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Democracy and Power

Noam Chomsky

2. The Vicissitudes of Democracy: Part 11

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  • 1 Lecture delivered at the Delhi School of Economics on 12 January 1996.

1The current period, as you know, is commonly described as a period of unprecedented flourishing of democracy and markets. Let me begin by clarifying my own point of view on this general topic. In my view, the most striking feature of the current period is not the flourishing of democracy and markets, but a major attack on democracy, human rights and even markets. One aspect of this is a kind of experiment, an unprecedented experiment, to extend to the rich industrial societies (primarily the US, England, the Anglo-American societies) something like the structural model of the Third World. By this, I mean societies that are sharply stratified into a small sector of extreme wealth and power, a huge mass of people who are living somewhere between unpleasantness and utter misery, and another group of people who are simply superfluous for profit-making, and therefore have no rights, and have to be disposed of in some fashion or other. You can’t take a walk in an American city or most British ones without recognizing the Third World. Things look somewhat different, because these cities are obviously much richer. But the structure is there, and is being imposed by conscious social policy. It has nothing to do with the laws of nature, or the market and its infinite wisdom, or various things to which this is attributed. It is perfectly deliberate social policy, making use of institutional possibilities that have existed for some years, and are being used for this purpose. Well, I want to fill in some of the pieces of that point of view – but let me begin with the concept of democracy, which I think is at the heart of the whole matter.

2Democracy, like many other terms of political discourse, has become so abused in recent years as to be virtually useless. Recall, for instance, the “people’s democracies” of eastern Europe. Recognizing the absurdity of that use of the term democracy, one might be surprised by a recent article by one of the outstanding students of contemporary American democracy, Robert McChesney (professor at the University of Wisconsin), who writes that in the second half of the twentieth century, only the former USSR, among the industrial countries, approached the US for its level of mass depoliticization. He says it’s one of the reigning paradoxes in social theory, since the US has perhaps the most solidly established democratic institutions of any country and is sometimes even described as “an inspiration for the triumph of democracy in our time” (I’m quoting the editors of The New Republic, at what’s considered the liberal end of the mainstream spectrum). Well, the vast majority of the American population disagrees with the standard elite perception and accepts the rather dim view that McChesney describes. So eighty percent of the population in the US believe that the government, in the wording of the polls, works for the few and the special interests, not for the people. This proportion has sharply increased, from a fairly steady fifty percent that have given that answer for some years now; similarly, over eighty percent regard the economic system as inherently unfair (in the wording of the polls), and half the population thinks that both the political parties should be disbanded. Voting is low; it has been declining through the years.

3The same is true of participation in the kinds of secondary organizations that are the foundation of any functioning democracy. That’s part of a more general and striking phenomenon that Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam has called the strange disappearance of civic America. In the past thirty years of increasing cynicism and alienation, people’s participation in any form of social activity has declined by about half. That’s a substantial fall, and it includes everything, from participation in various political and social groups to parent-teacher associations, listening to talks, even joining bowling leagues – it’s fallen very radically. There are, in fact, countertrends, very clear and significant, but they are not studied much because they have a dissident character, so they’re outside the domain of inquiry for a respectable study. Nevertheless, the general phenomenon is quite real, and it is true to say, as Putnam does, that civil society has pretty much collapsed – a dramatic and striking fact. The mass depoliticization that McChesney is talking about is part of that.

4Quite generally, public attitudes differ substantially from the way they are portrayed. In 1984, for example, Ronald Reagan won a landslide victory, which was called a popular mandate for conservatives. And indeed, he was chosen as a “real conservative” by a section of the voters, actually four percent of the voters, which means that two percent of the electorate chose him because he was a real conservative. That’s what is called a landslide victory for conservatives in contemporary rhetoric. About sixty percent of voters hoped that his legislative programs would not be enacted. In general, Reagan’s popularity was mostly a media fabrication – it was nothing special, and by 1992 he was ranking right with Nixon as the most unpopular living ex-President. Public opinion studies, right through the so-called period of conservatism, showed a steady drift towards vaguely New Deal style – roughly “social democratic welfare state” – liberalism, even willingness to accept higher taxes if they are used for public social spending (for health, education, environmental protection, helping the poor, and so on). The major priority of the population, steadily in the polls, is for stimulative activities on the part of the government to create decent employment – that has been the highest priority and remains so. All these attitudes persist without substantial change. However, these concerns and attitudes of the general population are simply not articulated in the political arena. The divorce has always been significant, and by now, it’s dramatic. That’s one reason why voting has been so limited and declining, and also why it’s so skewed toward the wealthy (the richer you are, the more likely you are to vote). Another aspect of this is that political campaigns are pretty much a form of marketing, which nobody takes seriously, except the political commentators, newspapers, and intellectuals, who are paid to take it seriously – the population doesn’t.

5These factors were very dramatic in the latest election (November 1994). Quite regularly, campaign spending is a pretty good predictor of electoral victory. In 1994, you could predict who was going to win with ninety percent accuracy if you simply asked who spent more than his or her opponent. The voting was skewed toward the wealthy, even more than usual. That probably accounts for most of the shift in votes from 1992 when Clinton won. This 1994 election is called a conservative landslide – in fact, the percentage shift was about two percent. About twenty percent of the electorate, which means a bare majority of participants (participants are a little over a third of the population), voted for the Republicans. One out of six voters considered the election to be an affirmation of the Republican agenda. Only a quarter of the population had ever heard of the famous “Contract with America,” the Republican agenda. This was actually a PR stunt, cooked up at the last minute, and a large majority of the population opposed its individual provisions when they were asked about them. The leader of this “political earthquake,” as it is called, Newt Gingrich, was quite unpopular at the time, and his rankings have dropped very severely since. He is now one of the most unpopular figures in American politics.

6The people who chose to participate in the 1994 elections were mostly voting the rascals out, and that’s the way it usually is. People don’t really care what their stand is, just get rid of them. Anybody can do better. There were a few candidates, not many, who tried to mobilize the traditional popular Democratic coalition (labor, minorities, the poor, etc.). They actually did quite well in the 1994 elections. The ones who got smashed were the Clinton New Democrats, whom the population regards, rightly, as less extreme Republicans – they lost very badly. If you take a look at non-voters, which is a majority of the population, their opinion profiles match very closely with those of voters who voted Democratic. But there’s just very little participation on the part of people who would support a populist left coalition committed to equitable economic growth and political democracy, if such an opinion were allowed to intrude into the political arena, which it is not. In its absence, many people are turning to religious fanaticism, which is quite extraordinary in the US, probably the most fundamentalist country in the world, more than Iran, I assume. Cults of every imaginable kind, including paramilitary organizations, all sorts of irrationality are flourishing. These are pretty ominous developments, they have precedents, which we remember without much pleasure, and, by now, these developments are beginning to concern even corporate executives, who otherwise approve very highly of the actions of the Gingrich army and their dedication to the rich and privileged.

