Invisible: On Left Non-Existence and Corporate-Managed Democracy
One of the many ways in which the United States’ incipiently totalitarian corporate-managed democracy (see Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008])marginalizes popular American resistance to the rule of the rich and powerful few is by making protest and dissent invisible. Like the many crimes of the American Empire past and present, that resistance is “disappeared” in the humming mists of the reigning business-run political and culture. It gets sent down George Orwell’s “memory hole” almost the minute it happens.
Large American popular majorities tell pollsters in anonymous privacy that they support egalitarian social and political values. They back a broad range of progressive, social-democratic programs consistent with those values – universal national health care mandated by the federal government, a rollback of the military budget to meet social needs, a significant reduction of corporate influence over politics, and much more.
But dominant (so-called “mainstream”) U.S. corporate media rarely if ever report any significant part of this progressive public opinion. In my experience, individual Americans are often astonished to learn that their left-leaning policy views are widely held in the U.S
Majority progressive issue and policy beliefs are shockingly unrepresented in the nation’s heavily corporate-crafted and candidate-centered election spectacles. Political campaigns focus heavily on superficial questions related to business-vetted politicians’ imagery and personal “qualities” rather than on substantive policy issues. Candidates who align themselves with progressive majority sentiments (e.g. Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, and Cynthia McKinney) are pushed to the “unviable” and barely discernible margins by dominant political institutions – the corporate media above all. Thanks to his ill-advised habit of speaking passionately against economic inequality, poverty and corporate rule and for union rights, even the semi-progressive John Edwards was deemed too left for respectful media attention during the last “quadrennial electoral extravaganza” (Noam Chomsky’s evocative term).
Mass protests, marches, and street demonstrations do not fare any better. They do not receive much attention from a media that floods the people’s ubiquitous Telescreens with such fine, populace-shaming cultural fare as “Deal or No Deal.”
On February 15, 2003, I scanned the nation’s leading major network and cable news stations looking for remotely serious coverage of historic mass demonstrations against George W. Bush’s planned criminal invasion of Iraq. The remarkable pre-war resistance was invisible on my Telescreen as I heard reporters speaking breathlessly about giant crowds of protestors winding through the streets of Manhattan on an alternative radio station I could barely hear through my personal computer. I was reminded of an anecdote the esteemed Left media analyst Robert W. McChesney had related during a recent lecture at Northern Illinois University. McChesney recalled watching CNN in November of 1999, on a day when tens of thousands of people faced off against police batons, horses, and tear gas while marching against corporate globalization and the World Trade organization in Seattle. An activist friend of his was on the phone describing the remarkable events unfolding outside the window of a downtown Seattle hotel room. McChesney turned on his television, hoping to get live images of the historic events only to see that his television had been “turned into a fishbowl” as CNN showed images of the underwater Atlantic in connection with the networks’ continuing obsession with the tragic plane crash (months earlier) of John Kennedy, Jr.
Consistent with the usual pattern, popular demonstrations for peace and justice at the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions received no serious coverage. This absence of attention made it all the much easier for state authorities to repress the demonstrators activists with savage impunity. (The ruling class communications masters learned well from the “Whole World is Watching” events in Chicago in the summer of 1968: they have not given significant coverage to major party political convention protestors and the police-state attack on those protestors ever since).
Serious left intellectuals are mostly non-existent in the nation’s official political and media culture. They are beyond the pale of serious attention. The United States is home to some very serious and strong left thinkers, including McChesney, John Bellamy Foster, Howard Zinn, David Harvey, Giovanni Arrighi, Immanuel Wallerstein, Edward S. Herman, and, last but not at all least, Noam Chomsky, widely understood (around the world) to be the planet’s top thinker. These people are astonishingly absent from the “mainstream” media’s roster of acceptable “expert” commentators on current events. That roster is loaded with a surplus of reactionary mediocrities and hacks like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, William Bennett, George Will, Patrick Buchanan, Karl Rove, David Brooks, and…the list goes on and on. The nation’s top, actually left intellectuals are essentially banned from even or especially from the national media’s “leftmost” (not saying much) outposts – The New York Times, “public” television and radio, and (according to liberals I know), MSNBC – because they tend to make serious moral criticisms of ruling domestic and imperial institutions, policies, and doctrines.
I myself (toiling at a far less elevated level than a Chomsky) recently published a heavily researched, carefully argued, and highly readable (and respectful) account of the Barack Obama phenomenon. The book’s purposefully non-volatile title is simply “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics” (my initial choices: “Obama Nation” and “The Audacity of Deception”). While I would expect it to be surpassed in coming months or years, it has for some time been by far and away the best single volume published when it comes to understanding the rise of Obama and his place within U.S. political history and culture. Still, the notion of this book being taken seriously and treated respectfully in dominant U.S. media is close to absurd for the simple reason that is explicitly framed from well to the officially unthinkable and impossible left of Obama.
