self-congratulatory book Triumphant Democracy as "a wholesome piece of satire" in the light of his brutal methods of strike-breaking, which should be neither "permitted nor required in a civilized community," the London Times added.

In the US, strikers were depicted as "brigands," "blackmailers whom all the world loathes" (Harper's Weekly), a "Mob Bent on Ruin" (Chicago Tribune), "anarchists and socialist[s]...preparing to blow up...the Federal building and take possession" of the money in the treasury vaults (Washington Post). Eugene Debs was a "lawbreaker at large, an enemy of the human race," who should be jailed (he soon was), "and the disorder his bad teachings has engendered must be squelched" (New York Times). When Governor John Altgeld of Illinois wired President Cleveland that press accounts of abuses by strikers were often "pure fabrications" or "wild exaggerations," the Nation condemned him as "boorish, impudent, and ignorant"; the President should put him in his place forthwith for his "bad manners" and "the bad odor of his own principles." The strikers are "untaught men" of "the lowest class," the Nation continued: they must learn that society is "impregnable" and cannot allow them to "suspend, even for a day, the traffic and industry of a great nation, merely as a means of extorting ten or twenty cents a day more wages from their employers."

The press was not alone in taking up the cudgels for the suffering businessman. The highly respected Reverend Henry Ward Beecher denounced "the importation of the communistic and like European notions as abominations. Their notions and theories that the Government should be paternal and take care of the welfare of its subjects [sic] and provide them with labor, is un-American... God has intended the great to be great, and the little to be little." How much has changed over a century.18

After its victory at Homestead, the company moved to destroy any vestige of workers' independence. Strike leaders were blacklisted, many jailed for lengthy periods. A European visitor to Homestead in 1900 described Carnegie's "Triumphant Democracy" as "Feudalism Restored." He found the atmosphere "heavy with disappointment and hopelessness," the men "afraid to talk." Ten years later, John Fitch, who took part in a study of Homestead by urban sociologists, wrote that employees of the company refuse to talk to strangers, even in their homes. "They are suspicious of one another, of their neighbors, and of their friends." They "do not dare openly express their convictions," or "assemble and talk over affairs pertaining to their welfare as mill men." Many were discharged "for daring to attend a public meeting." A national union journal described Homestead as "the most despotic principality of them all" in 1919, when the 89-year-old Mother Jones was dragged "to their filthy jail for daring to speak in behalf of the enslaved steel workers," though some were later "allowed to speak for the first time in 28 years" in Homestead, Mother Jones recalled. So matters continued until the movements of the 1930s broke the barriers. The relation between popular organization and democracy is vividly illustrated in this record.19

We cannot really say that the current corporate offensive has driven working class organization and culture back to the level of a century ago. At that time working people and the poor were nowhere near as isolated, nor subject to the ideological monopoly of the business media. "At the turn of the century," Jon Bekken writes, "the U.S. labor movement published hundreds of newspapers," ranging from local and regional to national weeklies and monthlies. These were "an integral part of working class communities, not only reporting the news of the day or week, but offering a venue where readers could debate political, economic and cultural issues." Some were "as large, and in many ways as professional, as many of the capitalist newspapers they co-existed with." "Like the labor movement itself, this press spanned the range from a fairly narrow focus on workplace conditions to advocacy of social revolution." The socialist press alone had a circulation of over 2 million before World War I; its leading journal, the weekly Appeal To Reason, reached over 760,000 subscribers. Workers also "built a rich array of ethnic, community, workplace and political organizations," all part of "vibrant working class cultures" that extended to every domain and retained their vitality until World War II despite harsh government repression, particularly under the Wilson Administration. Repression aside, the labor press ultimately succumbed to the natural effects of the concentration of wealth: advertisers kept to capitalist competitors that could produce below cost, and other market factors took their toll, as happened to the mass working class press in England as late as the 1960s. Similar factors, along with federal government policy, undermined efforts in the 1930s to prevent radio from becoming, in effect, a corporate monopoly.20

Left intellectuals took an active part in the lively working class culture. Some sought to compensate for the class character of the cultural institutions through programs of workers' education, or by writing best-selling books on mathematics, science, and other topics for the general public. Remarkably, their left counterparts today often seek to deprive working people of these tools of emancipation, informing us that the "project of the Enlightenment" is dead, that we must abandon the "illusions" of science and rationality -- a message that will gladden the hearts of the powerful, delighted to monopolize these instruments for their own use. One recalls the days when the evangelical church taught not-dissimilar lessons to the unruly masses, as their heirs do today in peasant societies of Central America.