7The new Congress, claiming this popular mandate, moved very quickly to dismantle sixty years of social spending. This is a dramatic illustration of the paradox of mass depoliticization within well-established institutions of formal democracy. In general, government policy and public attitudes are quite at variance, but, as I said, the discrepancy in the last few years has been really startling. When this conservative mandate was allegedly granted last November, about sixty percent of the population wanted an increase in social spending. Large majorities are in favor of high social spending for health, education, environmental protection, and so on.

8There is hardly a single issue on which policy even resembles public opinion. A striking example relates to balancing the budget. That’s the central issue in Washington; as you probably know, the government’s been closed down for a couple of months. It’s the highest priority for both political parties – they agree about balancing the budget and differ only on the time frame, say, whether it should be seven years or seven and a half years. The numbers change around a little bit, and so on. If you listen to the US press or radio, you hear endlessly that Americans voted for a balanced budget – that is false. Or, let’s be more precise ‒ half false. The US is a very heavily polled society. Business wants to keep its finger on the public pulse. But polls have to be read very carefully. In their design, there’s usually one set of questions for headline writers, and another set of questions for people who want to know how to design propaganda properly. They want to know what the people are thinking; and the budget is a good case. There is a question that says, “Would you like to have the budget balanced?” and everybody says, “sure.” It’s like saying, would you like your debts magically eliminated? Then comes the next question, which is the serious question: would you like to have your debts eliminated if it means you lose your house, car, and refrigerator, and your children can’t go to school? And everybody says, “no.” It’s the same with that question here. If people are asked, “Do you want the budget balanced under any realistic conditions?” ‒ an overwhelming majority oppose it. But that, as I said, is for people who want to know how to package and market things. The first question, do you want the budget balanced, is for the headline writers, and they aren’t lying when they say that people want their debts magically eliminated. In fact, what the population continues to want are stimulative programs for job growth, the growth of decent jobs. The standard welfare package remains very popular.

9Now, there remains a section of the population that thinks that balancing the budget is the highest priority. It’s five percent. That’s the same as the proportion that think that homelessness is the highest priority. However, that five percent happens to include the people who count in the political system, namely the corporate and financial community. So if you read the business press, say BusinessWeek, there’s a headline saying that “American business has spoken, Balance the budget.” That’s based on a poll of business executives, and when business speaks, the political class listens, the intellectuals say what they’re supposed to say, and the press tells you that’s the story, which it is ‒ for the people who matter.

10Why does business want the budget balanced? As an economic policy, it really does not make a lot of sense. Aside from conforming to very narrow short-term profit interests, budget balancing is mainly a weapon that can be used against social programs. These have been declining quite severely for some years. There was something called a war on poverty, which is supposed to have failed, but what’s not usually mentioned is that the war was barely even a skirmish that lasted about two to three years, and it ended with Nixon, who was the last liberal President. By the early 1970s, welfare programs were declining very sharply, and with quite harmful effects. Part of the Third World character of much of urban society is the result of that. Of the current debt, about eighty percent comes from the Reagan years. The Reagan administration succeeded, within a few years, in turning the nation from the world’s leading creditor nation into the world’s leading debtor, and that was quite consciously intended as a weapon against social spending. The weapon can now be used to ensure that government programs are focused even more narrowly on the welfare of the people who count – the rich and the privileged, who have a huge welfare state which not only remains, but is increasing without any concern for balancing the budget. I’ll return to those steps. But they should, they’re intended to, and doubtless will, increase the huge profits of the past years. The business press is utterly euphoric about the prospects and describes them as dazzling, stupendous, and so on.

11The US has been a business-run society pretty much from its origins, and the scale is impressive. Every year, Fortune, the leading business monthly, publishes a list called Fortune 500 – the 500 biggest corporations. This year, the Fortune 500 controlled two-thirds of the GDP, as well as a very substantial portion of the international economy, and that’s why we know so much about public attitudes. These guys who run the place want to know what the public is thinking. One of their major activities, in fact, is marketing. About a trillion dollars a year are spent simply on marketing – that’s one-seventh of GDP. Its practitioners understand very well (and they are kind enough to tell us, if we read their publications to one another) that marketing is mainly a matter of manipulation and control. That doesn’t mean only creating artificial wants and making people buy goods they don’t need or want; it also involves marketing ideas and attitudes. The PR industry is a huge industry. Its leading figure was Edward Bernays, who was incidentally a good Wilson-Roosevelt-Kennedy liberal. In the 1920s, he described the “engineering of consent” as the “very essence of the democratic process,” “the freedom to persuade and to suggest.” Now, of course, as you recognize, freedom happens to be concentrated in a few hands. But that’s just the notion of free society that we all have drilled into us from childhood. There are many illustrations of this. One of the most striking is the history of the electronic media in the United States. The US is unusual, perhaps unique, in that radio was very quickly handed over to private corporations with scarcely any gesture toward public interest. It was interesting to watch the discussion about it. Even progressives or so-called civil libertarians regarded this giveaway of radio to private power as a victory for democracy – as power to the people, namely RCA, GE, and so on. The same was true about TV without even any discussion. Just a couple of weeks ago, the internet, which, of course, was publicly created, was handed over to private power as well. What about the print media? They aren’t controlled by private power, rather, they are huge corporations, parts of bigger conglomerates – they are in business, like everything else. They sell a product – the product is audiences, which they sell to other businesses, called advertisers. The elite press, which sets the agenda for most of the rest, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, is made up of big corporations which sell privileged audiences to other businesses. And, not surprisingly, the picture of the world that emerges from this interaction reflects the interests of the sellers, the buyers and the product. It would be pretty amazing if it didn’t. This non-surprising fact has been documented beyond serious dispute, and the effects are often pretty remarkable.