Things are different on the other side of the ideological spectrum. While a critical but respectful left author on Obama cannot be granted media visibility (critical for significant sales), the loony right-wing crackpot Jerome Corsi (who actually ads “Ph.D” after name on his book covers) ran the corporate media table (CNN, FOX “News,” MSNBC, etc.) promoting his ridiculous neo-McCarthyite hit-volume “The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality,” a book that preposterously portrayed Obama as a “far left radical” and “anti-American,” enemy of white people, capitalism, Christianity, and the U.S. military.
The bizarre ranting of Corsi on Obama’s right is granted visibility. Serious book-length criticism from Obama’s left is not. As the sadistic right-wing corporate media thug Bernard Goldberg explained to the right-wing talk show host Milton Rosenburg on Chicago’s WGN radio last weekend (I am writing on Monday, February 23rd), “all of the nation’s left wingers have lined up behind Obama and won’t tolerate any serious criticism of the new administration.” The statement is totally false, of course, but the people, ideas, essays, journals, and Web sites/zines (including Z Magazine, ZNet, CounterPunch, and Black Agenda Report) and books that might disprove it must not be mentioned. The reality of their presence and being cannot be acknowledged. The notion of Rosenburg (a native Chicagoan) having me on to discuss the reality of the Obama phenomenon (as seen from a radical perspective) and presidency is unimaginable given the reigning totalitarian parameters and the doctrinal requirement of Left non-existence.
Recently I’ve been reading John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff’s important book The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (New York: Monthly Review, 2009). This volume is comprised of essays Foster and Magdoff published on the emerging crisis of U.S. capitalism between May 2006 and December of last year. Reviewing these essays during the current epic economic collapse (a finance-triggered breakdown for which renowned global investor George Soros sees “no sign that we are anywhere near the bottom”), it becomes clear that Foster and Magdoff were in possession of knowledge and a paradigm that enabled them to predict not just a cyclical credit crunch but “a major financial meltdown of a kind that the system can much less easily absorb” (as they put it in November of 2006). Their warnings and analysis were invisible and unheard in the broader political and intellectual culture for a starkly simple reason: their analysis is derived from the radical anti-capitalist Kark Marx and from subsequent Marxist and other radical economists Paul Sweezy, Paul Baran, Michael Kalecki, Alvin Hansen, and Hyman Minsky.
Two weeks ago, the leading weekly U.S. magazine Newsweek actually published a cover story titled “We are All Socialists Now.” By “socialism,” the corporate magazine appeared to mean any sort of escalated government intervention in the U.S. economy. There were two things missing from this remarkable Newsweek story:
- Any remotely accurate understanding of socialism as it is grasped and advanced by its modern-day adherents: democratic workers’ and peoples’ control of economic and political life in the interests of social use, equality, and the common good instead of private gain and social hierarchy. As Lance Selfa, a Marxist author, notes at the end of his recent and officially invisible (in the broader political culture) historical analysis of the Democratic Party, “in a socialist society, workers would take control of the factories and offices. The repressive apparatuses of the state – from prisons to the military would be brought under democratic control and then abolished.”
- Discussion with a single solitary living U.S socialist to get his or her take on whether or not the U.S. has now suddenly and miraculously embraced a socialist world view and program. Such a person could easily be found but actual living socialists must remain offstage since they are and their ideals – shared to no small degree (as only a tiny percentage of Americans are permitted to know) by great historical personalities like Albert Einstein (author of a brilliant essay titled “Why Socialism” in the first issue of the Marxist journal Monthly Review), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Helen Keller – are officially invisible under the reigning corporate-Orwellian rules.
I will return in a future commentary to a closer examination of Newsweek’s fascinating “We Are All Socialists Now” claim. In the meantime, I, an officially invisible American, leave you, dear reader, with the definition of capitalism in the second (1979) and unabridged edition of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary. Please note that it contains ample room for significant government intervention and that it contains no reference to the “democracy” and “freedom” with which is routinely and falsely conflated in “mainstream” U.S. media and political discourse: “the economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution, as land, factories, railroads, etc., are privately owned and operated for profit, originally under fully competitive conditions: it has been generally characterized by a tendency toward concentration of wealth and, its latter phase, by the growth of great corporations, increased government controls, etc.”
Paul Street (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a veteran radical historian in Iowa City, IA. Street’s books include Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); and Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, September 2008), which can be ordered here.