Perhaps the most ironic thing about modern day America is the realization that, even though the nation was created through revolution, talk of revolution is almost nonexistent. This is perplexing, particularly since many of the conditions that fueled revolutionary rhetoric during the Nixon era of the late 1960s and early 1970s have reappeared today.
During Nixon’s presidency America was mired in Vietnam—fighting a war on foreign soil that was fabricated on nothing but exaggeration, particularly the now infamous “Gulf of Tonkin” incident. Today America is mired in Iraq—fighting a war on foreign soil that was fabricated on nothing but lies, particularly regarding the existence of “weapons of mass destruction,” and Saddam Hussein’s supposed involvement in the events of September 11, 2001.
Also, during Nixon’s time, a crook named John Mitchell occupied the Office of Attorney General, the highest law enforcement position in the country. During the Bush dictatorship that same office is again being occupied by a crook named Alberto Gonzales.
Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was a venal politician who pleaded “no contest” to charges of tax evasion and money laundering after taking bribes from members of the construction industry. Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, is a venal politician who advocated for the Iraqi war so his former company could make billions of dollars “reconstructing” Iraq through the courtesy of lucrative “no-bid” contracts.
Nixon relied on the warmongering advice of Henry Kissinger, who many today view as an unindicted war criminal. Bush has relied on the warmongering advice of numerous unindicted war criminals: Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz just to name a few.
During the Nixon era, the FBI engaged in a covert and illegal program of domestic spying, known as COINTELPRO. During the Bush dictatorship, the National Security Agency engaged in a covert and illegal program of domestic spying that was so rabidly embraced by Gonzales that he tried to force his predecessor, John Ashcroft, to renew the program while Ashcroft lay critically ill in the hospital.
The Church Committee Hearings into the COINTELPRO operation during the mid-1970s revealed that the FBI had basically disregarded the constitutional rights and liberties of those targeted for “neutralization,” by conducting illegal break-ins, withholding exculpatory evidence and/or fabricating inculpatory evidence, imprisoning innocent people, and ignoring, or in some cases encouraging, violence, including attempts to assassinate COINTELPRO targets. Today laws like the “Patriot Act” have essentially obliterated the legal safeguards put into place in the aftermath of those hearings, thus moving the illegalities of COINTELPRO from the darkness of night to the brightness of day.
Even if these similarities are not enough to reignite the call for revolution, there are additional circumstances that should make this call even more resounding than it was decades ago.
Today America is a nation governed by an illegitimate dictatorship that stole power through two so-called “elections,” rigged by the plutocrats of the military-industrial complex who truly control America.
Today, instead of simply maintaining a list of alleged “enemies,” who would be detained in the event of a national emergency, the Bush dictatorship operates detention camps throughout the world, resulting in the denial of legal due process, unlawful confinement, abuse of human rights, and torture.
And while many of the crooks in the Nixon administration were criminally prosecuted and convicted of their crimes, the judicial branch of government, particularly the unethical, politically partisan United States Supreme Court, turns a blind eye to the crimes of the Bush dictatorship and, in some cases, zealously endorses them.
Finally, while Nixon resigned after realizing that his lies would result in impeachment proceedings, George W. Bush and his minions continue to act with immunity because members of an impotent United States Congress, occupied by many Presidential “wannabes” (some from his own party), are swift to criticize Bush’s policies, but lack the courage necessary to remove him and his thugs from office.
So why is it, given all these circumstances, that the call for revolution still remains a distant echo in the past?
One reason, perhaps, is because there is no longer a military draft; thus the youth of America aren’t as adamant about opposing an illegal war when they don’t face the prospect of being forced to fight in it.
Second is the decline of Marxism. Successful revolutions leave a void that need to be filled. Simply overthrowing a government or an economic system is vacuous if there is nothing to take its place. Marxism, in the eyes of the 1960s revolutionary, offered an alternative to a capitalist system that many revolutionaries viewed as exploitive, unjust and jingoistic.
Finally, there is the influence of America’s corrupt, corporate-controlled media. In the past, media were not hesitant to ask the difficult questions and, since the scant number of television stations available carried both entertainment and news programs, one station did not have to raceanother in pursuit of a story.