12It also comes as no big surprise that “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business” – I’m quoting America’s leading twentieth-century social philosopher John Dewey, who added quite realistically that “attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.” And in its own way, the public grasps this, as the facts mentioned earlier indicate; although with mass depoliticization, the collapse of civil society, and narrowly constrained doctrinal institutions, public perceptions are often very confused and quite irrational. On the other hand, the business world has tight organization, ample resources, and a high level of class consciousness. They see themselves as fighting a bitter class war, and have done so for a long time. Business has long understood that what it calls the “public mind” is “the only serious danger confronting the company,” AT & T in this case, but the AT & T corporate executive, quoted early in the century, is expressing a much more general view, among those whom Adam Smith called “the masters of mankind.” The people who spend trillions of dollars a year in marketing ideas, as well as goods, have long understood the lesson expressed by Bernays, who wrote an influential manual for the rising PR industry in 1928, in which he explained that “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society... It is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically.” The intelligent minorities aren’t intelligent because they have high IQs or anything like that, but because they have the good sense to serve the proper masters – that’s the criterion of intelligence, and, of course, it’s not a special feature of the US. The term propaganda was used quite openly in those more frank days. Today, after the Nazis and the Second World War, people don’t like the word, so they call it something else. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, it was straightforwardly called “propaganda,” which it is.

13To control the public mind, you need to know what people are thinking, and what their attitudes are. This is the reason for the heavy polling – it’s a side benefit for the people who want to know the truth, because we can look at the business journals where the polls are, and find out what people are thinking. So take, say, this “Contract with America,” which is run through Congress, and it’s going to have a big effect on American life. It’s constantly described as poll-driven; they say Washington is simply responding to public will in a pluralist democracy. Here we have another paradox – polls show clearly that the public overwhelmingly opposes the policies that are enacted under public pressure. Social spending has been cut, when people want it to go up, and military spending is going up, when people are opposed to that by six to one – that’s the last thing that people want raised in all the polls.

14How can the Republican agenda then be called poll-driven? That’s not false, and the answer was given by the polling specialist of the Gingrich Republicans, Frank Luntz, and reported in the business press under the headline “GOP pollsters never measure popularity of ‘Contract’, only slogans.” Luntz told reporters that a majority of Americans supported each of the ten parts of the Contract. What he meant, he conceded, is that a majority liked the slogans that were being used to package it. So the public opposes slashing the health system, but it favors “protecting the health system.” Slashing the health system is called “protecting the health system,” and it turns out that people favor that, and so on, down the line.

15All this is quite natural in a society dominated by institutions of private power, which are devoted to undermining the threat of democracy for perfectly good reasons. That’s the resolution of the apparent paradox of mass depoliticization within democratic institutions. In fact, it’s the resolution that’s pointed out in the article I mentioned earlier. McChesney was reviewing an important book by an old friend of mine who died recently, an Australian social scientist named Alex Carey. The book is called Taking the Risk Out of Democracy. Carey pioneered the study of corporate propaganda, and his book is a collection of essays, which are largely unknown, just as the topic itself is rarely studied. Actually, the first academic study of corporate propaganda appeared in the US just a few months ago, which is a very remarkable fact. There is no doubt that corporate propaganda is a leading feature of modern society and culture, but it is almost never studied, and the reason is clear enough. The shadow that’s cast over the political system by private power extends to every other part of the social order as well. The last thing that those who cast it want is for people to understand what they’re up to, and that’s understood in the political science community as well. So there’s a position at Harvard, one of my favorite titles, called the Professorship of the Science of Government, which is held by Samuel Huntington, a good source of quotes, who wrote an important book called American Politics, in which he pointed out that “the architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt, but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark. Exposed to the sunlight, it begins to evaporate.” This is a useful message, but for the general public, different mantras are preferred.

16Alex Carey opens his most important essay by formulating and at once resolving the paradox of depoliticization under democracy, and he puts it succinctly and correctly. Carey writes that “the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” And that conclusion extends very broadly, it extends to much of what reaches the general public through the media and the journals of opinion, and, in fact, it extends to a good deal more of scholarship than its practitioners like to admit. Individual attitudes remain resilient, as the polls I mentioned earlier indicate, and remarkably so, given the fact that they receive no support. People don’t hear them; people just feel them, and they’re held in isolation, but nevertheless, that propaganda offensive has taken its toll. The striking fanaticism in the country (cults, religious fanaticism and that sort of thing) is one effect of the success of corporate propaganda, as is the collapse of civil society. The people who would have been working, say, sixty years ago, to build industrial unions are now joining paramilitary organizations. Look at the people who are accused of blowing up the federal building, take a look at their social profiles, class backgrounds, and so on. They’re much the same people who would’ve been working to create the CIO sixty years ago. They are angry, and that’s understandable (their lives have fallen apart), but they are also very confused. So over eighty percent of the population thinks that working people don’t have influence on what goes on, but only twenty percent think that unions don’t have enough influence. In fact, about forty percent consider them too influential – workers don’t have enough influence, but unions have too much influence. That’s the general view.

17Take NAFTA, the seriously mislabeled North American Free Trade Agreement (the only thing that’s true about that description is that it had to do with North America). NAFTA was strongly opposed by the general public, despite a huge propaganda barrage. However, the same people who opposed NAFTA condemned the unions that were lobbying for, very much, the positions that they held. Although of course, they really couldn’t know that, because the positions of the labor movement were simply excluded from the media, in pretty remarkable ways.

18Take foreign aid. It’s supposed to be very unpopular, and, on the surface, it does look very unpopular. However, when you look a little more closely, you discover several things. Firstly, people vastly overestimate how much foreign aid the US gives, and when they’re asked how much they think the US should give, they say more than it actually is. People are even willing to accept higher taxes if there is foreign aid that goes to the poor. They correctly understand that it doesn’t, even if they don’t know the details. They do oppose foreign aid, but they want it to be higher than it is. And certainly, they don’t know that the US foreign aid program is the most miserly in the developed world. It virtually disappears if you eliminate the biggest component, which happens to go to a rich society. Very few people know that foreign aid is basically a form of export promotion. In most countries, foreign aid is aid from the taxpayer to domestic-based corporations that happens to pass through some other country, which may incidentally benefit from it or may not.