It is particularly striking that these self-destructive tendencies should appear at a time when the overwhelming majority of the population wants to change the "inherently unfair" economic system, and belief in the basic moral principles of traditional socialism is surprisingly high (see p. 76). What is more, with Soviet tyranny finally overthrown, one long-standing impediment to the realization of these ideals is now removed. However meritorious personal motives may be, these phenomena in left intellectual circles, in my opinion, reflect yet another ideological victory for the culture of the privileged, and contribute to it. The same tendencies make a notable contribution to the endless project of murdering history as well. During periods of popular activism, it is often possible to salvage elements of truth from the miasma of "information" disseminated by the servants of power, and many people not only "consult their neighbors" but learn a good deal about the world; Indochina and Central America are two striking recent examples. When activism declines, the commissar class, which never falters in its task, regains command. While left intellectuals discourse polysyllabically to one another, truths that were once understood are buried, history is reshaped into an instrument of power, and the ground is laid for the enterprises to come.


3. "To Consult Our Neighbor"

"The men and women who fought for hearth and home in 1892 provided a lesson as important for our age as it was for their own," labor historian David Montgomery writes in summarizing a collection of reports on Homestead. "People work in order to provide their own material needs, but that everyday effort also builds a community with purposes more important than anyone's personal enrichment. The last 100 years have shown how heavily the health of political democracy in a modern industrial society depends on the success of working people in overcoming personal and group differences to create their own effective voice in the shaping of their own futures. The fight for hearth and home is still with us."21

The community of labor in Homestead was destroyed by state violence "mobilized to protect the claims of business enterprises to undisturbed use of their property in their pursuit of personal gain," Montgomery writes. The impact on workers' lives was enormous. By 1919, after organizing efforts were broken once again -- in this case, with the help of Wilson's Red Scare -- "the average compulsory work week in American steel mills was twenty hours longer than in British ones, and American hours were longer than they had been in 1914 or even 1910," Patricia Sexton observes. Communal values disintegrated. When Homestead was a union town, large steps were taken towards overcoming traditional barriers between skilled and unskilled workers, and the rampant anti-immigrant racism. Immigrant workers, bitterly despised at the time, were in the forefront of the struggle, and were saluted as "brave Hungarians, sons of toil, ...seeking which is right." "Such praise from `American' workers was seldom heard" in later years, Montgomery points out.22

Democracy and civil liberties collapsed with the union. "If you want to talk in Homestead, you talk to yourself," residents said; outsiders were struck by the atmosphere of suspicion and fear, as we have seen. In 1892, the working class population was in charge of local politics. In 1919, town officials denied union organizers the right to hold meetings and barred "foreign speakers"; and when forced by court order to tolerate meetings, placed state police on the platform "to warn speakers against inflammatory remarks or criticism of local or national authorities" (Montgomery). The experience of Mother Jones outraged others, but few could speak about it in Homestead.

Forty years after the crushing of the union and freedom, "the establishment of rights at work through union recognition and the reawakening of democracy in political life appeared hand in hand" in Homestead, Montgomery continues. Working people organized, democracy revived; as always, the opportunity to consult our neighbors in an ongoing and systematic fashion is decisive in establishing democracy, a lesson understood by priests in El Salvador as well as labor organizers in Homestead, and understood no less by those who use what means they can to keep the rabble scattered and bewildered. The struggle continues along an uneven path. During the past several decades, the institutions of power and their priesthood have gained some impressive victories, and sustained some serious defeats.

The tendencies towards the new imperial age heralded by the international financial press are obvious and understandable, along with the extension of the North-South divide to the habitations of the rich. There are also countertendencies. Throughout the North, notably in the United States, much has changed in the past 30 years, at least in the cultural and moral spheres, if not at the institutional level. Had the quincentennial of the Old World Order fallen in 1962, it would have been celebrated once again as the liberation of the hemisphere. In 1992, that was impossible, just as few can blandly talk of our task of "felling trees and Indians." The European invasion is now officially an "encounter," though large sectors of the population reject that euphemism as only somewhat less offensive.