Today’s, with hundreds of television stations, including numerous “news” stations that operate around the clock, competition is fierce. These media have realized that war is good business, and thus are less inclined to question the motives behind it. These media have also realized that “news” does not actually have to be news, because a public fed meaningless gossip and superficiality still experiences the sensation of being informed.
But while these three elements may factor into the decline of the revolutionary mindset, they are not the cause of this decline. The cause, quite simply, is the inability of people in the United States to attain, and maintain, the unity necessary to bring about meaningful change.
This inability to unify was playfully alluded to by the late Abbie Hoffman, founder of the Yippie Movement, after learning that he and seven other defendants were being charged with conspiracy for allegedly causing the violence that erupted during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago: “Conspiracy? We can’t even agree on what to have for lunch!!”
There is a great deal of veracity in Hoffman’s quip. After all, “rock-and-roll” bands that made millions of dollars as cohesive units often split up over relatively minor issues. Clearly if three or four people in a profitable band cannot get along, how can one expect to maintain unity in a group whose membership runs into the thousands?
By contrast, those who seek to maintain the status quo face no such obstacle. If they profit from capitalism, they are already unified to protect it at any cost. If they obtain power through a corrupt democracy, they are already united to safeguard that corruption so they can maintain their grip on power. All American governmental institutions, from the FBI to the CIA, have one implicit mandate—preserve capitalism and the corporate interests, both domestically and abroad, even if it means sacrificing democracy, justice and human rights.
This is why the power structure fears, and incessantly seeks to destroy, the unity of people seeking progressive social change.
This was illustrated during the early decades of the 20th century, when the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) sought to organize all the workers in the nation into one union. The government destroyed the IWW through the abuse of blatantly unconstitutional “Espionage” and “Sedition” Acts.
This scenario was repeated when Chicago Black Panther Party (BPP) leader Fred Hampton endeavored to form a “Rainbow Coalition” comprised of people from all races. To undermine this endeavor, the FBI anonymously mailed “anti-white” cartoons to white coalition members, attributing the authorship of such cartoons to the Panthers. They also sent an anonymous letter to the leader of the Blackstone Rangers (a predominantly African-American group that also belonged to this coalition), that claimed the Panthers were plotting to murder him. Just a few months later, William O’Neal, an FBI informant sent to infiltrate the Chicago area Panthers, widened the rift between the Panthers and Rangers by instigating a confrontation between them.
The strategy of anonymously mailing derogatory or threatening cartoons was also employed by the FBI to “fully capitalize” on differences between the Panthers and the US Organization in California, ultimately resulting in the murders of at least four Panther members.
This determination to prevent unity and solidarity between racially diverse groups also resulted in the founder of the “White Panther Party,” John Sinclair, being sentenced to ten years in prison for possessing two “joints” of marijuana, as well as the “neutralization” of Jean Seberg, a white actress and financial supporter of the Panthers, who committed suicide after the FBI circulated false rumors claiming that the father of her unborn child was a prominent BPP leader.
This strategy of turning group against group was humorously, yet brilliantly, satirized in Monty Python’s THE LIFE OF BRIAN. Set in Roman occupied Judaea during the time of Christ, this movie shows numerous revolutionary groups, ostensibly formed to fight the Romans, spending most of their time and energy fighting each other, oftentimes while the Romans indifferently look on.
This is what a lack of unity can do.
Some may argue that while the ability to manipulate or exploit hostilities between competing groups is easy, the ability to foment dissension within a group is not.
Unfortunately this is not the case. Although group members may find it relatively easy to agree that change is necessary, internecine conflict often erupts during debates about what type of changes are needed and/or how to bring them about.
For example, the formation of the “New Left” in the early 1960s was designed to distinguish the group from the “Old Left.” The “New Left” supported self-determination for people in “third world” nations, and promoted revolution without working class involvement, arguing that most members of the working class are conservative by nature and therefore more accepting of government policies, particularly during times of war.