19The same is true of welfare at home. People vastly overestimate its scale. They think that the government has the responsibility to help the poor, but they want welfare cut back – very similar to the attitude towards unions. And, of course, very few people are aware that the Pentagon system is primarily a welfare system for the rich. What has happened? What has happened is that people are inundated with propaganda (including movies, TV, newspapers) that depicts unions as enemies of the worker, black mothers on welfare breeding like rabbits and driving Cadillacs, liberal elites and petty bureaucrats stealing money and interfering in our lives, and the whole familiar refrain. All of that has left attitudes pretty much unchanged, but it has left people very confused.

20The current mood is conventionally and accurately described as the mood of anti-politics. That says – get the rascals out, get rid of the government. Intensive propaganda has succeeded in erasing from people’s minds an understanding of the most elementary aspect of contemporary reality, namely that politics may be bad but the reason is that it’s the shadow cast by business over society. And naturally, you’re not supposed to see what casts the shadow, only the shadow. That’s what the propaganda focuses on, and it makes good sense for those who cast the shadow to focus people’s attention on the government. Propaganda focuses on the evils of the government, because one of the good things about government is that, at least in principle, and sometimes even in fact, it can be influenced by the general public. That’s not true of the private tyrannies (basically, totalitarian institutions) that cast the shadow. They can’t be influenced even in principle. So, to the extent that power can be shifted to them, the threat of democracy is reduced.

21This has been going on for a long time. After the First World War, Woodrow Wilson carried out a Red Scare, which was quite something. It decimated the labor movement and pretty much eliminated independent thought. At that point, the business world, and the self-designated “intelligent minorities” who serve its interests, thought that the game was over, that we’ve reached the end of history. Well, a couple of years later, there was an unexpected and substantial popular mobilization, which demonstrated that the euphoria over the end of history was wrong – not the first time, and not the last. Business reacted to this with considerable alarm. In the mid-1930s, when the US was kind of being brought into the industrial world with standard welfare programs, business publications warned of what they called “the hazards facing the industrialists in the newly realized political power of the masses.” Incidentally, the tone of this should not surprise you. Business publications read like vulgar Marxist tracts, with the values reversed but the same kind of terminology. Words like “the masses” can’t be used in general discourse today, except by business. So they were worried about the newly realized power of the masses: “we are definitely heading for adversity” unless their thinking is directed to more proper channels. This is the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM); its PR budget increased by a factor of twenty between 1934 and 1937, right at the time when the New Deal measures were being passed. And that hazard only grew in severity with the Second World War, as the US population joined the social democratic currents that were sweeping the better part of the world, and the business world knew it. One leading PR firm warned, in 1947, that our present economic system and the men who run it had three years, maybe five at the outside, to resell our preferred way of life as against competing systems. The chairman of the PR advisory committee for the NAM called for a huge campaign to win “the everlasting battle for the minds of men” and to “stem the current drift towards socialism.” The NAM distributed 18 million pamphlets from 1946 to 1950, about forty percent of them to the workforce, as part of what the business press described as an extensive program to indoctrinate employees. The rest mostly went to students, community leaders, and business leaders. Business propaganda was reaching about 70 million people, Fortune editor Daniel Bell wrote at the time, along with other propaganda that he called “staggering” and prodigious in its scale: by the early 1950s, about 20 million people a week were reported to be watching business-sponsored films. Another PR executive explained that the entertainment industry was enlisted for the cause, portraying unions as the enemy, the outsider disrupting the harmony of the American way of life, and otherwise helping to indoctrinate the citizens with the capitalist story. In fact, every aspect of social life was targeted – schools, universities, churches, even recreational programs. To indicate the scale, by 1954, one third of the material that students were using in public schools was designed and funded by business. At that time there still was a labor press, and it sought to combat what it called the plan “to sell the American people on the virtues of big business.” They recognized that the commercial media world would follow the policy of “damning labor at every opportunity, while carefully glossing over the sins of the banking and industrial magnates who really control the nation.” Those are quotes from some of the 800 labor papers which, at that time, still reached about 20-30 million people, and had survived for about a hundred years. A hundred years earlier, they were more or less on the scale of the capitalist press. In the 1950s they were seeking, in their own words, to expose racial hatred and “all kinds of anti-democratic words and deeds,” and to provide “antidotes for the worst poisons of the kept press.” But, of course, working people entirely lacked the resources to compete, and this independent press disappeared shortly afterwards, and is forgotten from memory.

22The story continues to the present, including the “concerted efforts” of corporate America “to change the attitudes and values of workers” and convert “worker apathy into corporate allegiance,” and Advertising Council campaigns “saturating the media and reaching practically everybody,” as the business press describes the campaigns. “Chairs of Free Enterprise” and other measures have been initiated to subvert the educational system. There is no time to review here the impressive array of measures that have been deployed by a highly class-conscious business community, which has always seen itself as fighting a bitter class war, and for whom cost is no consideration. So effectively has functioning civil society been dismantled that Congress can now ram through programs opposed by large majorities, who are left in fear, anger, and hopelessness.

23The achievement is real. Yale University labor historian David Montgomery has pointed out that, “For working people, the most important part of the Jeffersonian legacy was the shelter it provided to free association, diversity of beliefs and behavior, and defiance of alleged social superiors in society.” The structures of civil society “obstructed bourgeois control of American life at every turn.” That is the basic motivation for the unremitting campaigns to demolish the independent press and effective forms of community solidarity, from trade unions to political clubs and organizations. They have been conducted with passionate intensity and considerable success.

24The history of the labor movement is probably the most important part of the story in the US. As you know, society’s working class organizations have traditionally been the main mechanism by which ordinary people have been able to pool their very limited resources and act in their own common interests, which is the interest of the large majority – that’s been a major factor in the extension of democracy and human rights. US labor history is interesting. For one thing, it is very violent, more so than in other industrial societies. It was not until the Great Depression in the 1930s that elementary rights were won, and they have been steadily eroded in the postwar years, very dramatically in the Reagan years. The Reaganites openly fostered corporate crime, outright corporate crime, to destroy the remnants of the industrial union years, as the business press, incidentally, has recorded rather accurately. This idea of democracy as a threat is not obscure. In the public domain, more exalted rhetoric is preferred, but for the “intelligent minority” the idea is commonplace. So at the time when Bernays was teaching the business world about the need to manipulate the organized habits and opinions of the masses, one of the leading public intellectuals, Walter Lippmann, was writing his influential “Progressive Essays on Democracy,” in which he describes the new modes of “manufacture of consent” as a revolution in the practice of democracy. Like Bernays, Lippmann had served in the first government propaganda organization, established by Woodrow Wilson to try to turn a mostly pacifist population into jingoist fanatics and warmongers, a purpose in which it was extremely successful. That feat impressed Lippmann, as it impressed Bernays, and also others, among them Hitler, who writes about it quite bitterly. Hitler felt that Germany was never able to combat the powerful and effective Anglo-American propaganda systems, and he vowed that, next time around, Germany would be ready to compete. Going back to Lippmann, he develops a theory of democracy. The public, he says, are “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” who must not be allowed to intrude in the management of public affairs. They do have what he calls a “function” in a democracy, namely “spectators” but not “participants.” They are permitted to select, now and then, among responsible men. That point was elaborated by one of the founders of modern political science, leading liberal thinker Harold Lasswell. He has an entry on “propaganda” in the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences (this is pre-war, they still used the word), where he warns that we should not “succumb to democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests” – they’re not. They must be reduced to mass depoliticization for their own good.

25These are very conventional ideas and they continue more recently. In the 1970s, for instance, the first study of the Trilateral Commission was devoted to what it called the “crisis of democracy” in the US, Europe, and Japan (the trilateral regions). The crisis was very frankly explained. In the 1960s, large sections of the population that are usually passive and apathetic began to organize and articulate their interests, and tried to get them into the public arena and press for them. Well, if you’re naive, you might think that’s democracy. If you are the intelligent minority, you understand that this is a crisis of democracy that has to be overcome. People have to be restored to passivity and obedience in the name of democracy. Therefore, the Commission suggested mass depoliticization, perhaps even a return to the good old days when “Truman had been able to run the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers,” so we had real democracy. That was a quote from the Professor of Science of Government at Harvard. Maybe such nostalgia involves a little bit of exaggeration, but he got the point right.

26All the opinions that I’ve been sampling so far are from the democratic end of the spectrum, the liberal end, in the American sense of the word “liberal.” At the other extreme, you get reactionary ideas of the Reagan-Gingrich variety (mislabeled “conservative”). They don’t agree that the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” should even be spectators. That is why they have such a fascination with secrecy, deceit, clandestine operations and other methods to undermine the functioning of democracy. Take, say, clandestine operations. The extent to which a country is involved in clandestine operations is usually a pretty good measure of elite hatred of democracy, because clandestine operations aren’t secret from everybody. They are certainly not secret from the victims. They know all about it. Take for example the huge clandestine operations that the Reagan administration was running in Central America in the 1980s. Obviously, the people of Central America knew all about it, people were getting slaughtered. They were well known to the big international terrorist network that the US set up. Remember that the US is a big player. It’s not like Libya. Libya may hire individual terrorists, but the US hires terrorist states. That’s what you do when you’re a big guy, so that the terrorist network included Taiwan, Israel, England, Saudi Arabia – big terrorist states. They all knew about it. In fact, the truth of the matter is that the clandestine operations were even known to the press, but they were sort of behind enough clouds, so that you could pretend shock and dismay over this terrible thing when something leaked out. Well, that’s what these clandestine operations are all about. They’re mostly to keep the domestic population in ignorance, out of an understanding that the population is not going to be pleased if they know about it. And the Reaganites went to extremes in this, as in other methods of undermining democracy, because they don’t believe that the public ought to be spectators.

27There have been a lot of changes since (say) the days of David Ricardo, but few in the mainstream disagree with Ricardo’s principle that the franchise is okay as long as it is limited, in his words, “to that part of [the people] which cannot be supposed to have any interest in overturning the right of property.” And you need heavier restrictions, he said, if “limiting the elective franchise to the very narrowest bounds” would guarantee more “security for a good choice of representatives,” who have a proper understanding of the rights of property – the main right. The fact that unaccountable private power would undermine democracy is not new either, that was well understood by classical liberal opinion. Thomas Jefferson, for example, warned in his later years that the rising “banking institutions and moneyed incorporations” would destroy the freedom won in the American Revolution. They would become the “single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and moneyed incorporations,” which would enable the few to be “riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry,” destroying democracy and restoring a form of absolutism if given a free hand, as indeed they were, to a degree that exceeded Jefferson’s worst nightmares, although not through the expression of popular will. Those corporations achieved their extraordinary power primarily through courts and lawyers, acting in what we might call “technocratic insulation” from the general public, to borrow some World Bank lingo. That’s what is supposed to happen: in the end the governments are supposed to act in technocratic insulation, so that the public doesn’t know what’s going on and can’t get in the way. A few years after Jefferson, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous writings on democracy in America, expressed his concern that “the manufacturing aristocracy, which is growing up under our eyes,” and which “is one of the harshest that has ever existed in the world,” might escape its confines, spelling the end of democracy. Like Jefferson and other classical liberals, Adam Smith and de Tocqueville understood equality of condition, not equality of opportunity, to be the necessary condition for democracy, and valued it in its own right. That’s standard classical liberalism, and if you look back at the much misunderstood Adam Smith, he framed his rather nuanced arguments for markets on the assumption that, under conditions of perfect liberty, markets would tend towards perfect equality. That’s the moral justification for them, whatever you think of the argument.

28It should also be recalled that Jefferson and his radical democratic ideals were very far from the thinking of the founders of American democracy, and they left very little impact on political thinking since, although they had considerable impact on popular culture. The present fragmentation and isolation, which is such a striking feature of American society, should actually be understood as a realization of the ideals on the basis of which the country was founded – the ideals of the founding fathers. Before saying something about that, it’s worth bearing in mind that the US (which is really the paradigm example of modern democracy, the most important one to look at, aside from its power) is about as close to a tabula rasa as anything this complicated world permits. It was an invented society. The native population was eliminated, removed, and a New World was constructed, with very little residue from traditional institutions and structures. That’s one of the reasons, I think, for the big difference between the US and other parts of the industrial world. It’s also the reason for the lack of an authentic conservative tradition in the US – there isn’t any because the conservative institutions never existed. What’s called conservatism is actually reactionary statism. I think it’s also probably the reason for the relatively weak social support system. If you look at how these actually developed in other parts of the industrial world, to a significant extent they developed out of very reactionary traditional social forms that had a pre-capitalist ideology. Remember, before the great innovations of Ricardo, Malthus, and classical economists (what’s now called neo-liberal economics), before that period, people had the odd idea that humans have a right to live. In feudal society, people had a place, maybe a lousy place, but some sort of a place and the right to live in that place. Ricardo, Malthus, Nassau Senior and others thought that was a mistake – they had no right to life. The only right they have is what they can gain in the market. And if you can’t survive by those means, then you must go somewhere else – and in those days, that meant going to America and killing the natives, or to Australia and doing the same, and so on. And now there is the same message, but nowhere else to go. The principle is the same. The traditional institutions did have this strange conception that people had the right to life, and that reflected itself in the emergence of various kinds of social welfare systems. People somehow couldn’t get it into their heads that they had no right to life, and, instead of accepting the instruction provided to them by the science of the new economics (which had the certainty of the laws of gravitation, they were informed), they concluded that if we have no right to live, then you have no right to rule. The result was labor struggles and organization, the rise of the Chartist movement, and other threats to authority. Fortunately, the science is flexible and was soon adapted to permit measures to alleviate the grimmest hardships of the market system, merging it with residues of traditional institutions and later something like the welfare state, taking different forms in different societies.

29Now of course, this new doctrine of modern capitalism (“no rights, just what you get in the market”) – the rulers never accepted that for themselves. What they actually adopted is what we might call a “really existing free market doctrine” – which means market discipline for the poor and the weak, but plenty of state protection and subsidy for the rich and the privileged. In the United States, the weakness of traditional institutions created, or helped to create at least, the climate in which these harsh rules could be applied to an unusual degree. I don’t want to suggest that the US is sui generis, but it’s a little more in that direction than most other industrial societies for historical reasons. The political institutions of American society were quite consciously designed, and it makes sense to look back at the thinking, the very articulate thinking, of the people who designed them – the framers of the Constitution.

30The most influential among those, as everyone knows, was James Madison, an important political thinker, who laid out the principles of governance very clearly, primarily in the debates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He emphasized there that the prime responsibility of the government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” Democracy he regarded as a threat that has to be diminished for that reason. Madison was no fool – he saw that there would be an increase in “the proportion of those who will labor under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings,” and he already saw signs of the “symptoms of a leveling spirit,” which give “warning of the future danger.” The problem he faced in designing the constitutional system was to find a way “to secure the rights of property,” meaning the privileged personal right to property, “against the danger from an equality of universality of suffrage, vesting complete power over property in hands without a share in it.” Those “without property, or the hope of acquiring it,” he reflected many years later, towards the end of his life, “cannot be expected to sympathize sufficiently with its rights, to be safe depositories of power over them.”

31Now, Madison’s perspective was different from that of his friend, Jefferson, one of the few radical democrats in the crowd. Jefferson warned against the “aristocrats,” those who “fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.” He contrasted them with the “democrats,” who “identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the honest and safe... depository of the public interest,” if not always “the most wise.” Madison felt differently. The people, he felt, were not safe depositories of “the permanent interests of the country,” because they would not sufficiently sympathize with the rights of property. So Madison insisted that political power must be in the hands of what he called “the more capable set of men” who come from and represent “the wealth of the nation.” And his convictions prevailed – the Constitutional Convention was nearly unanimous in support of them, and that’s become conventional. Of course, Madison was thinking of England (that was the model of the day), and he pointed out that if universal suffrage were granted, landed proprietors might be subjected to what we nowadays call agrarian reform. And in the new society that was being designed, he felt that it was necessary to ward off the danger of that injustice by restricting democracy in various ways.

32It may be worth mentioning that in the first major study of political theory, his Politics, Aristotle discussed the same dilemma: in a society with concentrated wealth, democratic choice would infringe on the rights of property owners. Aristotle’s solution was to reduce inequality by what we would call “welfare state measures.” Facing the same dilemma, Madison chose to reduce democracy. And the constitutional system reflects that decision.

33What Madison sought, some contemporary scholars argue, was a fragmented society with no hope of fraternity, equality or community, a political system designed to minimize citizen participation. The twentieth century version is that the “meddlesome outsiders” can make their occasional choices among the “responsible men.” At the Constitutional Convention, Madison’s ideas prevailed. They were articulated with great clarity by his colleague John Jay, President of the Convention and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His favorite maxim was that “those who own the country ought to govern it.” That is, politics not only is, but ought to be, “the shadow cast on society by big business.” Well, a lot has changed in 200 years, but these principles have remained in force, though they are continually adapted. Legal historian Jennifer Nedelsky argues that the Madisonian legacy helps to explain the weakness of the democratic tradition in the US and its failure to deal with the interpenetration of economic and political power. That’s not quite right, I believe. It really has succeeded in dealing with that problem, but in a very specific way – by sanctifying and privileging the rights of those who own the country. That is what is meant by democracy in actual usage, and that’s why you get these apparent paradoxes.

34I should say that this picture of the Madisonian system is unfair to its founder. Like Smith and Jefferson, Madison was a pre-capitalist figure. His roots were in the Enlightenment and therefore, like the others, he was anti-capitalist in spirit – strongly so. The wealthy he had in mind were aristocrats who, he expected, would act as what he called “enlightened statesmen” and “benevolent philosophers” for the good of everyone. Well, he quickly discovered otherwise, and apparently with some shock. Within a few years, he found that the opulent minority were abusing the power he had handed over to them, and that they were acting in the way that Adam Smith had described – namely by following what Smith called “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind, all for ourselves and nothing for other people.” Those are the guiding principles that we are taught to admire and revere, as traditional values are eroded under unremitting attack. Watching this, 200 years ago, Madison deplored what he called “the daring depravity of the times,” as the “stockjobbers will become the praetorian band of the government – at once its tool and its tyrant; bribed by its largesse, and overawing it by clamors and combinations.” It’s pretty hard to improve on that description as we turn to the present.

35There are people who expressed a much richer conception of democracy, and different values and attitudes. Some of them are very well known, say, John Dewey again, or Bertrand Russell. Russell disagreed with Dewey on a great many things, but agreed with him on what he called the “humanistic conception,” or, to quote Dewey, the belief that “the ultimate aim of production” is not production of goods, but of “free human beings associated with one another on terms of equality.” The goal of education, as Russell saw it, is “to give a sense of the value of things other than domination,” to help create “wise citizens of a free community” in which both liberty and “individual creativeness” will flourish, and working people will be the masters of their fate, not tools of production. Illegitimate structures of coercion have to be unraveled – the central one, again in Dewey’s words, being domination by “business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda.” Unless that’s achieved, democratic forms lack substantive content. People will work “not freely and intelligently, but for the sake of the work earned,” a condition that he said is “illiberal and immoral.” Accordingly, industry has to be changed from “a feudalistic to a democratic social order” based on workers’ control and free association. That’s in the general range of a style of thought that also includes, along with many anarchists, guild socialists like G.D.H. Cole and left anti-Bolshevik Marxists like Anton Pannekoek, Rosa Luxemburg and others. Russell’s views were quite similar in this regard.

36These problems were the very focus of Dewey’s thought and direct engagement. He is the leading American social philosopher of the twentieth century, and he was straight out of mainstream America, as American as apple pie. It is therefore of some interest that the ideas he expressed, not many years ago, would be regarded today, and in much of the intellectual culture, as outlandish or even anti-American, to use one of the terms that’s been borrowed from totalitarian cultures.

37It is useful to recognize how sharp and dramatic is the clash of values between this humanistic conception and the kind that we’re taught to admire today. So you go from somebody like, say, Adam Smith (a pre-capitalist figure who stressed sympathy and solidarity, the goal of liberty with equality, and the basic human right to fulfilling work and a fair share of the product) to the values that are expressed by people who, often shamelessly, invoke Smith’s name today. Let’s put aside the more vulgar performances and turn to somebody you can take more seriously, like Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan, who is a leading libertarian, in the American sense of the word. He states the following principle as an authoritative fact: “Any person’s ideal situation is one that allows him full freedom of action and inhibits the behavior of others so as to force adherence to his own desires. That is to say, each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves.” Smith would have regarded such a thought as pathological, as would Wilhelm von Humboldt, John Stuart Mill or anyone associated with the classical liberal tradition. But that is everyone’s fondest dream – if you hadn’t noticed it for yourself, and if you think it is not, you’re wrong, because economic theory demonstrates it.

38We hear a very different voice when we turn to the authentic Enlightenment and classical liberalism, or to serious modern commentators, or, still more interesting in my opinion, to the independent working-class press, which flourished from the mid-nineteenth century until it was finally destroyed by private power not so long ago. The nineteenth-century journals (which, again, are rarely studied) were run by what were called factory girls, young women from the farms, Irish immigrant artisans, and other working people. Their press condemned the “degradation and the loss of that self-respect, which had made the mechanics and laborers the pride of the world,” as free people were forced to sell themselves, not what they produced, becoming “menials” and “humble subjects” of “despots” under wage slavery, not very different from the chattel slavery of Southern plantations, they felt. They described the destruction of “the spirit of free institutions,” with working people reduced to a “state of servitude” in which they “see a moneyed aristocracy hanging over us like a mighty avalanche threatening annihilation to every man who dares to question their right to enslave and oppress the poor and unfortunate.” They bitterly condemned what they called “the new spirit of the age: gain wealth forgetting all but self,” a demeaning and shameful doctrine that no decent person could tolerate. Particularly dramatic, and again relevant to the current onslaught against democracy and human rights, was the attack on high culture that they deplored under the new spirit of the age. The factory girls, mechanics and others were used to spending their time reading classics; they were part of high culture. And that persisted. I can remember this from my own childhood among the working class communities in New York City, where immersion in literature, the arts, science, and so on was considered natural for unemployed working people. Driving out all that from people’s minds was no small task. It’s an achievement that you have to respect.

39Going back to the working class press, “they who work in the mills ought to own them,” they wrote, incidentally without the benefit of any radical intellectuals. In that way, they would overcome the “monarchical principles” that were taking root “on democratic soil.” Years later, that became a rallying cry for the organized labor movement. At the 1893 convention of the American Federation of Labor, which belongs to the more conservative wing of the labor movement, Henry Demarest Lloyd gave what labor historian David Montgomery calls a “clarion call.” He declared that the “mission of the labor movement is to free mankind from the superstitions and sins of the market, and to abolish the poverty which is the fruit of those sins. That goal can be attained by extending to the direction of the economy the principles of democratic politics.” “It is by the people who do the work that the hours of labor, the conditions of employment, the division of the produce is to be determined.” “It is by the workers themselves,” Lloyd continued, that “the captains of industry are to be chosen, and chosen to be servants, not masters. It is for the welfare of all that the coordinated labor of all must be directed... This is democracy.”

40Well, those are values and insights that have only recently been suppressed, and they can be recovered.

41These values would have seemed quite natural to the founders of classical liberalism. If you look at Adam Smith’s sharp attack on the division of labor – not what one usually reads, but it is there – he attacked it because the division of labor would turn human beings into the most “stupid and ignorant” creatures that could be imagined. Therefore, “in any civilized society,” the government would have to do something to stop this. It’s intolerable to a pre-capitalist Enlightenment figure like Smith, as it was to de Tocqueville and others. De Tocqueville asks, “what can be expected of a man who has spent twenty years of his life making heads for pins?” “The art advances, the artisan recedes,” he said, which is why he opposed inequality of condition and the threat of the manufacturing aristocracy. And it’s taken a lot of work for the principles of Ricardo and Malthus and the rest to win this “everlasting battle for the minds of men” and drive these thoughts from the mind – though not very far, I believe.

42Dewey and Russell are two of the major twentieth-century inheritors of this rich tradition, which also includes a lot of liberal, anarchist, and left Marxist thought. But I think, most vividly, it’s captured both in the writings and in the inspiring struggles of men and women, as they sought to maintain and expand the sphere of freedom and justice in the face of this new despotism of state-supported private power, which they understood well enough. And it is worth remembering that this private power is tyrannical and totalitarian – it’s long been understood. The intellectual origins of these institutions have been studied by Harvard University legal historian Morton Horwitz, in standard works. He points out that early in this century, when corporations were granted their extraordinary rights, there was a great deal of fascination with corporate entities – that is, social organisms that had rights over and above mere individuals, a sharp attack on fundamental principles of classical liberalism. These ideas grew from more or less the same neo-Hegelian soil, and they took three major forms, one being Bolshevism, the other fascism, and the third, modern corporations, which were granted extensive rights by courts and lawyers, often with the support of the progressives, reflecting those same attitudes. Two of those systems have succumbed; the third not only remains, but is expanding its sway and dominance. It’s an extreme form of unaccountable tyranny and totalitarianism. It works in different ways, but is similar in its roots and functioning to the other outgrowths of these conceptions.

43There are plenty of divisions and conflicts within the world of unaccountable concentrated power, but there is similarity in general conceptions. Quasi-governmental institutions are developing around them, designed in large measure to protect the wealthy and powerful from market discipline, and to socialize cost and risk. That is, or should be, familiar. But their role in establishing the Madisonian principles in a new guise has been much less noticed, and I think it is quite fundamental to understanding the world that’s taking shape around us.

Question and Answer Session

44Question: You have talked about the problems of democracy in the so-called capitalist countries, but you did not say anything about the socialist countries. Do you give any credit to their achievements in the field of social justice? Now that they have collapsed and that only capitalism remains, is capitalism really the way of the future, the end of history?

45Chomsky: Well, to respond to this, one has to recognize that the terms of political discourse don’t have much meaning anymore. So we can’t talk of socialist and capitalist countries, because there aren’t any, at least in any very clear or recognizably traditional sense of these terms. Neither socialist, nor capitalist. There certainly aren’t any capitalist industrial societies. I mean, a good part of the Third World is capitalist, that’s why it’s the Third World, but the rich and powerful countries have never accepted it, that goes from England up to the newly industrializing countries in East Asia, and, dramatically so, the US. They have never accepted capitalism; they are all state-capitalist countries with a very powerful and significant state component.

46With regard to socialist countries, there certainly aren’t any. And, in fact, nobody understood that better than Lenin and Trotsky. Whatever you think of them (and I don’t think much myself), they were orthodox Marxists, and did not regard socialism as possible in this backward, peasant, impoverished country. They were carrying out a kind of holding action in the hope (well, you know the routine) that the iron laws of history would lead to a revolution in the advanced capitalist world, which meant Germany. But revolution didn’t come in Germany, and they were left in charge of this pre-capitalist, pre-industrial society (from their point of view). Lenin moved on to a form of state capitalism. The first step that Lenin and Trotsky took was to demolish every working class organization in Russia, consciously, because that was the right thing to do, again, from their point of view. There was no place for factory councils and Soviets in this pre-industrial society – it was capitalism, according to the routine, that was supposed to industrialize and democratize, and that sort of thing. In the other so-called socialist countries, it was the same. It’s striking that all these countries later called themselves socialist and democratic. So they were the best democracies and the most socialist countries. In the West, everybody ridiculed the claim to democracy, but western propaganda loved the equally ridiculous claim to socialism as a technique for undermining socialism. Therefore, the idea that these were socialist countries was not only accepted, but – for obvious reasons – became the dominant principle in the West. On the other hand, the equally ridiculous claim that they were democratic was laughed at. Both claims are equally absurd, but the claim that they were socialist has caught on. When both of the world’s two major propaganda systems agree on something, it’s kind of difficult for ordinary individuals to extricate themselves from it. So there were no big moves towards socialism. There are moves towards social democracy, and sometimes considerably more all over the world, welfare systems, collectives, all sorts of things, but they are scattered here and there, and when they really try to reach a large scale, they get smashed. Probably the most advanced case was the Spanish Revolution of 1936, which was jointly attacked by the communists, fascists and liberal democracies. It wasn’t until they wiped out that plague of freedom and socialism that they got back to the less significant question of who picks up the spoils. So the question really can’t be answered as it is posed.

47On the other hand, if you look at the anti-socialist, anti-democratic societies of eastern Europe, they had some achievements of social justice. In the western industrial world, the standard story about the collapse of the Soviet Union is not just that it committed crimes, but that it was very inefficient and didn’t work. Well, by what standards didn’t it work? The usual argument is, look at eastern Europe and western Europe – at how advanced western Europe is and how poor eastern Europe is. You’ll see what a failure eastern Europe was. That makes about as much sense as if somebody were to look at the schools in Cambridge, Massachusetts and say what a failure the kindergartens are – just see how much quantum physics these kids know as compared to how much they know when they come out of MIT. This is the same argument. If you have to compare two systems of development, you have to start at a point at which they are more or less alike. And the last time that eastern and western Europe were alike is the fifteenth century. After that, they diverge, with eastern Europe becoming the regional “Third World.” And that decline, relative to the West, continued up to the First World War. For a meaningful comparison, you want to compare countries that are more or less at par when the two experiments began in the twentieth century: say Russia and Brazil, Bulgaria and Guatemala, or something like that. Those would be more or less fair comparisons; actually, unfair to Russia because Brazil and Guatemala had many advantages. There is a good reason why nobody carries out that comparison. It teaches absolutely the wrong lesson. It tells you that however monstrous the eastern European command economies might have been, what the West has imposed on the rest of the world is much worse. For more than eighty percent of the population of Brazil, eastern Europe would look like a paradise. And that’s something that people are not allowed to think about. It takes a remarkable amount of brainwashing to get the whole West, almost without exception, not to see this. Even the left can’t hear it when you point it out. But it’s pretty elementary – as elementary as the comparison of the Cambridge kindergartens to MIT.

48In answer to your question, did they achieve something – yes. That’s why eastern Europe is not called the Third World anymore. It’s called the Second World. It used to be the Third World, it’s not anymore. Well, something happened there. It’s now being driven back to the Third World, consciously. That’s what the Cold War was about. It was to get them back to the Third World. They achieved certain goals, in a brutal and cruel fashion: they did industrialize the society, create a high degree of education and health by Third World standards, and were relatively egalitarian as contemporary societies go. In fact, up until the 1960s, the primary fear of the West was that eastern Europe was too successful. If you look at the internal records, it’s quite different from what the intellectuals talk about. US and British leaders were worried that it looked too successful. That was the real problem.

49Coming to the second part of the question, there isn’t any capitalism, so it can’t be the wave of the future. Is state-supported transnational corporate capitalism the wave of the future? Well, if you let it be, yes. Nazism would have been the wave of the future if you let it be. But there’s no particular reason why anybody should agree to that. It’s a monstrous system from every point of view, a failure from a social and economic point of view, and unviable and unsustainable, at least in anything like its current form, not to speak of the fundamental defects of the system – to put it mildly – that were clear enough to poor working people in the early days of the industrial revolution.

Notes de fin

1 Lecture delivered at the Delhi School of Economics on 12 January 1996.


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