The domestic constraints on state violence that are fully recognized by the US political leadership are another case in point. Many were depressed by the inability of the peace movement to prevent the Gulf war, failing to recall that perhaps for the first time ever, large-scale protests actually preceded the bombing, a radical change from the US assault against South Vietnam 30 years earlier, in that case without even the shreds of a pretext. The ferment of the '60s reached much wider circles in the years that followed, eliciting new sensitivity to racist and sexist oppression, concern for the environment, respect for other cultures and for human rights. One of the most striking examples is the Third World solidarity movements of the 1980s, with their unprecedented engagement in the lives and fate of the victims. This process of democratization and concern for social justice could have large significance.

Such developments are perceived to be dangerous and subversive by the powerful, and bitterly denounced. That too is understandable: they do threaten the vile maxim of the masters, and all that follows from it. They also offer the only real hope for the great mass of people in the world, even for the survival of the human species in an era of environmental and other global problems that cannot be faced by primitive social and cultural structures that are driven by short term material gain, and that regard human beings as mere instruments, not ends.


1 Pp. 17, 65.

2 T-Bone Slim, Juice, 68.

3 Economist, Aug. 22, 1992.

4 Brady, Spirit, ch. VI; Schoenbaum, Hitler's Social Revolution, ch. VI. Thompson, Making, ch. 11.

5 Steven Greenhouse, NYT, "Income Data Show Years of Erosion for U.S. Workers," NYT, Sept. 7; Adam Pertman, BG, July 15; Garry Wills, New York Review, Sept. 24, 1992., 1992.

6 John Dillin, CSM, July 14, 1992.

7 AP, BG, April 4, 1991. NE J. of Med., Jan. 1990, cited by Melvin Konner, NYT, Feb. 24, 1990.

8 See ch. 4.3. Conniff, Progressive, Sept. 1992, reviewing Kaus, End of Equality. Stephen Franklin, Peter Kendall and Colin McMahon, "Caterpillar strikers face the bitter truth," pt. 3 of series, Chicago Tribune, Sept. 6, 7, 9, 1992. Fraser cited in Moody, Injury, 147.

9 Milton, Politics, 155; Puette, Through Jaundiced Eyes.

10 Franklin, et al., op. cit.; RR lockout, Alexander Cockburn, Los Angeles Times, July 13; Robert Rose, WSJ, April 20, 1992. Hoerr, American Prospect, Summer 1992.

11 Floyd Norris, NYT, Aug. 30, 1992.

12 Peter Gosselin, BG, Sept. 7; Frank Swoboda, WP weekly, Sept. 14-20, 1992. Shlomo Maital and Kim Morgan, Challenge, July 1992. Wolfe, BG, Feb. 18, 1990.

13 Diego Ribadeneira and Cheong Chow, BG, Sept.8; Ribadeneira, BG, Sept. 25, 1992.

14 See Alex Carey, "Managing Public Opinion: The Corporate Offensive," ms., U. of New South Wales, 1986; Milton, Moody, op. cit., Sexton, War. Also Ginger and Christiano, Cold War.

15 Sexton, War, 76, 55.

16 Demarest, "River", 44, 55, 216. Krause, Battle, 287, 13, 294, 205ff. 152, 178, 253, 486 (quoting Gutman interview).

17 Demarest, "River", 32; Krause, Battle, 361, 274ff.

18 Demarest, "River", 159; Sexton, War, 83, 106ff.

19 Demarest, "River", 199, 210f.; Krause, ch. 22.

20 Bekken, in Solomon and McChesney, New Perspectives. England, see MC, ch. 1.1-2.

21 Demarest, "River", Afterword.

22 Ibid.; Sexton, War, 87.


1. The Great Work of Subjugation and Conquest ] 2. The Contours of World Order ] 3. North-South/East-West ] 10. Murdering History ] [ 11. The Third World at Home ] 4. Democracy and the Market ] 5. Human Rights: The Pragmatic Criterion ] 6. A "Ripe Fruit" ] 7. World Orders Old and New: Latin America ] 8. The Tragedy of Haiti ] 9. The Burden of Responsibility ]

 ] Table of Contents ] PART I : Old Wine, New Bottles ] PART II : High Principles ] PART III : Persistent Themes ] Part IV : Memories ] Bibliography ] Glossary ]


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