However, it wasn’t long before factional infighting destroyed the “New Left.” One faction, which evolved into the Weather Underground, favored a Che Guevara style of confrontation when promoting revolutionary doctrine, believing that the conditions for revolution can be created by provoking authorities into hostile and violent reactions that compel people to question the society they live in.
The other faction favored a Maoist methodology—preparing for revolution, but avoiding confrontation until the conditions were ripe for it.
Such factionalism also occurred within the ranks of the BPP. When the party adopted the inclusive motto “Power to the People,” and demanded freedom and justice for all the oppressed, regardless of their race, members like Stokely Carmichael, who advocated the exclusive doctrine of “Black Power,” withdrew from the group.
Ultimately the BPP split into two competing factions when prominent Panther member Eldridge Cleaver sought to pursue social change through confrontational tactics similar to the Weather Underground’s, and denounced BPP co-founder Huey Newton for focusing more on the Panther’s community programs.
It soon became evident, however, that the Che Guevara style of revolution required a populace capable of outrage. Unfortunately in America, a nation with a history of racism and oppression, this is often lacking. Although Americans claim to respect those with the courage to speak out, regardless of the consequences, they are indoctrinated with the idea that those who “rock the boat” are simply asking for trouble, and deserving of any repercussions they receive.
Naturally whenever the existence of factionalism within a group becomes public knowledge, opponents or enemies will exploit it to their advantage. So some will argue that a group is better served when it keeps its factional conflicts a secret.
Unfortunately, groups, particularly larger groups, are often susceptible to infiltration by informants and saboteurs. These infiltrators often attempt to take over a group for their own purposes, or, if they come from competing groups, attempt to destroy the group they’ve infiltrated so they can assimilate its members into their own organizations.
One way a group can be compromised or destroyed is when infiltrators incite group members into committing illegal acts. This is particularly effective when the factional divisions within a group are not public knowledge, because actions not sanctioned by a group’s leadership are nonetheless attributed to them. This can result in the imprisonment (or in Fred Hampton’s case the murder) of group leaders, which usually results in the demise of the group itself.
Although some have attempted to remedy this situation by creating “leaderless” groups, such a creation is often difficult to maintain. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently spoke of human nature’s “drum major instinct,” where people desire to “lead the parade” and not just be an invisible part of a group or movement. This instinct can intensify when sacrifices are demanded of a person, since he or she wants to ensure their efforts will not go unheralded. In some cases, instead of facing the prospect of an unacknowledged sacrifice, a person will leave one group to form another, so his or her efforts will be recognized.
Such factionalism, however, is not unique to left wing, revolutionary organizations. Right-wing groups often experience the same problem, as do many religious and political institutions.
The anti-war movement, for example, is often perceived as cohesive, when, in actuality, it is frequently comprised of three different factions. One faction may oppose a certain war, but not all war. This was demonstrated when many of the organizations that opposed America’s entry into World War I were later angered by the American government’s refusal to fight fascism a few years later, during the Spanish Civil War.
A second faction, the pacifists, normally opposes war on religious or moral grounds, while the third faction outwardly opposes war, especially “unpopular” wars, yet secretly wants them to persist as long as possible, since the discontent sired by unpopular wars can be exploited for political gain.
This inability of Americans to unify for the common good, or against a common evil, even results in people acting against their self-interests. The Civil War, for example, saw many impoverished youths from the American South fighting and dying to defend “white supremacy.” Yet many of these youths were impoverished because African-American slaves were being forced to do for free what Southern whites would demand a salary to do.
Dr. King spoke of a similar situation after he learned that the guards who conversed with him while he was in jail were just as poor as most of the African-Americans living in the American South. Yet the idea of “white supremacy” had made these guards oblivious to the economic injustices that people of all races were suffering.
Ironically, as a History Channel documentary pointed out, many of the Klan members who attacked and killed protesters from the Communist Workers Party (CWP) in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979 were being economically exploited by the very industries the CWP was trying to reform. Yet their racial and political animosities actually motivated them toserve the interests of their exploiters.
The late Malcolm X once said, “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone, and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash. But I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin . . .”
But this clash will never be as long as racism persists, as long as people remain susceptible to the machinations of corrupt and evil men, and as long as unity in America remains the impossible dream.
David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru